Beyond Belief

For a couple of years now I have tried to take on some kind of interesting project each year. In the past it’s been relatively simple things like doing a 365 project where I take and post a photo every day, or take one second of video every day, or even a daily creative challenge where I tried to make something creative every day for a year. For someone who can get easily distracted, the act of developing enough discipline to do something every single day has been quite a challenge, but for most of these projects I managed to stick to it all the way to the end of the year. Regardless of what the project is for the year I usually I learn a lot about the world and about myself. And it’s been surprising that some of these daily projects have opened all kinds of interesting doors for me that I could have never foreseen.

The daily discipline has paid off in other ways too. I’m trying to learn a second language at the moment – Esperanto – using the Duolingo app, and I’ve surprised myself by sticking to it for 117 days straight. To be honest it’s been pretty easy to do, but I think I’ve developed that stickiness from doing these daily projects

Last year I had an idea for a different kind of project, but for some reason I never really got started on it. So this year I am giving it another go. I’m calling it the Beyond Belief Project. For the next 12 months I plan to explore a different religion every month. Don’t worry, I have no plans to “convert” to any of them, but just simply check them out, learn a little more about them, and see what they are about.

I should point out that I am a very happy atheist. I was raised Catholic but pretty quickly worked out that the whole God thing wasn’t really doing much for me (unless you count learning to feel guilty about everything a positive. When I had kids, my wife – also a Catholic, and a much better one than me – insisted that we raise the kids in a religion of some kind, Catholic being the obvious choice of course. I was pretty non-committal about the idea, but went along with it. Her reasoning, which I can kind of accept, was that if they want to rebel as they got older and reject religion, that’s fine, but at least they would have some basic idea about what they were rebelling against. That seemed almost logical, so I went along with it. I put up with the christenings and first holy communions and confession, and even got to the if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em stage and decided to get involved in our local church where I read at the Sunday masses, played music in the church band, and got involved in all sorts of church events. But it never felt like anything more than a social club to me, and not even a very good one. I met some nice people, but could never buy into all the religious palaver that went along with it all.

As I got older (and divorced from the aforementioned Catholic wife) I discovered that I was really happy with being a non-believer. I still meet the occasional crusty nutjob who like to point a finger and say “You’ll be sorry when you die!”, but I just shrug and go Meh.

I’m not really anti religion, I just personally don’t see a point in it. I can’t see any valid reason to not eat meat on a Friday any more than I can see why black cats might be unlucky. If people feel better believing there is a beardy man in the sky who will judge them at some point, good luck to them. I am just not even remotely interested.

So, from the standpoint of someone who had Catholicism thrust upon them, but is now not even vaguely interested in the idea of belonging to a religion, I think it would be interesting to go see how other lot live. I’ll visit their houses of worship, try to learn more about what they believe, and why, and try to understand why every religion thinks only their is the real deal. Should be interesting.

So, not really a 365 Project as such, more of a 12 Project I guess. But I plan to update this blog with some observations about a different religion each month, and I especially hope to try to check out some of the non-Christian ones that I know very little about. I’m not sure how it will go. But if you’re interested in learning along with me, keep your eye on this space.

Would love to get your thoughts, comments and suggestions below about my 2019 project idea!

Looking for Indonesian Partners

Indonesian FlagThis post is a bit of a call for assistance from any schools in Indonesia. If you could assist we would really appreciate it.

Our year 5 classes are just embarking on a thematic unit of work on Indonesia.  The students are doing research into life in Indonesia, learning about the culture, food, transport, religion and so on. It’s being done as part of their HSIE strand.  By the way, HSIE stands for Human Society and it’s Environment, for those outside NSW…  Oh, and NSW means New South Wales, for those outside Australia. See the joys of writing for a global audience?

And that’s the point really. Getting kids to think outside their own backyard, and realising that when they use certain words or abbreviations that they don’t always translate across borders and timezones. Knowing that other people are asleep when you’re awake, and that words and phrases you take for granted can be complete mysteries to people outside your own culture is, I think, a really important mindset to develop. It’s one of the reasons I’d love to see more and more projects include a global, collaborative element.

If we’re going to learn about Indonesia – a country that is one of Australia’s closest neighbours and yet so very culturally different – I’m really keen to connect our students with other students who actually live there.  I know it can be tricky to arrange global collaborations, especially where language can be a barrier and these sorts of “soft learning” projects are not always valued by others as much as they are by me.  So I’m trying to come up with something that is relatively “low impact” to potential Indonesian partners. I’m looking for something whereby we can encourage them to be involved, while at the same time not becoming onerous and overcommitted. It’s got to be something where the partner schools can contribute at a level they feel comfortable with.

To that end, here’s what I’d like to suggest (or rather, request)…

I’m going to get our three classes of Year 5 students to work in teams to build three websites about Indonesia, one per class.  Our students will be put into pairs and each pair will work on creating a section on the website about one aspect of Indonesian life.  We will be using Google Sites to build it.

Ideally what I’d like is to establish a handful of Indonesian schools to act as “consultants” to us as we build these websites. We’d invite comments and feedback about the pages we make, perhaps letting us know if we were somehow missing the point on something, getting our facts wrong, or just not quite understanding the spirit or nuances of the Indonesian culture. It would be pretty cool if one of our students who might be learning about, say, Indonesian food, could, instead of just finding an image using Google Images, be sent a photo from an Indonesian buddy showing what they had for dinner last night.  That sort of thing would be just perfect!

I’ve already managed to enlist one such partner teacher in Endang Palupi, an ESL teacher at a school district in Pekalongan. We have arranged a series of Skype calls between her students (who are keen to practice and extend their use of English) and our students (who are keen to meet Indonesian students and learn more about life there.) On that level, it’s win-win. Endang’s students will also try to provide us with feedback and some level of consultation as we build our websites.

In an effort to not place too much expectation on any single teacher or school, I’m also looking for a few other Indonesian partners who might be willing to contribute to this project. I’d like to think that it will be a two way street, and that they will benefit from working with us as much as we hope to benefit from working with them.  Like I said, it’s just a nice easy project that would be based around getting some “consulting” and advice from them as we build our websites. This consulting can be simple and easy (maybe just take a look at our websites occasionally and drop us some feedback on how we’re doing), or become more involved (Skype calls, travel buddies, co-collaboration on the sites, etc)  It’s really up to the other school as to how much and what they’d like to contribute.

So, Indonesian schools, how about about it… can you help me out?  We’ve just started working on this project and we’d expect it t run for the next 7-8 weeks. We’d love to get you involved!

If you can help us, or know someone who can, please leave me a note in the comments below.

Photo Credit: CC BY-ND http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/2503224501/