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Tree Of Faith


new internationalist
issue 155 | January 1986

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Tree of faith
People of different religions explain why their faith is
important to them and what it means in their daily lives.

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Sher Singh is a 38-year-old Canadian lawyer and a Sikh.

Sikhism is different from other Eastern religions. In Sikhism there is an injunction against celibacy and renunciation. You can't leave the world and join a monastery, or as Hinduism suggests, go into the forest and meditate. The married and domestic life is central to being Sikh. You must live in the family setting, you must face the rigours of life and rise above them, not run away from them.

Also, there are no brokers between man and God in Sikhism. Hindus say 'the Brahmins are the only ones who can lead you to God'. But Sikhs believe anybody has direct access to God.

In my life I try to follow the three main principles of Sikhism. The first is Nam Japna, which means worship of God. Meditation on the name of God must be done during your regular duties, when you are at work and at play. It says the ideal state is when you can remember God all the time.

The second is Kirat Kami. which means 'work for your living'. The work ethic is essential because you cannot renounce the world and merely worship God.

The third is Wand Chakna. Share your earnings and your wealth. Share the fruit of your labour with your fellow men and women.

Sikhism is also democratic in the sense that the power, and the decision making and control over the community does not reside in any hierarchy, priesthood, or any particular lineage.

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Angela Grutzner is a 52-year-old media director for the Anglican church in Melbourne.

Faith is more than just dry theology. It's how I relate to other people that really counts in the end. If it's just a set of principles and a church building and doing nice things on a Sunday, it's absolutely meaningless to me.

It's through an understanding of God that I've grown up. Learning to throw away fear, to stop being dependent on other people, to grow out of self pity. And that's been a real transformation. Faith isn't a world of restrictions and laws. It's a great freedom, ad, when I go wrong, a great forgiveness. I'm not a great one for 'witnessing' or 'evangelising'. They don't mean anything to me. And the concept of a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ is also something outside my experience. I don't have it in that sense but I can read about Christ, learn about him, know and understand him through things that have been written.

My faith taught me that I have more time and more potential to be active in areas of my life I would never have though possible 20 years ago. I recognise God has made me with a brain and abilities and all I've got to do is put those at his disposal. And that means working for him as much as I can in the secular world, not just in the church - to be out there where it really matters. To be an ignorant Christian, to have a closed mind about issues of the day is ghetto Christianity, and I don't anything to do with that.

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Harini Raghuveer is a 32-year-old Hindu journalist living in London.

l find that religion is an anchor in my life. One of our holy books, the Bhagavad Gita. has a simple but very profound message. It says do your duty in whatever profession you find yourself to the best of your ability. I know too that any time I have any doubts I can go to the Bhagavad Gita and find the answer.

It seems that there's very little respect for the sanctity of life in our so-called civilised world. But we have to start somewhere. So in my life I try and give as much time as I can to help other people. I see it is my duty to help others. I have an English neighbour, an elderly widow who is almost blind. I pop in every day to read her the papers. I suppose eventually she'll end up in an old people's home. That is unthinkable in Indian society.

Our religion teaches us to respect the elderly - not for what they say or do but because they are our elders. Every day too I perform a small worship at the shrine in our house. Nothing too elaborate - I just light a lamp, say a few prayers and prostrate myself before the deity. I am proud to be a Hindu in this country.

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Angie Wilkerson is a 50-year-old American who works as a data processor. She is a member of the Baptist Church.

Going through life, you are always going to have struggles. I don't know how anyone can make it through without faith. To me, going to church every week is like taking food to feast on for the rest of the week. My burdens are still there, but I can find the strength to carry on.

I am a busy woman, but I'm never too busy to go to Church. When I was a kid, in Georgia, dressing up for church was the most wonderful thing. There wasn't much else to do and we were such a large family that we were almost enough to fill the choir by ourselves. We had fun then. Now going to church means even more that it did when I was raising my own children. Then, it was like a routine. But now it is like relaxation and a place to forget about all except the Supreme Being.

For me, faith is something you hope for, something you can see and you can believe in, but which hasn't happened yet. My grandmother used to say that the Supreme Being is the bridge that has brought us over through the years.

How does my faith make a difference day-today? I try to treat others the way I would like to be treated. Religion helps people be a little nicer, a little kinder.

Without faith, I don't know what I would do. I often find myself saying to other people and to myself "How do you think you made it this far, if not for your faith, your inner faith?"

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Danny Hessenfeld is a 33-year-old American lawyer and an Orthodox Jew.

For me, faith does not have much to do with a personified Supreme Being directing the world. I don't check in with God. I don't typically ask: 'What did God mean by this event in my life?' Faith is a commitment and, like any commitment it can be both circumscribing and liberating. It is a regimen, a discipline that leads to certain realizations and stances that you could not get to otherwise.

The high points of my life are marked by religious ceremony: marriages, births, deaths, the tuming points of life. The traditional provides a context and I would not want to forego these ceremonies: they express our humanness and the mystery of God before which we always stand.

There was a time in my life when I interpreted religion in terms of trying to experience God personally. Now, that is not important to me. I do not ask what God is like. Now, I am trying to figure out what is possible in relation to God. For me, it is still a big question, how one creates and recreates a religious belief and observance that is not just edifying and not just habit but relevant in daily life.

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Motaz el Leissy is a 36-year-old Australian engineer and a Muslim.

I was born a Muslim. have always practised as a Muslim and, in some ways, feel more a Muslim than I did in Egypt.

The significant thing about Islam is that it deals with every aspect of life - with the food you eat and the way you deal with people. You are not just following the laws and codes of the country. Praying five times a day makes one aware one is in the eye of God every day. You can't help the feeling of hypocrisy if you go to prayer and then do wrong. Islam is the extension of all previous religions, the sum of all the religions that came before. Of course I want my four children to be Muslim. I try to provide the right environment to give the right example. But should they drift away then there must be some submission. By that I mean that, under Islam, one acts, one does one's best, but then one accepts. We can't call the way we live isolated though it is not the way most of the community lives. We do not want to imply that we do not like the community. We respect it. But we wonder, "why aren't those people Muslim?

Mr Leissy chose not to be photographed for religious reasons.

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Gloria Nafziger is a 28-year-old social worker born into a Mennonite family.

I grew up in a small Ontario town and went to a Mennonite church. I had no reason to question. I never met anyone who believed differently.

Now I realize the Mennonite church is much bigger than the small Mennonite community I grew up with, and I am impressed with the active role the church takes in the world.

You can't be a Christian without participating in the community; the two words go hand in hand. Probably because of years of persecution, the Mennonites have solidified their sense of community. In the community we nurture each other, we learn from each other, we look after each other, and we give without expecting to receive. The Mennonites practise this locally, in their immediate families, in their church communities and worldwide.

Somehow, life experiences both inside and outside the church have combined so that today I believe that Christians need to be active in the world - socially active, politically active. But I think we all need to be true to who we are, and what our skills, talents and abilities are. It's dangerous for us to be critical of others who call themselves Christians and don't get involved in politics or don't get active. People contribute in very different ways.

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