The Bridge

The Bridge

What would happen if amid conflict we chose to do something unexpected? Sometimes acting on a little faith can turn us into builders of resolutions—of bridges.

Maya Angelou, a well-known civil rights activist, American poetess, and memoirist used her gifts to forge connections, overcome differences, and instigate positive change in the world.

The first step to creating change, is believing that it’s possible.

Why I Returned to Faith

Why I Returned to Faith

Katie Steed

returning to faith

When I was young, I never really thought about faith. I went to church with my family where I was taught scriptures, principles, and ways to live. I never questioned it, but I also never examined my own heart and thoughts to see if I truly believed.

After leaving home for college, my relationship with my faith varied. I went through roller coaster periods of half-hearted indifference, mild commitment, and complete devotion. My faith was largely influenced by people around me and my current situations, but never from my heart.

When I finished college and moved to a new city for my career, I was suddenly faced with challenges I never imagined and surrounded by people who thought differently than me. I had always been taught to turn to faith in situations like these; however, when I tried, I suddenly realized how weak and unfounded my faith was, and how unsure I felt of my beliefs. I felt like my bubble of comfort had not simply popped, but had shattered in a fiery explosion.

With all my new thoughts and experiences, the little faith I had slowly deteriorated. I realized all of the things about my church and its beliefs that I didn’t like, and stopped attending. I never stopped believing in God, but I stopped believing He cared. I started to go my own way, and for awhile I felt free.

I had read and heard many stories where people had somewhat big and miraculous returns to faith, and in the back of my stubborn mind I only wanted to believe again if I had one of those experiences. But my return to faith was simple.

I was driving home one night with conflicted thoughts. I had become very unhappy, and after trying for months to figure out why, I began to wonder if it was because I had abandoned my childhood beliefs. I was thinking about all the things I didn’t like about those beliefs and why I was angry, but then my thoughts turned to the things I loved and missed. Suddenly the thought came into my head, “What do you want to believe?”

Before that question came into my head that night, I had never understood that pursuing my faith and beliefs was a choice. Even though returning to my faith was the more difficult road, I decided to take it. I realized that I wanted to believe the good things about God and my faith more than I believed the negative things.

I don’t think my story is unique. Since faith is a belief in things that aren’t always visible, I believe it’s natural to struggle and even to stray. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m grateful for my questions and my discomfort with my faith, because they have caused me to continually examine my life and truly decide the path I want to follow. Leaving my faith helped me realize that the only way I can truly believe something is to examine it thoroughly and firmly decide why I believe.

My return to faith has been difficult, and likely will continue to be so, but the difficulties have made my faith so much deeper and more personal. I have discovered greater happiness with my faith than without it, and I believe that is largely because I continue to choose my faith, despite the things I don’t like or don’t understand. Questions will always come, but now I know that those questions can feed my faith instead of diminish it.

Katie Steed is a graphic designer who also loves to write. In her spare time she’s either biking, reading, or traveling.

Film Your Faith Grand Prize Winner 2017

Film Your Faith Grand Prize Winner 2017

The Grand Prize winner of the Film Your Faith Video Contest is . . . “Common Thread” by Simon Rivera!

In response to being awarded the top honors, Simon Rivera of Moseley, Virginia said, “Storytelling through videography allows me to express my creativity in a way that captures emotions and feelings that words alone sometimes fail to convey. The Faith Counts video contest appealed to me because it provided a platform to not only exercise this creativity, but to do so on the subject of faith which is the foundation of my worldview and personal beliefs. Sharing my own unique expression of faith was an exciting opportunity to encourage others in their own walk with God.”

simon rivera
Simon Rivera of Virginia will receive $20,000.

In addition to the Grand Prize, the Honorable Mention winner was also selected!

“Just an Ounce”, by Kurticiah Thompson

The Grand Prize winner received $20,000 for winning the Film Your Faith video contest, and the Honorable Mention winner was awarded $2,500.
The Fan Favorite Winner, announced on August 11th, was awarded a prize of $10,000. Check it out here.

Religious Organizations Respond to Flooding in Texas After Hurricane Harvey

Religious Organizations Respond to Flooding in Texas After Hurricane Harvey

Faith in Action: Religious Organizations Respond to Flooding in Texas After Hurricane Harvey

Islamic Society of Greater Houston

Be Faithful in Small Things

Be Faithful in Small Things

Life can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember, it’s the little things you do each day that can add up to make a big difference—for yourself and others.

Mother Teresa taught by word and deed that personal strength is found by faithfully giving your time and attention to the seemingly small things in life: a compliment, a hug, a smile, or a simple act of kindness.

Learn more about Mother Teresa’s teachings here.

What it Means to be Jewish and ‘Keep Kosher’

What it Means to be Jewish and ‘Keep Kosher’

Zev Palatnik

Raksha

I’m sure you’ve heard the word ‘kosher’ and know it has something to do with Judaism and food. But do you know what it means and how it works day to day? I do, because I ‘keep kosher’ and it’s been an important part of my life and my faith.

There are many Jews who only eat kosher food. Those who are Orthodox, as I am, follow the extensive dietary guidelines set out in the Bible such as: no mixing of meat and milk (so no cheeseburgers); only specific hooved animals may be eaten (no pigs); no shellfish or other non-fish seafood; and generally no birds.

Without getting too detailed, I’ll tell you a little about what it’s like to keep kosher, but first I’ll note here that these and other rules I describe are generally understood and practiced by Orthodox Jews. Not everyone who says they keep kosher follows the same rules. Some people are stricter, some less so and some understand the rules differently. But by and large, each person decides how they practice this and other aspects of Judaism.

The rules of keeping kosher can be complicated, even for those who have been doing so their whole lives. There are a number of organizations with experts who give certifications to products that meet kosher standards. The parent organization where I work, the Orthodox Union, is an authority on kosher and certifies thousands of products. You might notice the symbol on items ranging from M&Ms to frozen pizza.

Raksha

When food shopping, we seek out packaged food with such labels. In America, many products at a typical grocery store are already kosher. And, without getting too technical, there are dozens of kosher certifications with varying degrees of acceptability within the kosher community.

The main exception is meat: to be kosher, meat must be prepared in very specific ways — from slaughter to packaging. That’s why kosher meat is more expensive and not as widely available.

One of the biggest differences in daily life for someone who keeps kosher is dining out. To eat at a restaurant, it needs to have a kosher certification. The vast majority of restaurants in the United States aren’t kosher certified, in part because a kosher certificate adds to the operational cost. This makes going to restaurants very impractical and a rare occurrence: In Washington, D.C., where I work, there is one kosher restaurant. And as of last year, D.C. now has a kosher food truck that travels around the downtown area. A few miles away in Maryland, which has a more concentrated Jewish population, there are a handful of kosher restaurants.

If the need arises to attend a business lunch or go to a non-kosher restaurant, many Jews who keep kosher plan ahead and eat prepared food beforehand and then order a simple salad or other non-cooked items. It’s much easier to eat out in places such as the New York City area. As home to nine percent of the country’s Jews, there are countless kosher restaurants and delis in various parts of town.

Keeping kosher also has a significant effect on travel. As a kid, during family vacations, I recall times when a connecting flight was canceled and the airline offered food vouchers. While other people used them to eat at a restaurant, my family went to the store and bought a lot of packaged cookies and bananas. Keeping kosher when traveling in a foreign country that doesn’t have a significant Jewish population (as is the case in most countries), can be quite difficult.

The situations I’ve mentioned are just a few examples of what it means to keep kosher. In reality, keeping kosher affects just about all realms of life: it can influence the jobs people take, where one goes on vacation and even where to live.

Ultimately, keeping kosher isn’t just about food. Rather, it’s a daily reminder of our faith.

To learn more about kosher, visit the Orthodox Union’s article “What is Kosher?”

Zev Palatnik is a legislative fellow for the Washington, D.C.-based Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, the non-partisan public policy arm of the Orthodox Union — the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.

Dishing Out Faith, Food and Service

Dishing Out Faith, Food and Service

Hannah Robillard

Raksha

I’ve always preferred walking barefoot when I can. In the grass, at the beach, in my house—it’s simply more comfortable to me than flipflops that rub, or flats that pinch, or boots that weigh me down. Since interning in DC, however, I have had little occasion to take my shoes off. I always should look professional, and that means even sandals are off limits. However, to my great delight Friday, I walked through the marble halls of the Rayburn House Office Building, completely shoeless.

I wasn’t having a rebellious streak, or protesting unreasonable clothing standards for women in Congress. Instead, I was there to visit some friends. The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF, for short) was hosting its 4th Annual Langar on the Hill event, where representatives, interns, staffers, and anyone who wants to attend can sit on the floor, take their shoes off, eat a delicious vegetarian meal, pack food for the DC Central Kitchen, and celebrate the values of equality and community that are enshrined in the Sikh religion.

From what my Sikh friends told me, the idea of a communal kitchen ties together the past and the present of their faith. Guru Nanak, the person attributed as Sikhism’s founder, thought it would be a tangible way to show that every person mattered, regardless of class, race, gender, or any other social standard. Eventually, Sikh communities operated these centers for tens of thousands of people to receive a meal without cost, where they are treated with respect and care. That tradition continues today, and for the folks at SALDEF, this meal provides an opportunity for them to reach out to people in DC. Attendees can learn about the ways Sikhs help their neighborhoods and the unique religious freedom challenges they face here in the United States.

Arriving there, I didn’t quite know what to expect. A SALDEF intern greeted me and my coworkers. She explained that as a sign of equality, everyone at the event would cover their heads with a kerchief and take their shoes off, sitting on the floor for the meal portion of the event. We had fun figuring out how to tie the bandanas around our head, and were pretty happy with the result.

Joining the line for the meal, we said hello to some friends and scooped food onto our plates. Then, alongside men and women, interns and representatives, people of many faiths and backgrounds, we all sat on the floor together and ate our meal.

Looking around the foyer in Rayburn, seeing similarly covered heads eating or packaging meals to go to the needy, I realized just how special this symbolic meal is. I have volunteered at many food distribution centers, mainly through religious organizations, but I’d rarely seen a meal so laden with simple reminders of the dignity and value of each person serving and being served. I imagine that, for the thousands of people who receive meals from Sikhs, that is literally a life-saving reminder.

After I finished my meal, and packed one for DC Central Kitchen, I needed to leave. I stopped to pick up my shoes I left outside the foyer. Looking at the pile of flats, dress shoes, and heels, it occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to tell a senator’s pair from a staffer’s. The meaning behind the event—showcasing the equality of all people—was clear from the moment I took my shoes off, to this moment, putting them back on. Walking back to the metro, I realized how much I valued learning about self-sacrificing service from sharing Langar—and not just for the excuse to take off my shoes on Capitol Hill, either.

Raksha Bandhan: Ancient Festival, Sacred Bond

Raksha Bandhan: Ancient Festival, Sacred Bond

Linda Clyde

Raksha

After you’ve finally grown up and gotten some life experience under your belt, you may find yourself looking back from time to time and taking inventory of the people in your life. Who just gets you? Who’s been there for you through thick and thin? Who knows about your mistakes and still loves you? This inventory often reveals siblings. Your siblings will share many of your memories, experiences, and meaningful family traditions. They also have a way of linking you to your past while providing a sense of support and reassurance for the future.

Each year on April 10th, people in the United States celebrate National Sibling Day. This holiday is relatively new and gained some popularity in the mid 90’s. But did you know that an ancient holiday and festival exists to celebrate the special relationship between brothers and sisters? Throughout India, and some other Asian countries, the holiday of Raksha Bandhan has been nurturing and strengthening the sibling bond for centuries.

Brothers and sisters who choose to celebrate this auspicious festival do so on the full moon day in the holy month of Shravana. This occurs in the fourth month of the Hindu lunisolar Nepali calendar. For those of us who refer to the Gregorian calendar, this year, Raksha Bandhan falls on Monday, August 7th.

In preparation for the festival, women, and girls typically begin by looking for the perfect rakhi, or wristband, to give to their brother. The Rakhi is a sacred thread that a sister ties around her brother’s wrist with a prayer for his happiness and prosperity. This is typically given to a biological brother, but can also be given to any male playing the role of a cherished brother in her life.

In Sanskrit, “Raksha” is the word for “protection,” and “Bandhan” is the word for “bond.” Translated, it means “bond of protection.” During the festival, after a brother receives a rakhi from his sister, he returns the sentiment with his own gift and then makes a vow to watch out for her and protect her from harm.

Though the festival and traditions vary somewhat by region, they are similar in that they bind brothers and sisters in a unique way, and fortify this special familial relationship—and when so many of life’s relationships ebb and flow according to the challenges and unpredictable circumstances of our lives, being able to have faith in a family member counts big!

So, if you have a brother or a sister in your life, perhaps it’s time to show them some love and appreciation by starting a new tradition of your own. You might decide to celebrate Raksha Bandhan for the first time or come up with your own special way to let your brother or sister know you’ve got their back. By incorporating fun traditions and sincere commitments to each other, you’ll be strengthening a very important relationship. It can be comforting to know that when life’s tempests hit, that your sibling will be by your side weathering the storm.

After all, when a brother and sister stand together as friends, they’re ready to face whatever life sends.

Linda Clyde is a devoted wife, proud mama, and a lover of uplifting things. A few of her favorite things: lasagna, farm animals, t-shirts and jeans, babies, and notebooks—lots and lots of notebooks.

Slowing Down in a 242 Mile Per Hour Zone

Slowing Down in a 242 Mile Per Hour Zone

Miryelle Resek

slowing down

The City

I once heard that the first speeding ticket ever given was to a 26-year-old taxi driver who was going 12 miles per hour in an 8 mph zone.

12 miles per hour.

In the 100-meter sprint, Usain Bolt was clocked in at running almost 28 miles an hour. More than double what the taxi driver was going.

As of date, the fastest speeding ticket in the USA was given to a motorist going 242 mph—230 miles per hour more than the first speeding ticket ever given.

Our cars are fast, our music is fast, the ability to find out information is fast. We walk quickly, talk quickly, and sometimes jump to conclusions just as quickly.

So what’s the rush?

For me, rushing is a type of defensive wall. People might realize that I don’t know what I’m doing if they see I’m not hurrying to do it—though I don’t think any of us really know what “it” is.

I fill spaces in my time to look as driven as everyone else—whipping out my phone at the elevator, at a café, or in line for groceries to make me look busy.

So I’ve started doing spiritual checks. It’s similar to when you’re thrown off a four-wheeler and you analyze how your body is without moving it to make sure there isn’t anything broken—it’s like that, only in a spiritual manner.

The Mountains

I have the luxury of living near mountains, it’s one of the best ways to physically remove myself from the world.

It’s okay to go 3 mph while you’re up here—the average walking speed. And if you slow down to 0 mph the trees don’t complain.

For a few quiet hours, the memory of the city is replaced with the rustling of aspen leaves, the scent of wet pine trees, and the steady movement of the stream.

It’s a place where I can take a breath.

In the mountains, it’s okay to be still and think.

Here you can break away from the day-to-day and go back to the basics. There are deer tracks next to patches of grass, chipmunks in the branches above, and if you’re lucky you’ll see a caterpillar spinning itself into a cocoon.

Here you can commune with God because you’ve made time to talk with him. In those hours you can let Him into your heart, and surrender your worries.

Here you can check in with yourself. How are you? What is your body telling you that you’ve been ignoring? What’s your mental state like? Are there things hurting your spirit? What repairs need to be done?

Apps That Can Help

Not everyone lives near mountains—even those living nearby don’t always have the time to go. However, we do have the ability to be still and check in with ourselves regardless of where we are.

There are several devices that can help us pause from hurrying around and check in with ourselves—even if it’s while we’re at a bus stop, shopping, or going from meeting to meeting.

Some of them can send us a reminder to clear our minds.

Others track our body movement and tell us when to relax.

And there are others that can transport us to a better state of mind by providing soothing sounds.

These types of apps provide ways for us to ignore the way the world seems to speed by and be mindful of our own internal rhythm. They remind us to do a spiritual check.

When you’re in the mountains you analyze how your body is doing: Out of breath? You’re hiking too quickly so you slow down. Muscles cramping up? Take a few seconds to stretch. Stomach growling? Time for a snack.

We sometimes forget this in the day-to-day. If you’re out of breath, you walk faster to get to the office quicker. Or if your muscles are cramping, you keep going because you don’t have time to stretch. Or if your stomach growls you work through lunch because that’s the only time when the office is quiet and you focus better.

Having the notifications from the apps can help remind us to check in with ourselves, in the same manner, we do when we’re in nature when we’re in the city.

This type of technology can help us go from an overwhelming 242 mph to a much slower rate of 3 mph as they transport us to places where we can find healing.

What devices do you use to be mindful in a rushing world? Tweet us at @MyFaithCounts.

Miryelle Resek enjoys hiking, four-wheeling, rock climbing, and wakeboarding but is actually terrified of mountains, heights, and water. It’s a struggle.

A college student lives in his car for two years to fund a homeless shelter.

A college student lives in his car for two years to fund a homeless shelter.

Did you know that college homelessness is a problem across the United States? A group of friends in Los Angeles decided to do something about it and created a shelter at a local church.

To see how you can help, visit Bruin’s Shelter

Imagine being strong enough to get into college. Not just any college, but a university that takes more than just wishing to gain entrance. Imagine leaping all of the hurdles, like exceptional grades, noteworthy SAT scores, dynamic essays, and heartfelt recommendations. You find yourself accepted to a door-opening future, but ironically, you find yourself homeless at the same time.

Not the kind of homeless that you might see under the freeway overpass, but the kind that you never want anyone on campus to notice. The kind of homeless that you go out of your way to disguise so that nobody will ever really know that you’re different. It’s hard enough just being a student under normal conditions – normal as in not having to worry about whether you’ll eat or sleep on a given day, or have a place to put your personal belongings without the fear of them disappearing when you go to class.

But for the one out of ten college students who are actually homeless, surviving school is much more than just passing grades, it’s living under the radar. And despite the incredible odds against them, it’s having the faith to succeed.

Business Insider

New York Times

“Glorious”: What Macklemore Reminded Me About Faith

“Glorious”: What Macklemore Reminded Me About Faith

Anna Delamerced

Buddha

Macklemore had never brought me to tears.

But today, I watched the recently released music video of his new song, “Glorious,” and I cried. The keep-a-box-of-Kleenex-by-your-hands kind of crying.

There were a few reasons why I was sobbing on a summer afternoon.

Love for Family

One, the video featured the rapper surprising his grandma on her 100th birthday. What was particularly poignant was when Macklemore drove his grandma to a lake and gently wheeled her to the dock, where they sat side by side, hands resting upon one another’s.

It made me think of my own grandparents, and how much I miss them, both the ones who have passed, and the ones halfway across the world in the Philippines. On my birthday a few days ago, my 89-year-old grandmother messaged me from the island of Cebu. I felt that bittersweet combination of both happy and sad – happy to hear from her, and sad that I couldn’t be there to see her in person. As a medical student, my school work, research, and studies are keeping me in the East Coast for the time being. But watching this music video reminded me how we’re called to honor our mother and father, and I would say this extends to the mothers and fathers of our own parents. No family member is perfect, and I know I fall short in loving my own parents. But this music video reminded me of, just like in Proverbs, the elderly are a “crown of glory”, a gift, a blessing to their children’s children.

New Life

Another way this song reminded me about faith was through the lyrics, particularly the repetition of these lines:

[Chorus]

I feel glorious, glorious

Got a chance to start again

When Skylar Grey sings the chorus, I’m reminded of second chances. The Christian faith hinges upon this new life in Christ. An opportunity to start again, new birth into another way of living. Scripture discusses this in many places, such as in Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Both the first and second verses of this song also echo these sentiments. In Verse 1, Macklemore jumps into rapping about “a new attitude and a lease on life / And some peace of mind.” I thought about how we are made new in Christ, with a new outlook and perspective on life.

Verse 2 is like a prayer, with Macklemore rapping “Another morning, a morning, don’t let self get in my way.” Hearing this reminded me of a passage in Ephesians, where Paul calls the people “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Oftentimes, my sinful self gets in the way of living out my faith. But by the grace and help of God, we are called to put on a new self, so that we may more closely reflect his goodness.

Purpose

Yet another way this song compelled me to think about faith was in its exploration of purpose. Macklemore poses these questions: “So when I leave here on this earth, did I take more than I gave? Did I look out for the people or did I do it all for fame?” I asked myself these questions. What have I done with my time, resources, and efforts? Have I been living a life of service, of purpose? To be honest, sometimes I forget why I’m really here. Sometimes our brokenness causes us to push to the wayside what’s really valuable in our lives. Faith, versus fame. Love, versus selfishness. As I try to live out my faith in God, I try to remember that I was made to love God and to love others. Sometimes I need to remind myself, “I was born for this, born for this / It’s who I am, how could I forget?”

Perseverance

Finally, the song ends with these lines:

I made it through the darkest part of the night

And now I see the sunrise

Now I feel glorious, glorious

I feel glorious, glorious

In this life, we will have trials and tribulations. We will often face the darkest part of the night. But my faith compels me to hope and know that one day we will enter a city that “does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light” (Revelation 21:23). The images of the words “sunrise” and “glorious” in the song reminds me of passages in Scripture that say “the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory” (Isaiah 60:19).

So here I was, still (happy) crying after listening to the song for the tenth time. Maybe Macklemore didn’t write this with these intentions in mind. But for me, I’m grateful, because this song reminded me a lot about faith.

“I got my breath, I got my faith and I remember why I came.”

The Buddha’s First Sermon — A path to happiness for all faiths

The Buddha’s First Sermon — A path to happiness for all faiths

Jenny Campbell

Buddha

Hundreds of years ago in a field in Deer Park in modern-day India, a man sat across from five ascetics (people who have a strict and simple way of living that avoids physical pleasure). This man had been the son of a wealthy family, a sort of prince, living a sheltered and easy life inside the walls of his palaces. But one day he ventured outside the walls, and was confronted with a world he did not expect—one full of sadness, pain and suffering. He went on a religious quest to find the end to suffering, and had joined the ascetics hoping to find truth through their severe practices. But he now he sat before his former companions bathed, clothed and with a full belly. He’d had an Awakening. And had come to teach them a new way to Enlightenment.

That’s how tradition sets the stage for the first sermon of Siddhārtha Gautama—the Buddha. Historians don’t always agree on the exact year or place, or even if this was his first sermon chronologically. But the ideas laid out in this sermon provide a foundational framework for major Buddhist thought that can inspire and teach people of all faiths and backgrounds.

This sermon, or sutra, according to Buddhism scholar Justin McDaniel, “lays out the basic motivation of why you should take up the path to Awakening.” The Buddha termed this path the “middle way” between the harsh austerity of the ascetics he taught and the luxuries and opulence he had seen in his own upbringing. A key to understanding Four Noble Truths. These Truths, says Christopher Ross-Leibow, a buddhist teacher, “diagnose a problem, diagnose the cause of the problem and then the remedy to the problem.” The problem is the same one that set the Buddha out from his palace in the beginning: suffering. The Buddha called this suffering dukkha—the first Truth.

McDaniel says, “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, it says life is suffering.’ Well that’s not true at all.” Instead, the sutra says “all people suffer because they misperceive certain things. They misperceive permanence, they misperceive the nature of substance or self and they misperceive the nature of suffering.” People, the Buddha taught, crave and cling to these misperceptions, which causes a state of dissatisfaction. “Dukkha is the suffering that comes when we want some things to be different than they are,” Ross-Leibow says. This is the second Truth.

That there is a way to cease this suffering is the Third Truth. “The way out of that pain, or dissatisfaction or malaise or whatever you want to say—existential despair—is to take up a path of discipline, meditation for contemplation, and development of wisdom about the nature of reality,” says Daniels. The path to end suffering is contained in the Fourth Truth and termed the Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.

“The greatest thing about it,” Ross-Leibow says, “is that anybody can practice part of the Eightfold Path—it doesn’t matter what faith tradition you come from.” One of his favorites is “right speech,” which he calls “a straightforward and powerful spiritual practice.” For example, gossip—whether that be among friends, in a church congregation, or at work—goes against the idea of right speech, and anyone can benefit from striving to keep their language “healing and not harming.” Each of the steps in the eightfold path lends itself to deep study, interpretation and the possibility of personal change.

McDaniel says this sermon is straightforward and not as lyrical as some of the other of the Buddha’s sutras, but that it’s “incredibly useful” to people of all level of understanding. “There’s multiple paths to liberate yourself from suffering, it really doesn’t matter if you’re Buddhist or not, it doesn’t matter if you even know how to spell Buddha properly.”

“I think a lot of it depends on the soil of a person’s life,” says Ross-Leibow. “Has the soil been tilled and is it ready to take the seeds of the teaching, whatever they may be?” Those dealing with suffering will especially be moved by the words of the sermon, and may have their interest sparked to dive deeper into the other sutras.

For Ross-Leibow, one of the greatest gifts of studying and following the tenets of this sutra was that it “gave birth to a greater compassion for my brothers and sisters.” He says anger, bitterness, pettiness and fear in people is a sign of suffering. “My first response isn’t reflecting back their suffering, but my first response is compassion to that suffering.” If people can come to understand not only their own, but other people’s suffering, Ross-Leibow believes “we could see a transformation.” Because of that, “I think it’s more relevant to today’s world than maybe it’s ever been.”

These are a few lessons that can be drawn from this sutra. Because of the broad reach of these foundational doctrines and the fluid, interpretive nature of Buddhism, this text has much to offer anyone looking for any form of spiritual enlightenment or renewal.

Justin McDaniel is a Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and teaches courses in Buddhist studies and religion in Asia.

Christopher Ross-Leibow is the leader of the Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship.

Fireworks, Freedom, and Faith

Fireworks, Freedom, and Faith

Tiffany Tolman

underdog

Every year, about this time, I look forward to parades, corn on the cob, matching flag T-shirts (because, yeah, I’m that girl), and fireworks displays. They’re everything that’s great about the Fourth of July.

But lately, my thoughts have turned to deeper questions about freedom and what it means to be a person of faith in America today.

America has a rich faith tradition. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were men “with firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” Those early patriots felt so strongly about the right to choose a faith that it became the first item addressed in the Bill of Rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” They wanted to make sure all Americans were free to choose their faith.

But that tradition started long before those important documents were signed. My own family’s faith tradition in America dates back to the Mayflower. My thirteenth great grandfather Francis Cooke, along with his young son John, sailed to America in 1620 to practice their chosen faith, free from government force. His wife Hester, my grandmother, brought the rest of the family over from Holland in 1623 to begin a new legacy of faith.

Fast forward a few generations. In the mid-1830s, my fourth great grandfather Anson Call embraced a new faith, one unpopular with the masses. The test was on. Would Americans, those who had so recently fought for the freedoms we now enjoy, really live up to the promise? Some, unfortunately, did not, persecuting him and many others for their faith. Thankfully, the struggle didn’t last forever, and he built a life in a new part of America where his faith flourished.

In my own lifetime, I have seen, at least through a window, what it looks like to be denied the freedom of faith. When I was seventeen I visited Germany a few short months after the Berlin Wall came down. Even with my limited teenage American perspective, I still recognized the contrast between my world and the crumbling rubble, stark, gray buildings, and devastation of East Berlin. Ironically, I was in Germany on the Fourth of July that year, experiencing a deep desire to celebrate my homeland and freedom. Maybe the Wall reinforced that longing.

Today we live in a country with varied faith traditions. We don’t always agree on what faith should look like or if it’s even necessary, but we should rejoice in the fact that we are free to choose that for ourselves. And we should continue to fight for that freedom, even when—perhaps especially when—we don’t agree. Your right to faith guarantees mine.

So, this year, enjoy your corn on the cob, sweat it out at the parade, and stand in awe of the fireworks. But remember to keep the faith—whatever that looks like to you.

It’s what our Founding Fathers envisioned. It’s what people of faith value. It’s what makes America great!

Tiffany Tolman lives, loves, writes, reads, and plays through the window of faith. And that makes all the difference. Find her at th.tolman@gmail.com.

What Ramadan Taught Me About Spiritual Purification

What Ramadan Taught Me About Spiritual Purification

Katie Steed

ramadan

The more I learn about Islam, the more I admire the dedication and strength of its believers, especially during the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is observed during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and lasts between 29 and 30 days. It is a month of intense daily fasting, prayer, and introspection, with the ultimate goal of growing closer to God through physical and spiritual purification.

As I read more about Ramadan, I found myself deeply drawn to the idea of spiritual purification. My faith in God has suffered over the past year after going through some difficult times, and I’ve been struggling to re-center my beliefs. Inspired by Ramadan and as time allowed, I decided to take two weeks to highly focus on my own spiritual purification. I am unable to fast from food and drink because of some medication I am taking, so I tried to “fast” from other things that play a big part in my life, like taking time off from social media and turning off my cell phone.

The first couple of days were quite difficult, as I kept getting caught up in my day-to-day routines and forgetting about my goal. When I’d remember to turn off my phone in the evenings to do some pondering, I found myself distracted by what I might be missing and wondering if anyone was trying to get in touch with me. I had to remind myself that spiritual health is more important than the latest photo on Instagram. My “fast” got easier every day and I was surprised at how much simpler it was to focus on my goal when I avoided those things, as I would imagine going without food gets easier and helps maintain the focus on mind (and spirit) over matter.

For the first week, I decided to get to the root of the breakdown in my faith, and that meant digging into issues that I had been purposely avoiding. Taking time to full-on face my spiritual weaknesses was painful. Admitting and accepting personal weaknesses is never a fun thing, but is necessary to progress and become stronger. I finished the week with a better sense of self, both good and bad, and a list of things I wanted to improve.

During the second week, I focused on my faith and relationship with God. Again, the beginning of the week was rough as I faced my doubts in God and some frustration I had been harboring. However, as the week went on I found myself looking forward to my quiet evenings of pondering and prayer. I was reminded of what I believe and why I value those beliefs. I can’t say that my faith is completely healed or that I have no more pain or doubts, but I am more aware and less afraid of my weaknesses, and my faith in God is in a much better place.

Ramadan ends with a three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast-Breaking). It includes special prayers, meals with friends and family, and gifts. I think this is such a beautiful way to end what, I would imagine, can be an extremely trying month. After only my small two-week attempt I felt like celebrating, as my soul and faith felt refreshed, lighter, and stronger. Thanks to what I learned about Ramadan, I have an improved awareness of my spiritual health and a greater commitment to keeping it steady.

Katie Steed is a graphic designer who also loves to write. In her spare time she’s either biking, reading, or traveling.

People of Faith Respond to the Finsbury Park Attack

People of Faith Respond to the Finsbury Park Attack

Forgive Yourself; It’s What Friends Do

Forgive Yourself; It’s What Friends Do

Linda Clyde

forgive yourself

Is there something in your life that you’ve done that keeps haunting you? Maybe you said something to a loved one that you regret, or maybe you have an unhealthy habit that is negatively affecting your loved ones. Let’s face it, life can be tough, and we all make mistakes and struggle to overcome actions and habits that we’re not particularly proud of. It’s time to forgive yourself and let go of the worry. With a little practice, you can free yourself from the heavy burden of past mistakes keeping you stagnant in your life and learn how to become your own best friend.

Have you ever heard of International Forgiveness Day? It’s a holiday of healing and every year it’s celebrated on the first Sunday in August, and while participants generally focus on forgiving the offenses of others, personal forgiveness is equally important. August is just around the corner, but you don’t need to wait for Forgiveness Day to reap the rewards of personal forgiveness. Why not start today? Find a mirror, look yourself squarely in the eyes, and forgive yourself. The very act of saying “I forgive you,” can be hard, but it opens the door for positivity, optimism, and healing. It allows freeing emotions to replace any negative, pessimistic, soul-binding thoughts that perhaps you’ve been entertaining for a bit too long. Remember, it’s okay to be human!

Consider the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt, though uncomfortable and often viewed as a negative emotion, actually has an important purpose. When we feel guilty about something we’ve done, it’s a healthy signal that we understand that we’ve made a mistake and there’s almost always something we can do to make amends. Shame, however, is an unproductive, painful feeling toward oneself that can be paralyzing and keep us from moving forward in our lives and in our relationships with others. Shame attacks our self-worth and makes us feel like giving up. Don’t. Ever. Give. Up. Cut yourself a little slack and keep trying!

If you’ve been feeling a little guilty about your shortcomings, that’s a good thing! Just consider what needs fixing, take action, and do your best to move forward. If what you’ve been feeling goes a bit deeper and you’ve been suffering from feelings of shame, it’s time to turn up the self-love. After all, you are more than your mistakes. Just start where you are and commit to do just a little better today than you did yesterday.

Another helpful idea to put into practice for the times when you’re feeling bad can simply be to do some good. Find someone who needs a little help and do a good deed. What you do can be as simple as holding open a door or listening to a friend talk about the difficult day they had. If you’re feeling a little more ambitious search for some volunteer opportunities in your community or find ways to use your skills to improve the lives of others. Before you know it you’ll have shifted your focus from yourself to others, and to the things you actually have control over—like the present moment.

It’s important to remember that forgiving ourselves doesn’t mean forgetting what we’ve done wrong, but it does mean letting go of the past and determining to do better in the future. A simple but helpful quote from Maya Angelou can be life changing for those who struggle with personal forgiveness. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” This quote is just another way to look at what many call the serenity prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Adopting a forgiving, friendly attitude toward yourself can be just the ticket to help you alleviate pain from the past and move forward with optimism and faith in your future.

Linda Clyde is a devoted wife, proud mama, and a lover of uplifting things. A few of her favorite things: lasagna, farm animals, t-shirts and jeans, babies, and notebooks—lots and lots of notebooks.

Embracing Your Inner Underdog

Embracing Your Inner Underdog

Erin Facer

underdog

From the struggling student to the rookie sports team, there is something magical about observing an underdog in action. An underdog is defined as “a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest.” There is just something magical about watching the unlikely hero emerge victoriously. It bolsters our faith that seemingly impossible challenges just might be possible.

But, most people just want to WATCH the underdog. They do not want to BE the underdog.

In middle school, I joined the track team. I loved it. I loved being on a team, chugging tons of water, and of course running. I loved it, that is until they announced our first meet. I did not want to compete. Terrified that I would get last place, I begged my parents not to make me go. They, however, gave me their best parent pep talk and assured me I would do great.

Well, I got to the meet, ran my guts out and lost. Humiliated, I determined I was not fit to be a runner and that I would never again run in a race. There was no heartwarming soundtrack playing, no Rocky Balboa stair climb. I up and quit and I felt rotten.

Underdog moments test our character. They provide opportunities for us to determine what is worth risking ridicule. When we rise to the occasion, we become our best selves. Unfortunately, as in my story, we often do our utmost to avoid these moments of stretching, causing us to reach only a fraction of our potential.

How can we embrace our own underdog moments instead of passively watching others defeat their own goliaths? How can we develop faith in the possibility of the seemingly impossible?

1. Foster grit – Psychologist, Angela Lee Duckworth, claims that success is not tied to talent or aptitude. Rather, successful people are those who just keep going. For those with grit, failure is not a stop sign, but a “full speed ahead.”

2. Believe you can improve – Early in my running career, I labeled myself as a “bad runner.” I felt certain that practice could never improve my incompetence. Instead of this mindset, I could have recognized the fact that our bodies and minds are surprisingly elastic. We are constantly learning and growing. We can change. We can improve.

3. Admit where you are at – Be honest and open with yourself about what you can and can’t do. This will help you set realistic goals. Tell someone you trust about your goal and be accountable to them on your progress/lack thereof.

4. Celebrate other’s successes – This may seem counter-intuitive, but it works. Prior to my race, I certainly didn’t hope that the other runners would do their best. I hoped they would all trip and break their legs. However, there is power in celebrating what others can do. This allows us to better see how hard work pays off and shows what is possible. We build a bank of heroes rather than a list of enemies.

5. Do what you enjoy – We do not have to be the best at something to enjoy it. Rudy, for example, did not allow his lack of talent to squelch his love of football. For me, abandoning racing had nothing to do with a dislike for running. In fact, I continued to run secretly because I enjoyed it so much but, I allowed the fear of other’s derision to hinder my efforts and slow my progress.

These attributes do not come easily, but through hard work, they can be gained. We can learn to embrace our underdog situations. Embrace our humility, vulnerability, and potential. This past year I crossed the finish line of my first half-marathon, finishing second in my age group. And I could have sworn I heard the Rocky theme song.

Erin Facer is a graduate of Brigham Young University and proud southerner. Arranging flowers, perusing through old documents and spreading peanut butter on celery stalks are a few things that make her glad to be alive. Contact: Facererin@gmail.com

The 411 on Shavuot

The 411 on Shavuot

Chad Schaeffer

Love Thy Neighbor

Shavuot commemorates the revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai to the Jewish people and occurs on the 50th day after the 49 days of counting the Omer. The counting of the Omer is an important verbal counting of each of the forty-nine days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot. Men typically don’t shave or get haircuts during this time, as stated in the Hebrew Bible. Shavuot is one of the three biblically based pilgrimage holidays known as the shalosh regalim. It is associated with the grain harvest in the Torah.

During the course of the holiday, Jewish people don’t go to work, drive, write, or use electric devices. We are permitted to cook and to kindle a stove with a flame that existed before the holiday (or which was lit from such a flame).

Shavuot eve

It is customary to decorate synagogues and homes with flowers and boughs.

Women and girls light candles this night to usher in the holiday. I’m not sure of the reasoning for this, but it is a tradition that most synagogues follow. After the holiday evening prayers, a festive holiday meal, complete with the recitation of the holiday, kiddush is enjoyed. (Kiddush is a prayer and blessing over wine, performed by the head of a Jewish household at the meal ushering in the Sabbath or a holy day, or at the lunch preceding it. On this night it is customary to remain awake and study the Torah until dawn. Every year it is fun to see the kids try to stay up. Some make it but most fall asleep. Typically most synagogues will bring in a scholar and have him or her teach to those in the synagogue.

First day of Shavuot

Torah reading: Exodus 19:1–20:23; Numbers 28:26–31
 Haftarah: Ezekiel 1:1–28; 3:12

Reading of the Ten Commandments is done on the first day of Shavuot.

All men, women, and children go to the synagogue to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments. At many synagogues, the youngest children recite the Ten Commandments. This is in commemoration of the Jewish people declaring, “Our children are our guarantors [that we will keep the Torah].” They do this because there is a midrash which states that this is the only guarantee acceptable to G‑d.

In the past, priests would bless the congregation with the priestly blessing during the Musaf prayer. Many communities chant the Akdamut poem before the reading of the Torah.

Kiddush is recited and a holiday meal follows. It is customary to eat dairy foods this day.



Candle-lighting, from a pre-existing flame, occurs after nightfall. Whoever will say yizkor lights a yahrtzeit candle, also from a pre-existing flame. After the holiday evening prayers, people have another festive holiday meal, complete with the recitation of the holiday kiddush.

Second day of Shavuot

Torah reading: Deuteronomy 15:19–16:17; Numbers 28:26–31
 Haftarah: Habakkuk 2:20–3:19

The Yizkor memorial service is recited (and charity is pledged usually) for the souls of departed loved ones. Kiddush is recited and a holiday meal follows. Some communities have the custom to read the Book of Ruth on the second day of Shavuot. The holiday ends at nightfall.

Love Thy Neighbor

Love Thy Neighbor

Emily Hedrick

Love Thy Neighbor

In June 2016, my friends and I had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Morocco during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Although my initial goals for the trip were to visit amazing sites, I had no idea that I would come away with a deeper respect for Islam.

Morocco is in Berber country in the northwest corner of Africa. For a Westerner like myself, everything was foreign— the language, the writing, and the culture. I was greeted by our guide Mohammed (there are a lot of Mohammed’s in Morocco) who introduced us to Moroccan life. My questions about Islam were endless and Mohammed graciously answered every single one.

me on a camel

After our two-week tour, Mohammed invited me to spend a few days with his family. Not wanting to pass up on his invitation, I spent three days getting to know his family and learning their customs firsthand. Communication was tough because I had a lot of questions for his family, but only Mohammed knew English. It was a wonderful opportunity to sit back and observe this close family who is dedicated to their beliefs. As I spent those few days with Mohammed, his wife, and his three sons I could see very clear that Allah came first and a very close second was his family. They were dedicated to their daily fasting, praying, and reciting of the Quran.

me on a camel

Mohammed, his brother, two sons, and I took a drive around the windy roads of the Atlas mountains. We stopped at a mosque for Mohammed and his brother to pray at. There were no other buildings or structures around and it was far from the town in the valley. I learned later that this mosque was built only in the last couple of years. When King Mohammed VI was traveling around his country, he stopped in this area. He met an old man and asked him what he could do to help him. The old man asked for a “place where he can pray.” The King was surprised by his request because most people ask him for financial help. He went back to his palace and organized funds to build a mosque. This mosque is now a place of worship for many of the shepherds and others who live in this isolated territory.

This story has stayed with me ever since. My experiences in Morocco have been one of the highlights of my life. I look at my friend Mohammed as an example of someone who truly lives his faith. He and all the Moroccans that I met generously live by “love thy neighbor as thyself” and are a continued example to me.