My aim to live with an open mind has taken me to pretty far extremes. I think few can say that in the span of a couple months that they have marched *in* a gay pride parade (in fact, perhaps the largest gay pride parade in the world, San Francisco) and explored religion by going to a Christian fellowship retreat.
You know you have an Internet problem when friends and family become genuinely concerned about you when you don't exhibit any online activity: you are not on IM for a day, don't timely respond to e-mail, don't return Facebook pokes within 3 hours, and don't blog for a few days. It was nice to get away from the Internet, but I've seen regressed back to my addicted state. Still not sure how to get myself out of that. I'm not the only one, as when I got home, I already had several friend requests for Facebook from others at the retreat :p
I went b/c I wanted to continue learning about religion and Christianity, I knew a number of people that were going, I felt that the fellowship provided a non-pressure environment where I could learn more, it looked fun, and I wanted to see what it was like to go on a retreat. It was really good and I was glad that I went. I had a good time, met new friends, connected further with existing friends, learnt things, and did some reflection.
I felt that I really identified with the talks and they were things that I have been thinking about recently. The talks were inspirational and were words to live by even taken outside of a religious context.
The first talk was about communities around a common place and the following acronym was used to describe the essential characteristics for communities:
That really kinda hit me, as I've been looking to find a group of friends where I can really fit into here in Toronto. Reflecting upon the other groups of friends and communities I've been a part of, I could really see the role each of those points played. Spontaneity is a good one, which is meant to represent random calls to do things. Meals is an interesting one, in that it was said that people bond over meals, which I can see b/c it really gets you to sit and talk with people. In school, we'd eat together at the cafeteria or 229. In res, people would make going to Wal-Mart a group activity and we'd sit together in the caf. The dragon boating crew in Seattle met up with each other randomly outside of the regular practices and always went for dim sum after practice. GInterns were crazy with the "GAS FM" in every respect. At CCF, we always hit Kowloon for dirty Chinese food afterwards. The "DVD" crew has by definition, not 1, but 2 meals together for every gathering.
Another good talk was about acting in the now and that chaos theory works in your favor now (well, it wasn't put in those words, but that's what I took out of the talk). Usually people talk about the butterfly effect (where a butterfly is said to flap its wings and cause a hurricane on the other side of the Earth) about things in the past that if you change a small thing in the past, it can completely change the future. I take it as being that a small change you make now can dramatically change your future.
And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?
-- Esther 4:14
This also reminds me of perhaps the most inspirational quote from a comic. Of course, my favourite comic, xkcd :)
When did we forget our dreams?
The infinite possibilities each day holds should stagger the mind. The sheer number of experiences I could have is uncountable, breathtaking, and I'm sitting here refreshing my inbox. We live trapped in loops, reliving a few days over and over, and we envision only a handful of paths laid out ahead of us. We see the same things each day, we respond the same way, we think the same thoughts, each day a slight variation on the last, every moment smoothly following the gentle curves of societal norms. We act like if we just get through today, tomorrow our dreams will come back to us.
And no, I don't have all the answers. I don't know how to jolt myself into seeing what each moment could become. But I do know one thing: the solution doesn't involve watering down my every little idea and creative impulse for the sake of some day easing my fit into a mold. It doesn't involve tempering my life to better fit someone's expectations. It doesn't involve constantly holding back for fear of shaking things up.
I already knew a good number of people there having gone to the weekly large group meeting several times, but with 80+ people there, I found myself continuously meeting new people. At times I felt that I wish I could just create a FAQ and hand it out to people that I meet. I would include the following questions in the FAQ, as pretty much everyone asked these:
- What are you taking?
- What year are you in?
- You're in grad school?
- How old are you?
- When will you be finished?
- Are you mixed?
- How long have you been coming to CCF?
- Who brought you?
- Why isn't she here?
- Where are you in your relationship with God?
- Are you Christian?
- Why do you keep coming?
I'm still rather surprised at the number of non-fob Chinese people there are. CCF stands for Chinese Christian Fellowship, so as you can guess, most people there were Chinese. I always had the view, at least while in Winnipeg, that pretty much all Asians were fob (their culture was not North American culture). It wasn't until I came to Toronto did I realize that there were so many people like me of primarily North American culture, but with a Chinese background. I don't like the whole racist thing that some Chinese people do where their friends are only other Chinese people. Some people here are like scared of white people and are shocked that I have so many non-Asian friends. Honestly, I don't even realize it. I'm friends with whoever. It's more of a culture thing than anything else. I'm more inclined to group eggs and fobs together and bananas and whites together as opposed to grouping people based on ethnicity. I like to joke that a Mormon, a Jew, a Muslim, a white agnostic, and a Chinese guy walk into a room together. It's not funny, but it's true.
As is typical with the people I meet in Toronto, everyone aside from maybe 2 or 3 people at the whole retreat of 80+ people were younger than me (up to 8 years younger). I didn't really notice it and didn't feel out of place. Preconceptions play a big part. I considered these people to be my peers, yet most were younger than one of my younger cousins back in Winnipeg, whom I still consider to be much younger than me and not in the same age category as me, but that's because I haven't shaken my view of him as a kid and I haven't seen him much lately.
Someone asked me near the end of the retreat how I felt about hanging out with all them and if I thought that they were all just silly foolish kids. I didn't. I thoroughly embrace my inner child and feel that while you need to be serious at times, you need to be able to find the fun in any situation and just be silly, goofy, and laugh. That reminds me of yet another xkcd comic:
I won't pretend fun things aren't still fun out of fear of looking silly
In most cases, I was surprised at how young some of the people were at the retreat. It wasn't until we were about to leave when I found that my "family group" leader (who led bible study for my group of 7) was 6 years younger than me! I guess one thing is that while I am more mature in terms of biological age, they were much more mature religiously. While people joked around and stuff, when it came time to be quiet, you could literally hear a pin drop in a room of 80+ people. That was intense. The other thing was that all of this was being organized by students completely independent of any church, i.e. it wasn't pushed onto them by a church or a minister or something. That really surprised me at first b/c I didn't expect young adults to be that passionate about religion to voluntarily run an autonomously operational group like this.
Initially I was very tenuous about telling people that I wasn't Christian as I felt that I would be outcasted or people would be heckling me about why I didn't want to be saved, how I could possibly believe that we evolved from monkeys, and close mindedly arguing with me using faulty logic. I can't talk to people like that and if the people at CCF were like that, I would have stopped going long ago. I want to figure things out myself, not have people telling me what I should be thinking and believing. I still don't go around announcing to people that I'm not Christian, but I tell them when they ask and I'm less embarrassed knowing that there are other non-Christians at CCF. People have been very good about not being pushy and have been very supportive of my position and have been content to let me go about how I please while being very willing to help me in any capacity that they can. Some people were actually quite surprised as to why I was there and were impressed that I wasn't freaked out long ago and ran off. Having absolutely zero exposure to religion prior to CCF and then seeing worship, people thought that that would have turned me off, but I didn't think too much of it. It's important to keep an open mind and not out-right reject things you know nothing about or reject things based on the people that do or practice them.
With everything that happened in the retreat, it re-sparked my interest in religion (I hadn't been able to go to CCF much this semester and I hadn't made time to read the bible) and got me thinking about things and doing some self-reflection. With people being open and frank and sharing during the retreat, and with me becoming closer to some of the people there, I felt more comfortable talking to people about religion and faith, questioning things, and seeing what their perspective on things were. It was nice to be able to openly talk about these things without any accusational tones on either side.
I think that the community that they have established there is really good and that it's a great group of people. I can see why some people are there just because of the community. But for myself, I would feel like a fraud if I was just going for the sense of community. The community is amazing, but I will only continue to be a part of CCF as long as I am truly interested in learning more about Christianity.
Random bullet points
A throw-by-throw recount of the weekend would be lengthy and unentertaining, so instead, here's a random list, generally in sequential order.
- "Did we miss the food stop?"
- More ripping of cheese off of pizza
- "1 shower between 40+ guys" (later we found out that we had 3)
- 5 guys / room and the rooms were smaller than my bedroom
- "I like to think that you're real" (on if Spiderman, which was written on a post-it on someone's forehead, was a real person)
- Knight! Rider! Princess!
- Human pyramid!
- Kiki the gorilla, Moo-boy, So Fly, Big Head, Naughty Motel, Ripped Jeans, and Squirt.
- Tasty food
- Coreless pear
- Throwing people into the snow
- You call that a fire?
- "Are you lying at a Christian fellowship? Put your hand on a bible and say it to me!" (playing a game of Mafia)
- "I don't like you just because of your body"
- "How am I supposed to journal without a computer and my blog?"
- Screaming head under a box
- Everyone has a Canon camera
- Tubing and tobogganing onto a creek
- Filament. Fertilizer. Delicious. Durian. Atrocious. 700. Plastic.
- Acting as if you're going to pick up the Pringles can, aka the conch, but really going for food or a drink
- Humping dog
- Waiting 2 hours for the bus to get to the middle of nowhere to pick us up
- Extreme close-ups
- "I found your blog while searching for UTCCF" (I've seen my blog as high as #2)
- Apparently when my face is expressionless, people find it scary and intimidating, and then are surprised that I know how to laugh (not the first time someone has alluded to that)