Blindly Following

I grew up going to Elim Covenant Church, a tiny church in Stockholm, SD. Honestly, I do not even know how to describe their main beliefs, even though I was confirmed in the Covenant tradition. For my confirmation, I had to recite their version of the Apostles’ Creed. (I didn’t even have to memorize it. To this day, I still forget some of the lines. Sorry, Pastor Mark.)

One of our assignments for Word to the Wise is to write a reflection on a faith tradition’s creed of Statement of Faith, so I choose the Apostles’ Creed. Many Christian denominations use the Apostles’ Creed with slightly different wording, but get at the same concepts. In this short blog post, I will explore and reflect on the Covenant Church’s version of the Apostles’ Creed.

The Covenant version starts off very similar to other versions of the creed. The first difference is the phrase, “died, and was buried.” Most versions say, “dead and buried.” This difference intrigues me. Died is a verb, whereas dead is an adjective. What does this difference imply? Does it mean that one Jesus was a more active Jesus? Does it mean that one Jesus can relate more to human nature?

The next difference is “Jesus descended into Hades.” Most other versions say, “Jesus descended into Hell.” Why is this difference important? Why does it matter if it is Hell or Hades? Aren’t they pretty much the same place? Hades comes from a background of Greek mythology, so the use of Hades in this version also intrigues me.

The last difference is between “the living and the dead” versus “the quick and the dead.” Personally, I like living more. The quick doesn’t really make sense to me. Like, I see how people who are living are quicker than the dead, but I am not sure why quick gets used in other versions.

While this texts seems up front, many nuances shine through in different versions. I realize that I did not explore the nuances much, but honestly, I am not really sure how to do it other than to ask questions. So how do the nuances change the way I think about my faith? And in turn, how does that change how I live out my faith? Do subtle nuances in language change the way in which we think about a topic? Does it really change the way we think about the divine?

As I am reflecting on this significant text in my Christian background, I am ashamed to admit that I don’t have much to say on it which is honestly quite concerning to me. I can normally talk for days on most topics. What scares me most is that I have blindly followed and recited this creed without truly and fully exploring the meanings behind it.

In many ways, I feel like I am grasping at words and thoughts that are not fully fleshed yet. How have I (someone who questions literally everything) not questioned or explored the meanings behind something so significant to the Christian tradition? How did the memorization of the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and other significant texts in the Christian tradition at a young age inhibit my ability to question what it means? 

Today, when I read my Bible, I am able to look for the deeper meanings within the text and how we can interpret the texts in many different ways. (Shout out to Dr. Creech who has helped me so much with this!) Why do I feel like I cannot do this with the Apostles’ Creed? What is hindering me from fully exploring this text? What can I do to engage this text more fully?

What I can say is that the Apostles’ Creed does express my beliefs as a Christian. However, I feel as though some of the major tenants that I find important in Christianity are left out—compassion, love, working for justice, understanding, and working together with people of all backgrounds. Why is it that some of the major core teachings of how Christians should act are not included in this creed?  

For me, this raises the questions: Is it better just to believe and be a bad person? Or does one really need to live out the major teachings of Christianity such as helping and loving one another to truly believe? Does belief in Christ mean that someone is actually going to be a good person? So really, does that mean that if someone believes but isn’t a good person, they are accepted as well? Is it truly enough just to believe in Christ and what he did for humankind? There is that whole notion of grace being available for all, so what does that mean for living a “good” life?

In the last paragraph, I bring up questions that I have had for much of my life. The answers I get when I ask these questions have never been satisfactory to me. So if you have thoughts or a perspective to offer on this, I would be glad to hear them.

This reflection has surly been an interesting one for me; mostly, leaving me feel like I haven’t done a good enough job exploring my tradition. But from here, I can more forward and explore more. Maybe this was an opportune time to reflect on the Apostles’ Creed.

So Guess What? I changed my mind.

Yesterday, The Concordia Band embarked on our annual domestic tour, this year to the Seattle area. Today, we are at Stadium High School in Tacoma where the movie 10 Things I Hate About You was filmed. (How cool! Right? This place looks like a castle, overlooks Puget Sound, and has an amazing stadium!) Band tour is my favorite time of year, right behind Christmas. I love being able to take a week to make music, being immersed in something that I love. However, I don’t believe I would feel this way today if I hadn’t changed my major.

I came to Concordia dead set on becoming a music teacher. I started off as a Bachelor of Music, Music Education major. I was taking hour-long lessons on clarinet every week, half an hour piano lessons, and playing in at least four ensembles. Besides a couple of non-music classes, music was my life. A few months into school, my hand problems got a lot worse, so I had to switch to a Bachelor of Arts degree path. I wasn’t thrilled about this decision, but I simply could not handle the strain on my hands.

My section-mate, Jeremy, and I in the airport

My section-mate, Jeremy, and I in the airport

Sophomore year, as we started clinicals, I was in a ELL classroom at SG Reinertsen Elementary in Moorhead. I LOVED it! I loved working with younger students, and I loved teaching kids about english, math and geography. I loved the diversity of students and subjects in the classroom. During this time, I was becoming particularly disenchanted with my music classes. Music wasn’t fun anymore. Rather, it started to feel like work. In fact, I was beginning to hate playing.

So at the beginning of my second semester of my sophomore year, I was sitting in Aural Skills III, a dreaded set of three semesters of ear training for music majors. The first thing my professor, Dr. Narum, said was, “Over break, I contacted some of my colleagues to ask them how they use aural skills in their jobs today.” The first thing I thought was, “I’m not going to use aural skills. I don’t even want to teach music.” That was very telling.

I switched my major to elementary education that day. I stayed in all my other music classes, besides Aural Skills III, to finish up my music minor. I added Children’s Literature and Elementary PE to my schedule. I enjoyed those classes, and I thought I had found the perfect fit for me. As I continued clinicals, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying myself in the classroom. I got so nervous being up in front of kids and having the responsibility to teach them something. Mind you, I do not have a problem getting up in front of people and talking—that has never been an issue for me. 

Come March, I went through a messy break up. Through that experience, I really realized that I needed to change my major. I needed to be intellectual stimulated in a different, the way that had happened in my religion classes I had taken. So here I am, a senior in college and finishing my entire major this year. And I love it! I wouldn’t change a thing, even though I am completely overwhelmed by reading and writing all the time. My major is challenging. My major makes me think in different ways. My major helps me ask questions about the world around me.

While it makes me irritated when people ask if I am going to become a pastor just because I am a religion major, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am finally in the right place. But that doesn’t take away from my story, it only enhances my experiences and journeys. I still have a passion for education, one that will be with me for all of my life. Who knows…I have been thinking that I might become a professor. I still have the rest of my life to figure it out.

As I sit listening to one of my incredibly talented classmates play marimba in a master class, I am so happy that I don’t hate music anymore. Music has become something I love again. Switching my major made that possible, and more importantly, changing my mind made that possible. 

Interfaith Conversations as Social Change

Sunday, January 18, 2015 is the day in which I changed my mind about who could be involved in interfaith and social justice work. See, in my mind, for some reason, I thought it was just young people, people of my generation, who wanted to change the world, who wanted to work for compassion and understanding in their communities. I was wrong. So totally wrong. It wasn’t like I thought that people older than me didn’t also want to change the world. However, I have never had any direct experience with someone significantly older than me intentionally pursuing change within a community. But I am so glad my perspective and story evolved.

On Sunday, I went to a meeting of the Center for Interfaith Projects held at the Lutheran University Center on North Dakota State University’s campus. Ron Gaul, a member of the Fargo-Moorhead Secular Community, was speaking and holding a conversation on what it meant to be an agnostic atheist. I jumped at this opportunity because it is something that I haven’t learned a lot about. I have also been interested in this perspective for quite sometime. (Also, it was an easy way to complete assignments for a couple class, but you know, whatever).

I drug my boyfriend, Sam, along because I didn’t want to go alone. As we began to walk in, we strolled past the windows in the front. I looked in to see many smiling faces, but they were much older than I expected. We were greeted warmly at the door by one of the directors, and then led to chairs set up in a circle. Sam, one other person, and myself were by far the youngest ones there. I honestly did not expect this demographic. When I think of interfaith cooperation, my mind tends to think about young people, not old.

As the conversation begins, Ron told the group, of around 35 people, about the book Faithiest by Chris Stedman. He shared how he relates to this book and the ideas and stories that are in there. (Side note: This made me excited to read this book for my class, Faith in Dialogue, later this semester). Ron considers himself an agnostic atheist because he cannot without a doubt prove that there is not a god. Ron looks more towards science and rational explanations to shape the way he views the world. He also hold very many humanist perspectives as well. As Ron finished with sharing about himself, the conversation began to revolve around how we share our stories with one another and how to effectively and respectfully tell someone else about your faith or non-faith.

There was not a specific issue of social justice that was brought up during this conversation. However, I would argue that learning how to share our stories and the stories of others and interfaith dialogue can be considered a social justice issue. When we think about many social justice movements, many are centered around the stories that are told. Justice movements would not be possible without stories. These stories are able to captivate an audience and compel them to act. This is how movements start. Without stories, social change would not be possible.

Towards the end of the meeting, everyone had a chance to go around the circle and say what convictions they are a part of. We each got a chance to take part of story telling—sharing our stories to understand each other better. Through this, we were partaking in social change. Often in American culture, we do not talk about our faith convictions openly and in a setting that is friendly and welcoming. The meeting in and of itself was a part of social change. Interfaith dialogue is something that is needed for our ever-changing and growing world. Many of our neighbors do not share the same faith as we do. It is important to know how to dialogue with and be respectful of people of other convictions. By learning how to respect one another’s identity, we can make the world a better place. I feel like my over-idealist tendencies are coming out here, but seriously, just listening can make things so much easier and break down so many barriers. God knows I need to learn how to listen better.

So what does this mean? Is an interfaith conversation really social change? Yes. I believe it is. It is a place where sincere, genuine conversations can happen that can really be life-changing for many people. I know my experience was. Maybe it wasn’t exactly life-changing, but I know there was a shift in how I view the world. My whole perspective on who could be involved in interfaith and social justice movements completely switched. Through participating in an act towards social change, I was able to open up my mind to think about who can be involved in and what constitutes as social change.

Speaking of Religion, Science, and Sex

So here goes this blogging thing. I have never written a blog before, but sometimes the thoughts in my head come out as blog posts. So I am not really sure why I haven’t ever considered writing one. For my Writing for Religious and Social Change class, one of the assignments is to respond to a class reading, so that’s what I am going to do. Currently, we are reading Speaking of Faith by Krista Tippett. She hosts a radio show entitled On Being. While I have not been familiar with her work until quite recently, Tippett is quickly becoming someone with whom I identify and admire.

In chapter three, she argues that in our world today there is often a distinct line drawn between religion and science. However, that has not been the case in history. Normally, religion and science are intertwined. It is only a recent development that the two are separated.

This prompted our professor, Adam Copeland, to ask the question what other subjects often seem like they do not relate with religion? (Only, Adam worded the question more elegantly than me). While I hesitated with the answer, my immediate thought was sex. Now granted, I spent last semester researching Christianity and sex, so my mind goes there often.

Conservative Christianity promotes waiting until you are married to have sex. It is seen as a dirty act before marriage but after marriage is regarded as good and important. But there is not a switch that just flips for many people. Sex is still seen as bad to them after marriage. It seems that Christianity and sex cannot mix, just like religion and science supposedly cannot. However, I believe that to be a bold-face lie for both of those topics.

It is time to change the conversation, to ask the questions: How does this scientific finding influence my faith? How does this religious text work with what scientists have found about the natural world? How can we teach sex differently to emphasize the spiritual benefits?

For both sex and science, religion can enhance the topic in so many ways if we put them together constructively. Tippett says, “It is a crazy irony of Christianity’s divisions that those traditions that hold the text most sacred sometimes discourage the God-given powers of the human mind to read and interpret. And those that encourage the life of the mind have sometimes left the text behind.”

So how do we move forward to a place where topics like science and sex once again become part of the conversation in religion? I don’t have an answer; I am not exactly sure what to do beside start incorporating those into my conversations about religion. Maybe then, other people will begin doing the same.