depaulinterfaith

Faith and Deconstructing the Exclusivity of Truth

In Uncategorized on May 30, 2014 at 2:51 pm

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.

Faith, Falling Down, and Vampires

In Uncategorized on May 28, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Interfaith Scholar Thano Prokos gives his insight on music, faith, and spirit. 

We recently opened our Scholar meeting by answering the question “What fills your spirit?” Being the indecisive and long-winded person that I am, I decided to present my fellow scholars with my own litany of spirit fillers which in includes (but is not limited to) church, writing, English Renaissance literature, going on walks, singing in large groups, drawing pictures of pink fluffy unicorns, and listening to music.

Given that June will soon spring upon us, like a Greek grandmother on a cup of communion, I’m about to fill my mouth, ears, and spirit with song because it’s…. wait for it… THE SUMMER CONCERT SEASON! And this year, I’ll be starting off my annual concert binge with Vampire Weekend in early June, followed by Jack White in July, and concluding with Chicago’s Riot Fest (with some other names in between).

But Thano, how can you—a practicing Orthodox Christian—submit yourself to the Devil’s melodies on one day and go to church in good conscience the next day? Well old crotchety 1950’s man, let me tell you a little somethin’-somethin.’

It’s definitely challenging to be Orthodox and a lover of modern music. I’ll be blunt: there’s a lot of stuff out there that I consider garbage—garbage I sometimes listen to—but garbage nonetheless. There’s art that’s uncreative, there’s art that doesn’t challenge you, there’s, there’s art that’s totally shallow, there’s art that purely seeks to antagonize certain audiences, and I really feel that a lot of that stuff doesn’t really do anything good for listeners.

But at the same time, there are songs that are critical of certain religious beliefs that I really appreciate. Take, for example, a couple of my favorite tracks from the latest Vampire Weekend album: “Unbelievers and “Ya Hey.” Both of these songs depict their speaker’s inability to connect to the divine and the Judeo-Christian concept of God.

The chorus in “Unbelievers” goes like this:

 

I’m not excited [about God], but should I be?
Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?
I know I love you,
and you love the sea,
but what holy water contains a little drop, little drop for me?”

It refers to the lack of nourishment that the speaker receives from the religious culture that surrounds him.

Ya Hey” uses a few biblical allusions to describe an inability to connect with God, while background vocals continuously repeat the song’s title (a pun on Yeweh):

“Through the fire and through the flames
You won’t even say your name,
only “I am that I am.

But who could ever live that way?”

So, both of these songs depict a struggle with spirituality, and though I’m probably on the other side of this struggle than the band’s songwriter Ezra Koenig, I can definitely relate to the difficulties of experiencing faith that Ezra Koenig sings about. Do I ever feel like religion isn’t doing anything for me? Do I ever feel like God is distant? Of course I do! Going to shows like these is one of my favorite examples of inter-faith in action: People who believe different things, but still use music to confront similar struggles of belief.

So let’s get back to spirit-filling. How does acknowledging my struggles—and thereby confronting my own moments of spiritual emptiness—fill my spirit? Is it filled from watching some of my favorite musicians dancing and enjoying themselves on stage? Is it filled from the sound of a stadium full of people singing along to my favorite song? Is it filled by the misty sensation of a cup of Miller Light raining down over my head as it flies further up towards the stage? Not quite to any of these, but I actually do enjoy getting the occasional beer shower.

When I confront really challenging songs or poetry, the filling of my spirit comes from knowing that if I do “fall down” from maintaining my relationship with God, I have the opportunity to “get back up” and continue dealing with my struggles. Here’s a better articulation of that comforting thought from the Orthodox theologian Jim Forrest’s book Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness:

The story is called “A Fallen Monk Seeks Advice From St. Sisoes the Great”

A young monk said to Abba Sisoes: “Abba, what should I do? I fell.” The elder answered: “Get up!” The monk said: “I got up and I fell again!” The elder replied: “Get up again!” But the young monk asked: “For how long should I get up when I fall?” “Until your death,” answered Abba Sisoes. “For a man heads to his judgment either fallen or getting back up again.”

And who knows, maybe one day there will be a Vampire Weekend song about that.

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.   

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