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Archive for June, 2013

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Yesterday, six of us left the Heritage Walk on our way to find the Wind Palace. We walked, through shops opening on Sunday morning, selling silver bowls, hammered food containers, shoes, fried food, statues of gods and goddesses, tee shirts, textiles, fabric, saris, and bangles.

When we thought we were close to the correct gate, but couldn’t find a sign or entry place, I asked a street vendor. Before the vendor could answer me, another man came up to tell us. He offered to take us to the gate, which I took to mean we would need either to pay him, or come to his shop, in return. I was relieved to see that we could actually see the gate from where we were standing, so we wouldn’t actually need to give him anything in return.

It turned out that he did need something from us. He said, “I need your help. I speak English, but I cannot write it. I want you to write a letter to a women in England.”

We agreed, and followed him. On the way to a quiet space with a place for me to sit and write, he got a newspaper so I’d have something clean to sit upon. We borrowed paper from one of my classmates, and as we all sat with him, he began to dictate a letter.

He asked me to write in block capitals; he intended afterwards to re-copy it in his own handwriting.

He dictated his love for Celia, how much he missed her, and how he looked forward to being together again. He asked her to send her flight information, so he could pick her up next month in Delhi. He asked our advice for any good phrases in English that would convey his love for her.

When I finished, he had me read it aloud, so he could hear how it all sounded together. How strange, to be reading aloud to some Celia, from a quiet alley in the Pink City.

Of course, nothing is uncomplicated in India. My effusiveness during the writing and re-reading of the letter must have given a wrong impression. There’s a reason we suggest to visiting students that they keep their distance from men, including male classmates, and avoid smiling at strangers.

When I finished reading, the man wanted to give me a hug; I accepted, and he tried, three times, to kiss me on the mouth. I avoided it by doing a double-cheek air kiss, and finally said, “Enough!” as my classmates also said, “Okay, okay, enough!”

I forget myself easily. And then, I am grateful that I live and work in a place—even with plenty of injustices, inequities, and difficult conditions for many women, nearly all of my experiences with men have been safe and positive. The encounters that have been unsafe, wrong, or frightening are in the minority, and no one would say they are my fault. Not that my effusiveness here brings anything that happens to me on myself. It’s difficult to try and parse out responsibility, physical safety, and cultural differences.

I don’t regret writing the letter. And I felt safe because I was surrounded by friends, male and female. But I again tell newcomers, as I will tell the teachers who arrive next month: be more modest, and more subdued, and less interactive, than you would normally be. Not because what might happen is related to anything we do or say, but because it’s hard enough to navigate many differences and misunderstood intentions without sending signals we may not understand.

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Speaking of cosmetics, this statue of Shiva, in an artisan’s workshop, is resplendent with eye make-up and lipstick. Even his toenails and fingernails are painted, and the snake detailed with gold glitter.

I love make-up. I love the little pots and brushes, the colors and textures. I have long loved the “makeover” sessions you can do with saleswomen in department stores. When I had my first play produced, I went to a Clinique counter in St. Louis and said I wanted my eyes to look like tropical butterflies, when I blinked, for opening night. Two of the women at the Clinique counter and I had such a good time, as I told them all about my play, choosing greens and purples. Other women stopped by to watch what they were doing to my eyes, and by the end, a whole crowd of us were excited to send me off to the opening night of my play.

It’s strange, these intimate encounters—a stranger’s hands next to your eyeballs. You can smell her breath and hairspray. She might tell you about a boyfriend she used to have, who went to your school. You might confide you’re nervous about something. A stranger walks by to compliment your eyelashes.

I’m always excited to explore beauty salons and fashion magazines in new places. For two years, I got my hair cut and highlighted in a little salon in the Bronx. Most of the other women were getting their hair relaxed and straightened. The first time I got my highlights, some sort of mistake happened, and four women came, peered underneath the foils into my hair in the sink, and had an argument in Spanish about how they should fix it. (I think; I don’t speak Spanish. My hair turned out okay, after much drama and consultation.) Very different from getting my hair cut on the Upper West Side; different music, presence or absence of children or significant others, of food brought in from the street, of how crowded/energetic the salon feels.

The second time I went to Haiti, my Mom came with me. She happened to bring along lots of shades of nail polish and make up. At first, I though, “Why in the world would you bring nail polish to an orphanage in Haiti?” The orphanage, in addition to having [somewhat] trained teacher and director, also employs several women to feed and clean the children, and take care of the facilities.  I don’t know how they made the connection, but the ladies and my mother had several nail painting sessions, chatting like old friends after the children had been put to bed.

Two days ago, I went to the mall across the street from our mandir here in Jaipur. Somehow, I ended up at the make-up counter at the department store. I complimented the eyeshadows that two of the women had used; they offered to help me do an eye makeover.

And so, I found my hand in another woman’s hand, as she showed me shade after shade of eyeliner, shadow, and lip gloss. With two other women, and a gentleman standing by, we discussed evening shades, daytime shades, and the fact that my eyes are blue. I wanted to know how to keep my hair from becoming a dusty bird’s nest after riding a tuk tuk—why was their hair all so sleek and glossy, when we were all in the same humid, dusty climate? We exchanged beauty tips and imagined different places we could wear the different colors of gloss. Sometimes, the man would provide a translation when we got stuck.

I purchased an eyeliner, a stick of eye shadow, and a lipgloss. After I paid, they presented me with an evening bag, a chocolate brown clutch lined with rhinestones. Free gift with purchase! I posed with the bag, and said, “Now I have an evening bag, and new make-up, I need someone to go out with tonight!” And one of the women said, “Oh, you must come out with me!” and we all laughed.

Maybe this isn’t authentic bazaar shopping in Jaipur. I’ll certainly take a spin around the marketplace within the pink walls before I go on the Varanasi. But I love stopping by the mall for coffee and seeing friendly faces, greeting again my kindred spirits from the make-up counter.

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A 22 hour train ride is no small thing. You have to prepare for it—I purchased peanut butter, crackers, chocolate, three bottles of water, and magazines. I made sure my phone (with music and books) was charged, as was my Nook.

I tried to help everyone else prepare. I said, “The train station will be crazy, crowded, noisy, entire families, no room, hot. We might have to wait for hours. We will try to stay together on the train. Use the toilet a lot early in the trip, because it will get filthier as the hours roll by.”

And even so, even in a group of good-hearted, relatively seasoned travelers, most of us committed to the environment, or animals, or teaching, or human rights (ie, we’re not a bunch of Scrooges), we get cranky. And the hotter it is, the faster we get unhappy.

I’ll speak for myself.

The third class AC cars have compartments, with six beds; three bunks on each side. When you’re with a group of friends or classmates, it’s pretty fun. You can watch a movie, or listen to music, play cards, share food.

For this trip, from Delhi to Jalgaon, we were unable to get tickets all together. In my compartment, there were four of us. In the neighboring compartment, there were only two students from our group.

So of course, I get it into my head that when the final two strangers arrive to our compartment, we should ask them to switch with the two students next door, and then six of us can be together.

When they—a woman and her middle-school aged daughter—arrived, she did not want to switch. I had Sushil, a colleague, ask her in three different ways.

I was so irritated! What did it matter to her? She had two beds, either way. She didn’t know anyone, what difference did it make whether she was with us, or with four others next door. She was ruining my whole plan for a great 22 hours.

I fumed. I occasionally stared at her over my Nook, wondering what her problem was. I told myself that we deserved to be all together. I even wondered if she would move if we gave her money.

I know; awful. How quickly I become selfish (despite all the Jain lectures on Self!) when I don’t get my way.

Of course, we eventually start talking to the woman and her daughter. She holds a PhD in geology, and teachers. Her daughter’s English is very good. We swap Indian fashion magazines. I put on my Hindi-learning tapes, and they laugh, correcting me as I try to say, “Please listen. Do you understand English? I am American.”

If you’ve ever heard me try to speak in another language, you might know that I tend to get really loud, and gesticulate even harder than usual, to make you understand what I’m saying. As if to make up for my mispronunciation. The geology professor laughed and said, “Not so much personality. A little less. Be more quiet.” We were roaring with laughter at her encouraging me to be quieter in my Hindi.

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Today we went to a new school, grades 1 through 4 (adding a grade each year since its founding) funded by a local Jain. It was fantastic. Another warm, caring environment, filled with art, color, and adults who care for the children.

Today was the first day back from a three week holiday; to welcome the students back, the teachers had lined every single hallway floor with flowers. Here are some facts we learned from the director:

All of the students come from the slums surrounding Jalgaon. Everything is fully funded. The school day is all day, to provide two meals and because most of the parents—if they have work—need to work all day.

They have more applications than they have open spots; they try to take the most destitute. They visit the homes and interview parents in order to determine who can come.

Usually, siblings do not attend—because each family benefits so much from having a student there (and who will learn English, and prepare for college), they try to spread that around to as many families as possible. They make exceptions: there is a girl currently enrolled with a brother at home. Their parents are both HIV positive. Next year, when he is old enough, he will also come to school.

They believe that each child is his/her own person, and that teachers shouldn’t force children to be people they are not. They believe emotional nourishment is important, especially for these children.

They weigh the students as part of taking care of their health. After a three week holiday like the one that has passed, most of the children have lost weight; there is not enough food at home.

The children sang for us (“The Wheels on the Bus,” and “The 12 Days of Christmas”), and so we sang for them (“Itsy Bitsy Spider,” because it has hand motions, and we ended in three part harmony and a big, slow, flourishy finish.)

They children had made us bookmarks. They lined up, so each child could take a turn giving each of us a bookmark. As one handed my bookmark to me, he said, “Welcome, Madame,” and then kissed his hand, touched my feet, and touched his heart, before running shyly to the back of the line.

Who am I, to be treated so well? Just 24 hours ago, I was thinking dark thoughts on the train, acting spoiled and thinking only of myself. Even though I’ve been treated with care and luxury every single place I’ve been in this country.

Life long learning, right? God willing, I have many years to soften my heart, to think the best before I think the worst of someone—even when I’m uncomfortable. Especially when I’m uncomfortable.

We visited a classroom with little crescent tables. They can be joined together to make a circle; all the students sit on the floor. Also near the floor, around the room, are chalkboards hung at five-year-olds’ level. The director said, “The teacher scribbles on the big board, we’ve found the children like to scribble on the little boards.”

I thought about the long journey, in the rain and mud today, from wherever their houses are. How did their smocks stay so clean? How did their hair stay so neat? Did they like dance more, or science? Do they teach their baby siblings at home the counting and letter songs they learn at school?

One of the paradoxes of going to places like schools in India is that even though I am supposed to be the honored guest, I actually receive so much. They are so happy we are there, they give us gifts and mango juice. And really, I should be giving something in return for all I receive.

What do we do with such gratitude? How can I hold on to it, and let it seep into my actions and intentions? Like, I want to be the thick (the thickets, really expensive, heavy-pressed) watercolor paper, and let these experiences saturate me, soak the ridges and pockets of my-self.

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A cross carved into the outside of a cave church in Cappadocia.

Even though I studied history, I was never interested in dates, battles, kings, economics, politics. I have a terrible mind for dates and facts. Individual lives interested me, saints and their close friends, who became their biographers. Villagers who encountered the holy, and built shrines, documenting their own faiths into history. Grandmothers’ trunks reopened after Communism, the old icons and prayers intact in their hands and memories.

So many places in history are heavy with this kind of weight. What did Faulkner say about history? The past is never dead?

I remember looking at the “maps of the holy land” in the back of my mint green, Precious Moments Bible, during particularly long sermons. The maps were mostly brown and beige, with small bits of river. I couldn’t imagine those places as real.

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At Harran, a city that has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years. The earliest mention of Harran in records is from 2300 BCE.

Never would I have imagined I’d go to Ephesus, and walk where Paul preached. Or see the kind of cave churches early Christians imprinted with carvings. Stone dining tables remain, as do trenches for wine, and holes in the wall where they might have hung cradles.

The faces of Christ are often rubbed off. Imagine the centuries of pilgrim hands, touching, caressing the stone, bringing prayers and desperate wishes. Imagine the Christians taking over the caves from pagans, and—first thing—carving a cross on the walls.

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Inside on of the cave churches, an ancient painting of the Last Supper.

For me, the numinous wasn’t a tiger or a mighty spirit in another room, it was red paint on stone, or a damp cave, or a dark place for prayer. I entered Abraham’s cave on the women’s side, full of Muslim women and girls praying, where once Abraham spent ascetic years. I saw Job’s well, where God finally blessed him with holy water to heal his afflictions. I ran my hand over stone carvings from the earliest Christian period. I saw where pre-Christian families worked and lived.

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Recreation of a traditional mud house, interior, in Harran.

Maybe nobody should try to study history until they can picture the food, the sunrise, the dust, and the fireplaces of those who lived it. I think about everything I know about Abraham—from the Bible camp song “Father Abraham,” to the promise illuminated by countless stars in the sky, to his wife laughing outside the tent—and then imagine him, and old man, praying in a cool cave. I prayed in that cave—my mind reels at the connecting point.

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Inside Abraham’s cave.

This might be the biggest blessing and take-away from my trip to Turkey, that I got to be, in all tactile glory and physicality, in places of history and beauty. I should dig up my Bible, find those sterile beige maps, and recolor them. I can collage on photographs, and write in impressions.

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Paintings of crosses, Christ, and saints at Cappadocia.

Next time I teach Sunday school, I won’t bring out the felt board, I’ll bring in rocks, and sand, wool, cooking ingredients, red paint, terracotta, blankets for the floor, and make a cave. We’ll pretend we’re pilgrims (and aren’t we?), with all our doubts, idiosyncrasies, needs, and desires. We’ll touch, dream, articulate, and pray—and then read about Father Abraham, Prophet Job, and letters from Ephesus. Maybe we can somehow tie knots in our strand of history back into those stories, and realize them better.

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Children peeking into Job’s well.

 

 

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Two girls at an after-school tutoring program organized by the movement.

The hizmet movement places education—for all—at the foundation of its philosophy. Early in the movement, Gulen met with students, and the organization grew in places of study, with young activists and thinkers. The hizmet movement supports schooling at every level, and you don’t have to be Turkish, or Muslim, to attend their schools or receive support for education.

Visiting their schools in Turkey, and hearing about the importance of education, I was moved to think about my own education. In my mind, I call the librarians, teachers, and Sunday school teachers who taught me “a golden chain.” I was so often given extra time, extra books and materials, extra places to sit alone, and read and write. Teachers took the time to comment on poems I wasn’t assigned to write, to help me understand books I undertook to read on my own, and to give me used textbooks and class novels to build my own library.

The church I went to as a child drove many miles to pick me up every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening, so I could come learn, read, and sing with the congregation. All of this has shaped me. When I teach, I try to give extra hours as well—at lunchtime, at recess, sharing extra books and time tutoring. How else can I pass on the wealth I’ve been given?

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Children doing a Turkish folkdance; the girls are sowing seeds.

We visited one school, the oldest school founded by the hizmet movement. I was so, so struck by the warmth with which the children were treated. As we ate breakfast, we watched a kindergarten group having breakfast as well. They chatted and moved around freely; teachers peeled their hard-boiled eggs and helped them get milk; the kids got as much bread as they wanted. As they finished, they went out to recess, but they could take as much time as they needed to eat. This in contrast to the public schools where I’ve worked, where even the very young students are rushed through meals, sometimes have no time to finish, and are yelled at or made to keep silent.

The students also all participate in arts, dance, sports, and the school day ends at 2PM so they can have after-school activities. And—these students regularly produce the best national test scores of any in Istanbul. Top scores on tests, but the focus is on warmth and a variety of activities.

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The front of the school for Syrian children.

We also visited an empty school, brand new and waiting for Syrian refugees from across the border. I was frustrated by questions from my colleagues about what kind of textbooks, and how much materials would cost, and where the students would go after this school. In my limited experience in Haiti, and with refugee students in the US—the traumas and needs are so great. We’re beyond talking about the number of materials. It is enough to have them in a safe building, physically intact. In Haiti, we used bits of cloth and chunks of concrete to teach sorting activities. In St. Louis, the students from Somalia often seemed unreachable—they had been through so much, so many unfathomable things—what did our inadequate public school have to offer? I was overwhelmed by the thought of what these Syrian students and teachers would bring, and need, and face.

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By now, this classroom is full; the students and Syrian teachers arrived last week.

Almost despairing—why even try, when the odds seem insurmountable? Matt said, “Because you have to at least start.” You have to build the building, get the desks, give the teachers a whiteboard and markers. Get lunches, and some kind of school nurse, and establish a routine. Reading and writing, some sustenance, a semblance of order.

I think I’ve written here before about faith, doubt, and despair. Sr. Carla Mae taught me long ago that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but despair. Doubt still has in it a seed of engagement, the possibility to learn and relate further. But despair is a giving-up, a disengagement, a [false] belief that all is lost.

My experiences in Turkey gave me a great deal of hope—every family, teacher, business person, parent, organizer, scholar—every single one had a commitment to hospitality, to meeting and engaging with the other, and to education and humanitarian work. Most of them said, in some way, “Even if this is all that I can do, in the face of the world’s need, I will do it.” All believed that greater peace is possible, especially through education and relationship-building.

I am writing from Delhi, where I am also daily faced with great poverty, hunger, homelessness, and separation of the classes. Sometimes, driving through slums, I am tempted to think: “No amount of education or peace-building work on my part can ever make a difference, in this life.” And yet, I just came from Turkey, where I saw glimpses of a different kind of possibility. In gratitude to my hosts and new Turkish friends, I will try to keep embodying the possibility of hope.

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This girl, full of energy and spunk, not only took the opportunity of our interrupting her tutoring session to chat and pose for photos, but leaped at the chance to play teacher and teach us “good morning” in Turkish.

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Mary in splendor, in Hagia Sophia.

Mother Mary was all over this trip. Surprising that after having lived in places like the Bronx, where she is also frequently found—from shrine to garment to tattoo—that I would feel so close to her at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

When I was little, going to a missionary Baptist church out in the country, Mary didn’t come up very frequently, although I often got to play her in Christmas pageants. (Having blonde hair and blue eyes that matched her robes seemed prerequisite.) Even with nativity sets, I was always interested in the tiny baby, and in rearranging the stable crowd in various scenes. Mary wasn’t doing much in those little ceramic sets—kneeling, eyes cast down.

At one point in upper elementary school, I undertook to read the entire Bible, cover to cover. There’s not much Mary in there, either, actually. I loved the book of Esther, which read like a novel, and liked the idea of Eunice and Lois, early members of the church important enough to have names. Besides her magnificat, Mary doesn’t say anything. And Jesus himself is kind of rude to her in the wedding story, acting annoyed that she pressed him into service. And, to be honest, growing up trying to be a good girl, Mary just seemed meek and mild, the opposite kind of woman that a subscriber to Sassy magazine would aspire to be.

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Tradition says that after Jesus, as he was dying, charged his dear friend John with caring for Mary, John took her to Ephesus, where she lived out her days. This shrine is on the site of where her house is supposed to have been.

When I did my master’s in Byzantine hagiography, I finally started thinking about Mary in earnest. I saw images of her as God-bearer, as a near-warrior lady, holding the safety of humanity underneath her skirt, looking with intensity at Christ as she begs forgiveness on our behalf. My professor said, of her downcast eyes, “In these [Byzantine] images, she’s not looking down because she’s meek. She’s looking down because she is nobility, and they don’t look commoners in the eye.”

One of the things that’s so exhilarating about Istanbul is that beautiful images are grander than you can imagine, and jaw-dropping beauty is around every corner. I frequently found my eyes filling with tears. I would turn a corner, look up, and see an image of the theotokos, completely not expecting it, and stunned into staring.

Or I’d see something out of the corner of my eye, look up, and see Christ as king, splendid and solemn, staring at me from centuries ago—gold still shining in the dim cave light.

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Outside the Virgin Mary’s house in Ephesus, where pilgrims tie prayers on scraps of paper.

I couldn’t help by pray, and be awed (which is also a kind of prayer, I think), along the way.

CS Lewis defined the word “numinous” like this:

“Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told ‘There is a ghost in the next room,’ and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind.

It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is ‘uncanny’ rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous.

Now suppose that you were told simply ‘There is a mighty spirit in the room,’ and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe, and the object which excites it is the Numinous.”

(When I looked up this story to get the details right for this post, I also found the following quote from Shakespeare that gets at “numinous,” “Under it my genius is rebuked.”)

So I would be walking around Istanbul, thinking about pistachios and how I used to always misspell “Constantinople,” (despite that master’s degree) and would suddenly find the hairs on my neck rising as I see another fresco, another mosaic, another image that stops my voice.

It’s hard to write about the numinous. When you have an experience—in a stand of sugar maple trees, at a child’s baptism, at the bed of a dying grandparent, in a chapel in Prague—that brings goosebumps, tears, a whoosh of energy in the gut and heart, and it feels like all of creation meaning…

It’s like the old writing class edict “show, don’t tell” falls apart. How can I show you? I can only tell you that I was greedy for images of holy and gold, and was blessed with more than I could handle.

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Votives lit by pilgrims at Mary’s house.

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My reflection with Matt’s on our first morning in Istanbul.

My classmate and our group leader, Abudurrahim, asked us to write a short response about our expectations for the trip (ten days, eight cities, countless sites and people, throughout Turkey), on the very first evening. I have been engaging in inter-religious dialogue and work for eight years; I’ve spent years of academic and professional time wondering about expectations for interfaith engagement.

But this was personal: What did I hope to get?

Matt and I were in the unusual position (for Western, American, Christians) of being in the minority; of the fourteen of us, only four of us were Christians. We often stopped during the day so our friends could worship in a masjid, but we never participated in a Christian service. I was startled to see large pieces of holy calligraphy, in Arabic, throughout Hagia Sophia, and disrupting my view of the central image of Christ.

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In Hagia Sophia, Christian images were plastered over both during times when the building was used as a mosque, and destroyed during iconoclastic periods. Our guide noted that the Islamic leader at the time did not want to destroy the images, because Jesus and Mary (Issa and Maryam in the Qu’ran) are sacred to Muslims as well; he just had them plastered over because images are not suitable for a place of worship. Here we can see the plaster being removed from the mosaic, painstakingly.

But this is what I asked for. I often use the word “disequilibrium” when I’m talking about education in general, and IR engagement specifically. It’s a term from Piaget. All children experience disequilibrium every time they encounter something, new in the world, that doesn’t go along with what they previsously knew. It doesn’t feel right. You have to check for other information, and finally incorporate the new worldview into what you know. It happens before you learn anything.

One of our jobs as teachers is to provide safe places for students (or congregation members, or clients) to experience disequilibrium.

For a toddler, it might be: You thought if you pushed this toy, it would light up red. But look! Sometimes it lights up green—what do you think about that? The world can be surprising. Keep pushing, see what happens.

For young adults, it might be: You have been taught that the protagonist of the book is always good, dependable, trustworthy. Guess what? Here’s an anti-hero, an unreliable narrator, a character you don’t like but somehow connect with.

For any of us: Every black person you’ve seen on television has been a criminal; you know only what the media has chosen to show you. Guess what? Your family has a new member, and he’s lovely, the son-in-law for which you’ve always dreamed. You’ll have to feel the disequilibrium, hold on as all the old synapses get sorted and grow, and incorporate these new understandings with how you move through the world.

I often pray that God will give me a posture of openness. By this, part of what I mean is that God will keep me curious, open to disequilibrium, and hold me safely through it. In my reflection for Abdurrahim, I said I hoped that I would experience things that I did not expect, and make new relationships and encounters that expanded my understandings.

This is easy for me to say, in America. In my home, with the pillow that smells like me, my favorite coffee cup, a closet full of clothes that suit the weather, and classes in which I excel. Surrounded by English language, and an endless (truly) assortment of food and drink that are tasty and nutritious.

Swimming like a faithful fish in a Christian environment, at a school of theology marked by a central chapel, and images and languages from the Bible throughout the literal landscape. Where I can wear a cross around my neck, say “Merry Christmas,” or “God bless you,” two dozen times of day, and never feel uncomfortable. Where I can seek out interfaith seder meals, or interfaith iftar, or read about Buddhism…if I want to. And no one will stop me or question my intentions; I am privileged that way.

The other hope I had was to really encounter history. I’ve learned and read so many Byzantine hymns, prayers, songs, stories. There was a time in my life where Gregory and Basil, Constantine and Helena—they were in my daily thoughts and writing.

This trip exceeded both of these expectation—boy, did I feel disequilibrium. Mostly in small ways—but they add up!—and in some delightful, serendipitous ways as well. And the history—well, I got goosebumps every day. I’m still working out what it all means to me. At the moment, my mind still reels slightly, dizzy from new geography, new tastes, and a crazy array of beauty and holy.

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The interior of the Blue Mosque. So, so breathtaking. One can’t help but pray.

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