Living in a Bubble

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It’s the same routine everyday: go from my little bubble in Edmond, Oklahoma, in my little bubble of a car, to my bubble of work, or to my Bible Study bubble, back to my car bubble and back home. It’s almost the same daily – I just get to change a few of the bubbles around as the week progresses. I used to have different friends but one day, I suddenly realized that I chose to hang out with my Christian girlfriends because they like to do Bible Study or Bible Journaling or talk about Jesus. How did that happen?

It is difficult to go and hang out with others who do not share the same beliefs as you and even look down upon you as being (as my mom put it) “over-religious!” I took it as a compliment when she said that and she told me repeatedly “that is most definitely NOT a compliment!” So why do it? Why should you seek out others who don’t share the same views as you?

Well, the plain and simple answer is that all people need DIVERSITY in their life! Diversity keeps things rich and stimulating. It’s good to share your views and then have them be challenged by others who may not believe the same way or even (gasp!) tell you that you are wrong. That’s what happened to Jesus and also to the early church. They reached out to others who were not like them in love. They wanted to share the love of God and the Good News of the Gospel. They were not comfortable or even in a little bubble. God did not call them to be “comfortable,” just as God does not call us to be “comfortable!” If they had remained there, the Gospel would not have spread and the Christian church would not be as diverse as it is today!

So many of my church friends look at Christianity from a Western view. They see the Church as made up on mainly white people. That is true in some areas, but not in all parts of the world. A few years ago, my husband and I got to go to the Leader’s Conference for RZIM. One evening was a formal dinner. I wore my black, silk Sari with gold embroidery. I knew I would not be the only one in a Sari that evening because my friend Ruth (Indian) was also going to wear one. When we showed up to dinner, we saw that the Africans were wearing their African clothes, the Malays were wearing their clothes, several Indians were in Saris and others were donned in their country’s finery. It was so sweet… It was wonderful to see all nations coming together under one leader: Christ.

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Just as we tell our children to go and sit with other kids during lunchtime at school, we need to remember that we need to do the same. At work, do you sit with the same people? Have you asked any of your coworkers to come over to share a meal at your home? I asked that at a session I spoke at this week and people laughed nervously, then got serious and shook their heads, no! We are SO SCARED to let people into our homes! Why is that? Are you scared that they might see your laundry on the couch? Do you honestly think they don’t have a pile of laundry sitting around somewhere in their own home (in case you are wondering: yes, I do… big piles – come over and help me sort them out!)?

Get over yourself!

Just pop ONE bubble in your life and venture out. See what you might find and the types of friends you might make. I know that my own life is richer when I make friends with those who are not like me. They challenge me, provoke me, make me mad, frustrate me, but eventually cause me to go deeper into study and come out stronger as a Christian. Try it out and then tell me how it went for you!

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Macy’s Launches Hijab Fashion!

FASHION or OPPRESSION?

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RTT News Photo

On February 1, 2018 Macy’s announced a major decision to sell a fashionable line of Women’s Hijab. This line called the “Verona Collection” debuted a few days ago in stores and online. The news is being heralded as “groundbreaking” and as a “landmark” decision. The announcement comes on the heels of the Nike Hijab selling out like hotcakes.

For a former Muslim woman, I don’t get it… I don’t understand the hype and I don’t understand the desire to wear a man-made restriction on my head. As a Muslim who lived in the United States, I never wore a hijab nor was I ever made to wear one. I was the child of very educated, progressive mother who saw great oppression from the strict Islamic clerics while working in Saudi Arabia as a physician. She experienced first-hand what it was like to be pushed down when she was going to Medical School in the 60’s in Pakistan as well.

When we moved to the US, my mother literally breathed a sigh of freedom. Both of my parents allowed us to have many blessings that come from living here, including being raised with education, being outspoken and as strong women. When we would see another Muslim woman in a hijab, we would all wonder (sometimes out loud) why she was wearing one here where the rules of society did not mandate it?

Therein lies the conundrum. For centuries, women have been forced to take the veil in Muslim countries – not all, but many. Today, younger women are fighting more for a visible ethnic identity than anything else. Diversity is wonderful and it brings out a rich expression in our country, however it is my belief that Muslim women in America are CHOOSING to be set apart for their religious beliefs. Instead of Inclusion, it is a call for Exclusion by the Muslim community. Many Muslim women I have talked to see it as showing the half-naked women in the West that they are more pious, modest, and they belong to a special class of private women.

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Some American Muslim women have gone as far to say that this is an overt way they show their freedom to choose how they wish to express themselves, while in Tehran only a few weeks ago, 29 women were arrested for taking off their hijab as a protest for not having any freedom or rights — this is nothing new. Over 100,000 were arrested in Iran in 1978 during a similar protest!

So… which one is it?

Is it a symbol of oppression or is it a symbol of ethnic identity?

Macy’s happens to think it is a symbol of fashion and a way to make money.

2 Cor3:16-18 

16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Every Nation, Tribe & Tongue

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Crescent Project National Conference – Houston, TX

Last weekend, I had the honor of being invited to speak on a panel of Believers of Muslim Backgrounds (BMB) for the Crescent Project National Conference in Houston, Texas. The conference had about 400+ people in attendance. Fouad Masri, founder was spoke on the first night about how Fear exists not only for Christians who believe the media about Muslims but also for the Muslims in the United States who believe the media about Christians. There is a desperate need for an AUTHENTIC Christian witness to all people.

The panel was both exciting and interesting. I want to walk you through the details. There were only two women (myself and the other woman to my left in the picture) and all others were men. The moderator, Fouad Masri, had us sit in a particular order by country from left to right – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, another from Iran, Morocco, and Palestine. I want to point out that there were many more Believers from Muslim Background at this conference, about 21 of them (but not all were on the panel). This is the most I have seen gathered in one location. When we were introduced according to country, the man from Iraq put his arm around the man from Iran. They said something amazing “Only Jesus can bring these two countries together like this – arm in arm.”

Each of us had the chance to briefly tell our story. There were several questions asked by the moderator, that included why we decided to follow Christ, what made us follow Him, what is the one point we want people to know about Muslims. If you don’t know my story, let me briefly share it with you. I wasn’t looking for Jesus. I wasn’t interested in following him. In fact, I was trying to become a better Muslim. My family is considered to be moderate Muslims or nominal Muslims. In other words, we were Muslim in name, not by practice. We did not pray 5 times a day nor did we uphold many of the pillars of faith.

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After 9/11, I decided that I didn’t know much about what I believed, so I went into a deeper commitment to Islam. I started by reading the Quran (or Koran – different spellings can be found). The Quran brought questions for me – I didn’t have any questions about my faith, but just wanted to know more. The Quran actually was confusing and troubling in it’s treatment of women (Sura Al Nissa). It also contained a whole chapter on Jesus (Sura Maryam) that I didn’t understand – why did Jesus have so much power to do miracles like raise people from the dead? Why could he alone give life and heal?Through prayer, the Holy Spirit led me to a church where the associate pastor helped to connect the dots.  This was not an overnight thing, but was a journey that took over a 3 and a half years. At the age of 35, I accepted Christ and was baptized along with my husband and 3 children! What a huge praise it is and I still thank God for His mercy and grace on our family.

Sometimes I think that people in the United States sell Christianity & themselves short. They think that Christianity is just a religion for “white people.” Revelation 7:9 says “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” Christ didn’t come for just one group! He came as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28) and for the world. 

This was the most amazing part of this conference. To share the gospel of love with Muslims, you don’t have to go across the world (unless you want to) or to the Middle East (unless you want to). You simply can go to the local grocery store, University classroom, or restaurant. God has brought Muslims here to the United States. There are many who are lost, who need Christ’s message of hope  and need an authentic witness in their life. What are you doing to help reach out to them?

God said “GO” in the Great Commission. Are you going? God said “LOVE” in his commandment to us (John 13:34). Are you loving others in the world or just the ones you are comfortable around? God said “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7). Are you fearful?

Today’s the day to change all that. Decide to live for Christ and watch what happens. A world of new relationships awaits… from every nation, tribe, people and tongue…

 

Let’s Talk

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My husband & I are Marriage Mentors. We developed the Marriage Mentoring Ministry at our last church and by the grace of God, are helping to create a new Marriage Ministry at our new church. It is an amazing blessing to work with couples who are either seriously dating, are engaged to be married or are newly married. We are NOT counselors, nor do we give advice. This is how mentoring differs from other things. More on that later in another post.

I have taught Business Communication for Undergraduate Business schools since 1997 – coming up on 20 years! Much of what works well for the workplace can and does work well for the home. It’s just that we tend to be more polite to those we work with than those with whom we live. It’s a fact. Familiarity adds to the casualness with which we approach relationships that are close to us. While we take care to watch our words at work, it doesn’t always happen to me at home. I am mostly talking about myself here… I don’t want to point a finger at you because when I do that, I know that four other fingers are pointing back at me (in my case, that is literally true, as I have one husband and three kids! Ha! Ha!).

I taught a Conflict Resolution course earlier this week to College Interns. They were absolutely NOT interested in the session or me, until I asked them how many of them were in a relationship. Most raised their hands and that’s when they got connected into the topic. Sometimes, we think that this stuff we are learning at work does not apply to anything other than work. When you can link things at work to home, that’s where learning becomes valuable and memorable to others.

Talking to others about personal matters is not easy. In the study of Conflict Resolution, I usually start off the session by asking them to think about how conflicts were handled in their home when they were growing up. Did their parent(s) yell? Were they passive aggressive or always trying to keep the peace? These behaviors can definitely influence how you react to conflict.

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There are several ways you can approach conflict resolution – I also wrote about conflict & perspectives in my blog titled “Bridges, Balconies, & Burquas“. The first is to know your behavioral style. Most inventories (DiSC, Myers Briggs, Jungian, etc) are based on two dimensions: Task & People (horizontal axis) and Direct & Indirect (or in the figure, Outgoing/Reserved). There are free online tests you can take (& I encourage you to take them!) to find out how you fall into these quadrants. No matter what you take, the main questions are:

  1. Do you tell people directly how you feel about certain things or do you beat around the bush in order to spare feelings?
  2. Does interaction with others (maybe 20 min or more of talking) energize you or leave you making a mental laundry list of all the things you needed to get done in that time you just spent?

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Answers to those questions will allow you to figure out which side you land on – if you are energized with interactions with others, you will fall near to the “I” and the “S” side. If you are not, then “D” & “C” are more your style. If you are direct, you will go towards the top half of the circle and if indirect, then “C” & “S” may be more like you. Nothing is etched in stone, but knowing how you like to be approached is a good start to communicating with others.

Lack of Communication is one of the top reasons for divorce in a marriage. It is also one of the main reasons why employees leave (1. My boss & I didn’t get along OR 2. My co-workers & I didn’t see eye to eye). That’s it. It’s really that simple. When we start to see where someone might fall into the style spectrum, it’s easier to understand that them being quiet doesn’t mean they don’t like you – it simply means they are processing information & are being Contemplative! In other words, they are actually taking the time to think about what you just said! How many times do we misunderstand what we just saw in another person and shake our heads? The answer: I just did it today! 🙂

So, before you decide to say “Let’s Talk” to someone, you may want to consider how they like to be approached, how they view the world (=differently than you) and also what you may need to do in order to come to a good resolution. If we thought things through on a daily basis, maybe we wouldn’t waste so much energy in assuming a negative situation. The Bible says “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.(NASB – Philippians 4:8). That is a great place to start. In addition, Proverbs 15:1 says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” When you watch your words and think for just a second before you speak, it can make a complete difference in the way you approach others and in return, how others approach you.

If you would like to learn more about the DiSC assessment or any of the things I wrote about, I would love to hear from you!

Unbelievable

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“Why can’t we all get along?” This is the cry I hear from people who want to talk about cultural diversity, religion, management or anything else I happen to be speaking. Many times it’s exactly these individuals who are the ones who don’t really want to get along with another. If there was an issue – maybe it’s them who was causing it? A better question to ask then is “What’s stopping you from getting along with someone else?” or “Why aren’t you getting along with others?” Of course, those are harder questions to ask and to have answered, so we end up speaking in generalities about groups instead of individuals.

This is the situation I found myself in last weekend. The issue proposed to me by someone close to me was “Why do you talk about sensitive matters? Why do you have to present a direct contrast between Islam and Christianity? Why do you have to blog about it and why do you have to address audiences about this?”

In my professional background in the realm of Human Resources, that’s all I deal with: sensitive matters. Human Resources professionals deal mainly with issues of employment, hiring, firing. With Diversity, matters of age, race, gender, ethnicity and religion are constantly being brought up by organizations. It’s what I am paid to talk about. I understand very clearly that it makes many people nervous and downright angry to talk about some of these things.

The media and our society today has done a great job defining what is okay to talk about and what is not okay. In my line of work, I deal with the fact that people cannot leave their religion behind while they work 9 to 5, nor can they ignore their age and any discrimination that may come with that or sex, or ethnicity. That’s the reason why I make it my life’s passion and work to talk about it, write about it and live it out.

I love talking about God. I don’t like or want to leave him in the car while I go to a meeting or discuss a subject matter at a corporate meeting or even at a public university. He is a large part of my story, my background, my calling to speak and also He influences every decision I make. I am not able to separate out my religion from my career or family. The person in question found this to be UNBELIEVABLE. I am not sure if she found it to be unbelievable that I place my trust in God for all these matters or that I will not stop talking about Him.

Political Correctness has done more harm than good. Dale Carnegie said “seek first to understand and then be understood.” Why then do we say we will just not talk about all the things that are protected by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), such as race, age gender, ethnicity & religion? We take the things of the workplace and apply them to our everyday life, missing opportunities to see how other people believe, how they live, what is their background and what makes up the content of their character.

It’s beautiful to be able to live in a country that allows for freedom of speech, of expression and of religion. We are able to have a mosque, a church, a Hindu temple and a Jewish temple in the same town – even on the same block! You do not find this type of diversity in many places. It’s a rich way to learn about others’ beliefs and to help them understand your own. The key is to approach one another with respect and not tell them to stop talking. Extinguishing dialogue will lead to darkness and misunderstanding – death of relationships. It does not allow people to freely share views and present a fresh, new way to approach century-old grudges.

Since we live in a free society, why should we not utilize these hard-won freedoms that someone else died for? Why should we stop the dialogue, pretend that culture, ethnicity and religion – differing opinions don’t exist? Why not take an opportunity to open your mind, open your heart, open your ears, and open your eyes to see the beauty of diversity that exists all around you?

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May we be people who live in God’s light, sharing openly about His love, His light and the freedoms only He can bring in our life. May we share the good news of the Gospel to a hurting world that thinks this is the only reality there is.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” ~Ephesians 5: 8-11

Bridges, Balconies and Burqas

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There are always two sides to any story. What we don’t often see is that there is a third side to the story – the community and the observers to the two parties’ argument or conversation. Conflict at its most basic is merely a differing perspective. There isn’t anything wrong with seeing things differently. That is Diversity and it enriches our perspectives. Conflict is something that comes up where one or more parties cannot understand or recognize the other person’s perspective.

This is true for religion, the global situation and negotiations between nations, at our workplace and also in our families. When we feel personally threatened, there is a friction that can come up. The story behind the situation can get lost, while we focus only on our own gains, our own viewpoint and our own needs, the perspective begins to become lopsided.

Building a bridge involves a balanced approach. There are careful measurements and an overall vision that sets the stage for the process. In order to build, both sides need to be worked on at the same time so that they can meet delicately in the middle.

While I’ve never built a bridge (physical one, not metaphorically speaking), I have crocheted socks. How in the world can crocheting of a pair of socks look like building a bridge? They both need to be worked on at the same time, by someone from the outside. This is another way to look at conflicts and negotiation. Action of one entity upon two other entities = third side (or the third party) is not a new idea.

In psychology, the third side or perspective is called the “Mediating Variable.” It helps two things that seem to be linked together to be explained in a better way. In conflict negotiation or mediation, unless you have a third party involved that can help to explain the situation clearly and ask the right questions, it is very difficult to get to a suitable resolution. Authors Heifetz and Linsky have called this to be a “Balcony Perspective.” If you are one of the actors on the stage, it will be very difficult for you to see the whole picture because you only know your part and maybe the part of the person before you and after you so you can be cued in. However, if you choose instead to see the drama unfold from the balcony view, you will be able to not only understand what is going on in front of you but also what the others are doing in the background. The entire scene becomes crystal clear all of a sudden. The same is also true for conflict and negotiation.

So before you jump into a blame game or rush into judgment of a situation, STOP. Take a ladder and climb up to the balcony. Take a fresh perspective of the scene unfolding in front of you. You might just be able to see things you have never seen before or things you were taking for granted in your everyday rush to be heard and to be placed in the #1 seat.

In my walk with Christ, I have found that building bridges between my past and helping people to understand what it was like to grow up in an entirely different culture (Middle East & Asia), with a different religion (Islam), and different family values, there is a lot of ground to cover. There is great fear driven from the media that causes people to become angry towards a certain group. I have met several women who was moderately Christian at the time  (not really attending church regularly and couldn’t really say much about having a relationship with Christ), who told me that she was angered by  Muslims here in the United States and elsewhere.

As all of my family is Muslim, I could have immediately taken great offense at what she said – they have as much of a right to be here as he does, even if they were not born here, but are U.S. Citizens. After taking a deep breath (= going to the balcony), I asked her a few questions: How many Muslim people have you talked to here (answer: none), how many Muslim people have you tried to reach or build a relationship with so you could understand them better (answer: none), how do you know what they believe other than the media (answer: I am well-educated), and finally – why do you feel this way? The last question made her pause. I told him that my family would not feel the same about her, so what was going on? She answered in one word “FEAR.”

This is no different than what happens at work. We take a stand on something and get mad about it, without taking into account someone else’s underlying concerns or addressing the issues below the iceberg. Ninety percent of the time, you will find that the issue at the face of the situation is not the real issue. The real stuff is lying below what the person is saying to you.

Going back to another woman who was fearful, God had a very funny way of taking care of that situation. I hosted a baby shower for a Saudi woman who was new to the country. I didn’t even know who she was, but that a group of Christian women wanted to have a shower but the location fell through. I offered up our home and we had over 30 women attend. The guest of honor came to my front door with her entourage of 8 women- all dressed from head to toe in their black burqa (or hijab). My friend came out from the kitchen and I heard a sharp intake and gasp of a breath. I have to admit – it was kind of a scary sight to have people you don’t know who show up to your door and you cannot see their faces (kind of like Halloween, but not on Halloween…).

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As the women were ensured that no men would be in attendance, they started to take off their veils and covers. Underneath were these sweet-faced 18-20 year old girls dressed in cute trendy dresses, short hair, full make-up. So adorable! I could see a huge wide grin spread across my friend’s face. After the fun party, she and I got to talk. She had tears in her eyes because she felt like the Lord had taken her to a balcony to see a new perspective she would never have considered. What a JOY to have that perception and fear lifted off in one night. That is the way bridges are built…

May we seek ways to bring peace to our homes, families, workplaces, and nation in this way, for blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).