Judge Not, Fear Not
Todd tells the story of his daughter, Morgan, and her friend, Jenna, helping out at a homeless shelter - and what they learned from that experience.
- Morgan ---- Daddy, do you have anyone lined up for devotions yet for this Friday?
- Todd ---- No, why?
- Morgan ---- Because Jenna would like to lead devotions.
- Todd ---- Wow, that would be great! Looking forward to seeing and hearing her!
For those of you who did not know, I am a Muslim and right now we are celebrating the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a month where Muslims fast everyday from sunrise to sunset, and this month gets two weeks earlier every year. As many can imagine, fasting in the winter is much easier because the sunset is much earlier, typically around 5:00 or 6:00, and summer is the hardest time to fast because of late sunsets, around 8:00 and 9:00, accompanied by the heat.
However, no matter what month it is, fasting is very difficult. When fasting, Muslims abstain from not only food but also drink, including water. The point of these restrictions is to separate human beings from their earthly desires and strip them down to a vulnerable state, where they are left with not much more than faith to keep them going.
Ramadan is a time when, through fasting and reflection and self-control, you have the chance to be your best self, and to make the world a little better place.
When explaining to non-Muslims the practice of fasting from sunrise to sunset, I often get looks of shock and statements like "Why on earth would you put yourself through that?" "How do you survive?" "What is the point of that suffering?"
The truth is that, when I began fasting the month of Ramadan, I was in third grade and had many of these same thoughts. I fasted because it was something I knew I should do, but I didn't understand why. And I certainly didn't abstain from complaining about it!
Ironically, it wasn't until seventh grade, when I started volunteering with First Lutheran Church at Greensboro Urban Ministry, that I truly understood the purpose. Trust me when I say no one was more surprised than me that, through delving into the world of Christianity, I would become a stronger Muslim.
When I first began volunteering, doing things as simple as making PB&J sandwiches and serving food and drinks, I began to see how the simplest of good deeds could make a difference. I saw this through the people who looked me in the eye with the most sincere looks I have ever seen, thanking me for what I was doing, as if making a sandwich was changing the world.
But then it dawned upon me ---- when I am fasting and I have gone the whole day without any food or water, and I hit the point when I have two hours to go and my head is pounding and I am so exhausted and weak that I can't function, I realize how dependent I am on God. I realize these so-called "simple things" ---- food and water ---- make all the difference. That without these basic things God has provided, I have nothing.
And that is when I understood the role PB&J sandwiches and a hot breakfast played in changing the world. Even more than that, I realized I am not invincible. Often, we get so caught up in our lives and dramas, we put God and faith on a back-burner, thinking we are strong enough to survive without it or that we will always have tomorrow. But the truth is, you never know what the future holds.
My best friends Morgan and Joann have also fasted with me a few times ---- these were great experiences that allowed us to not only learn more about each other, but grow as friends.
Ramadan is also a time of reflection, a time to take stock and be thankful. I am very thankful for the Hermans bringing me along in seventh grade, for growing as a person during my seven years of volunteering, and ---- best of all ---- for realizing through listening to your teachings and prayers that, although we don't share the same faith, we are far more similar than we are different.
Thank you for everything you all have taught me! I hope that in sharing my thoughts with you today, in some small way, I have returned that favor.
Living the Christmas Story
Have you ever read the Christmas stories in the Bible and pay close attention? Ever notice the details of the people involved and the shocking insights they reveal about God?
Nearly every character in the story has been labeled, judged, and excluded due to fear, bias, and stereotypes. Most, if not all, would have been turned away based on the social rules and religious doctrines of the day. Most, if not all, would have been feared and judged as unworthy of God's attention and love. Yet, all the while, angels (portraying the voice of God) tell them constantly, "Don't be afraid. God is up to something amazing, and YOU get to be part of it all!"
Every one of these feared, judged, and excluded outsiders knew ---- and felt ----the power of the label they bore. But God saw the judgmental human labels as a special qualification for God's work. God needed and used these people to birth God's dream of wholeness and well-being for the entire world. These social and religious losers were first round draft picks on God's team of setting things right!
And what happens?
To me, all these characters personify a new hope and vision religion can offer the world ---- if religious people and institutions choose to evolve rather than self-destruct. This would require people and institutions to:
Jenna and Morgan symbolize what religion and our world could be. It's an honor to be a small part of their story. It offers Muslims, Jews, and Christians ---- and all religions ---- a way to become God's blessing for the world ... if we choose to do so.
First Lutheran Church, Greensboro, NC
God's angel showed up again in Joseph's dream and commanded,
"Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him."
(Matthew 2:13, The Message)