“It is love alone that gives worth to all things.” ~ Teresa of Ávila
I have a jacked-up worldview.
It’s one of my favorite confessions to tell people when I teach on Muslims and on the differences in our worldviews. Visiting multiple countries on multiple continents jacked my personal worldview hard and living in the Middle East jacked it up even harder. Two wars altered it in ways that forever changed me.
I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to working class parents. My father was a carpenter by trade. During my childhood, it seemed like he was always at home because his union was endlessly on strike. So much so, I remember him as my main care-giver. My mom worked retail to pay the bills. We were poor, possibly bottom middle-class, possibly lower. This changed once we moved to Colorado and my dad was in management with a construction company.
I went to Robinwood Elementary, said the Pledge of Allegiance every school day, my best friend Mary lived behind me, and I had a swing-set in the backyard where we met every day after school. I played outside year-round, caught fireflies in the summer, built snow forts in the winter, jumped in leaves in the fall, and helped my parents garden in the spring. I had a chocolate lab named Ginger. I loved her. Yes, I have loved a dog in my life. There was no internet, no smart phones, people still had block parties, and we went trick or treating in our neighborhood, door to door without worry. In many ways, it seems like a simpler time, maybe that’s the innocence of childhood.
I remember thinking America was the BEST and the GREATEST country in the world. I also grew up Catholic and thought we were the BEST religion ever. Except those Saturday afternoons when I had to go to confession and say about 100 Hail Marys for my penance, then try not to sin before Sunday communion. I rarely made it. I remember learning American history (not the bad bits, but only how just and good we were), English grammar, cursive writing (remember that??) and I learned to play the clarinet…badly. I fell in love with reading. I read voraciously as a child--Anne Frank, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and anything about history. At any given time, I had at least three library books checked out. This was my only worldview as a child, I had none to compare it to, and I loved it fiercely.
Once I got to be a teenager, things shifted. I rebelled severely at age 15 against any and all authority. I left the Catholic Church. I started to drink, experiment with drugs, and ditch classes in High School. I shaved off all my hair and died it hot pink and green (it was the 80’s), wrote disturbing poetry, listened to amazing punk rock and new wave music, and was generally dissatisfied with my nice little suburban life. I think I was grounded for my 16th year of life…like the entire year. So, then I started to sneak out during the middle of the night.
Life wasn’t working so well for me. While everything I wrote were good memories of my childhood, under the surface I was being severely abused. I couldn’t contain or deny the abuse at this point in my life. I started to fight. I stopped playing nice, I was always the good girl and did everything in my power to do everything right. It didn’t work and I didn’t find love or acceptance. As a result, I started to rebel and I started to look for others who hurt too, others who didn’t fit. This was significant. I didn’t want to be around pretty people pretending all is well and just repress all that was ugly. I knew life wasn’t pretty and I was done pretending. This is also part of my worldview.
My point with telling you all that is that I am as American as they come. Even though I have out-grown my “America can do no wrong” phase, I still love my country deeply. I still believe in the goodness and generosity and strength of Americans. I don’t think you could beat that out of me, it’s part of my DNA.
Let’s fast-forward 20 years. I came back to the church and received Jesus as my savior in a respectable Evangelical Bible Church. I fell in love with him. I did my best to be a good Christian. Again I couldn’t pull it off and developed a pattern of coming and going because I knew I didn’t fit in. Shortly after coming back to the church for like the 50th time (I am a bit subborn) I was diagnosed with cancer, went through surgery and treatments, all the while feeling a call to missions work. Most well-meaning Christians told me that was impossible. Not only was I not a Seminarian, I was sickly.
Not only did I fall in love with Jesus during this time of illness, I fell in love with this God, a vulnerable God, a God that literally hung on a cross while others mocked him. A God not aloof but a God who himself endured suffering and pain. That was the Good News to me, an Incarnate God, a God among us, a God longing to be with us in suffering. I wasn’t alone. And this God had a special place for those who suffer, for the poor, and the outcast. It didn’t explain the suffering of my life, but it gave me hope and possibly for the first time in my life I felt deeply valued and loved. I didn’t have to hide or be ashamed of the ugly bits of my life, they were a part of my story, intertwined together with the pretty bits to make a tapestry. This is also my worldview.
It was at this point that I gave my life to making sure those who felt alone or were unseen or were considered unacceptable could know what I had experienced. My first Mission trip to Africa ruined me. It wasn’t all that stunning, the work, mostly holding orphaned babies. We were having a carnival for them on the last day and I was face-painting. As I held this beautiful 8-year-old girl’s face in my hands, I looked straight into her eyes. She held my gaze but started weeping. I might have been the first person to actually see her. I remember thinking to myself, this is what I am meant to do with my life, see others, reflect their dignity back to them. This is what Jesus has done for me. No human beings are throw-aways. God’s glory and majesty is reflected in all of his creation, in every single human being on this earth, regardless of race, color, or religion. This is my worldview.
And then let’s throw Palestinian refugees into the mix. 13 years of struggle in my life. Struggle to make their life better in some small way. Struggle to make sure I reflect their beauty back to them even when they are difficult, even when everything in this world tells them differently. And I have struggled to make their stories known in my own country. Even though I have wanted to serve them, they have given much more to me and taught me much. I have learned a whole new worldview. One about honor, about honoring the person in front of you. One of community, that individual needs do not come before the group’s needs, the family’s needs or the entire community’s needs. You’re in it together. I have learned a whole new language, equally painful and beautiful. I have been exposed to whole new cuisine, this really is the number ONE benefit, there ain’t no food like Middle Eastern food, can I get an Amen up in here?
I have learned what it’s like to live in violence and war and instability. There is an enormous amount of resilience that I have learned from my Arab friends, both Muslims and Christians, they live in the midst of horrendous suffering but they always find life.
I have learned to respect another people group that stands opposite, think 360 degrees, of me and of my worldview. I have learned to respect another religion. I have learned that I must continue to learn in order to help. Life is learning. All of this respect still comes even when I disagree. I have also learned there is quite a large cost. Some of that cost is losing my own worldview that I fiercely loved, as absolute truth. I must let it go. Along with some in my American and Christian community who say I am too soft on Islam or too gracious to terrorists (which 99.9% of them are NOT terrorists) or are suspicious of my friendships with Muslims. I still wonder what being tough, ungracious, and unloving would win me. At the same time, I remember my own worldview when all I had was my one world of America. So, I learn grace all over again, possibly more painfully then before. This is my new(ish) worldview.
In the end, I think no one worldview or culture is perfect or correct, they are just worldviews. There is no right or wrong, there is just culture or maybe better, there is right and wrong in all cultures. But, there are dominant themes woven into all of us as human beings in all of our cultures. We all crave love. We all crave relationship. We all crave belonging. This I have found to be universal. This is my experience.
The recent news of ban (temporary as it may be) on refugees, particularly Muslim refugees, felt like this is a dagger in my heart. I have been to some of those countries that are currently banned, I have seen life there. I have also been a first-hand witness to the lives of Palestinian refugees in camps in multiple Middle Eastern countries. There is a lack of understanding of their lives resulting in a lack of compassion. As a result, some 5.4 million Palestinian refugees still have refugee status after 69 years. I also know many of them dream about the opportunity of coming to America to build a better life. I have also known many Arabs who aren’t refugees who dream of the opportunities in America. I have come to understand that opportunity gives hope.
I know the consequences of refugee status, of losing everything. I know the rights and the opportunities denied. I don’t have to imagine. I know. It grieves me and I must believe it grieves that vulnerable God who entered my suffering. He must be in their suffering or He would deny who He is. Maybe if we stopped to truly learn about another’s life, we wouldn’t be so interested in protecting ourselves by separating us and them. Maybe it would remove our fear to see the pain of someone else. Maybe it would make it just that much harder to see them as anything but a reflection of God’s glory. What if we could be a part of dignity restored, hope, and bridge-building? Isn’t that the definition of beauty?
What if I used all of who I am, all of these acquired jacked up worldviews - American, Christianity, suffering, and knowledge of other cultures to better this world for everyone, those I agree with and those I don’t, those I understand and those I don’t?
This is my prayer and the hope for my life, that all of my pain and all of my goodness would be used to better someone’s life.
I wrote a poem. That’s news. But, it was the only way for me to process my pain, really anguish, all I was feeling at 2am when I wasn’t able to sleep.
Build your wall,
I will climb it.
Ban them all,
I will go to them.
Count me among them.
Register the Foreigners,
Muslims, Dreamers, Illegals,
I will become them.
Whatever barrier you erect,
I will overcome it.
You cannot separate us,
The dearly beloved,
We belong together.
You will not win,
Hate will not win,
Fear will not win,
In the end,
Only love stands
Only love matters
Only Love wins.