Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stand Up

written by Project Interfaith's Resource Development Intern, Bethany Walter

"Most people think,
Great God will come from the skies,
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth,
You will look for yours on earth:
And now you see the light,
You stand up for your rights. Jah!"

~ Bob Marley and the Wailers (“Get Up, Stand Up”)

When I was only 15, my parents put me on a plane to Africa all by myself.  After 20 hours of being squished up against a plane window, I finally arrived in Zambia, where I would be living with my aunt and uncle for the next three months. Going to Africa is an experience I am very grateful for; it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. However, I learned something about myself while I was there that changed my life for both the good and the bad.

You see, my aunt and uncle are Christian missionaries. I cannot deny that they do great things for the people in Zambia, including having started an orphanage in the last few years. However, while I was there I found I was expected to “share the gospel” with the “unsaved.” I found out quickly that I didn’t want to. I just ended up asking the questions instead. I wanted to know what they believed and I didn’t feel like it was necessary to convince them otherwise. Besides, they were people too. What made me any more correct than they were?

This realization has led me down a difficult road with my all-Christian family. I love my family very much, but I cannot sit here and truthfully tell you that there has been no pain. Since before I was even born, my life had been decided for me – what I was supposed to believe religiously and politically, how I was supposed to dress, even exactly what type of man I was supposed to marry. I was told to be myself only as long as it fit into the box that had already been drawn around my life. As you may have guessed already, I didn’t fit all that nicely. One of my favorite books, “The Tao of Pooh,” by Benjamin Hoffman says -
 “You'd be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.” Growing up this way came with it’s own set of challenges. There didn’t seem to exist any middle ground for me – either I was for them or I was against them. Black and white. This made it very difficult for me to figure out who I was and what I stood for until early into my adult life. I still struggle with many of these issues today.

My spirituality is rather simple actually. However, I have found that many people don’t quite understand not having any religion at all. The closest thing I have found to how I feel about this life is Philosophical Taoism, although I do not identify myself as a Taoist. I have always questioned the need for a middleman in creation. In other words, if God can be self-created, why can nature not be? For this reason, I find evolution to be the most satisfying answer to the question of why we are here. I do not view myself as being separate from this universe; rather, I am one with it. I see humanity as being the universe’s way of evolving to self-awareness, and I strongly believe there is other consciousness out there. Many have questioned me on the grounds that I have no higher purpose to live for or no moral system to live by. My higher purpose
is my existence, which I do not see as insignificant, and my morality comes from knowing in my heart that I should never maliciously harm any other living being.

Like Bob Marley wisely said, once you see the light you should stand up for your rights (Jah!). I am here at Project Interfaith to stand up for myself and for others. Besides being a great opportunity to gain professional experience on my resume with a non-profit organization while in college, it is also an opportunity for me to empower myself by standing up for what I believe instead of allowing others continuously tell me how to think. Second, I am here to stand up for the rights of others around the world and in my own community to be free from intolerance as well. I know that my story is not a unique one, and I have a great desire to be part of a positive change towards religious understanding because I know what a struggle it can be to not be accepted for who you are.

Bethany is Project Interfaith’s Resource Development intern. Bethany was raised in Papillion, Nebraska and is currently a junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Her major is International Studies with a concentration in Business Marketing and Eastern European Studies. She hopes that her Russian language skills will be useful one day.
She joined Project Interfaith because she believes strongly in every person’s right to be empowered and free from intolerance of any kind. Traveling to several different countries – including Russia, England, St. Vincent and a number of African countries – has given her a passion for learning and understanding people of every culture and faith.
In her spare time, Bethany loves to spend quality time with those close to her, play video games and spoil her two cats. She is not sure exactly where life is taking her yet, but she knows that she wants to do something to help people.

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