customs/rituals, religion, religion

Stepping Out of One’s Comfort Zone

 

Have you ever driven or walked by an unfamiliar house of worship and wondered what goes on inside?

Judeo-Christian Israel Alliance building in Las Cruces.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Judeo-Christian Israel Alliance building in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Have you ever considered just walking in cold to see what kind of reception you’d receive?

Most of us have curiosity about other people’s religious rituals, but many are reluctant to step inside an unknown religious environment. And indeed it takes a bit of bravery to overcome prejudices, fantasies, and assumptions (mostly erroneous ones) to walk right in.

Fortunately, over the decades I have had eye-opening and rewarding experiences visiting a large variety of religious centers: Mosque, Buddhist and Hindu Temples, Sikh Temple, Armenian Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox and Romanian Orthodox Churches, Serbian Mother Church, Croatian Church, Mormon Temple (before dedication), a wide sampling of Jewish synagogues, Catholic and Christian denominations, as well as being the subject of a Guatemalan healing ceremony performed by a curandero (traditional healer).

Without exception those events have been enriching, and I have been welcomed from the pulpit and by the congregants.

Last Saturday was no different when I visited the Judeo-Christian Israel Alliance in Las Cruces, New Mexico. This was the first time I had ever entered a house of worship that was a blend of traditions — Jewish and Christian.   Walking in reminded me of being in a Jewish temple because many of the men wore traditional Jewish prayer shawls (tallit) and greeted my friend LesLee and me with the traditional “Shabbat Shalom” (Peaceful Sabbath).

As a Jew, many other elements were familiar – Israeli style music and dance, use of Hebrew words in prayers and songs; presence of a chupa (wedding canopy); sounds of five shofars (rams’ horns) calling the congregation to prayer. Beyond that, the loving greetings and hugs from the parishioners made us feel very much at home.

Differences caught our attention, too. During joyful dancing and singing by the women, the staff distributed tambourines to the congregation and encouraged us to participate in the music.

Of special significance was a symbol displayed in a wall hanging, on the exterior front door, and worn as a necklace by the pastor’s wife.

Wall hanging with the combined symbols of fish, Star of David, Menorah.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Wall hanging with the combined symbols of fish, Star of David, Menorah. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

Recurring symbol of fish, Star of David and menorah, worn as a necklace.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Recurring symbol of fish, Star of David and menorah, worn as a necklace. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Note that the fish, representing Christianity is the bottom part and the top of it is interwoven with the Star of David and topped by a menorah (candelabrum).

Members of the Judeo-Christian Alliance seek to be obedient bond-servants of Jesus Christ yet they also wish to reconnect with the Hebraic roots of their faith.  The symbol above is a visual representation of that goal.

While it was daunting to walk through their doors, LesLee and I both felt very happy that we had taken those steps. Regardless of faith differences, we are, after all, brothers and sisters. Being with that congregation, reaffirmed that truth.

 

It’s easy to avoid stepping out of one’s comfort zone, and that reminds me of an American friend, Rachel, who was living in Spain post-9/11. Her apartment was one building away from an Islamic center that she deliberately avoided. However, one day, while walking along the heavily trafficked street, she fell down near the mosque. Immobilized, her legs protruded into the onslaught of cars. Observing her plight, a man rushed out of the mosque asking, “Are you okay? Are you okay?” as he moved her legs out of the path of the oncoming traffic and helped her up. Rachel believes he saved her life. As a result, she stopped shunning the mosque and from then on walked by it daily with a new sense of community.

 

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who would like to encourage others to visit unfamiliar houses of worship and enjoy learning about others’ religions.

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customs/rituals, Festivals, folklore, food, good luck/bad luck, holidays

GUNG HAY FAT CHOY! (Happy New Year)

L. A. Chinatown New Year's goods for sale.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
L. A. Chinatown New Year’s goods for sale. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

Las Cruces, NM, supplies all my needs except one — GOOD CHINESE FOOD. True, they have a few Chinese restaurants here, but they mainly offer food that has been sitting in steam tables for hours.

Good Chinese food is always freshly made to order. That is why, when I recently returned to Los Angeles, eating at a Chinese restaurant was my number one priority. Gorging on fresh pork dumplings, pea sprouts, and beef rolls, I devoured the perfect fix.

I was also fortunate to have visited during the 2015 Lunar New Year. As I eyed all the new souvenirs I heard myself skeptically say, “Probably made in China.” Duh, I should hope so.

Chinese monk shopping for New Year's.  L. A. Chinatown.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Chinese monk shopping for New Year’s. L. A. Chinatown. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

When our children were young, we always brought them to Chinatown for the excitement, parade, and firecrackers. That was part of our family tradition, but I was reminded one year that I was an outsider.

During the festivities, I ran into a neighbor at a souvenir shop and when she left, I merrily said, “Happy New Year, Marie,” to which my offended salesperson retorted, “It’s not YOUR New Year.”

But ALL New Year’s celebrations are mine regardless of religion or ethnicity. I love the anticipation, the colorful rituals, the special clothing and colors, the feelings of hope that the new year will be an improvement over the last.  These emotions are universal and should be shared.

Los Angeles Chinatown, Year of the Ram.  Fake fireworks.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015
Los Angeles Chinatown, Year of the Ram. Decorative firecrackers. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who enjoys celebrating holidays — everyone’s holidays.