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A functional faith: the Struggle is Real

I want a functional faith —
not just a faith of works,
but a faith that works.

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a faith that works out,
a faith that works for,
a faith that functions.

I want a faith that does,
while I am doing other things,
faithfully.

a faith that works its way
into my day,
along my way,
every day.

I want a faith that
stands up, stands under, and stands for,
but doesn’t need to stand and be recognized,

a faith that builds up,
works construction,
brick and mortar, clay and water, flesh and blood.

Please, Sir, may I have a functional faith?

Did. Done. Doing.
Now, go and do.

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Finding Calm in Stormy Seas

the-storm-on-the-sea-of-galilee-rembrandts-painting“All hands on deck!” the captain hollered, as another towering wave crashed over the bow.

The cabin of our barely sea-going vessel was already knee-deep with water. We were bailing as fast as we could, but the storm was beating us down. How do you make headway in a blinding rain when every wave threatens to throw you overboard?

“Cap’n, we’re gonners,” I shouted between bucket fulls. “This little fishing boat’s not…” A mouth full of salt water interrupted me as the next swell tipped us nearly sideways and sent me sprawling. Dragging myself upright, I was surprised to see the death grip I had on my bailing bucket. Nope. Not gone yet.

Thank goodness I’ve got me some sea legs. Always did love being out on the ocean. Those churning waves never bothered me. Never made me queasy either. I’d even tease ’em by standing deck side with feet spread and arms wide to ride the waves like a surfboard. Not a one had ever bucked me off my feet. Until now.

“Just bail, sailor,” shouted the Cap.”Best give that mouth a rest.”

That’s when I saw him – yes him, Jesus, whose bright idea it was to set out across the lake. He was asleep in the stern. SOUND asleep. His head on a pillow, having a nice dream, judging from the peaceful look on his face. Sure, the boat was rocking mightily and the waves were drenching him over and over. But he was paying ’em no mind. Just sleeping.

What was WRONG with this man? “Teacher, can’t you see we’re about to drown here?!”

Another wave, even bigger than the last, submerged the bow and swamped the cabin again. All of us were tossed to our knees as the boat was slammed by the cresting wave. It was a miracle the boat held together at all. Our little crew of twelve was helpless in the face of it.

And there was Jesus coming awake, rising to take in the scene, perfectly balanced and not a hint of falling. No proud bucking bronco rider, he was standing calm and still, like it was nothing, as if there was the firmest of ground under his feet. The look on his face was not panicked or anxious, not worried or rushed. He simply surveyed the splay of men, kneeling waist deep in water to his right and to his left, and frowned.

Then he looked up at clouds and sky and sea and raised a hand to them. “Quiet! Be still!”

And I’ll be damned if the wind didn’t stop and the lake didn’t turn still as a pond on a windless day. And there I was, incredulous and staring, frozen and kneeling at his feet. He shook his head slowly and spoke to me, for I was the closest to hear him. “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

I took the hand that he offered to help me up, and I stood right there. Right in the place where my Teacher stood, I turned to look as he had been looking from the stern of the boat ahead to the bow. The stormy sea still raged to our right and to our left, the ocean roiled, the rains pelted, and the angry clouds persisted. But here where I stood, it was still. Perfectly still. Without exertion, preparation or effort, I could stand as if on solid ground.

“Set a course for straight ahead,” the Teacher said.

Looking around, we could not find him. Not I, nor the Captain, nor the rest. But bailing done and sails raised, the Captain gave the command. “Straight ahead! Steady as she goes.” We set sail with the prevailing wind toward the land on the distant horizon which was our destination. To our right and to our left, I knew the storm raged on. I could hear it. But I didn’t turn to look. My faith depended on it.

I was no longer afraid.

“What kind of man is this? Even the wind and the water obey him!” ~ Mark 4:41

Islam: A Question of Faith

The Muslim observance of Ramadan chanced to fall during the 2014 FIFA Men’s World Cup (June 28-July 28 in 2014). As a sport scientist I knew that fasting or even skipping meals was not a recommended nutritional practice for sports participants, so fasting from sun up to sun down? That couldn’t go well. Wouldn’t this put observant Muslim athletes at a disadvantage?

What a terrific angle to pursue for my sports blog! Unfortunately, I knew very little about Islam or the Muslim observance of Ramadan, but I knew someone who did. An old high school friend, Zarina, whose family emigrated to the US from Pakistan and whom I knew to follow Islam, was kind enough to welcome my questions. She walked me through her practice of Ramadan, what it meant to her and what it meant for her practice of faith. (Just as an aside: World Cup soccer players actually found fasting from food and water (and other prohibited activities) to be strengthening rather than depleting in their competition! Here is my article in case you’re curious.

This conversation became a touchstone for our friendship as we renewed connection socially, and otherwise via text, email and Facebook. It’s amazing how telling Facebook posts can be, right? Zarina’s mother suffered from ALS, so Zarina took the ice bucket challenge, completed the 5K Walk to Defeat ALS and shared information about the cause. One day she posted a picture of her mother who had recently passed. It was captioned: “Today would have been my late mother’s 80th birthday. I miss her every day. She would have been horrified at what is happening in the world.”

That got my attention. I had been watching the news, reading the papers and shaking my head, but pretty much tip-toeing my way above the fray. What was it like to be an immigrant and a Muslim in the USA of today? I knew someone who could tell me.

In September, I emailed Zarina. “Dear friend, you have been on my mind. Your comment about your mom resonates deeply. I just can’t believe where our nation is. It frightens, abhors and befuddles me. Somewhere, the conversation needs to begin. Most misunderstandings come from ignorance; I admit my ignorance. Can you help me understand?”

saj__-zarinas-dadShe replied, “Thank you so much for reaching out. I have my own interpretation of this, but I’d like to get my dad’s take on it as well, and share both with you.”

And so began a series of triangulated email exchanges of the most honest and generous sort. I know that if I had posed these questions online, posted them on Facebook or spoken them from pulpit or podium, I would have gotten spit at, censored, shouted down or worse. Zarina and her Dad honored me in answering what I asked.

“I’m glad you’re starting this dialogue,” Zarina wrote.

We proceeded to tackle jihad, Bin Laden, violence, hatred, treatment of women, and even verses of the Quran addressing violence and killing. We discussed worship, holy texts and “the Book” Christians know as the Bible, along with prophets, Moses, Jesus, even the “European Crusades” and extremism like Nazism and the KKK. Yep, all of this in reasoned and God-honoring email conversation. Zarina’s father – whom I have not seen in decades – was so gentle in his responses. Each time his answer contrasted or took issue with my understanding, he began his response with “your friend says this, but …”

What a means of grace: where there are differences, first remember this is a friend asking.

This conversation actually got me thinking about how others might misunderstand the scriptures I consider holy if taken piecemeal or out of context. It allowed me to consider more deeply how others might perceive the behaviors of some Christians which may send a wrong message. It had me wondering… if anyone were to look down from above, how they would know who was Muslim, Christian or Jew?

Could I be distinguished by my worship, my profession, my practice? If we sing … they will know we are Christians by our love.… how does love act?

I think love asks. And then it waits for an answer. Evil is an opportunist and will take full advantage of ignorance. Unfortunately, our social media may blind us to this. But perhaps what we are seeing now overtly are the biases that have been brewing under the surface all along. Now that they’ve been made plain, we have the opportunity to acknowledge and address them. I confess I did not believe their extent. Now, I cannot deny it. That means I have a responsibility to take action. Fortunately, I have friends who can help.

Zarina and I met for lunch a few weeks after this email exchange. She invited me to join her for a rally in the nearby community square where representatives from law enforcement, the county schools, community organizations and every major faith tradition would gather to speak. Together we stood in the frigid late November air, but the warmth of the sun and the stirring of the spirit felt very welcome.

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Zarina forwarded this wonderful article, Meet My Friend Saj, A True American about her father, Dr. Sajjad H. Durrani, which appeared in a the Montgomery County paper shortly after our get-together. She told me she chose not to share it on Facebook  for fear of the comments it might receive.

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