11 March 2009

Respecting Beliefs and Sacredness

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. My mother converted to "Mormonism" as a young nursing student in Boston, MA; so my brothers and I grew up going to church every Sunday to attend Sacrament, Sunday School, and auxiliary meetings.

I remember one such Sunday sitting patiently, and I admit sleepily, in Sacrament meeting. It was the first Sunday of the month, which meant that members fast from food and drink and bear testimonies after the Sacrament has been administered. In our congregation there were always two or three children who loved to bear there testimonies at the front pulpit. They took their turn.

Then a man approached the microphone that I had never seen before. It was not uncommon for member visitors or tourists to come to church while they were in town, or even speak on Fast and Testimony Sundays. But this man was not a visiting member, as we came to discover. He stood from the pulpit and pronounced that we in the congregation were all going to hell and that the things we believed in were phony.

I cannot accurately describe to you the physical pain and weakness which I felt as he spoke. The contentment and peace in hearing children talk about the love which they had for their families and God soon rushed out of my body and spirit, like the tide withdrawing from the shore after a monstrous wave. I was left physically weak and uncomfortable with his accusations.

The leader of our congregation, Bishop Bruin, stood and talked to the man for a minute out of microphone range, and the man returned to sit with the congregation. Our Bishop then bore his own testimony of the church doctrines which he believed and how he respected the beliefs of others. Though the congregation gradually felt warmer throughout the remainder of the services, there was still a foreign feeling in the air.

I've felt that spiritual discomfort with recent events.

Growing up in a small, yet diverse population in Alaska, I was raised to be open-minded and accepting of others beliefs, though I may not agree or believe them myself. These teachings inspired me to take a World Religions class in college, where I briefly learned about many of the prominent religions in our society and how those beliefs connected with mine own. It was a fascinating course that entirely enhanced my appreciation for my own religious affiliation as well as my respect and envy of others' admirable practices and devotion.

I could relate, then, to a celebration of faith which was organized at Harvard University. The purpose of the program was to explore the "overarching theme of faith" on campus. Included in the day long program was a panel discussion among students of various religious backgrounds to describe their personal journies for purpose. Each student was an outstanding example for their religion and illustration of the quest to find meaning in life.

The above picture connects to Harvard's Hillel site and videos from the panel discussion, directed by the woman on the far right, Sally Quinn (Washington Post journalist). Rachel Esplin, on the far left, was the representative from the LDS Community.