Odd friends of Ramadan

Transformed by curious couplings during #Christians4Ramadan

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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.

#Muslims4Lent inspire #Christians4Ramadan

 “I’m sorry, Muhammad…are you talking to me?”

It is spring of 2009. I am sitting at the front of my classroom during lunch, and I’ve just about fallen off my stool.

It have not heard a divine voice from above…rather a human voice from within my classroom. Muhammad Khan, a Junior at Arundel High School and an active member in our Global Citizenship program…has just asked if I would sponsor the founding of a Muslim Student Association.

I’m confused.

I’m not a Muslim.

I’m not a student.

I’m a third wave feminist with a Christian background, a glow-in-the-dark Buddha on my desk, and an affectionate irreverence that has me blending religious teachings into a mystical fabric that suits me just fine but tends to confuse everyone else.

I swivel around on my stool with a comical glance behind me, looking for someone else he MIGHT be talking to.

“Are you sure Muhammad? I mean, you know I can get kinda’ sassy.”

I have him think about it for a few days…give him time to doubt the wisdom of including me in this endeavor. He comes back a week later, resolute.

…and this is how I become the sponsor of the Muslim Student Association at Arundel High School.

Rockin' the Abaya...
Rockin’ the Abaya…

This is also how I cross the following things off my “It’s a tough Hijab but somebody’s got to do it” Bucket List…

  • Learn how to tie a head scarf,
  • Research Middle Eastern Migration patterns in the Mid Atlantic,
  • Realize Pakistan is NOT in the Middle East
  • Learn how and why and when to say “As-Salamu alaykum”
  • Visit the Saudi Arabian and Omani Embassies
  • Eat Iraqi style crunchy rice and tomato stewed Okra
  • Contemplate how to ward of unwelcome Desi proposals
  • Learn that marshmallows and Starburst are NOT halal
  • Receive a grant for the first Muslim American Student conference in Anne Arundel County, Maryland

Not bad for an irreverent Midwestern Mystic.

This odd journey is made even more ironic because as a comparative religion major at Carleton College, the one religion I could not bring myself to study was Islam. It was all about the women. I inevitably felt this rising anger when I saw women shrouded in burkas, segregated at prayer times, silenced in the public forum.

Righteous indignation feels really good…but makes it hard to meet and befriend new faiths.

I came to understand later that this anger emerged in part as a reaction toward my own (to a much lesser degree) gendered upbringing where God was male and women obeyed their husbands. I also came to understand that what is theological and what is cultural is often so entangled not even practitioners of a faith can sort it all out.

During this past Easter season, my Lenten practice was an attempt to write a 30 minute blog post per day. I called this my reflection in “imperflection.” As I was reading others thoughts about Lent, I was delighted to come across the #Muslims4Lent movement championed by the website Eid.Pray.Love.

I quickly tweeted back the idea of #Christians4Ramadan…

Christians4Ramadan

You might think this endeavor would be a natural fit for a woman who meditates to Sufi poetry and has a babysitter who teaches her kids Arabic. But I fear that this “Month of Blessing” as Ramadan is called, will necessitate more than a few sun-up sacrifices on my part.

First and foremost, I might rock an abaya, but I’m not sure I should rock the title “Christian” with equal zeal. I mean, the Unitarians would probably have me.  I like to hang (and drink) with the Episcopals. The Jesuit Volunteers have let me pursue Social Justice with their crew. My Catholic husband (and baptized children) don’t give me a hard time…but Christian? Not in the born again bible belt kind of way that would bring my parents peace in their sunset years.

And then there’s the folks I love on the OTHER side of the spectrum. My agnostic and atheist besties. Like my soulmate Meg who (according to us AND a weird Facebook algorithm) I will grow old with once we are both widowed in our 80’s. She is a scientifically minded, ornithology loving, AP environmental science teacher who I’m pretty sure didn’t read that “Religion for Atheists” book I bought her.

This is my Spectrum. Where do I plot #Christian4Ramadan on that line?

For this reason I’m happy to promote  other folks less ambivalent and more certifiably Christian than me. Like Francis Ritchie a Methodist minister in Aukland or Jeff Cook, a Colorado pastor who explains definitively why he’s “waging peace” in the month of Ramadan.  If you are Christian-ish and looking for a theologically justifiable reason to fast in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, try this on for size:

“I am not interested in fasting this month for ascetic reasons. I am not converting to Islam. I will embrace the self-sacrificial practices of others around the world because Jesus reminds me that it is those who hunger that will be filled, that the meek alone will inherit the earth, and that those who make peace will be called children of God.”

As far as my aspirations and inspirations for this… I will definitely utilize the time to write and reflect on the many moments that have shaped my soul and psyche. Some of the reflection will be spiritual in nature. Much will be absurdly and authentically (hopefully NOT offensively) secular.

For example, I know for certain I will need to talk about Bacon. I mean….it’s gonna happen.

I don’t have anything like the plan I did for Lent. I can pretty much guarantee things are going to get messy. I’m certain I’m going to fall off the wagon.  I’m fearful that the Facebook friends I love on BOTH ends of the belief spectrum will unfollow me because of the patchwork quilt of cognitive dissonance that keeps me warm at night…but others want to throw in the wash or throw out altogether.

Despite these anxieties. This is one of those moments I’m taking on faith.

You looking at me Muhammad?

Ramadan?

Or Rama-nah?

Rama-yep.

Allah (and Jesus and Buddha and Missouri) be merciful.

That goes for the rest of you, too.