Author Archives: tracieonaquest

Holding Open a Space for the “Other” (further thoughts)

A few days ago I wrote about holding a space open for the “other”.  You might want to start there before reading this post.

I’m writing from the perspective of different cultures getting along together and different faiths respecting each other but these principles are also useful in knowing and understanding our children (teenagers for example), divorced spouses, teachers, employers….really anyone it’s difficult to understand and come to a middle ground with.

If we don’t hold the space open, reserve judgment and keep learning new things about the ‘other’ we will get it wrong. We will miss the truth because we’ve already decided what the truth is (damn the facts). I see this all the time here. People decide, based on their experiences with a certain group of people, that they are liars, inept, incompetent, arrogant, careless, or any number of other things. Once they have put them in that category they are incapable of seeing much more. It might feel good to feel like you have some things figured out, but it will be a part truth.

When we first moved here to Qatar, it was 45 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit). Every room has air conditioning so it wasn’t a big hardship. Our villa hadn’t been lived in for a year so the a/c was a little temperamental and kept freezing up. Maintenance was called in several times. They repeatedly told me not to set the a/c  lower than 18 degrees. I assured them that I never did. I set it between 22-25.  Yet every time they came in they tried to talk me into not turning it under 18.  They eventually taped a note under the control to remind me.  They said, “We know you Canadians like it cold”. I could not convince them that I did not move to this beautifully hot country to freeze in the air conditioning. It didn’t do any good.

Several weeks later I met another Canadian woman in our compound. She complained about her air conditioning freezing up and the repeated repairs being done and about maintenance telling her not to put it below 18. She said “I don’t care what they say, I like my a/c set at 15 degrees, they can just deal with it.”

Ahhhh…and henceforth, they know us Canadians and, they know we like it cold. It makes sense of course because we also come from the land of permanent snow and we live in igloos.

Whoever you’re trying to come to an understanding with/of, I implore you, resist the temptation to peg them. Keep learning, keep listening. Expect your perceptions to change. Hold your understandings lightly. Walk humbly. Be kind.

 

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Holding a Space Open for the “Other”

How good are you at hearing someone else’s opinion? How long can you hold a space in your heart open for someone who is very “other” than you?

I’m new at living in a Middle Eastern country. I’ve been in Qatar 6 months now and although I’m new to it I am also immersed in it. Everyday I’m watching and processing what I’m seeing. Everyday I’m confronted by differences and everyday I’m trying to understand. Everyday I’m reading about the culture around me. This does not make me an expert. Everyday I resist the temptation to move from a position of learning into a position of ‘got it figured out now’. This would only yield partial understanding and half truths and block the way for clearer understanding.

Part of the process is learning that I was wrong about some things. We know, intellectually that we are shaped by the news we hear, other people’s opinions and our own cultures biases, but when a new piece of information arrives on our doorstep, how do we handle it? Especially if it’s not really what we want to believe or if we don’t like it.

I’m going to invite you to an exercise that I partake in regularly. Exercising my ability to stay open even when I’m uncomfortable with the information being provided. This has become so important for me, here in the Middle East. And I believe it’s important for all of us in our increasingly interconnected global village.

It’s become so important to have and cultivate skills in restraining our egocentrism and ethnocentrism, skills in critical thinking and in waiting, and holding our opinion at least long enough to let other’s opinions sink in. It requires restraint and humility.

Here’s an opportunity for you to test those skills and see how you do. I’m going to share with you some thoughts that are new to me since moving here. Ideas that were hard to find a place to hook into my western/feminist steeped ideologies.

Remember this: 1) you don’t have to agree with these thoughts, just sit with them and stay open to them for longer than you’re comfortable with. Try to remove yourself from your own culture and enter someone else’s. Observe how long you can be open before you find yourself making opposing arguments. What are your opposing arguments based on? Do you know for sure? Do you need to be right? Why do you feel the need to jump to reiterating your arguments? Do you feel you have something to lose? Is your reaction and response proportional to the issue at hand?

And 2) When you do start to make your argument (if you do) ask yourself if there is a reflection of what you’re arguing against in your own culture/church/family/life. (ie. do you find yourself saying ‘that’s not religious, they’re socialized to think that way’? Are there things we’ve thought are “christian” but are really more an expression of socialization?)

Muslim Women Covering Their Heads/Faces

I am a Canadian woman, born in the 60’s, into a family of brothers whom I had to compete with (and did so successfully). I’m a mother who has had a number of successful careers. I’m deeply concerned about women’s issues and equality. I have been treated as an equal participant in family, marriage, ministry and business. I can spot chauvinism a mile away and can sniff out even a hint of male superiority. I react like most North American women (and many men) to issues of inequality. If you understand where I’m coming from then I suspect you could easily make an argument against women being veiled. I can.

Here’s what I’ve been confronted with in Qatar, which, it should be noted, is a relatively moderate Muslim country where veiling is optional as far as the law is concerned but very definitely the social norm.

One of my first jarring realizations made me feel like I was a poor excuse for a feminist. My neighbour is a divorced, single mother from Lebanon. I wondered for far too long as to why she covered her head. If you wanted to shed the head covering, moving to another country, away from the social pressures of family and culture would do it. Lebanese women here are very mixed about covering and no one would have thought twice if she didn’t cover. Also, she has no husband here that might make her submit to wearing a head covering. I’m ashamed to admit that it took far too long for me to come to the conclusion that she has a faith of her own, that she has considered the teachings and practices of Islam herself and that she has decided for herself that this is how she’d like to express her own faith and submission to God alone. She has her own religious convictions. I know that many women here say that it’s their choice, but I suspect social conformity to be a really big factor. Until you remove yourself from your culture I doubt you can actually tell how much is your choice and how much you are keeping the peace. But for my neighbour, I see no other reason.

There are many expressions of covering. There are women who have just their heads covered, sometimes with very colourful scarves (I believe these women are from neighbouring Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan). The Qatari women are all in black but still with a lot of variety. Some are completely covered, head to toe, including faces and gloves. Others have openings in the veil for their eyes, some covered from the nose down and a lot have just their head (and body of course) covered. This leads me to believe that there is a lot of discussion and decision that goes along with their clothes. I know that there is lively discussion about faith and tradition, about what is acceptable and why. Why did I think it was done without thought, following traditions and pressures without thought? (Arrogance?)

The reasoning they often give for covering the women is that they are “precious jewels” to be protected and cherished, not to be flaunted or judged by others. I admit suspicion of this. I wonder, is this code, used by obsessively jealous husbands and prudishly protective fathers? Is this a mask for extreme subjugation of women? Maybe it is. I can tell you this; these women do not carry themselves like they are subjugated. They carry themselves like they are royalty (indeed, some may be). They walk tall. They smile kindly. The ones I have met are smart and determined. They are not wallflowers. Is it possible that they carry with them the feeling of being cherished like a jewel? Is it possible that they enjoy this tradition?

Many of the women say that what they like about being covered is that no one can judge them for their appearance. This made me really sad. I wanted to say to them, ‘my sisters, it’s ok, we won’t judge you, please come out and be loved for who you are.’ Then I realized just how blind to my own culture I really am. Is this my experience? Do western women accept each other and refrain from judging each other? On the contrary!! Western society is fraught with the repercussions of being very judgmental of the appearance of women and the illusive perfect shape and size. We are very hard on ourselves as a result. Is our way better?

Some may assume that the abaya/hijab coverings are an old fashioned, medieval reflection of this culture’s lack of exposure to the world around them and their submersion in the past.’ Au contraire again friends. The women covered by these abayas are actually driving the haute couture industry in the world today.

Assumption: Women do not want to be covered and are looking to be rescued from this oppression.

It took me a while to really enter into the thought that these women have never known any different. It’s not like they were all of a sudden covered and now want out. (On the contrary…it was I who was new to the covering of women…was it I who was anxious to have it changed? Projection?) Surely there are some who would like to break out of this tradition. I now suspect most are just fine with it. I have actually come to appreciate the fact that while so many cultures have been sucked into the vortex of the North American dress code this group of people has proudly hung onto theirs. Not just the women but the men in their crisp white thobes as well. I feel an unexpected “good for you!” rise up in my soul when I see them.

As I have been writing this post another one of my Muslim neighbours, who has not been covered up, has made the decision that she will now be wearing an abaya and a hijab. She was born and raised in England, is a school teacher in her 40’s and has no social or marital pressure to do so. This is her decision. She is also very open about it and I look forward to talking with her and finding out what is triggering this change.

The descriptions in this post are of life in Qatar. This is not a statement, for example, of the burka experience of women in Afghanistan or the experience of women in the Sudan etc.  My point here is to question an assumption that I’ve had for years. Is the covering of women, in and of itself, a symbol of the oppression of women? Is that what I see every time I look at a covered woman? Is there room for my thinking to be broadened and therefore more respectful of their rights, opinions and culture?

I was not prepared to respect the decision of women to cover up. Can you consider this? Can you hold a place open for the women who are intelligent and diligent about their faith and who chose to cover their heads? Can you see similarities with the Christian faith? How quickly do you want to fire off a comment to this blog? Can you take a breath first? Are there other issues in different cultures that you need to pull back your initial reactions and at least think about?

Adventures in cross cultural relations. May the open space we create be a place for us to meet with “others” in peace, understanding and mutual respect.

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Christmas

 Somehow I thought the Christmas spirit was a force of nature. It was a spiritual tsunami that hit every year because of the power of the birth of the Messiah. How could the tides not roll toward wonder and worship? How could we not get caught up in the mystery of a little baby, the fulfillment of hundreds of years of prophecies and the hope for all mankind born in a manger?

As it turns out, if the malls and the grocery stores and the radio station aren’t playing Christmas carols and the houses don’t start to sprout festively coloured lights and the temperatures aren’t dropping …the Christmas spirit forgets to show up.

I saw it on the calendar. I knew the season was upon us and I made a few feeble attempts to drum it up.  I treated it with the respect of a force of nature though, knowing that if I got too close the feeling of loneliness and separation from family and friends could wash me away.

I couldn’t help puzzle about the absence of it in my heart though and I must admit…I went another round with getting all theologically forensic. It’s like an involuntary reflex.

So I went down the dark road of, was it really a virgin birth? If not, what? An illegitimate teenage mistake? What about the star? The wise men? The angels and the shepherds?   Is it a real story, or a myth? And if it’s a myth…if a lot of the things I used to believe as literal truth are myth then why am I still calling myself a christian? Was Jesus actually God? Like, there before the earth was formed, G-d? If not, what’s it all about? What’s any of it all about?

Oh ya baby, why not make a new Christmas tradition…International Torture Yourself With Existential Angst Day? It’s somewhere between the 8th and the 12th day of advent. 

Troy, bless his heart, threw a life ring out to my floundering soul. We emailed back and forth a bit about it. He lives so comfortably with the tension and the mystery. I always think that I do, and then I backslide into the abyss of needing-to-know. 

Troy talked about the holiday being bigger than the birth of Christ and that was ok for him and that for him, theologically, the anchor to hold onto for him was: There is a God that loves us and Jesus is really important, the Messiah even. 

That stopped the downward trajectory of my mood and the general loss of Christmas for me. A knot in the end of the rope so to speak.

Now we’re in Sri Lanka, opting for vacationing rather than sitting at home missing children. 

Sri Lanka is about 67% Buddhist and then Muslim, Christian and Hindu make up the rest. I’ve really enjoyed seeing monks around in their bright orange robes. I brighten up every time I see them. They seem especially set apart to bear peace and joy to all around them. I’ve also gained a great deal of respect for Muslims as I’ve gotten to know our neighbours who are diligent and devoted to their faith and who want to please Allah and do what’s right. They are loving and peaceful as well. I’ve taken them all very seriously and respectfully. And of course, I’ve wondered if there is greater truth in their religion than in mine. Ok – I said it. I can’t even help myself. Why must I do this?

Christmas eve was the worst of the family-friend-christmas-snow-hustle-bustle-missing-home moments. Somehow the anticipation of Christmas comes to a crescendo on Christmas eve day for me and I felt the weight of it as we skyped with our girls. Of course I was brave online but I’ll admit to one melt down and a lump in my throat for most of the day.

The anticipation, the last of the preparations quickly getting finished up and the long awaited time of celebration just hours away. Calls to loved ones, “merry Christmas”’s to everyone you pass by. The pressure and the power of love for everyone, the thoughts for peace on earth and joy to the world and all that is good and right all coming together like a tidal wave of love. It’s almost impossible to resist. Something in me started to unravel. All the theological wonderings and wanderings began to spin away and the power of the story, whether myth or fact, gripped my heart again. Love coming down to humanity, to be with us, to show us love and how to live in peace and to bring forth justice. A baby, the most humble human expression, the most vulnerable and innocent and pure, coming to get all down and dirty with us so that we might be whole and connected to Divine Love. Whether the truth is in the story or behind the story doesn’t seem that important to me today. It is the story I have loved, and it is a beautiful and powerful story of a God who loves us and it is a story I felt myself choosing to identify with in a more whole hearted way than I had in a long time.

The Sri Lankan’s in their broken english seem to have changed the word Christian to Christmas.  Several of them have asked us “you are Buddha? or you are Christmas?”

I am Christmas.

 

 

 

The Wanderer Journey and Quest

The notes I jotted down from Troy’s message on March 20th read like this:

–           You have to know who you are before you can give to others.  If not your      motivation for giving gets messed up and becomes manipulative

–          Service can serve the ego in order to find validity and value

–          Temptation to conform

–          May have to visit this stage a few times

–          Might have to try on a few personas to find out who you really are

–          What they need?  Space.  Give them lots of space

While I identify with the wanderer journey on a very personal level I was struck by the fact that Quest itself may be on a wanderer journey. 

I wasn’t around in the beginning but if I understand correctly those that formed Quest left what they knew, which was similar to what they’d always known and ventured out to start something new. Not knowing what form it would take or where the journey would take them.

So as I listened to Troy and reviewed my notes later I felt that this was also a message for the community called Quest.

You have to know who you are before you can give to others.  Boy – this is counterintuitive for a Christian community.  It feels selfish and self centered and goes against the grain of everything we were taught in the past.  But, as his second point stated, ‘if not (if you don’t know who you are) then your motivation for giving gets messed up and becomes manipulative.  I’ve been around churches all my life, and all I’m going to say about this is that it’s pervasive.  I’m not overly critical of them because it’s extremely easy to fall into this and I think we all do it – a lot.  But, it’s a thing.

 Service can serve the ego in order to find validity and value

I’m sure as a forming group this will be a temptation for some time to come.  It would be great to resist it.  It will take effort to resist it and acknowledgement when the temptation comes. 

Might have to try on a few personas to find out who you really are

Just like the teenager that Troy described who experiments with different personas to see which one (or more) work for them, so Quest may do the same thing.  Freedom is the order of the day.  Give each other freedom and give yourselves freedom to try things or ‘personas’ and then to decide whether they have traction or not.  If they don’t work, try something else.  We get so serious about ourselves, don’t we?  I hope we stay free in this experimental stage for as long as possible.  With so many talented people in our midst we may have a few personas emerge.

What they need?  Space.

Let’s give each other lots of space.  Space to try new things and to be who we really are and to change our mind about that if we like.  To re-invent ourselves and our rituals and practices as a spiritual community.  To allow new people to inform the whole as they join us.  To try new things and to participate with others as they express themselves as part of the community.

I think as a group we’re on a kind of Wanderer Journey. 

What do you think?

 

 

Still on the lookout for Joy!

Sunday night I gave you a list of a number of things that I love and watch for at Christmas time that make me think that Love really was born at Christmas and that this is a special time of year (despite the heavy push of commercialism to wreck it). 

As I’ve gone through this week I’ve added a couple.  I’m wondering if you’re seeing things too.  Feel free to add what you’re seeing to my list. 

Makin’ a list:

–          Unusual clusters of shoppers – Father’s and Daughters, Mother’s and sons, brothers and sisters

–          The shoppers who you KNOW have not entered a shopping center since last Christmas and look out of place but are doing it for Love!

–          Salvation Army Kettles

–          Added yesterday…school choirs singing in the mall

Defined and Resolute – by Steve Vanderform

Here I stand on a corner stone

But where’s the rest of this foundation

My heart looks on for this unknown

And I sit and worry about temptation

Don’t look for me, where I’ve gone

Just wonder why I went

On second thought look beyond

It’s not My truth that was lent

Whose was it then, this stone of stones

This one where to enlist

My heart, soul and being moans

For the truth to unclench my fist

Do stand up and share your thought

Your inquiries and such

I want to know what you’ve fought

Our something may bring much

Sense is not needed here

It boarders the insane

For the people would unite and cheer

If the truth was not refrained

So the muscles on my face relax

And the clenched become undone

Because even if there are no fact

That in itself is one

Is There Safety In Community?

Responding to Sunday nights teaching:

There are many things that I could respond to but I’m going to pick one.  Or pick on one. 

I want to talk about the notion that we really need to walk this faith walk in community.  I think I disagree.

 In a sense most of us walk in some form of community because we are social beings and many of us process things out loud with others (at this point I will totally ignore the fact that introverts likely don’t have this need at all – we’re pretty much imposing this on them.  This is fodder for a whole other post). 

I disagree that we need a defined community with a time and a place for regular meetings/interaction.  I will quote a well respected teacher of mine:  “if the 12 apostles were to walk into any evangelical, mainline or Catholic church today – they would not recognize it as a church. It would not look, smell, sound or feel like their experience of church at all.”  May I gently suggest that Collective might be in that list as well.  Very gently.

Our communities today are made up of many interconnected and disassociated people.  We have a collection of people in our lives that we have connected with along the way, that we understand and who understand us and these people hail from our work place, our neighbourhoods, our past faith communities, our families.  Some of us have found online communities of like minded people as well.  We don’t know what their homes look like or how they dress or if they have a speech impediment, but we know some of their deepest thoughts and we have meaningfully connected and supported and vented and sent love to them.  All of these are people make up our specific community, whether we see them frequently or infrequently.

But the truth is that with this collection of people we interact with we are choosing them.  We edit them.  We grow apart and we leave some behind, we let some into our lives part way and some all the way in.  Even in a defined community like Quest there are some we more easily connect with than others.  We choose.  We choose to stay at Quest or go.  Some of us have chosen to go to other communities and when we didn’t feel like our thinking was close enough to the rest, we opted out. 

So, if the benefit of travelling in community is that there is some kind of security that we don’t go off the rails, I’m going to have to disagree.  If I want to go off the rails, I’ll find a way.  I’ll find like minds whom have also gone off the rails and we’ll make a community (The First Reformed Church of the De-Railed).  You can always find a group to agree with you – eventually.

Dave and I were disenfranchised for a very long time.  We didn’t feel like we fit anywhere.  We kept looking.  We tried things out.  We were in search of community…but then at some point I think we kind of gave up the search.  At least, we gave up an earnest search.  We relied on blogs and books and were getting comfortable with not fitting in anywhere locally.  We became comfortable (or at least resigned to) journeying without a defined community.  It was a little sad.  We wished for a community but – joining a community where we didn’t fit did not help anything.  Joining a community for safety didn’t make sense as we’d become leery of conventional Christianity and if we were in a group that wasn’t leery of it, well, we were leery of them.  How would it have helped to walk with them?  In fact, hanging out with them made us feel even lonelier, even more different and isolated because we weren’t understood and our views weren’t even entertained.   

Maybe sometimes it makes sense to travel alone.  Maybe the dark and lonely road is the only way to know if your thoughts are really your own.  To part from the ideologies that you’ve grown up with and develop your own path.  How else will you be sure that you’re not just regurgitating what you’ve been fed from the cradle?  Something about travelling that road has made me stronger.  I sincerely hope that Quest is my last stop on the spiritual-community road.  I can totally envision myself retired on a beach in Mexico with these very people.  However, if something happens and our paths diverge, I know that this time around I won’t be as devastate.  I won’t mistake my spiritual life with the community that feeds it.  I think I’m healthier and stronger and more confident in my ability to navigate my spiritual life, for having gone through the isolation.

One more quote from the Tribe Leader:  “We are currently in a paradigm shift and the Christianity that ‘worked’ in the last paradigm simply will not ‘work’ in the new paradigm. It would be like using a map of Toronto from 75 years ago to navigate through the city today. It’s not going to work because the map no longer reflects the reality of a territory that has changed substantially and continues to change.”

I was enjoying the trip without a map.  I would like to resist the temptation to put an old map on a new territory.  As comforting as that might be for some I’m not sure it is responding to the current spiritual traffic flow that is happening.  I’d like to hold on to a sense of adventure and imagination.

So in conclusion:

I would argue that Quest is a good thing for us because we’ve found people who are thinking along the lines of what we are, who stimulate further thinking, and who therefore make good company.  I would argue that Quest is a good thing for us because in the Quest community what you believe is not what makes you part of the group (or what gets you excluded) and I feel a great deal of freedom and comfort in that.  I would argue that we pick and choose who is really a part of our authentic community and that it would include people in Quest and out of Quest.

I think the best reason for being part of the Quest community is because I want to be.  Because it’s worthwhile and there’s kinship. 

One of the best reasons I’m a part of Quest? I don’t have to be.