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Posts Tagged ‘Love

Where Does It Hurt, O City of Light

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Photo: Jim Roberts

Photo: Jim Roberts

Upon receiving the news from Paris, I did what I often do in moments of crisis. I turned off the TV — and sat with the grief. I turned, as I often do, to poetry, nature, scripture, and prayer. I retreated to solitude, leaving time for sorrow to sit with me before having to answer the inevitable crush of media speculation.

In those early hours there is no real analysis, only a parroting of ideological perspectives. I find it more fully human to welcome grief, and connect with the humanity of those for whom these tragedies are even more personal, more intimately destructive.

The poem that I turned to was yet again from the amazing Somali-British poet, Warsan Shire:

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Everywhere, everywhere. Everybody hurts. It hurts everywhere.

I watched the outpouring of grief from all over the world, including most of my Muslim friends. I saw hundreds of Facebook profiles being changed to the French flag-themed profile pictures, and thousands of #prayerforParis and #Prayers4Paris tweets.

I also saw, as I knew would come, wounded cries of the heart from friends in Beirut wondering why their own atrocity (43 dead) just one day before — also at the hands of ISIS — had not received any such similar outpouring of grief; friends from Pakistan wondering why there was no option to “check in as safe” during their experiences with violent attacks; friends from Central African Republic wondering why their dead — in the thousands — are the subject of no one’s global solidarity.

Somewhere in the midst of grief and devastation, here was the cry that I also heard again and again: What about my pain?

In some of the news coverage, we get told that “bombings are nothing new” to Beirut. I cannot help but read this as implying not that some countries are witnessing more violence than others, but that some lives matter more than others. Some outposts have been even more forthright, talking about our selective outrage masking a two-tiered model of human life, and outright racism.

It is a subtle shift, but I think there is a difference in tone between recognizing someone else’s tragedy and saying, “But what about mine?” and saying, “Yes, I see your tragedy, and I offer you my condolences and sympathy. And I see your tragedy and mine as connected.” It is the second that strikes me as more spiritually and morally mature.

Having sat with grief for a day of silence, here are a few thoughts that come to my mind:

Need to Grieve, Need to Mourn.
When I got the news and had a chance to catch up with the grief, I then made a point of turning down media interview requests and actually took the time to mourn. I hope more of us do take this necessary time. How sad it is to see analysts on TV opining, when we have not yet buried the dead and mourned the loss of life. I am concerned when our response in times of crisis is to strike out, lash out, and express rage before we have had time to sit with, and process, sadness and grief. Unprocessed grief always lashes out in ignorant, unhelpful ways.

My heart and prayers go to the families of the deceased, and to all who have felt the impact of this horrific attack. I wish we could extend the time to sit in solitude, hold each other, wipe each others’ tears, and mourn together.

Yes, Paris Is a Dazzling, Beautiful (Global) City of Lights.
Paris is charming almost beyond what a heart can bear. But no, Paris is not unique. Today, Paris is a global city. The very same global process of colonialism has brought the children of the colonies, largely North Africans, into the metropole. Today, Muslims are the most visible minority population in France, and they are both racially and economically marginalized.

Today, Paris is part of the global narrative. New York, Madrid, London, Ankara, Bombay, Damascus have all witnessed grotesque acts of terrorism. The primary victims of terrorism by ISIS are Muslims in places like Iraq and Syria. Muslims have been killed on a magnitude hundreds of times the scale of the Paris atrocity. Remember that, according to a recent United Nations report, some 8,493 Iraqi civilians were killed and 15,782 Iraqis were injured by ISIS in the summer of 2014 alone. According to credible reports, approximately one million people have been killed in Iraq since the start of the U.S. occupation.

ISIS and Islam.
As has been the case with previous tragedies, national Muslim organizations extended their sympathies and their condemnations of the horrific acts of terrorism. But I wonder if now, almost 15 years after 9/11, if we should still have to. I don’t know how many times we have to keep saying that acts of violence on civilians can never be justified, no matter who is the victim and who is the perpetrator.

Simply put, when Muslims condemn acts of violence from extremists, and they get asked again and again why don’t they condemn terrorism, I wonder if is because some of us are not listening. And perhaps that we don’t want to listen. There is a sad place deep in my soul that has to admit this: there are some in our midst who do not want to believe that faithful, pious Muslims could find and do find acts of violence morally repugnant. That attitude, as common as it is, tells me nothing about the humanity of Muslims that I know, or about Islam. It does tell me a lot about a xenophobic spirit of ignorance that is rampant in our society.

Ultimately, this spirit of ignorance and racism is a common enemy, just as much as state-sponsored violence and violence committed by groups like ISIS is an enemy. All of these stand in opposition to the dignity of all of us.

I don’t know how to say it more directly than this: Yes, the members of ISIS come from Muslim backgrounds. No, their actions cannot be justified on the basis of the 1400 years of Islamic tradition. Every serious scholar of Islam has confirmed this clearly, and unambiguously. ISIS is about as Muslim as the KKK is Christian. If you don’t look to the KKK to tell you about God’s message of love as expressed through Jesus, don’t look to ISIS to tell you about God’s mercy as expressed through Muhammad.

Avoiding the Trap of Divisiveness.
The ISIS terrorist attacks are precisely intended to create a divide, a false divide between Muslims and the West. Acts of terrorism are not only about the violence and mayhem created. They are also anticipating, and bringing about, a backlash from the societies that have experienced violence. This goes back to the days preceding 9/11, where al-Qaeda hoped to bring about a U.S. attack on Afghanistan. It succeeded.

ISIS, as well, is hoping to create a culture of backlash against Muslims in Europe, to foster a situation of persecution of Muslims there that will bolster future recruitment of extremists. And, Western attacks on Iraq/Syria will, in turn, lead to further extremism. To put it simply, we can’t bomb our way out of the ISIS mess. Military campaigns are part of the solution, but they cannot be the whole solution. Diplomacy, including with parties that we have political differences of opinion with, have to be part of the answer.

If we are to confront ISIS, we have to confront the sources of their funding as well as their ideology, which will force us to ask difficult and challenging questions from many of their Wahhabi and Gulf area supporters — who are also American allies.

The Mythic “Attack on Universal Values.”
President Obama released a statement regarding the terrorist attacks:

Once again we’ve seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians. This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.

As a humanist and a person of color, and as a person critical of both Western colonial conceit and violent extremism, I can only half-applaud the President’s statement. On one hand, both the Qur’an (5:32) and the Mishnah [Sanhedrin 4:5] tell us that to take one human life is as if to take the life of whole humanity, and to save one human life is as if to save the life of all humanity. True, from that perspective the attack on Paris is an attack on all humanity.

What I question is the selectivity of the “universal values” part in President Obama’s statement. I don’t know what that means. Liberté, égalité, fraternité were not, ever, universal values. The Europeans never intended for the values of the Enlightenment to be applied to the whole of humanity. The Enlightenment — which gave birth to both the French and the American revolutions — was also a profoundly exclusionary principle that never applied to the victims of the empire: not to native Americans, not to the humans stolen from West Africa and brought to the Americas as slaves, not to women, and not to the French colonies. The “universal” values were never universal.

I would love for compassion, dignity, and the sanctity of each and every human life to be a universal human value. If it is to be, that day is in our future. I will believe that we have arrived when the atrocities in Syria, in Palestine/Israel, in Central African Republic, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Myanmar, in inner-city America are all treated as attacks on “universal values.” When these atrocities are treated as global and universal human atrocities on par with attacks on Paris and New York, I will believe the declarations. When we see politicians marching for African lives, Afghan lives, Palestinian lives, and Black lives, I will believe their statements.

Watch Out for Trolls.
No sooner had the atrocity in Paris happened, before the bodies were buried, out came the trolls. There was Richard Dawkins, who came out against Islam yet again:

 

There was Donald Trump, who somehow managed to turn the Paris tragedy into a stump speech for the NRA, stating,“Nobody had guns but the bad guys.” As if the solution to violence is somehow more guns.

Franklin Graham was at it again, stating that “Islam” was at war with the West:

He spent just as much time on Twitter bashing Islam as he did offering prayers for the victims. In collapsing ISIS and Islam, Graham is actually granting ISIS the very Islamic legitimacy that it so craves — and does not deserve.

No, the answer to ISIS’s violence and hatred cannot be more hatred and more ignorance. We have to transcend this hatred through something more beautiful and loftier: a call for universal love, and a holistic sense of justice.

We cannot curse our way out of this darkness. This fragile and broken world needs more light, more light.

Protect the Refugees.
The news out of Paris indicates that one of the assailants has been identified as a Syrian. The fear on many people’s part is that this will lead to a backlash against all Syrian refugees. That would be a humanitarian catastrophe of immense scale. Let us remember this: the Syrian refugees are fleeing the brutality of the very same ISIS that has now unleashed its savagery on Paris (and Beirut). In short, the millions of Syrian refugees are themselves the primary victims of ISIS. Let us not doubly punish these desperate people by associating them with the atrocity of their own tormentors.

In the afternoon I took my children out for a long, slow walk in the woods. We took time to reflect on the trees, the light, the fallen leaves. In the midst of grief, there is still time to hold a friend’s hand, to hold a beloved in the heart, and go for a gentle stroll.

I don’t have the answers to ISIS, or how to defeat them. But I do know this: at the end of the day, love and unity will have the victory. If we are to get there, we have to remain fully human.

If we close our hearts to love, to each other, to nature, to God, we have already lost. If we close our hearts to one another, we have already lost.

There is grief in the city of light, and in so many cities of light. In the midst of the grief, in the late hour of a Fall, a beauty lingers. Love shall have the victory at the end of days.

Let there be light inside our hearts.
Let there be light around us.
Let the light permeate us.
Let’s rebuild the City of Lights, one illuminated heart after another.

The City of Light needs no more darkness. Let us welcome light into our hearts, and be agents of healing.

–Omid Safi

The author, Omid Safi, is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Written by MattAndJojang

November 16, 2015 at 8:49 am

The Folly of Human Conceits

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A photo by Voyager 1 of our planet Earth taken from a distance of 6 billion kilometers. The photo is popularly known as "Pale Blue Dot."

A photo by Voyager 1 of our planet Earth taken from a distance of 6 billion kilometers. The photo is popularly known as “Pale Blue Dot.”

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

–Carl Sagan

Written by MattAndJojang

August 5, 2015 at 10:36 am

The Book Thief

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The Book Thief

In my religion we’re taught that every living thing, every leaf, every bird, is only alive because it contains the secret word for life. That’s the only difference between us and a lump of clay. A word. Words are life…

–from the movie The Book Thief

Written by MattAndJojang

February 8, 2015 at 11:25 am

Rest In Peace, Robin Williams

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Robin Williams

Saddened when I heard that Robin Williams suddenly passed away today. I hope he’s now at peace…

Here’s a quote from one of his movies, Dead Poets Society, which incidentally is one of my favorite movies:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

— Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

August 12, 2014 at 10:50 am

On Our 12th Wedding Anniversary

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Jojang and I

For my wife, Jojang:

This world is no match for your Love.
Being away from you
is death aiming to take my soul away.
My heart, so precious,
I won’t trade for a hundred thousand souls.
Your one smile takes it for free.

— Rumi

Happy Anniversary, Mama!

Love,
Papa

 

Written by MattAndJojang

June 27, 2014 at 9:02 am

How To Be Perfect (Matthew 5:38-48)

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Jesus

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

— Matthew 5:48

Seriously, Jesus? Have you even met some of us? Have you seen the depths of our jealousies, the breadth of our greed? Have you noticed how insatiable our egos are? How deeply insecure we all are?

Perfect?

You cannot mean what you seem to mean.

What then do we do with this seemingly impossible call? For many of us, this is one of those passages in the Bible we seek to explain away. Jesus can’t possibly mean what he says here. We reckon that he must be calling us merely to aspire to perfection. Or we conclude that in calling us to perfection, we realize how very far we are from it and thus lean on God’s grace. But certainly, absolutely, without a doubt, Jesus cannot be calling us to be perfect like God is perfect.

Right?

Some context might be helpful. These teachings are part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) and contain within them what scholars call “antitheses.” In each antithesis, Jesus recounts, “You have heard it said…” and then proclaims a different facet of this ancient teaching. Too often, interpreters see Jesus here subverting Jewish traditions and laws, rejecting ancient teachings for the sake of newer ones.

This is simply incorrect. Instead, Jesus embraces these ancient, God-breathed teachings and intensifies their call to love God and neighbor. He is not negating these teachings but calling all their adherents to embody their demands in concrete and radical, practical and transformative ways. In short, Jesus is bringing these laws to life in his time and place.

How then might this impossible call to “be perfect” come to life among us today?

Matthew 5:38-48 contains a litany of seemingly impossible attitudes and behaviors.

After all, the justice we tend to seek is retributive. The Hebrew Scriptures sought to place a cap on the scope of such retribution by making punishments proportional to the crime: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But what if we were to turn the other cheek and invite a second slap from our enemies? What if we were to give without questions to all those who ask? What then?

The love we tend to share is particular, exclusive. We love those who are our neighbors. That is, we love those people who look, think and act like us. Those other people are our enemies, and our loathing — even if disguised by politeness and kept secret — is uncontrollable. But what if were to love the stranger, pray for those who wish to do us harm?

What do we make of such seemingly impossible calls to refuse the regulations that so often rule over us? What do we make of the curtailing of revenge, the shift among from absolute self-interest, the rejection of a tribalism we still practice today. What do we do with Jesus’ teachings?

As we ponder how we might answer these questions, we might just discover what being perfect looks like. It is not superiority. It is not flawlessness. It is not moral absolutism that cares little for those around you. Instead, perfection is found in love. Perfection is found in relationship with those others who seek to harm us or seek our help.

But, of course, this can all get complicated very quickly.

It is one thing to imagine the challenge of loving your enemy, of daring him to strike you with another blow in the abstract. It is quite another to face the challenge ourselves. These calls to absolute love are easier to bear from the perspective of the powerful, the well-off, those of us insulated from most of the dangers this world can pose. It is much more difficult to imagine these calls to service and love of the enemy from the perspective of the downtrodden.

For instance, in the lead up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, we have rightly paid a great deal of attention to the plight of LGBT people living in Russia. Laws recently instituted there are a threat to those who identify their sexuality outside of the legal norm. Moreover, the climate created by such laws easily creates a noxious mix of intolerance and violence. Sadly, believers have been too ready to speak about our LGBT neighbors with certainty rather than love.

What would Jesus say to a man who happens to be gay living in Russia today? When he is assaulted by a gang intent on displaying their violence against homosexuals on YouTube, should he refuse to fight back? Should he turn the other cheek?

What would Jesus say to a woman who happens to be lesbian and is berated by her neighbors? Would Jesus call her to pray for her enemies, hope for their hearts to be softened to her humanity?

This passage is not an exhortation to self-flagellation or even self-sacrifice for the sake of a greater good. Jesus would not call these individuals to a quiet resignation that assumes nothing will change, justice will never prevail.

Instead, Jesus rejects the ways we tend to flex our power. Seizing upon the real or perceived weakness of others, violence and oppression are both easy and profitable. Too often, neglecting the needy does not induce any sense of worry in our hearts, for we assume that their lowly position and our privileged positions are a result, not of happenstance and privilege, but of will or work or uprightness. Jesus here calls us to buck these too common ways of being. Jesus calls us to resist the powerful not by wielding their weapons against them but by rejecting the very premises of the power they wield.

That is, Jesus does not call us to resignation but radical love.

Perhaps then Jesus knows us all too well. He understands how narrow our love can be, how expansive a shape our hatred can take. Jesus sees this in us but also notices something else. He sees how God’s love inhabits and transforms us. He sees how broken relationships are made whole as the Spirit moves among us. He sees that justice can reign whenever we love our neighbors, no matter who they are.

— Mirsolav Volf

Written by MattAndJojang

February 19, 2014 at 10:23 am

On This Valentine’s Day

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Valentine's Day Collage

Dear Jojang,

Your face more beautiful than the moon,
Stand across from me,
Until I see hundreds of eternal worlds.

— Rumi

Each time I wake up in the morning,
I’m grateful that you’re beside me.
Throughout these years you’ve been
Wife, friend, lover, caregiver to me.
Thank you for taking care of me.
With you by my side,
I know I can make it through the day,
In spite of life’s trials and challenges.

 

Jojang, this haiku is for you:

On this Valentine’s
I am full of gratitude:
You’re God’s gift to me!

 

Love,

Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

February 14, 2014 at 10:10 am