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.

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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

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

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