Growing up raised Roman Catholic and attending the school hugely affected my own thoughts on religion and spirituality. Although I was confirmed Catholic at the age of 15, I struggled to grasp what I felt most of the other students at my school possessed -- faith. Constantly attempting to make logical sense of what I was learning and supposed to take at face value in Scripture and Catholic doctrine classes, I grew incredibly frustrated with trying to find my place in Catholic faith. Eventually, graduating from the school and attending 2 different colleges helped me to see that I didn't need to 'fit' a particular box, nor was faith something measurable. However, I have found that in the past year and 1/2 since transferring to University of Minnesota, I have not made time for the deep philosophical ponderings which used to occupy much of my mind.
Being heavily involved in the LGBTQ community initially drove me further from my cultural Catholicism (though auras of guilt as a byproduct of my Catholic upbringing is something I've found never quite leaves -- apparently a trend amongst some Catholics, haha). Nonetheless, I've come to have serious problems with the ways in which mainstream gay and lesbian activists often shame religious folks as universally unaccepting and full of hatred, escaping balanced analysis and allowing dehumanized dismissal of a huge population who is seeking to provide love and support. Not only that, but many peoples' religious beliefs play a central role in driving their civic and community organizing.
Within the context of South Africa, therefore, I've found myself very drawn to former Archbishop Desmond Tutu's words on forgiveness and the spiritual drive toward true social justice. At its root what Tutu writes is that we as humans yearn to live respectfully with each other. "To work for reconciliation is to want to realise God's dream for humanity -- when we will know that we are indeed members of one family, bound together in a delicate network of interdependence. If we are going to move on and build a new kind of world community there must be a way in which we can deal effectively with a sordid past."
In no way does Tutu trivialize the terrible horrors perpetrated by the apartheid regime. Rather, he condemns them wholeheartedly. I have had some difficulty with Tutu's words given my own understanding of the irrevocable damage which white supremacy, capitalism, and other interconnected systems of oppression wreak upon people. Forgiveness is not at all an easy task, and it seems an imbalanced and unfair burden to place upon folks experiencing marginalization most immediately. I am still working through this, but it is safe to say that here in South Africa I have thus begun to see more concretely how spiritual beliefs can provide a powerful lens for engaging in compassionate and challenging dialogue with others. Given my own constant learning process for ways to enact genuine relationships with others -- especially in the context of working toward something to better societal conditions and life in general -- South Africa has been helpful in my own quest for meaningful, respectful spiritual expression.