Fasting and Feasting: Looking in on Ramadan

Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (From the Tawrah)

Last month, my husband and I joined our good friends at a beautiful Islamic wedding reception. He went with the men, and I with the women. It was an incredible celebration of dancing, drums, exquisite dresses, and incredible cuisine. It was a time to usher in something new and something beautiful—the union of a husband and wife in their new life together. I admired the abundant display of fruit platters and little cakes and cannolis that donned the back table. They were a vision of sweet, delicious things to IMG_1711come. And though I didn’t understand much of the Arabic conversations going on amongst the ladies at my table, I understood the topic of Ramadan on the lips of many. It seemed as though everyone was anticipating this month of fasting and all that it entails.

Growing up in a Greek Orthodox Christian home, my family practiced 40 days of Lent—a vegan diet, abstaining from meat, dairy and other animal products, in anticipation for the celebration of Easter. Easter is the focal point of the Christian calendar. It is a time to celebrate new life, new hope, redemption, and forgiveness as we 2010 04 04 Easter – Version 2reflect on the path of suffering and victory of Jesus the Messiah. The joy of Easter is intertwined with the fasting that comes before it. As a child, my favorite Easter treats were little chocolate eggs in a colored
candy shell. I remember trying to sneak around the kitchen to curb my chocolate craving during Lent, leading up to a grand resurrection celebration. Then, on the Saturday evening before Easter, we would dress in our best celebratory garb and attend worship services long past midnight. All I could think about was arriving home to feast on all the delicacies and choice foods we had abstained from for forty days. How sweet those treats tasted after waiting so long to eat them!

The guests abstained from celebrating until the bride and groom showed up.

When I lived on my own, away from the community aspect of this Greek Orthodox Lenten practice, I realized quickly that the little chocolate eggs didn’t taste as delectable as they did when I had abstained from them and anticipated them for 40 days. There is a time for fasting and a time for celebrating. Both are important. Jesus the Messiah used the example of a wedding feast when he described fasting to his followers. He explained that when the bridegroom enters the wedding, this is a time for celebrating. How true it was at the wedding we attended last month. We eagerly anticipated the arrival of the bride and groom. We all abstained from celebrating until they showed up.

Fasting brings to the surface our inner reality.  S. Sohaib

Sometimes I fast privately, abstaining from all food and drink, day and night, for a specified amount of time, in order to focus on prayer and listening to God. The growls in my stomach are a reminder to pray. Fasting forces me to depend on God, even before food. After all, Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Fasting teaches me to listen more carefully to the words of God. Fasting is both a spiritual discipline and a physical detox. It is a time to rid our bodies of unhealthy toxins and also expose the dark places in our spirits. According to Qur’an scholar Sohaib Saeed of the Bayyinah Institute, “fasting brings to the surface our inner reality.” This is so true. When we are weak, our true nature comes out.

Version 2I have studied other languages prior to Arabic, and it never occurred to me before to learn the vocabulary to talk about fasting. But in Arabic, and among my Muslim neighbors, fasting is an important topic of conversation. Living in a primarily Muslim community for the last 15 years, I have learned other valuable lessons on fasting. I appreciate the power and joy of fasting in community and breaking fast in community. My family anticipates the month of Ramadan, and not just because we are on the receiving end of the mandate to generously share with one’s neighbors. We, as part of a Muslim community, are impacted greatly by the month of fasting at our kids’ school, at the local places of business, and among friends. During this month, I am grateful to live in a community that pushes me to teach my children about this spiritual discipline at an early age. I love that kids have discussions about fasting on the playground!

Set aside a time to seek God, to embrace our weakness, and to anticipate the sweet celebrating that follows.

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Whether fasting is for 30 days, breaking fast each evening, or whether it is for three days and nights straight, or a restricted diet for 40 days, what matters is the spiritual lessons that come from it: to set aside a time to seek God, to embrace our weakness, and to anticipate our breaking of fast, and the sweet celebrating that follows—like when the bride and groom show up to the wedding feast!

Published in the Yemeni American News, June 2017

 

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The Privilege of Choice

Funnel your passion and outrage into specific, constructive actions that will change things for the better. Don’t just get mad; change the world.    T. Anderson, Speak Up for the Poor

A History of Choices

Narrowly escaping abortion. Nearly executed by Nazis. Orphaned at the age of two. Immigrating to a new land filled with new hopes and new possibilities. During this current strange and tense political climate—Women’s Marches, Muslim bans, extreme vetting, trolling, and fear mongering—I have been reflecting on the journey that has led my dad to celebrate his 75th birthday just last month. In a heated climate of pro-life and pro-choice, I’m thankful for life. I also realize that I am a product of other people’s choices. I am a product of my grandparents’ decision not to abort my father, by night, in secret, outside a small village in Greece in the 1940s. I had heard the story countless times of my grandmother’s decision not to eliminate the unexpected pregnancy that was my father, long before I ever comprehended what abortion meant. Then, as a toddler, my dad barely escaped Nazi execution. His parents didn’t though. He was orphaned at that time, and were it not for the compassion of one Nazi soldier who didn’t have the heart to open fire on 13 kids hiding in a basement, my dad wouldn’t have survived. I am a result of that soldier’s compassion.me-and-dad
As a young immigrant to the U.S. from the Old Country of Greece, my dad, with my mom, had that hard working, unconquerable, Greek, immigrant spirit. My dad worked nights and weekends, and he took on extra jobs to pursue the dream that education in this country would lead to more opportunities for his kids than he or my mom had. I am the product of their choice to believe in the American dream.

Living intentionally cross-culturally in a diverse community for 16 years, I have learned that it is best to approach new and complex situations as a learner. Since the Women’s Marches, I have been carefully reading posts and counter posts in Ping-Pong style about women who marched, women who didn’t, women who wished they did, women who were angry, women who didn’t want to get involved… My heart swelled with the pride for some of those who marched. I also understood why some didn’t. From those who chronicled their marches, I learned to value the privileges of choice we have today, because others fought for them in a previous era.

When he would ask 12-year-old girls, “What’s your dream?” they had no answer. No one had ever taught them to imagine an alternative to forced child-marriage.

The Privilege of Dreaming

My kids are privileged with choice. Since they could to talk, my kids have dreamt about what they want to be when they grow up. It was never an option for them not to dream about their futures. They can even change their minds—archaeologist one week, art teacher the next.

malala-3“What’s your dream?” is the question Troy Anderson, President of Speak Up for the Poor, asks young girls from poor villages in Bangladesh whose options are marriage at a young age, or being sold into prostitution. When he would ask 12-year-old girls that question, they had no answer. No one had ever taught them to imagine an alternative to forced child-marriage. Anderson realized that for things to change, girls needed to dream. As the girls go through the Speak Up for the Poor program, they learn to make a plan to make their dreams of becoming a nurse, or a business owner, or a teacher come true. These girls dare to fight societal norms to realize a better life.

Changing the World

From the Women’s Marches I’ve learned that many have sacrificed to make things better for another generation and another group of people. When my kids grumble about doing their homework, I tell them stories about Malala—a Pakistani girl whose choice of going to school was taken from her. She fought back and inspired the world. Sometimes my kids roll their eyes at me—not another story! But, crazy mom that I am, I want my kids to appreciate their privileges, to work hard for what they believe in, and to have that dare-to-dream-in-the-face-of-adversity kind of spirit.

The choices we make can have global impact. This is my privilege, to help my kids understand that they, too, are the product of other people’s choices. Who could imagine the life-giving impact of one Nazi soldier’s choice back in 1944 in a small Greek village? My kids will hopefully never have to face gunshots on the school bus like Malala did, but they can choose to promote peace on the playground, and stand up against a friend being bullied. We are all connected to a greater historical context, and the choices we make can change the world.

(Published in the Yemeni American News, March, 2017)DSC_0151

Scars: In Memory of the Yiayia & Papou I Never Knew

This article was published on June 10, 2012, the 68th anniversary of their death, June 10, 1944

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My Papou and Yiayia: George and Pandora Loukas

There is nothing more precious than to sneak into the bedroom of my sleeping three-year old son and kiss him good night.  The other night I prayed a blessing over him and sealed it with the sign of the cross on his forehead—as my parents had done for me.  I felt God’s presence reminding me that Jamin Loukas was on this earth for a reason.  The same goes for my father, Loukas G. Loukas.

On this day, June 10, 2012 as we remember the horrific massacre in the small village of Distomo, Greece, I am reminded of the God’s great grace intervening in another generation.  It was 68 years ago that my dad crouched trembling in a basement with 13 other children.  Where were his parents to sneak in and check on him?

Three days after the historical D-Day in 1944, Nazi troops were traveling through the region near Distomo.  In that surrounding area there were numerous resistance freedom fighters that had attacked the German troops and injured the head Nazi commander.  This act sent the Nazi troops into a rage of retaliation that they unleashed on the unsuspecting peasants, farmers, priests, expectant mothers and young children of Distomo.

A Nazi soldier beat down the basement door.  When he discovered a room full of children, he positioned his weapon to shoot, then aimed at the ceiling—all the while motioning the children to keep silent.  

When my Yiayia Pandora and Papou George got news of something terrible happening in their village, they raced home from a day at the market as fast as their mule would take them.  They wanted to gather their children close, and keep them safe.  However, they never made it home.  Later, their bodies were found lifeless on the side of the road.

Meanwhile, some very frightened children sat listening in a darkened basement to the sounds of death all around them—awaiting a dreadful fate of their own.  A Nazi soldier beat down the basement door.  When he discovered a room full of children, God Almighty intervened.  The soldier positioned his weapon to shoot, then aimed at the ceiling—all the while motioning the children to keep silent.  He sealed the door back up as best he could and left, shooting chickens and goats on the way out.  He posted the official Nazi sign on the door that confirmed that the job there was done.

That was the day my dad was spared.  At ages 16 and 14, his two older sisters became instant guardians of a two-year old. My dad was too young to comprehend God’s hand on his destiny.  The story retold time and again has become his memory of the event.  His first real memory came when he was five years old and his aunt took him to “meet” his parents.  She pointed to their exhumed skeletons in the ground and said, “That is your mother and your father.  Give them a kiss.”

People usually talk about scars as a sign of terrible things that happened in the past.  I like to think about scars as a sign of healing—a reminder of God’s ability to restore, forgive, cleanse and redeem.  When I look at my own scars I remember the bad that could have been and once was, but is no more.  There is grace there instead.  My dad was orphaned at the age of two.  As a daughter with her daddy around, and as a mother with a young son, it brings me to tears to imagine not being there for my son.  What were my Yiaya and Papou thinking that day as they tried to race home?  What were their last prayers for their four children?

I’m thankful for a dad who checked in on me at night. And as I bless my son, I think of the scars and the grace.  Because God intervened that day, my son can sleep peacefully in his bed.   The same goes for his two sisters and four cousins.  Because of God’s grace in that basement in Distomo 68 years ago, my dad’s alive today, and God’s purpose lives on for another generation.

The memories of my Yiayia Pandora and Papou George are eternal.  They live on in my father’s heart and in the generations that live after them and hear their story.  Today we remember our loss and reflect upon our scars and the grace given to us.  May the memories of all 219 villagers lost in Distomo that day be remembered today.

For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 110:5

A New Song: In Celebration of World Arabic Language Day

Tallou Hababena  (طلّوا حبابنا) and a New Hairdo 

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I sat robed in a black plastic cape, my wet hair combed over my face for precise styling. Sometimes a new hairdo from my long-time Lebanese stylist, Toufic, at First Impression Hair Salon, involves cake and tea with his lovely wife, or buying a box of Girl Scout cookies from one of his daughters. As he snips and trims with precision and care, Toufic always fills me in on the latest news of his family, his country and the unrest of the region. I also like to freshen up my rudimentary Arabic skills with him and learn a new phrase or two. But it was unusually quiet this Thursday morning without the standard news from the “Old Country” rattling on in the background. That set me up for the perfect moment to inquire about Tallou Hababena.  Tallou Hababena was the new song my daughter had been fervently practicing with her low intermediate Arabic class at her school. They had to memorize the song and perform a traditional debke dance in preparation for the UN World Arabic Language Day, which is recognized globally and annually on December 18.

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Inspiration to Research

A new song sums up graduate studies at Wayne State University. From the Psalms I am reminded that God is my strength and my song. This spiritual strength has carried me through the incredible combination of the increased academic challenges of fulltime graduate school and the physical weariness due to my current leukemia treatment. I have battled chronic leukemia (CML) for fifteen years, but my current treatment, Sprycel, is more toxic to my system and regularly challenges me with increased fatigue and dizziness. Being simultaneously on Sprycel and on a scholarship has pushed me to the edge of vulnerability and gratitude. I have been soaring to new heights and needing new strengths to do it. During my most difficult struggles I find hope through inspiring song lyrics. My source of inspiration has become my focus of research, new songs. Expression through song is powerful because it can be personal, social, spiritual, and cultural. A song can stir a heart, inspire a nation, or lull a child.

Contributing to the inspiration is the cultural and linguistic information contained within authentic music and lyrics. Song lyrics are a great resource for gaining cultural perspectives and memorizing new language forms. With my Spanish students, we print song lyrics and then research idioms, dialects, themes, styles, metaphors and verb tenses found in each new song. Through this wealth of cultural insight, my desire is to make life-long language learning meaningful and inspiring for myself, and for those that I teach and coach.

ps-40-3The Comprehension Quandary

So, as I sat at First Impression, my thoughts shifted from my studies back to my daughter’s Arabic song. Tallou Hababena had become my new challenge. My daughter had come to me weeks before with the Arabic script and the notecards she was using to transcribe the lyrics into English. Even though she didn’t understand the words, she was trying to prepare her best for her class performance.

As a family we want to position ourselves to engage the language and culture in our community. I’m training to be a Language Learning Coach. I am researching music for language learning purposes. I got all fired up. There was no way my girl was going to sing a song she didn’t understand in celebration of language! We went into full-on meaning-making mode: My husband acquired the translation of Tallou Hababena from a friend. We had watched various YouTube videos that helped us figure out that this song was about a songbird, nature, and the beautiful mountains of Lebanon. We knew that that title meant Come our Love. But something was missing. Why this song? How did it stir the hearts of its hearers?

Longing for Home

touficToufic felt free to enlighten me. With scissors in one hand and a comb in the other, and my wet hair in my face, his face lit up at the mention of Tallou Hababena by the prominent Lebanese singer Wadih El-Safi. “Kids wake up whistling this song. It’s a song about home. When someone has been gone, far away, for too long, their loved ones back in the villages wait for them to come home…” As Toufic burst into spontaneous song, my mind wandered to my family and loved ones far away, and how I wished I could be with them, especially at Christmastime. Tallou Hababena was in essence a version of I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams… Only this song had a beat you could clap along with, which I did, under my plastic cape! Even though I couldn’t understand all of Toufic’s words, I understood the powerful longing for my home and family back in Colorado.

My husband and I joked that before winter vacation most parents back in my hometown in Colorado were probably watching Christmas concerts, with their kids donned with jingle bells and red sweaters. But we beamed as our daughter and her 6th grade Arabic class walked onto the stage and began swaying their arms, stomping the debke, and singing along to Tallou Hababena (mostly) in unison. We were in full celebration of World Arabic Language Day, and Tallou Hababena would mark a new memory for us.

That’s the power of song. I have songs that mark some of my best memories, and some of the saddest ceremonies; songs of crying out to God Most High, songs that inspire, refresh, celebrate, and worship. I want to praise God with words and with my life, in more than one language, and I want to help others do the same.

~He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God~    a Psalm of David

(This article was published in the Yemeni American News, January, 2017)

A Thrill of Hope: Adventures in Scooching Over

(Adapted from the Yemeni American News, December, 2016 publication)

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people…” ~Angel of God~

When the world around me seemingly swirls with hatred, anger and fear, and my heart is heavy for the hurting, my coping mechanism is to reminisce on stories of hope. In my profession of language teaching, motivation is a key element for success. Motivation in life, as in language learning, contains two essential ingredients: 1. You have to think you can do something: hope 2. You have to think that it matters: need. In November I was reticent to click send on my article, Scooching Over, because I knew that if I made my thoughts public, my own words would move me to action, and I wasn’t sure I had the capacity to scooch over for a new friend in my daily life. The last thing I want to do in this refugee crisis is talk about doing something and then do nothing. The need was clear: I believed wholeheartedly that my small action to make a difference in one refugee’s life mattered; but I wasn’t sure I could actually do something about it on my own. That’s where hope is bigger than me. It requires me to believe that I can be involved in great and impossible things.

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After taking a moment in my hectic day to pause and pray, I called my New American friend that I have endearingly nicknamed Zuzu. Zuzu and I had connected at the Sabeel Media Event in October, where she had expressed that she needed help finding a preschool for her son. I had already called at least eight preschool locations in her zip code before I got on the phone with Zuzu. I offered to come over the next day, take her to visit a preschool, and teach her some English. To my surprise, she told me NOT to come. She said that she had already found a preschool, that her family was moving to a better location, and that she was currently too busy for me to come visit her. As it turned out, there was no room in her week for me.   She didn’t need my charity to survive, which made me even more determined to get to know this highly motivated woman.

When things settled for Zuzu, I came by to see her new place. In her intermediate English she reported that she had signed up for English classes at the local college, she was studying for her driver’s permit, and she was in walking distance from most of the places she needed to get to each week. She has been in the U.S. since April and is determined to settle her family here. Zuzu’s vision is bigger than she is. Her hope is deep. Her potential is great. Her work is humble. She walks her in-laws to the doctor and her son to preschool; she cooks and cleans for her household of six. At night when everything is quiet, she studies English and listens to audio messages I leave for her to practice each week. Zuzu doesn’t want to live indefinitely off of the kindness of others. On the contrary, she wants to be an agent of care and change and assistance to others. She also would like to go home if she could. But she can’t. So her plan is to bloom where she has currently been transplanted—right here in they Detroit Metro Area, MI, USA.

|Her plan is to bloom where she has currently been transplanted|

 From our visits together I have learned that Zuzu is Syrian Kurdish. Her hope is seen in the languages she wants her kids to know: English of course, so they can thrive in their new community. Kurdish of course, because that is the language of heart and home. Arabic of course, because you can’t live in Syria and not know Arabic. She is preparing her son and daughter to function in this new world, but also to be ready to return to her beloved home country…someday, Inshallah, God-willing.

Sitting on the floor of her upper flat on soft blankets against big couch pillows, sipping warm, sweet instant coffee with milk, my first step in our mini English lessons, was to identify her goals for learning English: 1. Help her mother and father-in-law with their medical prescriptions and paperwork 2. Help her kids learn English. 3. Go to college 4. Talk about travel and places to visit 5. Tell her personal history. Zuzu believes that learning English matters. She also clearly believes she can do it. Unless you’ve ever worked with someone that motivated to learn something, it’s difficult to describe how exhilarating it is. Her need is clear. Her desire is clear. She has hope for her future that is bigger than she is. And I have the privilege of joining her venture.

|Together our hearts break for the displaced people of her country.|

 As a writer, I want to carefully handle the stories entrusted to me. This past week, sipping our coffee, I pulled out the Yemeni American Newspaper and explained to Zuzu that she fullsizeoutput_9e0
had inspired the article I wrote last month. I told her that I follow the teachings of Jesus the Messiah who says we are to love one another. His heart is for the orphans, the widows, and all those in need. As His follower, I offer what little I have with big hope. After all, the good news of great joy this Christmas season is for all people.

Zuzu shared with me another goal statement she had crafted late one night: I want to help refugees and orphans. I hope to be one assistant for all.  And be successful in my life and my children the best education. That my goals. Clearly, Zuzu and I share a vision of helping those in need. Together our hearts break for the displaced people of her country. I asked Zuzu if I could publically share her beautifully articulated goals because they inspired me, and I think they would inspire others. She agreed.

As Zuzu and I both scooch over each week to make room for each other, we hold on to the thrill of hope. My prayer is that all of us would experience a little of the impossible in our daily lives; that we would together find a hope that is bigger than the determination of any one human being—a collective and contagious courage. My prayer is for many more to get out of harm’s way and be welcomed into a safer place where hope can be nurtured, and that they can experience the good news of great joy that is for all people.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, 

Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.

The thrill of hope, The weary world rejoices…

~O Holy Night~

Scooching Over

(Published in the Yemeni American News, November, 2016)

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  Emma Lazarus

The Preferred Aisle Seat

I have never been known for my punctuality. In fact, I characteristically run late. Often times it’s because I get lost trying to find places, or maybe it’s because I tend to be on Greek time, which means I’m not technically late; it just allows me a half-hour margin for arrival. At my church there are rows of seats for people to choose from as they enter the place of worship. I’m always grateful when people scoot in towards the middle seats, so that us late arrivers can slip into the aisle seats, unnoticed. I prefer to avoid the awkward attention of navigating my way through a maze of knees and handbags after the service has begun to settle into the middle. Sometimes at abundantly populated special events, the pastor up front will ask everyone to scoot in a little to make room for more people to slip into the aisle seats. I know how it feels to be scooted in for.

Lately, though, I have been on a fairly long stretch of timely arrivals, which means I have my pick of seats at church. Admittedly, I tend to choose a preferred aisle seat.  I like having a bit of space on one end between me and other people that I don’t know so well. I like my space, my preferences, and my little comforts.

Joining the Response to New Americans

Last month I attended a free community event sponsored by Sabeel Media at the local library, discussing the response and the responsibility of the media to share the experiences and needs of refugees. One of the special presenters, Shane Lakatos of the Social Services for the Arab Community (SSFAC) in Toledo, challenged everyone at the event to think about the fear in our own hearts. We fear people we don’t know. And in fear, we tend to think the worst of them. Peter Twele, another special presenter and author of the book, Rubbing Shoulders in Yemen, emphasized that refugee families relocating simply need a friend if they are to successfully assimilate in a new culture. Not only have they left homes, families and jobs, they’ve lost neighborhoods, communities and connections. They need to build a new community of relationships.

So as I stood in the back of the Sabeel Media event, having arrived a little late, I started to think of my own response to the refugees joining my community.

sabeel-g-in-backSo as I stood in the back of the Sabeel Media event, having arrived a little late, I started to think of my own response to the refugees joining my community. I can donate to the cause. I can pray for those who suffer. I can speak out for the needs of these new Americans. I can even volunteer for an event of handing out free backpacks to refugee kids starting school in a new country. As I was pondering my action points, I scanned the room of attendees and my eyes fell on a beautiful young woman dressed in a bright pink sweater with a coordinated floral scarf covering her head. I was surprised to realize that I knew her, and not only that, but that I had been thinking about her. I knew her by name. I had given backpacks to her kids at a volunteer event in September.

Scooching Over, My Point of Decision

I greeted her with quiet kisses so not as to disrupt the program, and continued to listen to the needs amidst the crisis. The needs are dire. The search for hope is essential for new Americans coming into our country. The presenters’ words rang in my ears, of our own fears, and of the refugees’ need for friendship and connection with such limited resources… What was I going to do about it? But what about my crazy American schedule? Do I have room in my life for a needy new friend? Not really. There’s work, prior commitments, grad school, kids, family.

This is a crisis we are all facing. It doesn’t just belong to some people and not others.  We all need to scooch over and make room for one more in our lives.

But this is a crisis we are all facing. It doesn’t just belong to some people and not others. We all need to scoot in, scooch over, squeeze closer together, and make room for one more in our lives. My little bit of comfort in my “preferred aisle seat” isn’t a lot to give up, considering the woman I’m inviting to sit next to me really wants to settle her young family after fleeing devastation and living in temporary housing for over a year. She has her dignity. She doesn’t just want to be helped. She wants to go to school, get a job, help her kids learn English and assimilate into her new community. She’s ready to work hard; she just needs some help doing it. She’s one person, one name, one face. She is just one of the tired and the poor in the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. She’s one woman I could call a friend. Who knows, I might end up being the needy one in our relationship and discover that my scooting over to fit one more into my life was actually to my benefit. I’ve had that happen before.

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When I think about all the potential things we perceive a refugee to be: a foreigner among us, a neighbor, an enemy to fear, a widow or an orphan, or someone lost and needy…I can’t help but think of what Jesus the Messiah has to say about all of them. He says to love them. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemy. Look after the widow, the orphan, the lost, the foreigner among you. Jesus the Messiah chose to love me without condition and with a love so compelling that I can’t help but be changed by it. Calling one young woman this week to make time to help her find a preschool for her son, sip some tea, and help her learn English is something I can do. I can be inconvenienced in that way. I can scoot over and make a little room in my world for one more.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.   St. James

Hijacking Radical

I appreciate the Muslims in my community who motivate me to be more courageous about my own expressions of faith through their everyday radical.  As we commemorate the horrendous 9-11 attacks, and as many contemplate Abraham’s tremendous trust in God’s perfect provision during the Eid of Sacrifice, I wonder, what would it look like if we were all a little more radicalized to show extreme love, drastic kindness, and fanatical forgiveness in a hurting world?  Thanks, everyone, for taking a moment out of your lives to consider my thoughts on radicalism.  (As published in the Yemeni American News, September, 2016).

Defining Radical Religious Practices

When I was in college my roommate and I had a hunger to learn more about our faith and live out what we believed, even when other people thought we were a little bit crazy. We wanted to be radical about what we believed. By radical I mean, we wanted to pray publically when others would have thought it awkward or inappropriate. We wanted to stand out in modesty and purity of heart when other girls we knew were choosing to wear smaller shorts and date lots of guys. We wanted to study our Holy Book, talk about what it says, and figure out how to live it out every day, even when others were more interested in talking about the latest drama on their favorite show. We didn’t want to judge others for their choices, we just wanted to stand out as committed, passionate, and sold out for what we believed in. That was my definition of radical. I wanted to study the teachings of Jesus the Messiah and then live them out as best I could in my context. He was radical in his day and I wanted to follow in his radical ways of kindness, love, peace, and purity in my day.

Today, if someone is radicalized, it means they have a religiously based motivation to terrorize others. The word radical has been hijacked! Why does being sold out for what one believes in have to involve hurting others? There are radicalized religious fanatics of every flavor—those who bomb abortion clinics, those who bomb twin towers, those who terrorize innocent village children… All those extreme beliefs are crimes against humanity, and they are so far from the loving heart of God.

Practicing Radical at the Gym
The other day I pushed myself to get to the gym rather than take a nap on the couch. I convinced myself that I would feel better after a good workout. It was hot and sticky and I grumbled in my T-shirt and capris as I anticipated getting even hotter running laps. When I walked into the rec center, I passed a modest Muslim woman working out hard in her hijab, covered from head to toe—and I thought I was hot! Motivated by her prayin gym framedcommitment to religious purity, even on a treadmill, I bounded with greater fervor up the stairs to the track. I was greeted by the sight of a man and his son pausing their workout to stop and pray eastward in the corner.  One of the things that I appreciate about living among Muslims in Dearborn, is that moments like these are “normal” occurrences at the gym.  They are also radical in my mind.  Radical by my first definition. Many devout Muslims in our community seek to live out their faith everyday, even when it seems uncomfortable, inconvenient, or just strange to those around them.

Inspired by these examples of radicalism to stand out at the gym, I decided, why not…I’m devoted to God, regardless of what others think… So, I waited my turn for the secluded prayer corner beside the track, and I knelt down and prayed. I wasn’t trying to show off or prove anything; I just wanted to take a moment out of my workout to connect to God in prayer. It was a demonstration of everyday radical. It was my small moment to take radical back from terrorism and reflect the heart of God.

Waging Peace
wage peace framedWhat would it look like if we were all a little more radicalized to show extreme love, drastic kindness, and fanatical forgiveness in a hurting and confused world?  What if we all paused to pray throughout our day more often?  One of my favorite bumper stickers challenges people to Wage Peace. What if we all practiced just a little of everyday radical by waging peace wherever we are?  Love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness…these are the fruit of the Spirit of God. These are fundamental virtues.  Maybe, then, we should all strive to be a bit more radical—and fundamentalists!