Posts Tagged ‘diversity’

Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  103                                                 Days Blogged: 95

New Mileage: 12                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 785

Form over Function?

As I ride the bike I am thinking about the Pilgrimage Site we will visit today.  It is named the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values located on the campus of the University of Tampa. 

Sykes Chapel

The site is still under construction, with its outer shell is almost completed.  The Center will serve a very important function for the University and the greater Tampa community as it has brought together worship leaders from 23 local religious groups for monthly interfaith discussions.  The finished Chapel/Center will include a main hall seating 300 people, meeting rooms, meditation rooms, and adjacent meditation garden.  The west end of the Chapel/Center will house a massive pipe organ.  On the plaza outside the center will stand a unique 75 foot grand musical sculpture adorned with 60 bells and a water fountain.  This unique sculpture/fountain brings together harmonious bells similar to what the center will attempt to do with the different faiths.  I believe the survival of our culture depends upon such efforts!  We must break from the past and the failed efforts at finding “one tone” that fits all people, or efforts to suppress notes that we may find disagreeable or just different.  Like this sculpture, we must come together, many different voices, like individual bells, making music and speaking of the divine.

Recently several of my blog viewers commented on my “Pilgrimages, Retreats and Port-a-potties” posting.  One individual shared a Christian prayer  which prompted a second viewer to note the meaninglessness of the prayer to those who “do not believe in God”.  A third viewer then joined in the discussion.  I directed a comment at all three noting: “We could get into all kinds of arguments about whose worldview has “the truth” and in all likelihood all we would do is go into our separate corners and lick our wounds. That is why I look at it from a “functional” level of analysis! All four of our world views work! They work for each of us and meet our needs… for meaning, purpose, guidance. If the world is ever going to find common ground it won’t be arguing till everyone agrees on the one true form of the divine.  This won’t happen until we all agree that as long as a world view (ours or someone else’s) functions in healthy pro-social ways for individuals and society it is a good and valid choice. Remember: “Be certain, but humble.”

Musical Sculpture

This discussion brought me back to a point I often ponder.  Why is it so difficult to find common ground, to listen to each other without trying to establish who is right or wrong. I believe one way of understanding the difficulty behind this task is to realize there are two different ways in which we can analyze religious or spiritual behavior. In psychology we talk about it being an issue of the depth of our analysis.  On the form level, an analysis looks at differences in the form or appearance of the behaviors.  Things like the different names or symbols used for the divine, or different sources of knowledge (e.g., mystical revelation, or sacred Scriptures, or rituals).  This is the level of analysis that tends to ask the question “which form has the truth?”  The other level of analysis, and the one that I challenge the students in my Psychology of Religion class to explore, looks at the functional level of the behavior. Using this analysis you might look at a Christian on their knees praying, a Buddhist sitting in meditation, or a Sufi twirling in a Dervish ritual and see all three as serving the same function for the individuals which is that of connecting with the divine.

 I believe  when you take a functional approach of analysis it is easier to see past the question of “who has the truth” leading one  to ask the question “does the belief system function to meet the individual and community’s needs?” It’s not easy to take a functional approach because you must make an effort and be mindfulness of the other person.  It takes the ability to see past surface differences and peer into the depths of a topic. I believe this issue is also tied to the question of why people do not always act in more positive loving ways toward other people. I’m speaking of the ideas Abraham Maslow embedded in his theory of the Hierarchy of Needs. The lower needs are what he terms the deficiency needs (e.g., if we don’t have enough to eat we feel hungry).  These needs are always pulling at us, especially when TV advertisements tell us we need to look better, we need to have a nicer car, and we need more money.  The needs at the top of the hierarch, the being needs, call to us in a quieter voice and urge us toward behaviors like justice, understanding, compassion, wisdom and love.  These qualities demand that we looks past the surface, pass the question of what’s in it for us, and ask the question “what would do the greatest good for family, friends, community and nation.”  

Strength through Diversity!

Analyzing any choice, religious choices included, is easiest at the level of deficiency.  Caring first and foremost for myself and my people’s needs takes the least amount of effort.  Listening to the subtle voices of the being needs means asking questions about who is harmed, who wins and who loses, it means looking for positions of compromise.  Asking what position has “the truth” is always divisive and pulls a community down.  The functional choice would be to ask what position is the “right one”.  This would bring about the greatest good and is always a win-win situation, lifting up the community

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  92                                      Days Blogged: 90 

New Mileage: 12                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 733

I am riding the bike tonight in a great deal of pain.  Last week I made a trip to the dentist.  It made for an interesting experience and was mentioned in my blog, but something is amiss!  So I will try and get in to see someone in the next couple days. Hopefully all it will take is an antibiotic and some pain killer to make things right.

Today I met with the two sections of my Psychology of Religion course for the first time.  Close to fifty young people will sit through my lectures and tests for the next fourteen weeks.  We will discuss the various personal and societal functions that religion meets within our individual lives and our culture.  We will explore fourteen different religious traditions that now have roots in the United States, everything from Jainism, Baha’i’, Zen, to Islam. 

Tolerance or Acceptance?

We talked today about the difference between diversity, a recognition of the wide variety of different faith traditions, and pluralism, which is an acceptance of the validity of these beliefs for each tradition.  For society to function properly we must have at least a tolerance of the diversity within our society.  For our society to flourish and prosper I would argue we need to not just tolerate others but celebrate our differences by embracing a pluralistic attitude.

I tell my students that it is not my intention to challenge or undermine their belief systems. I do not want them to “lose their religion.”  However, I expect that they will explore their beliefs on various topics that are important in the discussion of religious traditions.  Such as:” What is the source of mankind’s suffering? What is the nature of the divine (Deity or Godhead)?  What happens after we die?  Each of the various belief systems has an answer to these questions.  Our exploration and discussion is not undertaken to establish which of the belief systems has “the truth,” but to explore how each express and experience “their truth.”

All hold their truth!

I challenge the students to recognize the importance of culture and time period (e.g. how were Buddha’s beliefs tied to Hinduism, India and the time period of 400 BCE) to understand what shaped the nature of a tradition’s beliefs.  I challenge them to recognize the various sources of knowledge and how different religions make use of these sources. For example, the primary monotheisms are called “people of the book” for their reliance on the revealed wisdom of the Old Testament; whereas Zen Buddhists will tell you to burn all of your sacred books because true knowledge and understanding comes from revelations of moment-to-moment experiences.

We will study the differences between cults, sects and churches and the importance of mystical experiences in some of the wisdom traditions.  We will discuss the characteristics of belief systems that head down a “slippery slope” to what some people would call an “evil religion.”  One of these characteristics is holding to the belief that “the ends justify the means.”  I remember hearing someone after the 9/11 terrorist attacks make the statement: “kill all of the Muslims and let God sort them out.”  In their eyes the goal of safety with respect to a perceived threat trumped the death of innocents and the ill will that such actions would generate.

It will be an interesting semester with so many religious topics in the news to act as fodder for our class discussions.  Of course as the semester progresses the unfolding “signs of spring” will make it harder for the students and their teacher to focus on course materials. Maybe rather than lecturing on Taoism I will just send the class out to commune with nature and “know Tao” as an in-the- moment experience!

Each brings their offering to the community table.

Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers as they struggle with the effects of today’s earth quake.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 62                                Consecutive Days Blogging: 63

Today’s Mileage: 10                                           Total Trip Mileage: 545

The red line traces our progress.

A Spiritual Buffet?

Before I climbed on the bike this morning I reviewed an article on the front page of yesterday’s USA Today. The lead story was entitled: Mixing Their Religion: Many choose their faith from a spiritual buffet. The article was based on a recent survey of Americans about their religious beliefs. Over the past several years I have seen similar survey results pointing to a growing diversity in our nation’s religious and spiritual beliefs.  In particular several of them point to the fact that while many people may go to church, their beliefs often do not fit with that church’s dogma and teachings. These findings have fueled many a discussion on talk radio, chat rooms or newspaper letters to the editor.  It is clear there is a growing “blending” of diverse spiritual threads within people’s personal belief systems.  The question that fuels for many of these discussions is “what does this mean?”

Some individuals’ and groups’ answer to this question would lead us to believe that this blending is problematic and perhaps a sign of decay within our existing institutions.  Other individuals and groups see this blending as a positive sign, as an embracing of diversity and a sign of growth. Personally, I think it maybe both, a warning sign and a promising change! 

A Spiritual Entree?

Within psychology we have long recognized that our developing belief system follows a set process.  From the moment we are born, we are an information processing system.  We input data, we analyze data, we make assumptions and simple decisions based on this data, and we act on our assumptions and receive feedback from our environment (i.e. success or failure, reinforcement or punishment). This whole process operates with the goal of making sense of our world so we can act to get what we want and need. 

Initially this belief system (explanations and expectations) are given to us by parents, teachers, and ministers.   It represents a readymade road map with canned explanations of life’s demands.  But as any parent knows, fairly early in some cases, the challenges and questions concerning these beliefs will eventually follow!  Beliefs are constantly tested, we make predictions and then we wait to see if we are right.  Positive outcomes strengthen our beliefs; negative outcomes may lead us to search for better explanations, perhaps even new beliefs.  As we grow and mature, our beliefs are more and more of our own choosing.  We retool what we were taught with new information, new teachings and new experiences. 

My point is that exploring, sampling, testing and choosing are all part of our human nature.  Our religious and spiritual beliefs are no different than our political or economic beliefs. Many psychologists would argue that the sign of “maturity” is not in the content of your belief system (that it be different from your youth) but that you believe in the content for a different reason. Maturity is judged by how “well tested” your current beliefs are and whether they have they been challenged (internally, externally or both) and “forged” by life experiences.  You do not have to believe they are true, you know they are true for you!

Some of all or just one?

But how can this smorgasbord approach to spirituality be both positive and negative?  I believe  the distinction resides with the answers to two questions. First, does this blended belief system really fit for you, does it provide you with sound advice?  For some people this blended system simple represents a “quick and easy” or momentary convenient fit, perhaps just a “fad.”  Secondly, does this belief system promote a true state of transcendence and growth in the individual’s actions, thoughts and feelings?  For others this smorgasbord of a meal may simply provide temporary relief and a return to the “status quo.” 

For some a visit to the buffet provides nourishing advice and leads to growth. For others, sticking with a single satisfying entrée leads to a fulfilling meal and growth.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 43                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 44

Today’s Mileage:  10                                           Total Trip Mileage: 365


Elusive target

Riding the bike today I struggle to choose a Blog topic.  I am reminded of a time with my two sons. We were wading along, knee deep in the water of a slow moving mountain creek.  We spoke little as each lost himself in the exploration of the water and the shoreline. Suddenly, my oldest son began to splash about, slapping the water in a vain attempt to catch one of the small, black water bugs that darted about the streams surface.  They were too elusive.  He would focus on one, miss his mark and then another would come along. It made for a humorous display as his efforts came up empty.  I am reminded of those efforts as I struggle to find a Blog topic. Each time I think I’ve captured one, I open my fingers and it’s gone!  Then I see another idea out of the corner of my eye.

Taiami trail

When this kind of frustration happens with a client, student or friend I always tell them to step back and look at “the bigger picture.”  When I do this I realize that among the swirl of topics are patterns.  Many of the topics are cued by ongoing world events, conflicts of a religious and/or political nature.  Some topics involve situations of personal relevance arising from my interactions with colleagues, family and friends.  Other topics involve my professional responsibilities as a teacher and a scientist.  When I step back from the swirl of darting ideas,  I see  unifying topics. The question is where do I focus my attention, my questions, my explanation and answers?  When talking about spirituality and religion, one can focus on the forms (content) of these beliefs. These varied forms include types of prayers, conceptualizations of God and the divine, religious ritual expressions and symbols, to name only a few.  One might also focus attention on the function (process) of religious and spiritual belief systems. 

Belief systems can appear very different in form and content while serving the same personal and group function and process, providing a sense of security, group cohesion during adversity and shared meaning.  There are those who ask the questions: What is the true name of God? What is the proper way to pray? Which are the valid sacred scriptures?  They seek the proper form. 

Palm trees along the trail.

I personally marvel at the diversity of religious beliefs in form and content.  I am dazzled by the colorful and mysterious displays of dancing and chanting, colorful vestments, burial ceremonies and symbols of ancient times.  Like walking through a garden, the last thing I would wish is to have all the flowers the same, all the trees bare the same colored leafs or pathways of only one type of stone. Those who seek to plant only one flower in our shared human garden, to eradicate all others by labeling them as weeds or intrusive foreign invaders, set themselves and all humanity upon a path of conflict and self-righteousness.  I will not engage you in an argument of which belief system has the true or proper form, but I will engage in a discussion of how belief systems may function against a unification of our human endeavors to grow, cooperate and survive!

If I may return for a moment to the story of my son and the water bugs.  After several failed attempts and a growing frustration, the capture attempts ceased.  My youngest son moved over from the shoreline and joined us. “What are you doing?” he asked.  “Trying to catch a water bug, it’s impossible!” exclaimed my oldest son.  The youngest looked down as he noticing for the first time the insects boaters, his arm darted forward barely disturbing the surface.  “You mean one of these!” he opened his hand to reveal a water bug paddling about in his palm!  Sometimes a clear mind and simple focus yields the rewards we seek.

 A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside. The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.

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