God Bless You All (Day 3)


Religion in India is a way of life, and the people here practice it with an intensity I’ve never experienced before in America. We went to a Catholic cathedral today and I was almost in tears because everyone there was so focused on their devotion. It was a truly beautiful thing to see. The churches are crowded at every moment of the day, and people sit in silence in front of the many statues, often touching Jesus’ feet or holding their hands toward Mary. These people seemed happy to see us in their place of worship — at first some of us worried we would be obtrusive or invading their sacred space, but when an old man came over and said kindly, “God bless you all” I felt like he truly meant it…it came from his heart. We took our shoes off at one area of the church where people were sitting on the floor praying in front of statues. I want to capture the beauty of these moments better but I realize I’m failing. Honestly, it was one of the most moving experiences of my life, and it had nothing to do with Jesus or Mary or the church’s beauty. It was all because these people feel their religion so deeply, so wholly, that I couldn’t help but feel it too.

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We went to a Sikh Gurdwara later in the day, where we removed our shoes, washed our feet, and covered our heads before entering. The women sit at one side and the men at the other, and we sat on the floor for most of the time. I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening at first, but I realized the man and woman at the front were wearing clothes of matching fabrics and…we’d stumbled into a wedding ceremony. We were welcomed warmly by everyone, and were given some sort of food at the end of the ceremony which I still can’t really identify, but it was a paste of some kind and tasted amazing. I seriously have no idea what was going on that whole time, but I felt a lovely calm in the room. Everything was so bright and beautiful — the gold, the chandeliers, the light, the people. I’ve learned more and connected more by silently observing for the past few days than I ever did back at home blabbering away with other people.

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What I’ve found most of all is that religion is most people’s support system in this country. When you’re born into a religion, you form bonds with the other people at your temple/church/mosque and are supported for life. If you need food, you receive food. If you need help paying for school, you receive help. If you need a place to stay in another city, often the temple/church/mosque will provide it for free or at little cost. And these people spend an amazing amount of time at their places of worship. We’re lucky in America if people make it to church once a week for an hour, but these people come for hours and hours, often multiple times a week. It truly is the backbone of their lives. And the amount of charity work done by most of these places is absolutely essential in this country, because the amount of poor and destitute Indians is so overwhelming that help from these large congregations is probably what keeps a lot of them alive.

The silent beauty radiating from these places is too much for words, but I think it really has changed my life forever. I’ve been practicing Hinduism for the past few years all by myself, because there isn’t a temple nearby at all, and I think I’ve missed out on the bonds and support I could’ve received. Hopefully someday I’ll find my place, but for now I’ll have to be my own temple. I look forward to going to Hindu temples here, because I know it will fill me in a way I’ve not yet experienced.

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Gobinda Hari, or I Now Understand Obnoxious Christians


Most of you know that I’m on a path of self discovery, and that I’m learning about and utilizing Hinduism on that journey. Most of you know, also, that I do not really identify as Christian even though I was brought up Episcopalian and still occasionally go to church (mostly because the people there are my family, and the dean of the cathedral is one of the most brilliant men I know and his sermons are thought-provoking in a way that transcends religion). As such, I have typically felt incredibly uncomfortable when certain Christians suggest that I pray when I’m distressed because “God is with you…blah blah.” Incredibly uncomfortable. I don’t like talking about Jesus, and I don’t like conversations that make me feel like I’m being “saved.” I, at times, wish I could wear a sign around my neck that says, “Please do not approach me about your religious beliefs. I will wet my pants from discomfort, and nobody wants to see that.” I get really dismissive and try to escape the conversation as soon as possible. One time my dad suggested that I just talk to Jesus when I’m upset because it can be really comforting for him. And while I understood that it was valuable for him, I really didn’t want to “talk to Jesus” because to me, Jesus isn’t important, not in a religious sense. Sure, I believe that he existed, but why should I talk to the “son of God” when I really don’t think a Christian god exists? Of course, there are a million little exceptions and nuances that I won’t be able to get to in this post, so please understand that I haven’t written anything off completely because the world is full of mystery and I’m sorting things out my own way. I just feel more of a “spirit” than a “god,” and maybe that’s the same to some people. As I write this, it’s incredibly difficult to put my conflicting and confusing feelings into words. There’s just something there with Hinduism that isn’t there with Christianity. Maybe it’s more the practice of Hinduism that I connect with. Maybe God is the same no matter what the religion.

But. I might’ve accidentally become a version of The Obnoxious Christian. That person who suggests meditation to those who struggle. The person who talks about Krishna and “the higher spirit” (I literally said that) to her friends. The person who, when reading more about the mantra “gobinda hari” wants to print out the article to share it with her sister. The person who blogs about Hinduism and its benefits. (As a side note, the mantra gobinda hari can be used as a self-reflection mantra that aids us in connecting with our accomplishments and what the world has given us, while acknowledging that we were an integral part of our self-improvement. It also allows us to thank the world for the help it brings us and the bounty it produces. Or something like that…it gets a little complicated and sounds incredibly hippie, so I’ll spare you. Just know that it’s valuable to me, as I tend to forget what I’ve done well in life and continually put myself down for not “working hard enough.”)

I’m okay with becoming that person. I’m learning more every day — about myself, about the world — but I’m also uncovering more questions, and I like that too. So if I’m reaping these amazing benefits, why should I not try to share them with the world? I led a meditation workshop before finals week at my sorority, and it was absolutely brilliant and everyone liked it and I felt accomplished, like I’d shown them something they would never have found without my help.

I’ve been to hell and back: I contemplated suicide a year and a half ago. I had a panic attack every day, and was in the darkest place I have ever been. I sought therapy and saved myself, by myself, and I don’t think I have God to thank for that. I was broken, and I fixed myself (with the help of many people around me) but God was not involved. I don’t feel abandoned, and this does not come from a bitter place, but I just didn’t feel anything with me or around me or anything as I clawed my way back to reality, to normality. But as I learn and grow, maybe my opinion will change. Nothing is ever definite.

Until then, I feel connected to the earth and the universe in a way that has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with my soul’s movement between bodies a thousand times on this earth. I sound like such a nutcase as I say this, and I can practically hear you all scoffing through the computer, and that’s fine. I believe what I believe (that our soul never truly dies, just moves from body to body for eternity) and you can believe whatever you’d like (that I’m insane, that heaven exists, whatever). I know now, at least, why those obnoxious Christians that make me so uncomfortable do what they do, say what they say. They’ve found something valuable and helpful and wonderful, and it makes their lives richer and more meaningful, and they want to help me find that. And good on them. I appreciate the sentiment.

I will continue to look to help others who seek guidance in this really, really, really difficult life we all live. But I do promise this: no matter how great I feel, no matter how much I learn, I swear I will not try to “save” anyone. Because everyone is fine, nobody’s going to hell, nobody’s going to bleed for eternity if they don’t “know Jesus” or “understand the ways of Hinduism.” The minute you look uncomfortable or bored, and believe me I can tell, I will send you on your way without judgement. Pinky swear. What works for me doesn’t have to work for you. Guaranteed it won’t work for most of you. Besides, forcing people to accept something doesn’t work. Typically, they need to realize things in their own time; had I been bothered with spirituality when I wasn’t ready, I don’t think I would’ve made the same strides I did on my own.

I feel like I should end this post with some sort of profound statement, but to be completely honest my shoulder is cramping up and I can’t focus on much else. So I’ll leave you with this: anything we find that allows us to learn more about ourselves and others, whether it be religion, exercise, music…anything at all, is worth spending time developing. So go forth and question the world, my friends! And namaste.

The Founding Fathers Wore Wigs


Remember why we had the Revolutionary War in the first place? Remember why the Founding Fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence? It wasn’t so you could make people say the Lord’s Prayer at football games. It was so we could all practice our religions (or non-religions) with freedom, without being persecuted for those beliefs.

Yes, we were founded by Christians. Yes, they reference God…because at the time, Christianity was the predominant European religion, so their focus was on the ability to attend whichever type of Christian church they chose. But according to the fundamental belief of those founding fathers, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons and Catholics could live in peace and practice their religions. And Atheists can not practice all the religions.

So how dare we say we’re “going back to the Founding Fathers” when we introduce prayer in public schools? How dare we add “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance? (Yeah, shocker, that part was added in 1954.) How dare we discriminate against other religions and people, all the while wrapped in a flag? How absolutely dare we?

We’ve become despicable, embracing our hatred, accepting inequality, imposing our ideas on the unwilling. It’s so disgusting, the horrible things we do in the name of God and Thomas Jefferson, of George Washington.

Supporting the hatred of gays on the basis of Christianity, not allowing gay marriage because of your religion…that would make sense if you lived in a country whose national religion was your religion. But not here. Not in a country founded on a principle of freedom of religion and expression. How dare we discriminate in our laws based on religion? You don’t like homosexuality? You think it’s bad – your religion says so? Fine. But don’t you dare impose your religious beliefs on people you don’t know or understand through legislation that prevents what our country was founded on: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

I hold those truths to be self evident. And shame on you for not doing the same.

Hey, citizens of Washington! You can help! Don’t be a jerk – do what your Founding Fathers would’ve supported! Vote Yes to Marriage Equality! Vote Yes on Ref. 74. Do it because all were created equal. Cheers!

On Religion


I was raised Episcopalian (which, for those of you who don’t know, is a branch of protestant Christianity). I’ve gone to church since before I can remember, but recently, I haven’t gone to church nearly as much as I used to – and while I’m inclined to say that it’s because I’ve been busy (which is part of the reason), it’s probably more because I’m a bit disillusioned.

To be fair, I’m not disillusioned by the Episcopal church itself, because I’ve always found Episcopalians to be incredibly welcoming toward all types of people (we elected the first woman priest and the first gay priest, both of which caused quite the uproar among Catholics) and the people at my church are like my family, I’ve known them so long. So I guess I don’t go to church because I’m confused, not because anything from my own church has turned me off.

I’m disillusioned by the hatred that Christianity in general has brought to this earth. While it has brought many good things, they seem overshadowed by the anger, hate, and destruction it has caused. I am disillusioned by some Christians preaching randomly selected Bible verses as they fit their hateful needs, and I don’t particularly want to be a part of that.

It’s hard for many people to distinguish between hateful “Christians” who threaten to burn Korans and loving Christians who might not even believe in God but who love their fellow man and do good to each other in the spirit of Jesus. It’s not necessarily hard for me to distinguish between these two groups, but it’s hard for me to say that I’m a part of something so conflicting and potentially destructive. I don’t need religion to be able to make the world seem better than it is or to make my life seem like it has purpose. My life has purpose, and I see the beauty in life and love a lot better than many so-called Christians.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the best people I know are extremely religious. The dean of my church is one of the most intelligent, wonderful, thoughtful men I have ever met. But, as he said in his sermon yesterday, most of the world “endorses the notion that peace comes from the barrel of a gun, justice at the point of a sword, and that this is God’s will.”
If this is God’s will, I don’t want to be a part of it. And if it’s not, which seems more accurate, then people need to stop thinking that it is. We cannot stop violence with violence, hate with hate, destruction with more destruction.

If I’m Christian at all, I’m Christian because I believe in love and goodwill to all mankind, not because I hope I’ll get to heaven or because I think I need to save all the heathens of the world from eternal damnation. I believe in Jesus’ teachings of peace and equality, not in misconstrued beliefs of anti-gay scripture or vengeful justice-seeking. I don’t know if there’s a huge omniscient spirit in the sky, watching over me and determining my fate, and if there is I don’t think it matters much to me. What matters to me is this:

I hope for a world that will one day be free of violence in the name of God, and I hope for a day in which everyone is treated equally with love and fairness. That’s the meaning of Christmas, but I think it’s the meaning of life, too.