Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Insh’allah

One of today’s readings in the Lectionary always brings a smile to my face. I can hear my teacher at the Qatar Center for the Presentation of Islam (where I was studying Arabic in Doha, Qatar) saying to me “don’t you know your own book? It tells you never to say you are going to do something without adding Insh’allah (God willing) because we never know even what the next minute will bring.”

James 4: 13-17

Boasting About Tomorrow

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

It’s a perfect reading for the last day of a troubled year, preparing for a year in which we have no idea what joys or troubles are in store for us.

Today, I look back with gratitude to that whole period in my life where I lived in the Middle East and was forced to confront my own ignorance. I was not only ignorant about my Muslim neighbors, I was equally ignorant about my own religion. My years among the Muslims motivated me to learn more about what I believed, and why.

This month, my religious mentor died. She had an enormous influence on my life, on bringing me to where I am today. When I returned to the United States, understanding how little I knew about my own religion, I enrolled in a four-year seminar in theology through an Episcopal Church program called Education for Ministry. It was life-changing. The first-year students read Old Testament, the second-year students read New Testament, the third-year students read Diarmaid MacCulloch’s book Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, and the fourth-year students read a variety of theological perspectives.

(MacCulloch’s book is thick and intimidating – and surprised us all with how much fun it was to read.)

My mentor was a skilled counselor and guide; she led us through all-year discussions of our weekly readings, so in the four-year program, we not only were reading our own year but giving input on the other’s readings. The discussions were lively and provocative. Slowly, even without realizing it, the students bonded closely with one another. We learned a very important lesson – how to disagree with people, especially when you felt strongly about an issue, and remain respectful.

It has served me well, living as I do in another alien culture. Although I was raised in a hunting culture (Alaska), when I lived there people kept their weapons locked away when not in use. There was no open-carry. As kids, we were lined up at school and given vaccinations, which we accepted as being necessary for our own well-being and the well-being of the community. I don’t believe we had a single black person in town, but we had the original inhabitants, Inuit, Haida, Tlingket and we all went to school together peaceably. My father worked for the government, he served. Service to country is a tradition in my family. I am aghast at elected officials who mistake staging political drama for good governance. I struggle to achieve civil discourse about issues about which I feel strongly.

And so I am thankful for all the years living among others; among the vanquished in Germany, among the desert people of Tunisia, and among the people of Abraham’s other son, Ishmael. Their patience with me taught me so much about myself, and that even my strongly-held convictions may not be nuanced enough to capture what passes for truth. It serves me well to this day, and, I hope, will continue to humble me as we enter this coming new year, Insh’allah.

December 31, 2021 Posted by | Alaska, Biography, Books, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Doha, Education, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual, Stranger in a Strange Land | , , | Leave a comment