Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Mere Christianity

In the February 25th issue of The Economist there is a very interesting article called “Puritans or pornographers: the schizophrenia at the heart of anti-Americanism.” The article talks about how America is hated by “Euro-secularists” for being “too religious” and by the Muslim world for being the mass producer of scandalous media (we just can’t win). This article really got me thinking. I agree with the Muslim world that there are many problems with American media. But how about the “puritan” side of things? Is America really too religious?

The article says that many Europeans can’t believe that any modern person can be religious unless they are either stupid or insane. Now, this statement may seem quite shocking initially, but isn’t American culture saying the same thing, if not so blatantly? It seems to me it has become “uncool” to be Christian. There is an undercurrent in our culture that says thinking people will eventually think their way out of their faith. To be truly open-minded, our culture tells us, one must abandon religion, perhaps to embrace a more abstract spirituality. And I ask, why has this happened? Why has it become so unpopular to be a Christian? (this is not a rhetorical question- please answer me!)

I found further evidence of American culture’s patronizing view of religion when I read the book Heaven Lake by John Dalton. The book received great reviews, and in many ways, rightfully so. It is well written, the characters are interesting and the plot is well thought out. The main character of the book, Vincent, travels to Taiwan as a Christian missionary of sorts. He is self-righteous, naive, full of dogmatic faith and (shock of all shocks) has never had sex. The author paints Vincent as a nice, decent guy, who is misguided and immature in his thinking (yes, I’m oversimplifying). Vincent ends up sleeping with one of his students and has a fall from grace. Through a series of events and one long adventure Vincent eventually evolves from his simple-minded faith to a “deeper understanding” of the inter-connectedness of all beings- his true spirituality. He realize this while atop a beautiful mountain overlooking a lake- heaven’s lake.

This book perfectly symbolizes how our culture looks at Christianity: Devotion to religion, adherence to rules, are merely restrictions to be overcome. The true evolution is away from the confines of religion- in order to free the mind for real (read: science, politics, social injustice) thought.

Well, in response to the (possibly imagined) assault on my faith, I declare: I am not stupid, I am interested in both science and politics, I don’t hate gay people AND I am a deeply religious person.

To end this oh-so-long post, I would like to point out that there are those who have written about man’s evolution towards God, rather than away. I am rereading Les Miserables and I find inspiration and consolation in Victor Hugo’s story of a man’s journey from convict to saint. In regards this man’s change of heart, Hugo writes:

“Is there not in every human soul, was there not in the particular soul of Jean Valjean, a primitive spark, a divine element, incorruptible in this world, immortal in the next, which can be developed by good, kindled, lit up, and made resplendently radiant, and which evil can never entirely extinguish.”

Friday, March 10, 2006

Spring Baby

Wisconsin winters are notoriously long and cold, and we’ve spent so much time stuck in the house. This morning we woke up and it was sunny and (slightly) warm outside. After taking Mohamed to work, Amira and I spent a few minutes looking at the trees and listening to the birds. I told her how excited I am that spring is coming and how grateful I am that she is my baby girl. She stretched her arms up above her head and said, “Yah!” That is just how I feel.

I gave Amira a bath to wash the rest of last night’s spaghetti out of her hair and she splashed the water up and out of the tub. I took her out of the bath and wrapped her in a towel and we made faces in the mirror while I smelled her clean hair. Then I dressed her in a bright yellow shirt which is a size too big, but looks so much like summer I couldn’t wait for her to grow into it.

Now she is asleep. My hands still smell like baby shampoo and I keep looking out our living room window and hoping Amira will take a short nap so we can go play in the sunshine. Having a baby in the springtime is, well, it’s delicious.

I will show Amira the flowers as they first start coming up, and tell her about how things grow and how we should be kind to the flowers and the animals. I will put her at the top of the slide and promise to catch her at the bottom. I will let her walk around in the grass and try not to care if she gets muddy. I will teach her that the flowers, the grass, and even the mud, were made by God to make us happy. And tonight before I go to sleep I will thank that same God for giving me spring and a baby girl to share it with.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Why the Navy?

Well, it appears that I have the same problem with writing in an online journal as I do the old-fashioned kind- I just can't seem to write consistently. I vow to do better.

Thank you for everyone who responded with support about our decision for Mohamed to join the Navy. I know it may seem both a strange and abrupt decision, so let me explain our reasoning.

Mohamed eventually wants to work for the State Department. He really is a believer in America (so rare these days, I know) and he wants to use the skills he has (language ability and people skills) to help negotiate peace in this crazy world of ours. Because he used to be Muslim he finds all the terrorism committed by Muslims particularly appalling. He still has a deep respect for Islam and hates to see people giving it such a bad name.

Well, Mohamed can't work for the State Department until he's a US citizen. He still has about 3 years left until he gets his citizenship and he didn't want to wait that long to start working for the government. So, we started looking at other possibilities- teaching Arabic at government schools, translating documents for agencies that contract with the government, working for non-profit organizations that deal with Middle Eastern issues. All good ideas, right? Turns out every one of them requires US citizenship. Since many of the documents the government needs translated from Arabic to English have to do with national security, those translating them must be citizens. The reasoning makes sense, but it has been frustrating for us that there is such a shortage of people with Mohamed's skills, but they won't hire him because he's not a citizen. The National Security Agency is currently offering $25,000 dollar signing bonuses to people who speak Arabic.

So, all that said, the one government institution that will hire my non-citizen husband is the military. Not only will they accept him, but they will expedite the citizenship process so that he can get his citizenship in about a year and a half. Once he gets his citizenship he will be able to apply to become an officer.

And for everyone worried for my husband's safety, the Navy is one of the safer places to be in the military. Most of his deployments will be to a ship- the upside of that is the ships are pretty much out of danger (read: no ships in Iraq), the downside is that the deployments are for six months.

So, as ironic as it may sound, Mohamed joined the Navy so that one day he can be an advocate for the peace in the world. Once he has served his 5 year contract he will have both the experience and citizenship required to work for the State Department.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

New Life

The United States Navy has strict guidelines for those who want to enlist. No history of trouble with the law, must be under age 35, must be able to run a mile and a half in under 13 minutes (count me out there) etc, etc oh- and you must have no more than 2 dependents (a wife and one child) at the time you start boot camp.

Well, Mohamed meets all the criteria, and last month he became a member of the United States Navy (for reasons behind that decision, you’ll have to ask me directly or wait for a future blog). He does not start boot camp until June 26th, at which point he will be separated from Amira and me while he goes to 2 months of boot camp.

We are both confident that we’ve made the right decision for our lives. We know that joining the Navy is the right path for us. That said, since Mohamed has enlisted I have found myself bursting into tears at random moments. The hardest moments are right after dinner when Mohamed and Amira spend time playing before Amira’s bedtime. They wrestle and crawl around on the floor together and he teaches her how to throw a ball. I don’t know how they’ll handle being separated. I don’t know how I’ll handle her saying “da-di” and knowing she doesn’t understand where he is.

Last week I got the stomach flu, and Mohamed instantly thought I was pregnant. I pointed out to him that several of our friends were also sick, but he refused to listen to reason. Soon he had me thinking I was pregnant (just so you know, I’m not). We both knew that if I were pregnant Mohamed would be discharged from the military (remember, only 2 dependents) and we would have to find a different path. Initially, that was distressing, but the more I thought about it, the more excited I was. No more bursting into tears at the drop of the hat- my husband wasn’t going to do anything scary. He wasn’t really going into the military- no long separations, no threat of danger. We’d just stay in our comfortable apartment, Mohamed could stay at Kohl’s or find a job he’d like better and we’d be just fine.

I told myself that perhaps this whole thing was just a test. We had spent a lot of timing praying and searching for an answer, and we felt like the Navy was the right choice. Perhaps God just wanted to see if we had the faith to enlist in the Navy. Would we really go through with it, in the middle of a war, no less? Well, I told God, we had done it. We had the faith, Mohamed enlisted, now were we done? Just as God tested Abraham, I wondered, was our trial now over?

No, it turns out that the test in not over. In fact, I know in my heart the test has just begun. The Lord has asked us to this very hard thing and I wonder, am I up to the task? I don’t know anything about what we’re getting into, but I guess that’s what makes it faith, the not knowing. I do know this, for those of you who know my husband, he was not meant to spend his life at a desk. All he wants to do is help negotiate peace in this crazy world of ours. And if he has to start at the bottom of the Navy, then that is what he’ll do. I knew when I married Mohamed that we would not have the “traditional” life. I never wanted that kind of life anyway. I am committed to loving and honoring my husband, and I truly will follow him to the ends of the earth. It seems that’s where we’re headed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Identity Crisis

It is a strange thing to worry if people will like the color of my words. I have sat at my computer for the past half hour wondering, not what I should say, but in what color, font and format I should say it in. I feel not unlike an awkward teen getting ready
for a blind-date. I am confident that if only the boy can like my looks enough to listen to who I am, he will come back for another date.

So, please forgive my inability to create anything that is even mildly visually appealing. Maybe someday my blog will blossom into adulthood. In the meantime, please just listen. And maybe I can persuade you to come back for a second date.