Big Words: SING and APAC Mid-Autumn Festival

Big Words: SING and Mid-Autumn Festival 

We have a big finish planned for the remaining events of this semester. Two of them are this week—Big Words: SING on Wednesday and APAC’s Fall Festival on Thursday. 

It might be hard to find a concept more universally recognized by spiritual traditions than song. Music is almost inherently spiritually transcendent—whether heard or sung, a musical note as an almost magical quality that resonates in the heart.  

The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, in conjunction with the School of Music, will celebrate that on Wednesday evening during Big Words: SING. The first such event was last year, and it was so successful we felt we just had to reprise this one.  

As in the first event, the music will come to us thanks to the Stetson Community Choir, led by Drs. Timothy and Sandra Peter.  

Each Big Words event presents an interfaith perspective on a concept or value important to different religious and spiritual traditions. Many, if not all religions, use music in one way or another to communicate spiritual values and create a sense of community. We will explore sacred and spiritual music from different cultural traditions. Everyone is welcome and all are invited to lift their voices in song, regardless of their ability to sing.  

Big Words: SING will be at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 13 in the Stetson Room. Dinner will be served—a taste of the Mediterranean—and cultural credit is available for this event.  

On Thursday, Asian Pacific American Coalition in conjunction with the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, will present a Mid-Autumn Festival on the Green.  

The Mid-Autumn Festival is an annual harvest festival celebrated in many Asian countries including China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, Tam Pham, APAC president, told me. “Families gather, the kids play games, and there is a lot of special food and treats.” 

In many Asian celebrations, people send flying lanterns aloft. “It’s sent to the heavens in hopes of a good harvest,” Tam said. We won’t be doing that at Stetson, but electrical lights will symbolize the hope expressed in the cultural event and the goodness coming to the darkness. 

Food will be provided, as well as a short presentation to inform participants about the history and the meaning of the festival. I will be there at the beginning to bless the event and those in attendance. Others from our team will also be there. 

There will be lots of fun activities, Tam added, including traditional games. And there will be Moon Cakes, a sweet filled pastry served at special events in countries like China and Vietnam.   

The Mid-Autumn Festival is Thursday, November 14, beginning at 5:00 on the Stetson Green.  

Also, remember that our annual Yule Log Lighting is coming up next month. The event is Tuesday, December 3, and will feature the Yule log, music, and other activities.  

Blessing of the Animals on the Stetson Green

By Rev. Christy Correll-Hughes, Chaplain

Many Christians all over the world celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi on October 4th. In keeping with this tradition, we will perform an interfaith Blessing of the Animals this Wednesday.

Blessing of the Animals is a relatively modern rite, but its ancient roots acknowledge the creative work of God as understood in the Christian tradition. Few figures from Christian history reflect God’s love for all creatures as beautifully and completely as St. Francis of Assisi, a 12th Century monk who founded the Franciscan order and was known for his generosity and compassion.

St. Francis loved the larks flying about his hilltop town. His early brothers shared his love for creatures: While living in a small hovel, they allowed themselves to be displaced by a donkey.

Francis wrote a Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to God’s living things: “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.” Many of us can relate to this sentiment.  We form special bonds with our pets, who become like family to us, beloved and cared for as family members. 

Saint Francis was perhaps the first environmentalist, caring for all creatures and nature with reverence and recognition that creation is more than just humankind and we are charged with its care.  Blessing animals is one way that we acknowledge our responsibility for our natural world and show kindness to all living creatures.

This excerpt from “The Golden Legend” by Jacobus of Voragine (a late medieval text about the lives of the saints) explains it best:

“The saint would not handle lanterns and candles because he did not want to dim their brightness with his hands. He walked reverently on stones out of respect for him who was called Peter, which means “stone.” He lifted worms from the road for fear they might be trampled underfoot by passersby. Bees might perish in the cold of winter, so he had honey and fine wines set out for them. He called all animals brothers and sisters. When he looked at the sun, the moon, and the stars, he was filled with inexpressible joy by his love of the Creator and invited them all to love their Creator.”

Other religious traditions, including Judaism and Buddhism, also have ritual animal blessings or formalized acts of compassion for animals. Stetson University chaplains Rev. Christy Correll-Hughes and Sensei Morris Doshin Sullivan will perform an interfaith Blessing of the Animals on the Stetson Green this Wednesday, October 2, from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.

There will be two blessings ceremonies, at 11:30 and 12:30. Students are encouraged to bring their pets for blessing by the chaplains. All students (and animal companions) are invited to attend, regardless of their faith or secular tradition.

Winning and Worshiping: The relationship between sports and religion

Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

As last year was coming to a close, our staff and a group of students who are deeply engaged in religion and spirituality sat down for an end-of-year meal and fellowship. At one point, someone mentioned her favorite class from the previous year. She had loved a course that studied the relationships between two seemingly very different cultural phenomena: religion and sport.

A while back, after a friend cleaned out her office, she offered me a stack of books on interfaith topics. I had just gotten around to reading one of them, a world religion textbook that started out by using a particular segment of football fandom, Steeler Nation, as a framework for examining the ritual, doctrine, ethics and sacred spaces that characterize religion.

I was fascinated by the news that Stetson offered a course that studied this interesting field. I wanted to know who taught that course. An hour later, I was in a meeting with FSEM faculty sitting at the table with the professor, Gregory Sapp, Ph.D.

As I said, serendipity is a wonderful thing. As we talked about his interest in this field of study, it occurred to me that religion and sport would make for a great Big Words program. So Monday we continue our Big Words series with an event featuring Dr. Sapp. Big Words: WIN promises to be an lively and entertaining look at the intersection and commonalities of religion and sport.

As always, there will be cultural credit. There will also be food–how could we talk about winning and worshiping without a tailgate party?

Big Words: WIN is 6:30 p.m. Monday, September 16, in the CUB Garage.

SMART Recovery

–by Sensei Morris Doshin Sullivan, Chaplain

Toward the end of last semester, the chaplains realized there were no recovery groups meeting on campus. I don’t remember how the subject came up, but it surprised us. We started talking to our colleagues here about the idea of hosting a recovery group here in Griffith Hall.

According to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 17 million American adults and adolescents suffer from severe problem drinking. More than two million Americans have an opioid use disorder: 130 people die each day from drug overdose. And many behaviors—gambling, Internet use, sex, eating, and shopping—can resemble alcohol and drug dependence.

Some of those Americans are college students. We felt that if there were members of the Stetson community wanting a recovery support network, we would like to help them have a place on campus to meet.

From the 1930s to the 1980s, there was only one support group option for people in recovery—12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and NA. Many people have used the 12 Steps to succeed in recovery. However, no “one size fits all” recovery model is suitable for everyone. Recognizing this, a few organizations formed to offer alternatives to people who sought freedom from dependency but did not find 12 Step programs suitable.  

In the late 1980s, I realized alcohol abuse had created major problems in my personal life and career. A counselor urged me to attend AA meetings, and I did. However, the meetings I attended stressed reliance on a higher power in a way that didn’t align with my spiritual path.

I succeeded in quitting drinking. However, it seemed like the harder I tried to work within the 12 Step framework, the more miserable I got. The counselor was little help—he was a committed Twelve Stepper himself and couldn’t relate to my problem. I changed counselors and went to different meetings, but AA still didn’t work for me.

I didn’t relapse. But I was miserable. Often, people manage to abstain through sheer willpower. However, when one has depended on a substance or addictive behavior for a long time, it can be very difficult to learn how to live free of that dependency. We may have built our social lives around this dependency; we may have suppressed a lot of personal demons under the weight of drugs or alcohol. We may also realize, once we sober up, that we have made a mess of our life that is going to take a lot of effort to clean up. That realization can be overwhelming to someone who feels they have to clean up the mess alone.

Fortunately for me, one of those start-up alternative recovery groups began meeting at a church in Orlando. I checked out one of the group’s first meetings. To be honest, I didn’t expect much. However, the meeting leader had invited his mentor, a psychologist named Philip Tate, to that particular meeting.

I don’t think I even shared my story at that first meeting. However, I listened while Dr. Tate explained the recovery program and then work through an issue with one of the members. I felt like a light switch had been turned on in my mind. I left that meeting feeling optimistic—probably the first time I’d felt that way in the months since I had taken my last drink.

I became a regular member at that meeting, and eventually became the group’s leader. My friendship with Dr. Tate, by the way, continued to the present. After I moved away from Orlando, that recovery organization evolved and spun off at least one other group—SMART Recovery—which Dr. Tate helped organize in 1994.

I hadn’t thought about SMART Recovery for a long time, but when some suggested our office consider hosting a SMART group on campus, I was elated.

SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) helps people recover from alcoholism, drug addiction, and addictions to other substances and activities. The meetings are designed to support people who have chosen to recover or are considering recovering from any type of addictive substance or activity. In SMART meetings, they learn how to change self-defeating thinking, emotions, and actions and to work toward long-term satisfaction and quality of life.

SMART Recovery follows a four-point program that focuses on:

  • Enhancing and Maintaining Motivation
  • Coping with Urges 
  • Managing Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors
  • Living a Balanced Life

People who attend SMART Recovery meetings learn to use tools and techniques to help with each of these areas. For example, members work with a straightforward “ABC” method of working through emotional upsets and other difficulties that can trigger urges to indulge.

Our meetings are on Tuesdays at 4:00 p.m. They are open to anyone in the Stetson community, whether already in recovery or only considering making a change. You can contact me if you want more information, or just show up at a meeting. You don’t need a reservation—you are welcome to be there.

Looking forward to a new semester

It’s a new academic year, and we’re starting off this year’s activities with some returning favorites like Big Words and new programs including Buddhist Services and SMART Recovery meetings.

We are bringing back the very popular Big Words series starting Monday, August 26, with Big Words: EAT.

Each Big Words event this year will offer food and cultural credit along with interesting discussions of topics that have universal spiritual significance. 

Big Words: EAT will be based on the People’s Supper concept, which creates an opportunity for people of all traditions, spiritual and secular, to come together for “fellowship, renewal, good food, and the chance to go beneath the surface to explore the struggles and stories that make up our lives.”

Rev. Christy Correll-Hughes brought that idea to the table (no pun intended) after seeing it at a conference over the summer and being impressed with how engaging it was. It makes sense–few things are as universally spiritually meaningful as the act of coming together over a meal.  

Big Words: EAT will be at 6:30 on Monday, August 26, in the Rinker Welcome Center. Food and cultural credit will be available.  

Big Words will continue through the year, with themes that are always interesting and sometimes surprising.  For example, Dr. Gregory Sapp will join us next month to talk about the intersection of religion and competition with Big Words: WIN. That idea came to us thanks to one of our Interfaith Values Fellows who took Dr. Sapp’s course in Religion and Sport and found it interesting and transformative. That event will be September 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the CUB Garage. 

In October, we will move onto the Green with Big Words: LIGHT. This event, on October 28, will celebrate Diwali and other religious traditions that recognize the spiritual significance of bringing light to the world and to our minds.  

The fall semester’s programs wrap up in November with Big Words: SING. This BIg Word will reprise last year’s collaboration with Dr. Timothy Peter, Dean of the School of Music. We will raise our voices in song to celebrate the sacred with music from a variety of spiritual and cultural traditions. Big Words: SING will be Wednesday, November 13 in the Stetson Room.  

SMART Recovery is a science-based self-help program for people seeking independence from alcohol, drugs, gambling and other addictive behaviors. The meetings will kick off with an information session in Griffith Hall on Tuesday, August 27 at 4:00 p.m.  Meetings will continue thereafter at that time. SMART Recovery meetings are open to all members of the Stetson community. For more information, contact  msullivan1@stetson.edu.  

Buddhist chaplain Sensei Morris Doshin Sullivan will lead Buddhist services in the prayer and meditation room in Griffith Hall beginning Tuesday, August 27, at 6:00 p.m. Sensei Morris is a Zen monk with a background in Pure Land and Theravada traditions. Services will be nonsectarian Buddhist and will include a period of silent meditation, with instruction available for those who wish it. Services are open to all members of the Stetson community–you do not need to be Buddhist to attend.

Join us for Big Words: SING, and end your semester with a song!

It might be hard to find a concept more universally recognized by spiritual traditions than song. Music is almost inherently spiritually transcendent—whether heard or sung, a musical note as an almost magical quality that resonates in the heart.  

Some spiritual traditions consider certain sounds to be the seat of the sacred—consider the syllable “Om” for example, which is Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism represents the essence of eternal truth. I once read a recounting of a Native American story in which the creation of the universe began with singing: In the beginning, there was the song. 

It’s fitting, then, that we end this semester’s Big Words program with a song by celebrating the universal role music plays in spirituality. Big Words: SING is this coming Monday, April 29, and we were very grateful when Dr. Timothy Peter, Dean of Stetson’s School of Music, enthusiastically embraced the idea of working on a collaboration between the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and the School of Music to explore the way song helps shape the sacred.  

Dr. Peter will lead the program, which he designed to allow for lots of participation and inclusion. The songs will span several cultural and religious traditions, bringing them together in a way that will allow everyone to be involved, regardless of musical experience or lack of experience.  

Each Big Words event presents an interfaith perspective on a concept or value important to different religious and spiritual traditions. Many, if not all religions, use music in one way or another to communicate spiritual values and create a sense of community.  

Dr. Peter and I talked about the program as the plan started coming together. Singing together—or chanting, drumming or dancing—allows us to join our spiritual community together in a shared purpose. However, singing can also be very personal, a very intimate way to feel a personal connection to the divine.  

“When you’re singing, you are the vessel” of the sacred, Dr. Peter said. “You become filled completely with it, so you’re purged” of the other mundane concerns that block our ability to freely experience of transcendent.  

The end of the semester is a perfect time to gather with others to sing—while students are getting ready for finals, for graduation, and for other transitions. Song lends a voice for the joy we experience in our lives, as well as a method to process difficulties.    

“When you sing, you can let go of the stresses—the worries, the problems—about school, about relationships, about society, all those things,” he said. “So it also just feels good to sing.”  

We hope you will join us in song Monday evening. Of course, no end-of-the-year gathering is complete without food (and another chance to earn cultural credit). Since we’re starting at 7:00, we’re focusing on some very nice hors d’oeuvres and dessert items—think baked brie and mini cheesecakes! 

Big Words: SING will be Monday at 7:00 p.m. in the CUB garage. Food will be served and cultural credit is available for this event.   

Our response to the attack on Christchurch mosques: UPDATED

Dear students, colleagues and friends:

As you did, we awoke this morning to the tragic news of the attacks directed as mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Like you, we feel a deep sadness and sense of loss about this.

We feel an attack on Muslims is an attack on all people of faith—and ultimately on all humanity.

Stetson’s Muslim Student Association and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life will hold a Memorial Service to honor the lives lost during last week’s New Zealand shooting.

The service will be held Wednesday, March 20, at 8:00 p.m. in front of the CUB steps.

To our Muslim students, we want you to know that Stetson University’s chaplains stand with you. We are available to talk with you, to pray with you, to support you. Please reach out if you need anything. You can email us at stetsonchaplain@stetson.edu or call the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at 386-822-7403.

Student Counseling Services is also available to all Stetson students. After hours services are available. For details, visit the website.

To our brothers and sisters in the Volusia County Muslim community, you are in our prayers. We are present with you and we gladly stand alongside you as we work together for peace and justice.

Also, please see below a statement from the university’s Multicultural Student Council.

In unity,

Rev. Christy Correll-Hughes

Sensei Morris Doshin Sullivan

Stetson University Chaplains

From the MSC:

With the recent tragedy that occurred in New Zealand at the Christchurch Mosque, the Multicultural Student Council wanted to remind everyone that we are another campus resource for students, faculty, and staff to reach out to for support. Many people are at a loss of words and are hurting or confused by this calamity, which is normal in times like this. We encourage everyone to take a moment of silence this afternoon and have intentional thought about the recent events that have transpired around the world. During this time, remember the lives that were unnecessarily lost because of hatred and reflect on the opportunities that you have to make a positive difference in the world. You can contact us at msc@stetson.edu if you want help finding resources on campus to help you through this time.

You can also find resources and support at these locations on campus- Stetson University’s Cross Cultural CenterStetson University Religious & Spiritual Life, and Stetson Center for Community Engagement

Big Words: DEATH

Looking at the spiritual importance of the words we’ve considered so far since beginning our Big Words series last year, it’s hard to imagine a “bigger” word than this one: death.

Every human being will eventually die. To one extent or another, every religion deals with the question raised by that reality. Religions grapple with questions about the afterlife, about what happens during death itself and about how to prepare for our own death and the deaths of others. Some of these questions are spiritual—how to find meaning in mortality, for instance. Others deal with the practicalities of dying.

The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life decided to add “death” to the this semester’s Big Words series after university president Dr. Wendy Libby mentioned to one of us that she felt our society shies away from the topic. And she is correct: Despite death’s inevitability, many of us avoid discussing it with our loved ones or our spiritual advisors until it is too late.

We won’t be able to handle all the big questions about death in one evening, of course. However, we can prepare our minds to explore the issue. We will begin our look at living and dying with help from two guest speakers, Christopher Bell, Ph.D. and Cheryl Lankford.

Dr. Bell is assistant professor of religious studies here at Stetson. He teaches courses in Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions and Asian culture. He has extensively studied the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and will talk about death from that perspective.

Ms. Lankford’s parents founded what is now Lankford Funeral Home in DeLand in 1950. She earned a degree in Mortuary Science in 1978, has more than 40 years in funeral home management and ownership.

Big Words: DEATH is this Thursday, March 14, at 6:30 p.m. in Lee’s Garage. Cultural Credit is available for the event, and dinner (Southwestern Food!) will be served.

Big Words: LOVE

I’ve been thinking about love a lot lately. In part, that’s because we’ve been planning Big Words: LOVE, an interfaith perspective on the relationship between love and religion, which is Tuesday.  

However, I’ve been in conversations around campus and elsewhere about love. More specifically, we’ve been talking about issues like relationships, sexuality, gender roles and virtue, and about how perceptions of these are changing with cultural trends. Since religion and culture are inseparable, religion and love will inevitably influence one another.  

This all actually has very little to do with Big Words: LOVE.  

Our office talked about this Big Words as if we were planning a “date night.” First and foremost, since it falls during the week leading to Valentine’s Day, we wanted a reason to eat chocolate together. 

We also planned some meaningful activities, such as a way to express our feelings of kindness and gratitude toward others by creating cards for them. And we will have a reading of an original poem called “Radical LOVE: Growing Wings Together,” written and spoken by Dr. Rajni Shankar-Brown, Jessie Ball duPont Chair of Social Justice Education.

But we mainly wanted to offer the Stetson community a chance to experience the loving side of the sacred—a side that is poetic, that is warm, that is joyful and even romantic.  

That might seem strange to some people. When it comes to romance, religion can be viewed as moralistic at best and repressive at worst. However, love is a necessary ingredient in everything human. It is essential to cooperation, to community, to charity, and to survival of the species. Yes, social institutions like religion try to guide us in healthy directions. However, all religions, in one way or another, celebrate the reality that love for the Divine can only be experienced if we love one another. 

We hope you will join us for Big Words: LOVE this Tuesday, February 12, in the CUB garage at 6:30 p.m. There will be chocolate treats and Publix subs. Cultural credit is available.  

Big Words continues with Big Words: EAT!

–By Sensei Morris Doshin Sullivan

UPDATED February 1, 2019:

The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life will continue our Big Words series this semester, beginning this Thursday. Each Big Words event presents an interfaith perspective on a concept or value important to different religious and spiritual traditions. Besides lively and interesting discussions and other activities, dinner is included and cultural credit is available (pending approval–check for updates).

In the past, we have looked at topics like the spiritual value of generosity, the role played in our lives by the phenomenon of awe and how to build spiritual community. This semester, we will examine the spirituality of breaking bread; religion and romance; death and dying; and the sanctity of song.

We kick off the spring Big Words series this Thursday, January 17, with Big Words: EAT. Chef Hari Pulapaka joins us to create this event, which we are doing in conjunction with Baptist Collegiate Fellowship (BCF). The event will be in Allen Hall, where BCF holds its regular Thursday dinners.

Food is, of course, essential to life; it also serves as a powerful symbol for the way our religious and contemplative practices nurture our spiritual lives. Most Americans are familiar with the ritual of Eucharist, for example, and with pivotal teachings such as Christ’s miraculous feeding of several thousand people with a couple of small fish and a few loaves of bread.

Breaking bread together is a universal spiritual rite. Many religions base practices around the opportunity to share a meal. The practice of langar—dining together in the community kitchen—is integral to the Sikh religion. Sharing food and dining on vegetarian meals, with everyone sitting side-by-side regardless of status, communicates the principle of equality between all.

In my own Buddhist tradition, offering alms food to monastics is in itself an important practice. The Buddha said that once one recognizes the spiritual value of generosity, he or she would never eat again without first sharing.

Some religions restrict certain foods as a religious observance, such as the Jewish and Muslim practice of refraining from eating pork, and vegetarianism is important to people from many traditions, including Hindus, Jains, and Seventh Day Adventists.

Hari Pulapaka, Ph.D., will guide the cooking for Big Words: EAT, as well as lead a discussion of spirituality and food. Besides being a professor of mathematics at Stetson, Dr. Pulapaka is also Chef Pulapaka—he is the acclaimed, award-winning chef and owner of Cress Restaurant in downtown DeLand.

Big Words: EAT will be in Allen Hall this Thursday, Jan. 17, at 6:30 p.m.

The Big Words series will continue February 12—just in time for Valentine’s Day, with Big Words: LOVE. During that evening’s program, we will discuss the intersection of religion and relationships, with a look at romance as it appears in sacred literature and contemporary culture. The evening’s program will include readings from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and other scriptures.

“Religion” and “romance” may seem incompatible, but relationships between us are integral to the survival of humanity, and so inseparable from religion and its influence on culture. One need only to look at a passage like 1 Corinthians 13, for instance: “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” to find scriptural support for loving relationships.

The chaplains will read some of our favorite religious words of love, but we also are inviting students and faculty members to share spoken word or music relating to the spirituality of love.

Big Words: LOVE will be in the CUB garage at 6:30 p.m. on February 12. And there will be chocolate!

When I first ordained, a friend said to me, “Great—now you can marry and bury.” I prefer weddings to memorials, but one of the important functions of ministry is to help people with transitions at the end of life.

On March 14, we will tackle a challenging but important topic with Big Words: DEATH. Perhaps one of the most obvious purposes of religion is to deal with questions of life, death and meaning.

Christopher Bell, Ph.D., will introduce us to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. We will also hear from Cheryl Lankford, whose family has owned and operated Lankford Funeral Home since 1950.

We will look at how religions have dealt with death, how one might prepare for death, and some of the practical matters associated with living and dying.

Big Words: DEATH will be March 14 in the CUB Garage, also at 6:30 p.m.

UPDATED: We will wrap up Big Words for the semester in April with Big Words: SING. This event will feature performances by Stetson University’s Gospel and Cultural Choir and the Stetson Community Choir, as well as opportunities to chant, sing, and otherwise join together in song.

Big Words: SING will be at 6:30 p.m. on April 29, in the CUB Garage.