The Meaning of Life?

September always feels like the beginning of a new year, even more so than January 1st.  Although we mark that day with resolutions and retail sales, it’s still just the middle of winter with a long wait for spring.  But in September, the weather starts to change and so do we.  We anticipate (sometimes with a bit of anxiety) new academic opportunities and meeting new people.  We can also feel disoriented.  Both new and returning students will learn, in some areas, that the old rules no longer apply.  Yet, they will also be affirmed that previous lessons are the foundation for new learning.

When I began seminary many Septembers ago, a recent graduate said to me, “In the midst of all you will encounter here, remember two things.  Be and do.  Be and do.”  Over the years it has become an expanded mantra to me: “In being all I am created to be, I can do all I am called to do.”  Whether you profess to be a person of faith or not, you are on this planet for a reason.  Seeking meaning and purpose is a human instinct.  Is your purpose merely self serving, or connected to something greater than yourself?

Emory students are well known for their commitment to service and volunteerism.  In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, we are planning service trips for fall, winter and spring breaks.  We are writing checks and sending donations for relief.  In addition to this important work, this September, I am encouraging another type of reaching out within the Emory campus.  What would it look like if moved a few steps beyond our regular circle of friends?  When did you last take time to learn about someone with whom you have little in common?  We were created to be in community.  Humans thrive on connection.  One of Emory’s core values is to be a collaborative community that works for positive change. It’s how we were created to be.  What will YOU do to embody that vision and value?

Rev. Bridgette Young Ross
Dean of the Chapel and Spiritual Life

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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.

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

THE NO TOLERANCE ZONE

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.

~~Anne Lamott

I suppose what I really mean is “Beyond Mere Tolerance.” On Dictionary.com you will find the following as the top two definitions for the word “tolerance”:

  1. A fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.
  1. The act or capacity of enduring; endurance:

My tolerance of noise is limited.

I want to believe that most people are thinking of the first definition when they speak of tolerance—“freedom from bigotry.” Sadly, too many of us live more closely to the second definition. When faced with difference, we merely endure the presence of, and the discomfort that goes along with, those who are not just like us. Yet, we live in a world, and on a campus, that is prolific with people of various races, cultures, nationalities, sexual orientations, gender identities and religious traditions. Additionally, in the academic setting of a highly ranked research institution—class differences often go unnoticed. While there are many ways to move beyond “mere tolerance” here are three tenets I believe point the way, and questions we need to ask ourselves as we face difference.

Respect: Do I claim to accept people as they identify themselves, while fundamentally believing people like me are better/smarter/more virtuous/normal? We can’t respect others when we believe they are in some way inferior to us. The best way to develop respect is to learn more about the differences. The best way to garner respect is to be willing to share so others may learn. Growing up in a conservative Baptist family, learning about LGBTQ people was not even on my radar. Then, in the early 1990s I bought an in-town Atlanta home that included a one-bedroom apartment that was rented to a gay couple. While my religious convictions resisted keeping them as tenants, my economic reality decided that it was better to have tenants with a good track record. It was living in the same building with Pete and James that opened my eyes both to our shared humanity, and their rejection from people like me.

On the other side of the coin, every time a white person wants to touch my dreadlocked hair without my permission, my reflex is to tell them, “touch me and you’ll draw back a nub!” My actual response, however, is to help them understand why they should not invade my personal space and answer any questions they have about texture of my hair. Sure, we get tired of teaching others about what makes us different, but how else will they learn? I may be the only person they know from whom they can get truth.

Authenticity: Do I expect you to be less who you are in order for us to get along? We have become such a polarized society that it’s untenable for us to understand that more than one thing can be true and co-exist. I can be pro-black, female, heterosexual, or Christian without being anti-white, male, gay, or (insert religious tradition here). I can recognize pride in your own heritage without feeling threatened by your expression of it. Of course, the difficulty comes when one’s pride, or expression of it, is felt as oppressive. Your confederate flag is my painful legacy of slavery. My bringing up the name of Jesus is your painful reminder of Quran burners and Holocaust deniers. What would it look like if we practiced some old-fashioned empathy in our encounters? Many of the world’s religious traditions include some form of the belief in treating others as you would like to be treated. This is not an idyllic dream. It requires discipline and the desire to move beyond ideology to community. It means recognizing that sometimes the needs of the many do outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Yeah, I went a little “Star Trek” on you.

Intentional community—Am I willing to recognize that we will always be able to serve the world better together in our diversity; and not by just one of us being “right”? We know the Martin Luther King quote that says, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” However, when we invoke Dr. King, we often think of lofty goals that only great leaders can achieve. Yet, community is made one relationship at a time. It is one encounter at a time where we are intentional about learning from one another, respectfully and authentically. For many of us, that is in sharing a meal and/or a drink to hear one another’s stories. In that spirit I will end with a quote from a man whom most of us have made very rich. It’s simple and it’s meaningful. Both things can be true at the same time.

“I was taken by the power that savoring a simple cup of coffee can have to connect people and create community.”

~~Howard Schultz, Founder of Starbucks

By Dean Bridgette Young Ross