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Archive for the ‘religion and culture’ Category

It seems that American youth are redefining what it means to be spiritual, and researchers are interested in discovering what this means for our society.

MU graduate student Anthony James is researching the distinction youth make between spirituality and religion. His initial findings show that youth “define spirituality in terms of positive behaviors, feelings and relationships.”

Although the assumption is that many people are ‘spiritual,’ spirituality is not something that is easy to articulate and define,” James said. “People have a hard time separating spirituality from religion, but the differences are important to understanding behavior and development.

James is most interested in learning how spirituality affects positive youth development in adolescents.  He examined youth responses to the question “What does it mean to be a spiritual young person?”

His findings show that youth defined their spiritual behavior as having these characteristics:

  • purpose
  • the bond of connections, including those to a higher power (typically God), people and nature.
  • a foundation of well-being, including joy and fulfillment, energy and peace
  • conviction
  • self-confidence
  • an impetus for virtue; for example, having motivation to do the right thing and tell the truth.

Although there are few studies about spirituality and religion among youth, Notre Dame scholar Christian Smith has written a book about the role religion plays in the lives of “emerging adults. Sociologists define “emerging adults” as those making the transition from adolescence to adulthood  — roughly those between ages 18 and 29.

Smith’s research has found:

  • Only 15 percent of emerging adults have a strong personal faith and practice it regularly.
  • About 30 percent are engaged inconsistently or loosely affiliated with a religious tradition.
  • One in four is indifferent toward religion, while 15 percent are open to spiritual or religious matters but haven’t made a personal commitment.
  • The final 15 percent have little or no connection to religion, or hold negative attitudes toward it.

Emerging adults tend to look at church as sort of an elementary school for morals, Smith concludes. Once you’ve got the basics of right and wrong, you eventually “graduate,” perhaps returning when it’s time for your own children to learn elementary morality.

This is a stark contrast to the idea of faith as a permanent, transcendent anchor of meaning amid crashing waves of change. Rather than the source of purpose they seek, these young people see a mere shadow of an important historical role of religious congregations: providing community and support for individuals and families from womb to tomb.

How do you define spirituality as distinct from religion? How can houses of worship help provide support for individuals throughout the stages of their lives? How can parents, adults and counselors help emerging adults find and develop their faith?

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The United Church of Christ in Columbia celebrated Mardi Gras with a traditional German meal on Tuesday.

The ColumbiaMissourian reported Tuesday that it was the 26th annual celebration of Fastnacht, and included traditional German foods and music from Der Deutschmeister Musickers. More photos are online.

Fastnacht celebration in Columbia

Helga Carter and her granddaughter Olivia Carter, 5, enjoy their time at the Fastnacht on Tuesday.

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Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

The fifth annual Evolution Weekend begins today, Feb. 12, and continues until Sunday, Feb. 14.

Faith communities from across the globe are gathering for sermons, discussions, lectures and classes recognizing that religion and science complement one another.

The Evolution Weekend is sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project, which was founded by Michael Zimmerman in 2004. He is currently a professor of Biology at Butler University in Indianapolis.
The project has been officially endorsed by a number of Christian denominations, including the United Methodist Church of Minnesota, the Episcopal Church of Southeast Florida, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America of southwest Washington. So far, there have been more than 12,000 signatures from clergy supporting the effort. Missouri clergy represent 278 of those signatures.
Fun facts about this weekend:
  • Faith communities from 12 countries on 5 continents are participating
  • 870 scientists from 29 different countries
  • It’s the third century since the birth of Charles Darwin
  • It’s been 151 years since “The Origin of Species” was first published

Columbia Friends Meeting in Columbia will be participating in the event. The group gathers for worship at 10 a.m. on Sundays at 6408 E. Locust Grove Road.

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A little late for tonight’s performance, but the Columbia Handbell Ensemble is performing its 20th annual Winter Concerts this weekend at First Baptist Church. One concert was tonight at 7 p.m., another Sunday at 2 p.m., with a third tomorrow night in Hermann. For details and more on the hand bell choir, read our story on today’s ColumbiaMissourian.com.

Hand bells make up a marvelous musical medium that is popular among churches. In the story, CHE director Ed Rollins describes the sound of hand bells as attempting to replicate, with five or six musicians, the sound of a single instrument’s melody. He explained it to me like this: “Let’s say you’re a violin player, and the violin gets the melody. So one person’s responsible for the melody. In a hand bell group, that melody is going to be split between five or six people. What you’re trying to do is make it sound … like one person is playing the music.”

That music can be quite impressive sometimes. Rollins said one of their selections for this year’s Winter Concerts was originally performed on the organ: “One is an organ transcription, and man, if you get that done well on bells, it’s so good.”

For a preview of CHE’s sound, check out this 2008 slide show of Christmas offerings at local churches, which features a snippet from last year’s CHE Winter Concerts (and which I admit I really just wanted an excuse to repost). Not to be missed if you go: The group typically does at least one sing-along number, and the effect is pretty moving.

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Much has been made over the role of Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan’s deep Muslim faith in the mass shooting at Fort Hood earlier this month, in which he opened fire at the massive Texas installation and killed 13 people. The day after the shooting, the Washington Post ran quite a long profile of Hasan, paying a great deal of attention to his faith and how it shaped his life and military service. More recently, NPR aired a story this week on a damning evaluation Hasan received from the Army in 2007, which made mention of his habit of proselytizing to patients — a habit that makes sense in light of a comment in the WaPo story that “his faith was the only outgoing thing about him” — among a laundry list of reasons why the evaluator felt he lacked professionalism and a work ethic. Several news outlets have wondered whether Hasan’s faith was the primary motive for his rampage; their claims are reinforced by eyewitness accounts that told of Hasan shouting, “Allahu akbar!” (“To God be the glory!”) as he opened fire with his personal handguns.

But, as with any situation, there is another side to consider. Shortly after the shooting, the Missourian‘s Jeremy Essig wrote an analysis of news coverage of Fort Hood up to that point, questioning the validity of featuring Hasan’s faith so prominently in the news and adding, “Jason Rodriguez killed one person and injured five others in a mass shooting on Friday in Orlando, Fla. Who knows Rodriguez’s religion?” And the religion section of the La Canada (Calif.) Valley Sun assembled a panel of local clergy to debate whether too much had been made of the issue of Hasan’s faith.

But all of those are just others’ opinions. What do you think, dear reader? Should the media be focusing on and analyzing Hasan’s faith? Are they doing too much of it?

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Last night, Thanksgiving came a week early for the residents at Paquin Tower, and the festive smorgasbord did not disappoint. Neither did the entertainment and good company. Yes, I said entertainment.

A trio of men from Karis Community Church, whose members provided the meal, played a lovely mix of songs on various stringed instruments. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a cover of Ryan Adams, my all-time favorite musician, mixed in with some Christmas songs and bluegrass medleys.

I had never been to Paquin and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know some new people. Since moving to Columbia this summer, I have been attending Karis and was happy to know this was the second year for the church to provide the holiday meal at Paquin. From what I was told, the City of Columbia used to provide the meal but withdrew its support due to budgetary constraints. Last year, Karis adopted the program.

What impressed me the most about the event was how everyone took the time to get to know each other. I spent most of the evening talking to a man who said he had lived in Paquin for about two years. I mentioned to him that I was from Memphis, and he said he had been there to see doctors at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He has sickle cell anemia and currently is without a job.  I was thankful to make a genuine connection with a complete stranger and learn more about his life, interests, struggles and joys.

I also met a man who has lived in Paquin for 20 years and said he is currently the longest-running resident. Later, I practiced a little of my Spanish with a resident who was originally from Colombia.

There was also handful of willing helpers from the Evangelical Free Church of Columbia, and I appreciated talking to a few of them. Needless to say, I left feeling thankful. Thankful for human connections. Thankful for the hands that prepared the wonderful meal. Thankful for a night of good music and new friends.

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Prosperity GospelI recently read Hanna Rosin’s article in The Atlantic titled “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” Needless to say, it got me thinking. Does the Bible really say that Christians will be blessed financially in this life? As a Christian, I believe that God will provide for my every need, but I’ve never taken that to mean He will provide me with a big house in a nice neighborhood and a fancy car. In contrast, I believe that I won’t experience the fullness of God’s blessing until heaven.

In what has been termed the ‘prosperity gospel,’ many churches across the nation preach that God’s people should expect great financial favor in their time on earth.

The article takes a closer look at Fernando Garay, the pastor of Casa del Padre in Charlottesville, Va., who drives a “dark-blue Mercedes Benz always freshly washed, the hubcaps polished enough to reflect his wingtips,” says Rosin.

Garay’s church is predominantly Latino and is made up of mostly first-generation immigrants. Rosin says that Garay often preaches about money. Rosin quotes Garay saying, “The blessings are looking for you! God will take care of you. God will not let you be without a house!”

The article cites a recent Pew survey, “Seventy-three percent of all religious Latinos in the United States agreed with the statement: ‘God will grant financial success to all believers who have enough faith.'”

What I found most interesting is the link that Rosin makes between churches that preach the ‘prosperity gospel’ and the collapse of the housing market:

“One other thing makes Garay’s church a compelling case study. From 2001 to 2007, while he was building his church, Garay was also a loan officer at two different mortgage companies. He was hired explicitly to reach out to the city’s growing Latino community, and Latinos, as it happened, were disproportionately likely to take out the sort of risky loans that later led to so many foreclosures. To many of his parishioners, Garay was not just a spiritual adviser, but a financial one as well.”

What responsibility do churches have in keeping their members financially satisfied? Have some churches, consciously or not, led their congregants into seeking a lifestyles that their incomes cannot support?

I am interested in what readers have to say about this topic.


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Faith and disabilitiesI’m working on a story right now about a Columbia woman’s journey to find a church home that loves and accepts her as a single mother of two children, one of whom has autism. Her journey has been long and full of heartache, but she has found a congregation that is willing to learn how best to support children and adults with special needs.

Through open communication with her pastors and a willingness to educate her church members about autism, she has found the supportive faith community that she had long been seeking.

  • Are there any readers out there who have faced similar struggles in finding a faith community that supports their family’s special needs?
  • Are there any parents with disabled children who have avoided visiting a church, temple or synagogue for fear they would be misunderstood or even turned away?
  • Is it such an effort for some parents to get their disabled children up and ready in time for church that they have given up due to lack of energy? Or lack of adequate transportation?

If you have asked yourself any of these or similar questions (or know someone who has), I’d love to hear your (or their) story.

I would love to know what, if anything, is keeping families with disabled children from attending worship services and other events in their faith communities.

If you have a story to share, please email me at cesf3f@mail.missouri.edu.

—Courtney Shove

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The New York Times posted a story on September 27th that caught my attention. It was called “Nannies Get a Holiday. Rich Families Get a Suite.” The story summary mentioned Ramadan, and since it has been in the news a lot recently, I wanted to see what angle they would choose.

The story talks about how rich families in Indonesia deal with the temporary loss of their maids, nannies and chauffeurs every year at the end of Ramadan. Many of these Muslim employees take an annual pilgrimage to their hometowns to celebrate Id al-Fitr, which is a holiday at the end of Ramadan. The story said many families either hire temporary help at high rates or check into hotels for the week.

Somehow this struck me as a little ridiculous. I’m not sure why, but it annoyed me a little bit. Some of the people interviewed seemed so inconvenienced that their employees were taking time to celebrate their religion and visit their families. To be fair, not all of them viewed it this way. It just struck me as selfish, though, that they couldn’t just allow their employees to take a religious holiday without complaining. I’m sure it is hard to suddenly be without extra help when you’ve grown accustomed to it, but it just seems a little too spoiled. One woman in the story did say how it was a good chance to discipline her children a little more so they don’t get too spoiled. That seems like a reasonable attitude to have.

I know there is a huge cultural difference between my world and the one I am reading about, so I guess that’s why I’m having a hard time seeing their point of view. I commend these people for allowing their employees to celebrate their religion and their holidays, but it just seems like they could do it with a little less complaining.

This story led me to wonder about other faiths that have to take time off for religious holidays. I bet it would difficult for both parties involved: the people leaving and the people being left. It’s never something I’ve had to experience being from a Baptist background. I would have liked to have heard from some of the Muslim employees in this story to see their opinions on their vacation and its effects on their employers.

Does anyone have any insight to the situation? Is it hard to leave your routine for a religious holiday? Or is it harder to be left behind, having to fill in the gaps?

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There was an article in the Washington Post online last week called “Soul-Searching on Facebook.” In case you didn’t know, Facebook is an online social networking website used by over 250 million people worldwide. On your Facebook profile page, there is a little box where you can write down, in 10 words or less, your religious belief. That is all you get: 10 words, 100 characters. An entire lifetime of religious experience and sentiment cut into just a few short words.

According to the article, the most popular answer on Facebook is simply “Christian,” but it gets more interesting than that. A compilation of the top 10 answers to the question revealed that “Jedi” is the number 10 answer … not exactly a traditional choice by any means. In the entire world, of all the people with Facebook pages, “Jedi” was the number 10 religion. But it doesn’t stop there. A little investigation of my own friends’ Facebook pages revealed that people tend to get creative, be it silly or serious, about how they answer the ever-complicated question of identifying their faith. President Obama’s Facebook reads that his religion is “Christian,” the simple yet dominant answer to a question posed by one of the biggest social networks on the planet.

So here’s the challenge: can you define your religious belief in 10 words or less? Does it come with an asterisk? Is it better said with a quote, or with a joke? Is it simply a question mark, left to be defined on another day, or in a different time?

Comment below with your answer to Facebook’s question. Let’s see what our own community has to say about what faith means to us.

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