What Nourish Meant

When humans eat alone, we are often left hungry.

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“It’s been nice not eating with you, Barb.”

This was the sardonic line delivered by one of my colleagues yesterday. As the school year wraps up, there have been A LOT of end-of-year dinners, luncheons, and (not so) happy hours for me to attend…just in time for Ramadan.

To my right is a pita platter. To my left, pasta primavera.  I am hemmed in by temptation on all sides with only my haram iced tea to comfort me. (Yes, know it all. I realize I’m not supposed to be drinking during Ramadan. Mind yo’ bidness and tune in next blog for “Rama-my-way.” And ignore the mint in the background.)

tea

Situations such as these elicit a lot of apologies, as people bite into their bacon turkey clubs.

It is an interesting quirk of my spiritual impulses, that while I rarely seem to mind being the center of attention, say, on spirit day when I’m prancing around in a purple tutu, when it comes to matters of faith…I’m more comfortable with spiritual subtlety.

tutu you

I never wore a gold cross around my neck, never flew in an airplane with a Bible on my lap hoping for a conversion conversation, never wore a shirt that said “WWJD”, never bought an fish for the back of my car.

And now that my spirituality has become a syncretic mystical mix, I may write reflectively in a public blogging space or answer any direct questions, I’m not knocking door to door to hand out certainty in pamphlet form.

This is all to say, collective meals during sun-up make me feel awkward. I almost skipped this one.

But then…

Something funny happened (as it often does) when we lean into rather than away from spaces and situations that discomfort us.

Because I didn’t have to pay attention to food, I could pay attention to people.

fast break1

During Ramadan, you begin to realize just how much of your day is focused on your belly. What goes into it, how it’s feeling, what it’s saying, how big it’s getting, and on, and on, and on. Even at this meal I would have devoted time to choosing my food, eating my food, comparing my food to those around me, trading my food for theirs.

I’ve always found it fascinating that we humans the world over have taken this…well, kind of gross thing we must do to survive (aka: crushing up living things in our mouth into a moist paste) and created so many rituals, recipes, and reality shows around this most basic of acts. Trees have a much more elegant method of survival. Sun from the top. Water from the bottom. Imagine everything they can get done because they don’t have to shop at Harris Teeter for the 42 line recipe from Cook’s Illustrated!

What’s more, we know that particularly in our country, this act that is simply supposed to nourish us has made us sick. We have made our taste buds, not our tummies, the gatekeeper of what enters our bodies. All kinds of food like substances that don’t end up nourishing us at all. Instead they give us heart disease and colon cancer.

Last Ramadan I realized that my WORST eating habits happened in isolation. I was most likely to eat a bag of leftover Halloween candy unobserved in my cinder-block office, or a block of Manchego cheese before my kids got home from school, or a Chic-fil-a sandwich and peppermint milkshake in my car and quickly get rid of the evidence (in my progressive shame), or a carton of Cherry Garcia after my husband went to bed the night before Ramadan.

For me, peer pressure has never made me bad. It’s helped me be good. This is true of my eating and my being.

In contrast, During Ramadan, both eating and NOT eating becomes a communal rather than individual act. Iftar is the meal that breaks the fast. At sundown you wait for the call to prayer, as the last rays descend below the horizon you eat your date and guzzle your water, migrate in to pray, and then migrate out to stuff your face with platters of house prepared delights. If you celebrate at the mosque you will do this under a great white tent with all your fellow parishoners (mosque-ishoners?), or alternately you will do this at home amidst the tangle of your family. Like 40 days of Thanksgiving at dusk.

Date with date
“You got a date with a date!”

Consequently, Ramadan can be a very isolating experience for solitary Muslims. Men working abroad away from their families. College students without an MSA. Anyone who has unwillingly spent a holiday estranged from their people will be able to sympathize.

Just in the few days I have been fasting, I feel the hunger most acutely in isolation…and somehow not at all when I’m laughing on the stoop with my neighbors, chasing my kids down on their bikes, sweating through yoga next to strangers, telling and hearing ghost stories while I sip my iced tea next to a sardonic pita pounding colleague.

 

The hunger abates.

I feel satiated.

stoop break

I wonder if what we mistake for hunger pangs may be a society starving for deep human connection.

 

When humans eat alone, we are often left hungry.

For what?

Each other, I think.

Now that’s a craving I’m happy to cave into.

Odd friends of Ramadan

Transformed by curious couplings during #Christians4Ramadan

Tonight, on Ramadan Eve, I finished two books, both of which were given to me. One by my daughter. One by a first year teacher.

A month ago, my daughter came home from Pre-K4 with I am Malala in her Ninja Turtle backpack.

Holding it up to me in two hands, like a stone tablet.  She said earnestly, (Ivy says most things earnestly) “Mommy I want to read this!”

She’d found it in the fourth grade classroom and I can only assume connected immediately with the tranquil gaze of Malala on the front cover.

“Umm…I want to read that too, five year old,” I said bemused. “Guess this is our first mother daughter book club.” We let Kip join too because…top bunk privilege. At bedtime, for the last month, we have been reading about Malala, Pakistan, Swat Valley, the rise of the Taliban, her Father’s activism, her own fight for human and children’s rights…and her love for Ugly Betty. Kip and Ivy have both been surprisingly riveted, only occasionally petitioning for a respite with Star Wars Rebels or Rosie Revere. After they become drowsy to the wisdom of Malala, I choose my late night profundity from a different direction.

Early in the school year, my colleague Andy (who had actually been a student at the school where I began teaching) asked me “Do you identify strongly with Leslie Knope?”

I gasped and grabbed his arm…

“Do YOU identify me with Leslie Knope?” I asked with rhetorical Leslie Knope-like eagerness.

“Umm…well that all depends…I guess some might see her as a little naïve.”

If by naïve you mean hopefully exuberant as she fearlessly charges into the world with blinders on to the peril towards herself or others but equipped with a bastion of binders to protect her…I guess I can see that.

I should mention here that my spirit animal is Leslie Knope riding a unicorn.

Andy took it all in stride and very thoughtfully presented me with Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes Please, as a Christmas gift…which I finally finished today. I wish this pace could be explained by 1,500 pages, small print and no pictures…but the book is only 329 pages long and is laced with Polaroids, hand scribbled notes from 8 year old Amy, and large margins with riotous side-notes from  friends and colleagues. I have added to these with annotations of my own (should you wish to borrow my copy).

As I drink wine and write this, these two books sit next to me, the authors both gazing at me with challenge and expectation. I don’t think I seek out these kinds of peculiar pairings to be deliberately provocative. I’m just a reluctant sorter. They would seem an odd couple to anyone else…but to those who know me, this will likely not come as too astounding. The spiritual humanitarian alongside the hilarious hedonist. Sounds about right.

Ram-odd-an

I will write more specifics about my strange affinity for these powerful women and the lessons they have taught me in the days to come, but for tonight, I accept their odd juxtaposition in my life and their company into Ramadan just as I hope you will accept the oddity of an educational mystic once again inspired and cleansed by her pilgrimage through this holy month.

I don’t have a logical or convenient filing system for the world or the people in it. I don’t reject these curious couplings when they happen. When my daughter hands me book, I accept. When the first year teacher hands me a book, I accept. When a kid asks me to sponsor the Muslim Student Association…I accept. And then I also accept the possibility that, perhaps, we were supposed to co-exist all along. Become friends. Transform each other. Make the other giggle.

I think Malala and Amy might do some giggling together. I think I might join them. And you? You’re invited, too.

Giggle.

Accept.

Humble Warrior (and the Holy Harrumph)

Finding balance between strength and humility…

Humility has never been my strong suit.

Consequently, sometimes the universe harrumphs at me.

Quietly, but definitively, I often feel the affectionate exasperation of the cosmos aimed in my direction.

This year during Ramadan and my sporadic attempts at fasting, the closest I came to prostrating towards Mecca was on my yoga mat. When you’re hungry, every sensation becomes nourishment. And if the mundane is made profound by your burning thirst, the profound is even more so.

Yoga has been the one space that has remained constant through my spiritual transformations. It began in 2002 with Fred Hagstrom, an art professor at Carleton College who would move his students through the Ashtanga Yoga series with no variation. It was the same. Every. Time.

For some, routine is comforting. For me, routine is tedium. Usually.

But something about the fluidity of…

Sun Salutation.

Forward fold.

Flat back.

High Plank.

Low plank.

Upward Dog.

Downward dog.

Rhythm. Tides. Seasons. Breath.

Yoga managed to do the one thing no other spiritual practice ever could…

Quiet my Monkey Mind.

Yoga Toes

Yoga during Ramadan nourished me in a new way. When I visited former students at the local Mosque in Gambrills, Maryland, I witnessed their prayer cycles in person for the first time. Sitting in the back of the prayer room, I watched women in beautiful robes and scarves in a choreographed dance towards the divine…

Stand

Bow

Kneel

Forehead to ground.

Stand.

Rhythm. Tides. Seasons. Breath.

Soon afterward when I came to my mat…the parallels were pronounced.

The central tenet of Islam is Submission to the will of Allah. Humility is likewise a tenet of my root faith, Christianity.  I never really got it. Never really wanted to.

It may have been in part because being raised in a conservative faith in the Midwest, it seemed that those most expected to be humble were…women. I was strong like a boy. Brave like a boy. Smart like…myself. Why should I pretend otherwise?

I remember the distinct moment in middle school when I first had the “B” word lobbed in my direction.

“Barbara’s hot, but she’s a bitch.”

Huh.

I didn’t see myself as either of these. Could I accept one but not the other, my teenage self wondered?

Intimidating. Bitchy. Cocky. Crazy.

Bitches get stuff done

I moved through various whispers or second hand labels like these, mostly from males I only vaguely knew. At some point I learned that being “cute” could offset my power. Obscure it enough to make it palatable. I’ve been figuring out how to contain, explain, and tame “my inner mean girl” ever since.

My mat has become a space to face this part of myself. I’ve always found it difficult to practice on my own. I can only do it for about 20 minutes and only about once every two months. But give me a roomful of sweaty yogis, I can go for an hour and a half (and give me a trust fund and I could go every day).

Yoga is funny. It’s a practice, not a performance, so you are not supposed to be comparing yourself to other people in the room.

Tell that to Lulu Lemon.

In truth, We (read I)  watch out of the corner of our (third) eye as someone falls out of tree pose. Bummer. And then we wonder who’s watching us (and gloating) when we do the same.

I’ve been practicing now for 15 years…so I can do a Cosmic Dance or two. Balance on one foot. My head. My forearms. I can fold and bend in old poses and stretch and strain into new ones.

Like I said. Humility has never been my strong suit.

Still…

Something internal shifted in my 30’s. I think it was Kip and Ivy that maybe did it. Parenting is humbling. My leftover baby-belly is humbling. For the first three years of their lives, I was lucky if I could get to yoga every couple of months. When I did…the heat of the room was nothing compared to the warmth of my gratitude. To be in this space. To polish my heart with my breath. To be strong sometimes and wobbly others. Kind of like the two most important little people in my life.

I would begin my practice in child’s pose and end in corpse pose, the final resting posture, tears slowly seeping from the corners of my eyes, having moved through the cycle of life and death.

Rhythm. Tides. Seasons. Breath.

Humility came with the realization that the best work of yoga is invisible to anyone but myself. No one can see my heart grow bigger. My spirit expand. My affection, compassion, and admiration for my fellow yogis moving in unison around me. And no matter my triumphs or tribulations on the mat, they mattered not at all unless I could bring their lessons with me out into the world.

During my Ramadan Yoga practice I thought a lot about submission…what it meant that I sucked at it. How I should feel about that. And then, all of a sudden I found myself in Humble Warrior.

For those of you unfamiliar with yoga, every posture has multiple variations. Dogs can be upward, downward, walked, or flipped.

Warriors can be reversed, flying, or…humbled.

Humble Warrior

How do we accept our inherent human power without lording it over others?

That’s it! I thought. I am a humble warrior!!

(Cue Holy Harrumph)

Cue self-aware chuckle.

Okay, okay. Not just yet.

But humble warrior, I realized in that moment, ought to become my life’s aspiration.

To be strong.

To be balanced.

To be humble…because I may topple over at any moment.

Humility and humiliation are not the same. My humility comes not from thinking myself less…but from thinking all of us MORE. Being able to look at a stranger and marvel at all the realities and possibilities they embody. To see people’s failings (and my own) as both inevitable and evolve-able.

I am powerful because…aren’t we all?

I feel myself called to action on issues rife with peril. Feel a future trajectory that will require courage.  I will fail unless I am first, humble. Second, powerful.

May the Cosmos, in Her mercy, help me balance both.

Sitting on the Stoop of Faith

“Here! It is a blessing,” a smiling priest says handing me a purple plum.

I stand in a Hindu temple. My friend Beth is getting married in a nearby room. I have wandered into this hall of gods unsure if I am welcome. They line the walls. Some I recognize. Elephant head. Blue Skin. Infinite arms. Others…this is our first time meeting.

In front of each are an assortment of what I assume to offerings. Candles. Money. Incense. Food.

As I tiptoed around this unfamiliar space, I robed man emerged from a door and approached me with a smile. I stood in front of a goddess with a twinkle in her eye. Perhaps I could identify. She looked a little saucy. I’m not sure if I would be wise to trust her, though. (Others feel the same about me.)

He tells me she is Lakshmi, goddess of fortune

Huh…Fortune. Not really my thing. (You know…Teacher.)

But, he tells me, she is also Goddess of luck. I’ve always seemed to have more of that than seemed fair.

This is when he picks up a “plum of blessing” from in front of her and hands it so me.

“Is that allowed?” I ask the (ahem) Hindu Priest.

He laughs. Yes, he assures me. The Goddess of the twinkle dares me to taste, and I take a bite of my Plum of blessing. I thank the priest and wander back to where I belong.

Blessings

On this final day of Ramadan (Eid Eve?!), the final day I will feel the pull of hunger so profoundly, I wish to pay tribute to the many men and women who have nourished me from other faiths and spaces.

To the Australian Buddhist who meditated with me on Loch Linhe in Scottland.

To the Pagan who taught me about the divinity of cliffs, pregnancy, and spaces of transition.

To the Jewish Family who sang me Shabbat in their home in the midst of mourning their middle son.

To the Agnostic who pondered with me Mormon roots and Academic branches at a café in Cambridge.

To the Atheist who dried my tears when an Evangelist told me I wasn’t her kind of Christian.

These humans have blessed my divine meanderings.

My favorite Mystic (because everyone should have a favorite Mystic) Simone Weil was born to an Agnostic Jewish family in France in the 20th century. She had a penchant for the poor. Laborers. Worked in solidarity with them and for them. Protested the Nazi occupation of her home. Fasted to raise consciousness of those living in Nazi Labor camps. Died of Tuburculousis at 34.

This melancholy character may seem an unlikely “Patron Saint of Barb”…but she also believed that if you didn’t get fired from teaching, you were probably doing something wrong.

She also became intrigued by Christianity, made friends with priests, but refused to be baptized because she felt to do so would be to shun the wisdom of all the non-Christians who had brought her to the door of the church.

Simone and I perhaps are best left sitting on the stoop of religion. We linger here with the beggars and loiterers. Hesitate to go inside the sanctuary where we must…

Sit down.

Get quiet.

Appear certain.

Instead

We bask in the Sun.

Hear the songs drifting from within.

Smell the incense.

It is enough…

…for now.

We are in good company. We are in the World that we love.

These wholly Humans are my guides and comforters as together we try to make sense of our place in this vast existence.

You all are my pillars of faith…

Praise for you.

Plum of Blessing to you.

Eid Mubarak!

Communion versus Conversion – Love and a cup of tea

 “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.

I love you THIS much (world)!

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.

Let's be friends...

English teacher alert: we need to talk about prefixes.

I. Love. Prefixes.

Suffixes, too.

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.”

The greatest of these is love...

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?

Love them.

It starts with a cup of tea.

“You got a date a with a date!” – Ramadan with the children of Islamth

It is Iftar at the Makkah Learning Center. I sit next to my student Anaum as an older women speaks to her and gestures to me. I assume she is speaking in Urdu, the language of Pakistan. When the woman walks away I whisper…

“What was she saying?”

Anaum whispers back…

“I have no idea. Every time she talks to me a just smile, nod, and say…Gi!”

“Gi,” in Urdu, means “yes.”

And this, my friends, is why I love learning alongside Muslim Millennials. Often they seem just as confused and bemused by their culture and religion as I am, and that’s just fine by me.

Anaum and Rabia, my Muslim Millennial guides at Makkah Learning Center...
Anaum and Rabia, my Muslim Millennial guides at Makkah Learning Center…

As the accidental sponsor of the Muslim Student Association at Arundel High School, I was in a near constant state of inquiry. My students, in turn, were in a constant state of amusement at this Midwestern white girl who was skipping blithely down the cultural-religious fault line of American Muslim Identity. (For a more in depth explanation of how I took on this role, refer back to #Muslims4Lent inspire #Christians4Ramadan).

Who’s in charge here??!! Was a frequent refrain at our Wednesday meetings. It couldn’t possibly be me. I mean, I know next to nothing about Islam.

5 pillars. 5 prayers. No pork. Submit. Did I get everything?

Consequently students from Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq, Bangladesh, Nepal, Egypt were thrust into the role of “experts” because whatever the limits of their own understanding, they certainly knew way more than this girl.

What happens if you can’t pray 5 times a day?

What constitutes and acceptable Desi profession?

Can you be a good Muslim in a mini skirt?

How does your faith differ from your parents?

Kosher and Halal aren’t the same thing?

Anaum has served as my particular spiritual guide as I began to bumble my way towards #Christians4Ramadan…

RamadanTexts1

RamdanTexts2

This brings us back to my first Iftar. Thank goodness Luwaila brought me back that Abaya from Sudan as a souvenir, or I would have had NOTHING to wear. As it was, I threw it on over my tank top, swapped my ball cap for a scarf, and Tah-dah! I blend right in!

A quick costume change in the car and I'm ready for Iftar!
A quick costume change in the car and I’m ready for Iftar!

(On a side note, can an Orioles ball cap work as a head covering in a pinch? Or is this haram? ‘Cuz it totally matches my Abaya.)

Rama-yep or Rama-no? #GoOrioles #BeMore
Rama-yep or Rama-no? #GoOrioles #BeMore

Anaum meets me at my car, adjusts my head scarf, explains that the fixture on top of the building lit with Christmas lights is a minaret (I mean, I knew it couldn’t be a Christmas tree), and leads me to the girls side of the divided tent where we will have Iftar.

I sit looking longingly at the bowl of watermelon in front of me.

“You got a date with a date!” She jokes as I take a selfie.

Date with date

Some of you certifiable adults and sanctioned Islamic experts out there may feel that teenagers teaching about the faith should itself be Haram. After all, what must my impression of Islam be when left to the theological understanding of Muslim youth?!

But I will tell you unequivocally, if NOT for them, I would never have begun to face my own fears and prejudices about Islam, never begun to reach out to Muslims in the schools and community of Maryland, and certainly never embarked on #Christians4Ramadan.

Thank them or blame them, your kids are why I’m here.

Sara shows us what Desi love looks like at our
Sara shows us what Desi love looks like at our “Blend Arundel” sidewalk chalk party…

Anaum leads me by the hand through what would otherwise be a prohibitively intimidating experience. She explains that the opaque tarp used to divide the men from the women used to be transparent, but a new Imam came and has more firm interpretations of these divisions…

“So now if you want to see your Bey, you gotta meet him in the parking lot!”

It’s commentary like this that humanizes what seems like a very foreign experience. She shows me where to take of my shoes in the mosque,  she jokes about the folks trying to cut in line for the food, she warns that we’re not allowed to have the pizza that sits next to the naan.

“Apparently that’s only for kids under 10. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

Her theological grasp of what is going might be a little thin. When I ask her to translate the call to prayer, she can’t quite remember. The older women next to her quickly jumps in to explain.

But give me a choice between Anaum and  Imam? I will pick the Anaum every time.

When I was in college, I was a member of the Carleton Bible Study Fellowship. This was a group completely led by students. Brandon Yerxa had founded it and was a senior when I met him. We met on Tuesday nights, read a passage, and then proceeded to discuss and debate, laugh and shout our way through these passages. Some of us were older than others. Some of us (this girl) had grown up in denominations where you memorized bible verses. Some of us weren’t Christians at all; just exploring our options.

Carleton Bible Study Fellowship 2001
Carleton Bible Study Fellowship 2001

Occasionally amidst this ecumenical chaos Yerxa would attempt to assert SOME divine authority. We called these his “bottom line” moments. But even these interludes of dogma could be easily obfuscated by the fact that…he was 22 and wasn’t the boss of us.

What might make pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams uncomfortable (lack of a centralized authority figure) was the very thing that made this sacred space welcome to the searching souls within.

There is a place for certainty…but there probably should be more places for confusion. And if we don’t make room for those spaces of doubt and questioning, young people inevitably forge them elsewhere…like in the shadows of the parking lot.

Islam, your children have led me. Clothed me. Fed me. Taught me. Forgiven me. Loved me.

Luwaila has not only bought me an Abaya, she loaned me her Obama Swag to wear to the inauguration...and let me keep it.
Luwaila has not only bought me an Abaya, she loaned me her Obama Swag to wear to the inauguration…and let me keep it.

I have also watched them do this for each other as they struggle to understand the religious and cultural riffs even within their OWN faith communities. It is easy for me to believe that Heaven AND Earth belongs to such as these.

Amina Love

All faiths have their “bottom lines.”

As I delight in my date, I will sit with the kids, smile, nod, and say…

“Gi!”

#TheRamadanStruggle is real…

My first day of fasting went pretty well…aside from that 3 o’clock beer.

No, I’m not TRYING to be provocative. (I didn’t have it with a side of bacon.)

What had happened was, I’d scheduled to meet with a local college professor BEFORE I decided to attempt this whole #Christians4Ramadan thing and I thought it would be weird for me to show up and WATCH him drink a beer.

So…cheers.

As my friend Annie often says “Barbara can justify anything…” and so, even as I sat sipping my way through #RamadanFail, I constructed a theological justification rooted in my Christian Heritage. It starts with Friar Tuck.

The icon of the drunken monk emerged historically because religious orders would have fasting days. The loop hole was that (unlike Ramadan) you can usually drink during most Christian fasts. So some monk somewhere along the way realized water was MUCH more satisfying when it had, say, BARLEY soaking in it. And hey, if it sat around a bit, started to ferment…all the better.

And so we have devout monks (and #Christians4Ramadan) wobbling their way through their meditations.

Pretty good, right?

Pretty bad.

Right.

It got me to thinking, though, how much easier is to struggle together. To be able to turn to the person next you and say “Is that a beluga whale in your belly or are you just happy it’s Ramadan?”

There becomes this communal support (or pressure) to make it through #thestruggle.  Friends of mine who did a teacher exchange program in Morocco a few summers ago were struck by how hard it was to find LUNCH (let alone beer) in a Muslim country during Ramadan. They weren’t expected to fast, but the social infrastructure was built to help them drop 10 pounds accidentally.

Cultural expectations are remarkable at priming us for success or setting us up for failure. Try giving up meat in Middle America and see what happens.

Breaking my fast at Bengies Drive in. Onion rings are Halal, right?
Breaking my fast at Bengies Drive in. Onion rings are Halal, right?

I became a Vegetarian for a week in the 7th grade. We were driving to church and we passed a truck full of chickens.

“Aww! Chickens! They’re so cute!” I exclaimed.

“They’re so delicious,” was my Fathers rejoinder.

Cue moral indignation. I don’t know why it had never hit me before this moment that creatures with which I could so easily empathize I could just as easily eat. I declared myself a vegetarian. This lasted all of a week until a church canoeing trip where all there was to eat was Turkey sandwiches.

Sigh. My moral imperative so quickly adrift down the stream of my good intentions. (wo)Man cannot live on Doritos and Wonderbread alone.

What I DIDN’T know was that all I had to do was wait for college where EVERYONE becomes a vegetarian…for at least a hot minute. Garbanzo bean salads! Tofu Burgers! Almond milk smoothies! Even our Rugby bagged lunches included hummus and carrots for Vegans. You can fall into Vegetarianism in Academia just as easily as you fall OUT of it when you return to the real world of American Carnivores.

I fell off the wagon and I fell hard. Maryland Blue Crabs were partly to blame. My Mother-in-law with her seafood bisque was not a huge help either. There was also a 50 mile hike in the Canadian Rockies (pursued by Grizzlies) that had me reasserting my claim at the top of the food chain with an Outback Steak House bacon burger.

 “If you become a Vegetarian but the only thing you have to eat is apples, you’ll be back to meat in a week.”

I explored this idea of the “Circumstantial You” during Lent this year. Some of us our born into faiths that are a good fit for our souls. Others are born into a faith too tight, too loose, too loud, too quiet. Some of us are surrounded by cultures that affirm our dispositions, others have landed in societies that seem only to offer constant critique.

Had I been born Iraq, would I have been a “good” Muslim woman? Would I have spent hours cooking the culinary delights that would reward my family members for their devotion to God and Family? Or would I have joined a diaspora who have pursued other horizons where there is more latitude to twirl?

For this Ramadan season, I will move through spaces who question my fast, others that would question my beer. I know myself well enough to know that when I choose to make compromises it will likely be an attempt to ensure my moral imperatives (or random spiritual impulses) don’t infringe on those of others.

I’d be a better #Chrisian4Ramadan in Morocco. A better #Vegetarian4Chickens in Mumbai.

But I am a decent #Human4Humans in Baltimore. I’ll do what I can in the circumstances I’ve been gifted.