Okay, so this post was supposed to be some simple observation about religion and the pope's funeral/passing...I don't know at what point it became this HUGE stream of consciousness essay...read at your own peril.
As the Hollywood T-Shirt De Jour clearly proclaims...Jesus is my Homeboy! Does anyone else find it kind of ironic that these shirts are produced by a company called Teenage Millionaire and worn by stars like Demi Moore (a very public follower of the Kabbalah)? Oh religion today...what a murky pool of fun! You have the standard ones; Judaism, Muslim, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism...and the not so standard ones; Scientology, Church of Latter-Day Saints, Kabbalah, Seventh-Day Adventism, Hare Krishna, Wicca... And that's not even expanding upon the various sects within these religions...orthodox, reformed, evangelical, born-again, semi-reformed, semi-conservative, half baked, fully-baked, unevenly baked because I forgot to rotate the cookie sheet half way through the cooking time!
Did you know there was a Christian denomination called the 'Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod'? How did those Wisconsinites get there own Christian sect and how do I sign up to form my own? Apparently it's more conservative than the Catholic church. Here's a little excerpt from their website:
"The biblical principle of role relationship applies also to the gatherings of the church. All believers, men and women, will participate at gatherings of worship, prayer, Bible study, and service. The scriptural applications that a woman remain silent (1 Co 14:34) and that a woman should not teach a man (1 Ti 2:11,12) require that a woman refrain from participating in these gatherings in any way which involves authority over men."
Follow this link for more "wisdom" from the WELS church. Ahhhhhh!
And now with all the media coverage surrounding the death of Pope John Paul the II (I'm not going to comment lest my soul be condemned to purgatory)...what on earth (or heaven) is a person exploring their faith supposed to do?
I feel extremely fortunate that I grew up in a household where faith and critical thinking were heralded as equally important qualities to possess. Basically, while my parent's instilled in me a strong yearning to explore my spirituality, they were equally adamant that I don't fall prey to every peddler of snake oils and express trains to redemption. How'd I end up so lucky? I was taught that living a spiritual life is not about accepting the blanket statements of any one man or woman. I learned that calling myself a faith based person requires a constant willingness to explore, examine, and question my own belief in God (or gods), in goodness, in humility, in selflessness (and selfishness), in greed...you get the picture. My familial history with the church taught me that religion is not some simple cure all, a balm for what ails you, it's not about necessarily making your life easier and less complex. In my exploration of faith, I've come to understand that my belief in God makes my life richer, more meaningful, and more intangible. My spiritual exploration challenges me to question what I do, question how I live, question how I love and hate. It challenges me to think beyond the boundaries of my own flesh and examine the impact I have in the community and environment I play in.
Jesus said "Love thy neighbor as you love yourself." (I think I'm paraphrasing a bit there)...I suppose the superficial interpretation of that statement would be "Be loving to those around you." That's pretty harmless. But here's my radical spin on the statement. What if Jesus was trying to say "You are also your neighbor, you are in essence every person around you. And because you are every person around you, you have a responsibility to care for every person as you would care for yourself." That's a pretty tall order and not something that can easily be done.
I think it's very funny whenever I encounter religious sects that require devotees to follow a rigid system of rules and obligations...the 10 Commandments, keeping kosher, the separation of women and men in Muslim temples. Do people really believe their soul is saved or they get an express ticket to the Elysian Fields by avoiding pork, keeping vegetarian, or condemning gays? Is self-redemption and self-actualization that easy to buy? And if it is, why can't people agree on the exact rules? I'm sure I'm not the only person who would appreciate such an instruction manual.
Of course, by stating my opinion that religion forces us to question and examine, I'm not saying that all life is suffering and struggle. That life inherently involves suffering is one of the basic tenets of Buddhism and one of the reasons why I have never been able to jive with Buddhist teachings. Surely, a big component of my faith is also based on the exquisite sense of peace, fulfillment and joy I derive from my exploration. But that's the thing...faith and spirituality is not black and white, it is an ever evolving painting of vibrant and muted colors, shades and hues that we can appreciate with our senses but can't possibly begin to articulate with our limited vocabulary.
I was reading the news today and came upon this quote made by a liturgical scholar. It is in reference to the late Pope John Paul's will...
"You get a feeling when you read this of a man very alone, alone with God, and agonizing over his worthiness and ability to carry out the task before him," Dr. Pham said, "and someone who despite all that places a great confidence in that divine mercy."
I find it very comforting to know that even the pope 1) questioned his worthiness before the eyes of God, and 2) that he felt alone. Those are the surest signs that the pope, at the end of the day, was human. It also provides some solace to us fools who question our own worthiness all the time.
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You know...for a long time I struggled with the concept of prayer. Prayer for me has always been a highly private and intimate conversation I have with the big mama. Late last year, I met a friend, who was himself, on a rather intimate journey of faith and self-definition. Through his own journey, he challenged me to think outside of the smug little faith world I encased myself in. For that I thank him entirely. In my brief encounter with him, he helped me explore my hang ups with prayer. Part of my prayer process involves the act of asking for forgiveness of the 100s of misdeeds I commit on a daily basis. I've always struggled with this aspect of prayer. Not because I believe I'm incapable of sin. I struggle because the articulation process is so extraordinary self-revealing. Then one day, during a meditation session, I came to a realization...Naming your sins is a lot like naming your thoughts during meditation. I was once taught a meditation technique involved the naming of thoughts. Whenever a thought comes into the mind, rather than getting involved with the thought, you name it and let it go. For example, if I'm thinking about a conversation I had earlier in the day, I'd name the thought "That is a thought about the past." Then I'd let it go. By articulating and distilling the thought, I'm able to let it go rather than allowing it to fester. Enumerating my sins is much the same thing. By naming my sin, I can let it go...and with that letting go I also give up the sense of unworthiness that often accompanies an act that I deem bad. We often feel bad about ourselves because we do something bad (in our minds if not in reality). Because we feel bad, we don't feel that we can have an intimate relationship with the spirit (whether it be God or our own soul)...we let these bad feelings about ourselves fester...and next thing you know we are consumed by self-doubt and loathing. But what if, by naming the misdeed...by giving it a voice, we are able to let it go...and thus feel more connected to the spirit, the soul, to our own inherent goodness. That's some pretty powerful stuff. Oh course, this observation is very western Christian centric (with just a little yogic philosophy thrown in).
I've had the great fortune of communicating with many of you about my faith journey and the fact that, on occasion, I have considered attending seminary and possibly becoming an ordained minister. Other than the fact that there aren't to many young, Asian, female ministers out there (and I'm always up for shaking things up a bit), I want to have the luxury of exploring my faith in an environment created for that sole purpose. Will I ever attend seminary? I don't know. At this point in time, considering the amount of mortgage and grad school debt I have, I don't think it's a possibility. Unless I marry rich or win the lottery, an further education is out of the question for the time being.