Reflections from Team Fink’s pilgrimage to the Protestant Church.
Going to the Protestant church I already knew what to expect. There was nothing there that was going to surprise me or make me feel uncomfortable. But as Pastor Peter was talking I felt as if I had never learned of Christianity before. My mind drew blank and I learned about it as if I have never heard the word Jesus before. He answered all questions in away that I wouldn’t have thought of. Pastor Peter talked about perspective with all questions. That’s something I loved, that he would put perspective into every and all question.
God exposes you to Him if you are in the absence of light. Also God talks to people in different ways. We think God doesn’t answer our prayers, but really we don’t open our eyes to realize our answer right in front of us. All of our answers look different, and our relationship with the trinity looks special and different than anyone else. With the unique relationship I have with God, I’m realizing he is making me more new in every way. I loved going to the Protestant Church and learning more about the love of God.
Going to the church has helped me understand my own religion better. One thing pastor Peter said was “In order to fall in love with Jesus we have to experience the bad.” ~ Peter this reminded me of the saying we must experience the rain before we can see the rainbow. I think God puts trials in our life so we can resort back to God when we need a hand. One of the questions I asked was who is God at the core? Peter replied God is Jesus. I found this interesting because at the Catholic church the man said God is love. Peter said love can be used in wrong terms. So he said God is Jesus. Also one thing I thought was cool that he said was Gods wrath is Gods love. When God is mad it is because he loves us and cares for us.
Overall this trip has impacted my life greatly and has taught me to trust God in the darkness.
God is the groom, God is the light, God is our daddy, God is the consuming fire. I walk and so often I trip on the shadow Satan has cast on my path, I fall in love with this shadow because it hides me from the things I can’t see. I become dark like the shadow and it feels good because I’m scared of what the Light might expose. With each fearful thought a piece of my flesh falls from my body and is plastered to the shadow. The shadow takes form. This creation I am making from the shadow says we are friends, yet I am a slave to it. My flesh keeps falling off. This creation becomes bigger and gives me orders and calls them deals, but I never benefit. Pieces of my flesh keep falling. This evil creation I make deceives me and I become evil too. My flesh is gone. Now I am ugly and broken and I ask the shadow that I made into a monster if it would help me. It leaves. I am left with no hope, I am dark and I crave the Light. I want the Light and I know the Light exists. I search and search. Soon I grow tired and go sit against a wall. I look up and a cloth is on the wall. “Tear the cloth.” Light speaks to me. I grab the cloth and rip it in half and light seeps through. I am covered in the Light. It scorches me and I cry. Why would Light do this to me, it must hate me, but I don’t realize Light actually loves me. Light is a consuming fire. My skinned body is burned to ash, and I become made new. I am in love with the Light. The Light then holds me and I know it will never let me down, because the Light is my Daddy; even when I stray from Him, He will never stop loving me. The soulless creature I have made dies. It no longer has my skin, because I have been reborn.
The church was a refreshing place. At the church today I realized how often I slip into the shadow of evil. “With fear you put flesh on the evil one.” (Peter). Satans biggest weapon is fear. I constantly fear the unknown and it makes Satan stronger. Satan drowns us in darkness and we easily forget God can give us a breathe of Light. There is always light in the darkness, even if we can’t see it. “In order to fall in love with good, we have to experience evil.” (Peter). Without darkness we would not celebrate the Light. God gives us trials, to rejoice in His greatness. Peter talked about how first we have to want God, then we have to search for him, and God will let us find Him. We are the brides to God and it is the most beautiful marriage ever. Some religions believe God is not like a dad or does not want to help us if we don’t seek Him, but God is truly our father and His presence is constantly by our sides. God is the groom, He is the light, He is our father, God is the consuming, and God makes us new.
We reject God but He still love us anyway. We push Him aside because we don’t have time for Him, but He still loves and strives for us. We act like strangers and have a disguise over ourselves so we can hide from Him, but the disguise is like glass, and He can see through it. God is always with us “we aren’t a number on a waiting list.”(Peter). Even if we are in a really bad situation, in the end I believe that “You make beautiful things out of the dust, You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us.” (Beautiful things). He has a purpose for everything so in that bad situation something good will come out of it, but it might take some time. God will re-sculpt us and those ashes that we were once, will one day convert us to become pure, because that’s how much He loves us.
God is the river that gushes into our soul. The water of Gods river is sweet because of the flavor of love and grace He has put into it. This Spirit does everything out of love even if we forget sometimes. The Divine has the power in which He can eternally torture Adam, yet He chooses not to because he is good, and good always conquers. God is the almighty, yet He does not use this power to torture humanity, but He uses it to bind us with Him out of this unbreakable love. (Pastor Peter). The Lord is the river of love that is open for us to swim amongst its waters, yet we choose to create our own river.
The river we have created is bitter and salty because we have dumped sins and lies into it. One of the lies is that we are sin at the core and because of this lie we try to justify our wrong doings. God destroys this lie we believe about ourselves. God destroys this lie and purifies our murky waters out of His love and embracing us in His wrath. (Pastor Peter). The Lord destroys this lie in each person differently just like He communicates to others in different forms.
The Divine comes in different ways so we may spread the Gospel according to what He has taught us as individuals. (Pastor Peter). Sometimes we see the Spirit and sometimes we don’t, but God is always there even if we can’t hear Him. When our ears become numb to what God tries to tell us we feel as if He has become absent from our lives. In these moments when the Lord doesn’t seem transparent we feel consumed by darkness.
In this darkness it is easier to see the light that shines. (Pastor Peter). Light is always around us, but in the darkness light becomes easier to appreciate and notice. God is always around us channeling His river of love into our everyday lives, but if we don’t experience darkness we can not appreciate this river He has made for us.
God immerses us in His river everyday. We must allow Him to filter out our dirty lies and sins. We shall rejoice in the darkness as much as we do the light, and most of all we must recognize He is always with us even if we do not see Him right in front of our faces.
My hand closes around a small metal key. Although I sit in the darkness, I can feel the key gleaming in my hand. This is my way out. This is what I have been waiting for my whole life. I start crawling until I slam into the wall. My hands start working their way up the wall until they find the little keyhole that I discovered months ago. I reach into my pocket and grasp the little key. I shove the little key in the slit. I twist it and turn it but nothing happens. I must have been sitting on the cold floor twisting the key for hours, but how would I know? I haven’t exposed to time for years. Finally, I hear a little click. I hold my breath and wait. The dark cold walls of my dungeon fall, and the light blinds me. “The worst thing that can happen if you believe that you are darkness, and God exposes you to light.” (Pastor Peter). I scream. It has been so long since I had last seen light that I forgot what it even looked like. I forgot how wonderful and warm it was. I looked down at my bruised hands and dirty clothes, and wondered how long I had let the Evil one tempt me into despair and darkness. I remember my father. I remember his last words to me. So I ran. I ran right into the room where I last left him, and there he was. Sitting on his throne gazing down with his beautiful eyes that I almost had forgot that could light up the world. He sat there with his arms wide open and a big smile on the face. “I knew you would come back, there wasn’t a moment that I ever doubted you.” Then I started crying. I started crying because I knew I couldn’t say the same. Because I knew that I had doubted. He read my thoughts, and pulled me into one of his loving and strong hugs, that I had so dearly missed and said, “I love you.”
My experience with the Hindu and Buddhist temples was good. All of the people we met showed great hospitality and shared amazing wisdom, and we can learn a lot from what they believe. From Buddhists, we can learn to persevere through the hardships of life. As the Buddha himself allegedly said, “Life is suffering”, and is believed to have risen above suffering and attained nirvana. Even if we may not believe this to be true, we can still learn perseverance, no matter what struggles we may face in our lives.
Now let’s see what Hindus bring to the table. At the Hindu temple, Ananda said that God’s forgiveness is greater than His justice, which goes to show that just as Christians believe that God is merciful, Hindus do too. We can also learn to be more loving and devoted to our God like Hindus do. When they give offerings to God, the point is not that God takes the offering, but rather accepts their love and devotion to Him. We struggle with that a lot, considering the temptations of this world.
The things I mentioned are few of many lessons to be learned from these people, but nonetheless important. –Jackson
Going a second time to the Hindu and Buddhist temple has given me a new perspective. Buddhism is such a unique religion. After going a second time I still don’t fully understand it. One of my favorite concepts of this religion is “to live a simple but fulfilled life.” (Diana) I feel that sometimes my life is to crowded. I can’t live a fulfilled life. Another one of my favorite concepts is the lotus flower. It grows in dirt but comes out beautiful. We are all broken in some way but when we become enlightened we are glued back together. One thing I learned was that we all have differences but instead of looking at the flaws we should honor our differences. Hinduism is a fascinating religion. I learned that Hinduism revolves around hidden service and putting other before your self. “The nature of the sole is to serve.” (Tushta) We should not serve in a boastful way. We should serve in a hidden way. I learned that when we serve it should be un motivated and we get more out of it if we give rather than take. Overall this was an incredible religious pilgrimage and I am so sad this is my last time. — Alli
I live in a world of glass. It’s a world where reality lays just beyond the bend. It’s a world where sometimes I can feel like I can reach out and grasp God, but then that barrier of glass reality slaps me in the face. I realize how far I really am from grasping God. “No one is perfect.”(Diana Thompson). I may know that deep down in my heart that I am no where close to God, but I still reach out my hand to try and touch him. I realize that my world of glass is as clear as me. It is as blind and lost as me. When ever I get slap in the face with reality, God always lifts me up and tells me try again. Whether it is through yoga, enlightenment, or wishful thinking, he will always lift me back up. Right as I am about to give up and escape my world of glass to enter into hell, I remember. I remember how God is always there. I remember that with the remembrance of God there can never be hell. I remember that God will always lift me up and tell me to try again. So I try. I try with the little speck of energy that I have left to reach God. This time, instead of reaching out to try and grasp him, I close my eyes and fall. I fall right through the glass barriers into Gods waiting arms, and hear him say, “All you had to do was close your eyes and trust me.” –Mak
Looking back on my experience going to the Buddhist and Hindu temple was really cool for me because I got to change my perspective even more on religion. What I could contribute to my life from the Buddhist temple was to be more enlightened with me and others. I also really like what Diana said about karma. If you do something good or bad it will come back to you, but if you spread happiness it will lead and chain reaction to others. (Diana). In the Hindu temple I felt peace and comfort through the song that Tushta and Ananda sang and what we were discussing. My favorite quote from the day was, “Every word is a song and every step is a dance” (Tushta). What that meant to me was that everything we do is either worshiping God or going against him. Our body can be good and bad depending on our mind and actions. I really enjoyed going to the Buddhist and Hindu temple and stepping out of my comfort zone. –Charleigh
Look to find peace through different perspectives. “People see things in different ways.”(Diana Thompson). Everyone is not always going to agree on the same thing. God made us to think differently but unique. In the Buddhism religion there are three different kinds of peace, finding peace within, finding peace with our peers and finding peace with nature. Discovering those three different kinds of peace looks different to everyone. In my opinion If you discover the three peace’s that will make God easier to find and to talk to, because you’re not in a rush to find peace. This also reminds me of the Buddhist symbol because Diana said the wheel also represents that everyone has their own path and none of the paths were the same. Looking through different perspectives matter. –Maddie
We need to be true servants. “True happiness is service.” (Tushta. When we are true servants we are happy. Hidden service is the best kind of service. Another thing that stood out to me was when Anada talked about how if we had a bracelet we can see all the beads, but the thing that is holding it together is the string. God is the string. God works in our life in so many different ways maybe it’s through others or scripture, but God talks to us through something. He can also show Himself through perspectives. I felt like I could feel God in the Hindu temple. It is cool to learn more about these religions and get a new perspective on it. –Lauren
There is lotus flowers in the muck, and a thread that holds together a pearl bracelet. We are constantly under the muck, in the rubble of destruction. We are stuck there with everyone else. Our brains break down, instead of our hearts breaking free, but beauty still lives inside us. We have to unleash the beauty and become the one flower that blooms through brokenness and the lotus that perfectly settles in the midst of muck. When we become this beauty we inspire others to sprout as well. Everything is connected. “Karma is considering what you do because you effect others.” (Dianna, Buddhist teacher). Karma is always happening because our actions are constantly impacting others. We are all pearls on a bracelet, all connected by a thread. “We might not see the thread but the thread is needed. The thread is God.” (Ananda, Hindu teacher). At the temples today I realized that Buddhism doesn’t really have much structure. Buddhism believes everything is connected, but it’s as if the Buddhist people don’t see the thread that holds us together. The tread which is God. There are many great practices in Buddhism like the eight-fold path, which teaches doing right and being aware, yet there was an absence of structure and faith. Dianna seemed open to almost any beliefs, but she didn’t appear to have her own. On the other hand, at the Hindu temple I really could see they believed in a greater being. The Hindu people believe in Krishna, the thread of all. “Every word is a song and every step is a dance.” (Tushta, Hindu Teacher). The Hindu religion was constantly singing, listening, and dancing for God. Devotion and surrender were two words that were brought up. God constantly sculpts us, but we have to allow Him. We must surrender and meditate in devotion. When we serve we are dancing and singing. Service is a huge part of what Tushta taught us. “A person who is in a giving mood feels much more fulfillment.” (Tushta). Especially in the world today we are told fulfillment comes through materialistic items, but when we serve others the fulfillment we feel is much deeper than then our torn skin, we fill the void within us. Overall, these trips today are an eye opening experience and pull me closer to God in an abundance of ways. I feel inspired to be the beauty when there is brokenness and to thank and celebrate the Thread that holds all creation together. — Megan
This experience at the Buddhist temple fed the lotus flower that is starting to bloom within my spirit. We are all stuck in the muck, but we all have the potential to blossom into to be beautiful and pristine like the lotus flower. (Diana Thomson). We must recognize the inner beauty each one of us has before we can go on and place it amongst the universe. One of the ways we can portray this beauty amongst the world is by being aware that our every action has an affect somewhere else. “Everything we do here and now has an affect somewhere else.”(Diana Thomson). Everything is interconnected; therefore what we do impacts the world around us. We have control over what we spit out into the universe whether it be good or bad. We choose to nourish the world with good actions or break it with our selfish and over attached ways.
What we do whether it be good or bad tends to come back to us. We must be cautious of what we place in society because not only will it come back to us, but it will either hurt or encourage others. “Its not what you get back, but rather how it affects others.”(Diana Thomson). Sometimes we will fail at inducing love and joy within others, but even if there are unintended consequences we must prevail.
I appreciated when Diana Thomson was talking about how service is in fact extremely important in our daily lives. I was inspired by the offerings the Buddhists would offer to the Buddha because it showed their humility and the importance to give before you yourself takes. (Diana Thomson). This experience fed my inner lotus flower with the importance of service, inner beauty, our actions, and most importantly that everything is interconnected.
There is a supreme Divine in this world and this Divine is the reservoir of all beauty. This experience opened my eyes once more that Hinduism is a similar reflection to my own view of God. God is like the thread that strings underneath every pearl attached to it. At first you may not see the thread, but it is there and holds everything together. (Ananda). Together both the pearls and the thread create a beautiful piece of art. God holds all of us together sculpting a masterpiece in the end. It takes time to sculpt a masterpiece out of muck, but first we must find the yolk between us and the Lord. We must connect with God. When we connect with the Lord we will understand how truly magnificent the Divine is. We often confine God to a certain race or religion, but God has no limits. God has no limits, he is just God. (Tushta). Humans limit themselves of what we can and can’t do. We accept the idea of serving, yet we never take action because of the borders we set for ourselves. I loved how both Tushta and Ananda were talking about the importance of serving others. Serving others satisfies our hunger for purpose and also is what we are called to do. If a person is giving they feel fulfilled. (Tushta). When we love God and recognize God loves us we will extend that love throughout the universe, feel fulfilled, and help others feel fulfilled as well. I also appreciated the perspective Ananda took on hell. Hell is just the act of forgetting God.(Ananda). When we forget God we are not fulfilled and our hunger for beauty is not quenched. We must always look towards God and see the thread underneath even in hardships because the Divine is the reservoir for all beauty and beauty prevails. — Macie
Team Fink has visited and served at the Denver Rescue Mission over the years. Yesterday, some of the gentlemen from the Denver Rescue Mission visited and served us at Anastasis. It was a pretty incredible day! Student reflections below. Thank you for sharing your journey with us!
Before you see the beauty in the world you have to appreciate the brokenness. You have to find the light in the dark. You can only find the beauty if you persevere through the hardships. Life is hard, but God is good. Beauty is in a smile that lights up the world. Beauty is in a act of kindness that changes a life. Beauty is in a story that changes our definition of hope. The stories that I heard today really opened my blind eyes. The stories made me want to live my life to the fullest and be purposeful with everything I do. Now I have a motive to serve instead of being served. Now I am aware of the world. Now I can look at the world through open and curious eyes.
We all have a story that needs to be told, a story that only our journey in life can write. Our souls are hungry for someone to listen and read our story. Today I was blessed with listening to these stories. Each and everyone of them impacted me in some way, and that is a feeling I will never forget. Their story all had a common theme, they all said that God was there even when they hit their hard times. Except they chose to look and not really see. We can try so hard to look for God, but we can miss him because we are distracted by others circumstances. Circumstances that God has put in our life to test us of our faith. That’s what I struggle with. I struggle to find the beauty in the hard times, but I believe that’s when we truly look and see God. It’s the beauty in brokenness that our souls and minds long for. We just have to choose to see the beauty instead of the broken. We all have a story that needs to be told, a story that only our journey in life can write. — Angelina
Thank you so much, you guys all told me to get right back up when sin happens and you guys all felt beauty in brokenness. I learned so many new lessons that you can only Learn from experience. Experience is walking through the valley of shadow and death and staying strong with God.
I thank Torris, Todd, Bill, Johnathan, Seth, Bill, and Fish for coming to share their testimonies with us. My biggest take away was you can find God in the valley of the shadow of death, you can find God in brokenness. God is always in front of us, but never do we actually open our eyes to see him. Their testimonies kept reminding me of my uncle who was homeless and how he kept pushing God away. I don’t know if he died a Christian, but I still pray that he is watching over my mom and encouraging her and I to be better Christians. I feel like my uncle was trying to talk to me through the guys from Denver Rescue Mission. I felt peace. I felt encouragement to listen to God more and trust him. Thank you for your stories Fish, Seth, Johnathan, Todd, Bill and Torris. Thank you. –Charleigh
A blessing for you, and a blessing for us. A blessing for you to tell, who you are. Giving our class. Hope. Showing the similarities and differences between just two humans. Each story ends up in the same path, it’s just that there are different paths. You chose there, he chose here, and he went there. We will agree on the same path, some we will not. All in all, we end up in the same path. If you could analyze your story in one word, what would it be? You have effected my story, with choosing some paths, and some different paths. — Jack
The empowerment of their testimonies was thriving. The men from Denver Rescue Mission, Torres, Seth, Todd, Bill, Fish, and Jonathan, told us their story’s. They talked about their struggles up to the rescue from God and denver rescue mission. It was amazing to hear and learn from them and about them. They talked about how they misused drugs and explained how there is always light in the valley of the shadow of death. They always had God but sometimes they forgot about him. There faith is stronger than ever now because they were broken and their finding the beauty. They are so vulnerable to tell their story’s. I’m inspired to transform my faith to be stronger. I need to learn to be more vulnerable. Over all I want to take more time to think. Thank you to Torres, Seth, Todd, Bill, Fish, and Jonathan. Your stories are all each individually different and amazing. –Noelle
Thank you all so much for coming to our school. I loved each of your unique stories and how you found God at the end of each dark tunnel. Every one of you has inspired me to be more like Christ and share that with others. Sometimes I struggle to find God in hard times. Your stories have inspired me to look for God in hard times. I appriciate all of you being so vulnerable and sharing your inspiring stories. Life is like a roller coster there are highs and lows but at the end of the ride each of you reunited with God. Thank you all again for coming! –Alli
Thank you all for being brave and sharing your stories! That really impacted my life in many ways. I learned so much about life just from hearing those stories. I understand that life is like a roller coaster, there will be uphills and downhills, but God is always there to help guide us to the right path. I really liked when someone said “We found Jesus but we just had to open our eyes.” I feel like when we are connected with God our eyes are opened for the first time. I can relate to one of you, but not on a deeper level. I’m adopted from China when I was a baby and I never knew my real parents or family. Thank you all again for sharing your stories it was very inspirational! –Maddie
There is beauty in pain and trials all we have to do is look for it and let it find us. Many of you explained to us that evil will try to deceive you in many ways. Evil may seem lovable, but it is just a trick to stray from Gods path he has planned for us. The valley of shadow and death portrays itself as an escape of the struggle and pain we have in life, but beauty does not lie in this place. Beauty can be found through enduring this shadow of death, but we can not find beauty in this place because God will always be with us. No matter what, God will be with us no matter what path we walk upon. “God always is in your life whether you see him or not.” Each an every one of their story left a stamp on my heart that will be carried with me throughout my whole life. Each one their stories had a common thread which portrayed that God reveals himself even in the brokenness. Even though life throws mountains and rivers for us to cross, we endure them because our souls have a hunger to find beauty. God is the Beauty that we find in the brokenness and we must mold our eyes to accept and see Him even when evil throws a new lense over our eyes. There is beauty in pain and hardships, but if we let God find us and we strive to find Him we will be renewed. –Macie
Everybody has a story. Today Toris, Bill, Tod, Fish, Jonathan and Seth told us their stories. These men encouraged me to have a story and to trust God. Something that stood out to me was all of them came to God in their brokenness. We need to stay on our path with God and not drift off to bad things. We will probably never know what they felt like because we have loving families. We take so much for granted but we don’t relize what we really have. –Lauren
Hearing one story can inspire thousands and through brokenness there is truly beauty. Fish, Torres, Jonathan, Tod, Seth, and Bill were such amazing people and definitely a huge impact in my life. Jesus works in ways we can never imagine. He has a plan even when we are in the valleys of the shadow of death He is constantly beside us. The vulnerability to share their hardest times was so powerful. We are blinded to see what others gifts are because all we look at is the surface. We choose to view the bad, when really there is so much more good. There was horrible moments these men had to face, yet they found God in the darkness and have been made new, redeemed. I have moments when i’m doubting, I am constantly sinning because I am a sinner, I walk in the valleys of death once in a while, but God always appears in my life. Hearing the stories today showed me the power of our Lord. God is walking with us every moment and when we can’t see His footprints it’s because we are in His arms. –Megan S
Last week Team Fink began their Religious Pilgrimage around Denver. The first two stops were a Synagogue and Mosque. Below are the student’s reflections.
This religious pilgrimage has opened my eyes again on how different religions can teach us so much about our own. Going a second time has helped me go even deeper with each religion. Returning a second time has made me much more curious and has left me wanting to learn more. Each religion was unique and different in their own way but also each religion had much in common. Judaism is such an interesting religion. When we left the Synagogue I walked out with more questions then when I came in. I learned a lot from the prayer shawls to the Torah. I liked that they have 613 laws to keep them on the right path with God and to keep them away from distractions. Even though I didn’t get to see Judaism being practiced it was cool to be in a different place and get rid of the mindset that my religion is right. The Islam faith is fascinating. I walked out knowing a lot more about the religion. I learned that in Islam the key is to “think good, speak good, and do good.”( Shafi) This was a concept that we have to put our kind hearts into action. It was incredible that the Imam kept quoting the Bible. This showed me how much he has studied other religions to make his religion stronger. I also learned that the Quran is guidance from God. One of my main highlights of this trip was watching the call for prayer. It was so humbling to me watching them put there heads to the ground and submitting to God. I could do a better job of this and putting the word submit into action. Overall this trip was incredible and has re opened my eyes. –Alli
Religions.There are so many different religions in the world that can all connect and contradict with each other. “We usually judge people’s religions because we are blinded without even knowing.”(Megan S.). We follow the patterns of the world and by doing that, the patterns become a tradition. How can we break that tradition? Well, learning about other religions help us uncover the stories, connections, myths and the truths people have. We need to be open minded to what others have to say about their religion, even if we don’t agree. You can’t just judge a religion without even knowing what it is and why you’re judging it. “In EVERY religion we constantly are judging the other religion.” (Imam Shafi). This has become a problem because some innocent people are getting hurt. To fix this problem it’s going to take a change of heart and you’ll have to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) Everyone’s religion needs a little improvement and that starts with me and my religion. –Maddie
Misconceptions grasp my eyes and mind, contorting my love into fear. A tree stands; its trunk is solid and full of maple, it’s leaves are rich reds, popping oranges, and gentle yellows, the trunks reach towards the sky in praise to God, the fruit it bares is the freshest, most nourishing, and flavorful. It stands the perfect height and is home to many animals. The tree is the most amazing tree, the most beautiful, but I don’t look at the tree. I sit in the sun and look where the world has directed my eyes, the monstrous, dark shadow reaches toward me; it is a fractured, twisting mob of blackness. The shadow bares no fruit, the shadow doesn’t reach to the sky, the shadow is not home to any animals, except me. The shadow is ugly and small, so I cut down the tree. I walk to a tree that man has planted and the shadow is dancing and big. It looks beautiful, but what I don’t realize is the tree is plastic, the fruit is fake, the leaves are not real. “Character is like a tree and reputation is like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” (Abraham Lincoln).
After going on a religious pilgrimage for my third time, I still struggle in letting the misconceptions be true in my mind, I continue to conformed into what the world tells me, but going on this journey, my perspective has changed and reminded me that the world tends to speak lies. This journey is important, because in the journey my eyes have lifted up from the shadow, to see the actual tree. “In every faith there are evil people, who hijack the religion, and take the teachings our of context.” (Shaffi). There is always going to be someone evil, but we can’t just see that one person as the whole. In the synagogue and mosque, I actually felt serenity and love. It is possible to be open-minded and not lack awareness and that is what we should do. People like to create fear, but so many people also want peace. The Imam ‘Shaffi’ and Rabbi ‘Neil’ were both amazing people and people of peace. “It is about the journey, not so much the destination.” (Neil). I’m glad I got to participate in this journey, even if I never land at a destination. “We learn things everyday, even when we are old we never cease to learn.” (Rodger). Everyday we constantly learn and expand not only our minds, but our hearts. “There can be four answers: I’m right and you are wrong, I’m wrong and you are right, we are both wrong, or we are both right. Usually it is the fourth one.” (Neil). We thirst to prove others wrong, but what if we were both right?
The thing I see missing from both religions is that Jesus is the son of God, and the unconditional love and forgiveness God has gifted us. These missing pieces are essential to the puzzle of God. They are important because we are all sinners in this world and we need forgiveness, we need a savior, which God gave us Jesus; also why should we have hope, faith, joy if our Creator doesn’t love us? That’s not how it should be and that is not how it is, God loves us even though we constantly are disobeying Him, His love endures forever. There are some pieces of God that other religions fully believe in, but these ones seem to complete the concept of God. This journey is sometimes confusing, but it is good for the soul. In many ways learning about other religions, pulls me closer to God and makes me strong in my faith. I’ve been able to look from the ugly shadows, and view the beautiful trees. –Megan
Seeing other religions, which are not our own, is what true beauty is. It’s seeing the perspective of the Lord and learning instead of judging. That’s what the world is, a bunch of individual people and religions that make up the Earth. It’s just like how the moon needs the dark of the night to glow; or how the land needs the water to live and keep its beauty. That’s what we are all missing, that we all connected. We all play a part in this world, but society has blinded us and taped our mouths shut from seeing and speaking the truth. We need to be the ones who rip the pieces of tape off of our mouth and spread the word. Spread the word of love and joy and tell everyone that it doesn’t matter what religion you believe in, what country you’re in, the color of your skin, or your political status. The Bible calls for us to love one another, not compare one another. We all were made to be the moon to the dark and the water to the earth.
“We need to take advantage of diversity” (Imam). Our country is full of diversity, but we spend so much time creating bad thoughts that there is no room for good thoughts. It fills our brains with false assumptions that aren’t true. Learn about different people and religions, because it is more beautiful that way. What broke down my assumptions was the fact that the Muslims, when they pray, put their heads to the ground. The Muslims feel sinful and unworthy of the Lord, which is why they are on their hands and knees. I pray with my feet up on the couch with my phone in my hand and my eyes pointed at the ceiling. It makes me feel more unworthy than anyone. I pray and go to church when it’s convenient and say that I am a true Christian. I should be going to the church every second of every day because of my sinful nature. That’s why it’s important to experience other beliefs, because you can learn more about your religion through someone else’s. –Angelina
God does so much for us, while we do so little for Him. God says to love your neighbor, beyond the color of their skin, their religion, and their appearance. How often do we truly love our neighbor? It is hard to genuinely love your neighbor without knowing them. Now the question really changes, how often do we allow ourselves to become open to the delight of loving others? In life, we struggle opening ourselves fully to the idea of being vulnerable. We can try by being transparent with God and find the comfort to do so. “The purpose of soul questions is to open yourself deeper and deeper until all that is left is the power and beauty you are bringing to the lives of others.” (Gary Zukav) Before changing the world you have to change yourself. By that we can learn from other people and other religions. I have more questions about my faith now then I did before going to the Mosque and the Jewish pilgrimage. Learning about other religions made me realize how big God really is. God loves us all even if we sin or do bad things. I opened my eyes more to living for God. There is only one God we should live for. We mostly talk from our minds and not our hearts. “You have to believe in your heart and say better with your tongue.” (Imam Shafi) I had blindly made my faith stronger, my love more compassionate, and my heart a little more clean by experiencing God through the wonders of others. –Charleigh
Here in America there has been a picture that has been painted for us. It was painted by our parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and founding fathers. The painting clearly states that America rules the world and that Christianity is the only religion that is true. That picture is tradition that needs to be changed. There needs to be a new picture painted. A picture of the world through a big and new lens. A picture that paints the idea that it is ok to have different views and Interpretations from your neighbor. That it is ok that Muslims call God “Allah”. That Jews believe that Jesus is a prophet, when Christianity believes differently. “Sometimes our similarities are our differences.” (Megan Suedkamp). Today it really came to my attention that most religions believe in one God like Christianity does. “Either I can be right and your friend can be wrong, your friend can be right and I can be wrong, we both can be wrong, or we both can be right.” (Rabbi Neil). Before today I really didn’t understand how similar most religions are to each other, and that just because you hear one thing doesn’t mean that it is right or wrong. Many different people can be right. It is all just interpretation and comprehension. I also had the idea put in my head that Christianity is the only right religion. Now I am understanding that I need to look from the oil on my spoon and not be too quick to assume. For assumption leads you down a path of hatred and lies. I am a servant, but heavens don’t act like one. I am a child, but heavens I am not a good one. I am a Christian, but really do I love like one? –Makayla
Black Hills Reflections:
I could reach the skies, feel the wind, see the beauty not only in the nature but in the friendship I’ve been blessed to receive, Mt. Baldy was a phenomenal destination. As I reached the top, the wind wrestled with me, yet the solid, sandpapered rock held me strong and kept me safe. I looked around and my eyes adjusted, I saw the hills, the rocks, the dirt, the trees, and the horizon that awaited much more. My crouched body made way a couple of steps; my eyes went along. There was clouds and skies that touched the heavens, but there was even more. Faces. Each face entered my mind, followed with thousands of stories. Peace. Every breath I took my lungs would fill with peace and let go of the stress that it held. Freedom. I was free, I felt alive. I no longer worried about, “I need to Instagram this!” because I knew any photo I took would never be as crisp as the memory in my mind. Any photo I took, would not come along with the smell of the fresh air, the pine trees, and the sweat shed while climbing the mountain. Photos couldn’t capture the warmth of love or the comforting trust that settled within the air. We were on top of the world; without my friends I wouldn’t have been there. I knew any person I reached to they would give me a hand and help me to the top. “It’s easier to go down a hill than up it, but the view is much better at the top.” (Henry Ward Beecher). This year there was times I climbed down, yet my friends always pulled me up to the magnificent view. Creation is not just the mountains or oceans, but it’s the people too. It was possibly my last trip with some of them, maybe even last van ride, but forever I will remember being with my best friends on the top of Mt. Baldy. Trust, love, peace, laughter. Beautiful creation.
“Ride of Pride ”
“I see a time of seven generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred tree of life and the whole earth will become one circle again.” – Crazy Horse. Anyone can hear about ones effort to change the world, but when you see the imprint they left with your own two eyes it unlocks a whole new perspective. Crazy Horse was a man who fought against the whites with pride and encouraged his people to never give up. People compete to see who can have the highest tower and don’t even think about why they are building it. The Native Americans knew why they wanted to build this memorial. The Native Americans thrived for building this monument because they wanted to provide strength and pride to their people and show the rest of the world that Native Americans are just capable as any white person on earth. You may believe that you must get to the finish line first, but what you don’t realize is your only competitor is yourself. “Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?” (Jeremiah 2:25). This relates to me because I run so fast in life only keeping my eyes pressed against the banner that says finish. Along the way I miss everything else around me and when I think I have reached the finish line in reality my destination just keeps moving farther away. Just observing the monument taught me that the journey matters more than the destination. The Native Americans do not care when the monument will be finished, but they care about what comes along the way. I observed that the builders were focused mainly on the appearance of the statues size and compared it to the size of Mount Rushmore. The size of what you are trying to leave behind doesn’t matter, it’s the impact you are leaving. I heard stories of Crazy Horse and what he was like, but I was clueless until I was in the presence of the legacy itself.
“Fun Size Devils Tower”
As I keep searching for God in my journey Fink takes us to the Black Hills. I was excited to be hiking Mini Devils Tower. The first hike that we went to was the biggest hike we went on and also my favorite hike. Jack, JP, Ricky, and I leave the class and run up Mini Devils Tower. As we get up to the top the rest of the class starts to come. Jack and I break off. Ricky and JP go to play Mafia with the rest of the class. I see Jack dangling his feet over this cliff and I go and do the same. We lay back on the crystal rock and talk about life in general. Now that I am reading this I begin to know how dumb it was because here we are my best friend and I sitting on Gods creation but still talking about “noise, crowds, hurry,”-(Foster) and drama. Then I closed my eyes, I pray that this end of the year will be great. There is a tense breeze that suffocates my breath and the sun comes out of the clouds. I say ,God, thank you, at that moment I have just a glimpse on how my journey plays out.
“Leap of Faith”
Cliff jumping in my definition is the leap of faith. Cliff jumping in the Black Hills was an unforgettable experience. When you see the rock when you drive up to it looks like two feet off the ground. As you climb up the rock, you begin to feel your heart beating faster and faster the higher you go. You finally get up on the top of the rock, you look down then quickly grab onto something because you think it is so high. One person after the other goes. Each time you hear a splash of water from someone jumping you think about how you are that much closer to making that sound yourself. It was finally my turn. Extremely slow I slither my way down to where you jump. Fink counts 3,2,1. It took me two times to finally jump. 3,2,1, I push off of the rock. You feel as if you are floating in the air. Then at the last second home girl over here does a belly flop. My head goes above the water, I gasp for air, I swim over to the rock that I jumped off of. Then I hit my chest on the rock. “Perfect timing” I thought. As I begin to catch my breath I hear people swimming over to me. Luke, Izzy, and Megan were my rescuers. Even though I was not smiling when they came I was smiling on the inside. After it all happened it made me think of how cliff jumping is just like life. You feel as if everything is going your way, but at the last second pain finds you. “For I know the plans I have for you” (Jeremiah 29:11). God will come and help you catch your breath.
“The Tower from all Angles”
The tower is an exploration, and every angle of the rock is a different sight. Say if you look at it from the front, then you went to the left front. Then you went to the right side. It’s different and it will be hard to recognize. The tower can be an exploration in anyway, maybe it’s going up and climbing on top of the tower and looking around Wyoming. Or maybe it’s looking at the rock 360 degrees and look at it from every direction. Also, maybe even going below to see what’s below the rock and see how it was brought to the surface. What would that monument be if the rock never came from the surface? What would it look like to not be the first national monument? Questions about the tower are answers humans may never know. The tower is 360 degrees around the body of it, but each boulder it takes to form it is 360 degrees. The tower in general, from the big rock to the rocks that fill in the gaps, the tower will never be looked at the same way that you looked at it the first time. In a community, a day will never be the same ever again, whether you think of the year that day came, or the time that happened and what happened, nothing will be looked like from the same angle or picture again. Sure, you may look at the front of a house the same as yesterday, but you did it the next day instead of 2 days ago, of tomorrow. Another day will stay the same, but another minute will be enjoyed. It just like what Anastasis talks about, joy lasts longer than happiness, if you enjoy the moment of today or tomorrow, then that is what people like to call, joy. Then joy will not come in the same way it did yesterday or next week, happiness maybe will, but joy will never in 1 million years be the same as tomorrow. That is what makes the tower a 360 degrees, everything comes in different angles, if you enJOY the moment.
“Black Hills trip”
During our trip Mr. Fink had a surprise for us. We went to a place called flags and wheels. It was a really cool surprise. It had go karting, Laser tag, bumper cars, and batting cages. It was so much fun. What I did most of the time was go karting. It was fun to race Miss Jamie Mr. Fink and my friends. Everybody went to laser tag. I stayed and I raced the person that was running the go cart and we were able to mess around on the track. It was amazing to go to flags and wheels I had so much fun go karting.
“Wild in Spirit”
Adventure lies in nature. The most exciting piece of South Dakota was camping in the wild, unknown, forest. I look over the thundering boulders to see the swirl of colors that is the setting sun. As the sun says goodbye for the day, and the shivers of the cold wind set in, I appreciate the natural beauty of this earth. My fear of bears and unknown creatures is swept away in the midst of the natural beauty of the setting sun, fallen trees, and tweeting birds. From the laughs of my friends, to the thrill of being in the middle of nowhere, (not really, more like 2 miles from a parking lot), I enjoyed every moment. The glimmering stars of the night sky spurred my curiosity of life outside of this world, and lit the colorful, laughter-filled stories being heard and told. Although they were quite random, My stomach hurt from all the laughter. As I fell asleep, my dreams were filled with curiosity, stories, and memories created from camping in the wilderness in South Dakota. “Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity for the human spirit.” (Edward Abbey) Although I am back in suburbia, I still stay wild in spirit.
When we camped up at Mount Baldy the 8th grade boys traveled down the mountain and back bringing up pizza. We ran down the mountain, not on the trail, but on a path that we cut through the woods. It was tons of fun jumping over rocks and logs, darting between trees. When we reached the bottom we waited for Luke to show up with the van. Luke doesn’t know how to start a car. We rolled down into the small, tucked away town of Keystone and pulled up to the pizza place. While waiting for the last pizza we all got cokes. Luke doesn’t know how to hold a drink. The pizza came and we headed back to the mountain. Walking up took much longer because we weren’t running and we were carrying grub. We reached camp just before dark delivering the pizza! The thing I enjoyed most about the pizza run wasn’t the running (I’m not a runner), or the pizza (still tasty). My favorite thing about the pizza run was spending time with my teacher and friends, growing closer in relationships. Running to go get pizza sounds like a chore, but it really wasn’t, we had good conversations and we got to grill Luke’s driving skills. I got to know people better. The pizza runs were an exciting interaction I won’t soon forget. The simple things are the most memorable. I could write about big things on a grand scale such as Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and The Devils Tower. Those things are amazing, don’t get me wrong, but the simple things stand out just as much. I’ll remember times like the snipe hunt or running down a mountain and maybe tripping a time or two just as much as the things people travel cross country to see. The trips are so special because of the little things mixed with the big things, the all around memories. “It is the sweet, simple things in life which are the real ones after all” (Laura Ingalls Wilder).
“Dreaming of Rushmore”
Every year at my old school the 8th graders would take a trip to South Dakota. When they came back they would present to the whole school on their trip. Mount Rushmore was my favorite part. It just looked so magical. I would constantly daydream about going there. It was never a real thought that I was able to see the place of my dreams. After years and years of waiting, I moved schools. It actually never crossed my mind I wouldn’t see Mount Rushmore.
I tap my fingers on my desk and watch as we go through the trip to South Dakota schedule. I hide my excitement when I know we get to go to the place I have just dreamed of for at least 5 years. I attempt to explain to everyone why I’m most excited for the Mount Rushmore part, but they just nod their heads and take it as nothing. That’s when I realized maybe this was something that was just a little more meaningful to me than everyone else. I didn’t care, we were still going. Cliff jumping was our first stop before Rushmore. “Jump!” everyone called as I stand on the edge of a cliff. I totally forgot today was the day. I push my legs, close my eyes, plug my nose and jump. After a rush (pun intended) into the van Mr. Fink tells us we are changing at the camp, and we are going to Mount Rushmore. The time has finally arrived after 5 years of waiting.
“I want everyone to guess why I pulled over” Fink tells us before our stop to Rushmore. We all scramble out of the van and look around. No one seems to know why we are in the middle of a road. Some girls slowly walk forward and scream. I can’t find what their looking at. Now everyone’s screaming and I have no clue what’s going on. Megan turns my head up to the sky. My eyes stop and my mouth stretches to a smile. It’s George Washington’s head! I join the screaming and jumping before we hop into the van. It was the most surreal moment of my life. I walk into the memorial. A goal I never thought I would achieve I just did. Tears of joy were streaming down my face, and when I looked at the beautiful memorial, I never wanted to leave the place of my dreams. This was a day I will never forget.
Without this experience I don’t think I would really understand what realizing your dreams felt like. Going somewhere and doing something you have always wanted to do is the best feeling in the whole world. Every day I wish I could re-live that moment and I’m sad I’m not there. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” -Walt Disney. I am definitely taking this quote to heart after that day.
“I can’t feel my legs…”
South Dakota was such a fun trip with so many awesome activities. One of those activities was Harney Peak hike. As we were walking up I got to talk and bond with my friends. It was beautiful but it was windy. Once we got to the top I looked out over the rock and it was breath taking, I felt a sense of peace. Love is a way of connection with peace and that’s what I felt on top of Harney Peak. We took pictures and put all of our layers back on because it was really windy and cold. I had shivers running though my spine then I felt the Holy Spirit brush over me and I was calm. As we started to walk down some stone steps to get to a lookout. Our class climbed on the rocks and we sat down and over the rock were three mountain goats. As we started to hike back down I saw prayer flags. Prayer flags are what the natives put on trees for symbolism. Over all I thought Harney Peak was so beautiful and I loved the experience.
“Faith, trust, and pixie dust”
This Black Hills trip was by far one of the best trips. On this trip there were so many highlights that I will always remember. My biggest highlight was rock climbing. I had never really done rock climbing before so it was fun to work my way to the top of the mountain and then to trust my classmates to keep me alive as I worked my way back down. As I was climbing the mountain it forced me to think and watch my every step. It forced me to use a lot of strength that would soon get me to the top of the mountain. It made me push myself to reach higher and that was one step closer to the top. There were some challenges where I didn’t know if I could go any farther but once I found a good spot I could take it step by step and go to the top. My favorite part about rock climbing was reaching the top of the mountain and to look out at Gods creation. This rock climbing experience put me in a place to truly notice and enjoy Gods creation. Even though the weather was not great I still loved rock climbing and trying something new. Being in nature helps me connect with God and enjoy his presence. “You won’t understand the power of community until you are apart of one.” This year I have truly been a part of a community that is so meaningful to me. The best part about this trip was being in a community laughing and crying and making new memories that will never be forgotten.
After the months and months of the memories we’ve shared together, it has started to come to an end. At the beginning of this year I felt like we as people all represented a color. Nothing to do with one another. In the end we all came together making a beautiful painting. That night of the campfire speeches the painting was completed. We became a true family, and that’s just going to make it harder to say goodbye. The night was filled with so many emotions. Everyone was in tears and I thinks it’s because we realized each others value. It’s tough to move on but our colors will continue, their stories going on to make beautiful new pictures and memories. That makes the memories we’ve shared that more important. The point was, our campfire speeches ended the chapter and began a new era. Our campfire speeches were a farewell to the other colors within our picture. “A picture is nothing without the colors on the canvas.” (Unknown) Anastasis was a family and it was tough to say goodbye, but I guess it’s time to start a new chapter and paint a new picture.
The baptism experience in South Dakota was truly astonishing. I feel now as that if I have truly become a Christian and now know what it is like to walk with God. Now the wrestle with God truly begins, there will be ups and downs. In Christianity every person believes in the same thing but in different ways, now I feel like I am forming my own opinions instead of just believing exactly what my parents or piers think. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome”
(Genesis 32:28). We will be blessed after wrestling with God and struggling with him. Our ultimate blessing is to be his child, and be granted into heaven.
This last week, we’ve felt particularly close to tragedy. First on Friday with a deadly accident outside of the school following carpool, and then again on Monday when we got word of a shooting in Centennial with the results being a dear friend, father, husband, and doctor lost too soon.
Somehow there is something that feels different with this kind of loss, in many ways these losses feel preventable; and yet, in the midst of it, we couldn’t stop it. These kind of moments remind us of our own vulnerability and how truly out of control this life we hold so dear really is. Despite our best efforts the reality is that we aren’t in control, not really.
We tend to live life as if we are invincible. As if we will have more time to sort out grudges that we hold, to say our “I love you.” The truth is we don’t know. We never know. We may not have more time.
When this kind of tragedy occurs, I can’t help but be reminded of this same helpless feeling that I felt in the days following the Columbine shooting. The utter shock in learning that even kids aren’t safe. School is not safe, but instead a place of tragedy. That my peers may be dangerous. That the suburbs, the epitome of the American dream, could be places of tragedy.
The places I used to see as safe suddenly felt dangerous. It became hard to look at people and trust that they were good at the core. Suddenly it felt like everyone was suspect.
How can the Kingdom be there? In the midst of such despair? How can community be built in such tragedy?
In those days following Columbine, I saw community strengthen and rally. I saw hope and love.
There were also moments when we felt overwhelmed by the tragedy. It felt like the world was imploding. There were many moments of frustration and anger and hopelessness. How can people be so broken and selfish? Why haven’t we figured out how to recognize and repair the broken places in people before it is too late?
How do we love each other better? How do we support each other better?
Following Columbine, I had a hard time falling asleep. When you no longer feel safe in places that should be safe, you begin to live life waiting. Waiting for the next tragedy. I remember lying awake so often praying for those who had lives forever altered. Whose families would never be the same. The parents of killers who now had to reconcile the sweet baby they held, to one that would carry out such hatred. How do they move on? I couldn’t watch the news without it keeping me up wondering how those who caused tragedy would manage a life. How do they sleep? And what brokenness must be in their lives that led them to this moment? How do they survive the dark nights knowing the wide spread pain they caused?
Every night I pray Psalm 4:8, “ And now I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
In time, you learn to trust people again. Sleep follows.
In the midst of tragedy that can feel so utterly overwhelming, in the midst of the world feeling like a place of fear and darkness, is this reminder: HE alone makes us dwell in safety.
We’ve been reading Luke 6 with students this week. In it, Jesus shares the circumstances we are blessed in: when we are poor, when we hunger, when we weep, when men hate us, when we are excluded, when we are opposed by others.
In our culture that list seems like a curse.
Like the world imploding.
Like it is all wrong.
But it is in these moments that we remember that HE alone makes us dwell in safety.
It is in these moments when the Kingdom is built. And we are blessed.
For those of us who have felt like tragedy is close, who are overwhelmed by it, who are feeling fearful- may we remember that HE alone makes us dwell in safety. May we remember that we are blessed. May we work to bring the Kingdom here. May we say “I love you” more. May we live in hope. May we offer more grace. May we release the grudge.
And now we will lie down to sleep, for you alone, LORD, make us dwell in safety.