Living Behind the Veil

I'm often asked what I wear in Afghanistan and what it's like to wear a veil. It's freedom. Freedom to have a bad hair day, freedom to arrange my chadar to conceal the curve of my breasts and backside, freedom to not be an expatriate for a little while. It means freedom to hide even on the street from the Afghan men's eyes which seem to strip me naked.
When I relax my shoulders and walk less purposefully, less confidently, my eyes downcast and covered by sunglasses, I pass for an Afghan woman. I hear the men whisper in Dari, "Is she a foreigner or local woman?" I chuckle but am silent. On the street, I'm also a free target....freely exposed to groping, sexual innuendos whispered to me as a man bicycles by, free to have stones thrown at me, freely seen as no one's wife, daughter, sister, mother, friend, or boss. I step inside my gate, and remove my chapan and chadar. Now I'm someone's boss, motherhood returns to me as little steps run to greet me, and I receive a kiss from my adoring husband. Now I'm free to his loving and gentle eyes which know and enjoy my curves, free to once again be under the protective umbrella of being a wife, mother, friend, colleague, boss, niece, sister, daughter, woman.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

god raging God Raging

We see the injustice, hear the wailing cries of the oppressed,  but we respond with milk-toast theological answers.  What does it matter if God loves, when your loved one is being raped then her heart literally torn out, or when they are being beheaded and heads displayed, all in the name of some supreme god?   That god seems angry, and if God is loving, He sure doesn’t seem to show it, or appear to care about certain (ethnic) groups of people being slaughtered wholesale. 

We minister His healing with the ministry of our tears mingling with theirs, with our presence in their grief, and with practical love to clothe, feed, and warm.  But when pressed, we MUST have answers which work, which are Good News for the hurting, which bind their broken hearts and heal the deep wounds.

What kind of God DO we serve?   Let’s not emasculate Him. Let’s not share only half the Gospel.   

He is Divinely angry at evil.

“Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, the rocks are broken asunder by Him” (Nahum 1:6).
But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure His indignation” (Jeremiah 10:10).

God’s anger is not unpredictable or irrational; He is not given to fits of spontaneous outbursts, his is not a blind explosive force.  His anger is an instrument of response to man, it is purposeful, a secondary passion, not a ruling passion.  His anger is not at all like human anger, but more like righteous indignation. 

Righteous Indignation: “the emotion aroused by that which is considered mean, shameful or sinful, it is impatience with evil, a motion of the soul rousing itself to curb sins.”1    If God has righteous indignation, and we are made in His image (Gen. 1:26), then it is godly to be righteously angry at the evil being perpetrated and not to simply present only His love. 

The foundation of all Biblical thinking is  “The Lord is good to all, and His compassion is over all that He has made” Ps.145:9.  But as a righteous Judge, righteous indignation is part of Him. “God is a righteous Judge, a God Who has indignation every day (Ps. 7:11). God’s concern is the prerequisite and source of His anger.  Because of His care for man His anger is kindled against man. Anger and mercy are not opposites but correlatives. His anger is conditional, and when man repents, he relents. He is both slow to anger and His judgment comes too quickly.

As a mode of His emotions, His anger may characterize the anger of the Lord as “suspended love, as mercy withheld, as mercy in concealment” (Jer.12:14-15, Lam.3:31-32). Heschel continues, “Since justice is His nature, love, which would disregard the evil deeds of man, would contradict His nature. Because of His concern for man, His justice is tempered with mercy. Divine anger is not the antithesis of love, but its counterpart, a help to justice as demanded by true love.”We must remember that God’s anger is both preceded and followed by God’s compassion (Jer 12:15; 33:26).

His anger abates at our repentance.  Our we praying for the repentance of our enemies? Are we seeing even the worst evil doers as people we could be? Are we moaning and seeing the situation as hopeless?  That is not the way the prophets saw it, and it isn’t Biblical.  Now is the time for calling on evil doers to repent (Jer 26:13) before the judgment of God’s anger falls.  

As we experience and understand at ever deeper levels in our soul the One True God in the totality of His being we are more effective ministers of His love to a dying and hurting generation. 

  1. Heschel, The Prophets Vol II page 63
  2. Ibid, p.62-63 
  3. Ibid, p.77

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Calm to Utter Panic in 3 Seconds

I sighed and settled back in my seat next to my 4-year old.  I pulled my veil closer around me, knowing I was about to have major carsickness - being veiled, in a hot vehicle, in Kabul traffic is not relaxing.   We were crossing town that afternoon in 2005 to join Dear Husband (DH) at the office and then on to the American Embassy to apply for Dear Son's (DS) new passport. In America, children are required to get a new one every five years, and DS birthday was coming soon.

It would be a longer journey in a hot van, since the police had just denied us access to the important government street which also acts as a major thoroughfare cutting through town. The police often blocked the street off to the general public for security reasons, but I was hoping that since we were in a humanitarian aid vehicle, and my driver, Musa, had a very official looking ID that we would be allowed through. 

The plain-clothed police looked at Musa's identification and waived him to go the direction of the rest of the public - through the Stationary Bazaar in Shar-e-nao and then over to Wazir.  I heard Musa say something to the police as he pulled forward to merge with traffic, and was astonished how much I didn't understand Pashto, being a Dari speaker myself.

I settled into my van seat, and held DS's hand as Musa moved the van forward.  Almost immediately, I heard a loud banging on the side of the van, and I began looking around.  I saw that same policeman right at the driver's window, screaming at Musa and beginning to hit him and pull him out of the van.  The van quickly became surrounded by people, banging on all sides of the van.  I looked to see where the closest shop was - perhaps DS and I could make a run for it out of the angry mob, but I could see it was too far, and I really couldn't carry such a big boy.

Realizing we were in grave danger, I let my chadar (scarf) fall back so my whole head could be seen - including my hair color, flashed my American Passport at the policeman and began screaming at him in English over the backrest of the driver's seat.  I called DH who, when he picked up, knowing it was me calling, could only hear screaming and noise, but I managed to yell at him that we were in danger and not to let off the phone.

The policeman had Musa half out the window by this time, but I also made such a noise that he looked up and took in the scene of a wild woman, half over the driver's seat with hair flying, screaming in English, shoving her passport in his face and cell phone up to her ear...and he let Musa go. 

Musa settled into his seat and merged with traffic.

I sat back, my insides trembling, and I could not hold back the tears - a natural physiological response to extreme adrenaline at the threat of danger.

I marveled at the 3 seconds it took to go from calm to raving maniac.  What happened?  

In those 3 seconds, I saw that I could not protect my child. Being a blond hair boy, there was no way to hide him, and he was now too big for me to carry that far or hide under my chadar. 

My tears weren't about me and the danger I may have been in, although I also saw how wise it would be for me to carry a blue chadari (blue burkha) for the future.  It was about my child, and my mother instincts. I did all of that out of instinct, but I knew in the end an angry mob could have destroyed us all.

Despite all my prayers
All my efforts
I am powerless, really, to protect my children, especially in a mob, but against anyone truly seeking to do evil.

Only God is the One who is powerful enough to protect us, and sometimes, in His sovereignty, he allows even the little lambs to suffer the consequences of evil.

And really, is it Him?

We choose evil.

We choose righteousness.

But my little boy didn't choose to be there that day, and he could have suffered greatly. As it was, this living in a militarized city, a war zone, was all a "normal" part of his early years - he didn't leave Afghanistan until he was 9.

For Musa? I was quite angry at him - clearly he had said something in Pashto to that police, something derogatory, some racial slur I wouldn't have understood even if I did know Pashto.  Musa is a Pashtun, and the policeman was probably Tajik.

I asked my DH, Musa's boss, to give him a mark on his record for putting a woman and child in danger, but he was still driving for us years later.

Looking back, I am in awe of the human body God made - how it can go from calm to total adrenaline flood in 3 seconds (or less). That day it took me over 2 hours to calm down and for my heart rate to slow, and the tears to stop.  It was worse than the robbery we had experienced when 10 men entered our home and held us captive at gunpoint and ransacked our home.

I was thankful that DS and I lived through that day, but I know I cannot continue to live, travel, and work in these Central Asian countries without His blessing and help - as a mother and woman in these Muslim countries, I am nothing, but God is everything.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Idol of Might

ISIS crucifies Christian Teen

Name the Idol: Violence and Might1

We live and work in a region with idols of different strength and ancient lineage that many from the West are less acquainted with.  How do we form historical-Biblical-perspective which sustains and encourages us to persevere when the black veil hiding evil violence is torn away, when we see pictures of 10-year-old Syrian Christians  being crucified in front of their parents in the name of the regional god because the parents wouldn’t renounce Him?

Understanding history and the Biblical view of history is one key to maintaining the perspective which will carry frontline Message bearers in and through the tidal wave of evil sweeping the region. The prophets unequivocally and unanimously condemned violence (Hab 2:11-12, Micah 2:1-2; Amos 3:10).  The Bible is clear that “not by force shall man prevail” (I Sam. 2:9; Mic7:16; Zech 4:6).

Just as few voices were raised in the ancient world to protest the ruthlessness of man, so are our voices too quiet in the face of the scourge of violence sweeping across the region. The worship of might, power, the sword in the name of a god is nothing new.  The current powers aren’t called Anu, Molek, or Baal, and they aren’t more or less evil than the ancient powers. The prophets denounced the pride, boasting, arrogance (Isa 10:12) the angers, the oppressors (Isa 14:4-6), the destroyers of nations, those who inflict waste, ruin, death (Jer. 4:7), those whose own might is their god (Hab 1:11, ).1

Mary, the sweet teenage mother of Jesus, shows us the way. The young, unwed, pregnant teenage girl courageously faces a society normally intent on stoning her to death for her apparent crime…not unlike the modern day Middle East and Central Asian cultures do.  She sings, “…He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble state…” Her song shows us the historicall informed perspective of a God who acted in history to use the young and the weak to bring forth the One who would conquer all empires of all time through the greatest act of sacrifice. 

Mary repeats the promises of God through the prophets.  His heart goes out to the humble, to those who are not prideful in the thoughts of their hearts (Luke 1:50-52).  God will restore, He will heal, He cares, He gives refuge to the refugees, He give fresh joy (Jeremiah 30:17; Isa 14:32; 29:19).  Eventually the Assyrians, known as the greatest and most ruthless killing machine of the ancient world, were brought to an end. 

The governments and ruthless men in power in 2014 will also eventually give way to the Kingdom proclaimed by King Nebuchadnezzar: “How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation” Daniel 4:3, 34-37.  There is hope, for “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; national shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4

The Prophets, Abraham Heschel, Chap 9.

Fear and Power Distance in Central Asia

Fear and Power Distance

Power distance is one of five major dimensions describing culture. “This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of power distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. In societies with low power distance, people strive to equalize the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.1 Because historically “most empires have disintegrated from the inside,”2 it is those cultures with the greatest historico-traditional power distance which tend to last longer.

Central Asian cultures are not all the same.  Fine nuances define the moral boundaries of each culture, and morality is usually nationalism, religion, and superstition mixed together in one big “bowl.” The power distance is greater among those cultures with a higher level of national xenophobia (closed towards outsiders).   There are varying power differences between genders, between age and generational groups, between religions, between political groups, socio-economic levels, between families, villages, tribes, and nations. 

But there are key similarities of Central Asian cultures: they are characteristically often fear and shame based, utilize shame, violence, and fear as a means to enforce the appropriate level of power distance in relationships and at each level of society.  The use of fear pervades at all levels, either fear of man or fear of supernatural powers – the jinn, curses, divination, amulets, and animistic traditions.  Research shows that national culture and national personality are not independent but statistically related.

So what does this mean for those bringing the Good News?  It means internally accepting that we will forever be the “outsiders”, even those with the best language skills among us.  There are limits to changing identities.  At the same time, realizing as Paul did that we need to do whatever we can to “cross cultural lines in the name of Christ. But only when we are deeply rooted in our own culture can we risk reaching out across a cultural chasm to people on the other side.”3  

It is imperative to not quote I Cor 9:22 in isolation.  We must be both a slave and free, depending upon the situation. Finally, at a time in history when it would be easy to allow fear to paralyze us, that is the time to move forward with humble boldness, calling what is evil “evil” and what is good “good”, to do justice and love kindness (Micah 6:8). “The primary way of serving God is through love, justice, and righteousness.”4

1.                1.
2.                2. Cultures and Organizations: Software for the Mind, by Geert Hofstede
3.                3. Kenneth Bailey: Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in I Corinthians.  
4.                4. The Prophets, Vol II. by Abraham Heschel, chapter 2