Mar 24, 2010

The Faithful Dissident's 2nd Anniversary: A Year In Review

Hard to believe that another year has come and gone. I've been very busy lately and have had lots to think about, but thought that my readers might like to hear what I've been up to and what's been going through my mind lately. So here is a summary!

We had some great discussions here over the course of the year. Some of the highlights included:

The lowest point of the year was probably when I discovered the LDS Church hunting preserves, which sent me a little over the edge. I did some more research into the matter and did a report on it for Mormon Matters, which from what I gather, seems to be the most detailed and up-to-date information about the current situation of these hunting preserves run by the Church.

The matter of the hunting preserves propelled me into a very cynical period and so I decided to pull a Martin Luther of sorts and nail my own "95 theses" on the door of the Church, so to speak. The result was a long blog post in which I outlined about 7 main criticisms, but managed to say plenty nice about the Church as well. :) I decided that I should take a sabbatical from blogging, which was short-lived, but was a turning point in the direction that I wanted to take The Faithful Dissident. From there, I decided to just write when I really felt inspired to do so, and to focus on using the blog as a forum for some of the many great Mormon bloggers out there.

In other news, The Faithful Dissident was nominated for "Best Solo Blog" in the Niblet Awards and got second place. This was a pleasant surprise to me and I thank all those who voted for me!

I know that many of my readers are on a similar journey to mine, and so some of you are probably wondering about where I am at this point in my religious journey. I guess the easiest way to sum it up is that I'm not really anywhere. Not that there was ever much going on in my small branch to begin with, but going to church at all remains a real battle for the most part. I've found that if I force myself to go when I don't really feel like it, it only makes it harder to go back the next time. But on the other hand, sometimes I really want to go to sacrament and so I go. Sometimes I feel spiritually-charged, but other times it really sucks, to be brutally honest.

If you were to ask me what I believe, the only honest way for me to answer that question is to say that I have no idea. I wouldn't say that I don't believe any aspect of Mormonism anymore, because my idea of God is still very Mormon and it's my religious culture and heritage. As well, it's the basis of reference when I'm exploring other faiths because it's still "mine." But my religious convictions are on a leave of absence and I don't know if or when they're coming back.

This past year, I've had the privilege of meeting and talking to some interesting people, but there are two very special individuals who have made a huge impact in my life and have become very relevant in my personal spiritual journey.

The first person is mormongandhi, whose blog I featured here a few months ago. It's not every day that I meet gay feminist non-violent vegetarian Mormon bloggers in Norway, so it's hard to believe that it's mere coincidence that mormongandhi and The Faithful Dissident should meet. I'm so happy to have met him and to have gotten a glimpse of his world, his views, ideas, and faith. It's rare that I've clicked so well with someone instantly, but if there's any truth to the doctrine of pre-existence, I'd like to think that mormongandhi and I planned to cross paths long before we found each other in the Bloggernaccle. I've learned a lot from him about the peace movement, which has inspired and motivated me to care more about these issues and examine them from a new angle. (You rock, mormongandhi! :)

And these issues of war and peace lead up to the next special individual that has crossed my path in life...

In my town here in Norway, there is a refugee centre that was re-opened a little over a year ago which houses about 125 people from around 18 different nations who are seeking political asylum in Norway. Under the current system, the process can easily take years and depending on what status is assigned to their case, some of these refugees are not entitled to much more than a place to sleep, basic health care, and barely enough money to buy food and essentials. Some are entitled to go to school to learn Norwegian, but many are not. So, for most of these refugees, the days are long and lonely, and the waiting and uncertainty of their future can be as harrowing as the journey many of them had to make to get here. The language barrier, cultural and religious differences, the current political climate where immigration is concerned, general apathy, and skepticism tend to make it very difficult to bridge the gap between refugees and the local Norwegian population. The result is that people generally keep to themselves. I read in the local newspaper recently that although the locals are good at donating material goods to these refugees, what they need most is "folkevenner" (friends of the people) to actually spend time with them. So I decided to get in touch with the centre. And I have to say that getting involved and reaching out to these refugees has absolutely been one of the best decisions that I have ever made. Not only was I later offered a paid temp job as a result of my volunteer work (which was a nice change from my usual job with dementia patients), but what this experience has meant to me personally is perhaps most significant.

On my first day of visiting the centre, I met several wonderful people who overwhelmed me with their warmth and friendliness. But one of these people really stood out and made a big impression on me and my husband. I will call him Hassan: a young Hazara man from Afghanistan (if you've read or seen The Kite Runner, you will perhaps remember the Hazara servant boy also named Hassan, pictured left).

Hassan is an incredibly bright, intelligent, well-read and informed young man who has seen and experienced more in his 24 years than most of us ever will in an entire lifetime. On top of speaking excellent English, he seems to have natural leadership skills and I know that many of the other refugees look up to him and respect him. He's also been a big help to me in my job, stepping in as a contact person and translator when needed.

You all know how much I like to discuss social and political issues, so it's been interesting to hear about Hassan's life in Afghanistan and how it has impacted his views on things like feminist issues, social equality, civil rights, secular government, and religion. I know he's really appreciated getting to know me and my husband, and the appreciation is completely mutual.

Since I started working with these refugees, I've been happier and feel like my life has more of a purpose. In the past, I've often felt frustrated by my desire to do more to help people in need without knowing what I could really do from my cushy, first-world Norwegian existence. With this experience, I feel like I can be proactive -- which is very important to me.

Although I'm just as frustrated with religion as I ever was and most of my issues remain unresolved, I find myself fretting about it a lot less. I can just relax and put religion on the shelf while I serve others and, assuming he exists, serve God through serving his children. And in the process, I've acquired a new family of sorts. Hassan and I are both far away from our families (in my case, the circumstances are much more favourable, of course), and so I think that we both feel like we've found a surrogate family in each other. He's my brother and I'm his sister.

As a foreiger in Norway myself -- but one who feels pretty well-integrated into Norwegian society -- I think that my perspective is valuable to both sides. I have a decent idea of the challenges and obstacles that immigrants face (I'm learning more about it every day), and yet I understand the Norwegian perspective as well. I still don't know exactly what I can do or how I can do it, but if we can even just help to bridge the gap between people and motivate them to actually care about the plight of these refugees enough to generate a political force for good -- one person at a time -- maybe we can make a difference. I told Hassan about The Starfish Story, which has inspired me in my animal welfare activities, but my hope is that we can do more for people in his situation. We have a dream for peace. A dream that the Norwegian government will see fit to give Hassan the opportunity to fulfill his endless potential as a human being and to use his unique experience and perspective to effect positive change in this world.

Insh'allah.

A young Somalian refugee in the English class that I teach has lent me a book in English about the Quran, which I'm now reading. Some of the parallels to Mormonism are fascinating and I'm grateful to get a more nuanced view of Islam from these people, as opposed to what we see in the news on a daily basis.

So, I want to send out a big thanks to all of my readers who have been following me throughout this journey the past couple of years and I hope that I'll be able to continue sharing my insights with you into my third year as The Faithful Dissident. I have no idea where I'll be religiously and spriritually a year from now, and I know this may sound arrogant to some of you, but I'm not really concerned about it for a couple of reasons:

1.) "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the
service of your God."

-Mosiah 2:17

2.) "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service
of others."

-Mahatma Gandhi