If You’re in the Shadow: Thoughts as You Watch the Big One Coming.

If You’re in the Shadow: Thoughts as You Watch the Big One Coming.

I’ve had this dream, over and over I’ve had it, about a giant wave coming from far away—towering over everything and casting a shadow on thousands of people as we watch it. It always starts out as a pleasant day on the beach. It always ends with me wondering why I decided to go to the beach, on this day of all days. 

Every time, I go through the same set of thoughts.

  1. If I run as fast as I can it will still be too little too late. I can’t outrun it.
  2. There is nothing that could shelter me from the coming blast.
  3. While it’s taking a minute to get here, it will come, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
  4. Everyone here with me is going to get hit by it too.
  5. The only thing I can do is find something to hold on to.

And so I always end up running anyway, but not to try to get away. I run, looking at everything around me. Cars. Buildings. Mailboxes. Until I find an object that goes deep into the ground and that I think I can get a good grip on. It might be a tree, or a lamp post. But whatever it is I grab it with my arms and legs and hold on tight as I watch the giant wave coming in. And I hope, with everything that is in me, that I have chosen the right thing to hold on to. Because now it is too late to choose anything else.

Every time I see the news and every time I actually allow myself to think fully about what is happening in the world or how really scared I should be, I see the wave. It’s a vision almost now, more than a dream. I remember it as if it had really happened. 

What am I holding on to? Is anything I’m holding on to something that will simply be crushed and washed away by the wave that is coming? Do I have time to adjust my grip? But it’s too late now, really to do much about what I’m holding on to. I can cling tighter to what I’ve already brought near, but I have no time to go looking for anything else. No time to develop a new heart attitude or place of trust. Things are frozen as I watch the wave. 

We’re in the shadows now. It’s coming.

I know that it would be kinder to write something uplifting or hopeful. And I’d like to give you that. But what I really want to say is, make sure you are holding on the right things. Adjust your grip if you can. Don’t worry about anything that will be washed away.

The wave is coming. I’d better be holding on to God himself at this point, and hope that I have never made any substitutions. Never erected something in His place and given it His name. My faith is not enough. My religion is not enough. My church is not enough. My creeds are not enough. Only the Unmoved Mover of the Universe stand firm through tidal waves this big.

If it helps, the dream never ends with the wave crashing. I always look through the swirling chaos, and see light overhead. I find myself somehow letting go and navigating the water, knowing I still may yet surface. And it is almost fun. The wave is not the end at all—though the world behind me has surely been washed away and I will surface to find out what is left.

We have a moment now as the water recedes to leave dry land in front of us to feed the wall of water, and we hear the roaring of the approaching wave. Take a deep breath and hold on. 

 

If You need Help Softening Your Heart: Refusing to Label an Entire group (including Muslims) as Strangers

If You need Help Softening Your Heart: Refusing to Label an Entire group (including Muslims) as Strangers
Cultural conditioning is such an odd thing.

I used to be afraid of Muslims. I just was. I logically understood that blaming an entire religion and culture for the actions of a few was not right, fair, or reasonable, and that this kind of thinking would condemn us all if we were honest. That memory of watching huge buildings on fire, buildings I did not even know existed, in September at 14 years old was burned into my memory. It’s natural to want to blame a whole people. It just is. When faced with fear we have a choice between two things: realizing that anyone anywhere can do something severely evil, and believing that it’s isolated to one group who we can attack and isolate. And it FEELS much better to choose the latter even if it’s not based in reality, because it means the fear is with one people and not all of them.

But logically knowing all of that couldn’t change my heart or prevent the pull of wanting to blame one set of people anyway. It was only by living next to them, in a desperate decision based in poor mental health and loneliness, that I began to really change. And while I can tell lots of stories of meeting Muslim friends in a new country and learning surprising humanizing things about them, it was always the little things that started to undo the fear for real.

It was seeing my coworker who was always dressed very carefully concealing every inch of hair (not all my female coworkers did), in the restroom without her robes to reveal an afro, ripped jeans and suspenders under all that.

It was having constant passive commercials showing things like a mother dressed in Hijab making all the silly over-dramatic faces TV moms always do right before they feed their kid something from a box or a can.

It was watching women dressed in that mysterious garb jump on trampolines on the beach with their kids. Or ride four wheelers. Or eat at Pizza Hut.

It was seeing the men wearing those white robes and red checks carry babies and crack jokes and argue about IKEA furniture with their wives. Experiencing those same men worrying if I’m being treated well and if I feel at home as a foreign woman–even worrying that people were placing conservatism on me that as as an American woman didn’t adhere to. And then, those men wanting to make sure I didn’t have to adhere to it.

It’s living next to people that does it–that softens a heart enough to see the humanity. The similarity. The universality.

They’re not just like me, but they’re SO like me it makes me uncomfortable. Because I should have KNOWN that. Because I knew it but I didn’t KNOW.

It’s a terrible trope that Christian kids come home with after a short-term missions trip. “I went there to help people, but they helped ME. I went there to teach people but they taught ME.”

Really, you’d think we’d stop needing to be taught the hard way that often the very people who we look down upon as people who need saving and changing are the very people who could most save and change us. The fault is never in the needing exposure. We all need exposure to each other to truly understand and stop trying to separate ourselves from each other. It’s the innate belief that we are somehow better or MORE than other cultures and people’s. It isn’t unique to Americans, but it is 100 percent damning and damaging wherever it lives.

Fear and lack of understanding can only be healed by living next to each other. Studies have been done. There is literally no other way to undo fear of people who are culturally separate from us. But arrogance and superiority–that is something that God can heal even without exposure. And it isn’t that he couldn’t heal the former without it if he wanted to–it’s just that I believe living WITH each other IS the manner by which God heals such things. But it requires stepping out in faith. Faith that we aren’t superior. Faith that we must continue to cross divides and do what makes us uncomfortable to pursue God’s ideals.

It would be easy to assert that somehow because I chose to go and confront my fears that I am somehow superior to everyone who hasn’t or doesn’t. But it would be a bold-faced lie. I needed to believe that they were the same as me, because I had spend much of my childhood feeling like an outsider in a town full of insiders where most people only came from THERE. And I went to confront my fears because I was in the middle of a death spiral of depression where doing something exotic, even if it felt terrifying and life-threatening was at least something new. It was impressive and edgy. It felt like it had meaning I could wave under the noses of everyone who I perceived as having rejected me. But things did not happen the way I planned, and I grew as a person in spite of my terrible reasoning for doing something so outside of my comfort zone–because God can and does use everything including our own arrogance and stupidity. Here are several of the things I learned in spite of myself:

I learned that doing something exotic does not do anything to persuade people who see you as an outsider to see you as anything else. Quite the opposite. In fact, in many ways where I only perceived people saw me as outside, weird, or different, I managed to get them to actually thinking me that way (where people thought about me at all). If you’re going to travel somewhere to live with people you do not understand, it will always change you. Not them, not the people you left behind, but you.

All religious people should experience someone trying to convert them with all the zeal and passion of a person who loves you but also doesn’t want you to go to hell. It’s humbling to hear words you thought were exclusive to the wisdom of your own religion coming out of someone else’s mouth, but worried about YOUR soul. It’s embarrassing to discover tracts from a religion you were taught was foreign and evil, and realize that they could represent your own religion, with just a few words changed here and there. And it is humbling to realize someone wants you in heaven THAT BADLY. To watch them pace through all the same award steps, asking you to read their Book, come to their gathering, talk to them about their faith. Even when you don’t convert, and never would, it changes you forever.

You cannot help but be grateful to a people when they show you hospitality, even though you are a stranger in THEIR country. Time and again, when you are not FROM a place, you realize just how vulnerable you are. People could ignore your pleas for help when you don’t know what to do. They could refuse to translate what you did not understand. Refuse to give grace when you do the thing everyone there knows you shouldn’t. They could leave you out and justify it totally. You begin to see this again and again. And again and again you find that people help anyway. People DELIGHT in helping. Even the ones who would seem to be most motivated to be against you. The image of God is unmistakable in every place, no matter what you believe or what they believe.

When you are faced with the choice of doing something illegal as an immigrant that would help your circumstances greatly…you probably do it. I worked illegally in Saudi Arabia for 3 years. People paid me under the table. I was so desperate for something to DO, for the feeling of productivity and contribution. In my case, I was lucky enough to not really have to worry about my ability to live and support myself because my husband did have permission to work. AND I STILL DID NOT CARE. Work gives people dignity. But in any case, the point is not that everyone would do what I did, but that you simply can’t know what you will do in a situation until you are there. I worked illegally for 3 years and I wasn’t even worried about my life, children, or ability to feed myself. If you don’t know me, let me assure you that I am not a person who casually breaks rules. I was the kid who reported it if a teacher gave me a higher grade than I deserved. I always return wallets and phones. I own up to things even when NO ONE CARES.

I began to realize just how scared people were of ME. The news and general information out there about my own religion, country, and culture is not great. Some of it’s wrong–but not all of it. Perspective is such an amazing and unreal thing. I could be mad at the media for misinformation–but how could I be mad at my neighbor who trusted their own media and literally knew nothing else? And how could I be anything but IN AWE when that neighbor chose to show kindness and openness anyway?

My next-door neighbor originally assumed I hated them. He was always polite, always kind. Then I found out that someone had reported his beloved German Shepherd and he’d had to remove it from his home. He assumed it was us out of some vendetta. Luckily, we go the chance to talk when I offered to let him and his wife park in our driveway (they had two cars, we had none). When he found out I wasn’t a dog-hater and didn’t even know he had a dog, he threw the switch to total hospitality so fast it made my head spin. They came over to share food and show us vacation pictures, when our son was born he and his wife went out of their way to get us gifts “American style,” because Saudis just give money. (AND HOLY MAN DID THEY GIVE US GIFTS. THERE IS NOTHING MORE HUMBLING THAN BEING GIFTED SOMETHING BY A SAUDI OR FED BY A SAUDI. LET ME ASSURE YOU AMERICANS DO NOT KNOW HOW TO GIVE GIFTS OR HOSPITALITY LIKE THAT.)

Also, and this lesson doesn’t matter so much, but nothing prepares you for eating at a restaurant that claims to be your own country’s food. Just someone’s else’s interpretation of what pancakes and eggs are supposed to be like is rather revealing about how radical perception and understanding can be when they are shifted just a few degrees. The only people who should make American breakfast are Americans and that is one prejudice I will stick to until I die.

You can’t eat meal after meal next to people you thought of as strange without discovering that they are shockingly familiar. They discuss weekend plans and complain about over-involved mothers. They go outside for smoke breaks and discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. They make the same jokes your own Dad makes, just with different politics or religions inserted. They gossip and talk about the weather. It’s hard not to be stupefied as thing after thing you thought came from only your own family, background, culture and country spill out of the mouths of people who dress nothing like you and speak with an accent.

Culture is clothing. It is exterior and shallower than we ever tend think. Humanity is deep, and it is not different from place to place. Living among any people, no matter how different they may seem is revealing: when you go looking for the exotic, often what you find is the totally familiar.

We marginalize the minority, not because we have special rights or conditions, but because that is what humans do everywhere always. Because fear is natural and what we all do.

But I believe we are better. I know we are. I know we can rise above what’s natural and easy.

So listen to music that’s not yours. Watch shows that represent someone different than you. Read books with a perspective that bothers you. Let’s get out of the echo chambers. I’m not asking for change in what you think or believe, only in what you are exposed to. If we passively expose ourself to our neighbors, you’d be surprised how much easier it just becomes to BE neighbors.

And I will never be angry with or scared of someone who asks for such things, who wants the marginalization to stop. Because I want it to stop too. And it’s never as scary as people think it will be. And changing your perspective doesn’t mean losing your beliefs. Often, when we understand other people and beliefs–we understand ourselves better, and what we believe is strengthened.

Fear is a greater enemy than any other set of people ever could be. Don’t let it have you.

If You Just Had to Park so Damn Close: Showing Each Other Grace By Believing the Best

If You Just Had to Park so Damn Close: Showing Each Other Grace By Believing the Best

“DO YOU HAVE TO PARK SO DAMN CLOSE?!”

I found the tiny yellow note on my dash under my wipers at a point where I’m not entirely sure which of my parking jobs it was referring to. As with anyone, I think, with any kind of criticism, my gut reaction was to defend myself.

But to whom would I present my defense? Would it even be sufficient to just defend myself for this particular time? As someone who has always struggled to pull off neat parking jobs, it didn’t terribly surprise me that eventually it caught up with me. Having given up on re-parking repeatedly every time I wasn’t perfect, I eventually settled for between the lines and able to open the doors without dinging anyone as sufficient. I desperately wanted to tell them that I had tried. That I THOUGHT I had done a good enough job. That though pregnant I had been able to get out with relative comfort on the close side.

But you can’t argue with a note. Maybe that’s the point? Shame with no risk of argument.

Jonathon asked, “What’s it say?”

I didn’t want to show it to him, but passed it over anyway. “It’s not very nice, and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.”

I thought to myself that if Mr. Note Writer had met me in person it would be hard to be mad at me. I would be so apologetic. I would move my vehicle right away. I would smile and poke fun at myself. I would use my own awkwardness to charm them out of anger and diffuse the whole thing immediately.

But as it was, they got to think of me as only a selfish close parker. A note like that carries a note of hate and contempt in it. It would be impossible to hold that kind of emotion in a stable way with real me. But with mysterious close parker me, it was easy.

And I imagine, that kind of fits right in with what everyone seems to like doing these days.

I read an article recently that current ratings of television and movies can be actually quite hard to interpret by audience numbers alone. Because it is a current fad to hate watch things. As in, people watch things they despise for the sole joy of complaining about them afterward. I think this is a much softer way of pointing a finger at the general emotional atmosphere of the U.S. in general right now. We are so much more into what we are against than what we are for.

But what if we started believing the best in people?

What if when someone parked badly, we imagined all the great reasons they could have had to do that. What if when someone piles 30 items in the express lane we think of what could lead a nice reasonable person to do so? What if, when we heard an opinion we thought was truly awful, our first reaction was to wonder how a person came to that conclusion? What if we assumed it was for good reasons, even if those reasons led them to a different place than us? And what if…what if I assumed the man who left the note on my windshield had understandable reasons for leaving an angry note?

Maybe his Mom died. Maybe he has to use crutches that made it even harder for him to get into his car than for me and my pregnant belly. Maybe he was joking. And maybe the note wasn’t even that mean and he was genuinely correcting me in a way I needed to be corrected.  All of these things are at least worth considering before I just decide the note leaver was a mean person. (Or even a man. Did you notice that?)

Because if you are like me, you’ve been the person on the other end of that equation. The person who needed grace. I’ll never forget the day, when I had an emotional explosion in public, way too old for it, and way out of line–when someone came and wrapped their arms around me and asked me how I was feeling. That person was even the object of my explosion. She sat with me until I calmed down. She made sure I was ok. And not once did she defend herself against the list of untrue assumptions I had made about the situation. She just saw me. She assumed the best.

And in that moment, receiving grace I did not deserve in any way, my heart changed. It was a grinch getting a bigger heart moment. The kind of thing that changed my life. The kind of thing that gave me capacity to finally dive into my own hurts and work on them, so that I could turn it back around and show grace to others.

If life is a parking lot (and we are ok with intentionally terrible metaphors), we are probably all going to park a little too close at times. Or try to take the same spot at once. Or bump into each other circling to find a spot. But we can safely assume we are all here for similar reasons, seeking basically the same thing. A place to fit in, and hopefully with as few scratches and bumps as possible. And we owe each other that grace. We are all worth that risk.

Otherwise, why are we here at all?