Category Archives: Reflection

Colombia…4 months later

IMG_3775

(by Justine Carlson)

Human dignity is not negotiable.

This was a nugget of wisdom that I learned back in December while I was in Bogota, Colombia. It speaks volumes as to how one would answer the Vincentian question; What must be done? There is more that needs to be done than I realized. I was catching up with an old friend the other day and he asked me about my trip to South America a couple months back. I was taken back to the place where forgiveness, human dignity, reconciliation, faith, education, and power were normalized and brought into a new light.

 

One of the several greatest lessons I learned in Colombia was how education, religion, politics, and social justice can be intersectional. I am still trying to figure this out today as I witness several minority groups suffering and not provided with the same rights as the majority. As a Roman Catholic, my continuing question is how can I be an ally? How can I help? My time in Colombia has made me appreciate religious diversity, even more so than I did before. While most the country identifies as a Catholic/Christian country, how one lives out their faith there is different based on the individual through education, political participation, giving back to their local communities, and many other ways.

 

Another highlight that I took away from this experience was their approach to nonviolence. In Colombia during this time, part of the national peace agreement had passed, which grants equitable and equal human rights for all. This was a true historical moment for them. One last piece of wisdom that I’ll never forget is that faith is about uncertainty. Similarly, to the United States, many are uncertain of what their future will hold for them. It is not as easy as it sounds, but having a small bit of a hope and/or ounce of faith is how the people in Colombia that were experiencing trauma, homelessness, violence, whatever it may be, continue living the fullest life. Faith through resilience.

Advertisements

The Key to Happiness

84f10391a919b5867e78ba1204c31116

By: Samreen Ahmed

According to Eleanor Roosevelt, “Happiness is not a goal; it is a byproduct of a life well-lived.” So by this definition, it is something that is not a firm emotion but rather it is achieved through action. Now the question I would like to present is– what are you doing to contribute to your happiness?

Our society tells us that money and prestige are what we need to be happy. With our money we can buy whatever we want, thus fulfilling all of our needs. And with prestige, nobody will dare doubt our worth because they know that we are above them. But what happens when your money doesn’t satisfy you? And when the people don’t respect you? Surely happiness is the last emotion you will be feeling in those moments of despair. Money and prestige only bring you temporary happiness, but there is a void that is not filled within you if you are not conscious in handling the two. Money should be spent wisely, and given to charity when possible because no matter how much money we spend, we are never satisfied. We spend and spend to make ourselves “happy” on things that contribute to everything but benefiting our hearts. And as for prestige, people respect us and honor us, but oftentimes we do not respect ourselves. The people’s opinions of us serve as a placeholder for our lack of respecting ourselves.

I believe happiness is achieved through our tears, our struggles and how we are truly delivered from our despair. Happiness to me is my mother’s smile. Happiness to me is my best friend’s hug. Happiness to me is the homeless man’s blessings to the people who ignore him. It is that sense of independence and freedom from all things that deter us from love and compassion. It is being grateful to something or someone when times get rough. It is that conviction of faith through your toughest nights and that warm feeling of ecstasy during your good nights. Happiness is not a constant emotion but it is a process. And it truly is a by-product of a life well-lived.

Sinking in Struggles

0

 

By: Olivia Hollman

One of the biggest lessons I’ve been learning this academic year is about struggles and how to deal with them. Between the combination of adding two jobs to the stress of school work, shifting relationships with friends, worry about the future financially, changing dynamics with family, and personal concerns, I’ve had a fair share of struggles this year. During those times, it feels as if I am in an ocean. I go from successfully treading water to starting to sink when the waves swell up, larger and more powerful than before. I try to stay afloat, but I can barely keep my head above the water. Right before I go under, I begin to cry for help and raise my arms in the air. Then I am saved.

In Matthew (Chapter 14), Jesus’ disciples are out in a boat when they see Jesus (they first think it is a ghost) walking on water. Peter gets out of the boat and begins walking towards Jesus, but becomes frightened of how strong the wind is and starts to sink. Peter cries out, ““Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”” (Mt 14:30-31) In my times of struggles, I get scared…I doubt… I lose faith…I start to sink; I forget that there is someone there to save me.

When I cry for help, Jesus pulls me out of the water and saves me. His help manifests itself to me through my community—my friends, coworkers, staff advisors, and family. When what I am going through seems too much for me to handle on my own, when I just don’t know what to do, when I just need someone to lean on, I am reminded that I am never alone in my struggles. The water can never completely pull me down, because I have the out-stretched hand of Jesus in the form of my community to catch me and embrace me.

 

Who Deserves to Live?

nature_night_sky_1920x1200_wal_1920x1200_knowledgehi2222

Interfaith Scholar Melanie Kulatilake shares a Buddhists’ perspective on life and  the struggle our society faces,  on how to branch out of the common notion to find our own truth.

 

Surrounding me is darkness with the shallow lights of the stars and my front porch lamp to guide me into the night. I walk down the steps and toward where my father is standing, looking out into the night sky with his long, cylindrical instrument. Beside my father is my older sister Nadeera. We both wait patiently for him to place the telescope just in the right spot for us to be able to gaze at the moon.

He finally placed the device in the right location so I could observe the moon up close. On my quest to view this magnificent site I was rudely interrupted by a little green creature. I screamed in fear from the unflattering tickle on my leg. My father shushed me and asked “What’s the matter?”

I replied in a whisper “A slimy bug jumped on me! Kill it.” My father looked at me with aggravation. “Stop over reacting! You got this stupid fear of bugs from your mom. They’re a hundred times smaller than you and in this area very unlikely to be dangerous.”

I huffed in frustration. How could my father say I was over reacting when a big green monster attacked me? What made me more infuriated was the fact that he hadn’t squashed this beast yet. “He’s gross and I want him dead!” I whined.

It was obvious he was upset with my tone. “Stop acting so childish! And if you want to kill him that’s your choice. You’ll have to do it yourself.”

That just flabbergasted me. How dare he not kill that bug for me; he was supposed to be my father, the one who protects me from danger. So that left me killing the bug myself. I lifted up my foot and slammed it down as fast as I could with not a hint of regret.

I left not even caring about taking one more peek at the moon. I just couldn’t believe how un-fatherly and stubborn my dad was being. And as I crawled in my bed all I could worry about was more bugs that could crawl on me and terrorize my beauty sleep.

That fear of insects and willingness to kill any of them within hindsight lasted until one day in my Buddhist class. I was sitting in class in my usual spot by my cousin Marlin and Nadeera. I was in the older class that consisted of high school and middle school students even though I was only in second grade at that time. Due to the fact that I was younger it was difficult for me to comprehend what the monk was teaching. The only reason I actually was in this class and not the class with kids my own age was because my favorite monk was teaching this class.

In my view, he is one of the nicest men who ever lived on this planet. He was always willing to answer my questions or listen to my stories. If he disagreed with one of my ideas he would always say it in a respectful matter, leaving me with not even an ounce of anger towards him. He was always considerate to the fact that I was younger than the rest of the students and would therefore speak simply for me.

So when this discussion of bugs was awakened I was very intrigued. He declared that “every living thing deserves to live including creatures that are very small.” I was even more shocked when he started to discuss how even mosquitoes (the most annoying bugs on this planet) deserved to live. He stretched out his arm as if a mosquito landed on him and said “next time a mosquito comes to try to suck your blood, let him. He’s a living thing just like you, trying to survive life’s hardships.”

Although my father told me several times to not squish insects, I never really cared to listen. Of course I loved my father and respected his insight, his words just didn’t mean as much in comparison to my monk (who I idolized for his kindness and patience). So when he spoke of his view on life, I actually considered it be valuable. I couldn’t believe that I never thought of bugs in this perspective before. I always thought of them as disgusting creatures that are not worth living. I never thought they were like cats, dogs, or even humans. The difference to me was that cats were cute and bugs were not. That’s what gave me the reason to believe that bugs deserve to die in comparison to all other living creatures. So does that mean an ugly human beings deserves to die because they’re not pleasant to look at? I am confident that most of society would disagree. So do bugs deserve die?

Relatively speaking, most westerners think differently than my dad or anyone else who was taught in this type of upbringing. The influence of my environment is another important factor for my fear of bugs. In the U.S. it is mostly taught that bugs are gross pests. Yet, in other countries they can be known as just another living creature like us or even food. It takes a brave person to ignore societies influence to decide on their own what they consider as right and wrong.

So today an ant crawled on my leg and instead of screaming and trying to kill him, I let him be. I imagined he whispered a “thank you” and went on with his life. I could have pulled the plug and ended his precious life but, now it just seemed monstrous. This brought me back to the day that my father said “if you want to kill him that’s your choice, you’ll have to kill him yourself.”  I finally understood what my father was saying: “If you think bugs aren’t living creatures, then so be it. But don’t ask me to act upon your beliefs when they differ from mine.” He always tried to convince me what was right and wrong from a different perspective than the community that surrounded us. But, he never pushed me instead, he let me choose myself. It took me a while but I finally came to terms with his outlook on life and found myself believing the same as him. We are all living creatures, big or small, and we all deserve a chance at life.

A Jew on Two Wheels

MG_03751

Interfaith Scholar Joel Gitskin shares how he connects to his faith through being a bike messenger 

The bike messenger community is an interesting one. In the last year and a half of my life, while I’ve been making money by carrying a bunch of stuff from one place to another on two wheels, I’ve met a strange and beautiful crowd of people. From young parents trying to provide for their children, to high school kids with a taste for adventure, artists working so they can do what they love, men in their forties who have been doing this job since I was in diapers, extremely well-read ex-train hoppers, suburban transplants trying to find their place in the world (like myself), young adults paying their way through college or graduate school (also like myself), and anybody in between. I can honestly say that this job has made me a better person, a better future educator, and a better Jew. I would be a vastly different person that I am now had I never wandered into Raptor Delivery on a lazy Friday afternoon my second year at DePaul and asked “are you looking for riders?”

One of the most important things for me that this “career path” brought about was in my Judaism. My job at Raptor Delivery was the first job I had where I told my boss that I wouldn’t work on Shabbat, and I said the same thing when I moved to Snap Courier, where I currently work. Though the initial reasoning was a bit more practical, I knew that if I didn’t force a day off upon myself that I’d run myself into the ground, there was definitely a spiritual undertone in the decision, even if it was subconscious. Keeping Friday night and Saturday separate has been really beneficial in my spiritual development and my overall mental health.

Being a messenger (or Shliach, if you will) has been a benefit to those I’ve met as well as myself. At Snap, I’ve become, in a way, “The Jewish Guy,” and sometimes, more broadly “the religious guy.” The one who sometimes has a yarmulke under his cycling cap, and had tzitzis strings hanging out from under my t-shirt. Being religious, and even more, being up-front about it and proud of it, is not a very common thing these days, especially in the young urban community that comprises most of the messengers I work with. I’ve been the butt of some good-hearted jokes, and the creator of some myself, pertaining to my faith. I once had a colleague say to me “You know, this might sound weird, or even a little mean, but you’re like the coolest religious person I’ve met. I never saw religious guys as people I’d like to be around.” It was a strange compliment to receive, but one I’ve really taken to heart. People tend far too often to keep to people who are like themselves. Jews stick with Jews, Muslims stick with Muslims, and so on. Nonbelievers are no different. This leads inevitably to preconceived notions about “the others” and leads to the shrinking of our personal worlds. When I, as a messenger, maintain my Judaism, I create a bridge for the people I meet in either world, and show them that really, we aren’t all that different. Sure, our Friday nights look different on the surface, but my reasons for going to Shabbat: family, friends, belonging, food (mostly food), aren’t too different from the reasons my messenger friends all hang out on the weekends and in their time off.

I’m thankful to G-d every day that I found my love for cycling, and that I found a way to profit from it without having to race in the Tour de France. But even more, I’m glad that I can be the “token Jew” to people who’ve never really talked to one before. I’ve found that many of my coworkers had questions about it that I was able to answer for them, or misconceptions that I was able to clear up. I like to think I affected their lives for the better, I know they did me. I believe, and my faith teaches, that we’re put in this world to leave it, and the people populating it, in a better state than when we arrived. This could mean keeping Shabbat, for me, or putting on Tefillin, doing any Mitzvah. But I think it also means that I should share myself and my faith with those I’m brought into contact with, so that I can leave them a little happier, a little more understanding, a little better off, than when I met them.

Charlie Hebdo Reflection

Interfaith ScholarJulian Vasyl Hayda  gives his thoughts on the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks and response.

While by no means do I condone or even try to excuse Wednesday’s terror attack on Charlie Hebdo, I find it difficult to excuse the content that provoked it. Charlie Hebdo, according to its editors, is openly “anti-religion” and “very racist,” and the buck doesn’t stop with Islam – they also disgrace Christianity, Judaism, and other religions. While people are free not to practice a religion, it still is incredibly important and very sensitive to many others. I agree that sometimes people are overly sensitive to their religions, but this cover, for example, crosses even liberal lines. It reads “Parisians who love the Pope are as dumb as Negroes.” There is another that’s supposed to depict the Holy Trinity in a threesome, and another with the Prophet Mohammed popping into his own mouth.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they should have been banned, or sued, and certainly no less killed. I’m a big believer of artistic expression and freedom of press. However, this was neither for sake of art, nor was it journalism – it was provocation. This is a case of a group of people being offensive for the sake of being offensive. Honest social commentary doesn’t have to be that offensive.
Now, this publication which treats and depicts people with below the least respect, is being treated like a martyr. For a paper that few people paid attention to or heard of, with a news stand circulation of 30,000, its message of intolerance has reached a massive new audience, and I find that very troubling. A mature person, who lives in the modern world, and no matter how offended he may be, knows that the best way to handle this situation is to ignore it. As pope Francis said, it’s best to be Teflon – let nothing stick, let it roll off.

I pray for the families of those killed, and am horrified at what happened to them. Nobody should be killed for their beliefs, offensive or provocative as they may be. However, I will not defend Charlie Hebdo’s actions, or people standing in solidarity with them and their message. To quote a fellow Facebooker, “emphatically, je NE suis Charlie.”

Faith and Deconstructing the Exclusivity of Truth

world

Enass Zayed gives her take on the concept of faith and truth in a world of varied ideologies and experiences.

Over the course of this last year I have been asked to reflect on my religious ideologies quite a bit. There have been questions that I have had welling up from my own traditions that I have had to find answers to and there have been aspects of other traditions that I have felt were so profound that I have tried to incorporate them into my own belief structure. One of the biggest things that I have had to work my mind around is the concept of faith and how it exists within the concept of exclusive truth. There are many people who hold the belief that their traditions are the only proper way to behave. This phenomenon is prevalent in all aspects of life; religious or secular. My biggest challenge has been trying to remove myself from the ranks of the exclusive.

On our very first meeting, Mat Charnay asked me to define faith. While the clear and obvious answer is full trust in something outside of your self, I felt as though that was not enough to encapsulate the idea. Faith is taking the leap and hoping something catches you. In my mind, the strongest faith comes from knowing that there is a possibility that things are not quite as you imagine them, but committing to your ideas anyway. Faith is built by making informed decisions and seeking knowledge in all its forms so that any ideas that are created are likely to stand the barrage of obstacles that life throws at us. I am a firm believer in the idea of individual truth as opposed to a general and exclusive truth. Not everyone’s idea of religion are going to be able to satisfy the needs of the rest of the world and that is okay. In fact, that is the most beautiful things about faith in general. When properly executed, faith allows many people to have beautiful, complicated, and extensive ideas about every part of their lives: ideas that are relevant to their relationship with their world and their religion.

While most of this idea is pretty elementary to most, the part that I believe is left out is the idea that we might be wrong. I know that there is slight possibility that everything I hold true could be proven wrong tomorrow, but this understanding is what keeps my concept of faith growing. My personal approach to religious belief is that (most) everything is fluid. Ever since I was a child, I have done my own research into the religious systems that have surrounded me. I was never content to let someone give me traditions without understanding why there were valid or relevant. I was never content in settling on one answer because that would have meant that my research into faith would have stopped. Once I reach a comfortable conclusion, there is no point in continuing my search for a self relevant truth. My faith is built on the idea that I have to build knowledge to minimize the possibility that I am wrong about everything.

So, is the exclusivity of truth even relevant in the discussion of faith? In my opinion it is. From personal experience I have found that many people are unwilling to question their concept of truth as it would apply to another person. There is also little thought put into the idea that we do not always have the answers to everything. The idea of an exclusive truth lends itself to the idea that one religion is more valid than any others. This concept is problematic because so many religions teach that religion is a shared experience even if we do not all carry out our beliefs in the same manner and traditions. While my understanding of truth may be valid today, it is valid only in my experiences and only until something to the contrary comes into my world view. Until then, I feel as though I owe it to my faith and my religious belief to continuously research and build a stronger foundation from which I can take my leap of faith.