Monday, March 22, 2010

Moments On the Road

We cannot kindle when we will
The fire which in the heart resides,
The spirit bloweth and is still,
In mystery our soul abides:
But tasks, in hours of insight willed,
May be through hours of gloom fulfilled.
-Matthew Arnold
It's been so good to be back in Nashville for these last few weeks. I'm reminded of all the people and things I love about this place. Returning has raised a deepened affection and longing, and the slim possibility of a new life here. But as I ask those questions of myself and God, I'm only affirmed in my current path to keep moving until He says "stop." This is not my town any more - I'm assured of that - and there's grief in this acceptance. And as I sit in quiet and give that grief away, I'm moment by moment flooded by the blessings the last year have held and the promise of those down the road.

I feel a sense of purpose in moving on, even yet without a concrete plan. This has been the rule of my new life. Circumstances change on the daily, and the Spirit moves without warning. This is not a stagnant life. Untaken steps cannot be guided. So I'll fill up my identity from the wellspring of life each morning and walk boldly in the direction I hear the music. The words of someone wise are ringing in my head, saying you have to put out to sea before the wind can fill your sails. Sorry to whomever said this; I'd give credit if I recalled. I just know too many too wise people, I suppose.

It's interesting interacting with people from my life before this journey, trying to catch each other up on the broad strokes of how we've become who we are, just a year later. I'm more and more convinced it's not the broad strokes that change us, but the moments. The major events in life often happen by themselves, but we're formed from the seconds and minutes between, and by the things we put in our minds and hearts as time rolls along. By our moment-by-moment responses to the life that lays before us, however inconsequential it may, in the moment, seem.

I've regaled any number of people with stories from my travels, surely leaving them with an impression far more grand than the reality of a life as it is lived in another place, not so different from here. All across the world, every person I've met breathes, laughs, longs, bleeds, struggles, loves, and wonders. It's a blessing to share a bit of life with each of them and to digest how differently one organizes his or her life depending on where it's lived. It's perhaps a greater blessing to begin to grasp what a thin layer of difference actually rests on the surface of human life. I could scratch straight through it with a hair from my weird little moustache.

I've been thinking a lot about the moments that have shaped this journey for me. There are so many epic moments, so many highs, so many pictures I'll keep in my mind forever. But when I get down to the times that have shaped me and transformed me as a person, I'm drawn to the moments that were really, really hard, when nothing was working right and, with every ounce of strength and skill I could muster, I couldn't even come close to making things right. I can't comprehend the fruit that has grown from those precious few moments where I was nothing if not broken and alone. I wrote to my friend Jaclyn during this time,
I've had so many days on this freaking journey where I wake up in the morning and the only thing I have to give is a shitty attitude, frustration about relationships and 'programming' (whatever that is) and a desire to just quit and drink myself into a stupor. It seems like it's the hardest thing to wake up and take fifteen minutes to say, "Homeboy, this is what I have to offer - bones and dust. Do your thing." Some days, by the end of that fifteen minutes He's shown that bedrock you spoke about - that foundation of goodness that lies just beneath every bit of selfishness and hardship, and I'm brought to freaking tears at new revelations of the things He took to the cross for me.

Some days, there is no such revelation, and I spend the entire morning of labour commanding my muscles to move for a promise that's greater than the resistance they give.

I'm getting the sense that these are the hours that purify the saints and condition the martyrs. It's the moments when everything in your world and your head screams you're working your tail off for a lie, and you can only inhale in prayer, and the Spirit exhales the truth on your behalf in whispers the devil cannot hush.
Any story of this journey would be incomplete without these moments. Of course it's always been about loving God and loving people, and I wouldn't go if He didn't say so and wasn't reaching others through my walk. But He's at work in me all the while. These moments gave me a new depth to understand Grace and to believe in supernatural healing and power. They broke through unmeasurable old layers of guilt, selfishness, loathing, shame, and unbelief, not burying them or pushing them off, but sinking straight to their base and letting them dissolve and crumble in the presence of pure, true love and mercy. I wouldn't trade these moments for anything.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Opened My Big Mouth Again

The other day an old friend from high school posted an album of inflammatory pictures. They depicted militant Islamic fundamentalists in hateful demonstration, as well as practices of conditioning children. She didn't know the source and her captions showed fear and misunderstanding. Troubled, I responded, cautioning her and others to be slow to take in such propaganda, as many images are doctored or fabricated, and whether real or fake, the participation in spreading them is succumbing to brainwashing and fear- and hate-mongering.

I returned to the post several days later to find a discussion taking place. The poster was lamenting corruption in the media, and a Jewish friend was telling stories about being victimized by Islamic youth in a town in Michigan. It was sad, sad, sad to hear, and I can see why it's difficult for him and others to resist making broad, sweeping generalizations based on such trauma. But as I listen to all sides of this situation tell their stories, I hear the same words - everybody's hurt and few are interested in forgiveness.

I began praying about how, or whether to join back into the conversation that I'd started, and continued browsing through the posted links to videos of radical conditioning. When I read the poster's summation statement, "The world has a serious problem on its hands," I felt the spirit move within me. Here's my response, with linked videos below:

Yeah. We have a very serious problem on our hands. The problem is that this indoctrination is happening on every side of this global epidemic.

There are pockets in which deliberate and concentrated conditioning is happening in the Islamic world. There are also many voices of reason and hope. For example, Dhiyaa Al-Musawi - It would be better to hold up reason and hope as exemplary than to continue to perpetuate hate and mutual misunderstanding.

An equally large part of the problem is in our own country, our own neighborhoods and streets, our own minds. We must never be persuaded there is an inherent difference in people because of their race, culture, or beliefs. You're absolutely correct, we are at the mercy of a corrupt and perverted media, and we ourselves are being conditioned to perpetuate the violence, misunderstanding, and hate. We're experiencing brainwashing just the same, albeit usually behind a much more subversive veil. Often it looks a lot more like chain-letters with really scary pictures attached. Accepting this inflammatory propaganda, particularly without knowledge of its source, research into the situation as a whole, or attention to countering arguments is participation in a system that, for thousands of years past and thousands of years to come, will only result in more confusion, bigotry, ignorance, hate, and genocide.

I hope it isn't hard to believe that kids, teens, and young adults all across the Muslim world are seeing Toby Keith videos about the supremacy and bad-ass attitude of the American people, complete with spliced-in footage of actual children all across our nation holding guns, marching, and chanting to the demise of whatever Arab stereotype you could conjure. This material is only a portion true. Same with the lies they are fed about Israel.

The reality that I will stake my life on is that forgiveness, grace, and love will ALWAYS win, even if only a dozen people practice it and are taken to their graves as a result. Hate begets hate, bringing more offense and retribution from each side of any quarrel in perpetuity. The only way to break the cycle is to voluntarily forfeit your "right" to pride and correctness, and in doing so give any aggressor the gift of simply being heard, and given another perspective.

Unfortunately the world is full of ears that will not hear and minds that will not change. We only have the power to affect our own sphere of influence and encourage openness and grace where we can, starting with ourselves. An unwillingness to rise to that challenge, each for ourselves, results in the continuation of humanity's dire state.

In the moment, I didn't think to mention the many wonderful, faithful Muslim people I've met and grown to know and love in the last year. Like the hundreds of Muslims I met in India, Turkey, Tunisia, and Egypt that simply blew me away with their kindness, humor, and hospitality. Like the Alevi Muslims in Aydın, Turkey who invited me into their home and shared their heart of love, tolerance, and the beautiful search for transcendent truth. We had a blast - My experiences prohibit me from accepting, or ignoring, these blanket dismissals and defamations of a huge, diverse group of people. My prayer is that our eyes will be opened, that we'll be able to see what grace we've been given, and that we may offer that grace, in turn, to our neighbors all about the world.

No one responded to the discussion any more.

Dhiyaa Al-Musawi interviewed:

Feast in Aydın, Türkiye: