depaulinterfaith

Ask Big Questions

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2014 at 4:41 pm

DePaul freshman Charlotte Mukahirn gives us her reflection following her experience with the university’s Ask Big Questions event on January 16th, 2014. Ask Big Questions is an initiative of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life in partnership with the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust that aims to foster understanding through better conversation. 

     Upon entering the conference room, I had only expected to discuss one question with the attendees of ABQ: “What will you do differently this year?” I had thought about the question to some extent beforehand, but my answer was still up in the air. Soon enough, people began to file in through the door. I could spot a few familiar faces, but at least half were unknown to me. We were asked by the leaders of the group, Sam and Joel, to arrange the chairs into a large circle while they set up their presentation. At first, a slight panic struck me. I’m going to be speaking in front of so many people. In reality, the group consisted of perhaps fifteen to eighteen people. But, for someone with social anxiety (like me), the number was a bit daunting. Then, Joel and Sam began the discussion by walking us through the guidelines for the night’s meeting. The rules were simple: Be respectful, give each person their time to talk, and if someone happens to offend you, don’t be afraid to let them know how and why their words affected you. Afterward, a short icebreaker took place in which each person told the group their name, major, and a change that happened to them recently. An atmosphere had already begun to form in which we felt comfortable sharing the highlights of our break, or even the lowlights. Familiarity spread about the room like ripples in a pond until we were all ready to move on. Then, Joel pulled up a document on the screen.

     “Take a moment and read through this,” he said, “and then find someone near you to discuss which parts of this passage stick out to you.” Simple enough. The title and author of the passage escape me now, but it generally stated which actions people commit that are damaging to their happiness. Actions like hiding your talents from the world, working jobs that violate your values, and silencing yourself for fear of criticism were among many of the actions presented in the passage. Afterward, we broke off into either pairs or small groups to discuss what we had just read. Surprisingly, the conversations began to flow almost effortlessly. Everyone in the room could connect to some part of the passage and had experiences to share with the group. After a few minutes, we merged back into our circle and began to share. Each person had their own insights, a new perspective to bring to the table. The conversation shifted from only discussing the passage to divulging experiences from our own lives in which we had been frozen with fear and doubt. Nearly everyone could recall a time in which they had restrained their true selves for fear of being criticized or mocked. But then there were also those who had overcome their fears and realized that our reluctance stems from nothing more than internalizing our doubts. Eventually, we arrived at a conclusion: our assumption that the people around us will react negatively to our true selves holds us back from being happy. And, people generally are not that volatile when confronted with differing opinions. Miscommunication is at the root of our negativity, and having a dialogue is the cure. We finished our discussion with the question, “What will you do differently this year?” and then called it a night. As we left, everyone seemed to feel more at ease, confident, and even relieved.   

Vincentian Moments

In DePaul Interfaith Programs, DePaul University, Uncategorized on January 5, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Part of our work with the Interfaith Scholars is to make moves to draw people closer together through our different faiths. Our purpose is to transcend differences and better understand one another and the role that our faith plays in our day to day lives. One of the ways that the scholars do this is by creating what we call Vincentian Moments. These moments take an aspect of each faith tradition and draw a comparison to an aspect of St. Vincent Depaul’s teachings. 

The first installment comes from Scholar Thano Prokos who decided to on his own background in the Greek Orthodox Faith.

St. Vincent says,

 “Our Lord humbles in order to raise up, and allows the suffering of interior and exterior afflictions in order to bring about peace. He often desires some things more than we do, but wants us to merit the grace of accomplishing them by several practices of virtue and to beg for this with many prayers.”

In “Taking the More Excellent Way,” Fr. Anthony Hughes talks about the story of St. Mary of Egypt and uses it to explain on how we make use of personal suffering. He argues that our trials and suffering are the things that make us grow and we become beautiful human beings.

St. Vincent stresses the same idea, that when we are humbled in our lives it’s our duty to rise back up.  What both men are saying, is that the hardships we face are not necessarily what we should focus on. We shouldn’t be consumed by our grief. Rather, it’s important to focus on what the next step is. How do we respond to tragedy? Both men encourage a detachment from the experience of grief and a focus on the divine through prayer.

Vincent asks us to say our own personal prayers to God with the hope that our prayer focuses our attention on what is good and how we can strive to be better. Fr. Anthony asks us to pray for others, particularly those who hurt us. The goal of this practice is less “divine intervention” but more to remind us that those who hurt us are every bit as human as we are. It changes our perception of them from the evil other into someone that we can be compassionate towards in the hopes that in the future, we can demonstrate our growth by meeting  hostility with love.

New Scholars. New Reflections.

In Reflection, Uncategorized on October 11, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Over the summer, a group of our interfaith scholars headed to New York City in order to experience each other’s faith in such a way that we could move past any preconceived notions and actually grasp what the others believed. For most college age students, a trip to New York is all about the kind of shenanigans that can be accomplished and summer is about losing all responsibility and just relaxing. This summer shifted our focus because we were not letting time idly pass by. We were pushed out of our comfort zones in an effort to bring all of us closer together. We had the rest of the summer to reflect and decide if that plan worked or not. 

Each scholar was asked to reflect on:

  • What experience was inspiring?
  • What was surprising?
  •  

    What challenges were confronted?

  • What made you care?

Interfaith Scholar extraordinaire Kamieshia Graves gave us her reflection:

“New York. (insert happy sigh here) The city of wonders and great opportunities. The place to be with all its magnificent city lights illuminating the picturesque skyline. All the snazzy people with ambitions and dreams that are out of this world. Forget Home, Dorothy! There’s no place like New York!!!!!!”

Yeah… definitely not how I felt initially. May I offer a bit of my reality?

I never had the burning desire to go to NY. In fact, I was so dedicated to being a Chicagoan that I was almost positive that I would never partake in the blasphemous act of going to New York. It sounds ridiculous because it was ridiculous– don’t judge me. I think NY simply terrified me causing the lack of motivation to visit; however, I agreed to go with Interfaith Scholars 2013-2014 (woot woot!) and the adventure began.

You see, the day of travel came and butterflies are too cute to describe how I felt. I hadn’t previously met any of my team members with whom I would be riding all the way to NY. I’m a pretty easygoing person, but the thought of not being accepted into the group worried me quite a bit and I must say that first day was quite a challenge for me. It was like transferring to a new high school during senior year—I know from experience. Everyone was already comfortable and easily initiated conversations and laughed. Meanwhile, I fought to find a cool way to just jump in, which I never figured out. Instead, I randomly would ask a question, like a dork, never realizing that the focus was on the Game of Thrones, which I knew nothing about. (PS. Thanks guys for inspiring me to watch it. It is good!) Needless to say, I slept most of that ride.

Fast-forward:

We arrived and had arrangements to stay in the Bronx! I loved the Bronx immediately because it gave me a sense of comfort when I needed it most. I felt more connected with the residents of that area more so than I did with the individuals I was to live with. I felt that if I walked into a random group of New Yorkers they would listen to me, but I did not feel that way with my own team. Then all of a sudden, a bright light broke through the sky and we had a “Haaaaaaallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelu-u-u-u-jahhhh” moment and one person from my group struck up a conversation with me and then another and we just clicked, which actually surprised me! Although I believe that the foundation of Christianity with regards to behavior towards others is to be Christ-like by loving everyone despite differences, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I, a nondenominational Christian, had so much in common, including some religious beliefs, with the two young women who are both Muslim. The shared commonalities even extended to the other faith practices represented in the group. Can you imagine the look on my face when I met the Greek Orthodox priest and learned that he is just as crazy hilarious as my own pastor?! I’m sorry, but when I first heard Greek Orthodox I let my preconceived notions nurture the idea of taking a nap before going to that church. I expected it to be boring, but I happily admitted my error after learning that the St Nick is Santa. I had to send silent prayers of forgiveness to each of the faith practices many times that trip; I wouldn’t have changed it though because I learned a great deal about others as well as myself.

Though some may disagree, I would be comfortable saying that we are all working toward the same goal, but simply using different paths. I love it!

During a free day, I got to explore this a bit more when the leaders of the group gave us the challenge of initiating a conversation with a native and, if not too strenuous, centering the conversation on religion. I, along with the same two young ladies, found it rather easy to achieve this at Union Square with a bunch of random men from different faith practices. We got into this really crazy discussion (borderline debate at times) about Christianity, Atheism, and Islam with a man who identified himself as atheist. More and more people joined, and we developed this cycle of discussing religion and being silly. In the midst of all this enjoyable chaos, there was an older Islamic woman whose mere presence was awe-inspiring. This woman was selling water to make a profit. A couple of the guys bought water, and one said that he had done it because he felt sorry for her. The crazy thing is this lady was joyous and goofy. At least for the moment, she had not let life steal her love of living. I remember that she had jokingly asked one of the men why he hadn’t made a pass at one of us ladies and she laughed with us. It seems so simple, but I found it inspirational because life has dealt some crazy cards to me and I had allowed it to start having an effect on my perspective, but her presence reminded me of what I do have- laughter. (I have this crazy obnoxious laugh but I love it because it makes others laugh too.) I let the hard stuff blur my positive and optimistic outlook, but her presence.

Jumping gears to a not so religious moment that I have to share because it touched me:

I cannot remember where we were or why we were there but we were at a very small park- it was literally a fountain with benches around it- and there was this little girl who was in her own little world. She danced and danced without a care in the world, and all of us just watched her, but not in a creepy way. She eventually realized she had an audience and she stopped and returned the favor. She just looked at me… and looked… and looked until she smiled a big cheerful smile provoking me to do the same. She waved at me giddily twice before her mother looked back to check on the fuss. Her daughter ran to her and pointed at me and waved again. Our group had turned to leave, but before leaving to proceed to our next destination I turned to see her awaiting a goodbye. We waved one last time and I walked away touched by the purity of that carefree child.

I could go on and on about the IFS trip to NY, but I think I have already talked waaaaay too much. What can I say? Because of the memories I was gifted, I had a lot to say about the remarkable city of New York. As of right now, there is no place like it.

 

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