Don’t hurt my kid because she isn’t like you

Don’t hurt my kid because she isn’t like you

I am a Christian… an Episcopalian in point of fact, which is one of the more progressive versions of Christianity in the United States. I was born in Mobile, Alabama but have lived in another country and multiple states because of first my mother’s jobs and then my own. I’ve lived in Venezuela, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana and come back to the greater Mobile area to reside on the Eastern Shore in Alabama. My daughter was born when I was 20 in Orlando, Florida and she was raised in several of the states above. She probably officially considers her hometown a toss up between Orlando and Mobile because all of her mom’s family is in Mobile and all of her Dad’s is in Orlando. Well, all of her Dad’s that live in the United States. Her father is actually originally from Morocco. I met him when I worked at Disney World… Epcot Center to be precise, at the Moroccan pavilion. This was long before the notion of the Middle East as a terrorist threat became ingrained in the American psyche… in fact everyone really just thought “Aladdin”  and “Casablanca” when they thought of places like Morocco. Very exotic and romantic. As an 18 year old I was quite swept away.

As my daughter grew up as a typical American kid, she tried on many religions… as I thought it best to let her explore her beliefs. Her father being Muslim and me being Episcopal… I didn’t want to force her to choose one or the other. She actually was baptized at about 9 years old because she decided that she wanted to be Episcopal. But as she got older she grew dissatisfied and explored other options. She was Hindu for a month or so and eventually she went to visit her father for the summer and started to learn more about Islam. She felt a strong connection to it and began to study it and want to practice it. Over the next several years she continued to grow and deepen in her faith and commitment until she was a full member of that religion. It was hard to accept, 9/11 had happened by then and I felt terror at the idea of what she potentially faced from my fellow Americans. It would be so much easier if she just didn’t let anyone know… but of course I supported her decisions despite my fears. There may have been some counseling involved.

Now every day my 5 foot 3 inch tall, 25 year old daughter who is in nursing school lives with people looking at her with fear and hostility. Even when she has her two small kids, my grandsons, in tow. Grandsons who I just taught to catch a football and yell “Roll Tide!” Grandsons aged 3 and 6 who will be American Muslim men one day. I mean my huggy little boys, who play with the dinosaur toys, and elephant toys, and a parade of stuffed animals, will be hated by people all over this country and there is nothing I can do about it. My daughter is automatically hated by people right now and there is nothing I can do. I can’t protect her. The only comfort is that she lives in a bigger city up north at least, where she can blend in. She refuses to live in Alabama where she is too afraid she’d be attacked. But that means I don’t get to see them very much.
Do you know what that is like? To be a regular American afraid my kid might be attacked, harassed, spit on or insulted at any time by other people in my country simply because of her religion? How is our country, which was founded in part to escape exactly this type of persecution, now a place where this is the norm?

When I go to church I look around and know most of the people there would not have an issue with me having a daughter who is Muslim, but then again… some might. Just today I had to issue a warning on my Facebook alerting people that hate speech about Muslims would result in unfriending and requesting that people who hate Muslims unfriend me. The attack in Paris seems to have sent some people off the deep end. In Alabama, the Governor has decided that fleeing the Daesh (also known as ISIS /ISIL who are literally NOT EVEN Islamic despite their appropriating the name… kind of like Westboro Baptist “Church” is “Christian,”) makes you a terrorist, even though you are running for your life and a refugee. Xenophobic, Islamophobic, and a persecutor of the poor…Gov. Bentley is like The Simpsons Mr. Burns incarnate. Someone told my daughter she was lucky she was in the US now. Even though she was BORN here and fricking grew up in Alabama, Florida and Massachusetts and played Pokemon and watched cartoons and ate McDonald’s like every other kid in the US.

So I pray that when people see her they actually see HER, my kid, my daughter, who dressed up as Pikachu when she was 8. Who played soccer when she was 5. Who attended St. Paul’s Episcopal School for Kindergarten. Not someone to be afraid of, not a terrorist, Just a young woman from the South trying to become a nurse and take care of her family who happens to practice a religion that her father taught her because it spoke to her heart. And if you happen to see a Muslim when you are out… just remember, she is someone’s kid like mine and be kind.

Today’s Sermon and Divine Inspiration

Sermons like the one given by The Reverend Barkley Thompson today at my church, St.John’s Episcopal in Roanoke, VA are convincing examples of the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit in action, at least in my own experience.

Very few people know how difficult it was to relinquish all of MY hopes and dreams for my daughter’s future and embrace hers. It sounds easy and like the right thing to do, but when your child decides to follow a path that diverges radically from yours and that of her closest family members it can feel like a rejection of all that you are as a parent and as a human being. Not to mention all that your family stands for. It causes feelings of loss, grief and failure. Deep sorrow. The death of a dream is still a death.

My daughter has embraced a strict version of Islam, while I an Episcopalian of boundless faith and many mystical experiences, have watched with dismay. Through prayer I have come to understand that this is her path to the holy and what she believes is the only way to God. This saddens me as much as it comforts me. Comforts me that she knows God, saddens me that she has to follow this path. How my heart ached for her on the day before her wedding. I once was in a similar position, wanting with all my heart a level of certainty and belonging I thought I could get by marrying and joining a community that would accept me completely if I adhered to their clearly spelled out rules. It was simple to understand if not easy to do. Not as confusing as the world I grew up in, where people said one thing but did another, promises were broken and parents no longer held children accountable. The world seemed like a dangerous place back then.

In time I learned that I was able to form my own order out of chaos and act with honor even if others did not. While I couldn’t control or even trust their behavior, I found comfort in acting in good faith. If I was occasionally disappointed, I learned from each experience and grew stronger and more compassionate. I failed myself and learned that forgiving others came easier than forgiving myself. In time though I even learned how to do that.

This morning’s sermon actually moved me so much tears came to my eyes. First I will post the relevant verse of the Bible and then Reverend Thompson’s sermon. If you can see the parallels between the Pharisees and modern day Muslims, as I did, you will understand the compassion that filled me and the love that welled up for my child. I so pray that she loses her fear some day and comes to understand the trust and safety that is the hallmark of faith. I wish that for her and for her new husband above all else.

Matthew 15:10-28 (New International Version)

New International Version (NIV)Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

10Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ “

12Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

13He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14Leave them; they are blind guides.[a] If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

15Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ”

21Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”

23Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

27“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

28Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

The True Model of Faith
Matthew 15:21-28, Pentecost 13, Year A
17 August 2008
By The Reverend Barkley Thompson

This morning’s Gospel passage is very difficult.  On the face of it, here’s what we see:  Jesus is sought out by a woman in need.  He insults her and only ultimately helps her because she won’t stop badgering him.  Jesus’ behavior, it seems, is hardly in keeping with one we call “Lord.”  Some have tried to excuse Jesus here by claiming that he is testing the woman’s faith, but to be honest, I find that interpretation of this passage noxious.  God doesn’t treat the hurting that way.  So what is going on here?  Well, to really understand this story we need to back up a bit.

Earlier in the fifteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus finds himself—for about the hundredth time—confronted by the Pharisees.  First century Pharisees, like all Palestinian Jews in that day, were faced with a real problem: secular culture was challenging their religious lives.  (Does that sound familiar?)  For years the Romans had ruled Palestine, and for centuries before that, the Greeks had been in charge.  During all that time, Greek culture, with its idols, its materialism, and its tendency toward nakedness and permissive sex had filtered into Jewish life.  What had traditionally been forbidden was now accepted without question.  To the Pharisees, it must have felt as if their world was a ship slowly but surely filling with water.

The Pharisees responded to this threat with a vengeance.  They were the keepers of the Jewish law, and they looked the part.  They wore long, traditional robes and placed phylacteries—small leather boxes containing passages of scripture—on their foreheads and arms.  They knew the Torah better than anyone, and they insisted that the only way to preserve Jewish life was to circle the wagons, keep outsiders and outside influences at bay, and declare unclean anybody who wasn’t as rigorous in religious observance as they were.

This is why the Pharisees get so irritated by Jesus throughout Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus’ way of being Jewish couldn’t be more different from theirs.  He disregards many of the purity laws they cherish.  He consorts with all sorts of people that they see as moral and cultural threats to Jewish life.  While they set rigid boundaries to God’s grace, Jesus throws boundaries to the wind and includes any and all within the family of God.  And so at every turn the Pharisees debate Jesus over the particulars of the faith they share.  They think of Jesus as uneducated rabble, wishing to humiliate and dismiss him, but again and again Jesus bests the Pharisees, silencing them with the depth and faith of his Gospel message.

An interesting and quirky exchange happens just before today’s passage.  Jesus accuses the Pharisees of using religious tradition to justify taking some of their income that should be used to care for their aging parents and instead sheltering it by designating it for the upkeep of the temple.  It’s an accounting trick worthy of Enron!  In other words, the Pharisees manipulate their faith for all sorts of ends rather than directing it toward the weak and vulnerable—even those closest to them—who are in need.

Now, we need to remember that the disciples are with Jesus whenever these sparring matches between Jesus and the Pharisees occur.  Frankly, the disciples are dunderheads.  Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has tried to show them by his actions and reveal to them through his parables what it means to have faith, but they never seem to get it.  The disciples probably feel a bit ambivalent whenever Jesus and the Pharisees debate.  After all, the Pharisees answer quite clearly the question about how to be faithful to God.  One is faithful by following all the right rules, observing strict and inflexible moral guidelines, and lashing out against any whom they perceive to be threats.  Though rigorous, theirs is a simple faith, easy to understand and to follow.  Jesus, on the other hand, when asked what faith is like tells strange stories about mustard seeds, buried treasure, and whatnot.

All of this gets us to this morning’s Gospel passage.  Jesus has just finished wrangling with the Pharisees, and as he often does after such encounters he leaves to rest and spend time away from the crowds.  This time he leaves Jewish territory altogether, entering with the disciples into Gentile territory—a place where the Pharisees will definitely not follow him, since foreigners are to be avoided at all costs.  As soon as Jesus arrives, a strange encounter ensues.

A Canaanite woman finds Jesus and throws herself at him.  “Have mercy on me Lord, Son of David,” she cries.  She then tells Jesus a heartbreaking tale about her daughter who is possessed with a demon, a sad fact that would have made both her and her daughter outcasts in their community.  Jesus is tired and haggard, and in a very human way he tries to ignore her, but she will not be ignored.  She kneels before him, blocking his way.  The disciples are visibly embarrassed by this woman who is doubly to be shunned—being foreign and having a crazy daughter, both stigmas in Jewish eyes—and they gruffly ask Jesus to send her away.

And that’s when the story turns.  Only upon hearing the disciples’ remark does Jesus’ exhausted stupor subside, and he realizes the moment that is before him.  He launches into action, but not in the way we expect.  “Woman,” he says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
She’s not an Israelite, but she will not be moved.  “Lord,” she repeats, “Help me.”
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus parries.
But again the woman comes back, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs from the master’s table.”
It is at this point that I imagine a huge smile beams across Jesus’ rejuvenated face.  “Woman,” he says, “Great is your faith!  Let it be done as you wish.”  And Matthew tells us that the woman’s daughter is healed instantly.

What has happened?  Matthew’s intent is subtle, I believe, and it cannot be understood apart from Jesus’ prior debates with the Pharisees or from the disciples’ attempt to manhandle and dismiss this woman.
When the disciples ask, in essence, “You want us to get rid of her, boss?” Jesus realizes that they regard the Canaanite woman as disparagingly as the Pharisees would, as one who is outside the scope of God’s grace.  Jesus throws them for a loop by engaging her in exactly the same way he has earlier engaged the Pharisees, except that here he takes on the role of the Pharisee in order to accentuate her as the model of faith.  I can imagine the look on the disciples’ faces as Jesus begins his debate with this poor, uneducated woman in learned rabbinic style.  I can also imagine how that look deepens when, whereas the Pharisees are repeatedly silenced by Jesus’ first words, the Canaanite woman stays with him and eventually triumphs.

The difference between learned Pharisee and poor, foreign woman is this: the Pharisees in reality operate out of fear and desperation, but the Canaanite woman speaks from true faith.  That she does so gives her the strength to struggle with God for the good of her daughter.  She acknowledges Jesus’ identity immediately upon meeting him—something the Pharisees never do—and she continually calls him “Lord” throughout their exchange.  She does not ask for God’s healing grace to preserve some cherished, idolized way of life—as the Pharisees do—but rather for someone dear to her who is hurting and vulnerable.

It is Jesus’ hope that this real life situation will finally teach his disciples what faith looks like.  It is a situation as topsy-turvy as the best parable!  The conventional wisdom, that the learned and exalted Pharisees are the embodiment of faith, is upended.  Faith’s true model, the one whose faith is so strong that she will struggle to know God against all odds, is the very least person that the disciples would expect: a foreign woman with a possessed child.

Why is this important to us?  Because we are just as liable as the disciples to be mistaken in our models of faith.  In our world as in theirs, it very often seems like our faith is being assaulted by the culture around us.  Violence, promiscuity, and greed are so pervasive that in our reflective moments we become startled at how numb we are to them.  We may react by looking for guidance to those who would circle the wagons, who would have our religion stand in starker relief to the outside world by making religious observance more grandiose and morality more rigid, arguing that one’s faith hinges on which side you fall on any number of moral questions.  Yet such reactions reveal more about our fear than they do about our faith.  And when such reactions make us blind to those around us who are in real spiritual need, ignoring them as unworthy of our attention, such reactions actually move us away from, not closer to, the God we so desire to know.

The Canaanite woman’s engagement with Jesus shows us the way of faith.  What does she do?  She doesn’t exhaust her spiritual energy being obsessed with the moralistic judgment of those around her.  She doesn’t waste time debating who has and who lacks God’s favor.  Instead, she seeks God’s grace for the one in spiritual need, and she seeks strength and solace in Jesus, the God Incarnate in whom these things can be found.  This is the way of faith for her, for the disciples, and for us.  This is the faith I pray we come to know.
Amen.

Film, Art and Katanas

Just got back from seeing a great film called A Jihad for Love at Hollins.It’s about gay Muslims. While I was in the VAC which is the Arts and Film department I spotted a great piece of art that was being showcased. It’s a trumpet player hanging suspended and completely made of clear tape.
I finished my painting and am excited that it’s done. I look forward to showing the process in class tomorrow. The only bit of a bummer is that I still have a final to finish before I can go to sleep tonight. We fenced with Katanas today. Interesting, but heavy and crude. I am thinking of being either Zorro or Captain Jack Sparrow for Monday’s theatrical fencing class.
I decided to change my classes a little bit. I dropped a couple of Philosophy courses, mainly because I heard the teacher drops a letter drade for every absence. So, I will be taking a sociology class, called Social Problems, Global Perspectives, Advanced Creative Writing, Drawing, Video Production, Chaplaincy Studies III and Lifetime Wellness Activities. This last is a course where you get to try a different sport each week. (Tennis, Golf etc.)
I’ve been struggling with Islam lately. The truth about it is that it is a varied religion with many different communities. In the film tonight, several of the theological schools of Islam were represented. The Sufi one interested me the most. That and the Q’uaranic scholar who is gay in South Africa. He makes a compelling argument in support of the idea of critical thinking when reading the Q’uaran. This used to be a practice and there is even a name for it, but it went by so fast I didn’t catch it. I think I will write to the director for more info on that. He was compelling and held a wonderful Q&A after the movie, added a lot. Being Episcopal makes it easier for me to get self-righteous about tolerance and welcome in your worship life. We are fighting the whole “gay bishop” thing against the world because we believe it is the right thing to do…there are so many belief systems out there that how can I judge? Every one thinking they know the answers, even me. It helps to remind myself of the fallacy of believing that I actually do.

Being thoughtful

It’s a rainy day today. I woke up and heard the sound of it pattering on the roof. I hummed along in my mind to the Winnie the Pooh song about rain,”The Rain Rain Rain Came Down Down Down” which always pops into my head when it rains like this.
Despite the grayness of the day and the fact that I am on campus for the whole day and into the evening, I am in a good mood. I was just nominated/volunteered for the Spriritual and Religious Life Association External Chair position which is a co-President position with the Internal Chair.
Pretty cool. I am excited about the possibilities for Fall semester and also have been thinking about living on campus then. I am checking into what is involved to do that.
I had a great fencing class with saber and then stayed for the club meeting to bout with foil. I think I have a preference for foil. It flows so much better and is more fun in my opinion. You can also use strategy a little more.
I like saber too, but it is less about thinking and more about action and reaction.
I finished the second season of Dexter…yay BitTorrent. It was fantastic. Now I am listening to the Dexter soundtrack. It makes a nice companion to the weather.
I managed to finish some of my work and am working on a couple of papers on the Gospel of Matthew and a paper about my experience at synogogue.
In my New Testament class today we reviewed Collosians, which is a letter from the Apostle Paul, warning the church community in Collosae to avoid deceptive teachers who insist Christians should follow the law. After seeing the love that the community I visited had for the Torah/God’s word and Mosaic Law, this had a different and more intense meaning. The prayers that I heard in Hebrew and read in English, were really beautiful and full of adoration.
It really made me start to understand the anguish of an early Jewish follower of Christ. While Collosians was meant to be liberating, and it was to a large degree, modern readers undervalue how holy the law and the Testament that documented it is to Jews.
It also made me think about how similar Islam is to Judaism in its utter devotion to the word of God, its incredible reverence for the Q’uaran and for the laws and traditions it lays out.
I know this is only the beginning of my exploration along this line of thought.
I started my painting for my English class yesterday. I need to pick up a couple of AA batteries for my digital camera so I can document the rest of the steps in it as part of my presentation.
So many good movies are coming out soon, but IronMan is at the top of my list. I saw today that it got a smashingly good review. So I will be there sooner rather than later.
FRIDAY!
🙂

Sabreuse

I feel excellently tonight. My second class today was interesting and got me thinking about Islam and its parallels to Christianity. My third class featured a lecture by my film professor on The Silence of the Lambs which was, as always, enjoyable. I ended up at fencing club where I met the President and was officially accepted. She “knighted” me, as it were, in jest with one of the brand new sabres. Yes, sabre. In the last week, I moved from foil to epee and finally to sabre. It is based on a calvary sword and the rules are slightly different. On day one of class when we weighed them each in our hands, the sabre clung to mine. I learned a lot today. I look forward to bouts with my actual teacher. Hee Hee.
The girls in the club were so welcoming and warm. When I mentioned that I wanted to participate in one of the traditions at Hollins next semester, a kind of hazing known as ring night, but feared no one would want an adult student as their ring sister they were fantastic. Two will be seniors next semester and Elena (the president) assured me that they would take care of me. Awesome!
They lent me a sabre breastplate and glove to use on Saturday as I still await delivery on mine.
I have a neat project I am working on, it involves painting something. I will take pictures of it in progress and demonstrate the strokes and why they are employed to mimic the journal of Robert Henri.
I have a couple of great photo albums over at Facebook, my amateur photography, landscapes, on campus etc. Not to mention Mr. Tucker the Yorkie. I will probably choose one of them as my model unless it is especially beautiful tomorrow.
Now it is time to grit my teeth and finish banging out another 8 pages of a research paper on Malaria and sub-Saharan Africa.
Nighty night