“Ask God”: Interview with Poulsbo First Lutheran Church’s Paul Davis

Dear readers of World religion Weekly,

lutheran stained glass window

On the fourteenth of December, I interviewed Paul Davis about his take on Christianity and Lutheranism. He serves as the Director of Faith Formation at Poulsbo First Lutheran Church, a historic church in Poulsbo, Washington. You can check out their website here. I attended a Sunday service there on December tenth, and I really enjoyed it, especially the stained glass windows and tasteful hymns with audience participation. You can check out that experience here.

We talked about some of the basics of Christianity and Lutheranism, as well as some of the overarching concepts of both. He had a lot of insightful comments, however sometimes he just had to say “Ask God.”

Thanks for reading and listening to World Religion Weekly,

Audrey Cole

 

An Interview with Darin Jagodzinske, the Alive Covenant Church’s Poulsbo Pastor

Hello readers of World Religion Weekly,

On the twenty-fourth of September, I got the chance to attend a Sunday sermon at Poulsbo’s Alive Covenant Church. I will soon write about it. After the service, I interviewed Daron Jagodzinske, a pastor at and founding member of Alive Covenant Church. This interview occurred as dedicated church goers moved tables, took down projecting screens, and socialized, so there is a bit of a buzz in the background, despite my best efforts. The shockingly loud bang noises are tables.

Thank you for listening,

Audrey Cole

An Interview with an Anthropologist

Dear Readers of World Religion Weekly,

This post was a long time coming. On July 27th, my grandmother and I enjoyed a mid afternoon coffee break with Professor Crane, of Linfield College. She is an anthropologist who deals primarily with religion, most notably with Buddhism and Catholicism. We discussed her time in the Buddhist monasteries and the answers to my list of questions.

It was a fascinating way to spend part of the afternoon, and it really revealed my own interest in anthropology.

The sweet Cafe was too loud so a proper interview, so, afterwards, she answered my list of questions. Here are the answers in audio file form, with the questions above to clarify their context.

  1. How often has religion come up in your anthropological studies?

2. What religion have you interacted with the most? Any others?

3. Do you yourself have a religious affiliation?

4. Is there anything you’d like to  say about religion from an anthropologist’s viewpoint?

 

 

5. Could you talk about religion’s changing role throughout history?

6. What do you have to say about absence of religion from an anthropologist’s viewpoint?

7. What do you think is the most realistic ideal relationship between individuals of different religious affiliations?

Thanks for reading and listening,

Audrey Cole

 

 

Q and A with a Buddhist Priest

Dear reader of World Religion Weekly,

After completing our tour of the temple, my grandmother and I returned to the front desk, where the man who had kindly given us a tour was seated. My grandmother and I introduced ourselves, and he did as well, which was nice because now I could mentally refer to him as Pra Sandy instead of man-from-the-front-desk. He asked if we had any questions, and I said that I actually wanted to conduct an interview.

He didn’t want to be audio-recorded (I am starting to realize that most people find this awkward), but he was fine with me talking notes.  This is not an exact transcription. I waited too long, so it has slightly faded from my memory, and my notes only have large gist statements.

Q: What is the most important part of Buddhism?

A: Some of the most important parts are probably the unimportance of the concept of self, the resulting avoidance of bias, and seeking a higher view. The obviously most important part is probably the Four Noble Truths (the First Truth is that life is suffering, the Second Truth is that this suffering comes from craving, the Third Truth is that suffering can be eliminated, and the Fourth Noble Truth is that the Middle Path or Eight-Fold Path can lead to this elimination of suffering). The Eight-Fold Path is also one of the most important parts of Buddhism. Spontaneous craving is fine, like craving food when you are hungry and heat when you are cold. These keep you alive. However obsessive craving is what causes suffering. Sometimes it is very hard to tell the difference.

Q: Building off the last question, what is the most unique part of Buddhism?

 

A: Identity is not really essential to it. In fact, Buddhism is less of a religion, and it is more of a way of purifying the mind, so that you can see the world clearer and be happier.

Q: What is the most controversial part of Buddhism?

A: That is also probably the non-essentiality of identity. Everyone wants to know who you are. The government needs to know who you are for their censuses, your friends want to know who you are so they can interact with you, people in general want to know who you are so they can classify you and seperate you out from the sea of humanity. This whole idea of yourself as a separate individual with a set identity is not really what Buddhism teaches.

Q: What is the most universal teaching of Buddhism?

A: Probably selflessness. This whole concept of how you should act for the good of a larger whole.

Q: How has Buddhism affected your life?

A: I actually had a graduate degree in chemical engineering, and I was a chemical engineer. That was pretty different (he is now a Thereavaada Buddhist monk and priest at this Buddhist temple). I sort of had a constant internal dialogue. Buddhism took away a lot of the constant material naggings. The most pure mental state is intent. Intent just is. Buddhism teaches you strip away the internal dialogue to get at the intent, in a sort of purification.

Q: How is your day-to-day life different from that of an atheist, for example?

A: Well, Buddhism is technically atheism, We don’t believe in the traditional omniscient, omnipotent , anthropomorphic god. Gods are born and die. You are an island unto yourself.

Q: What other religion is Buddhism most akin to?

A: Buddhism actually arose from Hinduism. Hinduism is sort of the father religion of Buddhism (like Judaism to Christianity). However, Buddhism has a lot in common with most religions ranging from Christianity to Native American beliefs.

Q: What would you like to say about Buddhism to individuals of different faiths?

A: We are all dealing with greed, hatred, and delusion. We all need to overcome these unwholesome states in order to purify our minds and focus more on intent.

Q: What is the ideal relationship between Buddhists and non-Buddhists?

A: It should be a wholesome relationship. Everyone has a lesson to share, so there should definitely be respect. Everyone should be able to transcend all of the unwholesome relationships surrounding us.

In addition to this, Pra Sandy made several points which did not quite fit in the context of the questions. I will include them below:

  • Try to stop thinking. You can’t, right? You don’t control your mind. It is something you utilize, like your eyes, ears, nose, and touch. You don’t consider any of those your “self”. Well, then what is your self? It is your intent.
  • People cannot flee their government to become Buddhist monks and nuns. Buddhist monasteries only accept individuals with clean records (haven’t committed any crimes) and no debt.
  • The earth is an ultimate reality. No matter what you do, the earth will not be any different. It doesn’t have emotions or prejudices or unwholesome states. Buddhism actually encourages people to think of themselves as their body, rather than their mind. The human body is made up of ultimate realities, like water and earth. After you die, the ultimate realities of your body will remain.
  • (In response to my mentioning the Mahayana deities which populated the temple) These aren’t really individuals as much as external symbols. If you think about a feeling or word for long enough, your mind may produce an image that you associate with it. Theravada Buddhism deals more with the pure concepts, while Mahayana Buddhism deals more with those symbols. (I then mentioned an imposing statue standing above the table we were seated at) That is Yama. He is a kind of judge of your life. He weighs up all your good and bad deeds, after you die. People interpret him as a challenge. He can be many places at once, which is why there is another statue of him over there (Pra Sandy pointed to a similar statue across the room). His hand is held like that to indicate that he wants the soul to stop. If you did enough good during your life, then you will be able to defeat Yama and pass him.

In addition to those statements, he showed me several infographics.

This is a list of things which are important in purifying your mind:

This one shows how you process information:

Thank you for reading this somewhat disheveled post,

Audrey Cole

Interviewing a Hindu priest

Dear reader of World Religion Weekly,

When I asked the priest for an interview, he declined. He said that he would give us a tour of the temple, and answer some questions. However, some questions he would not answer, and he definitely did not want to be audio-taped.

As we walked back, towards the temple, I gave a question a shot. “What do you feel is the most important part of Hinduism?”

Shaking his head, he declared that question one of the questions he did not answer. We all kicked off our shoes, as we entered the temple. I remained quiet as we entered, absorbing the sight that greeted us. Niches in the walls held many deities, richly attired and knowingly smiling. Some were very pale, seeming to be made from something like ceramic or white stone, and others were made of some dark substance, perhaps stone or wood. If you would like to see them, you can see the temple gallery here. The floor was of black stone and the walls of the same white marble as the front of the building, creating a breathtaking image.

The priest gestured to each of the deities, and he explained that each represented a god. He elaborated that, while there appear to be many gods, Hindus believe in one God. The one God manifests in many ways, he elaborated, leading us to the first niche. I asked what the names of these gods were. He gently reminded me that there was only one god, then informed me as to the names. I’ll try to accurately recount a few of them to the best of my abilities. The first shrine featured the cast of the Ramayana. With a slight blue tint to his alabaster skin, Rama stood alongside his brother Lakschmana and wife, Sita. Hanuman, one of the monkey-people who played a large role in rescuing Sita, crouched slightly in front of them. Offering trays were set in front of the deities. Sita, Rama, and Lakschmana each had a few dollar bills and coins in front of them. Hanuman had the same, with the appropriate addition of a banana. The next deity was a four-armed, larger version of Hanuman. The priest explained that he was an incarnation of God as well. Later on we came to a deity which was different. He was a man seated cross-legged instead of standing, who lacked the sumptuous clothing of the others. This was in fact not a Hindu god, but an individual of importance to Jainism. The priest explained that they wanted this space to be a place of worship for people of many religions. I believe this statue was of Mahavira, the main prophet of Jainism. For those who are curious, Jainism is a religion that believes that basically everything has a soul and preaches extreme nonviolence. The extremely devout are reported to go to such lengths as wearing masks, and sweeping the ground before they walk on it , in order to avoid harming bugs, air motes, and dust. Obviously, most do not go these lengths, but nonviolence and respect are held high in this religion.

The priest then pointed across the room to a more familiar figure. The Buddha sat in a mirror image of Mahavira’s cross-legged contemplation. The priest explained that these two religions were deeply connected. I assume that this referred to the nonviolence (ahimsa) preached in both. Another group of gods was pointed to, and the priest explained that they were the ones worshiped by the Sikhs.

We walked over to a group of three. The priest explained that they were the Generator, Operator, and Destroyer (G. O. D.). This trinity showed the main manifestations of God in taking care of the universe. A central display showed Vishnu (the Operator) with his wife, Lakschmi. The priest gestured back to Rama and Sita, and he explained that these two couples were one and the same. The next pair was Shiva and Parvati, who were once again explained as being the same.

The next set of deities were a showing of the extreme tolerance and inclusion that this temple offered. Mother Mary clasped Baby Jesus in front of an offering tray. The priest explained that Hindus believe that there is one God, who manifests in many different ways in many different cultures. He drew a parallel between Jesus and Rama, both of whom were manifestations of God in human flesh, and who appeared when humanity was in need. Rama appeared to deliver the world from the Rakshasas, and Jesus appeared to help deliver the Jews.

We then moved to a statue of a woman in a beautiful red gown. She held all manner of weapons in her bejeweled fingers. She was Mother Nature, the priest explained. She fought off monsters for nine days and nights in order to save humanity. She is our mother, and we must care for her, he added.

The next thing we came to did not look much like a god or goddess. It was black and had what looked like a channel for liquids in it. The priest explained that this was also Shiva. For festivals and ceremonies, milk and other substances were poured on it as offerings. He explained that this belonged to Shiva even more than the depiction of him in human-like form.

The tour concluded, the priest went into more detail as to why he would not answer my broad questions or participate in an interview. He explained that any answer to those questions would be his opinion, which he didn’t want to present as the truth. He gestured to his eyes and explained that his was not the only or necessarily correct view. Most people would answer questions such as “What is the most important part of Hinduism?” completely differently. He did not feel that his view should be elevated, especially in the view of someone with little experience in Hinduism. This is an admirable and refreshing view, especially in this age where everyone is trying to yell their opinions over each other. Facts often lose out to these roaring, subjective statements that blast from the people around us and ourselves.

The priest continued that he was sorry he couldn’t answer more of my questions and hoped that I understood. I finally did. Hecontinued that he had a book I could read in order to get a much deeper understanding of Hinduism. In fact, this was the book he generally gave to students.  He fetched an English translation of the Bhagavad Gita, which I gratefully accepted and promised to return.

Though I did not receive the interview I expected, I felt that I had learned a great deal about Hindu worship and temples, and I possessed a new respect for Hindu priests.

I dare you to spend a day or even an hour trying to avoid putting your own unconscious biases and well-declared views above those of others. Just avoid putting them into speech and think deeply as to why you think that and examine facts and truths. I will clear a piece of time in the next few weeks to do just that. I will comment my experience, and I would love if you commented to share yours.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

 

Congregation Kol Shalom Interview with Rabbi Strasko

Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,

Please enjoy the following interview.

This interview covered a variety of questions ranging from “What is the most important part of Judaism?” to “What is the ideal relationship between Jews and non-Jews?” I am not going to transcribe it, mainly because that would be time-consuming, and it would probably not significantly help anyone.

Thank you for reading and listening,

Audrey Cole