Renewing your vows as a spiritual exercise; day 13 of Ramadan

In a few days from now I will be assisting with my friends renewal of their marital vows to one another. This will be a first for me and yet I think it is an important act for married couples to do at least once in their married lives to each other.

What crosses my mind when a couple gets married is that I hope they’ve put forth more effort in preparing for marriage than the day spent getting married to each other; yes the marriage ceremony, whether in a courthouse or other place is important, but as those two individuals exchange vows to one another, the getting-married-to-one-another part is all the more important.
So when it comes to renewing vows it has the potential to put everything into focus; by thinking about the reasons, the why-I-married-you’s may help jump start a marriage if it needs it. Ultimately renewing one’s vows should ultimately be for the couple saying them and not for the friends and family who might gather, while the latter have importance in serving as witnesses to the act, it is ultimately upon the two individuals to carry out the vows mutually exchanged.

And so with all that in mind I am more than happy to have a role in helping my friends renew their vows to one another. I cannot guarantee anything, but I do believe that if they turn to God for guidance, if they communicate to one another about what’s going on in their lives, if they seek help when they need it, if they mutually submit to the other person on a continual basis, they’ll have what it takes to continue on in their marriage to one another.

So with all that being said, renewing vows were my keywords on this 13th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who watches over us and protects us, he who never slumbers but is always awake and ready to help us in life. May we be faithful to our significant others and they to us, may we continually mutually submit to one another out of love for the other. And may the vows we say, whether for the first time or in a renewing vows ceremony, be something that comes from our hearts and backed up with our actions as well.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,

Paying bills as a spiritual exercise; day 12 of Ramadan

They say that the only certainties in this life are death and taxes, yesterday was a case of the latter. June’s wrapping up and with that I need to be financially responsible to several companies as well as to my landlord by way of paying bills.

I can’t complain about my bills, for they help to put a roof over my head and allow me to keep in contact with other people and to also help keep me in shape. As I was paying my bills I remembered a bible verse found in James 1:17, and it says this; “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Now I don’t know why I found myself thinking about this verse except perhaps because I have a job that pays me money, not a lot but I am able to stay afloat and from a global perspective I am doing quite well.
The money I receive helps to keep my car running, puts food on my table, allows me to go to events, and it also allows me to pay my bills. I don’t mind paying my bills because it is a spiritual exercise, and if you don’t believe me I urge you to give some thought about what paying bills accomplishes in your own life, perhaps they’re the same or similar to my own.

It’s good to pay bills even if they appear to be daunting and I know full well what it’s like to barely make ends meet. It really can be a trying time in one’s life when money is hard to come by and when bills seem to keep coming in or they are in fact coming in.  And yet if you think about it, when bills are paid you can breathe a little easier and you can also thank God! You can also be mindful of where you’re at in life; that you’re alive, that you’re still breathing, that you’re still going, you’re still making it even if not by much.

So with all that being said, paying bills were my keywords on the 12th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Great Provider, who helps us and takes care of us and provides for us. May we in turn offer up what we have to those who are in need, so that we too can help others and take care of others and provide for others.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,

speaking up for and defending others as a spiritual exercise; day 11 of Ramadan / A fierce kind of love; my recap of Chicago Pride 2015 and the I’m Sorry Campaign 2015

I am going to make this a “two birds with one stone” post, so here it goes…

Speaking up and defending others is a spiritual exercise, because sometimes in life others need your voice / be an alternative voice / be a buffer / be an ally, and yesterday friends and acquaintances of The Marin Foundation were that to the LGBTQ Community by way of the I’m Sorry Campaign. But it so happened that I and several others positioned ourselves at the end of the parade, in front of the protesters.
Now I don’t have much to say about the protesters because they’re a verbally violent and virulent bunch of people who have a convoluted understanding of God and God’s love for humanity. God’s out to get you, and if you’re a member of the LGBTQ Community or even an ally, the wrath of God is and will be poured out upon you and they want to make damn sure that you know it; they make this known by their numerous signs and bullhorns, and it gets loud and hurtful quick.

My friends, and acquaintances, and The Marin Foundation, do what we can to build bridges between the LGBTQ Community and primarily the church community. Not that they’re mutually exclusive but there’s been an unfortunate marginalization that has been occurring by the church to a certain extent for quite some time now. We want to be agents of change, agents of a fierce love that does what it can to bring forth restoration and reconciliation.
I am encouraged by the I’m Sorry Campaign and what it is capable of doing. I am also encouraged by it being seen at different Pride Parades around the country as well as outside; it’s amazing to see what God is doing through others who want to bring about reconciliation and restoration unto the LGBTQ Community who has been marginalized by the church. We’re getting better all the time in doing so!

So for the second year running I positioned myself in front of the protesters. My friend L* and I found ourselves there a bit earlier, we actually beat the protesters there!

and with some time to spare we took care of a few errands before heading back to our spot in front of where the protesters would be. Having one under my belt I felt less nervous about being there. This year we actually had more space than we did last year, and so while we were right there in the front of the protesters it didn’t feel like their bullhorns were positioned directly right behind our heads.

As more protesters got settled into their places, more friends and acquaintances made their way to the spot as well. My friend D* and I did what we could to be a buffer directly behind them, we were at the barricades that kept them in (or the rest of us out). I did feel the verbal heat from what they had to say, but my anxiety and fear was not present. God was with us and he wasn’t going to let us down, and it was the presence of God that sustained us that day because love is louder than hate, and we got to be a part of that fierce love of God that loves everyone.

Given that we were at the end of the parade, and so it started rolling by our location close to two and a half hours. Immediately our presence was known by those in the parade to be one of God’s love and one that wasn’t like that of the protesters who were behind of us. Hugs and thank-you’s were extended by those in the parade to us, for they could see that we were willing to be there and to be present as a counter-protest to the protesters. Most of those in the parade had moments of “getting it”; getting what we we were saying and what we stood for, and it was the a very beautiful thing to bear witness to time and time again.

Our love is fierce to the extent that we couldn’t hate the protesters, for we also vocalized our love for them as well! I am reminded of a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King who said; “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” And it’s true! If we were to lower ourselves to the level of the protesters than in a way we’d be no better than they are. But by loving them as God loves us, we are able to transcend that fear and that hate and overcome it despite the odds.
The protesters were dismayed and a bit angry at our verbalization of our love for them:

But despite the fact they didn’t feel the same way, it was the right thing to do and we meant it. It is the fierce love God that propels us forward to go out into the world and do big things, it is the fierce love of God that sustains us and helps us become a voice of change, it’s the fierce love of God that will see each and everyone of us to completion. May our actions and words in defending those who have been hurt and marginalized by the church become a balm of healing. To God be the glory!

That is why speaking up for and defending others were my key words on the 11th day of Ramadan. May God, the defender and protector of the wounded, continually bring about change in our lives and in the lives of others, so that we can be instruments of his peace, so that we can be instruments of his fierce love that is lavished greatly upon all of us every day.

Salaam Alakium and Happy Pride y’all!

Being present to suffering as a spiritual exercise; day 10 of Ramadan

Earlier this week I got a text from one of my best friends and he hit me with some hard news; his mother, whose health has already been up and down, had unexpectedly taken a turn for the worse and as a result she was in the hospital. He filled me in on the details and he and I worked out a time for me to visit her in the hospital.
To be honest, I don’t like visiting hospitals because my associations with hospitals have more to do with hurting than healing. I have spent a good deal of time going to and from hospitals and every time I go I have a sense of foreboding. Yet my bro is my bro, I love him and out of love and not moral obligation I went to visit his mom in the hospital with him and his wife.

When we got to her room she happened to be up and happy to see those she knew. Her oxygen machine was running pretty strong, and unfortunately it was causing her throat to ache and it felt internally scratchy to her. We all talked with her and she with us, and it was encouraging to see her so upbeat and talkative despite her suffering a bit more than usual.
One thing I noticed while spending time with my bro and his wife and his mom (and even me) is that we were all present, we were all there, and were all mindful of the pink elephant called suffering that was in the room.

It’s rather commonplace to ignore the suffering of others and to a certain extent our own. We’re constantly bombarded with commercialism that tries to take us from “here” to “there”, and usually the “there” is a place without suffering, without hardships, without need to be present to anything that might cause us distress.
And yet the common denominator across all of humanity unto all people is that we all suffer; granted suffering isn’t a one size fits all, sometimes it’s want of love and sometimes it’s for food for our tables and those of our loved ones. Still it is inevitable to suffer and sometimes when we’re faced with it we want nothing to do with it, or we want to face it alone, and yet there are times we want to be in the presence of our loved ones who will help us through the suffering.

That’s why I consider being present with suffering to be a spiritual exercise; it doesn’t take us away from the suffering to a “there” that’s better, but puts us in the thick of it, the here and now of what’s going on. When we do this we’re given a chance to do something, and sometimes that action of doing brings us to a place of being more in touch with our humanity.

Plus if we’re able to be present with our pain in the presence of others, the weight of it all can be carried. I know for a fact that my bro and his wife and his mom and I carried that weight together in community because we love each other and want what’s best for each other, and in this instance it was so that my friend’s mom didn’t have to suffer alone.

If you’re able to find true community you will find people who will stand with you in the good times and sit with you when you suffer, and if you’re able to be a recipient of that you also can also reciprocate that with others.
I know that in my life it has taken a long time to find such a community, but I love it and I do what I can to be a part of it as much as I can! I am grateful and thankful to God to be a part of a tribe to call my own, and I will be a part of it for as long as I am in the area.

So with all that being said, being present to suffering were my keywords on this 10th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God for being ever present in our suffering. You who don’t watch idly by as we hurt, but cry and weep and comfort and love us. May we in return be your hands and feet and eyes and ears to those who hurt as well.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,

Life in community at the local mosque as a spiritual exercise; day 9 of Ramadan

Earlier this week I found out about a very special Iftar at my local mosque; the Consul Generals of both India and Pakistan were going to attend. And so I made my way there for prayers starting at 6:30 and from there I went to the gym where it was set up for the Consul Generals to talk, meet and greet, and also to end the night with the breaking of the fast (Iftar).

Well…it started later than expected, as the weather and construction and rush hour traffic kept it from starting on time. Still, I made the most of it and struck up a conversation with the guy next to me. O* talked to me about how he was rather new to the area after having moved from New York, but from what he gathered he recognized the strong Muslim community in the area. I inquired from him what being a Muslim means to him, he smiled and talked to me about it making him a better person, he then continued by saying all religions should make their followers into better human beings.

When the Consul Generals arrived, things took off pretty quickly. It was encouraging to hear about where they’ve come from, what they do, and where they are at nowadays. After they spoke it was time to start the prayer time before the fast was broken.
Side note, when I am at a mosque I pray in the ways traditionally associated with Islam; the upward posture, the slightly leaning over posture, the forehead / prostrate posture, the kneeling posture, and repeat. I have no qualms with praying to God in this manner, it is different from my prayer postures but I can still communicate with God in this manner.

When the prayers were over, it was time to eat a little something and so I had dates and watermelon. As I ate I talked to the guy next to me, Z* said his fast had been going good and he was really encouraged by intentionality to participate in Ramadan even though I’m not a Muslim. I shared with him a bit of my experiences thus far with Ramadan and he was greatly encouraged. He did inform me via a Ramadan app on his iPhone that breaking the fast in the morning should start earlier than I have been, he explained the reasons why nicely and without a hint of legalism.

Then came time to interact with Mr. Faisal Niaz Tirmizi (Pakistan) and Dr. Ausaf Sayeed (India) a bit more. There were a lot of people there who wanted to greet them and get in a photo with them, so I took time to pray while I waited to meet them.

When I got to talk to them, I quickly asked them the question that was burning in my mind…how can I pray for you. Both of them were moved by my question and shook my hand warmly and asked for me to keep their countries in prayer. So if you’re the praying type, keep Pakistan and India in your prayers.

From there we collectively ate some more. Chicken Biryani and Basmati Rice! So good, and savory too to boot! As I ate, I talked to to I* about his fast and how it was going. It was going good for him and he started sharing with me about his country of Sri Lanka and it being a country that’s on an island. It was encouraging to hear that most of his family is already state side, but sometimes when he and his wife travel they have to decide to visit his native country or hers which happens to be Morocco. He was encouraged by my fasting and my solidarity to Muslims despite not being one and wished me a successful Ramadan.
Side note, I received a lot of encouragement in my fasting by those whom I talked to. I don’t need praise to get by or do the job at hand, but it was truly encouraging to receive encouragement by those who are also partaking in Ramadan. Praise sometimes means that much MORE when there are others who are partaking in what you’re doing as well.

From there it was dessert time; chai tea with sugar and condensed milk, as well as gulab jamun. This time while eating dessert I found myself talking to D*, an Indian and a father of 3. He and I had a good and lengthy discussion about what Christianity and Islam have in common, life as worship unto God, what makes him a Muslim, what makes me a follower of Christ, practical application of the Bible and the Koran, what his Hajj was like, etc. One thing about our conversation was that it was mutual and hospitable, it was true dialogue and we equally spent time talking as well as listening to the other. Based on what I communicated about my faith he considered me to be more of a Muslim than a Follower Of Christ, but he encouraged me to continue to follow Christ to the best of my ability. There was no debate, no dishonor, no hatred, no putting down the other…just as interfaith dialogue SHOULD be!

So with all that being said, life in community at the local mosque were my keywords on this 9th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God for being ever present in our places of worship. You who makes himself known in churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, etc. May we strive to make the world a better place by dialoguing amongst one another rather than debate.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,