A Letter for My Little Brother (And Other Arab and Muslim Boys Around the World)

Sami5

My beloved little brother, my habibi, 

I love you so much.

But I can’t protect you from what’s to come, not any more than Baba or Mama or Layan or Razan could. The only way to protect you would be to cover you with myself and my whiteness.

Yes, it’s there. It hides under an olive tone at times, but it comes out the moment I end my name with “Davis,” and one day with “Cowett.”

I can hide myself. You don’t have that luxury.

And I couldn’t do that to you, and even if I could, I wouldn’t change your beautiful olive skin, your big brown eyes, or your nose that may one day hook like mine and Baba’s. If I took away your body, and made it what it wasn’t meant to be, I’d take away the history we share.

I’d have to take away the story of our Baba, who came here on scholarship, confusion, hope, and fear in his heart, who was mocked and derided by those studying at the same institution as him. I’d take away the story of this man, who worked at great risk to himself instead of going home, because doing so could have meant going home in more shame and in more trouble.

If he had done that, my life never would have begun, and neither, perhaps, would yours.

I can’t take away the story of our grandparents, refugees oppressed by those who have a long history of oppression. Nor can I take away the story of our great grandparents, including one who left Russia before having to leave Palestine.

No, habibi, I won’t take away our history from you, not even to protect you.

Sami6

Sami7

That being said, I can’t promise that you won’t be accused of being any number of things that you obviously aren’t.

I can’t promise that you won’t be judged by your name, your skin, your nose, your eyes, and all the physical traits we love about you instead of by your character, your skills, your wisdom, your story, your life, or anything else that makes you amazing.

I can’t promise that you won’t be hurt, antagonized, discriminated against, spit upon, demonized, or lumped in with a group you oppose as vehemently as the rest of us who value freedom and human dignity.

I can’t promise this will be an easy life. Baba can’t promise it, because it wasn’t easy for him, not when he was young, when he became a citizen, when he met my family, when he had me, when he lost me, when he got married, when he had our sisters, when he got and lost his cushy job, when he had you, or when he sees headline after headline demonizing our people, even when they are at their most vulnerable.

But I can promise that you will need to live this life, and you can count on Allah to be with you as much as I can count on Jesus to be with me.

And no matter what, I promise you that I will not let those different names divide us.

And I would remind you, as Baba might, that our family lived in the village of Imwas, or what the Christians call Emmaus. And we tell the story of Emmaus every year.

In that story, two men travel the road. They had lost all hope of being dignified, of having their divine humanity recognized, of living freely as the people of God and not the people of Caesar. As they walked in hopelessness, a man they didn’t recognize walked with them, talked with them, and ignited their hearts.

And when they finished walking, he broke bread with them, and they saw, staring into their faces, the hope they thought had died.

People will tell you, “You are not my people,” and unfortunately, some, if not most of, those people will claim the same Christian title I do. While it will be impossible for it not to get to you, I want you to know this: Their words are lies.

You are my people.

Your God is my God.

Your family is my family.

Your blood is my blood.

There is no half in this.

You.

Are.

My.

Brother.

Different mothers and different skin complexions don’t change that. You are my brother.

And while our upbringings, skin tones, and lives will be different, we share eyes and a nose and a kindred spirit and an inherently divine humanity.

We also share a family, for better or worse.

And I will keep the promise I made to you before you were born: I will always be with you, and I always be for you.

All my love,

Lindsay (Your Favorite Big Sister 🙂 )

Sami2

I’m Reading the Bible Again, and I’m a Little Nervous About It

RadicalChristian.com

I’ve started reading the Bible again.

Only 6 years ago, I wouldn’t have taken out time to craft a blog post about this. I would have just done it, because reading the Bible regularly was what I did.

Sure, I’d go through spells in which I fell behind for a couple of days, or maybe even a week. But otherwise, I was a devout Bible-reader, a lover of devotions and daily quiet times, back when getting up before the sun was (slightly) easier than it is now.

By the light of my desk lamp or under flickering fluorescent in the dorm basement, I would read, journal, and pray for at least 30 minutes a morning, devoting the time with all the gusto I could muster in those pre-dawn hours. I looked forward to these quiet minutes with God’s Word. I used to see so much truth, hope, guidance, and love in those stories and verses, whether I proof-texted them or did amateur exegesis on them.

I felt God’s presence in a way I never have, before those times or since.

Then the faith crisis hit.

Before my eyes, the Bible transformed from a story of hope inspired by God himself into a text of manipulation, fear, and lies. My faulty foundation had been built on those words and how they’d been taught to me, and they had been found harmful and lacking.

The devotions grew more shallow. The regular quiet times ceased. Eventually, I stopped reading the Bible altogether.

After all, how could I trust something that had deceived me so much?

Instead of reading Scripture, I focused on service and worship. I connected with God through hearing peoples’ stories, in regular conversations and through blogs and books. I felt God’s presence when I mentored children, gave and partook of communion, gleaned food for local pantries, and helped people get free groceries for the month.

These became my devotions and daily readings, the living Word with me, and in many ways, these practices saved my faith from certain death.

Eventually, in fits and starts, I started to read the Bible again. I would halfheartedly begin my devotional practices but drop them once life became too busy. This changed a bit during seminary (for obvious reasons), but I read Scripture in an academic context.

However, contrary to popular belief, seminary didn’t further damage my relationship with the Bible. Instead, it helped me learn to love it again by allowing me to study and deconstruct it, to see how verses turned into ideologies and how context could upturn all of them.

In short, seminary taught me to love the Bible for what it is, not how I or any culture want it to be.

Now, after all that time of study and with a Master’s of Divinity, the idea of reading the Bible for my own spiritual health still freaks me out.

What came so naturally all those years ago feels like lifting an Olympic-sized weight after I’ve regressed to 5-pound dumb bells. And instead of allowing myself to simply practice studying again, I’m asking myself a million questions.

How do I read this now?

How do I read these texts after I spent a lifetime learning they only had one interpretation?

How do I read the stories of divine healing after I have seen and experienced unhealed pain?

Will the Bible push me deeper into the beliefs I already have, or will it make me become the person I once was, who I have fought so hard not to be anymore?

Will the Bible teach me to become a quiet and submissive woman after working so hard to be bold and confident?

Will I find myself chanting “All Lives Matter” and “America is a Christian nation” and “Love the sinner, hate the sin” in spite of everything I’ve learned about racial inequality, the brutal politics of our nation, and harmful notions of sexuality?

Will I care about any of the things I care about now, or will I cast those all away like I did my past ones?

Will I find God’s voice, or my own, or my culture’s, or some messed up combination of all of them?

Who will I become as I let this text shape me again?

I’m afraid to find out, because I fear the past me, the one who got so much out of those quiet times and turned a blind eye to the people God loves most: the poor, oppressed, and marginalized.

I fear becoming the person who feared learning new things would make me “too worldly.”

I fear becoming the person so affected by the warped concept of purity thrust upon me that I spent nights crying myself to sleep because I had sex before marriage.

I fear becoming the young woman afraid to take on leadership roles because I was taught my desires to usurp the authority granted for men alone violated God’s will.

I fear becoming the person who would not embrace my LGBTQ friends as they are.

I fear that Bible-loving girl, and while I want to love the Bible, I don’t want to love her. And I sure as hell don’t want to be her.

But that girl and Bible-reading are so tied up in each other, I’m not sure how to do one without becoming the other.

In short, I don’t know how to read and love the Bible as I am.

I’m trying to figure that out, though. I can’t properly explain why. I don’t know if it’s the Spirit’s prompting, or because I re-read The Unlikely Disciple and felt nostalgia for my old evangelical devotion days, or because I feel like I “ought” to.

All I know is I’m doing it. And I’m praying, in fear and trembling, for it to change me, but I’m not sure how I want to be changed.

Questions My Anxious Self Asks Non-Anxious People

anxious

Agoramedia

What is it like to just relax and not worry that you’re forgetting some huge responsibility and therefore can’t allow yourself to fully enjoy your self-care time?

What is it like be like to hear someone’s story and not immediately use it as a yardstick against which to measure your own quality of life and well-being?

What is it like to understand right away that when someone asks you a question, they do so out of curiosity, not because they’re trying to trip you up or make you feel insecure in your lack of knowledge?

What is it like to hear someone critique you without feeling your complete sense of worth drain away from you?

What is it like to wake up from a weird dream and simply accept it as a dream and not as if it is said deep, terrible things about who you are and how your life is?

What is it like to make a mistake at work and not immediately assume you’re going to get fired because you’re useless and replaceable?

What is it like to look at your partner and just understand that they love you unconditionally instead of assuming they are so annoyed by you that they only reluctantly deal with your garbage?

What is it like to accept that you love this person more than life itself without second-guessing yourself anytime you notice someone attractive or see other people more “lovey-dovey” than the two of you are?

What is it like for your friends to do things without you and not assume they are leaving you out on purpose because they can’t stand you?

What is it like to have questions about life without becoming so fixated on them that you can’t see the world around you?

What is it like to have political conversations without either blowing up on those who disagree with you or shrinking into yourself because you don’t trust that your answers are good enough?

What is it like to be secure in who you are and confident that you are enough?

What is it like to not panic about the state of your bank account every time you hand over your debit card or hit “Complete Purchase” on a screen or pay a bill?

What is it like to not have to worry about when the anxiety is going to come back in ways that will crush you after months of peace?

What is it like to not have almost every single memory touched by anxiety’s constant presence?

What is life without anxiety like?

I still don’t know. I don’t know if I ever will.

So tell me: what’s it like?

Tremble

Deviantart

Immediately after reading that the AHCA passed the House, my shoulders shook as I held in my rage and sobs, because letting it out at my new workplace didn’t seem like the most appropriate place to vent my fear and frustration.

Days later, I read the Wisdom of Solomon for the first time in my life, and my heart shook within me at the power of those ancient words admonishing the righteous and praising the just. I read Jesus’ words uplifting the poor, weeping, and persecuted, and berating the rich, happy, and secure, and my voice shook while I spoke them out loud, the living room softly aglow with morning light my pulpit.

Sometimes, it causes me to tremble.

Ten years ago, my mom came into the stable at the end of a riding lesson, her normally calm eyes watering with tears and her usually steady body and voice shaking  with emotion. She managed to tell me my grandfather had been in an awful accident, and we needed to get to him and our family in Pennsylvania immediately.

There are mornings when my body shudders in fear, when the the power of my silent sobs forces my body into mild convulsions in the midst of panic attacks, as I physically and mentally fight my inner thoughts.

The ground in occupied Palestine, my family’s homeland, and in Syria, the first home of countless refugees, continues to tremble with bombs aimed at civilians, including mothers and children.

Tremble.

When my dad called me for the first time in 15 years, my fingers trembled so hard I worried I would accidentally hit “End Call” instead of “Answer Call.”

Almost 7 years ago, in a dorm kitchen, I prepared to tell a boy that I had a crush on him. When I looked up at him, I noticed his lips trembling slightly. Somehow, he knew what I was about to tell him, and it was moving him as much as me, if not more.

Five and a half years later, our hands trembled as he slid the engagement ring onto first my right ring finger, then after a laughter-filled correction, onto the left one.

Tremble.

Trembling comes in the midst of seismic shifts.

Earthquakes occur when plates shift and bump up against each other and try to move away. They change land masses and push once unmovable landmarks into new locations.

Our bodies shake with pain, anger, fear, joy, and excitement.

The earth quaked when Jesus breathed his last, and it shook to expose the empty tomb.

Were you there…

Earthquakes and resurrection. Tremors and new relationships. Quaking in fear and body-racking sobs. Movers and shakers.

Change comes, and it jostles and unsettles.

Brace yourselves.

 

Sometimes, People are Amazing

Shutterstock

Sometimes, people are amazing.

Sometimes, while driving through a rain storm, we roll the car windows down and put our hands out to catch the drops.

Sometimes, we stop what we’re doing to watch butterflies.

Sometimes, the kids clean up the room with little prompting after completing an activity, and they do it with gusto.

Sometimes, people write beautiful, thought-provoking, intelligent, biting, and necessary stories.

Sometimes, we call out hate crimes, at home and abroad. Sometimes, we hold a work meeting just to publicly apologize for the way they treated a co-worker.

Sometimes, we do fantastic things.

And other times, we don’t do the fantastic, awe-inspiring things.

Other times, we ignore the rain, and make big messes without cleaning them up, and destroy and censor beautiful works of art, and are behind the hate crimes, and degrade our co-workers without repentance.

We are human, after all. Sometimes, we remember that being human is sacred. Other times, we feel the weight of the burden it can be.

But we are still amazing in our capacity to do both, to do the wonderful and the awful, to be so complex that we are neither good nor bad, but simply human. There is nothing simple about being human, but there is always something sacred about it.

Maybe we are always amazing, even when we don’t act it.

Maybe.

Theater is Church

Theater_header_1

Eastern Mennonite University Black Box Theater

I met my Dad halfway through my sophomore year of college. I remember hearing his voice on the phone for the first time in 15 years and thinking to myself, “He sounds just like he did on those old home videos.”

During those early phone calls, he told me about my siblings, my stepmom, her pregnancy with my then unborn brother, his upbringing as a Palestinian born and raised in Jordan, and about his life as an Arab American.

That same semester, my Theater professor assigned My Name is Rachel Corrie for my class and I to read, a one-woman play about the late activist who lost her life defending a Palestinian home in the Gaza strip from being bulldozed by the Israeli army.

This play brought me closer to my father and our shared roots, and it pushed me into an inner confrontation with American and international policy. It is a story I return to when my Dad tells me about the pain of displacement and when I continue to see the plight of Palestinians, who are my family by blood, ignored by American and international media.

*****

During the first semester of my senior year at college, I took a Basics of Acting class. For our final project, my fellow actors and I acted out scenes from a themed series called “University.”

At this point in my life, I was in the deep throes of my faith crisis. Day by day, my firm foundation revealed its unsteady nature. I kept hoping to find solid ground but continued to be met with sinking sand.

It was in this state of mind that I found out my professor had assigned me the role of a young college student who had just had an abortion and found herself in a confrontation with her one night stand about it.

I hated him for that.

And yet, it was this acting exercise that met me where I was in my crisis, in all of my uncertainty over my previous ideologies and biases, and pushed me into the mind and body of someone I had once deemed “other.” It was in the black box theater, as I worked on memorizing my character’s lines and getting into her skin, that I realized how to play with a story, discover the crazy nuances of human lives, and remember that when we talk about “issues,” we are always talking about divinely made human beings.

*****

My second year of seminary, I joined the cast and crew of Corpus Christi, a play depicting Jesus as a young gay man living and proclaiming the Gospel in Texas. I served as the dramaturg (a nice, fancy, theater word for the one who does lots of research) to prepare the cast and help them understand their roles as disciples, and I joined rather last minute as an actor to play the part of John the Baptist, in which I baptized (read: washed the hands of) all of our cast members.

Unfortunately, due to the “controversial” nature of the show, we had to shut it down.

That didn’t stop us from holding a final and open dress rehearsal to a packed house, though.

The powers that were also couldn’t stop us from sitting around during rehearsal time and trading laughter, tears, university cafe treats, and stories about how the Church had wounded the LGBTQ community.

The powers that were could never take from us the power this production had, in many ways, to save and heal the lives of the cast and crew, most of whom identify as LGBTQ+.

In this communal theater experiment, I found myself pushed into a story that was and wasn’t mine. I found myself in the supporting role, and as such, I learned to listen and be present instead of my more natural role of taking charge and stealing the spotlight. I confronted my own pain and the pain of others suffering in ways I cannot completely understand but with whom I can sit, stand, and live in love and camaraderie.

*****

Theater is not frivolous. It is not for the faint of heart or the narrow of mind, but it is for the experienced and inexperienced, the diva and the shy, the believer and the skeptic. Theater molds, shapes, and even break us in ways we spend a lifetime unpacking.

There are times when theater is the voice, body, and spirit of God when churches remain silent, paralyzed, and breathless. There are times when theater becomes the Church to the doubters, skeptics, LGBTQ+, people of color, and the oppressed when the churches all but slam the door in their faces.

 

Theater does this, because theater is story. It’s the stories with the immense power to make us confront our “others” and our own roots. It’s the stories which wake us up and wind us up. It’s the stories which comfort the uncomfortable and discomfort the comfortable.

It was stories Jesus used to illustrate the finer points of his gospel message, through parables of seeds and soil, great banquets, feuding families, and pestering widows. It was theater Jesus employed when he caused a public and zealous disturbance in the temple. It was these stories that baffled the disciples and the religious elite but made sense to the ones who had lived them in some capacity.

And throughout all of those stories and theatrical displays was the call to remember we are God’s, and we belong to each other.

While many fear the “death of the Church,” I have no fear of this, because as long as theater and stories exist, and as long as we continue to tell the stories to each other without fear or shame, the Church will survive and thrive.

I’ve seen the theater be Church for me and for others, and it gives me hope that Church will outlive every congregation we ever make or attempt.

For the Literal Love of Christ, Stop Making Jesus White

 

Superstar

Ted Neeley in Jesus Christ Superstar

I was browsing Buzzfeed the other day when I found an article about the Mary Magdalene film starring Rooney Mara (as Mary) and Joaquin Phoenix (as Jesus).

To be honest, at first I thought it was great that a film about Mary Magdalene would be coming to theaters soon, especially because of the issues many in the Church might have with her story being portrayed well on screen (she wasn’t a prostitute?!).

Then I saw the casting, and I got frustrated at the fact that once again, two white actors are portraying religious and historical figures of color.

MaryMovie

Daily Mail

I quickly went to IMBD to check out the rest of the cast, and I discovered that black, Israeli, and Algerian actors will be playing Jesus’ disciples.

Which is…better than having them all be white, too, I suppose. At least this casting is a bit more accurate.

Starting from top left: Australian actor Ryan Corr as Joseph, Israeli actor Tawfeek Barhom as James, Matthew Moshonov as Matthew, British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter, and French actor Tahar Rahim

This being said, Hollywood is not off the hook. The fact that in most biblical films, Jesus is cast as a white man while the people of color are relegated to the supporting cast is a greater symptom of the American white savior complex.

 

The simplest way to define the white savior as an entertainment trope is a white character rescuing people of color from their plight. While many well-meaning people defend these characters as benign and even admirable (perhaps citing that they learn a lesson about themselves and “those people” and become “better” in the end), they are actually rather harmful.

The danger of the white savior mentality is that it enables the savior to look down on the ones they try to “save.” It allows the savior to say, “You are only worthy of my time, attention, and compassion as long as you are beneath me. Never equal to me, and definitely not above me.”

The white savior complex “racializes morality by making us consistently identify with the good white person saving the non-white people who are given much less of an identity in these plot lines. It also frames people of color as being unable to solve their own problems.”

This racialization of morality frames white people as the good guys, and the people of color as either the bad guys or the ones needing saved.

White savior mentality does not embolden people on the “receiving” end to take agency over their own lives.

One of the primary results of the white savior/one needing saved relationship is enmeshment, which can occur “in any relationship where there is a power imbalance due to structural inequality, and ensures that the power imbalance stays firmly in place, resulting in frustration and resentment for the oppressed group.” This ensures that the person or people being saved become fully dependent on their saviors to survive and thrive, while the saviors get a nice dose of purpose and goodwill from having saved someone. They are dependent on each other for the wrong reasons.

The white savior mentality does not allow people of color, or those being “rescued” or “saved,” to voice their own concerns or opinions about their own lives. Instead, the saved remain subservient to their saviors, who tell them to trust in the savior’s goodness and logic above their own needs.

This is prevalent in reality, as seen in the accusations of TV personalities and news anchors concerning black culture and black individuals. There seem to be zero forms of protest that a person of color can participate in which white leaders will not criticize. This is why Black Lives Matter can be deemed “the new KKK” with little to no mainstream backlash. It’s why any criticism about white supremacy and privilege is clapped back against with cries of “reverse racism” and accusations of “not letting the past be past.”

Feminists are not exempt from this.

Rafia Zakaria writes in Al Jazeera, “Nonwhites are expected to approbate and modify their own lives or positions to participate in this [white feminist] narrative. The parameters of this paradigm ignore differences in privilege that separate the white and nonwhite feminisms. White women dominate the mainstream American feminism because they can still draw on white privilege and occupy the entire category.”

If left ignored, women of color will continue to be ostracized by a movement which claims to seek liberation for all.

This is why, for the literal love of Jesus, we need to drop the white savior complex, from our media and from our lives.

Jesus regarded everyone with whom he interacted as inherently worthy of his love and attention. But white savior mentality does not acknowledge the inherent dignity within every human being as a child of God.

If we continue to call ourselves the Body of Christ on earth, yet continue to ignore our siblings’ cries for justice, then we are attempting to cast off our hands and feet, destroying the Body from the inside out.

We will also damage our testimony as Christ’s body on earth to those who are not in the Church.

A personal case in point: I have a Middle Eastern, Muslim father, but I did not grow up with him. I grew up with my white mother and white family, so I learned about Arabic culture from them and the media.

And they didn’t exactly paint the best picture. Especially post 9-11.

Post 9/11, I thought all Arabs were terrorists, because that’s all I saw in the news, in TV shows, and in movies. I thought they were oppressive to women and democracy and all the other things Americans claim to hold dear (but they really don’t).

I know how this affected me, and I know how it could affect my younger siblings, and the people with whom they interact, especially in an era of proposed “Muslim bans” and chants to “Build the Wall.”

I worry about representation because of what it will tell the world about my family.

So what do we, the white Americans wrestling with our white savior complexes, need to do?

A small way to break this oppressive cycle is to consume more media with better representations of people of color, in which they, not us, are the predominant actors, writers, producers, and directors.

Love comics? Check out Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, and America Chavez.

Looking for a new show to binge-watch on Netflix? Check out Luke Cage, The Get Down, or 3%.

Want a Redbox night? Rent Moonlight or Get Out.

If you don’t consume media with predominantly POC casts and production because you think it’s “too harsh” on white people, or you wonder why you’re not in the lead role like you’re used to, you might be feeling a trace of what black, Latinx, Arab, and other “minority” communities have felt for years.

We often have the audacity to ask, in a culture we dominate, “What about me?”

I asked that question as a four year old when I was dyeing Easter eggs with my cousins because I didn’t want to share the Easter egg dye with them. As a child, I acted like a child, as do we all. Now, it’s time to leave our childish ways behind.

Will watching and reading more stories in which people of color are the heroes and heroines change the world overnight?

Of course not.

It can, however, begin to change our mentality, break stereotypes, and empower people of color.

And for the literal love of Christ, we can do that much.