Beliefnet's teen advice columnist, Pastor Paul, chatted about religion and spirituality issues affecting teens on Feb. 1, 2001, on Yahoo. bnet_ellen: Hello and welcome to today's chat with Beliefnet's Pastor Paul! Pastor Paul is a chaplain at Columbia University and has worked with teens from Seattle to Sao Paulo. bnet_pastor_paul: Hey all! bnet_ellen: Pastor Paul can you tell us a little about yourself? bnet_pastor_paul: Well, I had my own record company before deciding to go to seminary. I have worked with street youth to suburban youth and in New York to Sau Paulo and in Seattle. I am a chaplain at Columbia and now produce music at Beliefnet. I interviewed Moby this year, and we are interviewing Bono soon. bnet_ellen: Very cool...so let's get to some questions. Broadcast_Laura asks: Do you think bush's presidency will create more awareness of spirituality and teens -- especially in schools? bnet_pastor_paul: Well, it might. I think the debate is going to be a good one. I am concerned that everybody's religious views are respected, and I hope that the Bush administration helps. zooey_franny asks: what are your thoughts on inter-religious dating? bnet_pastor_paul: Dating is tough and you need to respect each other, and in an inter-religious relationship you can't take a lot for granted. So, I don't have a problem with it but be sure to hear each other out and TALK ABOUT IT.
girl_in_blue123 asks: Is it against Christian belief to have an online boyfriend...even if he's not really close to God right now? bnet_pastor_paul: I think it is ok to have relationships online, but it is not the same thing as real time. I think also that people change, and if you show him that you are a good person and a person of faith, he may start to think again about his closeness to God. The best way to tell faith is to show faith. khenpo_doe_khyentse_rinpoche asks: What do you think of Buddhism? bnet_pastor_paul: I am not Buddhist, but I have the utmost respect for Buddhists. I have learned a lot about my faith from the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. They are great spiritual teachers who speak of compassion, love, service to other people, and that is what I believe in too. bnet_ellen: Check out this piece on Kunga Yeshe, a teenage Buddhist nun. angelic_jew asks: I am an Orthodox Jew. My girlfriend has been telling me about Jesus. How do I tell my mom and dad I want to learn more about Jesus? bnet_pastor_paul: Yikes! That can be very tricky. I am assuming you are in your parents' home, so I guarantee you they are not going to like it. But, if you are interested in Jesus (and not just because you're interested in your girlfriend), then you can ask them what they know about Jesus and that way enter into the conversation. But unless you are serious about this, you may wish to wait until you feel you must tell them to maintain your integrity. littleprincess_6_16_81 asks: Is beliefnet a site for all religions or just for Christianity?

bnet_pastor_paul: It is the largest religion and spirituality site of any kind, I think, and it includes excellent coverage of, like, 25 religions and all kinds of spiritualities. It is a very cool site, if I do say so myself.

prep_and_proud215 asks: Hey Paul! I have a major problem -- please help! See, right now I'm being confirmed UCC...and I'm gay. I want to be confirmed Catholic, but I know Catholics aren't too crazy about gays, and I don't agree with some things like the Pope. So, then I decided Lutheran was pretty close to Catholicism. Now I want to become Lutheran, except I don't know how to tell my parents. Please help me! bnet_pastor_paul: Huge question. Well, you can be gay and be Catholic for one thing, a lot of people are. But if you are really into Lutheranism because you like the Lutheran tradition, and you feel at home there, then I can't imagine your parents are going to have a big problem with it. Just go to church at their church when they want you to go with them and invite them to the Lutheran church that you are interested in. But feel free to explore Catholicism -- there is a Gay Catholic Group called Dignity that you might want to check out. roller_skate_skinny asks: Some of my friends are practicing wiccas and they are ostracized by people, even their teachers as being devil worshippers, how can they get the respect they deserve? bnet_pastor_paul: It is tough and it shouldn't be their job, but they may have to mount an awareness campaign at their school. There is a lot of misconception out there, and they may want to try and organize meetings with the leaders of the school and do an awareness event with students. But a warning: They will have to expose themselves to potential prejudice by doing this kind of outreach, but it might be worth it.
bnet_ellen: Also, have them print out this Paganism primer for teachers -- it answers any questions teachers may have about Wicca and Paganism. roller_skate_skinny asks: What denomination are you a pastor for, pastor paul? bnet_pastor_paul: I was ordained American Baptist after attending Union Seminary in New York City. I am now serving as the UCC/Presbyterian Chaplain at Columbia University. zooey_franny asks: What do you think about prayer groups meeting on school campuses? bnet_pastor_paul: Well, it's tough. I am a pretty firm believer in the separation of church and state. But, I think if equal opportunity is made for all peoples of all faiths, it is ok. I have kind of an adverse reaction to kids who really show off their faith in front of others, like "meet me at the pole," so I guess I am kind of mixed about it. JasonMilner asks: What do you suggest for the teens that are watching the world and see no reason for faith?

bnet_pastor_paul: There are a lot of bad things going on, but there is a lot of good too. Faith is a way of life and not dependent on situations. So I would say, explore the world and see if life leads you to a faith in the power of something larger than yourself, faith in something more wonderful than the bad stuff happening in the world. This kind of faith is the same as hope.

Cheez_Puff asks: What's the most rewarding thing you've done?
bnet_pastor_paul: I spent a while being a chaplain to a group of street kids who were trying to recover from serious drug and violence problems in Sau Paulo, Brazil. I spent Christmas there one year, and it taught me a lot of humility. And it was so beautiful how they would support each other and really try to improve their lives. I think working with them and this amazing Jesuit priest who was 80 years old was the most rewarding and coolest thing I have ever done. hazeleyes0386 asks: My mom says it is a bad thing to have ear piercings and tattoos. Is it a bad thing? bnet_pastor_paul: I did a lot of research on that and wrote a big article about it. I don't think it is something to do lightly, and it really is a marking of who you are, so I don't think it is bad, but do it intentionally and not just cause your best friend did it. Remember it is forever. Also, it is against Jewish and Muslim law, so you also need to take that into consideration. And be careful whom you choose; most places are very clean, but all needles must be sanitized. bnet_ellen: Here's Paul's piece -- check it out! djcru asks: Is it ok if i love my girl to have sex with her? bnet_pastor_paul: Well, first of all -- what does she think? But besides that, by love to you mean Luv or do you mean I really respect and love this woman, and I don't want to hurt her and this is not just a ploy to have sex, and then move on? I am not going to say DON'T HAVE SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE, like some pastors will, because I think it promotes a lot of guilt. But I will advise you to really think about it. And if you are in high school, why not wait? You have your whole life. And besides, virginity is really cool right now, so you don't have to have sex to be cool. There are other ways of loving your girl, but if you don't choose to abstain -- choose safe sex. bnet_ellen: Check out these celebs that have chosen chastity. gumbie_twin asks: I have never been baptized. Is baptism required to enter heaven?

bnet_pastor_paul: I don't know if you are a practicing Christian. If you are, you should start the process of getting baptized -- it is really a beautiful experience. But if you are not, I feel that people who are loving and compassionate and serve the poor and love God as they understand God, will go to heaven even if they are not baptized.

i_m_mighty_mouse asks: Pastor...I have a little problem...I do not believe in a traditional God. I'm not a pure atheist, but just don't believe in judgement and all that. Anyway, my grandmother is a devout Catholic and cannot be persuaded any which way against "The Good Book." My question is this: Should I share with my grandmother my feelings, or keep them to myself? bnet_pastor_paul: I think you should talk about your beliefs with your grandmother if you have a good relationship with her. You say you are not a pure atheist; that means you are still searching. You may never really agree with your grandmother, but you may find out incredible things about her life. Ask her when God has most been present in her life. Ask her how she would describe God. Ask her how she experiences God in day-to-day life. Stay away from the Bible if that is a trouble spot and learn about the wonderful and difficult life your grandmother has had and how God was there for her. wccutie11 asks: If you kill yourself, do you go to heaven? bnet_pastor_paul: This is very difficult. I think at one point, Christians were killing themselves to go to heaven because life was so tough, and I don't think the Church's official stance on that has changed much. But, I don't believe that people who kill themselves don't go to heaven. That said, I am very concerned by your question, and I want to be sure that you understand me when I say that life is worth living and that bad times do pass. If you are personally asking this because you are feeling bad and are at all considering this as a possibility, please take a look at this link that we are getting for you. But if you are asking because a friend of yours killed themselves, I would have to say that God is loving and all God's children are with God after death.
bnet_ellen: To find a suicide hotline in your area, go to http://suicidehotlines.com/#states or call 1-800-suicide. a_gothic_beauty asks: What are your views on the recent allowance of Paganism (more specifically Wicca) as a recognized religion in the United States? bnet_pastor_paul: Well, I actually didn't know, but that is interesting. Well, I think it is fine; they are a religious group with traditions and structures of accountability like other religions, so it doesn't bother me. creeping_death_96 asks: Do u recommend metallica music if i am cathlic???

bnet_pastor_paul: Well, I am not sure if you are asking if I like them. I actually like them ok, but prefer Radiohead and Massive Attack. But if you are asking me if it is wrong to like them because of your religious views, then I would have to say it is ok to listen to rock (I just answered this in my column). But don't start to mimic the swearing and stereotypical language. It makes you sound kinda dumb. I do appreciate the emotion that Metallica brings. Anger and confusion are normal for young people, and Metallica talks to this. God also is not only into nicey-nice stuff and can hear your frustrations and difficulties in life, so I don't see the conflict of interest.

sycomyco100 asks: Is masturbation considered a sin? bnet_pastor_paul:Well, a sin is something that alienates you from God. And the question is whether masturbation alienates you from God.
My feeling is it is like alcohol: If it becomes an obsession and takes your attention away from God, then it could be a sin. But it is also quite natural. We should love God and love our neighbor, and masturbation is, ahem, somewhat self-involved. So keep that in mind. bnet_ellen: Here's the link for that story. Broadcast_Laura asks: When did you decide that you should become a pastor -- was there one defining moment, or were you always religious and spiritual? bnet_pastor_paul: It wasn't one thing, like a lightning flash, but it has been a long process looking at signs sent to me. I wasn't a "good" kid, and I didn't always want to be a pastor, but there were signs along the way that made me know that this was the way for me. I love what I do. If you are interested, I totally recommend it. Listen for the call; sometimes it is not shouted but signed. player_4285 asks: Whats the difference in old and new testamend? bnet_pastor_paul: The Old Testament is basically the Jewish scriptures and were written mostly long before the time of Jesus. The New Testament was written to explain the events of Jesus of Nazareth and how that was the defining moment for the people who later were called Christians. Most of the New Testament was written in the first hundred years after the death of Jesus. exgoose asks: What if I am not sure that there is a God? My mom believes in reincarnation and says that I am free to believe what I want. The thing is I don't know what to believe... bnet_pastor_paul: Yeah, that is hard. It is hard to use the freedom that your mom gives you if you don't have any knowledge to use. Why don't you ask your mom about her beliefs and ask your friends about what they believe? And visit churches, temples, mosques in your area, and see where you feel most comfortable.

bnet_ellen: Thanks for joining us tonight everyone! Please remember that the views expressed by Pastor Paul are not necessarily those of Beliefnet Inc. and that he is not a licensed social worker or mental health professional. Please seek immediate direct assistance from mental heath workers in your area if you need it.

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