So a few weeks ago I met some new friends via my R.A. Jessica. I got along really well with them right away and I instantly felt comfortable around them. So I began to hang out with them more. What I didn’t expect was the immersion into a culture I had previously left.
When I was a kid, my family, particularly my extended family, was Christian. I used to go to church and we did large group activities relating to the Bible. I remember one time we had an aquatic theme, and I kept staring up at the colorful jellyfish and other sea creatures hanging from the ceiling (to this day, I wonder if that memory has altered incrementally over the years, as now it seems improbable to have actually looked the way I recall it to).
A few years later, my family stopped going to church. My dad would get frustrated with us for not being ready on time, and so no one felt happy when we arrived. So I started to drift away from religion. Even when we were going to church, I never felt particularly interested or connected to Christianity. Due to this, I never tried to pursue it again.
Until this year. My new friends are all connected through Redemption Church, RC for short, a Christian church located here in my college town. And so, when they would hang out together, it was often for RC. Yet they enjoyed my presence and invited me along, but assured me that they did not want to pressure me into doing anything I wasn’t comfortable doing.
I was wary about some of this. There were gatherings, like making cards on Valentine’s Day, that weren’t particularly religion-oriented. Yet one night in getting dinner, Katy proposed the question of how God was interacting with us in our lives in the past few weeks. There were a range of answers, generally centered around God leading each person on new paths in their life.
I related to this, as I had gone through a bad breakup and then almost immediately met this new group of friends. I felt like I had been set on a different path, away from reliance on romantic relationships and towards healthier and long-lasting friendships. At the moment, I was unsure if this was really the doing of God, or a simple coincidence.
This is my conflict about religion. I don’t necessarily know for sure if there is a God, or some larger scheme of how life plays out for each individual. I’m not sure if the past, future, and present all coexist, but if so, then does free will truly exist? Is it set in stone, or does it change along the way in a multiverse situation? If there is a true God, does He allow us to choose and make mistakes and guide us along the way, like some believe, or is He living through us to make choices for us, letting us believe we decide ourselves, when He is actually already aware of where each person will end up at every point of their life?
In any case, I had since decided that I couldn’t be sure of the existence or nonexistence of a God, landing me back in the Agnostic category of religion. I don’t see myself as a religious person, but I can’t see myself as being able to completely disregard the possibility either.
On Thursday evening this week, I joined my friends at InterVarsity, a large group meeting for RC hosted on campus. It started with a Spotlight, in which one girl shared her experiences from traveling to Denver, living off of a poverty-level wage, and reaching out to least-reached demographic groups in the area. Following this was the Worship Team leading us through religious songs, one of which was in Turkish (there is a song in a different language every week). These two were both very intriguing and pleasant experiences.
After the songs and a few announcements, we had a guest speaker from the Christian refugee outreach program based in Tucson. She told us about the program she is involved in, and described the lives that refugees go through before, during, and after resettlement. It was a very eye-opening presentation in terms of experiences, statistics, and other factors, however I felt a bit off-put by how she presented the connection of Christianity in the program.
She described the current crisis in Europe as a method of God sending people to Christian areas, so that they can be taught the ways of God and Jesus Christ. I did my best to keep an open mind and neutral opinion, as I don’t have extensive knowledge or experience in Christianity. But it seemed almost selfish for her and their program to view this crisis as an purposeful opportunity to spread Christianity into other cultures, who have other developed religious and cultural beliefs.
I can more easily understand viewing the crisis as an opportunity for acceptance and change for the refugees coming into these areas. But it seems almost hypocritical to want to convert the refugees when the reason for fleeing was persecution based upon race, religion, politics, etc. It gave me a weird feeling for a while, as I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it all.
Later in the evening, we went into small prayers, in which I went around the room with my friends and we said prayers for different aspects of the refugee crisis, such as refugee churches, resettlement agencies, women and children, those separated from family members, etc. My friends were very considerate to the fact that I wasn’t very comfortable leading a prayer, as I wasn’t sure if I would do it right. By this point in the evening, I was beginning to feel rather anxious.
But when we got to women and children, something odd and unexpected happened for me. Alessandra led the prayer, and I felt myself get very emotional. Before I realized it, I was crying, and both Ale and Kensi gave me reassuring hugs. But I’m not entirely sure why I was crying. I was upset at the discrimination and injustices refugees face. I was distraught about how families are separated, and knew that if I was forcibly separated from my mom or sisters I would feel terrible. I was anxious and worried about the prayers, as I felt I was letting my friends down by not leading one. I was confused on where I stand with religion.
We then reconvened as a group for another song, and this heightened my confusion. Everyone in the room around me was connected to the lyrics and the songs, yet I sang quietly, sometimes only mouthing the words along with the other voices. I didn’t feel a connection, and as a result I felt distanced from the others around me.
After the event ended, I still felt insecure about the evening and myself, yet I grew to feel better as the night went on. I don’t think that I am ready for a full religious commitment of going to church, having a mentor, and dedicating time for prayer and worship. I’m not sure if it would suit me or benefit me as much as it can for others, such as my friends. But I am willing to remain open to it and have a casual connection and exposure to religion through my friends and the events they invite me to. I just worry that I’m letting them down in doing so, but my first priority should be my happiness and comfort. And I’m confident that they’ll be understanding and supportive of me regardless.