Investigating Religious and Spiritual Concepts
Cody A. Medeiros
My concept on the word “religious” is simple. I think the word is describing one who believes in, I’ll use the term, a “divine being”. This is not to be confused with a description of the divine being, but instead the descriptor of something or someone who is related to the divine being. Now there are many different types of “religion” and that would include many different types of “religious” things to match each of their own religions. This is a bit of a tongue twister to keep up with, but it is an important factor to completely describe what we are defining as they are so closely related words. Furthermore, everyone has their own interpretation of what “religious” may mean to them. This is just my interpretation of “religious”:
Religious is structured
Religious is regular
Religious is orderly
Religious is unique
Religious is sacred
Religious is repetitive
Religious is simple
Religious is complex
Religious is patient
Religious is specific
Religious is predictable
This is not intended to offend or defend anyone or anything, this is just simply my interpretation on the topic. If I think of something specific like a “religious holiday” no matter which one that I pick; I still have the same idea of what the day is related to, even if I don’t know the actual history of the holiday or religion that it’s associated to. The mere fact that it’s a “religious” holiday – not just any other holiday – indicates it’s related to some divine being.
I have grown to feel indifferent when I hear the word “religious.” I can recall when I was a child that I didn’t know how to feel when hearing or speaking of something religious. I mean of course being a child growing up in Western Culture I had an idea of what that meant to my surrounding area. But as I grew older, I adventured out into religious events on my own accord. I was not asked to go with family or people close to me. I just did it on my own and there in my life it changed for me again. The idea of something religious made me feel good and familiar. I had grown to regularly attending youth group and church events with friends my age, from my school and neighboring schools. Here more recently though, I have grown to feel less connected to things that are religious. What I mean here is things that are religious follow regular pattern, if you will. There’s some sort of following of people obeying the words of a divine being. They have rituals, they dress alike, they work together in a common faith, there are sacred texts and traditions and much more. But in any case, they are all similar and connected by one thing. I can safely say I used to be religious, but now I am not anymore. This change was started by furthering my own self-identification. Before returning back to college, I decided to do quite a bit of self-analysis and by inspecting my life I was able to come to my new conclusion. This has been further reinforced since I started my pursuit of college again and my education into science, mathematics, and society as a whole. I have realized, before this class, that things that are religious are people’s own opinion of some divine being. For me; I struggled if there was a divine being or not for a long time, but eventually I realized it does not matter if there is a divine being. If there is an all-powerful creator, then great… and well, if there is not, then that’s great too. Because it simply does me no good if I constantly am in battle with myself, society, an anything else begging the question if there is or is not a God. I learned this only after being stressed all the time and wrestling with myself on the topic. I have since then become what I consider to be a more spiritual being and feel I have left my religious self behind me somewhere. That is another topic for another day, but never the less; I feel indifferent about things that are described as “religious” due to my life experiences.
Test the concept
Attending an ordinary Sunday service at a Mennonite church: The church name is, Church-God In Christ Mennonite. I contacted the church and simply asked if I could attend a service and speak with some attendees and someone in charge of the church. Luckily for me, I was greeted with open arms. My mission was simple, find out as much as I can about the Mennonite community as possible and compare what I think it will be like to what it is really like. I had started my visit with thinking that Mennonites are a branch of Christianity, but had no idea what made them different. Turns out I was right in many aspects of my idea of “religious”, but during my visit I learned a lot about a religious group that I did not know before attending the service.
Describing the experience
I have been asked to keep all identities of my visit to the Mennonite church to myself, so I have changed the names during my encounter to respect their wishes. When I contacted the church by phone; I had been asked to attend respectfully and was even politely let know that the usual dress was slacks and dress shirts for men accompanied by an overcoat, but if I did not have such attire not to worry, I was welcome anyhow. I realized before that phone conversation was over that whom I was meeting was most definitely one who was strict. I could tell by his deep tone and stern voice that when he spoke, he expected you to listen.
The day finally came to go on my investigation. The man I spoke to on the phone and I arranged my visit so I would sit in on a service, then visit with people afterwards. When I arrived, I was greeted by friendly faces and curious children as I walked into the church. I arrived early to be sure I got a seat that allowed me to see the stage and the attendees. I was clearly an outcast even while dressed for the occasion. I immediately noticed the simplistic building I was in. The stage, seating arrangement, lighting, and even artwork. It was all familiar in the fact I recognized a picture of Jesus, people in the church are speaking English for the most part and the book I saw in most everyone’s hands were a Bible. The service seemed to be almost what I expected, although there were times a language I do not know was spoken. Other than that, it seemed familiar, a man reading out of a book in front of a group of people. The room decorated with things related to Jesus Christ. Furthermore, in the service there was much talk about God and reading from the bible.
Talking with the attendees I learned much about the Mennonite community. I had taken a notebook with me to keep track of notes and ask questions I had prepared for my visit. Although, I was constantly forming new questions and really didn’t ask any of the ones I thought I would ask. My first question for some attendees that I spoke with was simple; how did everyone know I was different? The answer took me by surprise, they responded by telling me my beard was the first indicator. I wear a full beard in the winter typically. I was enlightened by the conversation that Mennonite men wear a full beard omitting the mustache while unmarried men are clean shaven. Of course, my curiosity made me ask another unplanned question – “why without a mustache?!” The response was again another surprise, they told me that the Mennonite community is a passive way of life. They said that they believe military men wear mustaches and they do not believe in violence so they do not wear mustaches.
My conversations were limited to only a couple attendees and the man I spoke to on the phone. I had learned quite a bit and really enjoyed my conversations with the attendees, but the man I spoke to on the phone was who I really wanted to speak with. As I caught up to him, I knew what I wanted to talk to him about. I wanted to ask specifically what made his religion different from any other that I thought I knew about. He told me that Mennonites were a branch of Catholicism, which is a branch of Christianity. Furthermore, the Mennonite way of life is simple and can be summed up by three words; obedience, simplicity, and love. He went on to say that they believe salvation is through Jesus, the Bible’s authority, the Holy Spirit, and Baptism. Furthermore, he explained there are two major sectors of Mennonites; the Old Order \ and the Non-Old Order. Continuing on the topic he elaborated that the Old Order Mennonites are more conservative and stricter in their practice than the Non-Old Order branch. Going on telling me that some villages still do not use electricity, running water, or other modern technologies. They travel by horse buggy and use diesel pumps for water and irrigating, even using steel wheeled tractors to tend their land. I learned quite a bit from the head of the church and I think he enjoyed my visit as much as I did.
Although my experience to the church was a little of what I expected, I had learned so much about an entire community that I knew nothing about before. I was surprised by something probably as many times as I found something familiar or that I sort of expected. I genuinely appreciate this adventure I’ve gone on though and I would recommend others to try it out. I have to admit I was a little nervous before going on my investigation, but turns out there was nothing to be nervous about. I realized my experience fit into my concept of religious in many ways and differed at the same time. Through using the Principle of Charity, I was able to set my assumptions aside and listen for understanding when someone was speaking to me.
Thank you note
To: Church-God in Christ Mennonite
From: Cody A. Medeiros
Dear Mennonite community,
I cannot express my gratitude for allowing me to attend service as one of your own. Your church is beautiful, the attendees are kind, and your pastor provides a wonderful service. Thank you for allowing me investigate your religion and experience a day in your life! I have learned so much about your community and I hope to enlighten others as you have enlightened me.
Cody A. Medeiros