19 June 2012

On your mark... Get set...

Let the travels begin!

Wish me luck, adventures and serenity (because I'm a little nervous!! in addition to very excited!!).

First stop: Roma

PS. Please send good luck vibes
that I won't forget to charge my camera battery.
That's the WORST!
(Well, you know, of the
safe and alive
kind of problems.)

13 June 2012

Belief in everyone

How much do most of us really know about other people's beliefs? How often do we generalize, stereotype and hold prejudices against certain groups of people for the things the believe, or don't believe in (or that we think they believe)?

If you ask me, too often. And it's sad.

On the blog FIXES from the New York Times, David Bornstein dedicated the latest article to an organization working to improve interfaith relations and dialogue. The Interfaith Youth Corps (IFYC) works with college students to "develop greater respect, comfort and appreciation for one another and their traditions." Bornstein, and the founders of IFYC, believe that in the United States we have embraced many forms of diversity and multiculturalism--we talk freely about race, sexual orientation, gender and ethnicity--but talking about people's cherished believes is still a sticking point. It's heated, taboo and often conversation on faith lacks real understanding, openness and respect.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (as most of you probably know). A Mormon. And that does define certain aspects of my life, my character and my worldviews. But I am still a unique person with a personal set of values and experiences and ideas, some of which relate to my religion and some of which do not. Like most people.

The thing is, when I know someone personally I usually have no problem with him or her and others don't seem to have a problem with me either, whatever our differences in faith (and other beliefs for that matter). On a personal and individual basis it doesn't seem like much of a problem to talk to, relate to or even have close relationships and friendships with people who believe differently. I have rarely experienced prejudice, intolerance or unkindness directly (though that is not true for all people, unfortunately). In my experiences, most people are able to talk to and respect individuals, but then can easily turn around and speak about other faiths, religious practices and beliefs in derogatory, limited and sometimes quite ignorant ways.

Where I see this most blatantly, is in the media (though among peers, coworkers, students, etc it happens too). In politics, of course, but also in TV shows and movies, religion and religious people are usually presented in very stereotypical ways. As a group of semi-ubiquitous characters with the occasional distressed questioner/doubter/outsider. But the reality isn't that way. As Bornstein says, "The worst thing society can do is to continue what it’s doing today: allowing attitudes to be shaped by the shrillest voices, the voices of intolerance, political expedience and xenophobia. 'If we don’t talk openly about faith and bring people from different traditions together, we forfeit the conversation to people who are happy to build barriers.'”

Reading about IFYC, I love the idea. It is true that we are only going continue increasing in diversity and we need to know how to deal with that. David D. Putnam, a political scientist who studies diversity and community, says it clearly: “It’s not just the presence of diversity in your neighborhood [that is important]. You’ve got to actually be doing things with other people in which you have a personal attachment. Diversity is hard, not easy.”

So IFYC helps push this  along by starting interfaith service projects, discussions and activities based on common values. As one Muslim student from Georgetown University explained, "Interfaith work isn’t about watering down our religion and coming to some consensus about things. . . . It’s about building relationships so we can together serve others.”

In the world we live in today, it is important to recognize that no one person, group or religion can succeed alone. If we want to make better communities, nations and ultimately a better world it means working together. And that has nothing to do with being in agreement, whether it is religion, politics or otherwise. There will always be differences. Always. It means knowing how to understand, respect and work with others in productive ways. It means being open to new ideas and it means knowing how to see people as individuals with value, no matter what their background.

One student said,  “it’s important to remind [students] that they don’t have to speak for their whole religion. They’re just there to talk about their faith or beliefs in a personal way.” What more can any of us do? What more can we expect from our neighbors and friends and acquaintances? And why don't we do more of that?

Recently I met a girl, a friend of a friend, while on a trip. She and I started a conversation in which we talked a little about our religious beliefs. She's Catholic and, as I said, I'm Mormon. We talked about things that were important to us about our faiths. We discussed why we choose to practice our religions. In all, it was a wonderful experience for me and I gained a great deal of respect for her and her personal faith. One thing she said to me, as we were talking, that stood out then and even more now, was, "Why is it so hard to talk about religion?" She said it was often uncomfortable to discuss faith among friends and acquaintances, and I have to say, I agree with her. And it shouldn't be that way.

If we want to gain greater love and respect for others, we have to be willing to share as well as to listen. And do so with openness and respect. As I said before, in my experience when religion is brought up I have rarely, if ever, had a negative experience. But it is true that it is often a topic we tiptoe around. Lets not! For most of us, our faith (whatever form it takes) is important to us, and there is nothing wrong with talking about it!

Interfaith travel... you've gotta try it! :)

11 June 2012

Advise me, dear people.

Away I Go!
Next Wednesday I leave Spain for a few weeks of pure adventuring! I'm heading to Italy and France (and maybe squeezing in a bit of Greece...) and then back to Northern Spain. I'll be spending the greater part of my time traversing Italy. I have some things planned and I'm quite excited. But for those of you with some traveling under your belts, any suggestions?? Places I can't miss, great food to try, nice hostels, travel secrets, etc. Anything you've got! I'm trusting in your expertise :)

Mil gracias!

08 June 2012

How nightmares become reality

This morning I couldn't find my hairbrush, which is weird, since I am usually so organized and tidy and have everything in its place. (Former roommates, no comments please!) Then I saw it sitting on the table. As I went to grab it, I yanked my hand back with sudden shock as my brain recalculated the situation--comb/scissors/hair/disaster!! Turns out, instead of a green hair comb it was my green-handled pair of scissors. Even first thing in the morning, that's the kind of detail you can't let yourself overlook!

Now, hopefully I am not so spacey that I would actually try to comb my hair with a pair of scissors. But the experience was especially disconcerting because I had just woken up from a strange dream... like most dreams, I guess.... Last night in my dream I got this really great new job (I have no idea what it was, but in my dream, I was thrilled.). Unfortunately the next day I was certain I was going to get fired because somehow I had a really horrible haircut, and I didn't know how it happened. I just remember trying to hide my lopsided bangs from my boss, as we were talking face to face, knowing all along that I was doomed!

I hope that I will ever get fired from a job over my haircut (or wake up someday looking like a preschooler mistook my head for an art project. Or like I confused my hairbrush with a pair of scissors... who does that?), but still, the coincidence of having a hair "nightmare" and then brush with disaster seemed like kind of a freaky coincidence.

Even freakier, I also dreamed this week that I went home to see a friend who was getting married. We were on our way for me to meet the fiance when my friend commented that she had just met his other wife, who was "super nice." "Oh, so he's divorced?" I asked. "No." My friend replied, giving me a puzzled look, completely unphased by the fact that she was about to enter into matrimony with an already married man. In fact, no one in my dream seemed the least bit concerned with the situation. It was like everyone had suddenly gone crazy. I was the only sane one left. I knew I had to take things into my own hands! I met the guy, and he seemed nice enough. And I thought to my(dream)self, "He's a sweet guy. It's a pity I'm going to have to ruin his wedding. I hope my friends don't hate me forever for this!" I had no plan, but I had my certainty--THIS WEDDING MUST BE DESTROYED!

Dreams.... to be honest, I hope most of mine never come true!

02 June 2012


This photo is a representation of my feelings about June, but was not, however, actually taken in June. Give me a break. It's only been two days!

It's June. I love June. There are many reasons I could give, but in all honesty I love it most of all because June is my birthday month. I have no special claim on the month, I know. There are lots of people with June birthdays. Yet, I always feel like it is my month. A month of beautiful things, hopes and wishes and fresh starts.

This June, in twenty-five days, I will turn 25.

The thing is, I am really happy to turn 25. Some people make me feel like 25 is a big deal--I should feel "old," or worried about what I have (and have not) accomplished or where I am going or when I will get married or have kids, etc. And I confess, those thoughts cross my mind from time to time. From that point of view there is a lot someone could point to as "not enough." I don't have a great job, a husband or kids, a boyfriend, a master's degree. I'm not in school and in three weeks I won't have a job any more either. I am still not sure what I want to do with my life or where I will end up. But I am content. I'm happy. I have thought things over and I feel fantastic about my life thus far. That's not to say that there aren't a lot more things I want to do and that there isn't a LOT of progress I want to make, but so what? I'm working on it.

A few things that help me feel great about this coming landmark:

  1. It really is about the journey, not the destination. Cliché but true. Even though I haven't accomplished any great and wonderful things yet (and maybe I never will) and even though the things I have done have been small, they have been important to me. I have chosen my path the best I could according to my goals and values and dreams, even though I often did so without knowing where I would end up. Of course there is more I could have done and things I missed along the way. But in all, I have had more than my fair share of loveliness so far in life. And I am so very grateful.
  2. Being single doesn't scare me. It used to. But the older I get and the more dating (and dating-like) experiences I have, the more I realize that I am completely okay being on my own. I want to get married and have a family. But if that doesn't come along, or if it takes a long time, I am not worried. I have plenty to do in the meantime. I am happy and I am never lacking wonderful people in my life who are there for me when I need them. So while I will be overjoyed if/when the right person comes along, I am in no rush, and I'm not worried about it. (at least right now)
  3. My life is full of incredible blessings. And most of them have come in the form of truly wonderful people. My family and friends fill my life with joy and security and hope. They lift me up and they believe in me. I am not worried about disappointing them or letting them down, because they have proven to me that they are there for me no matter what. I know I can trust them.
  4. Life is unexpected, unsettling and completely wonderful. Life cannot be planned. It will always surprise you. There are great moments and difficult ones, but so far the balance in my life has always tilted towards astonishingly beautiful. I know that I can trust God to lead me where I need to go and to provide not only everything I need, but also many unforeseeable and completely breathtaking moments along the way.
  5. I don't want my life to be the same as anyone else's, so I have no need to compare my life to other people's.
  6. I decided a few years ago that I won't feel old until I'm at least 60. So don't expect me to freak out when I turn 30 or 40 or 50 either. These days, that's young! I have no intention of wasting valuable time worrying about my age. I can't go backwards, I can only go forwards. As long as I am enjoying life and making progress I don't see why it matters how old I am anyway!
So, happy birthday month to me (and a bunch of other fabulous people too!!!). I am hoping to really love my last few weeks being 24. And anyone with advice for how to make the coming year even better, fire away!

A happy June to one and all!

ps. all that said,
I reserve the right to feel
nervous and freaked out and self conscious and like my life is out of control
at any given moment.
It happens.
But in general, I feel great!