Ji-Had I known that all along…

There are some places you don’t bring a DSLR.

Guano filled ancient caves probably qualify. 

I spent last weekend trudging through caves in the Malaysian mountains. 

Nestled deep in the jungle are large caverns that seem beyond explanation. The type of caves that make Dwarven cities in the Lord of the Rings a little bit more believable.

About thirty young college students went with us. That’s not very strange, but this was a different experience. The exception being that all these students were Muslim. 

Burka’s and rules. Dates and Halal. Guys can’t touch girls. They seemed like quite the party animals. 

Raised in a post 9/11 world, it is somewhat jarring to see people dressed in “Arab” fashion (Obviously if I can be in Southeast Asia and see the same clothes, it isn’t really “Arab,” is it?). While I grew up in a very diverse, progressive, and anti-racial area, I still have come to know Islam through the lens of CNN and Fox News. 

I find often how much I have preconceived notions on this trip. It rewrites so much to spend just a little time with people my age from a religion that is seen through the spectrum of terrorism and peace.

Honestly, I had very little experience with Islam until this month. I did though have years of news headlines, angry examples on television of both hurt Americans and extremists, movies like Black Hawk Down, Team America and Three Kings. I remember seeing Imams on TV claiming that Islam is a peace-loving religion while refusing to admit 9/11, Embassy bombings, and much more are really that bad. I remember seeing American believers in Islam explain that extremism isn’t the heart of the religion and that we have it all wrong.

I walked away from western media and American culture more confused then enlightened about world religions.

This isn’t really about the religion though. This is about the people. 

Our group left for the cave on a Friday morning. To get there you must traverse jungle roads and hike past streams and waterfalls. Along the way, my Adventure Time homey Ben picked up a few leeches. They are messy otherworldly creatures. Vampiric and bloody. Yet strangely enough salt quickly defeats them. 

Little losers. 

For three quarters of an hour we hiked up little jungle trails. Army ants. Monkeys. Mosquitoes. All the amenities that rainforest provides were available. 

At the top of a trail stood this gaping black abyss. This wasn’t by any means a small cave. The ceiling was at least thirty feet above is. It was one of those expansive spaces you read about in National Geographic. The type of cave seen on Discovery Channel. Well at least before those television channels became obsessed with Bigfoot and Aliens.

With our headlamps ready, we all pushed forward.

I whispered Shakespearean and Tolkien lines underneath my breath, “Once more my friends into the breach.”

“Into the Mines!”

Bats whizzed past our heads. They didn’t seem to have much respect for personal bubbles. Snakes moved in transit from side to side. All my stereotypes about caves from Indiana Jones are now confirmed. 

Snakes and bats. It’s all true.

As we ventured deeper into the cave we came upon small narrow tunnel. 

I am claustrophobic. I am terrified of Clausters.

I had to get on my stomach and crawl in. For one brief second my chest caught and I almost broke my cool and collected exterior to scream like a little girl. 

I am pretty sure the ground was hardened Guano. As I shimmied through the tunnel of doom, Islamic students cheered and clapped to see such a tall and wide frame fit into such a narrow gap. 

I do on average stand about a head above the people in Asia. If this were filmed for local television it would’ve seemed as if the Malaysian Chris Angel had arrived.

Inside was a huge cavern filled with stalagmites, cave grasshopper shrimp things (I’m not a scientist) and cave spiders. They are large. Now I finally understand why every single video game and fantasy movie involves killing a cave spider. They are real and they are scary in real life.

So there Ben and I stood amidst dozens of college students. The girls in burkas. The guys in gym shorts.

Suddenly the students got into a circle, they turned out the lights. Nobody really spoke in English so I was left a bit confused.  While sitting I observed the Malay people. There was the class clown, the scared girl, and the person who just can’t work a headlamp. All the subcultures of spelunking one finds in America.

A man in the middle began to tell of the prophet Mohammad. In the darkness we heard of this story of him having visions in a cave. The people to the left and right of me fervently prayed and spoke of Allah.

Everyday I am exposed to humanity. To people desperate for a god. Perhaps it’s the very image that looks back at us in the mirror. Perhaps it’s the sky and endless oceans. We all know something is bigger then us. I’m finding myself stunned more and more at the beauty and wisdom of scripture. Eternity is really set within our hearts.     

We all long for something more. Something not of this Earth.

After this was all done, the students decided to strike up a conversation with Ben and I. He tried to shake a girls hand. 

She recoiled. 

Pervert.

We probably do come from very different worlds.

Yet a few minutes in and the barriers of culture, language, and religion dimmed. They lessened. I saw some of the men wandering caves and getting laughed at for running off. We approached a creek that went up to the waist and had to wade through. The ceiling was very low for me; even on my knees I often hit my head repeatedly. 

My DSLR should be glad I love her enough to hold her above my head, wrapped in plastic, stuck in a backpack, while I crawl on my knees through the water.

The men splashed the women with water, played pranks, and they giggled, grinned, and probably flirted. I can’t speak the language here. Yet I think flirting is pretty universal.

Eventually we escaped the cave into the fresh air of the day, smelling of bat Feces and dingy underground water. 

I was the only one bereft of leeches. I may’ve worn jeans. 

Some of the students lit cigarettes. They swam in a local waterfall. All in all though,

They were just human. Young college students. Filled with giggles and innocence, vice and experimentation, pranks and gifts.

I didn’t find myself shocked by the humanity they expressed. I found myself shocked at how often I assumed burka’s and rules would have robbed them of humanity. 

I had always assumed a twenty year old girl with a head covering would feel chained and joyless.

And here it was I began to realize how often I had lumped so many people into the same category. 

Have you ever done something because of Christianity you didn’t want to or agree with? Some hard to understand arbitrary rule maybe? Dressing up for Sunday? Not wearing hats inside of a building? Standing for worship? Sitting for communion? Not lifting hands during a somber song or hymn?

Have you ever adhered to a hard rule because you thought it was best? I can tell you many want to save themselves for marriage, but few want to put in the work involved. Many want to stay away from alcohol and vice in order to serve God better. Few ever wander down that path and often if they successfully navigate sobriety, they stumble headlong onto legalism and judgment. Some of these Islamic students are having the same type of journey through a different lens.   

Have you ever been “raised” in the church? Only to walk away, stumble off for a few years, and make God “Your own”?

I realized, that just because someone adheres to rote rules and a standard of a religion does not mean that they necessarily want to, agree with them, or disagree with them. It’s simple, but it’s oft forgotten. They feel the same feelings we do. They have the same insecurities. They even have the same struggles.

We are all human. 

There are lukewarm Muslims. People raised in belief that live it out of duty instead of passion. There are passionate believers of Allah. There are lukewarm Buddhists who offer beer and Doritos at the family feast because they know they eat it later and the ancestors won’t mind. 

Is it possible some husbands love to see their wives but cover them up to follow a law that they think is honoring Allah? Perhaps they don’t enjoy having to hide the beauty around them, yet because they think it is good, righteous, or right, they do?

Have we assumed all Islamic people love the rules? Love the burkas? Love the hard lifestyle of sobriety and baconless meals? Maybe the atrocities we see in our media are committed out of desperation to get to paradise? A desire to serve a creator they long to know?

It’s not that what has been done is by any means right or justified. Yet I think we assume that people who commit crimes and religious atrocities do them out of hate and violence. We assume they know evil and are willingly choosing evil.

Yet what if under the twisted sense of morality involved, they are honestly thinking of what they are doing as good or at the very worst acceptable? What if a mixture of ignorance and improper morality causes all this? If we all went out for coffee and left our guns at the door, the discussion would be light-hearted, fun, and about the same things?  

I have heard from multiple sources that in some locations in Malaysia, gang rape is common. When the men involved are told that gang rape is wrong, the response is stunning.

They honestly react with,

“It’s wrong???”

I personally am SHOCKED that anyone cannot see such a heinous act as violent and evil. I want to grab the people involved and violently shake them. My natural instinct is… 

I want justice. I want them to know the love of God. 

From behind bars. 

On the way to the executioner. 

Yet, when you are raised by a father condoning rape, told to devalue women, told you are more valuable because you are male, told that a women in the wrong place is accountable for your horrific actions… is it not understandable that when raised up and force-fed bad examples and lies you would make terrible decisions? 

It’s still evil. It’s still awful. 

Yet we are only by the grace of God raised in a better way.

Can we not at least praise God for the grace to be raised in a culture that reflects at least some standard of Judeo-Christian morality? Should we not praise God that we are not raised in a home of such low moral concepts? Our world-view is in much part our own responsibility, as well as in much part a result of the people and lessons in our lives. 

Honestly I am just trying to understand the source and cause of things that we deem absolutely barbaric. I am trying even more to understand places and areas I’ve gotten it wrong. I am coming face to face with people who have experienced, slavery, genocide, and hate crimes. Some who have committed them.  Every day it challenges me to understand how humans can act the way they do. 

Warning: Bombs of the F persuasion. Or swearing for those with fragile little ears.

Some people get more offended by the F-Bombs in this song then the fact we did such a poor job as a church loving Noah, he feels this way. 

I have a very minute grasp of the religious beliefs around me, what I do know though…

Is that my heart is full of judgment, stereotypes, western thinking, and ideas I only believe because I grew up in an American world. I watched enough TV to find myself “enlightened.”

When I got back from Taiwan, it was rather common for people to tell me what Taiwan was like because they watched television. Some went so far as to argue with me. Obviously my two years rubbing elbows with the natives paled in comparison to the thoughtful observations of Geraldo Rivera.

The fact is Asians hate other cultures, struggle with racism, and live out of a narrow worldview too, much like Americans.

We, I speak mostly of my American experience, hate to seem ignorant. Yet when we “Put ourselves in another persons shoes.”

We wear our own socks. We put ourselves into those shoes with the same mind frame. 

“What would I, wearing another persons shoes, do?” Instead of just thinking…

“Holy crap, how the heck could they act like this? People don’t just make irrational decisions. Unless they are famous like Lady Gaga.” and going from there. 

Maybe today you see someone at 7/11 that comes from another country. You are frustrated because the guy at McDonald’s knows five languages and none of them are English. You see bad stuff on the news. Ask questions. Investigate. Think deeper. It is not about Islam, Buddhism, foreigners, or religion. This transcends nerds, jocks, hipsters, scene kids, fans of twilight, Jews, gentiles, pagans, homos, heteros, Australians, and anything in between.
 
Maybe you hate an entire people group because of something that happened to you. Maybe you get angry. Maybe you were hurt and robbed.

Give it up. Forgive them. Put on new eyes. 

Because when all is said and done Jesus not only died for these people. 

He knew them better than us.

He forgave them. He longs to be with them. He longs for us to dwell richly in unity with them.

Perhaps we should try to find out why.

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Oh Skinny Love

I held on for so long.

What If You – Joshua Radin

Knuckles white. My heart beating fast and strong. I prayed for redemption. Reconciliation. Hope. I pursued it with everything I am only to find myself slighted by the hand of time.

You beg sometimes. Knees bruised. Face wet. Heart heavy.

You beg, to hear from God.

To just hear anything at all.

When the silence is louder than the roar of life an unsettling feeling sets in.

Is this real? Am I really walking by faith? Am I just thrusting myself towards my own devices hoping that it is in the name of the Lord?

Today I finally heard Jesus release me. He answered a question I had forgotten I still was asking.

He whispered choice words in my ear.

“Sell it, take the money, share the blessing, buy your freedom. Trade in your rusty hole riddled hope for a hope that never will fade. Trade in your human security.”

I’d waited for this day. A day I couldn’t arrive at of my own doing. A day that only Jesus could lead me too. The cathartic relinquishing of my self-inflicted duty. The day that a command to leave something would mean more than heartbreak.

I’m so sick of leaving for heartbreak.

This time it’s for healing.

Letting go has been a process and a struggle.

Sometimes we don’t want to let go.

……………………………………………………..

Winter

Skinny LoveBirdy

I hold onto pain like it is the most important possession I have.

Yet pain nestles up close to my ear and slightly clicks his filthy teeth.

“I will possess your heart.”

Thinking I am the master. That I hold onto a comfort few can find. A comfort in tears and sorrow. Where others find themselves in sunshine and blissful moments, I find myself resting in the dark night of the soul.

The things we think we can control and contain are often juvenile experiments in physics.

As my two hands try to grasp around past events and memories they just seep through the cracks in my fingers.

I should’ve known I could not hold yesterday in my hands anymore than I could see tomorrow if I looked with all my might.

Yet once again I find myself fooled.

As two hands try to clasp the pain in my life tightly until I can find my identity in it, make a memorial of it, and even share it, I find them withdrawn and stained and sticky with emotions and hurt I never should have spread around.

I should’ve known I was to never engage my pain. That was not my place.

Like thick oil it coats my arms and cloys my throat. I find myself trying to well up just an ounce of joy only to be fully and utterly consumed by the black darkness of my own painting.

I can’t get this pain off of my skin. What have I done?

Spring

I looked at the calendar today.

Was it really so recent?

The days and moments stretch on and scream to me that more time has passed then I can really feel. I almost feel lost in the lethargic ebb and flow of time. As if years have grayed my hairs and wizened my brow.

I learned a lot about pain last winter. I learned to let go of the past and have slowly moved on from being defined by memories to making memories that refine.

I used to find my identity in the pain I felt.

I don’t know how to describe it really. I desired not pity, I didn’t like a sad story. I just was lost in the darkness of my own narrative.

Sometimes I welled up all the pain inside until I felt I would violently heave emotions upon the next willing soul. Yet I reserved this pain for the perfect soul.

Well, an imaginary human one that never came.

I don’t know what I was looking for.

I sat waiting to let go of just one more little wound. One more slight. One more tribute to false hope and shattered dreams. I held onto it.

I was waiting for knot in my soul to be untied. A pardon to be issued. Freedom to be proclaimed.

Every step forward I tried to take was still chained to a place I refused to leave.

Today those old rugged bonds seemed as mere faded memories replaced by rainbows and bright shining lights.

Amazing Cause it IsThe Almost

Jesus didn’t come for us to live a life of existence.

He came to give life abundant. He came to give that bright eyed dreamer hope to people so broken and lost that the clergy of the day couldn’t stand to be near them.

He came to free us of our guilt and shame. Yet that’s so trite and overstated.

He came to ERASE our guilt and shame and then cover that newly cleared slate with a brand new name.

A beautiful name.

Today at communion I thought about betrayal. How Jesus wasn’t just God. He was human. I thought about the truckload of gall and bitterness welling up in the stomach after divorce. Affairs. Death. The loss of a child. Knowing something bad has happened and being unable to stop it. Then I thought about the tears and gall of betrayal.

I don’t know if anything hurts more.

Then to know the foundation of trust you build relationships on with other people has been mixed with clay and lies. The brittle stones fail and the whole building caves in on itself.

Jesus was betrayed by everyone.

EVERYONE.

The whole thrust of the earth. Untold billions wallowed in sin and muck as He lay upon that cross feeling the full weight and emotion of betrayal not in his “Super distant deityhood.”

In his flesh.

In his breathing, sweating, cries when people die, laughs when Peter fall in the water, sneezes when he’s sick, self.

Jesus. Fully human.

He bore so much pain. SO much betrayal.

He held onto that cross.

He didn’t hold onto his pain.

He held onto us.

He never let us go. He didn’t just die for us.

He lives for us.

Sometimes I don’t take that life.

I get caught up in hurt and the past and holding onto dreams that maybe I should have let go of a long time ago.

It’s not even wrong. So much as… not the abundant life I could live.

Oh, Jesus, I’m so grateful for you.

I’m so happy that you love me, you chose me, you walked towards me and picked me up. I love you, I love you, I LOVE YOU. I hep that I’ll see you soon, friend. I miss you everyday. I miss you so much. I know sometimes I hold onto this world more than I should. I can only imagine the hurt and betrayal so much of my life caused you. Yet you tell me it’s in the past. It’s almost ridiculous that you could forgive all my betrayal. And then I have the audacity to cling to the past, to walk back to Egypt, to live in dead-hope, or weak faith. Oh Jesus, I’m so blessed by you. Thank you for wiping my tears away. Thank you for saving me from new tears. For holding me close to you. Oh, friend, come home soon. We miss you.

I’m so happy Jesus. It’s a brand new day.

Brand New Day – Joshua Radin

Some kind of magic
Happens late at night
When the moon smiles down on me
And bathes me in its light

I fell asleep beneath you
In the tall blades of grass
When I woke the world was new
I never had to ask

Its a brand new day
The sun is shining
Its a brand new day
For the first time
In such a long long time
I know
Ill be ok

Most kind of stories
Save the best part for last
Most stories have a hero who finds
You make your past your past
Yeah you make your past your past

Its a brand new day
The sun is shining
Its a brand new day
For the first time
In such a long long time
I know
Ill be ok

This cycle never ends
Gotta fall in order to mend

And its a brand new day
Its a brand new day
For the first time
In such a long long time
I know
Ill be ok