Friday, June 8, 2018


 When you live among neighbors whose core beliefs differ substantially from your own, you tend to look at things differently than you did when you, say, lived in rural Iowa with staunch Reformers scattered along your gravel road.

I would never have admitted a superiority complex back then, but I'm afraid I would now.
It was subtle, oh, so subtle.  Sneaky even.

And entirely Pharisaical.

It's amazing that such and such people group could be deceived to believe those outlandish things.
It's ludicrous that people of that other belief system think they could get to heaven by performing those actions.

I didn't actually voice these condescensions, but they lived, nonetheless, somewhere in my shallow subconsciousness.
If you're alarmed at my thoughts, maybe you should be.
Perhaps we all need a little alarm to wake us out of the hypocritical haze we've been dozing in.

I haven't changed what I believe.
I've changed my putrid attitude of superiority about what I believe.

Let me tell you why.  Actually, just come with me for a couple hours.  We've been invited to an Iftar at the neighbor's house.  I know you're tired.  I am too.  We got home from our "Art in the Park" event an hour ago, and we're weary of being around people.

But it's an opportunity to be neighborly, and we don't like to pass those up.

An Iftar is a breaking-the-fast meal during Ramadan.  All the neighbor women are going.
Calla's coming too.  She puts on a long skirt, and we drag our tired selves across the street around dusk.

We take off our shoes on the stairs as our hostess ushers us in to her Zal.  Everyone else is already there and a young woman is reading the Koran in Arabic.  The women gesture at us to sit in the honored places.  It's useless to protest.  The reading never stops.  We sit for a while listening.  I glance around at exhausted, warm faces shrouded in head scarves, knowing most haven't eaten or drunk a thing since 3:00 this morning.
Food on the table is arranged attractively--salads, breads, crepes, fruit, samsas, cookies, and drinks.  The spread is enormous and untouched.

When the reading is finished, we swipe our faces with our hands to receive it.  Someone checks her phone for the time.  They decide the woman next to me should pray.
We cup our hands in front of our waists and listen with our eyes open.  The women murmur in agreement as my neighbor prays in Uzbek.  She earnestly petitions that Allah will accept their fasts.  She pleads for their children and grandchildren.  For their neighbors.  For forgiveness of sins.

I glance around the room.  These women are sincere.  They are thirsty.  They are desperate.
I marvel at the individual lives represented by each face. Older ladies, young mothers, teenage girls.


Something squeezes inside my chest.
The "Us" and "Them" line blurs behind my eyes.
How did I ever see myself as more?
Somehow enlightened largely because of where I was born?

Time keeper checks her phone again.  Someone else prays.  We swipe our faces and my tushuk partner reaches for water.  She has a headache, but she is animated, speaking quickly and making everyone laugh.
Then they eat dates and maybe a crepe before swiping their faces and rising one by one.  They take their prayer rugs and spread out in the courtyard.

Calla wants to make an escape--she's had a long day--but they're blocking the exit.
Ten minutes later we are all together again--feasting, laughing, storytelling.

We stay until 10.  When asked, we explain a little about our faith, but everyone really just wants to enjoy the evening in peace without a deep discussion tonight.

Calla and I meet in her room before bed.  We both get teary because of the enormity of our opportunities here and because of our previous perspectives.

Maybe I'm feeling the weightiness of sharing with you.  Bridging a river that at times swells with misunderstandings.

"Did you hear what "Dee" [our hostess neighbor] said when we left?" Calla asked.
I hadn't.
"She said, 'Thank you for honoring me by your presence tonight.'"

The honor was ours, fellow seeker.

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