Friday, April 30, 2010

Trying on love in an age of suspicion

It's an age of suspicion, of lies, of danger.

People are outright lying about the president's actions, for one thing. No, he didn't cancel the National Day of Prayer.

He actually proclaimed it, and then decided to pray in private.

See, not everyone prays the same way.

I became a Muslim. I'm learning to pray five times a day. I pray for the whole world, for friends and family who are sick and recovering, for the leaders, for many things. I don't need one day dedicated to it when I'm doing it five times a day.

When I announced I was a Muslim, some were congratulatory, some wished well, and many said nothing. Some issued little challenge after little challenge. I don't know if anyone dropped me from their friends list after I made that announcement.

I have little doubt that some quietly judged my decision.

I know from what I've seen that, just like people either outright lie or choose to blindly accept whatever they hear about the president, whose religion is nobody's business by the way, they blindly accept whatever they hear about Islam.

I'm not trying to equate myself with the president. I am just saying I feel the distrust out there. The suspicions. And it's getting kind of dangerous out there, it seems.

I learned from my dream last night that part of me wants to be a protector. Maybe that's an archetype. Maybe it's part of my personality that wants to come out.

Who do I protect when everyone's fighting each other? I'm not going into self-defense mode. I've always known there is a mama bear in there, even though friends of mine have been prone to thinking of it as a mama teddy bear, more like a giant Snuggles than some pissed-off Grizzly.

Well, maybe there's a peaceful kind of protection too.

I don't know.

But I am hating this division. I'm hating this blame game. I'm hating the against-ness.

Love is possible. I beg you all to try it on. It comes in all sizes.


Friday, April 23, 2010

The South Park controversy

Context in which I heard about it:

Last night, light rain falling.

Waiting in drive through for my order. Very cute guy at the drive through by the way, warned me that if I got green chile on my vegetarian burrito I should choose chopped green chile because the sauce had chicken broth in it. I was waiting for my food, thinking about the drive-through attendant, doing my usual fantasizing about asking him on a date when he handed me my food, and the ineloquent DJs on the radio made a brief comment about how radical Islamists just need a sense of humor.

It really is that simple, though South Park creators and Comedy Central certainly knew this would happen if you put Muhammad in a bear suit. (Didn't see it, don't know the joke behind it, so can't comment on it in that much detail). Maybe ratings were down or something.

Life is more important...the rain falling on the windshield and a friendly attractive guy at a fast-food restaurant. From what I've learned about Islam, the best way to worship Allah is to do something nice for someone else. This guy going out of his way to tell me about the chicken broth ... he may not have been a Muslim but I take his act of kindness as a lesson in how to be a good lover of God by being a good lover of fellow humans.

This is getting me a bit choked up. This incident not only is an impediment on free speech, it will only add fuel to the anti-Muslim fire. These radicals make Muhammad into an idol and in my opinion in the process dishonor him. This incident illuminates that.

Look at me, a Muslim for only a couple weeks now and I'm already pretending to know stuff.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Converting NOT to perfection

And that's the way it's gonna be, cuz that's the only way it's gonna work.

I love doing the five daily prayers. But if I'm expected to adhere to a rigid time schedule, it's not happening. I'll struggle to do it, I'll freak out, I'll resent it, and then I'll leave.

I don't really want that to happen, so I'm just going to be with Allah. Pray to Allah. Go to the Sufi dhikr. Learn the prayer and dance and chant and singing methods there. Because they bring me closer to God and they bring me peace.

I broke down in workshop tonight. Totally lost it. All this transition releasing itself. Control release. I always try to control everything, try to be perfect, and I'm darn harsh with myself when I fail.

Not anymore. If I can cry in front of my classmates I can trust Allah with anything. There is nothing to fear.

And by the way, cleric whoever you are, promiscuity doesn't cause earthquakes. Earthquakes cause earthquakes. I'll be taking an elementary earth science course this summer and I bet I can tell you all about it.

But ye who think your morality is bigger than Allah's, which seems to be peace and goodness and healing and love and joy and forgiveness and mercy and light, forget it. God created all of this. The earth quakes. We just have to adjust.

Peace, love, goodness.

From me to you.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Islam: Week One

My first week anyway.  Actually, I reverted last Sunday night, so this is a bit early.

Most of my actions this week, regarding learning how to be a Muslim, has been the five daily prayers.  Actually, I averaged four, but I'm getting better, as yesterday I managed all five.  Getting up before dawn for the first prayer, I think I only managed that once or maybe twice.  I just need to work on falling asleep earlier so I can more easily awaken earlier.  There are health issues to consider, but I also want to be able to do this.

I didn't make it to mosque on Friday, which is kind of a big deal in Muslim practice.  I don't know what my block is...I mean, I have "reasons"...a gay person in the midst of gender segregation is actually a complicated thing...but there is a deeper emotional something that is making it a very anxiety-producing thing.

But overall I made the right decision.  I keep getting advice to take it easy on myself (though almost everyone said I should just go to mosque and experience it...maybe next week).

What I have learned: transition to new religious practices is not as easy as I thought.  I also learned that social anxiety for me extends beyond just gay groups.  I've also learned that I'm very, very weird.

This week's goals: get up to five prayers a day at least three times, with the intention of doing it every day.  Stop talking about myself so much (though I'll continue blogging and asking questions).  Stop focusing on anxiety and remember something that worked for me one day: sitting silently, closing my eyes, taking deep breaths.  Saying "Allah" in my mind like a chant.  This helped me the same way saying the Jesus Prayer did in Orthodoxy.

On a totally different note, a friend turned me on to this great band, Drink Up Buttercup:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Accepting Islam

Some call it reversion, rather than conversion. Such a complicated word, considering what that means to us LGBT people who have encountered in any way the notion of "reversion therapy" aimed at us in one way or another.

But this is a nicer way of thinking about "reversion." It is said among some Muslims that all babies are born Muslim. It's a simple faith, in my view, in that it's not complex theologically. One God, one big huge creation, and messengers (prophets). A God of love and peace and joy.

So when one converts to Islam, they are really reverting. Going back to their natural state.

I don't share this in order to try to convince anybody of anything. I just find it pleasant and comforting.

On Sunday night, I sat with an older, experienced man who came from a Muslim country, and did my shahada. This is the declaration of faith you make to become a Muslim. Accepting Islam. There is none worthy of worship but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his messenger. Except you say it in Arabic.

So Sunday night, around nine p.m., I became a Muslim myself.

I've done religious conversions before. I've spent most of my religious life in Christianity (especially Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and a year or so as an active Episcopalian) and Wicca. In all cases, while I sometimes felt connected to God, I had trouble accepting certain key beliefs even though I wanted to. I have spent quite a bit of time reading about Islam, discussing with other Muslims, and contemplating this decision. I was led to a Sufi group which has a chapter here in town. While this particular Sufi lineage does not require conversion to Islam, the praying and chanting and singing there has been very powerful.

In one of my conversations online, someone told me that from what I had said, I was probably already Muslim in my heart. I just hadn't made the declaration yet.

So I have done so. From a positive place. Because while there are cultural aspects I am not accustomed to, and while I do not know Arabic, and while I have mostly stayed in contact with the more progressively identified Muslims, I really was already Muslim, and have been for a long time. I had to learn more about Muhammad to be comfortable with the decision, but that wasn't very difficult, it turned out.

I'm still me, not changing much. That's why I am attracted to the progressive side of things. I'm still gay. I still want a boyfriend, Muslim or not. The prohibitions on pork and non-halal meat and alcohol are not a problem, as I've been trying to be a vegetarian for years (mostly successfully), and haven't had a drink in over a month for health reasons. What has changed is that I have finally found a home, a home with God, and that struggle which has consumed me for so many years I can finally call complete.

What has changed is the inner peace bit. The focus on the positive. I'm finding it easier, so far, to stay level with myself, to recognize the negative emotions and get back into my heart.

I don't write this for kudos or expressions of any kind. I just wanted to share with everyone this huge next step. I'm in big transitions in so many ways. As the pieces of the puzzle, the joints of the body, start to click together for a more cohesive Andrew, this is the one that finally brings some order, some reason for me to move forward, an impetus to be a better person.


Currently reading: Blue-Eyed Devil: A Road Odyssey Through Islamic America, by Michael Muhammad Knight, a road-trip book. Interesting, readable, quirky.