Part Two: Jesus. A Shift in Thinking.

I don’t remember a watershed moment when I purposefully let go of the basic assumptions of evangelical fundamentalism.  But the fabric of that faith was beginning to show signs of wear by the time Renata and I headed to Morocco in the late 80’s to study Arabic.  We ended up in Laraiche, a small coastal city, living in the rooftop lean-to of a poor but hospitable elderly couple, Mustafa and Fatima.  Their only daughter, Rachida, 17 at the time, was actually their niece, given to them by a brother who had more than enough children of his own to clothe, an ineffectual attempt to cover up the broader familial disgrace of childlessness.  Everyone still knew.  Never mind; Rachida brought comfort to the aging couple and for herself the informal adoption was an unintended grace: her new parents were loving, gentle people; her natural father, on the other hand, was known around town for his “black heart”.

Our hosts knew next to nothing about Jesus aside from his name as one of the prophets of Islam, and so in my book they stood as people who, though good-natured and well-intentioned in their adherence to Islam, were spiritually lost, on their way to eternal damnation.  Our evenings were spent in the tiny family living room, sitting cross-legged on sheepskins on the floor, drinking strong mint tea and variously listening to Mustafa tell stories from Muslim lore or watching Egyptian soap operas on their ancient black & white television until the national anthem marked the end of the broadcasting day and we all shuffled off to bed with the last line resounding in our heads: “Allah, Al Watan, Al Malik!”.

We grew to love our host family, and to see them with new eyes.  In their devotion to God and their love of neighbour they were some of the purest, most peaceful and most upright people we had ever met, Christian or otherwise.  How could it be, I wondered, that a loving God would frown on such faith, even send these souls to hell on a technicality so trivial as not having prayed a sinner’s prayer and claimed Jesus as their Lord and Saviour?  It didn’t make sense.

And I think it was there, in that time, that I started to suspect that the framework I had inherited and then nurtured in theological college, the way I approached the reading of scripture and understood the significance of Jesus Christ, was faulty from the get-go.  Change came slowly to me.  Perhaps I’m a slow learner, perhaps I had too much self-interest vested in being an Evangelical missionary and then an Evangelical priest.  But change became inexorable.  I encountered more and more people whose lives were obviously marked by a love for God and compassion for neighbour, whose faith was deeply rooted in Christ, but whose reading of scripture and whose theological ideas I would previously have summarily written off as unorthodox, heretical even.

I rediscovered my Christianity, and along the way I met Jesus of Nazareth.

One thought on “Part Two: Jesus. A Shift in Thinking.

  1. A couple years ago I was taking a break from work; sitting in the work van just down the street from the Smith Tower in Seattle. After what seemed to be an especially long and dreary winter, this early spring day was a welcome promise of warmer days ahead. By mid-day, the sun had chased away the clouds for good, and the green buds on the trees were soaking up the sunshine.
    Out of the Tower stepped a well dressed businessman. He was obviously Middle Eastern – nothing out of the ordinary in this city of immigrants. But what he did next was…
    Right there, in the middle of a busy Seattle sidewalk, he set down his briefcase. With his arms stretched out wide, he threw his head back and reveled in the warmth of the sun. After a minute, he folded his hands and bowed his head in prayer. As people jostled their way around him, he finished his prayer with a slight bow, picked up his briefcase and disappeared into the crowd.
    At that moment, I didn’t care if he was Muslim or Christian. He was giving thanks to God, and that made me happy.

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