Posted on February 27th, 2012 | Filed under Academic, Challenges, Featured, Interfaith, Intra-Faith, Learning, Philosophy, Popular Culture, Theology
Tagged with America, Belief, Christianity, consumer culture, Faith, Formation, God, identity, Islam, love, morality, Peace, questioning, Religion, transformation, women
I think I was called a long time ago. When I was ten years old, I remember sitting in the car with my childhood friend Susan and her mom before Mass, and out of the blue I blurted, “I am afraid I am going to be a nun.” Susan’s mom laughed and asked, “Why are you afraid of becoming a nun?” “Because, then I can’t have children,” I bluntly stated. Although a life of piety and prayer doesn’t sound all that bad to me now, as it did then, the reality is that I felt God nudging me a very, very long time ago.
Once in a while I need to check in on where I am in my formation as a theologian, as a woman, as a writer, as a human being, as an educator, as a mom, and as a Christian. In this season of Lent, I am, this year, for some reason unbeknownst to me, on the most serious Lenten journey I've ever taken. It could be because I am six months out of my second Master’s degree and deep into figuring out where to go and what to do next. Is Palestine calling? India? Egypt? Should I write a book with my daughter? Could I stay in an Ashram for a whole year? These are all questions I am pondering and options that all sound exciting.
As I sit here writing this, I am going through a metamorphosis of sorts. I am slowly returning to my Catholic roots, while remaining in the United Methodist tradition as well. I keep asking myself if this is OK—can I do that? My answer to myself is “Why not?!” I do sometimes feel a tad distracted by attending two different churches and calling myself a Methodist and a Catholic. The reality is however, that God doesn’t care where I go to church or what I call myself. In fact, I think She is pleased that I consider myself a Metholic. She is pleased that I am following my calling, but more than anything, God is pleased that I am in relationship with Her.
At this time in my life, my relationship with God is growing stronger, more grounded, faith filled, and communicative than ever before. This was not always the case. While at Wellesley College, I went through what many go through in theological school. For over a year, as I was steeped in the study of Islam and began to understand the beauty of that religion, I wondered if I was, for lack of a better phrase, “in the wrong religion.” I began to wonder if I would be a better Muslim than I was a Christian. I began to wonder if my beliefs of Christianity were real, grounded, and faithful. I never questioned the existence of God, but more, if Christianity was the “right” religion for me. I even pondered conversion, but that was bogged down with many factors I can’t get into here.
In theological school, I was more aloof to my faith. I still believed in Christianity, but had many questions, as scripture, doctrines, and religion were broken down for me, completely obliterating all that I had learned in Catechism. For most Christians, there’s not a lot of material surrounding the human side of religion taught in Sunday School. For me, my childhood Christian education was mostly unmarred by human touch and thought, and instead, was all very divine and holy.
Six months out of my second theological degree, I find myself feeling less academic about religion and more in tune with why I went back to school in the first place—my calling. My calling, that came in church one day back in 1998, My calling, that I assumed must have hit the wrong pew because surely, God would not choose me. My calling, that led me through ten years of school, and travel to Spain, India (three times!), Palestine, Turkey, and Australia. My calling, that is not to be a Pastor (or a nun), but is to bring understanding to our multi-faith world. My calling, that still challenges me today in my path through this murky world and in my faith.
In my conversations with Muslims around the world, I am often asked why I am a Christian. Why do I believe what I believe? This is a good question and more, a valid question. Many times, I have dug deep for my answers because after all, I was born into Christianity, therefore I know nothing else. Is this why I am a Christian, though? Am I a Christian because that is all I understand myself to be? Am I a Christian because my family practices Christianity as well? These are good questions. In fact, I think we should all check in once in a while on ourselves and ask, why we are what we are. Why are you Hindu? Why are you Jewish? Why are you atheist? Why are you Buddhist? Why are you humanist? And more importantly, what is your answer?
So, why am I Christian? Here is my very simple, non-theological, answer: I am Christian because deep down, I believe and have faith. I believe and have faith that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe and have faith that Jesus was an incredible man that God sent to teach humans how to be better humans. I believe and have faith in Jesus’ message of love, humility, respect, compassion, acceptance, understanding, and giving. I am Christian because I believe in and I have faith in a message that recognizes all humans as equal and important. I have faith in myself as a Christian, in my call, and in God, because the power of my call is still something I cannot define nor explain, but in that, my life completely changed because I followed the path laid before me. I am Christian because in my heart, it is right for me.
For me, my Lenten journey this year is part of a wider journey in cultivating an already strong relationship with God, and letting that cultivation lead me to what's next. I don’t necessarily feel I have come full circle since I received my call back in 1998. I do feel however, that I am in a place of grace right now. I am a totally different woman than I was then and this is due partly to my faith as a Christian. As I reflect on past Lenten seasons, I was not as in touch with myself as a Christian and all that that means, as I am now.
Regardless if I consider myself a Methodist or a Catholic, regardless that I questioned my faith while in school, regardless that I will question my faith again someday - I am sure my faith will continue to grow, to dissipate at times, to challenge me, and to change me. I will relish this reality. I will embrace the change. I may not always be comfortable standing in my own skin, but, right now, I am so completely comfortable where I stand. That is what it’s all about, right? It's true, I will I will never be a nun - this is probably a good thing. What I will be when I grow up is becoming more clear every day, and as I walk through Lent this year, I will love and welcome the metamorphosis taking place in myself and in my faith.
Photo courtesy of wikimedia.org and can be found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bible_paper.jpg
I am a Theologian with a focus on Christian-Muslim Understanding, as well as religious fundamentalism and extremism. I write, teach and lecture on Islam, Christian-Muslim relations worldwide (past and present), Jesus in the Qur'an, Al Qaeda, Islamophobia, and theological responses to terrorism. I have a Master of Sacred Theology in Religion and Conflict Transformation from Boston University School of Theology, '11; a Master of Theological Research in Christian-Muslim Understanding from Andover Newton Theological School, '07; and a BA in Peace and Justice Studies with a concentration in Islam from Wellesley College, '05. I've published with the Women's United Nations Report Network, Onislam, The American Muslim, and The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. Along with Palestine/Israel, Turkey, and Spain, my experiential/research work includes traveling to and living in India three times looking at Christian-Muslim-Hindu relations, as well as Muslim women's lives in the slums of Mumbai. I also had the privilege to serve on three panels at the Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne, Australia in 2009. From what I can tell, I am the only Theologian that is a woman, a Latina, and a Catholic/United Methodist, doing this type of work in the United States. In my spare time, I spend time with my daughter when she is home from college, practice yoga, read, love the theatre, and run with scissors whenever possible. I am also Associate Director of Communications with State of Formation.