Welcome Home

Welcome back students! We are excited some of you are here and the rest of you are coming soon! This has been a very fast summer and for many a challenging one as well. This year we welcome you all back, and for many for the first time with a heart of embrace and a place to call home. As you arrive take note of the people around you. They are your family. They have come, just like you, with hopes and dreams of a bright future. They have also arrived with anxieties about being accepted for who they are. Maybe this is also you.

These are years you have to explore what it means to grow maybe one way and then maybe another. These are times you have to wonder about who you can be and how to live fully into who you already are. Emory is a place we as a community have committed to explore together the uniqueness of everyone’s discoveries and transitions. Our office is directed towards the religious and spiritual dimensions of your whole self, but does not neglect any one part of you. You are fully accepted and acknowledged by each of us. With the collaboration of campus ministers, rabbis, and religious life advisors from the five major world religions we seek to foster a practice of embrace across and for difference. We do this without requiring anyone to give up on his, her, or their own identities. You are encouraged to be yourself and flourish in doing so by being in relationships with those who are different from you.

Your differences are what make this community beautiful. They become part of the DNA of the college and the very thing that opens up opportunity for practicing authenticity and growth. As you arrive with all of your uniqueness and difference, arrive together. Arrive with hope that roommates and classmates, custodians and faculty, and everyone in between are all here to grow alongside you. Come with a prayer that because you have inherent value already, that you may be someone who can recognize and teach others how to see that value within themselves.

Be encouraged that you are not the only one encouraging others. Take heart that you are not alone and there are many others who are seeking to grow alongside you. Find practices early on that keep you connected to the people around you as well as grounded in your own self. Don’t become lost in the milieu of grandeur and excellence, but remember where you come from and share that deep meaning with your family. Make this your home.

Where the Green and Blue Meet in the Ocean

Vacation. It takes us away from everything that swells up in us and around us. Vacation draws our minds out of our regular selves and into a little bit of nothingness. That is until the community you care for publicly speaks out, in one voice. In loss.

I sat for a while feeling and thinking. It was early morning, raining, and quiet. I did not know Abinta or Faraaz, but my heart was touched and continues to hold fast to those who did. It isn’t our jobs to internalize the pain of students, faculty, and staff. It is our obligation, our foundation, and the meaning of our being to embrace those who are feeling loss. 

That is where we dwell. In an embrace of both solace and suffering. In where the green ocean meets the blue. Where comfort and fear mingle together. The safety of the shore so close

Christianity likes to use the word tension to describe the difference between our green and blue oceans. I’m not sure they have it right. It’s less tension and more mingling. 
When we touch grief, we leave a fingerprint of ourselves on someone’s loss and we in turn receieve a mark of someone on ourselves. 

It is our job as humans to not be afraid of someone’s grief. It is our job to not forsake someone to their despair. In fact, to do so is to deny the humanness and worth of someone’s existence. It precedes violence as a passive violent act in itself. 

Let us seek to live in the creativity of the green and blue as they mix in oceans. Let’s dwell in fear when we see it in others. Explore the depth of pain because in it we will discover things scare us and hurt us because we care and find meaning in the life we have and the dependency we have on each other. 

Weddings Across Faith

Weddings across different religions share certain ceremonies despite their sometimes dramatic ideological differences. While that may seem surprising at first, upon researching the history of different wedding traditions, there are many more similarities in their spiritual significance than one might realize. I decided to research the wedding ceremonies of Christianity and Hinduism, two religions that on the surface do not seem to have a lot in common at all, and what I found surprised me.

Kanyadaan and Giving Away of the Bride: In both Hinduism and Christianity the bride is given away to the groom as a sign of good faith and as a way for the family to show their support of the union. Just as a father walks his daughter down the aisle in a Christian wedding, in a Hindu wedding, the father (or maybe both parents of the bride) place their hands between their daughter and son-in-law to symbolize the “giving away of the bride”.

Mangal Sutra/Sindoor and Exchanging of the Rings: In both traditions the bride and groom trade physical objects meant to represent emotional and spiritual connections. For Christianity the bride and groom exchange rings, chosen due to their cyclical shape representing the infinite bond the two share. There is also a scriptural reference to the ring shape because God chose a rainbow, whose complete form is a ring, as a sign of his covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:12-16). In the Hindu tradition the groom gives the bride a gold necklace with small beads and places vermillion on her forehead to signify his eternal commitment to her and the new color and dimension in her life respectively.

Red and White Dresses: The whiteness of the bride’s wedding dress in the Christian faith represents the bride’s purity and innocence in her life and her reverence to God. It also references a passage from Revelation 19:7-8 where Christ clothes his bride, the church, in his own righteousness as a garment of “fine linen, bright and clean.” Although in Hinduism the bride wears much brighter colors, usually red, it is meant to represent the same innocence and purity. The only difference here is that the red also adds an element of passion and romance.

As someone who grew up watching shows like Say Yes to the Dress on TLC, it was always difficult for me to reconcile the reality of my Hindu tradition with the Christian environment I lived in. However, after doing this research and outlining the characteristics of the ceremonies I realized that although cultures can be different on the surface, their motivations are intrinsically very human and share similar beliefs.

~Kavya Sundaram

Eid Al-Adha— The Sequel

Eid Al-Adha is the second Eid, or religious holiday, that Muslims celebrate each year. This Eid is during the Islamic month Dul-Hijjah. During this month, Muslims from all of the world go to Mecca to complete the pilgrimage: Hajj. Eid celebrates the completion of Hajj. However, the true purpose of Eid is to honor and remember the Prophet Abraham and his son’s complete submission to God. Muslims believe that Abraham (pbuh: peace be upon him) received divine revelation from God instructing him to sacrifice his son, Ismael (pbuh). This was an immensely difficult test for Prophet Abraham (pbuh) because he loved his son dearly, but ultimately God came first. Prophet Abraham (pbuh) informed his son Ismael (pbuh) of the omen and Ismael (pbuh) did not hesitate and expressed to his father that if this was the will of God, then he is completely compliant. The wholehearted compliance of both Abraham (pbuh) and his son Ismael (pbuh) made evident the magnitude of their faith and trust in God. This concept of unconditional and devoted faith is defined in Islam as Iman, and this immense strength of Iman that Abraham (pbuh) and Ismael (pbuh)is what embodies the holiday and what Muslims every year remember and strive for. But the story doesn’t end there: Abraham (pbuh) and Ismael (pbuh) made their Iman completely evident in this test from God, and thus at the moment of sacrifice, God sent two lambs in the place of Ismael. Allah could have allowed Ismael to be sacrificed; a practice common in many different faiths, but His ultimate purpose was not to hurt the Prophet Abraham (pbuh) or his son, rather to test their devotion. This is so beautiful because it reminds us of God’s mercy and demonstrates that all that truly matters is that you fully spiritually submit to God. Iman is a fundamental basis of Islam and we are reminded of that on Eid.

Adorned in their best and brightest, Muslims attend Eid prayer. Eid day is started with a special prayer only performed on the two Eids and takes place a few hours after Fajr prayer. Muslims congregate in the mosque repeating the takbir which is a part of the special Eid prayer. They repeat the words, “Takbeer, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, La ilaaha il-lal-lahu, Allah Akbar Allahu Akbar, Wa lilAllahil hamd ” which translates to “ God is the greatest, God is the greatest, There is no one worthy of worship except God, God is the greatest, God is the greatest and to God belongs all praise. After the conclusion of the Eid prayer, Muslims usually enjoy a feast. Typically, mosques will host a potluck brunch in which families and friends gather with an array of various delicious dishes. After all our appetites are happily satisfied, the Muslims disperse to go partake in their own individual celebrations. My family visits other family and friends, sharing gifts and good wishes with everyone. The homes are filled with gleeful children who patiently wait for their Eidya: money given to teens and under on Eid. Delighted and youthful cheers accompany the chaotic exchange of small envelopes filled with dollar bills. Adolescents, toddlers, babies all receive goody bags filled with a colorful assortment of candies. Uncles, aunts, cousins and neighbors snack on homemade cookies while waiting for lunch to be prepared. Traditionally on Eid, Muslims will slaughter a lamb in memory of the Prophet Ismael and his devotion to Allah. The meat from the lamb is divided into thirds: one third for the family, another to be shared with the neighbors and the final third is to be given to the needy. In addition to giving a third of the meat to the needy, Muslims also must give Zakat, a tax which requires all Muslims to donate a specific amount of their income to the poor. Recently Muslims have performed the perfunctory tasks of slaughtering the lamb and giving Zakat virtually. Lambs can be purchased online and their meat can be sent to needy families across the globe. To still connect with the tradition, my family always serves lamb as the main dish. The remainder of the day is spent with family and friends rejoicing. Eid is a three-day long holiday, and for the remaining holiday days people attend dinners, parties, etc. It is embodied by the spirit of giving, sharing, helping and believing.

Eid translates to “celebration” in Arabic; thus the three day long period in which it lasts is full of celebratory events. During this three day period, Muslims of all cultural backgrounds are able to reconnect with Allah and remember what it means to be Muslim, to have complete faith in God. This time of spiritual reconnection and joyful celebration resonates with all Muslims. The commemoration of peaceful submission serves as an annual lesson for all Muslims, on the importance of peaceful surrender to God. Inshallah we will continue to peacefully interact and learn about Islam, during and after this holiday season! Salam and Eid Mubarak!

~Nora Elmubarak

5 Practical Steps to a Better You This Rosh Hashana

It’s that time of year again–everyone is optimistic at the endless prospects and opportunities of a new beginning. This lasts until we slowly begin to acknowledge our inability to commit to half of the things we planned on, dreadfully realizing the inevitable stress to come, by the third week of school. The rest of the semester isn’t looking too bright…

So how can we momentarily take a step back from our labs, papers, and pop quizzes and appreciate the unique opportunity we’ve been given that is the New Year? How do we recognize that the beginning of the school year isn’t only about making the most “ideal” schedule or finding the best shortcuts to class? Rather, it’s about working on ourselves and establishing goals and values to set for the year.

Introducing, Rosh Hashana.

Rosh, or head, and Hashana, the year, literally means the head, or beginning, of the year. This is the Jewish New Year. The holiday typically falls on the first two days of the Jewish month of Tishrei and is followed by a 10-day period of prayer, repentance, and self-reflection on the past year which culminates on the fast day of Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the Jewish year.

Now, while some might dread the long, tedious hours of sitting at their respective synagogues, counting down the pages of the Machzor, or prayer book used on the high holidays, others welcome this opportunity for self-reflection and awareness on how they acted the past year and how they’d like to start acting in the upcoming year. The beauty of this holiday is its significant focus on individual growth and self-awareness. The way we act and goals we make for ourselves at this critical time will set the tone for the entire year.

As with many things in Judaism, there are specific steps to the way we should repent–ask God for forgiveness–and begin to work on improving ourselves for the upcoming year. Here is a list of 5 practical ways we can all get closer to the best versions of ourselves this year.

  1. Don’t Push it Off

You’re never going to find the perfect time to get rid of a bad habit. Don’t wait for some magical sign to get you started. Don’t wait until you’re at a low point in your life. Start today.

  1. Baby Steps

 Don’t try to change too many things at once. When we take steps that are too large, we end up falling backwards. Work on one goal at a time as slowly as needed. It’s better to accomplish a goal slowly and confidently rather than sloppily and half-heartedly. You’ll most likely feel more accomplished knowing that you were thorough and took your time.

  1. List Your Goals

            Write down goals for the week, month, and year. This will give you a daily reminder of what you should be working on. Once you write things down, it becomes clearer what you need to work on.

  1. Talk to Someone

Let someone know that you’re trying to change. It’ll keep you accountable and motivated and provide you with the support you need.

  1. Eyes on the Prize

Stay focused on your goal. But, most importantly, reward yourself when you see a change. Personal growth is really difficult. We’re all pretty used to the way we’re wired and to change that, even a little, requires a lot of patience, discipline, and self-awareness. Give yourself a pat on the back when you feel that you accomplished a goal for a job well done!

So, here it is. 5 concrete methods for self-improvement and growth. Try to think about these things and reflect on the kind of person you want to be and the year you’d like to have. Even though GPAs and test scores are important to a successful college experience, self-reflection and personal growth are crucial for a meaningful life.

 

Shana Tova and Happy New Year!

http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Fall_Holidays/Rosh_Hashannah/rosh_hashannah.htm

http://www.aish.com/h/hh/rh/guide/7-Tips-for-Rosh-Hashanah.html?s=mpw

Becca Sirota and Jessica Nooriel

Just Because You Disagree With Me Doesn’t Give Me The Right To Think You’re Stupid

I may not agree with what you believe, but I will fight for your right to believe it.

This past weekend, I attended the Islamic Society of North America convention along with 30 other emerging religious leaders. Our group convened as part of the Shoulder to Shoulder campaign, an interfaith organization dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment. While I’ve always maintained a commitment to religious diversity in my work and education, this was the first time I was the religious minority. But ideologically, I still found myself comfortable in the majority as session after session confronted social justice issues important to the Muslim community.

Throughout the weekend as I listened to stories about what it means to be a Muslim-American, I thought harder about what it means to fight for someone else’s right to believe. In our interreligious circles we talk about going beyond tolerance to embrace and engage those who are different, and ultimately to respect and understand their belief system or worldview.

But what happens when someone’s belief system and worldview is so fundamentally different than my own? What if it contradicts my Truth, my understanding of justice, or my understanding of God’s will? Am I still called to embrace and engage them, respect and learn from them?

I say yes. Engagement doesn’t mean endorsement.

On a campus like Emory, we live in a progressive, forward-thinking bubble. I’ve seen it amongst many of my classmates in the Candler School of Theology. The classrooms we inhabit and our educational circles become safe places to be liberal, idealistic, and sometimes even a little radical. When we do so, our conversations become “us,” the enlightened ones, against “them,” the unenlightened.

But what happens when we go back out into the world, beyond our bubble, only to be confronted with the harsh reality of hate, or worse – ambivalence? Our socially engaged selves look upon our opponents as less enlightened than we are, more biased, less open minded. less capable of accepting others. They aren’t worth engaging, they aren’t worthy of our understanding, and we can barely even tolerate them on our Facebook feeds.

“We think our enemies are idiots, and that’s a problem,” writes Adam Waytz of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business. In his Washington Post article, Waytz writes about the “lesser minds problem.” In short, Waytz argues that “The greatest journey that no amount of technology can ever overcome is one of psychological distance—the distance between two minds.” The problem is that when we see others as mindless, we dehumanize them.

Ultimately, we love diversity that agrees with us. Though my non-Christian friends might have a different name for God or different ideas about the significance of Jesus or pray differently, we largely agree ideologically because we are bred in the same liberal academic environment. It’s okay that you don’t look like me, dress like me, pray like me, or think about God like me…but once you start to disagree with me on same-sex marriage, immigration, Israel/Palestine, or other social justice issues, I no longer find you worthy of my time.

We lose out on true ideological diversity if we try to quiet the voices that don’t believe the “right way.” Doing so violates the ethics of a diverse community. I suggest that at Emory we create safe spaces where we can meet each other across the most extreme lines: beyond religious identity, beyond race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. I suggest that we meet in a place where we put humanity above ideology.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

-Rumi

 

So, where can we meet?

~~Allison Purves

Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi, or Vinayaka Chaturthi, is a Hindu festival celebrating the birthday of the god, Ganesh. Ganesh is believed by followers to be the elephant-headed son of Lord Shiva, the god of destruction. This year, Ganesh Chaturthi will be observed on September 17th, when Hindus worldwide will celebrate by worshipping Lord Ganesha. Specifically, many participate in creating elaborate, life-size clay models of the elephant-headed god a few months prior to the festival. These clay models of Ganesha are then involved in prayer rituals during the celebration, as they are believed to embody the deity himself. On the eleventh day of the festival, the clay models are carried through the streets and dropped into a river to send Ganesh back to his home in the mountains of Kailash. This act is done to rid devotees of bad omens. Other aspects of the celebration involve preparing feasts and decorating the home. Hindus often pray to Ganesha at the beginning of an activity, as he is believed to be the remover of obstacles. For example, followers pray to Ganesha at the start of their prayer, in the mornings, and at the start of the school year. Wishing everyone a happy Ganesh Chaturthi this week!

– Snehaja Yadlapati

Shubh Krishna Janmashtami at Emory

Shubh Krishna Janmashtami (Happy Janmashtami)! Krishna Janmashtami, also known as Gokulashtami, is the celebration of the birth of Krishna. Krishna is the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and is also known as Murali, Govinda, Gopala, and one hundred other names. Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated on the eighth day of the sixth month of the Hindu calendar. This year, that day will be Saturday, September 5. Hindus all across the world (and especially in India) celebrate Krishna Janmashtami by visiting temples and performing a wide range of rituals that vary depending on the region. In addition, many Hindus also fast on Krishna Janmashtami until midnight, when it is believed that Krishna was born. Two rituals unique to Krishna Janmashtami are Rasa lila and Dahi Handi. Rasa lila is a dance that depicts life of Krishna and is performed primarily in the cities of Mathura and Vrindavan, and in parts of the state of Manipur (in India). Dahi Handi is a ritual in which teams of men create human towers and pyramids in order to break a high-hanging pot of dahi (yogurt). The Dahi Handi ritual is performed across India, but is primarily performed in the state of Maharashtra and its capital city of Bombay. In the state of Tamil Nadu, floors are decorated with kolams, patterns made with rice batter, and footprints are drawn from the thresholds of houses to the temple. Shubh Krishna Janmashtami!

Vivek Sawhney

 

Religion: The Right to be More Than What We Are Alone

It should be an interesting few weeks in the news cycle. I imagine that this story will keep some folks up at night and others will sleep easier. Regardless of one’s opinion of the controversy, which side they take, or what they are willing to rally for the question we are going to have to wonder is, how far can religion itself carry the ball in the courts of the government. I am careful not to say the courts of the people since the people of the judicial branch, without public involvement, make the decisions on this subject.

The case of Kim Davis has continued on as the Kentucky woman refuses to perform her duties as a County Clerk. While claiming religious liberty she is gaining support of those whose values lie in their religious beliefs to a point that they would stand against perceived injustices from the government. At the same time those who support the Supreme Court Decision for right to equal marital opportunity are standing beside their own value system. What will happen by in large will be a conversation of ideas that talk past one another without much hearing going on. The case for religious liberty has the potential though to be more than a smattering of terse sayings and phrases shouted at the top of one’s lungs. Instead it stands as a bastion for two seemingly oppositional ideas to be heard in public by both sides and a dialogue pursued. While the Supreme Court has delivered marital rights to the LGBT community it is clear that equal rights for marriage do not mean equality.

A fundamental human notion has been missed once again, alongside racism and other mores of the human experience. The loss of equanimity, not only equality, has pervaded the social consciousness to the point that many meaningful conversations across perceived boundaries have become not only burdensome, but also brutal. They result in public shame, public abuse, public hate, and public violence because of the loss of composure over one’s self. Composure and dedication to respecting the identity, the core being of a person has been given up for the flash and the bang. I am convinced, however, that we are not being tricked. My hunch is that there are many more conversations happening, relationships being developed, and social interactions forever changed by the new understandings that are going unnoticed.

Our greatest enemy in the midst of controversy is not the opposition. No, the “opposition” is not our neighbor, brother, sister, and sibling. They are the heart and soul of what makes cases like religious liberty meaningful and valuable, on both sides. No, I think that our greatest feat to overcome is the tendency to buy into the limit of information as that which is the limit to what it applicable and possible to accomplish. If media has the tendency to observe and report solely or predominantly on the vandals in Ferguson, and that is what the masses believe to be the information, then the media has failed the people as a resource for the people to be active citizens. Religious liberty as well as race, economics, class, non-binary gender identity, and many more identities deserve much more than the limits that media impose upon its viewers.

The masses, you and I, must realize that we are more than a paycheck. We are leaders in our own lives and chances are we are authors of truth and limitless creative possibility in the lives of one another. Social issues are not simply social issues because a news anchor decided that it was a story. Social issues are more than the utility of a mogul to satisfy his or her own attention. When Religious Liberty or LGBT Rights “go on trial” so also will all other matters that citizens know are meaningful to them, inherently and without propagation from the media. How we choose to proceed in public, whether it is to invest in one another or investigate against one another will continue to determine how the public, you and I, choose to engage in healthy or unhealthy conflict. Religion, at its core, is not meant to carry our arguments in courts as wondered in the beginning of this post. Instead it is a utility to be used to form relationships, break down barriers, and ultimately value the uniqueness of the transcendent and divine that dwells in each of us. Hopefully, we as a mass can be encouraged to not give up hope, to not draw swords on our posters, but instead drop our pickets and embrace one another for our differences.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/us/kim-davis-same-sex-marriage.html?_r=0

Kevin Crawford

Strange Love or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love College

My name is Peter Leistikow. I am a junior from Atlanta, Georgia. I am studying Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and Sociology.

If you are a freshman, this is a conversation template you have come to understand and possibly despise. However, it does not define you. Although I have been solicited to offer some advice now that you have begun your college journey, I don’t want to be condescending, or give you a disingenuous view of Emory, as that is a job best left to your RAs. Rather, I want to tell you about my own journey and some lessons learned along the way that, ironically, even a well-written yet snarky blog post could not have prepared me to experience.

When I came to school, I imagine I was like many freshman entering campus armed with vague goals and a history of success, but very little idea of which way to turn for direction. Between the constant games, social obligations (unlimited swipes at the DUC means three breakfasts with three different groups of friends), and club fairs, it feels like you are always on the cusp of a new adventure.

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to these initial experiences; either “be yourself” and stay the way you are, or “try new things!” and reinvent yourself in college. I offer you a third option: Be who you want to become. There is nothing wrong with letting go of old hobbies while in the pursuit of new ones, but you don’t have to be moving for the sake of motion or to simply feel like you are getting somewhere. For example, in high school I defined myself through a love of cross-country and track running, playing music, and going to concerts. When I came to school, I changed my time management, but not my passions. I still love to run on the weekends, but I won’t be doing another half marathon anytime soon. I don’t play in the school orchestra, but I still go to every concert for which I can afford a ticket, and I use comedic writing as a new creative outlet. These things fulfilled me, but they were not at the center of the person I wanted to be.

I was very careful in determining which college pursuits aligned with my values. For example, like many freshmen, I had grown up a the fraternity system; when John Belushi donned the “College” sweatshirt and downed a handle, it appeared as a stand-in for every popular college fraternity brother. However, I quickly found that the Greek system became a wedge in burgeoning dorm relationships, and while many succeeded in the high-octane atmosphere, many did not. I too tried to convince myself that joining a fraternity could be the path to a college career well-lived, but ultimately I found the experience not to be fulfilling, and I quietly dropped out of the rush process. Although I did eventually become an executive of a now-chartered coed honor fraternity, I will always regret feeling like the Greek system was the only place to go to find belonging in a campus brimming with students of diverse interests and backgrounds.

While it was easy to decide where to trim the fat, it was very difficult to find out what I would use to fill the void. What I found was that, to quote the great philosopher Taylor Swift, “what you’re looking for has been here the whole time.” Church, among other things, seemed to be reminding me that “you belong with me!” Indeed, I did belong in church, and I needed a faith that would grow with me as I did.

While I grew up in the church, certain events in high school had strained my faith, making me wary of beginning again in church once I entered school. However, once I met the people of the Emory Wesley Fellowship, I knew that this group could help me become the person I wanted to be. In fact, it was through their acceptance, love, and support and the study of the sermon series, and book of the same name, “When Christians Get It Wrong” by Adam Hamilton, that I was able to reconcile my religious beliefs with the biting realities of my past and my tumultuous freshman year present.

When I think back to freshman year, I remember most of all everyone’s prevailing desire to fit in and find acceptance. It took me a long time to realize I didn’t have to please my parents, my dorm mates, my church group, my coworkers, and myself all the time. In reality, all those people ever needed from me was for me to be the person I wanted to become.

Written by Peter Leistikow a Member of Emory Wesley Foundation.

http://emorywesley.org