Comparative Religion 101

During the second semester of my Freshman year of college, I had to take a religion class. Being a student at a liberal arts college this was mandatory. Quite frankly, I had been absolutely dreading it. After being ostracized through most of high school about my beliefs (or lack there of), I had this preconceived notion that college would be the same way. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was wrong.

I think what saved the day for me was I had the privilege to be in a Dr. Bussie class, and any one who went to Capital knows, either through personal experience or by reputation, that Dr. Bussie is an amazing teacher. She created a non-judgmental educational atmosphere where I felt safe to share my beliefs without the fear of being made an outcast. I went on to take several of her other classes, for the simple fact that I enjoyed them so much.

One of my favorite memories from undergrad came from Dr. Bussie’s Intro to World Religions. As an entire class, we took a trip to OSU’s campus to celebrate the breaking of the fast/feast of Ramadan. We got to sit down and talk with practicing Muslims about their beliefs and customs. I remember watching them go through their evening prayers thinking it sounded so beautiful, even if I couldn’t understand what they were saying. (This is also where I discovered a love for dates, which are the traditional food to break the fast with.) This was the first really multicultural experience I had ever had and it has stuck with me after all these years. I had this memory in mind when I decided to make January spirituality month. I wanted to have the opportunity to experience other cultural and spiritual beliefs outside of my own, and see how they compared and differed from one another. I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to this month, some of it due to my own poor planning, and some of it was out of my hands, but I did get quite a lot of accomplished so here is my spirituality month in summary…

St. Joseph’s Cathedral (Catholic Church)
When planning out my destinations for the month, I chose St. Joseph’s because I have seen pictures of cathedrals, but never actually been in one before. Architecturally, it didn’t disappoint. The frescoes and stained glass were gorgeous, as were the vaulted ceilings and the gilded ornaments adorning the walls.

However, this little gem early on in the service reminded why I never enjoyed going to church with Catholic friends growing up…

(Excerpt from the mass bulletin…)
“I confess to almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do. (And, Striking their breast, they say:) Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault, therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”

Yeah… I already have enough guilt on my own without my religion dishing out another heaping spoonful.
The Verdict: I loved the echoing organ music and breath-taking environment, but probably would have enjoyed it more if I could have prayed alone in the empty cathedral rather than attending a service.
The Magical Druid Grand Opening
Immediately following my trip to the Cathedral, I went to the grand opening of a new spiritual resource center started by some pagan friends of mine. I found it amusing because the pamphlet from the Cathedral talked about the “Wise men journeying out of the pagan lands,” so the joke that night was I made the journey out of the “Christian lands into pagan territory” (hahaha witty pagans). 
Seriously though, I am really proud of my friends and Three Cranes Grove, they are so active in educating the public and making paganism accessible in central Ohio. Mike and Seamus have been working for months to make their online shop a physical reality. The location is awesome, they have a wide range of products available, and they even feature works by local artists and craftsmen. Click here to visit their site!
The Verdict: No contest, I love my pagan friends and they have always accepted me unconditionally without question. Spending time with them is like coming home to family, even if I don’t believe some of the same things they do anymore.

Universal Unitarian Church
The weekend I went to the UUCE, I actually went early in the morning because they were supposed to be doing meditation practice… apparently I should have called ahead, because when I got there the place was empty save one of the guys who helps with maintenance around the place. So I ended up sitting and talking with him for awhile. He was an interesting fellow- he is a self proclaimed “atheist” who sings in a Lutheran choir. Eventually people did show up for the “service” (members take turns presenting topics, as a result lectures can be a bit eclectic). That week they focused on a 2012 review and what members would like to accomplish in their lives for 2013, which was an interesting concept, but we didn’t really have a lot of time to talk about it in detail.

The Verdict: Interesting and friendly group of people, they wanted to know more about my adventure year and possibly have me do a lecture about it when I am all done. I would like to go back someday. They also sent me a lovely hand-written card thanking me for coming, which I thought was amazingly sweet.

Tao Te Ching
There really aren’t any “Taoist temples” in Columbus, (I think it gets lumped in a lot with Buddhism), but I did read the Tao Te Ching, which Taoism is based on. Written by Lao Tzu and comprised of 81 verses, it’s actually quite beautiful and chock full of practical wisdom. One of my favorites…

“The best way to live is to be like water
For water benefits all things and goes against none of them.
It provides for all people and even cleanses the places a man is loath to go.
In this way it is just like Tao.”
Verse 8
The Verdict: Breathtaking. I would like to find a copy of this translation (by Jonathan Star) for myself.
Religulous (Movie)
Ah, Religulous, how very entertaining you are. Atheist comic- Bill Maher goes to town interviewing various religious groups and institutions in this particular documentary. Needless to say hilarity ensues. Some of my favorite moments include- him getting thrown out of the Vatican, getting thrown off the Mormon church property in Salt Lake, talking to a “reformed homosexual,” and chatting up a fake Jesus at a “biblical” Disneyland before getting thrown out of there too. (Fake Jesus actually said one of the more interesting things of the movie, he likened the Trinity to the phases of water- solid, liquid and vapor. Wish they would have explained it that way in confirmation, would have made a hell of a lot more sense!)
The Verdict: Absolutely nutty, but it makes you question your own beliefs and assumptions, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Homechurch (Christian Non-denominational)
I went with my friend John to his “church,” which is run out of the various member’s houses (hence the name). It’s an interesting concept and made for a more intimate experience. It reminded me a lot of the bible studies I used to go to in high school, rather than a traditional church “service.” The leader made the lesson very down to earth and relevant to today’s world, which I thought was very helpful.
The Verdict: Despite the Bible not being my cup of tea, this was definitely the most interesting group of people I met this month. Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming, and I enjoyed talking to people of many different backgrounds, which was pretty cool.
The KTC (Buddhist Meditation Center)
I did this one pretty late in the month and now I wish I had done it first, because it was amazing! I went for the introduction to meditation class, where the instructor- Ed, was very informative and entertaining. I learned how to hold my body so it wouldn’t hurt while meditating, as well as strategies to tame my “monkey mind.” Later on during the day, Lama Kathy did a teaching on suffering and patience. I was very happily surprised to discover I couldn’t find one thing she talked about that I disagreed with.

The Vedict: I’d like to order whatever they’re having! Everyone was really friendly and so freaken peaceful and calm…Must be all the meditation. I will definitely be back, I think there is a lot I can learn from this place.

Queer Yoga (Seriously, that was what it was called…)
Last, but not least, I was supposed to do Yoga at the Vedic Temple, but due to poor planning (I didn’t realize it was in Delaware as opposed to Columbus), I ended up not being able to go. As a substitute, my friend Jordan suggested I do Yoga with him… at a gay yoga studio. If you can’t do yoga with the Hindu’s, homosexuals are the next best thing right? That’s what I thought.

Honestly though, the yoga class itself wasn’t as eventful as simply trying to purchase my yoga mat yesterday at Meijer’s was. Makesh’s eyes lit up, (Makesh being the little old Indian man who was bagging groceries), when he saw my mat and proceeded to hug it to his chest as he enthusiastically spent the next 5 to 10 minutes talking at length about the virtues of yoga, and how if I really wanted to learn yoga I needed a Hindu teacher. I smiled and nodded politely as he continued to clutch my yoga mat in a death grip, and I was seriously hoping that I wouldn’t have to wrestle this little old man with no teeth to get my mat back, when luck would have it he got distracted by another customer and dropped my mat to verbally molest them instead. (Apparently Makesh, sweet, friendly, little old man that his was, has the attention span of a squirrel… this worked to my advantage and I got the hell out of Dodge before he could snatch up my mat again.)

The Verdict: The yoga class was amazing. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming, and the instructor was very knowledgeable. I have done yoga DVDs before, but the experience of an instructor giving personal feedback was really cool. My body felt fantastic afterwards and, while it wasn’t what I would necessarily call “spiritual,” I was able to tune into, and listen to my body and what it needed to say during practice. I would definitely go again, if nothing more than for the physical benefits.

I think the lesson learned this month can be summed up in the simple sentence, “Many paths lead to the same destination.” In all of my various experiences it seemed the same universal truths came up again and again… love, kindness, and compassion, for others and ourselves. If more people would realize that their religion isn’t that much different than their neighbor’s then maybe we could finally stop killing each other over “who’s right and who’s wrong.” Maybe someday…

But, as you all are well aware I am sure, today is the last day of January so tomorrow starts a new month and a new focus, and let me tell you, it’s going to be crazy. In honor of Valentine’s Day, which occurs during the month of February, I am dedicating the next 28 days to “sexuality.” I have been simultaneously looking forward to, and dreading this month since I started this project. I’ve been looking forward to it because I think it’s going to be awesomely fun with all the stuff I have in store, and dreading it because I think it’s going to be the most awkward month to write about. For my family’s sake (and for my own privacy) I will do my best to try and keep things PG 13, but I make no promises. Stay tuned for my antics this month, I am confident they will be quite entertaining 😉



  1. Anivair · February 1, 2013

    I dig. Glad to know hanging with pagans still feels good.


  2. ecumenicallife · February 1, 2013

    Wow, what a journey! You went out of your way to get a wide variety of experiences, kudos! I'll have to try out some of these for myself (and if we are talking about the same lovable Jordles, then I can only imagine how much fun the yoga would be!).


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