Day 26: The White Savior Complex {31 Days of #WOKE}

 

At first, she was scared of my white skin. But I know we will learn each other. We are bound together by spirit and our humanity. And now, by cloth. I feel like mothering all of this country's children. I was chosen for this! #babygotback #mybackthatis #tickettoride #morningworkout #trim4Him #squatdatot #notmybaby #yet
barbiesavior At first, she was scared of my white skin. But I know we will learn each other. We are bound together by spirit and our humanity. And now, by cloth. I feel like mothering all of this country’s children. I was chosen for this! #babygotback #mybackthatis #tickettoride #morningworkout #trim4Him #squatdatot #notmybaby #yet

In her recent memoir, Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, former missionary Amy Peterson proposes that it is time to retire the word “missionary.” Why? Perhaps because the word carries vestiges of imperialism, colonialism and the white man conforming the “heathen” to his culture and way of life. It also perpetuates the white savior complex where the white person swoops in to save the day such as in films like Dangerous Minds, Avatar, The Blind Side and The Help. (Which I tried and failed to do my first year teaching in the inner city.)

A popular Instagram account, called Barbie Savior, capitalizes on this theme, showing a Barbie doll in a variety of exotic settings followed by humorous hashtags: #imagiver #igivetopeople #andijustkeepgiving #justlikethegivingtree #exceptiambetter #thesetshirtsaresohotrightnow

The word “missionary” is certainly a loaded word.

Our new church is taking a short term missions trip this summer. Equal parts of me groaned, but also longed to take off for a week this summer to travel to Nicaragua. As someone who has been on short, medium and long-term missions trips, here’s my take on the matter of missions.

On a 5-week trip to Tajikistan in 2004.

1. Short-termers can do a lot of harm.

I won’t harp on this, but when you go into a place without knowing the culture or language, you can create a lot of chaos. (Read The Poisonwood Bible for many examples of what NOT to do—this should be required reading for missionary hopefuls. Also, see my post on The Problem with the Wordless Book.) Many short-termers go on trips to build churches or other structures, but in reality know nothing about building and take jobs away from locals.

Sometimes short-term trips can harm the work of the full-time missionaries. I lived in a remote area of China that had a very large Muslim people group. We had numerous Christian groups come through and talk to Imams at the Mosques and people throughout town, then leave us in a wake of new suspicion from the government. Being a Communist country where missionaries were not allowed, this behavior put our positions at risk. In addition to this, hosting large groups of short-termers can distract long-termers from the work they need to be doing and be very draining. Planning for meals, rides, accommodations and work all while using another language in another country is a lot of work for the long-term missionary.

On a one-week trip to Central America.

2. In spite of this, there is still value in doing short-term trips.

I decided to go into full-time missions because of a short-term mission trip I took with my youth group when I was 16 years old. I don’t think I would have made that decision otherwise. I now see short-term trips more as “vision trips” than anything else. They are an amazing opportunity to expand your worldview and see firsthand what God is doing in other cultures around the world. Even though they can be very expensive, I think this window into another world has life-long implications for westerners experiencing an entirely different way of life. Because of this, I would still encourage anyone to go on a short-term trip.

3. Long-term is better.

Any sort of sustainable mission work is only sustainable because of the longevity of the relationships built over months and years of trust. Learning the nuances of language and culture takes more than a week-long crash course. It requires being immersed for a long period of time. Once you have survived the waves of culture shock, you can begin the hard and sometimes life-long work of making friends and earning a right to share your faith or introduce new ideas for community development.

4. Empowering locals is best.

I still think local people are usually more effective at helping those within a culture than a foreigner would be. Many missions organizations now have this view of training local people and working themselves out of job. This is a broad statement and dependent on the kind of work, but a Chinese can best explain the Bible to another Chinese. A Ugandan will trust another Ugandan more than a white face. And a Nicaraguan will understand where to buy building materials, communicate with contractors and how to complete work on a project in cheaper, more effective ways than a white missionary.

***

Our Spiritual Hierarchy

Those in the church need to be careful about creating hierarchies within Christianity. Growing up, I believed missionaries were at the top of the spiritual hierarchy, then pastors and those involved in domestic full-time ministry. So naturally bankers, construction workers, servers and stay-at-home moms were at the bottom of the spiritual totem pole. You can read more about my journey stepping off the missionary pedestal here and here.

Youth groups and college ministries often perpetuate this myth of the missionary hero as they play intense music, show emotionally moving films and then follow with messages about not wasting your life by getting a normal job and buying a house when you could do the real kingdom work and be a missionary. Why would you want to waste your life when you could make your life count for God?

Now I realize the danger in emotionalizing the call into missions. Many people are on the mission field who do not belong there. And if there were less sensationalism surrounding missions, perhaps the average person might actually be able to see themselves there after all.

I still have a love for other cultures, languages and countries. I would still rather go than stay, but I also know that the subject of missions is not as simple a topic as I once believed.

Amy Peterson concludes: “The word missionary has become more problematic than helpful. Instead of describing reality, it blurs our vision and limits our imaginations. It has outlived its usefulness, and I vote we give it a proper burial” (Dangerous Territory p. 207).

I have to agree.

***

Have you ever done a short term missions trip? What did you learn?

In what way did your “whiteness” impact your ministry positively and/or negatively?

 

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Image: Barbie Savior Instagram

**Contains Amazon affiliate links

Day 20: The Problem with the Wordless Book {31 Days of #WOKE}

“The black represents sin, red is the blood of Jesus, which brings us to the next bead—white, when we are washed clean of our sin.”

We sat in pairs and prepared to share the gospel by color. I was 16 and going on my first mission trip to Costa Rica. Our church youth group had practiced our mime for months—an allegory of the story of Jesus–and our bags were loaded with extra Bibles in Spanish. We all memorized some basic Spanish so we could share the gospel as we gave away bracelets with colored beads, called “Power Bands.”

This method of evangelism, a bracelet version of the “Wordless Book” has been an evangelistic tool since the end of the nineteenth century. It is said to have been invented by the famous English preacher, Charles Spurgeon. In this method, each color represents an aspect of the gospel. The Teen Missions website gives the following guide:

Each color of the Wordless Book / Wordless Bracelet represents an important Bible truth about Salvation

BLACKSin  Romans 3:23 | All have sinned

RED Blood  I John 1:7 | Jesus’ blood covers all sin

WHITE Pure Psalm 51:7 | Jesus washes away confessed sin

YELLOW Heaven John 14:2 | Believe on Jesus and receive Eternal Life

GREEN Grow 2 Peter 3:18 | Grow in the knowledge of the Lord

In a sermon delivered in 1866, Spurgeon read the verse : “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps. 51:7), then shared:

“There is something about this in the text, for the person who used this prayer said, “Wash me,” so he was black and needed to be washed; and the blackness was of such a peculiar kind that a miracle was needed to cleanse it away, so that the one who had been black would become white, and so white that he would be “whiter than snow.”

If I were in the presence of an African American as this sermon was delivered, I would certainly be cringing every time the word “black” was spoken.

The imagery of purity being associated with the color white and sin or evil being associated with the color black is commonplace in western culture. But what is happening at the level of our subconscious when we associate “black” with sin and “white” with purity and then turn around and categorize one another as “white” and “black”?

I can hear the naysayers now:

“Don’t be so touchy.”

“Does everything have to be about race?”

But as a mother, I have to wonder what my children internalize when they are taught that black is sin and white is purity.  Which color would you rather be?

Perhaps it is time to abandon the Wordless Book.

If you were (or are) a person of color, how would it make you feel to sing the following song (as is recommended by websites advocating the Wordless Book):

“Wordless Book” Song by Frances M. Johnston

(Show the colors as you sing.) 

(Black) My heart was dark with sin until the Savior came in.

(Red) His precious blood I know

(White) Has washed it white as snow.

(Gold) And in His Word I’m told I’ll walk the streets of gold.

(Green) To grow in Christ each day I read the Bible and pray.

Along with the fact that this method implies that black is bad and white is good, another problem with the Wordless Book is that our associations with color are not universal. When I lived in China, for example, I learned that white is the color of death and used in funerals and red symbolizes good fortune. In this regard, short term missionaries can sometimes do more harm than good when they fail to study language and culture before trying to share Christ in a foreign land.

We can do damage when we assume our western symbols are universal. Using the Wordless Book in a place like China would be nothing more than confusing (which is interesting since according to Wikipedia at least, it was used by China Inland Mission and missionary Hudson Taylor in China).

Open-air preaching in China using the Wordless Book

So what are some alternatives?

Rather than using colors, some people use the metaphors of being “dirty” and “clean,” utilizing object lessons like a dirty T-shirt washed clean to present the truth of salvation. Another alternative is to use the more biblical language of “light” and “darkness” when talking about sin and salvation. Though the Bible uses the word “white” in reference to purity, it never uses the word “black” to describe sin. The closest the Bible comes to color-coding sin is in Isaiah 1:18 that says “Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

God can and does use even our faulty methods to share His love. But if there is any chance that our methods offend, confuse, belittle or perpetuate stereotypes, then perhaps we should abandon them for the sake of unity.

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

Images: 1) Bracelets  2) Open-air preaching in China

Day 9: Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1) {31 Days of #WOKE}

It is easy to be friends with people who are like us. At one time, I realized I could have traded clothes with three of my best friends—we were all runners and had similar body types, ate the same things, went to the same church, believed essentially the same things and shared a common worldview. Friendship on these terms was easy.

But my most transformational friendships have come at the cost of my comfort.

The best and worst part about living in China was visiting my students in their homes in rural areas of northwest China. They had a different way of showing hospitality to guests. Unlike the west, with our “make yourself at home” mentality, their goal was to make their visitors feel like special guests.

“Go have a rest in the living room,” they’d say, leaving me alone in a cold room on a hard couch next to the coffee table (“tea table” in China). I’d pick at oranges, dried dates and sunflower seeds as I waited. I longed to be with them in the kitchen, where laughter and delighted chatter floated from the doorway.

They would eventually emerge with plates of stir-fried spicy cabbage and lamb and steaming potatoes or with at least a hundred hand-made dumplings filled with beef and carrots. I’d eat until I was stuffed and they’d look offended when I stopped.

As a guest, I was expected to eat until I was sick. More than once, as it was nearly time for bed, my student’s mother would enter the living room with even more food and never allowed me the satisfaction of an empty bowl. I wanted to cry.

These experiences visiting small villages in China birthed many stories. But they also transported me out of the zone of my comfort into the reality of my students’ lives away from school.

Those trips obliterated my assumptions and granted me the gift of forced proximity to poverty and another way of life. I ate their food, played their card games, froze by their coal stoves, slept in their beds, met their grannies, held their nieces and nephews and borrowed their clothes.

It may sound adventurous, but I often felt so uncomfortable that I was counting the minutes until we boarded our train or bus home. I longed for my own bed, my heated apartment and the time when I could curl up under my plush throw blanket and binge-watch Alias.

But it wasn’t just physical discomfort that toppled my walls of pride and wrong assumptions. It was the discomfort of cultural confusion. I didn’t belong and constantly questioned whether or not I was acting the right way.

Operating in another culture is like having all the rules of a familiar game suddenly change, then being scolded when you make a wrong move. And yet I sensed God nudging me to choose to look stupid for the sake of relationship.

Each visit to another student’s home shattered another brick in my too-pristine wall of self-preservation and pride. It forced me to be dependent on another human being who looked, spoke, dressed and ate differently than I did.

***

The discipline of discomfort allows us to deeply know and be known by the “other.”

It is only as we are willing to deconstruct our walls and enter into the world of someone else that we will ever find friends who are different from us. And it is only then that we can begin to break down the barriers of racism, prejudice and oppression.

When we have slept in someone’s bed, we cannot accuse them of being a terrorist. When we have eaten someone’s homemade food, held their babies and joked with their grandpas, we cannot assume the worst of them.

It was easy to exercise the discipline of discomfort in China. But here in the U.S.? As we go from home to garage to car to work, grocery store, day care, school or library, then back home again, we flirt with the idea of diversity without ever entering the messy work of relationship.

Why would we choose to be uncomfortable with an unknown (and risk looking like an idiot) when we can be comfortable with someone just like us?

***

Check back tomorrow for part 2 on friendships.

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Day 4: Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack {31 Days of #WOKE}

Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack--the danger of stereotypes

All Americans are loud, carry backpacks, wear sneakers, eat dessert and junk food, are overweight, speak only one language, are promiscuous, kick our kids out at age 18 and are rich. These are a few of the stereotypes about Americans I’ve heard in my travels, but especially from my Chinese friends during the five years I lived in northwest China.

“We know you love sweets,” my Chinese students said as I passed out brownies after dinner one Sunday evening. Three shy freshman students had come over to “teach” me how to cook Chinese food (a.k.a. they argued about how to do it the way their mothers had done it while I frantically scribbled notes on index cards). In an attempt to find something authentically American to serve to them, brownies was all I could come up with.

“Yes, many Americans like sweets,” I said. But then I blew them away.

“But I never ate dessert in my home.” They traded glances, questioning my sincerity since I had already rattled their worlds as I told them earlier that I loved spicy Chinese food and rarely ate burgers back in the states.

After five years in China, silence would still descend upon the room as I sat down to dinner with a new group of students in a restaurant. “You can use chopsticks?!” they would gasp, in awe of my skill. Snapping up a piece of eggplant from the dish, I’d suppress my sarcastic reply.

We stereotype others because it makes us feel like we are in control. It gives us a framework to solve the mystery of the “other.”

Don’t think you have stereotypes? Slowly read through this list and see what words your brain inserts:

Men are …

Women are …

Three year olds are …

Introverts like …

Extroverts like …

Evangelical Christians are …

Muslims are …

African Americans are …

Chinese are …

Mexicans are …

Indians are …

If you found yourself quickly responding with a word or phrase, you have made a stereotype.

Some stereotypes are helpful for decoding culture, but most insult the humanity of the unique individual. There is a striking scene in the T.V. show The Man in the High Castle where a Japanese family invites a white American man over under the guise of friendship. The couple rattles off questions about music and sports that whites “usually like,” but are increasingly disappointed when the man doesn’t fit their stereotypes. The white man senses he let down his new friends, but isn’t sure why.

It’s a scene I experienced many times in China and Uganda when friends would assume they understood me, only to find I didn’t fit their mold. I sensed their disappointment when I couldn’t educate them on pop culture or fashion in America. Some Americans might have cared, but I didn’t.

During my senior year of college I lived with an African family in a village outside of Kampala, Uganda. It was considered a middle class home, yet we didn’t have running water. The house servants washed dishes in the morning on a wooden table in the front yard as chickens squawked in the distance. Feeling useless, I offered to rise at dawn and help wash dishes. My host mother looked skeptical. “But we will just have to rewash them,” she said. “I know you have machines that do that in your country.”

The Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave the infamous TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” In it, she said: “I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar …

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

I believe relationship is the key to deconstructing stereotypes. It is in relationship that we can finally see that we are more similar than we thought. At our core, we all desire love, purpose and security.

Unfortunately you may not have the opportunity to live with an African family, teach in the inner city or have a Muslim live in your home. And even experiencing other cultures in that way does not ensure you do not have stereotypes. So what can you do?

Read, listen and learn. Seek out new and possibly uncomfortable friendships. Pray for fresh eyes, open ears and humble hearts. Peel away the stereotypes you have formed and allow each person to stand on their own as the unique individuals they were created to be. But I would also encourage you to tell your own story. You never know when you might smash someone else’s stereotype of “people like you.”

***

What stereotypes do you have about the “other”?

How do these diminish the humanity of your neighbor?

Have you ever been hurt by being stereotyped?

If you haven’t, I would highly recommend watching “The Danger of a Single Story”:

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack

Introduction: 31 Days of #WOKE

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

I’m white, but barely noticed my whiteness until recently.

I’ve always thought white people were boring, actually. Friends from other cultural backgrounds had interesting food, festivals, cultural dress, customs and languages. Those from non-western countries lived communally, cherished family and celebrated holistic living. They did not divide the sacred and secular. They saw the holy in the ordinary, messy, seasons of life.

Like many from the U.S., I’ve been around people of other cultures, religions, languages and ethnicities my entire life. I attended a Jewish preschool, fell for an African American boy in kindergarten, ate fried tomatoes, onions and eggs with my Colombian friend in sixth grade, obsessed about boys with my Jewish friend in seventh grade, had black teachers, had a few African American, Indian and Latino friends in high school, taught in a 100 percent black school in inner city Chicago after college, another racially diverse school and even at a school in Chinatown.

But I also experienced other cultures abroad: I went on short term mission trips to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, lived in a village in Uganda for six months in college, spent five weeks in Tajikistan, traveled in Europe and Thailand and taught and studied in China for five years.

You’d think I would have known.

But it wasn’t until I moved to a nearly all white area in the U.S.–the last stretch of plains with tumbleweed cartwheeling up against the mighty Rocky Mountains–that I began to see my whiteness. And it was then that I saw all the shadows it casts.

What Does it Mean to be “Woke”?

According to Urban Dictionary, being “woke” means being aware and knowing what’s going on in the community.

Merriam-Webster “Words We’re Watching” describes it like this:

“Stay woke became a watch word in parts of the black community for those who were self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better. But stay woke and woke became part of a wider discussion in 2014, immediately following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The word woke became entwined with the Black Lives Matter movement; instead of just being a word that signaled awareness of injustice or racial tension, it became a word of action. Activists were woke and called on others to stay woke.”

I am on a journey. I have not arrived, nor will I ever be fully “woke.” But I am learning. I am growing. And I am slowly beginning to see.

The first time I ever wrote a piece about race, I wondered if I had a right to speak. I wondered if I knew enough or if I was going to say something stupid, offensive or ignorant. But an African American friend of my husband’s responded to my post in a way that gave me courage. “Thank you,” he wrote. “Because I’m tired. It’s refreshing for this message to come from someone who is not a person of color for once.”

Ijeoma Oluo recently wrote an article entitled, “White People: I Don’t Want You To Understand Me Better, I Want You To Understand Yourselves.” The more we understand our whiteness, the more we can understand how our whiteness affects all the people of color around us.

What Can You Expect in the Series?

Have you ever rewatched an entire movie with commentary from the actors and director on? (I have.) That’s what I’m hoping to do in this series. Mostly, you can expect stories from my life. For each post, I’ll ask myself (and possibly answer) the following questions:

What did I learn about whiteness through this experience?

Are there any blind spots that I missed the first time around?

How can I analyze this experience utilizing the concepts I am learning?

But I’ll also include practical information and resources as well as a few posts from some friends of mine who are people of color.

I’m mostly writing for myself, but you are invited along on this journey. I sincerely welcome your input, comments, links, corresponding stories, questions and even criticism.

When my dad taught me to drive, I sat in the driver’s seat of the parked car as he shuffled around on the outside until he disappeared from my view. He wanted me to understand the devastation of a blind spot. Please help me to discover mine.

Table of Contents

Here are some possible posts that will run every day beginning March 1st, 2017 (check back here each day for an updated link). Most definitely subject to change;-)

1. Introduction

2. The Year I Went All ‘Dangerous Minds’

3. My #Woke Journey {for SheLoves Magazine}

4. Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack {stereotypes}

5. Lent and Prophetic Lament

6. (Guest Post) “What are you?” by Vannae Savig

7. Without a Voice (poem) 

8. Three of My Favorite Podcasts with Women of Color

9. Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1)

10. Friendship: The Need to Hear “Me, Too” (Part 2)

11. Resources for Talking to Our Kids about Race

12. Just Mercy

13. Words (a poem)

14. The Culture of Whiteness

15. White in Uganda

16. White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans

17. (Guest Post) Moving Towards Different: My Reconciliation Call by Tasha Burgoyne

18. What I Want for My Children

19. How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

20. The Problem with the Wordless Book

21. What Ever Happened to Integration? (Part 1)

22. Following Nikole Hannah-Jones Down the Integration Rabbit Hole (Part 2)

23. The People We See and the People We Don’t

24. (Guest Post) A Letter to My 13-year-old Self by Leah Abraham

25. Divided by Faith (book)

26. The White Savior Complex (thoughts on short, medium and long-term missions)

27. A Lesson Plan for Talking to My Preschooler about Race for the First Time

28. Two Poems//Teaching in Inner City Chicago

29. Transcript of ‘The Race Talk’ with my Kids

30. Talking Race with my Southern Mama (an Interview)

31. Conclusion: This I Know

 

Okay. *deep breath*

Let’s do this.

Be sure to sign up for email updates so you don’t miss a post! And please share if you feel this could benefit someone else.

 

Scared, but excited,

Leslie

A series exploring whiteness and racial perspectives.

A Muslim in Our Home

This 4th of July weekend, while Americans attended swelteringly hot parades, grilled hamburgers and sat under a bursting night sky, those in the Muslim world had a holiday and a succession of explosions of their own.  My family was no different from most Americans in the way we spent our weekend, though this year in Colorado our fireworks followed a rodeo and the parade included more farm equipment and horses than anything else.

Perhaps the only difference between our Fourth and yours was that we spent ours with a devout Muslim who is currently living in our home, a close friend whom our children call “Auntie Boo.”  She lived with us for a year in Chicago and is now staying with us for a month after recently finishing her studies in Denver.  We invited her to celebrate the 4th of July at my parent’s house a few hours away in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.   

On our drive home over the achingly beautiful mountains, Auntie Boo and I reflected on the weekend.  Neither of us had experienced a rodeo before and decided anyone who would strap their children to sheep (called “mutton bustin”) was certainly crazy.  She remarked that her favorite memory of the weekend was learning to kayak. But as we talked, I thought about the many events she missed because she was sleeping or didn’t join us for meals.

While we feasted, she fasted.  Tuesday marked the final day of 30 she has been fasting from food and water during daylight hours for Ramadan.  Fasting while in America presents many challenges for Muslims in that others are constantly eating around you and you are awake at night while others are sleeping.  In community with other Muslims who are fasting, she tells me there is nothing like the solidarity you feel, but alone in America, she has felt very isolated.  At my parent’s house, she would spend hours praying and reading the Quran while the rest of us slept. 

As I slowed the car for the tourists in front of us to gawk at a few elk along the side of the mountain, she asked if I had heard the news from her country, Saudi Arabia, over the weekend.  When I admitted that I hadn’t, she told me of the three bombings that had occurred there–one close to the burial site of Muhammed.  “These people,” she said about ISIS, “they are not true Muslims.”

We also discussed the attack in Iraq on Sunday where more than 250 people were killed in a crowded square.  “Those people were simply out in the market preparing for our holiday the next day,” she lamented.  In America, it would be similar to the shopping district in New York or Chicago being bombed on Christmas Eve.  Unthinkable.

As we discussed ISIS, she expressed shock and disbelief over the ways this terrorist faction has managed to “wash the brains” of young people around the world.  In an article in The New York Daily News, Shaun King notes that, “Claiming a religion as cover for terrorism doesn’t make you a genuine follower of that religion. Yelling “Allahu Akbar” (which simply means God is great) before killing people makes a man a Muslim no more than yelling “Hallelujah” before a mass shooting makes a man a Christian.”  The recent attacks on Muslim holy lands further prove that ISIS and Islam should not be equated.

Back home on the other side of the mountains, our friend broke her fast with us yesterday evening and then spent an hour showing us videos and pictures on Snapchat of her friends and family celebrating Eid in Saudi Arabia and around the world.  Doe-eyed women peered out of burkas or more daring women took selfies of themselves in elaborate new costumes or cocktail dresses. Groups of men draped in white cloth with red checkered head dresses chatted on white leather couches and children opened beautifully wrapped presents and envelopes full of money from doting family members.  Candies, dates, cakes, fried bread and Arabic coffee were artistically spread across tables.  Laughing, Auntie Boo said that Pinterest has had a definite influence on the Eid preparations.

Watching the millions of people celebrating this holiday that most Americans don’t even know exist reminded me of the smallness of my world.  My world right now is feeding, clothing and nurturing two teeny people and one big person.  It is getting by on the limited reserve of energy I have as my body grows this new life inside of me.  It is zoo trips, scribbling thoughts in the margins of my days, church, a plastic pool in the backyard, date nights and slow walks to the park.  If I’m honest, I admit that I try not to think about terrorism, bombings or refugees so desperate to survive that they are willing to stow away on boats.  In an age of selective news, I can see what I want to see and hear what I want to hear.  It is so much easier to pretend those people and places don’t exist. 

Until you can’t.   

It’s not until a person from another culture literally moves in with you that your world cracks open and you look up from your narrow view.  It is then that you are reminded that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.  There is nothing like a single relationship to personalize pain and remind you to care about the rest of humanity. 

How many Muslims do you know on a first name basis?  How much would one relationship influence the way you see the rest of the world? 

~~~

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"If I'm honest, I admit that I try not to think about terrorism, bombings or refugees so desperate to survive that they are willing to stow away on boats.  In an age of selective news, I can see what I want to see and hear what I want to hear.  It is so much easier to pretend those people and places don't exist.    Until you can't..."