Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"On the horizons and in themselves..."

There's a verse in the Qur'an that speaks to the connection of all things and the expectation that we're to examine those connections to bring our development forward: "and they shall see the signs on the horizons and in themselves"

As I watch the oil gushing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, and become increasingly frustrated at what seems to be a criminal lack of action following a criminal act of negligence, the feelings of anger and powerlessness and anger at my powerlessness work themselves into a full frenzy.

Deep within, my own Pele screams for accountability, and though I hear the chorus calling for accountability growing all around me, the call seems to be falling on deaf ears. Is it possible to be a lone chorus in the desert wailing about a gushing gash in the sea?

I feel the tension in my body. As if a hand has entered the back door of my heart and bears down. My jaw is tight. Anger stiffens the muscles up my neck and into my head. My brow is twisted. Feelings of anger, frustration, powerlessness bubble up from the deepest part of me and sour into fury. I want asses kicked. I want heads to roll. I want Justice.

I want Vengence.

Every picture of an oil-soaked bird, every report of what the toxins are doing to the wildlife, every thought of those whose livelihood is ruined are a pump that hauls this inky sticky dark murderously coating flammable toxin to the surface, knocking through my stomach, tearing through my throat, scouring over my teeth growling on my tongue...

There is a gash in the floor of my soul's sea- the rage seems endless. It pours forth at astonishing rates and shows no sign of stopping~

Taken aback at the realization of the oil spilling forth within me, I stop and feel. I watch and listen.

Its just like when...
yes. of course.
The memory-feelings of injustices past are flooding through me. The fudged safety inspections, the bad deals, the ways my self-respect was bargained down for a short-term gain (or fear of a short-term loss)
yes, they too never faced accountability. They too ran and spun and lied when confronted-

but that's not where the gash is- that's not the source of this rage, of this anger...

No. Its how I didn't hold them accountable. Its how I confronted, but didn't require responsibility. Its how I did not take steps to make sure it wouldn't happen again, and thus let it happen again. This gushing gash that bleeds toxins into the sea of Grace inside of me- it was caused by my own lack of accountability.


I've devoted much thought lately to the differences between shame and guilt,
how they work inside of me, and how they obstruct or facilitate forgiveness,
and thus affect Change.

Guilt is incident-specific. I screwed-up. I can make amends. I can change what needs to be changed so that it doesn't happen again (or at least an arc of improvement is begun). Guilt is a trouble-shooting system that finds a problem, then finds a solution. There is no attack on my foundation, my character. Shit happens. Guilt lets me know that it just did so I can get the clean-up crew on it.

Shame builds a case against me. I didn't just screw up. I AM a Screw-Up. Immutably so; and here's the laundry list of crimes to prove it. Shame is a judgment against who and what I am at the core. It is a track that leads to despair, for there is little that can be done. The clean up crew is left helpless- this is a spot that won't scrub out.

As the stench from the fumes pulsing from the gash inside me waft up, I recognize that Shame will stretch the the breach farther open- whether that shame is directed inwardly or outwardly. I see how shame blocks me from being able to forgive. From being able to let go. Shame grips me by the neck and holds my face down- suffocating me, rendering all my movements impotent. It dredges up on my shores, it weighs down my cranes so they cannot fly, it suffocates the marine life within me, polluting my water thoroughly.

Responsibility and Accountability liberate me. They pull me out of the blame game that keeps my face so close to the dung pile. They are my path to the surface, my lungs full of fresh, clean, air. This shift has plugged the leak inside of me. The torrent has ceased, and there is only the rocking motion of the moon-pulled tide. As I roll up my sleeves to clean up the mess this Shame-Spill has unleashed in my internal ocean, I am relieved. Grateful.

"For evil in the world is nothing other than evil from our hearts that's been let out", Yann Martel writes in Life of Pi, and now I know where to look inside of myself to make sure I'm not contributing to this natural disaster.

Now to get ready for the Sidewalk Vigil for the Gulf this evening...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Coming from an abusive, addicted home, she was 11 when she met the man that would push her into prostitution. She killed him when she was 16 and was sentenced to life without parole + 4 years. She is 29 now. Isn't 13 years enough in this case?

What would the pimp have gotten?

How are we as a society making sure our children are cared for properly so they don't end up in these situations? So they don't lose their moral compass? How do we protect the orphans- real or metaphorical- so that they don't fall to the wolves?

Human trafficking is a problem world-wide. Keeping these girls in shame, blaming the victim, and letting the men off with absurd biological deterministic arguments brings to mind the phrase so often repeated in the Qur'an:

What logic are they using?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Spiritual Abuse Defined

In working through my course for Mending the Soul, there is a definition for spiritual abuse from David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen that I find quite useful and wanted to share:

The leaders are preoccupied with their authority and continually remind people of it. This runs contrary to scriptural teaching that leaders are not to excessively leverage their authority but are to lead by example, not decree.

Spirituality becomes a matter of external performance, not internal character.

Spiritually abusive congregations have unspoken rules that are not discussed openly but are enforced rigidly.

Spiritually abusive churches have little or no spiritual balance and the leaders exhibit either extreme objectivity (you must have a graduate degree or equivalent to have any spiritual knowledge) or extreme subjectivity (the Lord gave me this message and you must accept it)

In my journaling about my experience with these characteristics, I'm seeing how the judgment that accompanies Performance Preoccupation particularly completely shuts off compassion and paralyzes people in being able to truly help those that need it... Life becomes this zero-sum game of Punishment and Reward and there's not a lot of room left over for humanity and its foibles...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Palin's Poetry

You see, it doesn't get any more American, or Muslim, than this. We've got Shatner, we've got Beat. We're looking for 70 excuses and seeing the best where its so easy to see the worst...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Reality Check

Got this in an email and it literally made me guffaw out loud until my face hurt, so I thought I'd share the joy. :)


A middle aged woman, whose physical characteristics did not match those of the woman on the poster, responded publicly to the question posed by the gym.

To Whom It May Concern:

Whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, sea lions, curious humans). They have an active sex life, they get pregnant and have adorable baby whales. They have a wonderful time stuffing themselves with shrimp. They play and swim in the seas, seeing wonderful places like Patagonia, the Barren Sea and the coral reefs of Polynesia . Whales are wonderful singers and have even recorded CDs. They are incredible creatures and virtually have no predators other than humans. They are loved, protected and admired by almost everyone in the world.

Mermaids don't exist. If they did exist, they would be lining up outside the offices of Argentinean psychoanalysts due to identity crisis. Fish or human? They don't have a sex life because they kill men who get close to them not to mention how could they have sex? Therefore they do not have kids either. Not to mention who wants to get close to a girl who smells like a fish store? The choice is perfectly clear to me; I want to be a whale.

P.S. We are in an age when media puts into our heads the idea that only skinny people are beautiful, but I prefer to enjoy an ice cream with my kids, a good dinner with a man who makes me shiver and a 32oz smoothie with my friends. With time we gain weight because we accumulate so much information and wisdom in our heads that when there is no more room it distributes out to the rest of our bodies. So we aren't heavy, we are enormously cultured, educated and happy. Beginning today, when I look at my butt in the mirror I will think, "Good gosh, look how smart I am.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I AM: in recovery

For the past 6 weeks or so, I've been attending a 12 step group in order to heal from my past and stop the patterns I feel trapped in in the present.

Tonight, I shared my work on Step 1 with my group. Step 1 reads "We came to admit we were powerless over (issue here), and that our lives had become unmanageable."

Sharing the places in my life where I am powerless, and the ways it has become unmanageable is no easy task. I'd felt sick half the afternoon. My ego did NOT want me doing this. I left the house late, I got lost on the way (!). When it came time to share, I wondered whether I would be able to speak. I have been carrying so much around inside of me. I have been polishing my mask. I withdraw when I don't think I'll be able to put on the perfect face... I've been withdrawing a lot lately.

As I opened my notebook and began to read, I could hear my voice trembling. I read. I could hear these judgmental voices in my head commenting on my words. I kept reading. I began to hear sounds of affirmation in the group. I kept reading. The Truth of my situation would hit me. I would choke up, and tears would fill my eyes so that I could not see. Someone would hand me a tissue. Someone else would put their hand on my shoulder. I kept reading.

When I was done with all the mess, all the exposure, all the admissions of powerless, all the lists of how I'd lost control, all the places my life has become unmanageable, I closed my notebook. Everyone was smiling at me. Everyone thanked me for sharing. It was time to break into small groups.

Several women gave me hugs. Told me how proud they were of me.

In my small group, the women praised me for my honesty. They congratulated me on my hard work. They told me I inspired them to work harder on their own steps.

One woman told me after the meeting that when she heard me talking so openly, so honestly and looking so deeply, she thought to herself "There is a woman that has hope. There is a woman who will heal and help others to do the same."

That meant so much to me. Before going to this group, I had been feeling mighty hopeless. I felt trapped in the negative patterns of my life- like I'd returned to levels of toxicity that I have not seen since I left the Southern Baptist church and my family's home. I was back in a situation where there is no emotional safety. Where honesty is almost impossible. Where everyone was playing roles and afraid to be themselves. It was deeply eroding not only my sense of self-esteem, but my relationship and connection with God.

I understood why my ego had fought my sharing tonight. Instead of the harsh, condemning, judgmental voices that I receive within my family, or the masjid, I heard words of praise and encouragement. Instead of being cut down and made to feel worthless, I was raised up and made to feel valuable. Instead of feeling terrible for admitting my powerlessness, my lack of control, I was embraced and congratulated for being so diligent and honest with the process.

How different this is from my experience in the community. Is that not a tragedy?
Surely, this is how Prophet Mohammad made people feel. Encouraging their honesty, their sincere tawba. Creating an atmosphere where that is possible, knowing that we are all flawed. Congratulating those that can readily admit those flaws and who work the process of coming closer to God.

The masjid today has gotten so far away from that sense of support and community that I envision when I read about The Prophet and his Companions. Instead of loving one another through our flaws, any flaw- no matter how minor- is exposed and castigated. Someone who seems to be losing control is not encircled and supported, but isolated and gossipped about. Victims of abuse are blamed, not helped. Abusers protected. It is severly dysfunctional. Tremendously toxic.

"Islam" is a state of being. The state of Peace, Health, Wholeness, Balance that comes from living in alignment with one's True Nature, fitrah, and the relationship with God that inevitably follows that alignment. I experienced that Peace tonight. I feel restored to Wholeness and Balance, and that is incredibly Healthy.

Too bad I had to be so far away from the masjid to find it...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Graduates, please rise

One of the graduates honored at Al-Muminah's reception waves at Mom during ASU's commencement and gets snapped.

Tonight, I attended an extraordinary event. It is an annual event here in the Valley, in fact, this year was the 15th annual Al-Muminah Graduation Reception, so it has become a part of our social landscape.

Routine can become a veil that dulls our senses to the beauty of the landscapes we live with, until Grace intervenes and something catches our eye--golden sunlight painting a ridge, a bird soaring--and the veil is lifted momentarily and we let Beauty in.

Sharing the table with the keynote speaker, Tayyibah Taylor from Azizah Magazine, I imagined seeing the event through her eyes. "You're creating American Muslim culture here. These are the traditions that construct our identity" she had told us the night before.

The Al-Muminah Graduation Reception honors all graduates from high school and up. The event is sisters-only, ages 8 and up, and the dress is formal. There is a program honoring the graduates, everyone eats dinner together, and an after party follows where shoes are kicked off and we dance the night away to a playlist that is put together with the help of ticket holders. This year, in keeping with the 15th year, the theme was a Quincenera.

To open the program, we all stood and took an oath of sisterhood that included not taking pictures so people don't have to worry about shots of them in spaghetti straps and plunging decollete showing up on facebook. The graduates, of every age and ethnicity imaginable, were escorted into the hall by elder women and introduced. A Quincenera waltz was performed. During the program, the graduates are presented with a certificate and a gift, while their accomplishments are read as well as their plans for the future. Representatives make speeches, advice is given for those coming up behind. It is a celebration of these women's accomplishments, and truly inspiring.

In a state that has dire educational rankings, high teen pregnancy rates, and soaring high school drop out rates, the impact that this display of talent, drive, focus, intellect and ambition has on the young girls in the audience can't be understated.

How it must be for the children to watch these amazing young women, gorgeously clad in their formal gowns, hearing their lists of accomplishments and the boldness of their future plans... what a beautiful testament that anything is possible. To see the proof standing in front of you. Not proof flown in- though that certainly has its inspirational potential- but proof in the annoying friend of your big sister, proof in your former teacher, proof in those that you've known all your life with their frailties and foibles. Women in general often downplay their accomplishments if they mention them at all. To hear all that someone has been involved in brings a new respect for each other to the surface. Flesh and blood reminders of the capacity of ordinary human beings.

In this place, surrounded by love and support, celebrated and honored, these girls, these women, bloomed. Their perfume sweet and heavy in the air, radiated, permeated, elevated us all to a place of movement and bliss, unity and power, strength and individuality. As women, as Americans, as Muslims, as humans. How appropriate that its beginnings were in the garden of someone's home.

I feel truly blessed to be a part of this. For many communities around the country, such an event is almost unimaginable.

It started in the backyard of the founding members of the Al-Muminah youth group 15 years ago and has grown into an event that now calls for reserving entire pavilions at conference centers and hotels. Tickets sell out every year; it is THE social event. The prom atmosphere works the girls into a frenzy over dresses and shoes, manicures and hair-dos.

There have been the nay-sayers that cluck their tongues over these elaborate displays, but I think they are either missing--or denying--something very essential to our sociology and psychology. Whether hijabi or not, these girls cloak their beauty and sexuality in a culture that pounds us all with images that say that a woman's worth lies solely in her sex appeal. Though I disapprove of that message for a variety of reasons, it has an undeniable effect on girls' self-esteem whether they participate in perpetuating those messages or not. Women want to be beautiful. They want to feel beautiful. They want to be seen as beautiful. This event celebrates that, and allows everyone a safe place to express that side of themselves.

The American tradition of prom is problematic for many Muslim families. It is problematic for many non-Muslim American families as well. The prom itself is a school event, which means it is supervised and drug and alcohol free, but its what happens before and after prom that scares any parent that worries about their child's ability to withstand temptation and adhere to the values they've been taught. Growing up, I knew parents that hired chefs to cook gourmet meals before the prom; presenting their kids with a glamorous (and free) alternative to eating out. Others threw after-parties at their homes to keep their children and their friends under their wing in a supervised environment. Increasingly, students go to prom in same-sex groups rather than with a date, and this certainly makes prom attendance more feasible for Muslims.

Even so, the Al-Muminah Graduation Reception provides an alternative to school proms that is completely worry free. Its girls-only. The music is screened. Its inter-generational. The girls can wear the dress they want without the worry of sending the wrong signals to some hapless boy. Most importantly, boys aren't there to mess anything up or act like goof-balls.

Proms are for girls. Boys don't like dressing up and eating fancy finger foods. Every prom is dampened by boys that don't want to be there, clashing with girls' expectations of what should be; a bull in the china shop of her fantasies. Here, the girls can enjoy themselves fully, wrapped in the downy envelope of their mutual admiration for each other and aligned expectations for the evening.

And what happens when girls are given that space is a magnificent thing to behold indeed.