Monday, July 27, 2009

Coptic Inquisition

Yesterday, I was kind of put on the spot in front of 50 or 60 Arabic-speaking Egyptians at an outdoor café. They asked some pretty interesting questions.

“Why are you here?” “What are you doing?” “What drives you to do what you do?”

I said a quick prayer for wisdom and discernment, because the last thing I want to do is offend anyone, much less cause a stir of violence or get wrapped up in legal issues.

What came immediately out of my mouth was a simple reflection on where I am today, compared with where I was just one year ago. The change is staggering. I never ever would have thought one year ago that today I’d be in Cairo, in the midst of traveling the world with the simple charge of finding and spreading the love of God to his people.

Quick demographic note on the people surrounding me: Many were Coptic Christians, one of the most ancient establishments of the church, dating back to the first century. They make up between 10-15% of the Egyptian population, and they are very nationalistic. I talked for a while with a dude who has both his arms inked in traditional Coptic artwork. Young Copts adorn themselves as such, in many cases, simply to proclaim “I am not a Muslim, and I am every bit as Egyptian as you, if not more.” Others in the crowd were, similarly, “cultural Muslims.” That is to say that they consider themselves Muslim because they were born to an Islamic family in an Islamic society, not because they practice or find meaning in their faith. It’s a matter of identity.

I understand this matter of identity, to some degree, so it seemed pretty relevant to discuss certain aspects of the world in which I lived before. Mine was a good, solid American life up until about a year ago. Career, Bach’ Pad, Friends, Girlfriend, Generally Nice and Well-Liked, Utterly and Thoroughly Empty. Since finishing high school and leaving home I pretty much did what every upstanding young societal member ought – degree, job, home, 401K, and generally doing whatever the crap I wanted at any given moment.

Hm. Maybe these things aren’t bad, but they’re certainly not priorities I want to have. After the experience at the café, I dug out some old journal entries to help me get back in last year’s mindset. This is one I found:

There’s an egg-timer in my chest.

It’s hooked to an alarm.

The alarm is a voice in my head that says

“It’s time to self-destruct,

to fuck everything you know.”

The only snooze is


A slow wringing.

Weeks, months, or


Followed by implosion.

I’m reminded reading this how small your world can get when you think you understand it. A manageable, fail-safe, succinct life just naturally atrophies and dies. I believe I am like most humans, if not worse. And, if I am like most humans, then we all have a condition that causes us to focus inward and ultimately become pretty loathsome creatures.

I guess that’s why I’m so freaking thankful for this journey, for deliverance from the lies I was living under. I guess that’s why there’s usually a smile on my face, and even hard and crappy situations can seem a delight. There’s just no comparison. Why would anyone knowingly live outside the perfect will of the Living God, if he or she truly knew His Goodness and Provision? How is it that the lies of our society seem to trump eternal truths born into our very soul?

Well, to wrap this up, I’ve got some great new Egyptian friends. I would have loved to have stayed and talked with them all day. The history here, their very way of life is so engaging. It’s always so wonderful having a great discussion with people you should in theory have nothing in common with, only to find that we’re all pretty much the same underneath. We parted ways with each others’ blessing and I feel that, at least today, I made good on the goal of my journey.

1 comment:

  1. beau, it's so good to see you truly enjoying your travels and new experiences in such an amazing way. just know that even a year ago when i met you at the old avoca dorms, it was evident that you were generous, kind and good hearted, although i understand how the life you had can make these things hard to see yourself when you get wrapped up in it. keep living your life in a way that brings you fulfillment and keep spreading that contagious beau-love to everyone you meet! xo. erica