Listening to everyone’s experiences within other styles of church services pointed out a lot of things that broke the “norms” that most are used to, especially having grown up in specific churches. One of the things that stood out to me most was the congregation whose leader was openly lesbian and who supported a church that was extremely inclusive no matter the walk of life one comes from. Majority of the time, I personally have come to find that religion isn’t exactly all that welcoming of differing practices in sexuality and certain churches are often even very segregated as to the demographics of the congregation. However, a openly lesbian rabbi in a New York City synagogue is fighting all of these “norms” by first, being open about her sexuality in general. To me this seems to be a growing trend with the upcoming generations and their religious experiences: people have come to make religious ideals and values to fit their own personal lifestyles which I think is an interesting take on religion and plays into the idea of spirituality that has become so popular. This New York City rabbi has held led and organized many protests through the church in regards to issues race and sexuality, most recently bringing together Jews and Muslims to protest Trump’s recent bans and orders and prides herself on leading a congregation for people who have been turned away from their family or from family synagogues due to their sexuality. I have found that it has been extremely common for people who have taken on new-wave roles within the church to use their religion and their position within their religion as a platform in order to fight intolerance, much like Sharon Kleinbaum.
Looking back to the book presentations of this past week, after having now seen presentations regarding women in cults and Orthodox Judaism, to the idea of new Protestantism. The last case study we saw about Reinventing American Protestantism really opened my eyes and finally gave me a title for my own identity. For years I have always identified as Christian but never identified to a specific denomination or a specific type of church. But after hearing this presentation from Wednesday, I found myself finally putting a title to my beliefs and the style that I had come to love, and may have even found a church for myself, which has been part of my searching since I’ve been to college. The ideals behind the style and the set up of it made it all seem more realistic and not just a confusing idea that I had in my head about what I believed. I found it interesting that people specifically sought out this style of church based on the emotions that it brought into one’s faith that not many other styles or denomination tend to focus on. I also found it interesting that it focused on a combination or blend of beliefs, ideals, and traditions and simply created something that was more relatable with society of today and the new up and coming generations that have sought out churches and have sought answers from and an identity within their faith.
Looking back at the case study presentation from the past two weeks, I have found that many of the books cover the idea of breaking from the tradition in some way or another to meet one’s religious/spiritual needs. One idea of this that I found in the news is the common tradition of Ash Wednesday, the marking of the first day of Lent, repentance and fasting before Easter which is commonly recognized with plain black ash on the forehead. However, with the growing discrimination between the LGBT community and the religious community, a religious advocacy group in New York has decided to start bridging the gap between the two communities, by asking members who identify with the LGBT community as well as the Christian community, to wear glitter ash as a recognition for Ash Wednesday. Since many religious denominations do not officially recognize the presence of lesbians, gays, and other sexual orientations and gender identities in the church, this is a way for them to express both of their identities while still adhering to all the rules. This was something similarly seen in a Shared Parish where there was a mixing of religious customs in order to accommodate both groups. All in all, I think that there is a common practice in society today for people to take their religious identity and mold it to whatever their own specific needs are, further pushing the idea of spirituality within oneself, but also within the religious institution
During this past week, I have both presented my book case study on Passionate Journeys as well as have done my congregational observation at the University United Methodist Church. In both instances I have come to the realization that religion is not necessarily the institution which holds in place certain practices, but faith and spirituality, or the idea of religion, comes from the individual.
Reading my book my case study, I found that people from all walks of life find their spirituality through different means in that everyone has their own reasons for searching for religion and seeking out what they believe they need through a religious movement. Much like the United Methodist church, the Pastor’s wife told us that their faith was achieved through one’s experiences and reasoning for wanting to be a part of the faith in the first place. It made me realize that religion is an overall concept which appeals not necessarily to a specific demographic of people, but it tends to a more general variety of the population and it poses as a different role for each person within their own lives (release from sexual repression and lack of family association, Dara Passionate Journeys). Looking at our first lecture in this class and how community, experiences, beliefs, doctrines; all the elements of a religion, come together to make it the way we know it today, I really found that to be true this past week and how people take their everyday experiences and turn them into learning processes which in turn guide them to a community of supporting, loving, and welcoming people who offer something that has been missing, and allow one to, in turn, identify with one religion or another.
When thinking about religion, we all know that there is a lot of conflict between different religions, their beliefs, and the society to which we belong, for example, the social viewpoint of Islamic Muslims and how that has brought conflict between the Islamic religion and society as a whole. But what we don’t necessarily always think about is how much conflict there is within each sect or denomination, both similar conflicts and different. McGuire points out that issues of deviance, control, authority, and heresy dictate the conflicts that are common within the church, within the synagogue, within the mosque, etc.. Issues of deviance arise when members don’t follow the beliefs to the standard that religions want them to, for example, I was always raised to believe that Christians aren’t to partake in common trends like tattoos and that anyone in the church who had them were seen as sinners in the eyes of God, but as I grew older I became a part of this trend myself and felt unsure of whether I was really a sinner, or the fact that the church couldn’t control my actions made me a sinner in the eyes of the church, but not necessarily in the eyes of God. As far as the issues of heresy, McGuire states that it is more than deviance as it is almost a complete change in beliefs and ideas that were set forth by authority figures in the church, which again, brought me to question whether the church was really led under an authority working for God, or just a figure of authority wanting to showcase that form of power, which is something I was witness to at an old church where my family was shunned because my mom was following through with a divorce and our pastor told her that she was wrong and needed counseling because it wasn’t right in the eyes of the Lord, although the pastor was also co-workers with my ex-step-father. So taking into consideration all issues of conflict within the church, I wonder whether the same issues are seen from and cause issues outside of the church.
The past week has been quite stressful for refugees of the Middle East as Trump’s ban on their entrance to the United States has come to light. His executive order put a 120 day ban on any refugee to seek entrance to the U. S as a way to give priority to Christians in the Middle East and Africa who have seen a lot of persecution within the Middle East over the past few years. This has put a damper on relations between Muslims and Christians as the ban has become more of a religious and cultural discrimination rather than political prosperity. Thinking about class discussions on religious status based on tensions with society, I believe that this ban has begun to put Islam on the high spectrum of tension as they are viewing the U.S as un-open to them physical as far as a place of refuge, but also as a place of discrimination against the beliefs and customs of Muslims, but also the association that Americans have given Muslims. Christians on the other hand, have most likely seen a decrease in social tension as they are being seen as more accepted and have begun to take priority within society.
In chapter 4, Chaves discusses the changes in people’s religious involvement over the years as far as how often they attend services in regards to their claims as compared to actual attendance. He mentions how people tend to portray themselves as frequent churchgoers, but upon an actual attendance taken from the service, a large majority of those people are non frequent attendees. Reading this made me think of the discussions in class regarding how religion today is viewed more freely than it was in times before. Today we are given more freedom to choose our own religions rather than to follow that of our family and agreed to traditions that had already been created and set as a standard before us. More people are finding themselves curious about religion in general, which according to Chaves, has sparked a large increase in people who were either not associated with religion, or not frequenters of services, to begin visiting and experiencing different forms of religious traditions. We begin noticing that their claims of how religious they are, or something as simple as their religious attendance, begins to match up with observed attendance. Along with the growing trends of the disappearance of the religious “nones” as those who are becoming more curious about religions, Chaves also mentioned that there is a decrease in those who identify as part of a religious group because we see that a lot of people are beginning to pull away from organized religion in order to find themselves as more spiritual and religious as an individual rather than tied into something. This is a trend we see throughout the coming generation as it grows more and more acceptable, and is something that even I consider myself a part of.
With the recent name drop for the new Star Wars movie, there has been some religious fact tied into it. The New York Times published an article stating the growth of the religion of Jediism, yes like the Star Wars Jedi. It first began to show interest in the 1990s but grew to popularity in 2001 when the local census caused people to jokingly list Jediism as their religion which unknowingly paved the way for the actual creation of the organized religion. The plot of the movie, as well as phrases and terms used, have been adapted by those claiming the religion as their own. In 2005, the first Temple of the Jedi Order was founded and those who believe in this religion say that it’s still about living a better life and receiving a better death through an eight step program where one learns the importance of myths, other religions and religious tips as well as how to interact within a community, before receiving a mentor to work with one-on-one through religious growth. Followers identify the religion as a way for people who identify as religious to separate from traditional organized religion and described it at being similar to Taoism where the Tao is linked to the Force. Although the movies were the inspiration and the basis for the religion, with leaders to come out with Jedi scriptures, majority of its leaders aren’t necessary lovers of the movies, but were looking for something outside of tradition. So where do we draw the line at what is considered a religion and what isn’t?
Looking at many of the religions of the world, it is a common theme that women are often at the bottom of the totem pole, especially in religions practiced in the Middle East. In society today, it is a normal debate between religious norms and the new wave movements of feminism and within the LGBT community. Within the last few months, maybe even years, these norms have been changed, especially with the recognition of the legality in same-sex marriages. Within the last week, another landmark change was recognized across seas as feminist protests in Israel proved beneficial when, on January 12th, the high courts agreed to allow women the right to read from the Torah and the Western Wall, stated that if there wasn’t a good enough case against women within the religious practice, they would be officially recognized, and religious bodies would be legally forced to recognize them, within religious services. Prior to this ruling, women were barred from possessing any religious materials, from a Torah to a prayer shawl, and were often searched to prevent this which across the world was seen as a discrimination against sexes in the practice of something that welcomes everyone; religion. Religious freedom and the ability of anyone to practice religion is a common issue, and the fact that the Jewish high courts didn’t ask women to defend their rights to practice freely but rather questioned the government and asked them to defend why women shouldn’t have these rights is a step in the right direction toward religious freedom, especially for the groups that have been fighting this issue for years; the Women of the Wall and the Original Women of the Wall organizations.
Thinking back to our class discussion regarding the personal religious experiences of each individual, one of the themes that we seemed to continuously stumble upon was the notion of a tragedy being the deterring factor in someone’s relationship within their religion. One of the theories that McGuire discussed in chapter 2 is the concept of theodicies or explanations that are given for these sorts of experiences. Looking at this from my own experiences I can remember hearing people say, most often when a loved one died, that it was just their time and that God had more important things for them to do, or that they had finished everything they had to do in this life, and I would remember thinking whether there was truth to this, or whether it was a justification and a way of coping. Now I look back and realize that someone’s belief in a religion, or belief in a higher power, as well as religious teachings themselves, instill in people that there is a purpose, even when it seems to come at the wrong time, or out of order as most people would feel. Looking at the other side of this story are those whose beliefs don’t carry the idea of a purpose and don’t see an explanation in a disorganized system, those who feel that their higher power wouldn’t allow tragedies, therefore there must not be one. Coming from someone who has grown up in a religious household, I was always taught the greater purposes, but as I got older, I grew to understand where the other half was coming from, and although I haven’t abandoned my religion, I find myself questioning these things as well as found it really interesting, but also relieving that others also identify this way.