“Be careful! You might convert.”
Islam, it turns out, is not contagious…despite warnings I have received to the contrary.
Over the last two weeks of patchwork Ramadan, I have been meditating on what it is that draws a person to a particular faith. I have been listening to On Being Podcasts about Islam, tweeting my inquiries to @interfaithRam and @EidPrayLove, and re-reading the Sufi poetry of Hafiz and Rumi.
For my more conservative Christian friends, this might raise some concerns. Won’t this exploration inevitably lead to my conversion?
I have never heeded the warning that exposure to other folks and faiths will somehow weaken my own identity. Consequently, I tend to move towards those who I perceive to be the most “different” from me.
Before I faced the Muslims, I faced the Mormons.
Like much of America, I grew up with more than a few prejudices against the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” Some of these came from the pulpit. Others came from South Park. I took them with a grain of salt, though, because the Mormons I went to schools with…were pretty great. Jared Moore, in particular, didn’t strike me as bound for perdition. He was kind, goofy, and gave really good hugs.
As I got older, my primary critique of the faith was not the logical fallacies (because, let’s be honest, mainstream Christianity has its own eyebrow raising, big fish swallowing, death defying tales to explain). Rather, my greatest critique of Mormonism was the shunning.
I had friends who because they would not accept the theology of Mormonism, their families rejected them. I had friends who could not witness the marriage of their siblings because they weren’t allowed into the Mormon temple where the weddings took place.
When it comes to my faith, my litmus test is pretty simple:
Does your faith make you more inclusive or exclusive?
If the former, Amen.
If the latter, get thee behind me.
Still, I would meet Mormons who were wonderfully generous, kind, devoted people and I would try to reconcile their open hearts with their closed doors.
So I asked a Mormon colleague out to coffee…
I mean hot chocolate…
…err, Chamomile tea?
She relished the opportunity to be able to talk about her faith. I relished the opportunity to ask her questions about everything from Caffeine to underwear.
And guess what else. I didn’t convert.
My desire to share tea with Mormons or Ramadan with Muslims doesn’t spring from a need to convert but a need to commune.
English teacher alert: we need to talk about prefixes.
I. Love. Prefixes.
I love how breaking down a word into its elements reveals old stories and new meanings.
“Com-” has always been a favorite of mine. With. Together.
“Con-” on the other hand is trickier. It can mean “with” (as in “Chile con Carne”) but it can also mean “against” (as in “Pro and Con”).
So I can be “connected” but I can also be “contrary.”
And while I have had to answer people’s questions about the possibility of conversion, what has really been of greatest interest to me is my deep desire for communion.
Conversion is rooted in “truth”. Verily I say unto you. Verify. Verdad? Add “Con” to the front and the idea of conversion might be understood as turning towards truth. “Transforming.” Conversely… it might mean the opposite.
Communion, on the other hand, is more straightforward. Communal. Community. It has to do with fellowship. Sharing. Literally “with one-ness.” This is also a term entangled with my Christian roots.
The first communion was Jesus’ last supper. Sitting together with his friends and family, preparing to face his mortality, he ate with those he loved. Broke bread. Shared wine. This simple act is the grain from which the rest of Christianity emerges and evolves.
Ironically, communion has also become a major point of contention in Christian history. Blood has been spilled over the body and blood.
Who can give it? Who can take it? Who is welcome at this table?
My husband is Catholic. In the theology of Roman Catholicism only priests can create the Eucharist and only confirmed Catholics can receive it. (Although SEVERAL priests, who will remain nameless, have joyfully shared communion with me in full knowledge that I was not Catholic).
At my friend Cara’s Episcopal church, on the other hand, “All are welcome at this table.” Instead of lining up, we circle up. The congregation comes to the sacristy at the front of the church, forms a circle, and anyone can partake in the bread and wine. I crave eye contact when I take communion.
The best thing about Ramadan is the communion that comes at sundown. There is water to quench your thirst, food to assuage your hunger, and LOTS of “with oneness.” Chatting with the Imams wife. Watching the kids alternate between playing and eating. Learning that “There’s an App for that” and downloading “Muslim Pro” on my phone complete with call to prayer push notifications!
During Lent I wrote a Blog post I called, “The Other F Word”. It was a reflection on the four letter “F” word that should be our greatest concern: Fear.
“Fear is the mind killer.”
“Fear not, for I am with thee.”
Fear makes it hard to see. Hard to love. Hard to breathe. Prejudice is rooted and rotted in fear. The only way to uproot it is through exposure. Through moving towards that which we fear.
Breaking bread together. Sharing the same table. Making eye contact.
Sitting with my Muslim (or Mormon) Brothers and Sisters is not about changing my faith. It’s about changing my heart. Expanding it. Making it bigger. Less ruled by fear and misunderstanding. More ruled by love and compassion.
“Perfect Love casts out fear.”
Who are you afraid of?
It starts with a cup of tea.