Making our own Road
By Stephanie Lotz
We’ve been walking with Barbara Brown Taylor on her journey of “Finding God in the Faith of Others.” I so wish I’d had this book to guide me back in 2011 when I wanted to build a road to “other.” One time at the Forest Hill Cici’s Pizza, a Muslim girl walked in with friends. Spirit tap-tap-tapped on my heart, “Um, you were saying something about bridging the gap?” I knew right then I had to somehow convince this total stranger to speak about her Islamic faith at our Christian church. (Heh, sure. No presh.) Fumbling towards connection, I nervously walked the green mile over to her table, having no idea what to say to keep from looking like a total stalker. Just as I arrived in front of her I saw she was wearing the exact same pair of high heels I had at home. (“Heeere’s your sign.”) Shoes were my excuse to get up in this girl’s bidness. By the end of the convo I had her number AND her agreement to speak on a Wed pm at Spirit Road. (Mic drop.) My kids and I went over several times to her Syrian family’s house a mile away from church. They were surprised when I showed up with a hostess gift of gourmet dates (I’d done my homework). And I was surprised to learn that her modern Muslim mom chose not to wear a hijab, while her daughter loved wearing it.
Another time I went to a Hindu temple and saw firsthand how in love they were with “the Lord.” Having been raised in charismatic church services, I recognized the enraptured adoration they had for Krishna was the same I’d had for Jesus. Only difference was that the Lord had blue skin, and since Avatar had just come out, I was kinda diggin’ it. (I bet the Smurfs worship Krishna.) The Beatles’ George Harrison wrote the song, My Sweet Lord, “I really want to see you; I really want to know you.” Now, I got it; I’d been telling the Lord the same thing for years. My gifts of basmati rice and guavas (more homework) would be put to use. I ate lunch with them at their beautiful, outdoor, garden café. I was so in awe of their teamwork, servant-hospitality that I didn’t mind eating my veggies.
Later I took the boys to the Buddhist monastery temple down Forest Hill Drive, simply because it was a mile away in my own backyard. In the country that made them my neighbors, and I felt compelled to make sure these immigrants felt welcome in the Dixie-flag territory of Yee-haw, Tx. They appreciated the gifts of jasmine rice and red flowers (homework again) and fed us lunch right along with everyone else. There were many stares; they probably thought we were lost (you in the wrong ‘hood). In a sea of 200 dark-haired people, we stuck out like the blonde, Aryan Nation, Vonn Trapp family had just made a wrong turn. I naively asked the bookstore volunteer if meditation was open to the public. The man humored me, “Sure, the monks start every morning at 4:00 and end at 9:00… (5 hours. In. a. row?) … and once they start, there is no moving.” (My rear would be asleep within the first 10 minutes.) I asked, “Not even to go to the bathroom?” He just looked at me; we both knew I was out of my league.
I didn’t make myself go meet these other faiths because I wanted to switch teams. It was because I could no longer abide the distance between them and me. I had to do something about it. And since our paths never cross, I had to make my own road. Fully realizing I’d be the minority in those places, I embraced the stretching feeling I would get from that discomfort. Did I look like a fool? Yep. But they welcomed me with warmth and hospitality anyway.
I realized no homework had been necessary; the only gift I needed to bring was my authenticity. The I-get-you kind of empathy radiates from the human-ness we all know: love, pain, longing, loss. I know how hard it is to acknowledge our personal deserts. But, how can we connect with others if we have not fully connected with our own selves? This Sunday let’s link arms and walk together on a new road, being authentically human, not just outwardly with “other” - but inwardly with our selves.