For the past six months I have been working on a personal project of spiritual growth and theological understanding. It has been my sojourn to try and unlock some of the secrets of how we are made as human beings, the exact nature of God's relationship with us, some of the problems with what is going on in our American political context right now. More broadly, what I am interested in, is what is critically wrong with Christianity as we know it in the North American context today. And so, I have been writing a book.
The book is entitled, "With: The Transformative Power of Going With People Rather Than Against Them". Over the next 13 weeks, I will be writing blog posts that will flesh-out aspects of this book. I want to invite you into the conversation. I want to get your help in writing this book. If anything I write over the next several weeks strikes a chord with you in any way, please let me know. If you, like me, are as interested in unlocking the secrets of God's relationship with us, then perhaps we can embark on this journey together. What I am after is nothing short of, as Hemingway once said; "writing something true". And so now, if you are still WITH me...here is installment #9
Forty Days of Going-With
One of the great blessings of this book has been the ongoing conversations which I have had as a result of writing. In section III at the back of this book are forty profiles of people who have generously and selflessly offered up their own lives as models upon which to learn from and develop an ongoing sense of what it means to “go with”. Many of them have chosen to be anonymous and go under pseudonyms.
There are a myriad of ways that these profiles might be helpful for the readers of this book. First, they might be used as a kind of plumb-line of the number and plethora of people in the world whose stories are not unlike our own. You might read these profiles and see that these people, though holding different ideologies, and practicing different religious traditions, and suffering from different life maladies, and coming from different cultural backgrounds, are not so different – when it boils down to it – from you and I.
The second way that these profiles might helpful is if you know if someone in your own life that is similar to one of the profiles and that you can begin to relate to and understand that person on a different level than you have previously. Perhaps, for example, you know someone who has lost a spouse and who is a “widow”, and the profile in the back of this book can begin to help you understand the person in your own world in a different and more multivalent way.
The third way that you might find these profiles helpful is in somehow taking the forty- day challenge in your own life, and going with forty different people from different life perspectives, different religious practices, fundamentally different trajectories. Perhaps you can think of people in your life that you might ask these five questions to and you might discover a whole new reality of who that person is, and where that person comes from. This might be a Lenten series for you, and you might take the forty days preceding Easter to begin to develop a more nuanced understanding of the world during this time-period.
The forty separate profiles of individuals were chosen (totally randomly) as a kind of cross-section of the many different kinds of people which make up our modern American society. Although there are, of course, many more people represented than simply these forty profiles, an attempt has been made to try to find a cross-section of at least some of the most bitterly divided or least understood groups of people.
Here is one of the profiles:
“Going With a Person Who Is a Jordanian American”
Bashar Bawab lives in Ventura, California with his family. He is 41 years old and has two sons and daughter. Bashar is married to his wife Ghada. They have been married for 18 years. Bashar describes himself has being more American than he is Jordanian, because he arrived in the United States when he was 16 years old – 25 years ago. He was born in Amman, Jordan.
When Bashar was 16 years old, he was accepted into the military school known as, “The Citadel”. Bashar’s plans were to possibly have a career in the military after he graduated, and fight for the United States around the world. Bashar experienced severe racism, cultural derision and abuse at The Citadel. The abuse was so bad, says Bashar, that after two weeks he had to withdraw as a student. All of the taunts and jibes he experienced were because he was of Arabic origin. Twenty-five years later, he describes the experience as being, “horrific”. He can still recall some of the names they called him, “camel jockey” and “sand nigger”. He said that it was obvious to him that he was being picked on because he was Jordanian, and one of the only Arabs in the school.
What is the best part about your life?
My family. They are healthy and they are safe. That’s all I pray for. I’ve never prayed for wealth or riches or a car, or any of that crap.
When I grew up in Jordon, I was fighting all the time. I was angry about He was everything. My wife Ghada and my family are the best parts of my life now.
What is the hardest part about your life?
Raising teenagers. The difficulty is that I believe in always being in touch with the other person’s paradigm and thought. But when kids become teenagers, that’s just really hard. I believe in trying to understand and in being with your wife and with your kids. It’s completely different what teenagers want, and what you want. It takes a lot of patience. It’s really hard to not just go crazy. That part becomes the hardest part.
What unfair assumptions do you feel like people sometimes make about you being Middle Eastern?
I don’t know if it’s unfair, but I would say that most people assume that an Arab equals a Muslim and that a Muslim equals a terrorist. And, to be honest, I know why people think this about Middle Easterners sometimes. When I was growing-up in Jordan, I would meet the most radical people you can imagine. I am a Christian – Catholic. But a lot of my friends who were Muslim went to the mosque on the weekend and would hear about Americans being infidels. That is what they are often taught. I mean, if there are 95% of the people who are Muslim, maybe only 10 to 15% are from Europeanized backgrounds that think the way westerners think. Most of them are from the suburbs, and outlying regions.
What would you most like people to know about who you really are?
Uhh, I don’t know. I don’t care. Why should we care?
Who is someone who has “Gone With” you through thick and thin in your life?
Umm, I would say, Ghada’s (my wife’s) brother. We hang out as family, but we are a part of a group of friends. We were in the same high school in Jordan, and when he came here, I came after him two or three years later. He brought me back to Ventura. It turned into fun when I started working in Santa Barbara. He went back to school, when I was finishing up my last two years. I became his brother in law, he ended up being my best man in the wedding. We’ve been friends ever since. When I make a new friend, and he makes a new friend they come into the family. I guess you could say that we are partners in business and crime (smiles).
All For Now,