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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Interview 11: Trishya

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to post a new interview once a month. Obviously…it is not going that well. I find that people are much more open about discussing religion in the South—it’s so deeply integrated into daily life that the topic comes up very organically. Now that I live in Denver, I find that religion—especially personal religious beliefs—is rarely brought up. I feel the same kind of nervousness asking someone if I can interview them that I imagine one feels when asking another person out on a date. Luckily, I have some great friends who have agreed to let me interview them!

Trishya is one of those wonderful friends. We met when she started working on my team—I’d been on the team for about six months, so I was basically an old-timer at that point. The first thing that struck me about Trishya was her wide bright smile. She’s deeply intelligent and dedicated to her work, and that is quickly apparent, but the thing I love most about her is the ease with which a smile breaks across her face. She finds joy in the smallest things—her positivity and effervescence brighten even my worst days. Encouragement comes naturally to her—if anyone is having a rough day, she knows exactly what to say to put the pep back in their step. And it’s not crafted—it’s genuine and comes straight from her heart. She makes me want to be the person she sees in me. I don’t believe it’s possible to not be delighted by her presence.

She’s also my yoga buddy—I wouldn’t go to yoga most days without her holding me accountable—so after one lovely Saturday morning yoga class, she agreed to sit down with me in a coffee shop so we could discuss religion. The discussion was fascinating and her philosophical depth is apparent—I could have asked many more questions, and I hope to in the future.

Without further ado, my first interview of 2016…Trishya!

Interview 11: Trishya

“I totally subscribe to the belief that your physical being is completely temporary, and the essence of who you are–which I don’t even think I’ve scraped the surface of–is eternal.”

Me: I’m going to start out by asking you to go through how you were raised and how that brought you to what you believe today.

Trishya: I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. My entire family is from India, my parents moved to the United States in the early 80’s, they lived in Chicago for a while. I come from a huge extended family ….and so I grew up Hindu. And I think that’s such a strange word to me, because Hinduism—as I grew older, as I had more discussions about the religion and the faith and the philosophy with my friends—I came to realize, the “-ism” of Hinduism is a very Western concept. If you go to the middle of India, the backwaters of India, and you ask someone, “Do you practice Hinduism?”, they’ll be like, “What? What do you mean? What’s Hinduism?” Discovering that philosophy, discovering that faith and applying it to a different context than the context that my parents were raised in has been a huge road to self-discovery and understanding my identity as a Hindu Indian-American.

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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 5: …Me.

I had not realized how many verbal tics I have until I listened to my interview. Taylor was a wonderful interviewer, asking poignant questions and finding new questions from my answers. Perhaps I should hand my job over to her!

Introducing my own interview–and putting block quotes from myself–seems a little odd, so I’m going  ahead and writing it. Please let me know what you think! Also I think I’m going to post a poll as to whether or not people want the sound recordings of the interviews. Transcribing allows for editing and deleting my colloquialisms (some, I did try to keep it honest), but for long interviews such as my own, perhaps a sound version would be more appropriate? As an accompaniment, exclusively. So when I figure out how to post a poll, please do let me know your thoughts.

Interview 5: Me

“Standing over humans, gods, and demons, subsuming Caretakers and Tunnel builders, there is an intelligence that antedates the universe.” –Carl Sagan

Taylor: Well, thanks for allowing for allowing me to interview you, Lillie.

Me: Thanks for interviewing me! I really appreciate it.

Taylor: I’m excited about it, because when you were interviewing me, I wanted to ask you questions. Now here we are!

Me: Now you can!

Taylor: First, if you’d explain your religious background, history, exposure, etcetera.

Me: Yeah! So…when I was little, I went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, and all the same stuff that everybody goes to when you’re Christian. It was at my preschool, which was a Methodist church. When you’re little you kinda just accept everything that’s told to you, so I was just like, “God is a person. Jonah was swallowed by a whale. This is fact, and this is what they have told me.” And then I got a little bit older and my mom told me that my dad didn’t believe in God and I couldn’t tell anyone.

Taylor: (laughs)

Me: (laughs) At first I was kinda like, “What do you mean he doesn’t believe in God?” I thought that God was just like, a thing. I mean I pictured him as this cleanly shaven old man who hung out in the clouds and just looked at us. Everyone always said he had a beard and I was like, “In my mind he’s very cleanly shaven.” He looked kind of like Mr. Rogers, in my head. Just so you know. (laughs) So that was my first exposure to understanding that people could believe different things. I just assumed that everybody was taught the same stuff. And then…I don’t really know at what point I understood that there were different religions, but there came a point in elementary school when I was like, “I don’t believe in God either.”  I think I was nine or ten. And I had been reading Time magazine and listening to NPR for quite some time, at this point in my life. So I thought I knew everything. I stopped saying “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, because I was like, “There needs to be separation of church and state. This is important.” Of course nobody notices the ten year old who just stops saying the Pledge of Allegiance halfway through and then just resumes it!

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Interview 4: Elizabeth

“Like most healthy relationships, mine with God is based on trust.”

Last week I was on vacation, so no interview–I’m dreadfully sorry. (Not really, I was at Hilton Head and it was wonderful). This week I interviewed Elizabeth, my darling grand-little in my sorority. I didn’t get to meet Elizabeth until she became Taylor’s little, but she fit into the sister-family instantly. She’s charming, well-spoken, driven, and hilarious–her sarcastic sense of humor showed she was meant to be in our family instantly. As I got to know her, I learned that her religion was very important to her–but not much more than that on the subject, so I was excited to get to ask her about her beliefs. She also made a gluten-free peach cobbler for our interview…and it was delicious (and very thoughtful, as I am gluten intolerant). We ate it while standing in her kitchen with her boyfriend and talking about religion/politics/everything else. [Side note: my interview will be posted next week, since I don’t feel it’s fair ask others to publicize their beliefs without doing it myself.]

Elizabeth mentions two churches she attended, but wants it to be clear that the opinions expressed in her interview do not represent either church’s views and are solely her own opinions.

And without further ado…

Interview 4: Elizabeth

DSC_0272“I feel [my relationship with God] is kind of a mix between a relationship with a parent and a relationship with a friend.” 

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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!

 

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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Interview 1: My Parents

To ease myself into the “interview-style” of questioning, I started with my parents. Mom (aged 51) is a Southern girl who works hard and laughs harder, and Dad (aged 56) is an Iranian-born lawyer who loves nothing more than to sit and read. The combination is both insane and adorable, and their love has taught me more than they will ever know. There were some hiccups with my first attempt at an interview (I first interviewed Mom separately…and then deleted my only audio copy as soon as we were finished) so this is the second interview. There’s a lot more that they each have to say, so more interviews may be posted later on.

A few notes: the interview is long, so prepare yourselves accordingly, but I think a lot of what they said is very poignant to religion today. To be fair, I’m biased…they’re my parents. Also a few times we mention the word “baba”, that just means Dad in Farsi.

and here we go.

Interview 1: Mom and Dad

Me: So I’m going to ask you guys the same questions basically, and we’ll delve into some things with each of you, but I would like for you to kind of alternate talking. So who would like to go first? Mom’s already had some practice.

Mom: Okay, well go with me first.

Me: Okay, so I would like you to go over your ‘faith journey’, how you were raised as a kid and where you are today and how you came down that path.

Mom: Okay. Pine Forest Baptist Church was the first church that I remember going to. We were very involved there. I asked to be baptized when I was around eight, which was a little young, I remember there being some questions as to whether I was too young to make that decision, but I convinced the minister that I was ready. So I was baptized there. Fully dunked. And we moved away from that house, to the other side of town, to [another church]…went there (sighs) occasionally. What I remember is we’d go at the beginning of the school year and then we’d go twice more, so it was almost painful, because every time I went back, I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know the people there, it didn’t feel like I belonged there. I didn’t enjoy going to that church. My dad never went very much. I think he went back at Pine Forest. When we finally joined Highland Hills—well I got involved because I knew some younger people there, and so I visited and then Mother visited and Mother got very involved. And so Mother started going very regularly and I went more regularly—had some great Sunday School teachers there, and of course, Reverend Jim Bruner who married your baba and me. He was just a wonderful minister. I learned a lot about my faith through him and the Sunday School teachers there. I haven’t found another place like that. They were just open-minded. You know, when your baba and I got married, Reverend Bruner sat us down and talked to us about how we were going to make this marriage work when we came from different faiths. He never seemed to question whether he should marry us, he just wanted us to be aware that it was going to be difficult coming from different places. I now understand there are ministers who would not have married us, and I find that shocking, because I never thought for a second that Reverend Bruner wouldn’t marry us! So that’s the beginning of my faith.

 

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