January 27, 2016

Random Whispers, Echoes, and Shouting

Every year our grade elevens are involved in a series of talks about religion for their TOK (Theory of Knowledge) class. The director of the event asks teachers throughout the school to prepare a twenty minute session, where we are asked to talk to the kids about our religious beliefs and then have a short Q&A.

I have participated in this event every years since I started UWCSEA, so today was no different. I spent first block talking to three groups of grade elevens about atheism with a dash of Zen Buddhism. I love that our school trusts its teachers and is open-minded enough to let us share what can sometimes be controversial or taboo topics. If we hope to close the gaps between people from different cultures, we need to be able to speak openly and critically about our religious beliefs.

They say you shouldn’t discuss politics or religion, but I disagree; politics and religion might be the most important things that we talk about.

Like I said I have spoken to kids for four years, so I have a bit of a formula. This year was a bit different, because for the last three years, I didn’t know any of the kids I was speaking to, as I teach grade 8, but this year the the grade elevens I was speaking to were the first group of kids I taught in grade 8 a few years ago. It was cool and unnerving to see them all grown up and listening to me talk about something so personal.

I could write a verbatim draft of the speech I usually give, but honestly I am spent. I ran 11.7km tonight (The longest I have ever run) and I wrote a quick 1000 word scene in the novel. I am ready to just veg out and stare at the ceiling, so I will give you highlights and a general outline of the material I covered.

I start with Iran and 1979.I talk about my bitterness and anger at religion for “ruining” the country of my birth. After a brief history of the Islamic Revolution and the destruction of Iranian society in the 80’s, I mention how long I had a chip on my shoulder. I talk about the mistrust of religion that was planted in my childhood from the traumatic experience of being exiled from Iran.

I go on to say that as I got older, I began to make sense of dogma and religion to find out how people could be so fervent about it. I told them how, after trying to read The Bible, I felt that I fundamentally had opposing views of the Old Testament.

A male god creating a world for the special people he created in his imagine to hold dominion over the planet. This not does not mesh with my values as an environmentalism. I discussed how the idea of Eve as a part of Adam and the cause of the downfall of the garden doesn’t mesh with my feminist politics. In short, it feels like the fundamental ideas presented in those early stories are very different to how I see our role in the world.

I mentioned my introduction to the Green Gulch Zen Center and how I used to listen to lectures while I was in High School. My parents would drag me there on Sundays- I thought here is a philosophy I could get behind. I don’t see Zen as a religion, but as a way of life. A practice of values:

No attachments.
Compassion and kindness for all beings.
We do not exist outside of all beings. There is no self.

I talked about how I prefer questions to answers and how Zen allows me to explore my world on my own terms and from within myself. I mentioned how I love the teachings of Jesus, but I really see him as more of a Buddhist and that the church has moved so far away from his teachings that I can’t respect it these days.

They asked questions. I tried to answer. I mentioned that “I don’t know,” is my favorite answer when asked questions about the universe and that the answer I don’t know is better than being sure of answers that might actually be folklore and myths.

I packed a lot in 20 minutes. Maybe someday I will record it. All I know is that I really enjoy talking to young people about these kinds of things. And I look forward to participating every year. Cathy​ was there, I am curious what she thought of my talk.

They arrested those dudes in Oregon and apparently shot one of them and Trump is boycotting the 87th Republican debate. My response to both news bites is a big fat SO.

I now have over 6000 twitter followers, but the space feels empty and quiet. A sort of one way megaphone of random whispers, echoes, and shouting into the void, where few people ever respond. Maybe when everyone has an outlet to speak and share their every thought, we all just try to avoid the noise. Having said that, I am looking forward to my 66,666 tweet.

Lessons Learned:

  • Talking to young people about a variety of religions is good for them and for the speaker. 
  • When you’re tired the lame news matters less. 
  • Twitter is getting boring. 

  1. What material would you cover in your religion talk to grade 11s? 
  2. What news made you think…hmmmm. so. 
  3. What are your thoughts on social media these days? 

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