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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

My Walk Across Campus

<urious prospie approached me and asked “Um…excuse me, why are you carrying a cross around?” I responded cheerfully, “Do you know what today is?” “um…no.” I expected this answer from most people and I told her, “It’s Good Friday.” She tapped her head with the palm of her hand and said, “Oh yeah! Duh! I forgot about that. Happy Good Friday and keep doing this; it’s great!” Along with negative notes in my mailbox, emails, snickering, and weird looks, this was one of multiple reactions I received while carrying an eight foot cross around the campus.

There were many assumptions as to why I was carrying the cross. Some people thought that I was out to intentionally offend another religious group or that I was seeking to convert people because they were all doomed to Hell for their sins.

Contrary to these said assumptions, I was not forcing my belief upon anyone, nor was I invalidating any person’s religious understanding. Because the cross is historically accompanied with such actions it is understandable why some people have these preconceived notions of why I was carrying the cross.

I was not carrying the cross as an historical symbol but as a spiritual one. For my personal faith tradition (I am not speaking for all Christian believers), the cross is the place where God and man are reunited in communion with each other. We are sinful and through the cross we receive forgiveness with the help of God. From the cross flow forgiveness, salvation, joy, peace, salvation, and love. “ Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” (John 15:13).

As seen in my first encounter with the prospie, many people had forgotten about one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar or had no clue of what Good Friday represented. Good Friday’s walk was an effort to bring attention to the cross and, in a creative way, start conversation around what the cross means, what Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter is all about. These are holidays that every Carl should know- just as we should know Ramadan for Muslims, Diwali for Hindus, or Yom Kippur for Jews.

People were surprised to see this massive cross around campus on my shoulder and some even arrived to the place of being offended or threatened. One reason for this surprise is the idea that the cross and maybe any other religious symbol is not something that should be outside of a religious building like the chapel. For some, religion is done in the chapel and there is no other space to express or stand for their religious beliefs. When we step into some classrooms, we have this mindset of leaving our religion outside the doorway. We don’t bring up religion in our floor’s lounge because we just might say something that offends someone else. When will we be okay with expressing our beliefs outside of safe religious spaces in the way that we express other aspects of identity?

While I was carrying the cross, I did receive some backlash. I received a negative anonymous note referring to scripture from the Bible, which is a sacred text in my tradition. This person basically called me a hypocrite seeking attention from others. Later in the day, as I was leading a group of students around campus for a meditative service we were yelled at from a window. These, I believe, were people who were uncomfortable with lived religion outside of religious spaces.

We like to think that Carleton is this great liberal, pluralistic place where we all can coexist, but no. This is not the full experience that I received on Friday. Yes, I love Carleton and Carleton is an amazing place where there exist people of so many races, cultures, political views, and religious understandings so that we can engage, challenge, and understand where we are on our paths, but we have work to do.

These few encounters do not represent the campus as a whole. The majority of Carleton students were very supportive and encouraging. People walked along side me just to talk. I had many people to approach me and ask thought provoking questions. There were some who challenged me and it was a great opportunity to have a dialogue around our beliefs.

At Carleton, it is interesting how certain identities are fully addressed. We are on the road toward better diversity dialogue but that dialogue often only includes sexuality, race, or gender. We barely ever mention religion.

In the context of Carleton, religious groups on campus are not dominant and oppressive as sometimes seen in society beyond Carleton, but the very opposite. We don’t always have the safe space to talk about our religious beliefs outside of the chapel. I would not tell a member of the LGBT community to put down their flag and stop asserting their sexuality nor would I tell a Muslim woman to stop wearing her hijab or any group to stop asserting who they are. Each group, whether the oppressor or the oppressed, has the space and right to freely assert themselves. There will be times when things get uncomfortable and you start to disagree, but that is okay. We go to a Liberal Arts institution. Try reading the statement on diversity in our campus handbook.

In such a community as we have, it is very difficult to avoid offending someone. We can’t live our lives with the fear of offending others. Instead of living in fear, we must assert our strongly held beliefs and come into a dialogue with heart and ears open trying to understand where another person is coming from.

It was not my intention to offend anyone nor was it my intention to convert anyone. I was simply sharing my faith because it is what most people within my tradition believe they are called to do. Yes, I was sharing The Gospel, the message of Jesus Christ. I was living out my religion. To receive negative feedback through the inappropriate mediums in which I did for living my religion is not the idea of a liberal arts institution.

Let us learn to engage in conversations around deeply held beliefs and taboo topics like religion. Let us challenge each other and be okay when that happens. It is only through these times of offense, of feeling uncomfortable, and being vulnerable that we build a true community and we learn about ourselves and the world around us.

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