Water for the Fiery Soul: My Brief Break from Watching the News Everyday

Active.com

When Mom was pregnant with me, she swam daily laps in the community pool at her Orlando apartment complex.

And as she swimmed, I kicked and tumbled within her womb like a wild child.

Water has always been my favorite element. But me? I’m not like water. I’m like fire.

I burn. I blaze trails, burn bridges, and destroy foundations. I engulf my surroundings and heat them up to their melting and warping points. I don’t change for them; I make them change for me. I leave trails of ashes, kindling, and charred remains. I leave behind smoke that chokes throats, stings eyes, and makes people gasp for breath.

Water is my opposite. It can flood, damage, and drown, but it also cleanses and flows. It takes the shape of its containters instead of forcing them to adjust for it. It is a habitat and home for a variety of creatures. It cools, refreshes, gurgles, and comforts.

I am fire, and I love water. But if I’m honest with myself, I spend more time in the fire, especially in the past year.

I’ve been following the news everyday, especially as it relates to civil rights activism, Islamaphobia, and police brutality. And it’s burned like the fires of hell. One week, it burned white-hot, and I felt its pain and consumption. I realized I was very thirsty. I wasn’t quite parched yet, but dehydration was close.

So in the past few weeks, I stepped away from the fire to partake of the water I love and so desperately need.

I’ve gone swimming in my future in-laws’ pool for various get-togethers. I watered my mother’s plants while she was away on vacation. I planned and helped execute a summer day camp with my co-workers and some amazing volunteers, during which I drank gallons of water.

I began a new fantasy series. I binge-watched American Gods and Preacher and am in the process of re-reading the later’s comic series.

I began moving out of our current house and moving in with my future in-laws as we search for our first home as a married couple.

I added to our registry and began a honeymoon fund. I spent time looking through old pictures of myself and Bryce to send to my cousins as they prepare my bridal shower, and I’ve seen how much the two of us have grown in a million ways. I ordered invitations, cake toppers, and ring bearer boxes, and I browsed wedding rings. In short, for the first time in this process, I thoroughly enjoyed wedding planning.

After a long time dwelling in the fire, the water quenched my parched throat and washed out my stinging eyes. It flushed away the soot and cooled my burning skin. It carried me to new places I would otherwise avoid and ignore. After the fire’s deafening roar, the water spoke softly to me.

When I jumped into activism, I kept hearing pleas to be careful, to remember the discipline of self-care and protection from burnout, to treat it like a marathon and not a sprint. And I said, “Yeah, OK, Mom, I’ll be good and I’ll be fine.”

And this still happened.

I’m afraid to go to the waters and partake. After all this time, I’m still afraid the world will stop turning without me and my voice, opinions, and actions. I’m afraid people will become more racist and hateful if I don’t constantly remind them of how messed up the world is because of their hardened hearts.

I’m afraid to take a break from being God. I’m still recovering from this freaking Messiah-complex.

But I remind myself that while in the water of my mother’s womb, I wiggled and played as she swam in the water of her community pool, relishing in its coolness and flow, wanting to join her out there in that big, scary, mysterious world. Mom had a little ball of fire in her womb, and all that firecracker wanted was to swim in that refreshing pool of water with her.

I am still a ball of fire who yearns for the quenching water, a raging inferno that desires the easy, steady flow of the river. As I’ve drank deeply of the water, I’ve wondered how to reconcile the fire within me and the water that brings me such joy and contentment. I’m still figuring out how to swim in the water without extinguishing my flames.

Maybe, one day, I’ll be ready to embrace both my inner fire and my deep desire and need for the flowing water.

At least until my dominant fire takes over again and I have to burn for a while before I realize how parched I am.

And then I begin again.

Watering Plants After Watching Philando Castile’s Killing

Planet Natural

Yesterday, I finally watched the dashcam footage of Philando Castille’s death.

This morning, as part of my house-sitting promise to my mother, I watered her plants.

I turned the faucet until it could turn no more and felt the water immediately pump through the extendable hose at full blast. I heaved the heavy load over the porch, unraveled the hose from its tangles, and walked to the first bed. I changed the setting to “Shower” and remembered to depress the lever slightly, because even a heavy shower can be too much for those tiny buds.

As I wandered through the beds of mulch and among their scatterings of green, pink, and blue, showering the delicate buds and small leaves, I prayed this small offering of water would be enough. I prayed the light shower would keep them hydrated when the hot summer sun mercilessly beat down on them later in the day. I prayed my neglect of the past couple days would be amended through this sprinkling, that it would be enough to keep them going in the time between my departure and Mom’s return.

I remembered I was not their real gardener. I was not at work under the soil soaking up nutrients to send up the roots, through the stems, and to the leaves and buds. I was not their planter or their keeper. Heck, I wasn’t even going to continue this work after Saturday.

And still, I watered each plant, each green that stretched out of the mulch and flower pots, each colorful bud closed up but expectant of the day it would open again.

I guided the small showers lovingly over each plant, and I wondered if God does the same with the tears shed over each unjustified killing, over each act of hatred and animosity towards the “Other.” I wondered if God uses those tears to water the hearts of the brokenhearted, that they may have comfort. I wondered if God uses those tears to water the hard hearts of those who do not understand the reasons for this pain, that they may soften and open. I wondered if God waters us with those tears so we do not remain numb but continue to be sensitive enough to soak them up and keep moving forward, to remind us that we cannot just let ourselves and our siblings continue to die and be killed.

And I wonder if God also sheds tears over our sorry, pitiful, divided state, and I wonder if God waters us with those tears, too. I wonder if in the midst of being showered, unknowingly or otherwise, with the tears of the oppressed and marginalized, we are also being showered by the tears of God.

And then I wonder where one’s tears stop and God’s begin.

*****

After I finished watering, I returned to the house and tidied a few things up. By the time I finished, the pitter-patter of a gentle rain shower sounded on the roof.

Maybe my small offering was accepted and met with another. Maybe God is still listening to and responding to our small acts of faithfulness.

Maybe that’s enough for me to believe right now.

Lord, Have Mercy

ABC Go

About a quarter of the way through my hour and a half commute, from the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley to the traffic congested highways of Northern Virginia, I heard the news from Alexandria.

I was concerned, but no one on the radio mentioned fatalities. It sounded like a scare, something to be aware of but not to consume me for the day.

Then, when I got to work and checked my phone for the news, the story got worse.

A shooter “devastated” by Trump’s election took out his anger on a group of representatives enjoying a game of baseball. The gunman shot a representative in the hip. He was in critical condition.

But despite working less than 30 miles away from the city in which this atrocity had occurred, the day continued. My co-workers and I briefly talked about the incident, but we had work to get done, so we got to it.  I did my job, left to go home, picked up some food, and drove home to my fiance and an anime.

But I didn’t stop thinking about this, and what it means for me as a person and us as a nation.

Through all the work tasks, wedding planning, meal prepping, and Handmaid’s Tale-watching, I reflected on guns and the sacred fragility of life and disgruntled citizens and national division and critical conditions.

I felt like I needed to make a defense, but I didn’t have one. I didn’t know if sharing my thoughts would be necessary, or if my silence would make me complicit with and approving of such an act of violence.

Basically, I dealt with a national crisis the way I imagine most people with anxiety do.

I figured I should try praying, but I could only think of one prayer to use throughout this day:

Lord, have mercy.

It’s an ancient, simple, and heavy prayer, one that cannot make sense of senselessness but can undergird us when the world’s chaos threatens to unseat us.

It’s a prayer to pray when anger manifests itself in violence, when we allow divisions to poison us, when we forget that every human being is made in the holy, divine image of God.

Lord, have mercy.

It’s a prayer to pray when we don’t know how to react out of shock and fear, when we use difficult times to push political agendas instead of offering comfort to those in pain, when we harden our hearts because it all seems like just too much (and sometimes, it really is).

Lord, have mercy.

It’s a prayer to pray when we go about our days as if nothing has changed because we don’t know what else to do, when the world keeps turning at the same time that it stops dead, when we wonder aloud what the hell we can do to end all of this suffering.

Lord, have mercy.

It’s a prayer to pray when we isolate ourselves, when we allow our own relationships to decay in the dark instead of bringing our grievances and pain to the light of healing and resurrection, when we do not take care of ourselves.

Lord, in all times and circumstances, please, just have mercy on all of us. 

Sometimes, it’s all I know to ask.

I Want to Listen, But…

Education.com

In this divisive political climate, I really want to listen to you.

You have very different opinions than me, but I want to hear you out.

I want to see you as a person with integrity and goodwill, as someone who cares about others and loves this country, and as someone who loves God, the Bible, and the Church with all their heart, mind, and strength.

I want to sit down with you, have a conversation, and listen to what you have to say.

I really do.

But…

…You don’t care about the credibility of my opinion, or other opinions that aren’t yours or those who think like you.

…You won’t acknowledge the flaws and issues in your own logic and understanding.

…You won’t acknowledge your own privilege or biases.

…to even begin this conversation, I would have to drop all my legitimate fears and concerns, because you don’t want to hear them, and I don’t know if that kind of power imbalance makes a legitimate conversation worthwhile or even possible.

…I would have to call the guy “President” and feign respect for people for whom I have none so you won’t accuse me of being “unpatriotic,” an “entitled millennial who’s only upset because she didn’t get her way,” or a “snowflake.”

…if I get too passionate about something, you will probably accuse me of being an “irrational woman,” either to my face or to yourself.

…you will inevitably say “Not all men,” or “Not all white people,” or “Not all Christians” if I even mention certain issues, and you will show that you just don’t understand.

(Not to mention I also live with intense anxiety and hyper-sensitivity and can’t handle too much conflict at once without exploding, collapsing in on myself, or becoming completely exhausted…or all of the above.)

I want to listen, but…you just don’t get it.

I don’t even think you’re trying to get it.

*****

I want to talk. I want to have deep discussions with people who have different opinions than me.

I also want these conversations to be worth our time and energy.

I don’t want to check myself at the beginning of the conversation in order to listen to someone who has no intention of doing the same for me.

That’s not a conversation. That’s me laying myself down for you to trample.

And that’s unacceptable.

I want you to understand that white, male, hetero-, cis-, Christian supremacy is as big of a threat to our country as foreign terrorism, and that cutting programs for the poor harms the most vulnerable in our society as much as faulty infrastructure.

I want you to understand I am not against alternate viewpoints, but I am against viewpoints that promote inequality towards, and hatred and fear of, the most vulnerable in our society.

I want to understand you. I want to hear you out.

But I don’t trust that you’re going to do the same for me.

And as such, I can’t listen right now.

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

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.

Goodbye/Hello

Choir

On Sunday, I processed with the choir. Somehow, I found myself at the head of the procession, and I freaked out a bit. I never lead this part. I always follow. After seven months in the choir, I still didn’t feel confident leading us down the aisle, up to the front of the purple tule covered cross, and to our seats.

But on my final Sunday, I led the way.

On Sunday, I heard the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones, how the Word of God brought the bones, sinews, and flesh together, and finally breathed life into them.

With the choir, I chanted Psalm 30, a plea to God to hear Israel’s cry for mercy, a thanksgiving of God’s grace, a prayer for God to continue to draw near.

I heard the story of Jesus weeping over the death of Lazarus, a death he could have prevented but instead chose to undo, and how Lazarus walked out of the tomb when Jesus called his name, still bound in his grave clothes.

And as I sat in the choir loft, one final time, I thought about the dry bones and the garments of death.

I wondered if I reeked to the high heavens of death like Lazarus, if my bones and body were without the breath of life. I wondered if, in saying good-bye to my two jobs in the span of four days, I was surrounded by the stench of death, and I wondered if anyone else could smell it on me.

Despite the financial hardships which accompany working two part-time jobs with no benefits, ties are made. Routines are established. A sense of normalcy, including the panic which comes at the end of each month when bills need paying and the numbers aren’t adding up, brings with it an odd sense of comfort.

Now that I am entering a full-time position, with a salary and benefits (health insurance! retirement! paid time off!), I am able to move into a new life, something I always imagined but never thought would come to fruition: stability.

But at what cost?

On Thursday, I had to leave a friend who gave me a job fresh out of seminary, someone I bonded with after I gave his wife a meal before she entered an operation to remove her breast cancer, someone with whom I had weathered the early struggles of his first pastoral job out of seminary. On Sunday, it was difficult to listen to the prayers of a friend who shares my Doctor Who obsession, and to bid farewell to the teens I had mentored, .

I never realized how hard it would be to print and fold my final bulletins and turn off my office computer for the last time. I didn’t think I’d struggle not to tear up when one of my students handed me an orchid in front of my congregation as I said farewell to my congregation.

When I accepted these jobs, I knew they weren’t permanent positions. I knew they were stepping stones to other opportunities.

But I didn’t know they would become so close to my heart.

In youth group, I remember my youth pastors teaching us to set physical and emotional boundaries with romantic partners, because they told us too much physical intimacy could make unmarried people “too close” and result in more heartache when the relationship ended.

I wish they’d told me this kind of extra heartbreak isn’t limited to the physical and the romantic.

I wish they’d told me about the pain you experience when you receive the broken body of Christ from your pastor’s hand and wonder if it’s the last time it will ever happen. I wish they’d told me how much a simple touch of my hair when receiving the blood of Christ from a dear choir member would undo me. I wish they’d told me how heart-wrenching it is to have to pull up your roots from the place you’ve called home for so long and plant them elsewhere.

I wish they’d told me less about setting up boundaries and more about how to love as fiercely as God loves us, even and especially when those upheavals happen.

If we are to live as God’s children, as people who want to connect more with God, we will touch the souls of the people around us in deep and profound ways, and they will touch the depths of our hearts, too. They will leave their marks and imprints, and the scars will remind us of their presence forever.

You can’t avoid it. To avoid it is to be the dry bones in the dessert, to be bound by the grave clothes and reeking of death.

I don’t reek of death. I reek of love. Beautiful, deep, painful love. That love is why I chose to sit with the pain of these losses, to insist that they mean something to me, and their losses demand to be felt and honored.

So I sang our final hymn, “The Bread of Life,” for the last time. For the last time, I hung up my choir robe. I gave out final hugs as I ate snacks from my final coffee hour. For the first and last time, I went to the house of my choir director and her daughter, a member of my Sunday School class, and made my farewells over plates of ravioli.

I said good-bye to the congregation which housed me.

Now, I can say hello to the next home which has found me.