Most of the time, I find gathering my source material is easy. Google is my friend and Google is capable of so much. The thing it can’t replace, is a human’s perception when gathering the minutia that makes your scene pop from the page. You want something that will create an image in the readers mind, but you also want to remain faithful to the people who have witnessed or live it as well.
I have been on the hunt for Temples (cue Indiana Jones montage) to include in my multi-faith story. Tennessee is definitely not the place to search for a Taoist temple. Surprising though, there is a glorious Buddhist Temple in Nashville that I plan to visit with a large blank book and a fountain pen filled to the rim.
Permission is another thing. I have been turned down by the local Catholic church for a tour unless I swear to convert. Luckily none of the other places I have visited have needed such a commitment. This is the one time my honesty has hurt me. I don’t have the capacity to lie to them and say I am thinking of converting just for some pictures and first hand thoughts.
Something I did pick up, was to read through all customs related to the place you are visiting. Some require shoes removed. Some expect you to wash your feet in the supplied sinks before hand. Always look up the customs before venturing out. You don’t want to be a source of disdain and if you ever need to return for something, a great impression as a humble and trustworthy guest go a long way.
If they ban pictures inside the Temple/Synogogue/Shrine/Church then be sure to add as much detail to your notes as possible. Always be respectful with your descriptions and seek to view as a non-judgmental bystander.
Today I am venturing out to a multi-denominational church in order to get some ideas of what is important to their culture and beliefs as well as their traditional dress and non-traditional dress. Plan to spend some time as well. Many that I have met are excited to share their beliefs and ways to an outsider. This may take the form of a few passages from their religious teachings, to one who wanted to tell me all about the indiscretions of Mrs. Herbert and her wanton ways with so many of the married men.
I have found that many of today’s religions are fairly lax about street clothes even if most view the wearing of shoes as a horrible embarrassment. I therefore wear a button down shirt and Khaki’s at the minimum. I again base my dress from their custom.
In the end, do your homework before doing your research. It will pay dividends you may not comprehend. It also allows the tour giver (who is almost always dropping something important to accommodate you) a chance to focus on teaching rather than feeling disparaged by your lack of respect and grace.
Finally, I understand being broke. I understand that some people hate to support a religion they do not follow. I still make sure that I am capable of leaving an offering for any that I visit as my way of show appreciation for their time as well as my respect for their beliefs.
Being a good Catholic while at a church is not necessary. Being a good human is.