Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ramadan, Iftar and meeting our neighbors.

In early August, nine members of Prince of Peace took the Islamic Center of Maryland up on their offer to take part in an Iftar - the evening meal to break the daily Ramadan fast. We experienced generous hospitality. From the samoosas we were handed as we walked in, to guidance after the prayers, to the conversation during the meals, we were graciously made to feel at home. We wondered aloud if visitors feel this welcome when they come to Prince of Peace. We hope they do.

When we arrived, I had thrilling the sense of being somewhere foreign. The women spoke a variety of languages and were draped in richly woven silks and scarves. Though we were only ten miles from church, I felt like I was in a different country. We were surrounded by women from all over the world, brought together because of a common religious tradition. Some spoke no English; others spoke English as I do - the only language they really know. I couldn't assess the background of the individual women I met until we talked. That meant each encounter was new and surprising.

At mealtime, a couple of us from Prince of Peace sat down with two young adult women. Not sure of what kind of conversation would follow, I was delighted to find that these sisters were neighbors to our church and had gone to the high school down the block. One was a law student; the other a PhD student. We discovered a common interest in the meaning of fasting across religious traditions. I felt at ease asking questions about Muslim women and religious leadership. Our conversation was natural. The experience quickly morphed from feeling foreign to feeling familiar.

The very next day I was out walking with a college student catching up before she headed back to school. We passed one of the sisters on her jog. I hardly recognized her in the transformation from worship clothes to running clothes. We all stopped for a moment and chatted like neighbors. She is so...normal.

I sometimes get taken by surprise when I realize that I am among the religious. I mean, of course I know I am religious. But people unfamiliar with my tradition - and even those who are familiar - probably see me as different from them in a way I never think of myself.

I dress up in a fancy white robe and special clothes and lead rituals that must feel as foreign to some as the Iftar is to me. Yet I think of myself as normal, not as the odd one or the outsider. But of course in this neighborhood it is I - not those sisters - who is the foreigner. They've lived here for much longer.

Since we visited, so much has happened to change the world. Libyan rebels have gained power; the US economy has gone on free fall; The earth shifted under my feet in a historic east coast quake. And still, faithful Muslims around the world and in our neighborhoods are fasting and praying. I admire the faithfulness of that tradition. I have learned from it. And I am grateful to have been welcomed by my neighbors.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Food

Has it really been almost 2 months since I last posted? I have 4 half-written blogs: more about salvation; heaven and hell; canoeing& backpacking; and of course, Addie (my dog).

But today I'm going to write about food. I forgot to pick up a CSA (community supported agriculture) share for some parishioners on vacation. I felt sorry to have dropped my responsibility and more sorry to miss the veggies and fruits. But, I'm not going to lose sleep over it. Reason? I've got a full fridge. I'm in no danger of going hungry.

I love summer food and I've been cooking up a storm. Pork, corn and peaches on the grill; blueberry buttermilk pancakes; grilled squash, eggplant and red pepper; spinach-shrimp-basil pasta; BLTs with slices of tomato so thick you hardly need the bacon (except, of course, you need the bacon!).

So here's a disquieting experience: savoring a veggie breakfast omelet with melon and berries on the side while looking at online news pictures of starvation in Somalia.

My heartstrings are pulled by visions of people dying - 2000 a day is the current estimate. Moments later I am distracted: orange juice or lemonade to drink on a hot summer day? I have both at the ready. It is hard to square my abundance with the desperation of others.

The tomato picture is from our church's garden. I took it today. The garden is thriving.

Compare that to the picture of the meager food in the hands below. It comes from the ELCA website about the drought and famine. Here's the caption:


“This is the last of my food, a few beans. I used to grow food myself but there has been no rainfall in eight years, so now I have to buy all my food from the market. The prices keep going up. We only have enough food for one meal a day now, and that goes for all people in this area,” says Lucia Muvili Ngotho (pictured left) from the Kalimbui village in Mwingi, Kenya.Comparing the realities in the two pictures is disquieting. Something is not right.

Part of why I haven't written is that I've been in a general slump of life. Slumps happen. I generally don't think it's helpful to compare your problems to other people with "real problems" in an effort to feel better. Problems aren't proportional and you can get yourself into a dither of guilt by comparing.

But a little perspective can be sobering. As the old saying goes: I complained about not having shoes until I met a man with no feet.

This sign is part of the Gaithersburg HELP educational materials. Last Saturday some people play I frisbee with threw their support behind Gaithersburg HELP by having a Fannie Mae mini-"walk." As I was hammering the sign into the ground, I was struck by its message. Humbled.

Having the kind of problems I have is only possible because of the kind of problems I don't have. There are people in the world who would weep with joy to have 1/10 of the food I have in my fridge and would consider their problems solved if they could turn on water from their kitchen.

That disquieting feeling? I've come to recognize it as the seeds of a calling. Though the disaster in East Africa is beyond proportions we ever face, hunger exists in my own zip code. I know I wasn't alone last Saturday in feeling good that at least I was able to do something active to respond to the disquieting reality that so many people are hungry.

If you want to find out more about Gaithersburg HELP or Fannie Mae's walks for the homeless, including how to sponsor a mini-walk/run/game/etc, let me know. And if you want to donate to the Lutheran efforts to help the famine, click here.

Also, the Gazette covered our frisbee game. Check out the article here.