Opinion

Give me that old-time religion? Reflections on religion and adjustment at Macalester

(Disclaimer: not in direct response to Maddy Jasper’s March 7th article)

“I’ve shot a gun, and I’m clinging to religion.” A long, long time ago (well, over six months back, to be exact) I came up with this “brilliant” phrase. I even entertained the wild idea of using this phrase to begin a letter to President Obama. My riff on his famous 2008 campaign gaffe was born of uncertain times, and perhaps a desire to defend both guns and religion—or at least to question the increasing vilification of both in American culture. I never wrote or sent the letter, of course, but my fleeting thought stayed with me. Yes, I have shot a real gun, for the first time last summer. There was nothing remotely insidious in this action—unless you count obliterating clay targets and pop cans as insidious. As for religion…

In high school, my parents had to drag me to church all too often. I had my own faith and that was good enough for me, I guess. My faith was also a private thing, and for the most part, I embraced it when I felt I needed it. It was not as if I never went to church; I still attended more regularly than most Americans. But to be entirely honest, I felt like I lived in another world from the “churchy” people I knew—those who posted Bible verses on Facebook and talked about religion and God a lot. They broadcasted their beliefs to the world, while I prided myself on my neutral and quiet faith. Then I came to college, and nothing changed—at first. For me, the first few weeks were nothing but a blur. Most of September passed in a procession of new events and ideas, but during the last week of September, doubts of all kinds began to creep into my head.

It takes a measure of courage for me to say this in a public forum, but I was worried about many things, and granted, I had been nervous about beginning college in the first place. At times, I became rather distraught about my situation and perceived problems, and a strange thing happened. I found myself turning toward religion. I did talk to others about my feelings—friends, family—and that helped a lot. Lucy Forster-Smith was also somebody I discussed my feelings with, and her assistance was so important to me. It was hard to see her go. In the end, though, faith and religion comforted me and gave me hope in a difficult transition time.

On September 27th, I made the decision to go to church. At this time, I had not been involved in any organized religion since leaving home. I tried out the local United Methodist Church (my home denomination), and the experience was amazing. In a way, it did feel that something had been missing. Was it the comfort of a traditional routine, or something more profound? It is hard to accurately say. Nevertheless, the people of Fairmount Avenue were welcoming and tremendously kind. One nice parishioner said I should join the church choir, and I showed up to the Wednesday night practice the following week. I didn’t miss a Sunday for the rest of the semester.

Although my church attendance may change eventually, I remain grateful for the church and my faith. I never expected that I would increase my faith and delve deeper into myself spiritually when attending college. Quite simply, I had never thought it was in the cards at all, especially when going to a liberal college like Mac. That is where I was utterly wrong. In the beginning of last semester, and whenever we discussed religion, I ambiguously said I was “raised Methodist.” When I said this, some asked if that meant I was no longer Methodist or religious. I responded that I still was, and probably muttered added something else vague and noncommittal. What I soon discovered is that at Macalester, nobody would judge me or change their view of me if I was openly religious.

This heartening revelation caused me to view the Macalester community in a new light. I realize that nothing is perfect. We as a community definitely need to work on acceptance (or at least acknowledgement) of differing viewpoints and values, I am glad there is space for religion on this campus. So give me that old time religion—and as the song goes—I guess it is “good enough for me!”

I wrote all of this before reading Maddy Jasper’s opinion piece in this paper a few weeks ago. As a religious person myself, it troubles me greatly to know that a fellow Christian was belittled and attacked in a Macalester College classroom. I stated that we need to work on acceptance or acknowledgement of differing viewpoints, and I guess that is even more true than I had thought. Each student of this college should at least be able to express their viewpoint on a reading for class without being unequivocally demeaned. At the same time, having lively discussion and challenging discourse in the classroom and on campus is also important. At this institution and in the world, people will inevitably come to social disagreements. How we deal with them is our choice. We can choose to “agree to disagree,” we can personally attack those with different views or we can try a new approach. Nobody has all the answers to this issue, and I do not pretend to. Regardless, those of the dominant frame of mind and belief system should not be able to snuff out the expression of beliefs and values held by fewer people at this college. I remain grateful for the acceptance I have personally found so far, and hope that a greater diversity of opinion can be openly fostered in the future.

April 4, 2014

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