Interview 12: Tyson

Tyson is one of the most calm and collected people I have ever met. He is often quiet and spends more time listening than speaking, but when he does speak, it is softly and slowly, in a measured manner–I daresay his speech pattern is rare among our generation, and it is refreshing. He seems very selective about the moments he chooses to speak up, but when he does, you don’t want to miss it. Our coworkers are often surprised when Tyson’s humor comes out due to his quiet and unassuming nature, but you can tell from his eyes when he is about to drop a wicked one-liner that may leave his audience gasping for air–a wryness comes over his face and I make sure to tune in.

I find Tyson to be one of my favorite people to talk to due to his depth of character and multifaceted personality. He is, as another coworker described, “jacked”; he is thoughtful and kind; he is curious about others and their opinions; and he is deeply religious. I’ve known many members of the Church of Latter Day Saints in my life, but Tyson is the first one I would consider a close friend, and so I was ecstatic when he agreed to sit down to an interview. One of the things I enjoy the most about this blog is the opportunity to discuss topics that may be considered “taboo” with people I truly respect–and Tyson is completely open to conversing about his faith and what it means to him, so cutting the interview at my usual twenty-minute mark was heart-breaking–but even in those twenty minutes, I had learned so much more than I could have anticipated. Throughout the interview, Tyson’s quiet confidence and security in his beliefs became more and more evident. If I ever need someone to represent something I believe in, I want it to be Tyson. 

Interview 12: Tyson

“It’s cool to spend two years completely forgetting about yourself and focusing on the bigger picture:  God. It’s a pretty big turning point in anyone’s life. Then, you come back and jump into your regular life and you’re forever changed because of it.”

Me: So, Tyson, I don’t know if you’ve read of any of my blog, but the way I have people start out is I have them tell me a brief picture of their life story in terms of religion. So how you came to where you are currently—just tell me about your whole life!

Tyson: So…both of my parents are Mormon, or LDS.

Me: Which one’s better?

Tyson: Mormon is a term that a lot of non-members call us, but we don’t really call ourselves Mormons. We’re LDS, which means Latter Day Saints.  A “Saint” is a follower of Christ, “Latter Day” means “last days.”  I was born into it, and to some degree, a lot of my extended family are too—but a lot aren’t, as well. You’re baptized when you’re eight, not when you’re born, and it’s your choice.

Me: So like Baptists.

Tyson: Mhmm. It’s your parents’ choice as well. Some people don’t want to until later—a lot of kids are baptized at eight. It’s just an age of accountability. You go to church every Sunday, where there are Sunday school classes for kids, teenagers, adults, etc. Once you graduate high school, both boys and girls have the option, if you choose, to go on a mission. It’s not really a requirement—you’re not forced to. There might be a little bit of social pressure just because a lot of your friends might be going, but you’re not really urged to go unless it’s for the right reasons. Once you graduate from high school you see a lot of LDS kids having a little bit of a soul searching phase, trying to figure out if it’s really for them, or not, and if it’s real or if they feel that it’s true. I definitely had a phase like that. But when it came down to it, I felt like the message of the gospel that I had been taught my whole life was full, peaceful, logical, happy and it’s something that makes other people happy, so it was worth pushing off college for two years and pursuing.  So yeah, I served a two year mission, spent in service and gospel teaching and spending a lot of time in the community. Hardly any of your time is your own on a mission—you’re told what you need to be doing, but it’s kind of cool to spend two years completely forgetting about yourself and focusing on the bigger picture:  God. It’s a pretty big turning point in anyone’s life. Then, you come back and jump into your regular life and you’re forever changed because of it.  And now I’m here.

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Tyson, possibly giving me side-eye, possibly because I was trying to convince him that he should have some decaf coffee. (He politely declined).

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Riding in Cars with Muslims (or, #LoveTrumpsHate)

My dear friends and respected readers, I have to get something out.

It seems to me that our nation is at a crossroads. I suppose it could be said that we are always at a crossroads, but this one feels like a fundamental shift in the American paradigm.

A leading candidate for our commander-in-chief can spout vitriol unimpeded. And the people cheer. They cheer!

Now, I’m not here to talk about Trump’s chosen policies or recommended plans of action, or even his desire for Russia’s assistance in bringing his opponent down. I’m here, as so many out there on the Internet are, to speak out against his seething hatred of the unknown.

I say the unknown, because in his actions and his words, Trump has made it clear he knows very little. Very little about the people he wants to kick out of the country. The Mexicans, who “don’t send their best”. The Muslims, who should be kicked out of our country. Women.  Black Lives Matter activists. The impoverished. Anyone who dissents against him must be evil, because in Trumpworld (copyright pending), Trump is God!

Now, Donald Trump is a special case. Sitting on high in his gilded castle, he does not seek to see reason. He has never had to try to understand the perspective of those less privileged than him. He is impenetrable.

But imagine! Imagine if his followers were able to sit down, breathe, and take a second. To stop being scared about “everything they have taken from us”. If they could instead have a simple conversation with their Muslim or Latino brothers and sisters—not about anything serious, but perhaps about the weather or over a hearty meal or while planting a tree—would they still harbor that deep-seeded hate?

“With praying, it’s something that will make your life easier, yeah? You’re not stressing out, you’re not getting mad, you just clean your heart. The more you face God, the more you’re feeling confidence.”  –Uber Driver #1

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#LivesMatter

I’m currently in Brazil so I get all my news from the internet, which is how I found out about the shooting in North Carolina. I want to take a moment to discuss something with y’all.

It seems that there is some confusion as to what the murderer’s motive was—I’ve seen articles asserting he shot and killed three young adults over a parking dispute. Ignoring the religious/racial aspect of the murders for a moment, this idea alone is ridiculous, and a great example of why gun control is needed. Don’t get me wrong, I love guns. I shoot them for fun. At a piece of paper. In a range. However, I do not own one, because I do not need one. But I digress, this blog is not here to debate gun control issues, and I’m not well versed enough in the intricacies of that debate to assert a solid opinion (the one thing I know I believe is that background checks should be mandatory).

A man, possibly angered over a parking issue, murdered three people.

Over a parking issue.

Now, in the next several days, there will be many debates over whether or not it matters that the three victims were Muslim. Pundits will argue back and forth about whether this man would have killed these people if they had been WASPs, and whether he should be labeled a terrorist. Hypotheticals will be bandied about in an effort to eat airtime and justify the profit made off of commercials.

So does the religion of the victims matter?

Yes. Yes it does. But not necessarily in the way we might think.

This man may not hate Muslims. I don’t know him, I don’t know what went through his head. But I do know he looked at three people in anger and shot them. And this tells me something. It tells me how little he valued their lives.

As humans, we have a tendency to categorize other humans. It’s our nature. It makes it easier for us to draw connections, easier for us to think we understand the world and the people in it. This person is Christian. That person is Muslim. That other person is Jewish. This person is conservative, that person liberal. This person rich, that person poor. This person religious, this person not. We walk around every day and we carry our labels. We are asked to define ourselves using them. Life is simpler that way.

There is a movement out there in the media and in politics that defines Christians as good, Jews as less good, and Muslims as evil. Cities fight to forbid mosques from being built. Extremist pundits argue that it is not possible to be Muslim without hating America. Most of us know better, but the message is there, and it is prevalent. It eats away at us as we argue over Islam and forget that we are talking about other human beings.

This insidious message got to this man, this murderer. He was angry. Maybe at Muslims, maybe about parking. But either way, he saw Muslims, and he did not think of them as living, breathing humans. He looked at two women and saw their headscarves instead of their beautiful faces. He looked at another man and did not see an equal.

And so three lives, filled to the brim with potential, were tragically cut short.

What are we doing?

It is time to stop categorizing. It is time to stand up for the only category that matters, humanity. I am human and you are my brethren. It is easy to get angry at each other as we encounter one another in the world, but at the core, beneath the superficial slights, we share a consciousness, a knowledge of each other, a bond beyond comprehension.

We should be judged individually, on our own merits, or not at all.

Please take a moment today to value the lives of 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his 21-year-old wife, Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, and mourn their loss. We owe it to them.

And then take another moment to value all life, this beautiful gift we have been given that can be so easily taken away. Hug someone and hold them close. That is humanity. We are beings of love.

Interview 10: Robert

HELLO AND HAPPY 2015! This year is going to be a good one, y’all. I can tell. Let’s get to our first interview of the year!

Funny story, I met Robert on Tinder. Except I kind of already knew who he was when I found him, because I had seen his picture on Facebook. He’s my sorority sister Katie’s brother–and I knew how awesome Katie is (seriously awesome), so I thought, hey, I can swipe right on this guy! He’s a real person! And so our friendship began. (My relationship with Tinder was much shorter–I’m done with that craziness). Robert and I haven’t hung out a ton, but when we do we just talk and talk and time flies by. He’s a fascinating individual and seems to burst with energy–his lust for life and  thirst for knowledge are unparalleled–which will soon become apparent, as you read through the interview. As I could have predicted, the interview ran long and we went off on tangents a few times–that’s the nature of our conversations–but I hope you read it all, it’s worth it.

Interview 10: Robert

“It’s not for me to say “I comprehend how this works”, it’s for me to say “I’m Catholic, and these are mysteries that I understand as they’ve been revealed to us.””

Me: [Would you] tell me what your own spiritual journey has been, over your life so far?

Robert: So…I’ve had a kind of up and down relationship with my personal religious spiritual beliefs. My family is Catholic, I was raised Catholic – a lot of people don’t realize that Catholicism is a much larger universe than just the Roman Catholic church downtown, for instance. So although I was raised Roman Catholic in the sense that most people think of when they hear the term, my father’s family, being Lebanese, was originally Maronite Catholic, Maronites being one of the twenty-three branches of the Eastern Catholic Church—not Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic. In a nutshell—I’ll try to keep myself from giving the explanation that I have practiced—there are numerous rites–sort of like sects–that recognizes the primacy of the Pope, and recognizing the primacy of the Pope is essentially the defining factor of what we call Roman Catholic. So the Maronite Catholic Church, the Maronite rite, is one that uses Arabic as its vernacular language and Syriac as its liturgical language. It has a different background, a different set of traditions, a different focus than the Latin-speaking church has. The Latin speaking church has a stronger tradition of rational philosophy, the Eastern church has a stronger tradition of mysticism, of looking for symbols in everything.

Me: Which would make sense, given the traditions of Arabic cultures. There’s more of a proclivity towards mysticism, I find, in the Middle East.

Robert: Yes, I don’t know to what extent this is oversimplifying things, but to me it seems like the Latin church has inherited a lot of the Greek philosophical tradition, and the Eastern churches have retained a lot of the more native Semitic religious influences, which are always quite mystic. Catholicism itself—Christianity itself—is mystic Judaism, so that’s present all throughout any branch of Christianity, but in the Eastern rites especially. In any case, that’s only to say that I was raised Roman Catholic and very early on found myself questioning the strictures of the Church. I was essentially agnostic probably from ten on, for four or five years. You know, I’d grown up reading the Greek myths and you’re not going to tell me that Zeus isn’t real but this guy up in heaven is, I’ll listen to ya but you’re not making any rational arguments. Um… Lillie’s making a great face of agreement right now. (laughs)

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Me: That’s almost exactly when I decided I was agnostic. When I was like 10.

Robert: Exactly. I specifically remember, I had this whole mythology—not really mythology, this whole explanation worked up when I was really young, Dad still talks about this, I was like eight or something? Because we would go to Sunday school, and we would get all these lessons, and I’m listening to all these lessons and stories and I’m thinking, “This is mythology.” But I loved it, I was like, this is great, this just fits in with what I already know about mythology, about the Greek myths—and they were like “No no no, those aren’t real.” So I would go home and I would explain–I had this whole “Hercules is Jesus” thing going on. It all made sense in my head. But when I realized that there was so much pushback from people, from kind of the official church itself: (changes voice) “No, you can’t believe that, Zeus is fake and God is real”, and I…headed out. When we came back to the states—did I tell you we lived in Germany?

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Music for the Soul

Hello everyone and happy holiday season!

It turns out that when I was traveling for work and studying for the GMAT, everything else in my life fell by the wayside and I stopped pursuing potential interviews. But I’m hoping to line up some good ones before I travel again in January–wish me luck!

Since it is now December, it seems to everyone is bringing out the Christmas music. To me, the ultimate Christmas music is Handel’s Messiah, but that could be because I performed it as part of the orchestra for four years (and returned to play it for four years after that–my high school lets alums play/sing, and it was family tradition while my sister was in high school).

All this music swelling around me everywhere I go has led me to dwell on the power that music holds. Many people I have interviewed/spoken to outside the interview format have spoken of music and the strange way it can touch (for lack of a better word) the soul. I grew up in a household filled with music–my dad’s passion for classical music is both inspiring and at times grating. My favorite Christmas movie as a young child was Maurice Sendak’s production of the Nutcracker (which is insane and amazing, by the way). My favorite toy was an old electric keyboard at which I would pound away, making what sounded to me like beautiful music (but I’m sure was not).

The first time I consciously realized that music could bring me to tears (as far as I remember) was when I was in chorus in the fifth grade. We were practicing ‘Bist du bei Mir’, and I found myself overwhelmed by the sadness and longing in the song–which is in German. I didn’t need to understand the words. The intent is in the melody.

In middle school and high school, I was in the orchestra. Playing an instrument, as a part of a whole, can be a glorious and transcendent experience. I could forget whatever angsty problem I was having and stop thinking, stop existing within my limited experience and even within the parameters of my own body. I felt lifted, outside physical boundaries, truly and deeply moved.

I was lucky enough to go to Kenya in high school–and there I discovered that perhaps I did believe in a higher power. We attended what appeared to be a choir practice for the students of the boarding school at which we were staying–and I was awestruck. The Kenyan students seemed to be so deeply within the music that they could harmonize effortlessly. There were perhaps fifteen to twenty students, singing and dancing and somehow existing in a different state of being. And it wasn’t an isolated experience. I found it again when we went to church services with them, and once again when one sweet girl sang us a Natalie Furtado song the night before we were leaving. We sat in the dorm, on our beds, as she started to sing–and the other girls picked up the harmony instantly. The song itself is a decent song–but from these girls, it brought me to tears.

Most of my personal examples of music that has moved me or reached me in a particular way are tunes in a minor key, or with a certain sadness to them–a beauty tinged with pain. But there is music that can make one feel triumphant and joyous as well. One of my favorite pieces of music of all time is Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3, “Organ”. You may recognize it:

Now, most of my examples are classical–but there are also some great modern musicians today. Take a listen to Sufjan Steven’s “Casimir Pulaski Day”, Gregory Alan Isakov’s “This Empty Northern Hemisphere”, or Vienna Teng’s “The Hymn of Acxiom”. These are just a few of the songs that I have needed at particular times in my life. (Also, the Hymn of Acxiom is particularly interesting, given its subject matter.) And I will also add that at one time, I needed Avenged Sevenfold’s “So Far Away”: when my grandfather died, it was one of the only songs I listened to. (If that isn’t your thing and you have experienced a loss, Anoushka Shankar’s album “Traces of You” is a salute to her father, Ravi Shankar, and includes collaborations with her sister, Norah Jones.)

Music unites us in a way very few things can. I think Neiloy summed it up incredibly well in his interview:

“There’s no biological incentive or advantage given to us for wanting to, for example, dance along with music, to feel it in us and be moved and lifted by it. There’s no biological imperative for that but it’s still something that we all seem to experience….it is, to me, evidence that yes, there is something beyond the nuts and bolts of what we are.”

So this holiday season, I hope you listen to whatever music puts you into the spirit, or helps you feel your spirit, or takes you outside whatever pettiness comes along (come on, you know it can happen). I’ll leave you with my favorite part of Handel’s Messiah.

Brief Interlude

Hello everyone,

I chose a Monday posting schedule, and I have to stick to it! However, I don’t have an interview for y’all to read. I’m lining up a few great ones–and actually going to be interviewed myself (it’s only fair, if I ask people to speak this candidly about their beliefs I have to be able to do it too!), but I am traveling for work this week and for pleasure next week…and while I considered interviewing my seat mates on the plane, I haven’t quite worked up that much nerve yet. 

So instead, I’m linking to a page I think some of you will enjoy. The FAQ Page for the Reformed Druids of North America. It’s worth the read, and much shorter than my interviews. 

Happy Monday, and if you have any interview ideas for me, please let me know!