3 Reasons to Read Faitheist by Chris Stedman

When I was first expressing my interest in interfaith work, a friend of mine had suggested looking into a man by the name of Chris Stedman, an atheist interfaith activist. After following his work, I was ecstatic when his book came out and I can safely say it is one of my favorite books and inspired me to start this blog.

Source: Faitheist

This book is my go-to book to recommend to people who are looking for something to read. Today I’m giving you 3 main reasons why I think everyone (including you!) should read this book:

1.You’ll learn something new about interfaith work and the non-religious.

Before reading this book, I was really struggling to find someone else who really felt that bringing the non-religious into the interfaith conversation was important. In Faitheist, Stedman acknowledges this void in the interfaith community as well as the misconceptions about both the non-religious and interfaith cooperation that comes with it. In his book, he walks you through his own personal journey and shows you why exactly it is so important that the growing population of non-religious should work together with the religious.

2. You’ll learn about the life of someone extraordinary.

Without giving the book away, the life of Chris Stedman is one full of change, exploration, and self discovery. His faith journey alone changes dramatically from being raised without a faith, to becoming an Evangelical Christian, to becoming an avid anti-religious Atheist, and now an Atheist working towards interfaith cooperation. He also tells the story of when he realized he was gay and his experience with his sexual orientation and being an Evangelical Christian; a very difficult time in his life which would eventually lead him to realize he is an Atheist. He’s traveled across the world, lived in many places, and all the while learning such valuable lessons which he shares with his readers in a captivating way.

3. You’ll learn more about yourself.

When reading this book I felt like so many of my own views were articulated through Chris Stedman’s powerful words. However I also learned so many things I didn’t know and felt so many feelings that I hadn’t felt in a long time. While reading this book I laughed, I cried, I thought, and I believed in what he was saying. After reading this book you will have gained such a new perspective and become a different (and better) person for it.

Interested? You can read more about the book and buy it here on the official website! I can’t recommend this book enough for everyone from all walks of life! It really is an inspirational book. I encourage you to read it and be inspired like I was.

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A Note from the Author

Hello readers!

With the summer months my schedule has become increasingly scattered, hence my infrequent posts. (Also, last week I was pretty sick which caused me to be away from the computer for a period of time.) To make up for my lack of posting I am going to write a longer post this week.

In the meantime, here is a picture of a cute dog:

Check back this week for a post in which I review one of my favorite interfaith books: Faitheist by Chris Stedman. If you’re interested on reading more about the book before then, you can check it out here!

Thanks for reading interfaith leaders!

-MK

Spotlight: Muslims and Jews Inspiring Change (MAJIC)

In California, Muslim and Jewish high school students are working together to improve the community they live in and help their neighbors who are in need. This year they were named the faith-based organization of the year, one of eight awards presented by the state of California on May 22. After only a year of doing this program, they made a huge impact on their community and the interest is only growing from this point on.

MAJIC is actually a project from the organization New Ground, which was founded in 2007 to bring Muslim and Jewish adults together in conversation. Therefore the new group, MAJIC, was an attempt to make this message applicable to high school students. Obviously this message was received and the outcomes were outstanding.

Photo Credit: MAJIC

Read more about MAJIC here!

One of their main projects was a Carnival Against Hunger which attracted between 100-150 people to come and play games to raise money for the cause, learning about hunger in their communities through the games played. At this event people also could plant fruit trees and package food for local hunger organizations. Several other locations in the area also had stations to educate people about what they could do about hunger in their community.

As a leader of an interfaith group, I find this really inspiring and applaud MAJIC for their success and well-deserved award. I think we can all learn a lot from the example of this group and bring a little interfaith “magic” to our own communities. Keep up the great work MAJIC!

For more information check out the group’s Facebook page.

Midweek Inspiration: Talk to Your 10 Year Old Self

I am a big fan of Soul Pancake, which is apparent by the multiple videos of theirs I’ve used for this blog. Once again they have delivered inspiration with a touching reflection on what it means to grow up and look back. When I was a kid I wrote letters to my future self for various assignments, but how often do we look back and reflect on what we would say to ourselves when we were 10?

Sometime this week I think that I will try this exercise and see what I come up with. I encourage all of you to do the same!

Are Humanist Officiants in the Phonebook?

While a significant portion of the United States identifies as “non-religious,” having a traditional wedding without a religious leader presiding seems to be a hard thing to come by. I came across this article written by USA Today which discusses the rising desire for traditional weddings without being affiliated with a religion.

The big problem at hand with non-religious weddings is a lack of advertising. Currently the Humanist Society lists 138 celebrants who perform different life celebrations. Due to the shortage of people in this profession, some of these perform weddings in multiple states. However people who are interested in a ceremony with a Humanist celebrant don’t know where to look, and when they do look they can’t find them in mainstream places like the Yellow Pages.

Photo Credit: iheu.org

Now my big question is this: What is causing this lack of advertising? There are many layers to this problem, the deepest of them all I think being the cultural expectations that surround religion and marriage. For many couples, their wedding day is the most involvement that they have in their faith, until they have kids (sometimes). According to our social standard, whether or not you practice your faith is up to you, but your wedding day should be a day where you at least pretend. That’s where the problem is; why can’t people be practicing Humanists, Atheists, or Agnostics on their big day?

While the article written by USA Today looks at the problem at a surface level, addressing the need for advertising, this goes much deeper than that. I think that this calls for an acceptance of non-religious wedding ceremonies and officiants. When something is socially accepted, then it is more prevalent and easier to come by. This calls for all of us as interfaith leaders to look even more closely at our perceptions of the non-religious and support them and their right to not just have a traditional wedding like the other religions, but have it be just as accessible.

Midweek Inspiration: Zach Sobiech

This video about this inspirational teenager has gone viral on the internet, especially on the social networking site Facebook. I cam across the video on the website Upworthy which has been posted an reposted on my own newsfeed. Initially the longer length of the video turned me off from watching it, but I decided to give it a shot and was not disappointed.

Not a lot can be said about this video. I encourage you to watch it and let yourself feel inspired to live everyday as if it were your last. I know I was.

Rest in peace Zach.

Anyone interested in donating should donate to the research fund created on Zach’s behalf.

People of Faith on Twitter: Prayers for Oklahoma

Many of you who are following the news have been following the tragedy which happened in Oklahoma on Monday, when a tornado came through causing destruction and casualties. Like people tend to do in times of great crisis and need, people have been coming together sending their prayers and good thoughts to those who are far away in distance, but not in thoughts.

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Photo Credit: Huffington Post

One venue which has brought together people of many faiths in this way is Twitter. People of all different backgrounds and religions have been expressing their prayers via the social networking website, forming a large support online for those who are affected.

Huffington Post shows some of the “Tweets” here!

Now is a time for people to come together in whatever way they can to help those in need! For some, offering their prayers via the internet is their piece in the puzzle. For those who want to help in other ways, USA Today offers different ways to help the people in Oklahoma.

“It is necessary to help others, not only in our prayers, but in our daily lives.” – Dalai Lama

Muslim Women Converts Tell Their Stories

When I was a freshman in college I did a final project on the Muslim tradition of the hijab. I was, and still am, fascinated by the tradition of covering one’s head and what motivates one to do so or not. However, one thing I never thought of was what would people think of me if I became Muslim and started wearing one. In the UK, women of all backgrounds are converting to Islam and receiving varied support and responses from their communities for it.

muslim women

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

This Huffington Post article describes the results of a study done in the UK.

I found the results overall very interesting.Women who were white felt that they were viewed as a “trophy” or “victory” by heritage Muslims, not seen as being legitimate women of faith. Some of these women stated that they resented being seen only for the “color of their skin” and not for their religious beliefs. It’s ironic that by the heritage Muslims having the tendency of putting these women on display has negative effects, which is probably not the intent. It just goes to show that sometimes given a group extra attention can actually be unwanted attention.

Many women were also rejected by their family and friends or at the very least questioned and chastised because of their choice to convert. Much of this I believe is because there are many misrepresentations of Islam and a lack of education about the religion. The study showed that many women were asked why would a  “liberated/free Western woman embrace a backward faith that oppresses her?” This clearly shows a lack of understanding about the faith that their loved one converted to. Another individual case study talked about how her parents kicked her out and told their friends and neighbors that she had died. When she went to another country to do service, her family reported her as a terrorist to the authorities.

Clearly, there is a lot of pain and misunderstanding that comes with conversion. When reflecting on this article, I had a thought: interfaith cooperation doesn’t just affect social change, but affects a person’s individual faith too. It seems like an obvious statement, but I know that I can sometimes get caught in such a big picture mindset that I forget how important the individual faith journey really is in the big picture experience. If the individuals close to the women in the study were more open to other faiths or knew more about Islam, those women may have had a more positive experience with their faith journey and could have shared that with their family and friends. Community is crucial to faith development, and some of these women have been deprived of that.

I think that we all can not only take the time to learn about other faiths, but be open to helping other people grow in their faith, whatever it is. As a community of interfaith leaders we need to not only support change, but support each other.

Midweek Inspiration: #FitchtheHomeless

Ambercrombie & Fitch is a company which I have never endorsed myself, but this video gives us all an opportunity to take something bad and make it good. In response to the news that A&F burns their clothing rather than give it to needy people, this individual has decided to take the Ambercrombie & Fitch clothing at his local Goodwill and give it to the homeless.

I encourage all of you to do the same! I was always told that you vote with your dollar, but in this case we can vote with what we GIVE.

My Morning with the Dalai Lama

In this piece I take an extensive look at my experience listening to the Dalai Lama, especially regarding interfaith cooperation. It’s worth the read (or at least I think so), but if you’re short on time there’s an article here.

This morning I was honored to have the opportunity to go and listen to His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak. It was an amazing experience, and one which I wish to share with all of you and also write down so that I can remember it myself! His intention specifically was to teach from the text entitled “In Praise of Dependent Origination,” but he often went on tangents discussing other things.

The room itself was huge, there were so many people there and by the time I had finally made it to the center and through security at 9am, so many seats were already taken. (I found out later that I was one out of 3,500 people in that room watching him!) I found a perfect spot on the risers, sitting in an aisle, behind a shorter person, directly in line with the Dalai Lama. (Winning.) For a half hour until the talk began, I sat and looked through the book of Buddhist scripture which was given to us and admired the beautiful stage and original clothing many Tibetan families wore. I was ready.

Dalai Lama 2

Photo credit: State Journal

When His Holiness came on stage, the whole room became instantly quiet. The entire room stood up and quietly watched as the Dalai Lama greeted the crowd with two very intentional bows and then climbed up onto his very tall chair. He sat down in a cross-legged position which he then did not move from the entire time, only leaning occasionally from side to side as he spoke.

The first few minutes were very trying: there were a lot of small children crying, the microphones were not loud enough, and the Dalai Lama’s accent was very thick and hard to understand, especially with all the noise. However after some time I was able to understand what he was saying when the noise died down, the mic went up as well as my understanding of His Holiness’ dialect.

I will be honest, a significant amount of what the Dalai Lama said went right over my head. However it was refreshing to hear Buddhist terms and teachings that I already knew! I took notes on my phone of whatever I could hear and understand which was unfortunately not as much as I’d like. However, one part of his lecture which I not only heard and understood, but loved was what he said about other religions.

Dalai Lama speaks to Madison audience

Photo credit: State Journal

He first made reference to the Christian religion and all of the different organization who had helped his people in Tibet and all of the good that these Christians had done. He told a story about a woman who was so grateful and touched by the help that these Christians gave her that she became Christian herself. “Buddhist monks,” he stated, “listen to Christian nuns!” Education is key to understanding each other, and what better way to understand than to listen. “Today we really need constant effort to gain mutual respect.”  His Holiness encouraged everyone listening to really think seriously about other traditions and pay more attention.

When the topic of conversion arose, the Dalai Lama had no qualms with the idea of changing religions. However he did say, “Be generous towards your old tradition,” emphasizing the truth of all faiths and that it is important to respect and understand where you came from to know yourself better.

The Dalai Lama made several connections between all of the world religions. If my understanding was correct (again, the accent was difficult) he was making a point that previously many messages of faith were pointing towards one creator, whereas now it all points to one point of universal faith, connecting them. There is one statement I heard loud and clear though: “Different traditions are literally different backgrounds all going towards the same goal.”

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Photo Credit: State Journal

One facet of interfaith which he was extremely passionate about was reverencing the non-religious as well as the religious. “We cannot exclude the non-believers. They are human beings. There are one billion of them, and that is a large number of people to discount.” He talked extensively about how important it is to extend compassion to all people, believers or non-believers. We must share with everyone.

When talking about the younger generation, he turned to an area which I’m sure had many young people and said, “You are truly the generation of the 21st century. This is your opportunity to create a better century, a peaceful century, a happy century.” He encouraged everyone to not only center in prayer, but to take action to bring peace. You must work hard to obtain peace, not just wishing things to happen.

He then went to talk about the text extensively, which I had a hard time following, even though thankfully he had his translator explain most of it to us. I hope to learn more about the text later now that I have it in my possession. The Dalai Lama I think sensed how overwhelming it all was though, encouraging us by saying how he really lives by these texts in his daily life. “Since I can do it, you all can too. We all have the same potential.”

I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s something awe inspiring about having the same potential as the Dalai Lama.

After we finished the text (an hour after we had expected to) we closed by reciting the “Generation of bodhicitta” three times. Just before the translator was about to start the prayer, the Dalai Lama stopped him to make an important announcement. He explained that during this prayer he wanted Christians to think of Christ, Muslims to think of Allah, all religions their god or gods, and non religious to think of a person you care about, like a mother. Then we were allowed to recite as His Holiness prayed fervently on his very tall chair.

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Photo Credit: State Journal

As the whole event came to a close, I was tired and hungry, but at the same time so energized and full. Being in the presence of someone so impactful, so kind, so genuine was an amazing experience. Despite everything that I learned though, my favorite thing about the Dalai Lama was his laugh.

Whether he was laughing with the audience at his own jokes (like when he called the newest generation the “people making factory” because of our growing population or when he told an endearing story of how he had to recite scripture in the middle of the night growing up making him realize “the importance of sleep”) or whether it was him laughing at the jokes he made in Tibetan to his translator (which I’m sure were far funnier to him) that laugh warms your heart and makes you smile no matter how hard you try not to.

To me, that laugh will always mean happiness.