A Travellerspoint blog

France

#15: Religion

Seeing the outcast...

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re•li•gion [ri-lij-uhn]

noun: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

I sat on the wooden chair, Bible and journal in hand, as the organist pounded the keys, sending otherworldly music into the massive cathedral. The notes rickashayed off the ceilings, off the arches, off the stained glass, and landed in my ears. A pause in the music allowed me to hear the shuffle-shuffle-shuffle of European, Asian, and American tourist feet behind me, and the plink-plink-plink of coins dropping into boxes to buy candles that would carry prayers heavenward. A small orchestra began in the front, followed by a chant, likely in Latin, which I could not understand. I turned my attention back to my journal, where I penned these words:

“In this cathedral, my eyes are drawn upward. I see the high ceilings and sink into my smallness, acknowledging my complete humanity…. May the people coming here see God – a just yet loving God. I see mostly European people, but some from other cultures as well. We are all part of a larger whole, yet in the West we see God in ways different than the rest of the world. We offer God our best, giving him big cathedrals and money, driven by our materialistic cultural ideals. Rather than offering our simplicity, as some people groups do, integrating faith into life, we’ve segregated daily life from religion, not seeing the beggar sitting on the steps leading to the cathedral. We’ve divided our life – our living and doing religion. We believe we are in a relationship, not a religion, and that we live both simultaneously. Yet, be this true, some religions do a far better job integrating their beliefs into daily life. We struggle, as American Christians, to divide culture and Christianity. Because we can’t divide these, we merge the two and struggle to put our faith into action. We go through the motions, out of convenience or out of ease, rather than out of true belief. We go for feelings over facts, or facts over feelings, and struggle to merge the two.”

Just outside the door of the cathedral, a magnificent medieval church known as the Notre Dame of Strasbourg, several beggars sat, palms open and eyes down. Hundreds of visitors passed them each day, barely giving them a glance. I did the same thing. But then God got a hold of my heart, slapping me across the face. Here I was in France, taking a class about how to love the “other,” and I was completely ignoring those Jesus favored most during his earthly ministry. I thought back to the homelessness simulation experience I had participated in a few months before, about how I had felt after being ignored and harassed because of uncontrollable conditions.

How wrong I was. I had gone into a cathedral, looking to understand the greatness of God, when the kingdom of God was sitting just outside the door. Jesus said that “whatever you did for the least of these, you have done as unto me.”

There is an engraving on the front of the real Notre Dame that is a picture of judgment day. On some of the figures, Jesus looks on approvingly. To the others, he allows devilish creatures to pull them away to eternal punishment. The engraving rests on the story in Matthew 25:31-46 about the sheep and the goats. Those who served the poor were led to eternal life, and those who ignored the needy were led to eternal death. It wasn’t a matter of works verses faith, but the idea that if God’s love is in us, it will work through us on behalf of the afflicted.

The builders of the cathedral had included incredible detail, working with the philosophy that if no one else could see it, God would. Centuries later, however, I wonder what God thinks. Sure, they had done their work for God, but today, as a tourist trap, were people so caught up in the details that they had forgotten the Gospel? Had they gotten so caught up in seeing a structure that they missed seeing the people? Do we, as American Christians, get so caught up in church that we forget how to be the church? Do we get so caught up in religion that we are unable to love?

“I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals, for there is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedral, however solemn and imposing the latter may be -- a human soul, be it that of a poor beggar or of a street walker, is more interesting to me.” Picasso

Posted by klewis91 06:27 Archived in France Comments (0)

#6: Embrace

Receiving the other despite obstacles...

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em•brace
[em-breys]
verb
1. to take or clasp in the arms; press to the bosom; hug.
2. to take or receive gladly or eagerly; accept willingly: to embrace an idea.
3. to avail oneself of: to embrace an opportunity.
4. to adopt (a profession, a religion, etc.): to embrace Buddhism.
5. to take in with the eye or the mind.

We talk about accepting other people. We talk about loving them. We talk about taking in “the other.” We talk.

Coming to the realization that we need to accept the other is a great first step of cosmopolitanism. Spreading the idea that we need to bring them in is awesome. But to actually take them in and accept them takes a considerable amount of work. Effort is required for someone to be embraced and accepted.

Last Friday we visited a mountain-top convent. It was large and serene, and the blue skies overhead enhanced its natural beauty. On the way back to the bus I saw this sign and snapped a quick photograph. I sensed with this image the essence of “embrace.”

To embrace someone is to eagerly accept someone. It is to welcome them in. Often times, however, to make someone feel welcome, one must intentionally get into the head of the guest, consider their needs, and respond accordingly.

Working with people with special needs is one of these areas. To work with these individuals, one must consider what life with the individual’s particular needs would be like. It does not mean that we should do everything for someone in need, but that we should respond appropriately. To do everything for someone else teaches them learned helplessness and essentially dehumanizes them. At the same time, to do nothing for someone with an obvious need who truly desires assistance is to be equally inhumane. This is where conversation comes in. This is also where we as individuals and as a society must step forward and speak up for the defenseless. We must give a voice to those who have none.

Embracing another is not always easy or comfortable. In the instance of accommodating people who use wheelchairs or walkers, for example, accessible ramps and walkways must be built to ensure that these individuals – “the other,” if you will – can be included, or embraced, by society.

Indeed, to embrace can mean to sacrifice. It may require time, money, and resources. It may mean driving downtown to teach English to recent immigrants on the weekend. It may imply creating programs which will employ young people who otherwise will be found on the streets during the summer. It may mean making and delivering meals to shut-ins. It may mean remodeling a building to make it wheelchair accessible.

Embracing the other is not always easy. It is not always comfortable. But to have a society which values not only humanity, but also individuals, and to have a world which reflects the kingdom of God, we must live with eyes wide open to the needs of others, willing to embrace them and to implement changes as needed.

Posted by klewis91 02:42 Archived in France Comments (0)

Sites in Strasbourg

Painting the Streets

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I've always wanted to create my own graffiti, and, well, today was the first chance I've gotten so far. (Now, I'm not advocating for the destruction of public property, but there's something about marking territory as a means of publicly declaring a message...) Today there was a large European Union (EU) convention sort of thing in the large city square, and in the middle was this large canvas on which passersby could write down statements about Europe. Since we've been discussing cosmopolitanism, I figured my word of choice was appropriate.

Today we visited the cathedral at 12:30, when the apostles came out of the astronomical clock and paraded around the large, 16th-century structure. We caught a fast bite to eat for lunch and then visited a history museum which was full of ancient artifacts. These old rocks with faces, bits of metal, and shaped materials showed what a connected region Strasbourg was even in the days of ancient Rome. After the museum visit, we had class back at the hotel before fetching some baguette, sauce, and cheese to make pizza, French-style.

Finally, a few fun facts about France (Woot for alliteration!):

-French doctors still perform house calls.
-Strasbourg's symbol is the stork.
-In La Petite France (Little France), tanners once threw the animal carcasses into the street, down which the animal remains traveled until they were dumped into the river. Lovely, eh? I'm thankful for water filters...

Tomorrow we'll visit a convent (perhaps I'll become a nun?) and then head out to Switzerland for a long weekend at L'Abri. If I don't update until Monday, I'll be among the Alps! :)

Posted by klewis91 13:34 Archived in France Comments (0)

Victory

Adapting in France

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Sarah and I are figuring out the shower knobs, ethernet cables, and converters. Go team!

Posted by klewis91 07:36 Archived in France Comments (0)

After Too Many Hours

We Made It!

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I'm here! After flying into Detroit and wandering around the terminal during the 5+ hour layover, flying for 8 hours to Frankfurt, taking a 2.5 hour bus ride to Strasbourg, and finally dragging our luggage across cobblestone streets, we've arrived at our home-base for the next two weeks! I'm excited to get out and explore the city as well as "do class" -- whatever that means.

With our long layovers, flights, and bus ride, I was able to start some of the readings for this class. We're focusing on the topic of cosmopolitanism and have two main texts as well as additional readings. I've started A Palace in the Old Village by Tahar Ben Jelloun, a novel about a Morroccan emigrant into France. The second book is called Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers by Kwame Anthony Appiah. After two semesters of educational methods and field experience, I'm looking forward to reading that doesn't involve a million sample lesson plans at the end of every chapter.

From what I can tell thus far, Strasbourg is quite the cosmopolitan locale -- there is culture everywhere! I'm looking forward to taking and sharing photographs -- keep checking this blog, as I'll update it when I have the chance. :)

Posted by klewis91 07:24 Archived in France Comments (0)

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