“Simply A Pilgrim:” The Pope’s Last Day

Today marks a historic day: the final day of Pope Benedict’s papacy. This is the first (and quite possibly the only) papal resignation in our lifetime and that is something that I feel is worth recognizing.

Photo: theatlanticwire.com

Read the BBC article here!

One must admit that the Pope left with style, taking a helicopter out of the Vatican earlier today. The pomp and circumstance shows how important this occasion is and how important he is as a leader. However one thing that I truly find admirable is how gracious he is about leaving the church to his future successors. “Among you there is also the future pope to whom I promise my unconditional obedience and reverence.” The fact that the Pope is willing to step aside and take the last years of his life as his own reflection I think is amazing. After having so much power for so long one could still feel the need to have the control, but Benedict really understands what he needs and the Church needs.

In my first post I discussed how other religions are affected by the decisions of the next pope and who the next pope will be. However the resignation of the Pope can teach us all something about the humility of leadership. When being a leader for something as great as a religion or as small as a group on a college campus, there always comes a time when a leader needs to step aside and let the future generations take charge. If we all looked at different aspects of our lives with the gratitude and humility that Benedict has displayed, I think that there would be a positive change in the future of leadership, giving us capable new leaders who learned from their predecessors and then had the confidence from them to continue to do great things.

In the meantime, I wish the Pope all of the best on his last journey through life. As he so eloquently put it, “I will simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth.”

Midweek Inspiration: Kitten Meets Hedgehog

Does one really need an excuse to post an adorable video like this one? Not really. But being the writer that I am, I have a metaphor for these extremely cute critters.

When watching this adorable video of a tiny kitten meeting a little hedgehog for the first time, two things crossed my mind. The first being something along the lines of, “OH MY GOODNESS THEY ARE JUST THE CUTEST THINGS IN THE WORLD.” However once the hypnotism of adorableness wore off enough for me to return to my normal thinking capacities, I looked at this video a second time and saw an analogy for friendship and meeting new people.

Think about it, we have all felt like that little kitten before. Looking at someone we don’t understand and being extremely wary at first of who they are and what they are about. A hedgehog looks a lot different than a cat, therefore one could see the hesitation on the kitten’s part just like when we meet someone who is vastly different from us for the first time.

But as the video continues the kitten gets closer and closer to the hedgehog, and even plays with it a little bit. Likewise, when we start to talk to new people and get to know them, their differences aren’t so scary anymore. We get more and more comfortable with each other until eventually a friendship is born. Maybe they become your new best friend or maybe you just have a new and different perspective on a group of people that once frightened you.

Either way, that’s pretty awesome. Like hedgehogs and kittens.

Spotlight: OFM Service for Dialogue

Photo: ofm.org

Last week from February 18th – 22nd, the OFM Service for Dialogue was holding an event in Nairobi, Kenya. The purpose of this dialogue is to set standards for dialogue between the Friars Minor and people of Islam in the area.

Read a description here!

I think that this is a great example of interfaith dialogue and cooperation in the world today, since you have two prominent religious groups discussing issues that pertain to the area of Africa where they are working. They aren’t just saying, “Hey, let’s do this dialogue thing,” without any action, they are making active steps towards a sustainable dialogue.  This also I think speaks very highly of the Franciscans who are making this effort to bring these groups together. All of this reminds me of St. Francis, who is one of the first people in history to have an interfaith dialogue when he went to talk to the Sultan during the crusades (one of my favorite stories about St. Francis)!

Read more about Francis and the Sultan.

I honestly don’t have much to say except “Bravo!” I hope that this is the first of many discussions to come both in Kenya and across the globe.

Last LGBT Mass: A Reflection on the Hardships of Interfaith Work

One of the most difficult things about interfaith dialogue is talking about the issues that people disagree on. It can be so easy to sit down and find the commonalities between you and someone else, but to sit down and talk about the things you don’t agree on can be painful. It is for this reason that I feel it is important to talk about the last LGBT mass held in Soho, an area in Westminster, England.

Read the BBC article from Sunday.

Photo credit: Pink News

I stumbled  across this article today when looking through the Religion articles on BBC, and quite frankly it made me sad. It is disheartening to see a community of people who support each other, and in this case have been doing so for six years, have to disband. Reading the article I felt the sadness of this community who supported and embraced each other in their faith over the past six years now have that support system taken away because who they love and are attracted to “contradicted the teachings of the church.”

Now I am not ignorant of the Church’s teachings. I know that the Catholic Church has some pretty strong statements and teachings regarding homosexuality and how it is believed to be wrong. But personally I really struggle with this. How is it that a religion which is so welcoming of all different people can throw out this entire community of people who embrace their Catholic faith in Soho? Why is there hate instead of love? I’ve been asking these kinds of questions for years and I still don’t have any answers.

Despite all this article says, I don’t see this as the end of the road for LGBT Catholics. Yes it’s a setback, but there has to be a way for these groups of people to coexist and for LGBT people to be able to practice their Catholic faith. I want to be respectful of the Catholic Church and all that it believes, because there are so many things about the faith that work to accept and help the marginalized in the world. However I really think that this is something they got wrong. I feel that if the people of the Vatican got to talk with someone who went to this specific church they might see things differently. Maybe they would see the community as a welcoming place of worship like so many other churches across the globe. That’s something amazing about dialoguing: even when talking about stark differences between two people or groups, you still end up finding something in common.

Now there are a lot of unknowns and uncertainties surrounding this issue, but what I do know is that I’m not giving up on the Church. I believe that someday people from all different walks of life can come together to practice the faith that speaks truth to their hearts and work together to make the world a better place.

And that my friends will be a great day for religious pluralism.

Midweek Inspiration: Take a Seat – Make a Friend?

For this weeks inspiration I am posting a video that my mom sent to me (Hi Mom!). I think this video is a wonderful testament to the human experience and all of the things that we have in common with each other if we really look.

How often do we just walk past people on the street, without giving them a second glance? These people took the opportunity in the form of a ball pit in order to get to know each other better, and through watching the video you feel like you get to know them better too. From fake teeth, to MS, to secret handshakes, these people all find things in common and become friends in an unusual circumstance.

There’s even a little bit of religious dialogue in the ball pit too. When asked who inspires them, two of the gentleman had this conversation:

“Is it alright to talk about someone who is a religious figure?”
“Yeah why not? It’s our ball pit!”

I love that. For me, those few seconds embrace what it is that we do in interfaith dialogue. Those taboo subjects like faith and beliefs are ones that we talk about to grow and better understand each other. In dialogues we make our own rules on what you can and can’t talk about in the “ball pit.”

So what would life be like if we treated every conversation like a ball pit? If we felt comfortable enough with people to share stories about our lives and be honest with complete strangers? Think about the differences we could make in the world if we simply went on and trusted each other.

So go on, say what you need to say. The world is your ball pit! Take a seat and make a friend.

Elementary School Yoga: Religious Education or Just Plain Exercise?

At Paul Ecke Central Elementary School in California, yoga has become part of the curriculum for all of the students. Children practice meditation, flexibility, and improve self esteem. While kids are repeating positive statements like “I am strong! I am brave!” while doing the warrior pose, a group of parents are protesting the class, saying that it is  forcing Hindu beliefs on their children. What really is happening is a whole lot of misunderstanding.

Read New York Times article here.

Photo credit: New York Times

Reading the article I tried to understand the other side’s perspective. I understand that our society prides itself on “separation of church and state,” but at what point is removing religion from schools removing the ability to learn from other perspectives? And what constitutes religious education as in conversion and education of religions that exist in the world?

Here is a statement from one of the mothers who protested:

“They’re not just teaching physical poses, they’re teaching children how to think and how to make decisions. They’re teaching children how to meditate and how to look within for peace and for comfort. They’re using this as a tool for many things beyond just stretching.”

Now, this could just be me, but I’m trying to figure out what in that statement is a bad thing. Last I checked, the purpose of education was to teach children how to think and how to make decisions. Creative problem solving, reason, and logic are all things that we teach children in school so that they can go on to be successful. Secondly, what is so terrible about peace and comfort? Religious or non religious, isn’t that something that we are all looking for? So I guess the real question is what is it that is causing all of the protest?

Fear and ignorance. There is clearly a lack of understanding about the Hindu religion, and for many the knee-jerk reaction to something that they don’t understand is to get rid of it completely. Rather than learning about something foreign, people just want to pretend to it doesn’t exist. However sheltering their children from an opportunity to learn about other cultures is not the answer.

Now to say that this is a situation that could benefit from some sort of dialogue would be a vast understatement. If I were on the school board at this particular school, I would spend one of these meetings talking to the parents explaining more about Hinduism. Granted that’s easier said than done, but I firmly believe that education is the way to combat ignorance such as this. All of that being said, the school board currently is doing a pretty good job with being accepting of multiple faiths:

“If your faith is such that you believe that simply by doing the gorilla pose, you’re invoking the Hindu gods, then by all means your child can be doing something else.”

If only the religious tolerance went both ways in this situation, maybe we’d see the parents doing the gorilla pose side by side with their young kids.

Spotlight: Sami Rahamim

Today I would like to take the time to reflect on a special individual who has used their faith as a support for their activism: Sami Rahamim, a 17 year old Jewish teen from Minnesota. After Sami’s father was killed by a past employee, Sami pursued his passion for activism and spoke out against gun violence in response to his father’s death. The result? Him sitting two seats away from President Obama at a discussion against gun violence in Minnesota.

Sami and his father, Reuven.
Credit: Religion News Service photo courtesy Sami Rahamim

Read the Huffington Post article here.

I personally find this story extremely inspiring! Looking back on my own life, there have been so many times that I have thought to myself, “I am too young to do that,” or even worse, “I am too young to make a difference.” Sami shows that is far from true. At 17 this kid has done more than most people do after graduating college, and the passion behind it all is truly inspiring.

Along with the love of his father, Sami is inspired by his Jewish faith. Like many activists, his faith gives him strength and guidance. I know that for me personally, I can sometimes get so lost in the activism part that I forget the reason why I am doing it. My personal relationship with God can get put to the back burner and suffer because I am not making it the main reason for my work. Sami continues to be a great example, showing us how putting our religion or non religion at the forefront of our activism can lead us to do even more for the world around us.

“One of the things I am working toward is to be known for advocacy, not for the unfortunate circumstance that put me here.”

How different would the world be if we all had that attitude? How different would the world be if we all wanted to be known for what we put into the world rather than what wrongs have happened to us? What if instead of having the negative things in our life be weigh us down, we made them the wind in our sails?

Think of all of the good we could create. Together.

Flowers and Picket Signs: Valentine’s Day in Pakistan

In Pakistan, Muslim activist groups protested the holiday of Valentine’s Day, saying that it “is imposing Western values and cultures on an Islamic society.” While the majority of people there support the holiday in a secular manner, the Islamist groups spoke out through protests and billboards that read “SAY NO TO VALENTINE’S DAY”.

Read the Reuters article here.

Coming across this article really surprised me. Growing up in the United States, Valentine’s Day is seen as just a way to express your love for another person and one more reason for Hallmark to sell you cheesy cards. Never would I have looked at this holiday and thought of how upset someone who is Muslim (specifically in another country) would be about it. Is there something so wrong about giving someone chocolates and saying I love you?

Photo credit: REUTERS-Zohra Bensemra

As mentioned in the quote earlier, I think this is less about religious differences as it is the perception of “Western values.” These groups have associated the holiday of Valentine’s Day with all of the negative things about American culture. But is that really a reason to boycott the holiday? This idea of protesting Valentine’s Day seems so silly until we take a closer look at what it is that they are protesting:

“Look at the West – people love their dogs but throw their parents out when they get old. We don’t want to be like that.”

Wow. Well, they certainly have a point there. But Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean all of that to us. It isn’t the day when we lovingly throw our parents in nursing homes and worship our dogs (well… not all of us). So how do we fix this?

The way I see it, this is just one more example of why dialogue is important. If we could get some of the protestors and some Americans to sit at a table and discuss what love means in their respective cultures and religious traditions, the hostile edge could be taken off. Now I’m not saying that the Muslims will start celebrating Valentine’s Day or Americans will stop, but there would at least be an understanding of where the other is coming from.

Maybe there would even be a new billboard: “UNDERSTAND VALENTINE’S DAY.”

Midweek Inspiration: Kid President

Everyone can use a little inspiration in the middle of the work week, so I’ve decided to make Wednesdays “Midweek Inspiration” day and post something positive and inspiring to enjoy and reflect on!

This week’s inspiration: Kid President

I myself was introduced to this video last night during a Praise and Worship event on my campus, and it was just the bit of inspiration I needed for my week. I mean, it’s so simple: Don’t be boring. Be awesome.

But if it’s so simple, why does it take a kid president for us to listen?

I know when I see this video, I think of all of the work that the many people in the interfaith movement are doing. Our good friend Kid President tells us that we are a team, and if religious groups worked together and thought about the world like that, think of all the great things that could get done! So many conflicts in the world are because life is seen as a competition: you are either on “my” side or “their” side. That kind of mentality really gets us nowhere. We need to work together for a common goal, making the world around us a better place for everyone. Combining resources and people, making friendships and dialoguing, that is how the REAL work gets done.

“I’m on your team, be on my team.”

So what are you going to do to be awesome? What is your passion? Whether it be school, art, your job, your family, or your friends, find that part of your life that makes you feel so infinitely happy, so complete… find your Space Jam. You don’t need kid president to be inspired, be inspired everyday with the wonderful world you have had a hand in making. But a kid dressed up as a president is pretty good inspiration.

“Create something that will make the world awesome.”

Tragedy Strikes Hindu Festival


With the resignation of the Pope, people everywhere yesterday were tuned into the front page story of the church leader’s resignation. However, in India, tragedy struck the Kumbh Mela, the Hindu celebration which is known as the largest human congregation on Earth. Hindus from across the globe gather in Allahabad to take a dip in the Ganges River, which is said to turn to nectar and cleanse people of their sins. (Learn more about the Kumbh Mela by exploring this site.)

It was reported that 36 people died from stampedes in the religious chaos, and many blame the police and city, saying that the city should be more prepared for the largest gathering of people in the world. It is truly saddening that such a beautiful ritual has suffered such a loss.

Today I think it is important to keep in our thoughts those people – men, women, and children – who lost their lives celebrating such a joyous occasion.