Faith, Fanaticism and Fundamentalism: Searching for the “Truth”

“How can you say that your truth is better than ours?”

- Mumford and Sons

Fanaticism- Wildly excessive or irrational devotion, dedication, or enthusiasm

Fundamentalism- Strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles

These two words are often linked with religious movements, and when put together, they shed light on a key aspect of human nature. At our core, we seek answers about the meaning of life, searching for a higher power in which to believe. Because our humanness makes us reliant on our senses, an abstract idea like faith often does not suffice. And that is where fanaticism enters the picture. Throughout history, people of “faith” have latched on to religious leaders with wildly excessive and completely irrational devotion in hopes of finding the “truth.”

Take for instance the anabaptist movement of the 1500s in Munster, Germany. Martin Luther and others rightly accused the church of abusing its power and going astray from its original mission.  As is often the case, a religious movement took a crazy turn that led to tragedy. While the leaders of this movement had a valid argument about adult baptism, their actions were soon corrupted with violence, polygamy, and greed that left the followers of this movement either dead or clinging to life.

America’s version of religious fanaticism can be seen with fundamentalist Mormons. When Joseph Smith founded Mormonism, he may well have had great intentions, and felt he was truly a prophet. However, as in the case of similar religious movements, many Mormon leaders have taken the beliefs to the extreme, often focusing on the doctrine of polygamy, a practice that has led to rape, incest, poverty, and, in the worst cases, murder.

And perhaps mainstream Christianity is just as guilty. While the crusades started with the admirable goal of spreading the gospel, the ended up becoming polluted with pillaging of villages of and murdering of innocent people.

In today’s world, the most obvious portrayal of this phenomenon is radical islam, where some are willing to sacrifice their own lives in the name of Allah, killing innocent people throughout the world.

In the end, the question of faith comes back to the question sung about by Mumford and Sons:  “How can you say that your truth is better than ours?” In their search for the truth throughout history, people have continuously latched onto fanatical voices that profess concrete answers to abstract questions.

But when it comes to faith, perhaps there are no concrete answers. Perhaps, one must look inward for a truth that speaks to his or her heart rather than outward to voices that proclaim to know this “truth.” With so many voices out there, some fanatical and others more level-headed, how can there be only one truth? Even mainstream religions that all seem to know the “truth” must admit that they can’t all be right.

While I have wrestled with my faith, I recognize that I only come with a Catholic perspective because it is the tradition of faith in which I was raised. If I were raised in a Protestant, Muslim, or Jewish family, I would undoubtedly approach my faith from one of those perspectives. For something as important as faith, and salvation, how interesting that the approach we take is based on something as arbitrary as the family and culture into which we were born.

And this thought brings us back to the very core of religious fanaticism and fundamentalism that has pushed people into inhumane acts against their fellow man. God gave humans the gift of faith, but, due to our own weaknesses, we need tangible answers that faith sometimes cannot answer, and sometimes those tangible answers have led people to bigotry, intolerance, and violence. Instead, perhaps people should look inward and ask how their truth could possibly be better than someone else’s.

 

 

 

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Frozen Moments in Time: The Magic of Sports

Being a sports fan is all about the moments.

Not just any moment, but “the moments.” The ones where you’ll never forget where you were and who you were with.

Yesterday, before the Eagles-Lions game, I found myself recall one of those “moments.” I was taken back to 1995 when, as a 16-year-old kid, I attended my first Eagles playoff game with my Uncle Jim. Before the game, he took me to the “Big A,” a South Philly sports bar,  where I sat at the bar sipping a soda with a  bunch of my older cousins. I’ll never forget the words he said to me as we went into the game: “just remember, you had fun with your uncle Jim.”

After heading into the game, the day got even better. Despite the trash talk the Lions had engaged in all week and prospects of facing Barry Sanders, Rodney Peete came out and led the Eagles to a huge lead. The one specific moment I’ll never forget came on the last play of the first half when Peete hoisted a hail mary into the end zone that Rob Carpenter snatched out of the air. At the end of the day, our Eagles had won 58-37, creating a memory that will live in my mind forever.

As I tuned in on TV yesterday, little did I know I would be witnessing another magical moment that will live in my mind forever. The blizzard-like conditions left virtually no visibility, taking me back to watching the fog bowl with my dad in 1988. Witnessing  Lesean “Shady” McCoy, the same kid who carved up the Hempfield defense in the PIAA playoffs early on in my teaching career, dice through the Lions defense all through the fourth quarter made me realize what a special player he is and what  special team this has turned into.

And the best moment of the day: as McCoy raced into the end zone for his second touch down, and I erupted in a boisterous cheer, I turned to see and hear my two sons, Ryan, 4, and Andrew, almost 2, yelling out their own versions of the E-A-G-L-E-S cheer. At that moment, I realized I will get to live out so many sports memories with my boys, memories that they will never forget.

Then today, Roy Halladay’s retirement announcement brought me back to other of my favorite sports memories, both courtesy of the “Doc.”

Moment # 1- While watching game 1 of the Flyers-Blackhawks Stanley Cup Finals, I get a text from my brother that I need to switch to the Phillies game. Three innings later, and I had witnessed absolute perfection.

# 2- Right after we had bought our new house but before we moved in, I was at the house doing a bunch of work and had the Phils-Reds playoff game on the radio. After six innings of no-hit ball by Doc, I knew I needed to watch this, and we had no tv here yet. So I headed to Hempfield Rec, and watched the game while running on the treadmill.

I will never forget the simultaneous eruption of hundreds of people, all listening on our own headsets, whose workouts were interrupted by the second no-hitter in postseason history.

Just like the frozen field at the Linc yesterday, these, and many moments like them, will remain frozen in my mind forever…I will never forget the people I was with, and where I was when I witnessed these moments.

As I look at Ryan and Andrew, I can’t help but smile knowing there’s a whole new generation of “moments” to relish and treasure together.

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Moving Beyond the prison of bitterness: A reflection on the Legacy of Nelson Mandela

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
-Nelson Mandela

27 years.

27 years of unjust imprisonment.

27 years enduring inhumane treatment.

Most men would break. Most men would embrace nothing but hatred. Most men would strike back with the same unjust inhumane actions they had endured.

But one man didn’t. One man responded to the inhumanity with a renewed sense of purpose, with a message of unity, with a guiding leadership that provided a stark contrast to the racist regime that had plagued his country.

Nelson Mandela may have died today, but his 95 years on this earth may have been as impactful as any that has ever stepped foot on this planet. If one man can endure the 27 years of isolated imprisonment, then perhaps there is hope for all of us that we can survive our own struggles and emerge with the same sense of purpose that Mandela displayed right up until he delivered his final breath.

 

If one man can unite a country that had been divided by ignorance, perhaps there is hope that we can all come together and find a common ground, to look beyond our differences and see that we are all the same tiny specks of dust in a timeless universe.

If one man can forgive the hatred he faced, perhaps there is hope that we can move beyond our own prejudices, our own grudges, and our own ignorant mindsets to find true peace in our own lives.

For, above all else, Nelson Mandela’s life teaches us that the worst type of imprisonment is the hatred that can ensnare one’s own mind. And true freedom comes only when we can move beyond the bitterness that creeps into our weak, frail human minds.

 

 

 

 

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The spirit of Christmas through Children’s eyes

“Yeah, lights!”

This simple phrase tonight reminded why being a parent is the most rewarding vocation in the world. As I drove our minivan (yes, I said minivan– cool went out the window with kid # 2) around the neighborhood tonight to check out the Christmas displays, the shouts of glee from the back seat warmed my heart (and erased my short-term memory as you’ll read later).

With every house we approached, Ryan, a four-year old would scream and clap his hands, to which his one-and-a-half year old brother Andrew would belt out his own cute little version of “yeah.”

This magical moment was enough to make me forget the meltdown this morning that had me gritting my teeth, and wanting to kick a hole in the wall. Made me forget the whining, crying, and refusal to get dressed in the shirt I had picked out. Made me forget the relief I felt after dropping them off at daycare and heading off for a day of facing ninth graders…yikes!  Even made me forget the constant time-outs that had to be divvied out last night to both boys for fighting, throwing food, and a number of other “nefarious” behaviors.

I can think of no better way to end a stressful day and stressful year than to experience the magic of Christmas through my children’s eyes. For every frustrating moment that comes with parenting, there are moments like this that make all the tantrums worth it.

Just don’t ask me if I still believe this tomorrow morning when Ryan won’t wear the shirt I picked out for him :).

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“Where Were You” When Innocence Crumbled for a Moment

Every generation has its seminal moments. But only a few of those moments have forced  an entire country to pause, and question the very essence of life. Only a few moments that a country collectively remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing…the moment innocence crumbled.

50 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, brutally murdered right before the eyes of thousands of Texans there to greet him. An entire country stopped in its tracks, questioning how such an atrocity could occur in the United States of America. This charismatic young president, though with faults and weakness of his own, symbolized a new vibrant America. More importantly, he symbolized hope.

And in the blink of an eye, shocked citizens all over the country heard that hope crushed as they listened to news reports declare, “President Kennedy is dead.”

And in the 50 years since, those of that generation, my generation’s parents and grandparents, have never been able to forget that moment. Not simply because one man was killed, but because hope and innocence seemingly died with him.

Each generation has its moments. For my generation, it was 9/11. I, along with everyone else, will never forget that moment we realized that evil reigned just as it had on November 22, 1963.  Just as Kennedy represented hope, New York, though it also had its faults, represented the grandeur of modern America.

As millions of Americans watched the towers crumble to the ground, we all felt our own hope, our own innocence crumble as well.

Each generation has its moments where the entire world stands still. And in the years that follow, the members of those generations must grapple with the reality that its innocence, at least for a moment, had crumbled.

 

 

 

 

 

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A “Last Lecture” Refelection

I just finished reading “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch, a book he wrote after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and being told he only had months to live. This Computer Science professor decided he wanted one of his final actions on this earth to be a “last lecture” at Carnegie Mellon University.

As I read the book, I could not help but be overwhelmed by questions that floated around my mind: How would I react if I knew my life were going to end soon? What kind of legacy would I leave behind? Would I have the strength, courage, and selflessness to face those final moments with dignity and optimism?

I kept coming back to the thought that Randy Pausch was given both a blessing and a curse. A blessing that he could go out on his own terms, and ensure that he made the most of his final months on this earth. A curse that he would encounter each of those memories knowing each would never be experienced again. Randy titled his lecture “childhood dreams,” a perfect theme for reflecting on life because the finality of death ultimately brings us back to the innocence of childhood.

As I finished the book tonight, I was struck by the thoughts: what would I speak about, what would I write about if given the opportunity for a “last lecture?” And it hit me that the true legacy Randy Pausch left is the lesson his book and lecture teaches: that we shouldn’t wait to get a terminal diagnosis to live a life of meaning, and to ensure that we leave a legacy that will endure long after we have perished.

What would I discuss if given an opportunity to give a Last Lecture:

How I’ve learned more about the beautiful meaning of life from watching my two boys, Ryan and Andrew, than I ever could have imagined possible.

How 14 years with Michelle have taught me that meaningful relationships ultimately are the core of the human existence; that true relationships take real work; and that the most important relationships are the ones that challenge you to become a better person.

How the values and traditions of a loving family have positively framed my view of life.

How my most valued friends each challenged, inspired, and motivated me to become a better person.

How hiking a mountain, whether it be the lush green woodlands of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, the endless skyline of Shenandoah in Virginia, the rugged terrain of the Smokeys in Tennessee, or the ancient mystery of the Inca Trail in peru can bring a spiritual connection unlike I’ve ever experienced.

How I’ve made mistakes and had faults, but struggled to never allow their memories to define me.

How pushing past my comfort zone has strengthened me.

How I hope I’ve passed on some meaningful, lasting lessons that will make a difference in the lives of at least a few of my students.

Lastly, how words and stories, like those written by Randy Pausch, can move us, shape us, change us, and ultimately, define us. Stories challenge us to think about our own lives and our own legacies, moving us to write our own life stories in the short time we have on this earth.

 

 

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Sixers’ Revealing the Essence of Sports: Unpredictability

Unpredictability.

It’s what truly makes sports great. Sports off a diversion from the daily routines of everyday life. And as a sports fan, the excitement of the action and the passion I feel for my teams is what it’s all about.

Part of that unpredictability has always been the realistic possibility, that at the beginning of any season, any fan’s team has a shot at realizing glory. And that’s what was so frustrating about the thousands of “talking heads” and columnists repeatedly saying the Philadelphia 76ers were simply going to tank this season so they could get a high draft pick next season.

Talk about destroying the purity of sports.

So I figured this Sixers team would follow in the footsteps of my Phillies, Flyers, and Eagles this year on a path right towards utter futility.

But something strange, even unpredictable, has seemed to happen in the first week of the NBA season. Someone forgot to tell this young Sixers team that they were supposed to be “tanking” it.

Behind the great play of rookie Michael Carter-Williams, the 76ers are off to a 3-0 start, including come-from-behind wins against the defending champion Heat, and the Bulls, who are considered one of the top contenders for this year’s title.

In an era where the overabundance of media coverage can often destroy the unpredictability of sports, it’s nice to see the Sixers throw a little kink into everybody’s plan. It had already been assumed the 76ers would stink and that the whole goal is to get Andrew Wiggins, next years’ already-assumed number one draft pick.

But, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but just maybe, the Sixers already drafted that franchise-changing player without anyone having known it. After reading an article about last night’s win over the Bulls, I saw many Sixers fans posting comments complaining that the Sixers were ruining their chances at the number one pick last year.

While on a practical level, I get their point, it disappoints me that so many people fail to simply appreciate the moment, and enjoy the unpredictability of sports.

 

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