Back to School!
This week students everywhere return to school, if they have not done so already. Here in the United States most universities begin classes this week. Labor day weekend parents all over the US labored to move their college students into their new dormitories. Tomorrow Salve Regina University, here in the city of Newport, Rhode Island, where I live, begins its classes. At 8:00AM tomorrow morning I will begin a quest with thirty young adults who are students at Salve. Together we will embark on a journey entitled “The Quest for the Ultimate.” It is a required course at Salve, and various instructors and sections of the course will be offered, each section approaching the great religions of the world from a slightly different angle.
Although the title of the course was given to me, as an instructor I was invited to choose the angle from which to approach such a vast topic. I chose to approach this Quest for the Ultimate, exploring the religions of the world from the angle of the “Anawim.” Anawim is a Hebrew word, used frequently in the Hebrew bible by the prophets when referring to the “little ones, who cry out to God for justice” in other words, the disenfranchised, excluded, or oppressed ones.
So in my section of the course the students and I will consider how the major religions of the world treat the poor, a particular timely subject given the gross income inequality in our world today; women, sadly still disenfranchised in many parts of the world, and still not having full equality even in the vast majority of the developed nations of the world; and LBGTQ persons (persons who are lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgendered, or queer/questioning). Tragically the latter two groups, women and LBGTQ persons, are often disenfranchised within many of the major world’s religious traditions themselves. Last year I taught my first course at Salve, and it was the students themselves who raised the question about the role of LBGTQ persons in each of the major world religions. Although I had a pretty good understanding of where each of the major Christian traditions stood on the LBGTQ issue, and could make an educated guess on some other faith traditions, I confess that I was more clueless than I should be in terms of the stance of some of the major world religions on LBGTQ persons. Clearly this is an important issue in the lives of the students for them to request that we investigate this topic. I then began researching this subject, and was surprised at the shortage of material available. I am feeling that perhaps it is up to me to develop materials on this topic, hence, the inclusion of the LBGTQ angle for this course.
I am thrilled and honored to have many friends of various faith traditions, who will serve as guest speakers for this course, to address these issues from within the different faith traditions themselves. It is very different to approach something as an outsider, to learn about a religious tradition and its practices as an outsider, than to share one’s personal experience as someone from inside that tradition.
I am very excited to be embarking on this quest with the thirty students at Salve. I anticipate learning as much from them as they learn from me. In addition, the members of my bible study class at my church asked if I could offer this course at our church as well. I said yes. It will be interesting to see how a group of mixed ages, most of them significantly older than the college students at Salve, will approach the same topics and materials. Finally, and very unexpectedly, the elders I teach at a nearby assisted living community voted to do the world religions course rather than bible study this year! I will find it extremely interesting to see how persons in their eighties, nineties and beyond approach these topics. In the weeks ahead, I will share in these weekly blog posts, a summary of what we are learning in these classes: that is, how each of the major world religions stands in relation to the Anawim, specifically the poor, women, and LBGTQ persons.
We will begin our Quest at Salve by stepping outside the classroom, and standing on the edge of the cliff where the building in which we gather stands, facing the Atlantic Ocean. Poised on this cliff, facing the ocean, we will imagine ourselves standing there thousands of years ago, before the buildings behind us existed, before the first white person stepped upon these shores, before the invention of written language. Gazing at the vast and dazzling ocean, what must those first Native peoples have felt, thought, sensed?
Or when a storm came, and thunder and lightening pierced the dark sky and churned the tumultuous waves, what would they have felt, thought, sensed? Or as night fell, and the stars and planets appeared in the night sky, before air and light pollution existed, what must they have wondered? And if they fell asleep under the midnight canopy of stars, and awakened with the sun’s rising over the ocean, what must they have felt, thought, sensed as the sun’s brilliance dawned on them? Did they ask Who was the power, the creative force behind all this?
In this way, immersed in wonder , mystery, and awe, the religions of the world were born, to somehow make meaning of that which is beyond our understanding, yet somehow sensed within us and all around us, within all creation.
Come, let us begin the quest together, the quest for the Ultimate.
This day may you see the Ultimate in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the Ultimate to all you encounter.
Photos: Gramper Ted and Sylvie getting the backpack ready; Newport; the poor; Linda and friend in mosque; view from cliff walk, Newport, RI; stormy sky over third each, Newport; Easter sunrise, Sandy Point beach, Warwick, RI; Newport sunset