A Slice of Life – Kurdistan, Volume 4

We are enjoying spring in this part of the world. The rain has tapered off and with it the large puddle that forms in my kitchen. I am so happy to see that puddle gone. I love the sun and I love light so with these days of 60 degree weather, a joy comes over me that it unashamedly connected to sunlight and warmth. Spring here is stunning – high above green fields of wheat are the Kewa-Rash (Black Mountains) and beyond that the snow-capped mountains of Kurdistan and our neighboring country. All day long the light changes creating dramatic effects on the ridges of the mountains. It is magnificent.

International Women’s Day…

For the first year since I began blogging I did not write about International Women’s Day. My guilt threatened to overwhelm me until my husband looked at me and said “Why are you feeling guilty? You’ve been too busy meeting with women and planning an important symposium on women’s rights to actually write about it!” It’s true. With a group of Kurdish women and men colleagues, we worked hard to put together an International Symposium focused on women’s rights and gender based violence. We held it yesterday and were so grateful and pleased with the response. Guests included Kurdish women activists talking about politics, governance, and law as well as international speakers from the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United States. It coincided with National Kurdish Clothes Day so the conference hall was full of color and sparkle. It was amazing.

The symposium planning reminded me of the need for cultural humility and tested my cultural competence at many levels. In other words, it was really humbling and good for me. Plan with, not for, a community, at every level involve people from the community, slow down, listen, clarify, drink tea, drink more tea, drink ten cups of tea and other key principles were critical in the success of the symposium. One of the things I learned during this time is that there is no future tense in the Kurdish language. This made so much sense to me as I wanted to plan far ahead and I learned that culturally, you don’t plan that far ahead. You do things right before the actual event, because who knows what might disrupt your plans. For a region that has been through as much trauma and displacement as this area, it makes complete sense. It’s easy to want to fight against what we don’t understand.

The Kurdish speakers were brave and honest as they spoke about divorce, female genital mutilation, and gender-based violence. I have so much to learn from these women. Among other things, I’ve learned that the rates of FGM and honor killings in this area are high. Many Kurdish women want to change this and we are in conversation at the College of Nursing about what change might look like. I am honored to be a part of these important conversations. While every culture in the world has aspects that are beautiful and can be appreciated, every culture also bears the scars of a broken world and system. When you enter into a place and become a part of it, you learn more about the beautiful and the broken. Yesterday included both.

I’ve posted some pictures to give you a sense of the day and give you a glimpse of the rich colors and beauty of traditional Kurdish clothes.

Dear friends – Yassin and Mohammad, and Rania – my dear friend and Cliff’s colleague
Four of our beautiful students at the College of Nursing
Group Photo of Planning Committee, University Officials, and Speakers

Korek Mountain…

On Friday, our holiday, we were invited to join the staff of a local NGO to go on a trip to Korek Mountain. This mountain is around 2000 meters and you get there by way of a four kilometer cable car called a “teleferic”. This was a new word for me…you?

There were around 30 of us so we took a tour-type of bus and traveled two and a half hours over sometimes smooth, sometimes rough roads through amazing scenery. Rolling hills, rugged mountains and mountain waterfalls were all part of the landscape. We ate lunch in the city of Soran just a half hour from Korek Mountain. We then went on to the base of the mountain and waited in a loud and fun line to catch the cable car up the mountain. It was the longest cable car I’ve ever been on, and I have to admit to some stomach knotting moments as I looked down at the earth so far beneath and eight of us chatting happily in Kurdish and English. “Be careful of the ‘whatifs’ child” says the author Shel Silvlerstein. It was good advice as I stopped myself from imagining the cable breaking, or the electricity going off (a not unlikely case scenario I might add….)!

The highlight of the trip was not the beauty, but the people. We laughed until our stomachs ached. We danced to Kurdish music. We listened to Kurdish Karaoke. We ate Kurdish food at a restaurant that our Kurdish friends would tell you was “not so delicious” but we thought was great. It was an amazing time of getting to know people better and realizing yet again how much we love Kurds and Kurdistan. It is times like this that make leaving all we left behind worthwhile.

Lent Begins….

Our Orthodox Lenten journey began this morning. It is odd and not easy going on this journey without our church community. Holy Resurrection Church in Allston has been there for us each Lent and we travel this spiritual journey as a community. We have none of that here and it takes its toll. Lent is a time of joyful abstinence and preparation. We are grateful for a faith tradition that encourages fasting, special prayers and readings, highlighting the significance of the journey that takes us up to Pascha, our Jerusalem. We are planning to be with our church community for Pascha and I know it will be a celebration like no other after our long absence.

It took us years to find a church community that we would commit to; that we would grow to love and they would love us back. At the same time, we are so grateful to be a part of life in Rania. It is the paradox that anyone who has lived between worlds knows. Indeed, it is the paradox of any Christian. Always longing, never fully a part of life on this earth, always longing for that place where our hearts find their home. C.S. Lewis says something about this in his book The Problem of Pain, and I will end my slice of life with his quote.

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with out friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”

May you, wherever you are in the world, find your pleasant inns even as you long for your true home.

How Long?

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Earlier in the week, Boston could not shake the heavy fog that lay heavy in the air, covering the tops of buildings like thick grey smoke. It dulled my mind and all I seemed able to do was trudge through life.

How long will this fog go on, I wondered silently, the weather deeply embedded in my psyche.

Even as the sunshine came through in all its blue-skied glory, the fog inside stayed.

How long?

How long O Lord? How long will tragedy break us? How long will we shed tears over those we love? How long will those who perpetrate evil continue? How long?

I was deep in inner fog as I walked from work to the subway last night. The station was crowded as I rounded the corner to catch my train. But there to the side lay a woman on the floor. She had just fallen and another woman was crouched beside her. I stopped, and a couple of us helped the woman up. She was small and elderly, wearing a heavy jacket along with the dazed look that comes with a fall. She spoke no English, and as we helped her to a seat, we were not sure if we should call an ambulance or just wait.

She made it clear that she wanted to catch the next train, so we helped her across the gap and onto an incoming train. As we were sitting with her and attempting to communicate, we discovered that both the woman who had fallen and the initial helper spoke Mandarin. She offered to walk the woman to her apartment building, and the last I saw of them they were slowly walking toward the exit, talking with their heads bent close together.

Something about the entire event felt so incomparably sad and hopeful. Like the Psalmist, who in one breath says how long, and in the next proclaims hope. How long will we slip and fall? How long will we feel the pain of loss and betrayal? How long will we pray for healing?

And yet – there is hope. There is hope in strangers and passers by; there is hope through a phone call to a friend; there is hope in the messy emotions of the Psalms. There is hope in sunshine after fog; hope in pregnancy after miscarriage, hope in restoration after betrayal. And when there is not sunshine, when new life does not come, when restoration is not realized? There is still unreasonable, glorious hope.

How long?

As long as Good Friday gives way to Great and Holy Saturday. As long as Great and Holy Saturday prepares the way for the light of Pascha. As long as there is life, there is still hope.


“How Long, Lord? …. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”*

He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” Aeschylus


*From Psalm 13

Forgiveness Sunday and Housecleaning my Soul

“We do not travel the road of Lent as isolated individuals but as members of a family. Our asceticism and fasting should not separate us from others, but should link us to them with ever-stronger bonds”. [source]

Every two weeks I have house cleaners come into our home. They come in with their high-powered vacuum and buckets. They come in with energy and determination. And then they clean. They clean places that I wouldn’t think of, they polish and they dust and they scrub. When they are finished, the whole apartment sparkles. It smells good and it looks good. Everything comes under their scrutiny and cleaning tools. I love the days that these house cleaners come.


In my faith tradition, Today is “Forgiveness Sunday”. Forgiveness Sunday is set aside every year to remind us of God’s great forgiveness toward us. It also reminds us that because God forgives, we can forgive.

Forgiveness Sunday is the last Sunday before Great Lent begins. The focus is on two things: Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden, which really means their exile from direct communion with God, and our need to forgive and be reconciled to others. The two have more in common than we might think at first glance.

The practical application of Forgiveness Sunday is not easy, either physically or spiritually. In a special service we go to each member of our parish and prostrate ourselves before them saying: “Forgive me, a Sinner.” Their response is “God forgives so I forgive. Good Lent.” At the end of the evening you are physically exhausted and spiritually humbled.

It takes a lot to ask for forgiveness.It is a humbling experience to say “Please forgive my for any offense.” It is even more difficult when there are specific things that need to be named. But once done, the sense of relief overwhelms all the other feelings.

Forgiveness Sunday is the beginning of housecleaning the soul, a process that takes place in my life during Lent. During Lent, the dirt of envy is cleaned, the dust of resentment is uncovered and cleared away, the filthiness of hatred and unforgiveness is exposed and wiped out, the refuse of malice is put into the garbage. My soul undergoes a process that is grueling and freeing.

And so the journey of Lent begins.


A Fog of Tragedy

There is a fog over the Charles River. While the sun is trying to burn through the mist, the fog is heavy and solid.

I wonder if this is what it is like for those families affected by another school shooting. The fog of disbelief and anger so heavy; the gut-deep sadness and nausea overwhelming. Everything a blur of loss and tragedy.

Where is the sun in that fog?

While most of the country was focusing on chocolate, roses, and chalk hearts with stupid sayings, a community was facing a nightmare of violence.

This is America’s true brand of terrorism, but we clothe it in politics instead of common sense and being on the same side – the side of life, the side of protection, the side of making hard choices.

I am more and more convinced that the “individual rights” that are so highly valued in our culture are dangerous. Both my intuition and my experience tells me what is really important is community and caring for others; what is really important is giving up my rights and my right to be right for the sake of others.

But no matter what I think, there are people who are hurting and planning funerals. Young life is extinguished and parents and friends are hurting. They are broken in their grief, and even though I don’t know them, I must stand with them.

I stand with them as one who mourns a broken world and longs for redemption. I stand with them as one who cries for the moms who will no longer hold their children; the moms and dads who would beg for just one more hug, one more ‘I love you.’ I stand with them as one who prays that the sun’s light will penetrate the fog, a glimpse of God in the midst of a fog of tragedy.

Our world is not as it should be. And though we see beautiful glimpses of redemption that startle and amaze us, we still face all that is part of this broken world.

So I stand as one broken – broken by sorrow of death and loss, by pain, by the weight of difficult relationships. And in the silence of the broken I know God is near.

If you are weary of sorrow and pain, if you are face to face with tragedy and death, with the broken bones of a weary world, know that you are welcomed into the arms of God.*

The Last Battle as Lenten Reading

It’s a grey, rainy Sunday. The bare trees outside accentuate the bleak weather. Slush and ice mark the sidewalk and street as if saying to me “It is, after all, February! What really do you expect?”

It may be bleak outside, but it is warm and contemplative inside. It is these days when I am most grateful for home, most grateful for the warmth of hot tea and homemade bread.

Our Lenten journey begins in a week and along with some other Lenten reading, I will begin to read The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis.

The Last Battle is the final book in the Narnia series and begins with the story of Puzzle, a donkey, who thinks he is not very clever. He is manipulated by Shift, a crafty old ape, into wearing an old, lion’s skin found in a river at the western edge of Narnia. Shift convinces Puzzle that finding the lion’s skin is a sign and that they should proceed as messengers of the great Lion, Aslan.

Word comes to Tirian, King of Narnia, that Aslan has returned, but there are signs that this is not the true Aslan. Accompanied by Jewel, his unicorn and trusted friend (after all, this is Narnia!) Tirian heads off to find out what is going on for himself.

The book is full of powerful story telling and the battle between good and evil, and this is why it is such good Lenten reading.

It is during Lent that I am more aware of this battle within and around me; during Lent that I learn more of what it is to say no to the sovereign self. It is during Lent that I am more aware that truth can be manipulated, and that I can never get enough of that which “almost satisfies.”

So in this journey, where I move further up and further in to the mystery of my faith, I think of these words from The Last Battle:

“Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek…And since then, O Kings and Ladies, I have been wandering to find him and my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog.”

Further up and further in on the journey, reflecting on the battle between good and evil, and the wonder of being God’s beloved.

Broken


Over the weekend, the father-in-law of one of my colleague’s was badly injured in a bike accident. When I inquired as to how he was doing, he simply said “Broken”.  With multiple fractures and bruises, that is the most descriptive word possible. 

Broken. 

Early this morning we received word that my mother-in-law died. Her body was broken and could no longer sustain life. Tears well up as I think of my father-in-law kissing her one last time, saying “I love you,” those words that formed their union so long ago and her slipping away. It only takes a moment to go from life to death. 

Broken. 

In my faith tradition, this week is all about broken. Beatings, betrayal, denial, and a cross. You can’t get much more broken. A mother who has to watch her beloved son die, his body broken and on display; a beloved and trusted friend denying even knowing you; a crowd condemning and wanting blood. 

In truth, I don’t want broken. I don’t want death. I don’t want betrayal. I don’t want denial. I don’t want pain. I want to rush to Sunday and the resurrection.

But life doesn’t work that way. Our world is not as it should be. And though we see beautiful glimpses of redemption that startle and amaze us, we still face all that is part of this broken world. 

This week is not about platitudes, it is not about trying to rush to the Resurrection. It is about praying in the midst of all that is broken. It is about identifying with the suffering Christ. Only then does the Resurrection become real to us; only then can we grasp the significance and glory of a risen Saviour. 

So I sit as one broken – broken by sorrow of death and loss, by pain, by the weight of difficult relationships. And in the silence of the broken I know God is near. 

If you are weary of sorrow and pain, if you are face to face with tragedy and death, with the broken bones of a weary world, know that you are welcomed into the arms of God.*

*from A Broken World Meets an Advent Season

Lenten Journey: Instant Gratification or Slow Process

God of Process

On my work space shelf, I have a box of instant oatmeal. It’s relatively healthy, full of fiber, and low in the bad stuff. I have it on hand for those days when I rush off to work, my tummy empty since the night before, my blood sugar low, and nary a minute to sit on my couch and eat breakfast while contemplating life. It is my breakfast safety net.

As far as instant breakfasts go, it’s good. Maple and brown sugar, with dried cranberries and walnuts thrown in for extra fiber and an antioxidant effect. But compared to real breakfasts, in the privacy and comfort of my home with no job anxiety yet before me, it does not satisfy. I would far rather eat breakfast at home any day of the week.

We live in a society where the instant is highly valued. Instant breakfast. Instant cash. Instant internet. Instant messaging. Instant cures. Instant results. You can even get instant degrees. I am affected by this instant value and mantra far more than I would like to admit. One of the observations I have made about the “me” who lives in the United States as compared to the “me” who lived (and still travels) internationally is that I am far more patient in Egypt, or Pakistan, or Haiti, or Mexico. I go into a different place where I am more reliant on God, less on self. I do well when the instant is not available.

I don’t only want instant when it comes to daily life; I also want instant when it comes to relief from pain and suffering – I want the magic wand to sprinkle fairy dust that turns peasants into princesses, and villains into frogs.

We are a people of instant gratification communicating with a God of process; a people who want immediate results in relationship with a God who says “Wait – I’ve got this.” No wonder there are some discordant moments. 

My longing for instant is far from God’s truth. In the famous “Faith Hall of Famers” passage in the book of Hebrews, the abbreviated life stories of several people, heroes of the Christian faith, are told. Their longings and promises were not fulfilled in an instant. In verse 13 the words say “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” The end of the chapter gives the final explanation: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” 

I want the magic wand to sprinkle fairy dust that turns peasants into princesses, and villains into frogs.

There are many, many times where I have screamed at God “You’re too late” and I wonder if there were times when the people mentioned in Hebrews 13 did the same. All of them were people waiting for promises to be kept; all of them were people who died waiting.

But this I know: God is a God of process, a God who doesn’t tell me the end of the story, but continues to write it day after day. He is a God who asks me to trust the process, to honour the struggle.

My world calls me to instant access. God calls me to slow process. My world promises instant change. God promises slow and lasting transformation. May the voice and promise of God be more compelling than the voice of my world.