Religion was never something I gave much thought to growing up. I wasn’t raised with any particular faith, and most of my friends weren’t either: I came of age with no religious or spiritual guidance, and that was normal for me. I got to Tufts and immediately came into contact with a wide variety of religion, which was new and exciting. The majority of my friends here are Jewish, and I’ve been to Hillel with them many times to partake in ceremonies and events of the Jewish faith that I never would have experienced before college. Just walking through campus, I’ve been approached several times by members of a Tufts bible discussion group who are looking to bring new people to their meetings, which I’ve never gone to, but I admire the confidence it takes to go up to people you don’t know on the street and invite them to partake in something that’s really important to you. Religion is in no way in your face at Tufts, but it has a very pleasant and welcoming presence that’s there if you want it, which I’ve come to appreciate even though I’m not a religious person. It’s so subtle that if you’re religious, you probably wouldn’t even notice it, but for me, it’s been a huge opportunity to learn more about a variety of faiths.
Despite noticing the presence of religion on campus, I didn’t really connect the dots about how I was being exposed to new cultures and customs until I signed up for Gospel Choir. That might seem kind of obvious, but I didn’t join the Tufts Third Day Gospel Choir with the explicit intention of learning more about the Christian faith-- I just really like to sing, there are no auditions, if you show up to every class you get an A (yes please), and I’d only heard fantastic things about what the class was actually like. What did I have to lose? I figured I’d go every Friday, sing the songs, have a good time, and carry on with my weekend.
On the first day of class, our director, David Coleman, said to us, “I want you to think about who you are, and where you want to go. Think about your perspective of the world. Think about where you are now and where you might be by the end of this course. The reason I’m saying this is because every semester, year after year, I hear from my students that this class changed them. Everyone ends up somewhere different from where they started, and I’m telling you this now so you can start on that journey as soon as possible.”
At the start of every class, we pray. I was very taken aback on the first day, not because I was so shocked that we were praying (hello, it’s a Gospel Choir), but because I had literally no idea what to do. David closed his eyes and started saying something out loud, and everyone else bowed their heads. Were their eyes closed? Should I close mine? What about my head? What should I do with my hands? Were people listening to what he was saying, or saying something else in their heads? Again, what should I do with my hands?
I’ve gotten used to the praying thing, but one thing I haven’t gotten used to is the incredible power that I leave Distler hall with every Friday afternoon. The music itself is brilliant, all-encompassing, moving, joyous; it’s hard to describe with just words. Musically, gospel is meant to bring people up, to lift their souls in times of struggle. As David put it, gospel developed from the songs that slaves sang when they pined for their freedom, when they yearned for loved ones who had been torn away from them who they would probably never see again. It has to be the happiest music you’ve ever heard. It has to bring people together. It has to be uplifting when you feel like there’s nothing left.
It’s not just the music that gives the Tufts Third Day Gospel Choir so much power. David does a fair amount of preaching, which I didn’t really realize until a few classes in-- I was telling my mom about what class was like, and I said, “Sometimes David talks to us about really important stuff, like about life and perspective, and hardship and success, and I don’t really know how to describe it but it’s just so interesting and inspiring,” and she was like “Lol Sophie he’s preaching,” and I was all like “Wha????” I guess I had just assumed that preaching was strictly Jesus talk only, which is clearly not the case. I have no idea exactly how traditional our gospel choir is (I mean, I know not very, because we are made up of mostly white Jewish kids who do not go to church), but being exposed to any sort of Christian faith has opened my eyes to what it’s actually like to be a part of any religious group or be involved in religion at all, which is invaluable to me.
I’m not sure where I’ll end up at the end of this semester, but there’s no doubt in my mind that David is right that I will be different. No class that I could take at Tufts could suddenly change my religious beliefs (or make me have any), but being in gospel choir has already made me start thinking about human nature, interaction, happiness, and my perspective on this world in ways that I never would have without it.
I’ll leave you with this: a couple of weeks ago, David told us that there were two ways to view the world. You can view everyone and everything as connected, interactive events that all depend on each other; as one intertwined web. Or, you can view the world as complete chaos, where nothing makes sense and everything is random. Either of those views, or anywhere in between, is totally fine and valid. What David said to us, and what I’ll say to you now, is figure out what your perspective is, and when you finish reading this blog post, adopt the other perspective. Even if it’s just for an hour, or a day, or a week, try to think in the other way. Challenge yourself to see the world as some people around you do, because no viewpoint can fully encompass everyone in your life, but when you refuse to acknowledge other ways of seeing the world, you shut people out of your reality. So I challenge you to give it a shot-- it’s hard, but it’s fulfilling, no matter what your perspective is, and I hope it will open your eyes a little wider, as mine have been opened.