Working through Loss

I’m sitting here at 9 pm on the day my blog was actually due feverishly working to develop an idea to post. You’ll have to forgive me as I’ve had a lot on my mind lately and this hasn’t been the first deadline I’ve slipped to remember in the past couple of weeks. The reason I’ve been very scatter brained, down in the dumps, and in certain instances irritable is because I’m currently going through the process of losing someone very close to me. Luckily, this is a short window of time and I’ll eventually be reunited; however, the idea of changes within our household and being separated from a person very dear to me here in Denver doesn’t make it any easier. I am constantly thinking about the dynamics of the household in the coming months and how my remaining here in Denver will affect me and the person I care about most.

I have moved beyond the states of denial and self-loathing and am currently trying to go through the motions while making the best of my remaining time here. I realize I still have much to accomplish and practice in my remaining months and therefore it’s not fair to me or anyone around me to continue wallowing in self-pity, as much as I’d like to do so at times. I also appreciate support from others who will be there for me in the coming months and have let me know that things will be okay. I totally agree that things will be okay and will work out in the end, but I’m not naive enough to believe that any of this is going to be easy on either of us.

Okay, so now that I’ve cleared up the fact that I don’t live in a land of rainbows and sunshine, I must make it clear that I realize my own potential and ability to make it through this time. As much as certain individuals might want to believe I’ve lived a sheltered, easy life, this ain’t my first rodeo. Challenges will come but I have the heart of a lion and fear of the unknown will never stop the lion-hearted. I look forward to coming out of this experience a better person for myself and those that I love and will hold any wonderful moments in high regard along the way.

-Andrew

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Next Steps

Hello World,

I’m currently in the middle of applying to graduate schools. Specifically, divinity and theological schools where I hope to begin a Masters program in some combination of religion and ethics. Those of you who know me well, know how terribly I procrastinate, so unsurprisingly most of my mental energy for these few weeks is going towards the applications. Instead of crafting a blog post about this process, I’m taking the lazy way out and sharing my “statement of academic purpose” with you. This sums up my education, and partly career, interests, and gives insight into what I hope to be spending my time on for the next few years. It feels weird to be thinking about the future already when we’re not even halfway through the #coloesc year, but this is the way our world works!

I hope you enjoy this. It’s might read a little jumpy, because I’ve taken out the school-specific pieces, but still contains a huge amount of what motivates my desire to study religion. If you have an thoughts, please comment with them, I’ll take any help I can get!

 

I am pursuing graduate education in of Religious Studies to further my learning and continue my decision process between studying religious liberty law through academia or practicing it. I am primarily interested in various ways in which religion and religious organizations interact with secular society. My undergraduate focus was was American Religion, and I found that my curiosity lies most strongly in work that concerns modern American religion and its interaction with other aspects of culture and politics, and the role it plays in society. I was initially drawn to American religion by the history of pluralism, religious liberty, and the changing ways in which American religious liberty has allowed for variances in belief structures and practices.

An influential class I’ve taken was titled “Religious Liberty”, taught by Professor Kathleen Moore. It solidified my inclination to focus on the intersection of religion and religious organizations with secular society. In this class, the meeting point of religion and secular discourse was the well-defined field of law, specifically the manner in which religion has been dealt with in American legislature and the justice system.

I plan to focus my Masters education on the interaction of religion and secular society in the legal sphere. This is a major way in which religious organizations and beliefs come into direct contact with each other and the secular world. In current legal and political issues such as women’s reproductive rights and gay marriage, religious beliefs come to the forefront of the debate. I am greatly interested in the religion clauses of the constitution and the subsequent laws and litigation that they have sparked. These laws, I believe, can be a valuable way to protect religious liberty and strive for plurality, but they are and have been easily misused and taken advantage of. In and outside the classroom I have sought discussion about these laws, because although they seem to have been intended to protect the rights of religious minorities, they can be used to enforce the beliefs of the religious majority.

Religion as an extremely powerful motivator on all scales. Historically, civilizations and conflicts have been sparked and blamed on religion, and this continues and is evident in the world news headlines of today. Many of my family members and peers are strictly atheist and struggle to understand my desire to pursue a career in Religious Studies. In my view, regardless of the truth held in any particular religious tradition, belief remains a motivator to individuals and a force in society that ought to be examined. I hope that studying religious liberty and religious organizations in the legal sphere will engage my interest in the influence religion has on secular society. Influence does not flow only one way, however, and I am additionally interested in the ways that modern society and western science has influenced religion

Learning about the “spiritual but not religious” movement in classes such as, “Religion in America Today” and “New Religious Movements”, sparked my interest in the theological and organizational directions religion is taking in modern times. I was raised and identify as an Episcopalian, and one major draw of the faith to me is the deep tradition and history that established religious organizations entail. I value the community and ritual involved with worship in a church setting. Theologically, however, I have been exposed to a variety of more fluid belief. I was raised in a culture that lightly incorporated aspects of the New Age movement and Eastern and Native American traditions, and they combined with my Christian theology rather than existing at odds with it. ( In my personal exploration of belief, I am drawn to Celtic Christianity and the work of J. Phillip Newell. The Celtic tradition stands out to me as time-tested proof that Christianity and strong respect for the natural world are intertwined. I believe that traditions like this are going to become increasingly viewed and cited as the worlds of religion and science rejoin.) This background is instrumental in my desire to study religious pluralism. Spirituality in general has always been interesting to me, and similarly to my interest in the intersection of secular society and religion, I find the interplay of science and theology in our modern world fascinating.

During my last year, I wrote a thesis advised by Professor Rudy Busto titled “Spiritual But Not Religious Organizations: A Viniyoga Case Study” that examined the ways in which viniyoga, a non-secular and non-sectarian yogic practice, functions in the lives of its practitioners and in the society around them. The process of researching and writing this thesis was beneficial for a number of reasons, including exposure to the process and challenges of academic work. My mother is a yoga teacher and therapist, certified by the American Viniyoga Institute, and for that I gained insight into the navigation of personal interest in the subject of research. I enjoyed the opportunity to pull my knowledge from a variety of classes and other sources together into a coherent and comprehensive project that explores a number of my interests: New Religious Movements, legal definitions, and sociological functions of religion. (I did not include my thesis as the writing sample with this application because it is significantly over the page limit, and I did not want to include only a section of it with no context.)

In my non-academic life, I see a validation of theories I have studied regarding the rise of a “spiritual but not religious” affiliation. I have a personal interest in this identification of “spiritual but not religious” or “none”, due both to growing up in diverse populations and because it allows for the blending of traditionally religious themes and modern secular science. There is a recent increase in people realizing that religion and science are not incompatible but rather seem, with a possible stretch of the imagination, to be coming full circle and re-connecting with each other. Many of my peers identify themselves as spiritual but not religious, and this growing group should be studied with the seriousness of other religious affiliations.

Eventually, I would like to combine my two major areas of interest and study the way new forms of religion and personal belief systems will operate in society. Our legal system deals with religions mainly as cohesive traditions, but as the meaning and function of faith and belief shift with time, policy and culture will have to reflect those shifts. This adaptation is already underway, and I hope to spend my career studying our system’s reaction.

I choose to major in Religious Studies while standing on a rooftop in the Old City of Jerusalem, thinking about the religious nature of violence in our world, while observing people of different faiths living together daily with little tension. I had a strong urge to understand the manner in which religious belief systems, many of which proclaims peace, had been twisted within human society until became the cause of wars. At the time, I still intended to use my undergraduate-level of knowledge about religion to work in international relations, but during my college career I became engrossed with the academic field.

Additionally, the way in which Professor Miller (Chicago) brings together religion, ethics, contemporary society, and politics is something I aspire to do. The incorporation of political philosophy, too, intrigues me, though the only exposure I have to a similar subject was in a course I greatly enjoyed called “Modernity and the Process of Secularization” taught by Professor Thomas Carlson. I would love to learn more about the theory and methods of studying religious ethics as they play into our contemporary political and social environments.

I spent my childhood abroad in England and Japan, and from that experience I initially intended to pursue a career in international relations. Although I moved away from that field academically, I thoroughly enjoyed participating in Model United Nations during my time at university, and still retain an interest in it. The variety of cultures around the world have led to drastically different ways in which religion has continued into modernity, and I believe there is a great deal to learn from international discourse. I was able to attend a number of lectures that made up the “International Symposium: Religious Pluralism in Global Perspective” at UCSB last year; it was fascinating to learn how pluralism takes different forms across the world.

I am currently thrilled by the prospect of studying the intersection of religiosity and secularity in the United States and then potentially carrying that to an international sphere. The unique formation and landscape of religious plurality in the U.S. creates a compelling study, but in recent history it has become increasingly evident that no country exists in a vacuum. I am not ready to cease study of American religion, but I am eager to expand it to a more broad cross-national level.

 

-Harlowe, Centennial House

Hi, I’m a member of the Episcopal Service Corps. No, I’m not Episcopalian.

In the last month or so I have been deeply in tune with my reasons for being a part of a church that I wouldn’t call my “home church”. While I am searching for all the truths this world has to offer, I have found that the Episcopal church allows for two crucial things: the freedom to wonder and the freedom to fail. I think both of these come so easily to the people I have met within the denomination because Grace is the emphasis. Even people I have met that were raised in the Episcopal church but no longer identify as a “church-person” have this grace-filled attitude.

There are so many times in my experience as an ESC member that I have felt unsure about my future with this body of faith. But, as I said, this last month has been a reminder to me of the things I am sure of. I love to make lists when I’m writing, I find that I am able to dissect my own thoughts for others without being too wordy. So here’s a short list (not including Grace) of my reasons for loving the Episcopal church for this season of my life:

1. History. There is so much history in this denomination. The liturgy, the prayers, The Book of Common Prayer. It’s all so rich! How surreal it is to me that we say the exact prayers being prayed hundreds and hundreds of years ago. It allows me to be connected to those who came before me. I heard it said that the “communion of saints” referenced in the Apostles Creed is easy to access when we pray what former Christians have prayed. We can jump into the bottomless pool of prayers with our historical floaties on. I also think there is less ego in some of these prayers, because Priests aren’t writing them to appear clever or more holy. They are chosen for their orientation to God for years and years. I deeply appreciate this.
2. Modernity. Odd that I would choose two seemingly opposite qualities as the top two reasons I enjoy this church. If you are familiar with this body of faith, it won’t surprise you at all. Because like me, I am hoping you have come in contact with Episcopalians who don’t let things get in the way of walking with people as they walk with Christ. By “things” I do mean the big, controversial issues that we deal with in the contemporary Church. I have found that gender, sexual preference, lifestyle and background have no bearing on the willingness of priests, lay ministers or congregation members to love and welcome a new person. Every week, Rebecca (our rector and ColoESC director) says “All are welcome at this table” when communion is ready to be served. She means it and I like that. In the context of our growing social landscape, I like that the Episcopal church heads prayerfully into discussions about important spiritual matters but wants to help all people find the heart of Christ.

To be clear, I don’t think that all Episcopalians appreciate the depth of their history, nor do I think all Episcopalians are as welcoming as others, but that is a matter for another day. For me, the relationship between history, grace and modernity is so important. Because there is an understanding of the broadness and richness of Christianity (history), the church leaves so much room for the humanness of us all (Grace) and is then able to move past the sometimes divisive cultural issues we deal with (modernity). I have received lots of Grace in the last month and I am so grateful. What a real blessing it has been.

-Courtney

A Sudden Confluence

This post is from David Burman, a resident of St. Columba House

Denver is, for the most part, mad about its Broncos (that’s the Denver Broncos, the local football team) – and that, for me, has been one of the treasures of living in Denver this year. I am a dyed-in-the-wool, lifelong Broncos fan, because my dad’s family is from Laramie, Wyoming. I was there, an 8-year old glued to the TV, when John Elway and Terrell Davis led the Broncos to a long-awaited victory in the Super Bowl in 1998.

Lately, I have begun to wonder if the recent revelations about the dangers football poses to those who play (especially the concussions) would end my love of the game, but that has not happened. When you fall in love with a team, you can’t just undo it.

So to live in the city where the Broncos play for the first time is wonderful. Now when I go to work at a shelter for homeless youth on Monday morning, the residents there want to talk about the game on Sunday. I can strike up a conversation with strangers and acquaintances about the Broncos, and frequently I’ll hear people talking about the Broncos, their playoff chances, and (this has been the biggest question in Broncos country lately) whether Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler should be the starting quarterback.

But I have not shared this love of the Broncos with my housemates, who are not Broncos fans (which makes sense; none of them are from Colorado). But this past Sunday, all of a sudden, there was a confluence of interest in our house. My housemate Andrew is a Miami Dolphins fan, and as a result has had little to cheer about for a long time – the Dolphins are generally bad or average, and this year has been no different.

Last Sunday the Dolphins finished their season by playing a game against the mighty, World Champion, New England Patriots. It was a game few gave the Dolphins a chance of winning, but I really hoped they did, primarily because if they did win, it would help the Broncos’ position in the upcoming playoffs by hurting the position of the Patriots.

Shockingly enough, after three fourths of the way through the game the Dolphins played the Patriots evenly, and the score was 10-10. Everywhere Broncos fans – me included – perked up. If the Dolphins actually managed to win, the Broncos would have an opportunity to steal away the Patriots’ top seed in the playoffs.

Miami’s much-criticized and long-suffering quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, led the team downfield as the end of the game approached, completing pass after pass against the Patriots’ tough defense, and then – a sudden boom – the Dolphins scored a touchdown!

The score was now 17-10, but I wasn’t too hopeful – the wondrous Patriots offense led by the great quarterback Tom Brady was about to get a chance to tie the game. But twice – twice! – Brady was sacked by Miami defenders before he could even throw a pass, and the Dolphins got the ball back quickly. After they scored a field goal, the game was over – a 20-10 victory for the Dolphins.

The impossible had happened! The Broncos now had a chance to win the top seed in the playoffs, and they did so by winning later in the day.

I told Andrew that he can where Miami Dolphins gear in Denver the rest of the year, because his beloved Dolphins had given our team a boost.

And that is how my housemate and I were suddenly united in our rooting interests.

Long may our common interest continue – until the day comes when the Broncos play the Dolphins in the playoffs.