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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Interview 2: Joe

“For me it was a very easy decision to choose to continue to grow in my faith and live by it, not just blindly following it because that’s what I was used to, but believing it because I wanted to, and importantly, trying to live based on that belief.”

I met Joe (aged 22) through work. He can be quiet at first but as he opens up, his quick wit and genuine kindness become apparent. Joe is part of the reason I started this blog–as I got to know him, I learned that he lives his life in a manner that is deeply rooted in his faith, and I couldn’t help but ask him questions constantly. I wanted to understand his faith because Joe demonstrates the values of his religion through his actions, quietly and without any desire for recognition. He is extraordinary to me and also somewhat foreign, so of course I found myself trying to comprehend every angle of his beliefs. He was patient and answered all of my questions without hesitation, further proving to me how deep his convictions are and yet how open and understanding he is. So of course, when I decided to bother lots of people with my questions and start this blog, he was one of the first people I thought to interview.

The interview below was conducted via email as Joe lives in Minnesota (though I did manage to snap some photos of him on a recent visit, there wasn’t time for me to interview him in person).

Interview 2: Joe

Could you describe for me your faith journey thus far? As in, how were you raised, and have there been any moments in your life that have changed your faith?
I was raised Catholic, the fourth child of eight (typical large Catholic family). I went to a Catholic grade school and a small private Christian high school that had a mostly Catholic student/faculty body. For my whole life, our family has always had a nightly prayer time where we say at least one decade of the rosary – it’s been very central to our lives. My parents have said that when they made the decision to do this they immediately noticed us kids getting along much better with less fighting and yelling, so it definitely had an effect on us (and on others who have said that upon entering our house, they felt a sense of peace – despite young kids shouting and running around with lightsabers).

During junior year of high school I decided to also pray a rosary of my own each day and have ever since. I decided this in response to feeling a bit down and somewhat lonely at that time in my life, and I immediately benefitted from that, including growing much closer to the people who to this day are my closest friends. Deciding to commit myself to this daily routine affected me in a behind-the-scenes way. I never mentioned it to my friends or anything, and the basis of that friendship wasn’t our religion or religious practices. 

I attended the University of Notre Dame (heyyy another Catholic school), and freshman year was probably the hardest of my life. I didn’t know anyone else at ND, I was separated from my high school friends, and had just had a falling out with my very best friend at the time, who was a girl whom I had very strong feelings for, so there was a good deal of heartbreak there. Plus, the culture shock alone of being in college was draining enough, and having no one to go to with a sense of familiarity and security was tough. I spent a lot of nights at the grotto on campus, which is a beautiful and peaceful candle lit area, and I would say my rosary before heading back to my dorm to do homework or binge-watch Scrubs.
DSC_0080With all of this, I would say freshman year was the most significant moment of my life that changed my faith, as I felt like my faith was what kept me afloat. I built up a large deal of trust in God and I greatly benefited from that. After freshman year and throughout the rest of my time on campus I continued to become more social, more confident, and felt more like a person. 
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