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The Creation

This selection, from one of the most prolific poets of all time, captures the essence and creation of man better than Genesis ever could.  Is it possible that Khalil Gibran could be a better writer than The Author himself?

“The God separated a spirit from Himself and fashioned if into beauty. He showered upon her all the blessing of gracefulness and kindness.  He gave her the cup of happiness and said, “Drink not from this cup unless you forget the past and the future, for happiness is naught but the moment.”  And He also gave her a cup of sorrow and said, “Drink from this cup and you will understand the meaning of the fleeting instants of the joy of life, for sorrow ever abounds.”

And the God bestowed upon her a love that would desert her forever upon her first sigh of earthly satisfaction, and a sweetness that would vanish with her first awareness of flattery.

And He gave her wisdom from heaven to lead her to the all-righteous path, and placed in the depth of her heart an eye that sees the unseen, and created in her an affection and goodness toward all things.  He dressed her with raiment of hopes spun by the angels of heaven from the sinews of the rainbow.  And He cloaked her in the shadow of confusion, which is the dawn of life and light.

The the God took consuming fire from the furnace of anger, and searing wind from the desert of ignorance, and sharp-cutting sands from the shore of selfishness, and coarse earth from under the feet of ages, and combined them all and fashioned Man.  He gave to Man a blind power that rages and drives him into a madness which extinguishes only before gratification of desire, and placed lif in him which is is the spectre of death.

And the God laughed and cried.  He felt an overwhelming love and pity for Man, and sheltered him beneath His guidance.”

Reading this selection by Khalil Gibran forces me to accept strengths and imperfections in myself and others.  It reminds me that there is nothing good in this life that come easy.  We must battle our weakness every minute of every hour of every day and beg for forgiveness. Today, I not only make the choice to extend that forgiveness to those around me who know not what they do, but to struggle with them for the perfection that is unattainable and yet so worthy of that effort. I hope that you find a friend, family member, author, songwriter, artist or some other source of inspiration to strengthen you and make you better than you are.  That’s what familly, good artists, and friends do.  Thanks to mine.

Mullah Nasruddin

Based on a kind suggestion from a friend, colleague, teacher, and student (there’s a complex relationship) I decided to listen to the National Public Radio program, Here on Earth.  The program focused on Sufism as a possible counterbalance to militant Islam.  Much of the program was focused on tales of a 13th century Sufi by the name of Mullah Nasruddin, who may or may not have existed.  As I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of God, creation, right and wrong lately, I decided to read some of these humorous tales of Nasruddin.  I found this tale on Wikibooks.org and I believe it is indicative of my current beliefs regarding religion.  Why do I say my current beliefs?  I say so because I refuse to commit to putting myself in any one box under the authority of man, thereby compromising my ability to evolve and grow spiritually.

A judge in a village court had gone on vacation. Nasruddin was asked to be temporary judge for a day. Nasruddin sat on the Judge’s chair with a serious face, gazing around the public and ordered the first case be brought-up for hearing. "You are right," said Nasruddin after hearing one side.  "You are right," he said after hearing the other side. "But both cannot be right," said a member of public sitting in the audience.  "You are right, too" said Nasruddin.

The following are the morals of the story that are listed on Wikibooks.  I have underlined the ones that seem to be most fitting to me right now.

  • Accentuate the positive.
  • Sympathy is as important to a judge as judgment.
  • Don’t be afraid to look beyond both sides of an argument.
  • If you can only see two sides of an argument you are missing something.
  • To forgive is divine
  • Even judges can be fools
    • Conversely, even fools can be judges.
  • Everybody is right, in their own respective ways.
  • Justice is not always just.
  • The person who says that you are ‘right’ might be wrong.
  • You only ever believe yourself, and your own point of view.
  • There is no real truth, or even reality.
  • "All Faith is false, all Faith is true: Truth is the shattered mirror strewn \ In myriad bits; while each believes his little bit the whole to own." — Sir Richard Francis Burton
  • Everyone is right in their own way. If everyone knew this, then the world would be a much better place to live.
  • In the case of contradictions, the core concept must come under consideration; in this case Truth.
  • The relative is the bridge to the absolute.
  • Truth can only be found from a state of non-attachment.

In summary, I have realized that I have spent years seeking “the truth” only to find one “false” doctrine after another.  I have felt guilty for being wishy-washy and not being able to decide what I believe.  It is not that these doctrines are evil, or that the people who espouse them are wrong.  It is simply that I am compelled to accept a variety of doctrines based on the truth I have seen in each of them.  My nature is always to question and seek truth, but also to admit when something I previously accepted as truth is not completely true.  The problem is that no man has a monopoly on truth and everyone lives in a personal reality.

Live, love and let live.  Serve others.  Rid yourself of ego.  Authority and truth are to be questioned.  These are now my “truths".  I hope you find yours.

Thank you to everyone that has listened during this journey, which is only now just beginning…again ;)

How To Nab a Tean

What’s that?  You’ve never heard of a Tean (tea-an), much less how to nab one?  They are less common than they once were thousands of years ago in the deserts of Jordan.  The locals here say that the best way to catch one is to lie in wait near a desert oasis with a pottery bowl filled with water.  When they walk up to take a drink…POOF! – you grab ‘em by the toe.  If he hollers…

OK, I can go no further.  I have to break it to you.  There are no such things as Teans.  I just said that since reading about ancient pottery shards seems so much less interesting.  I assure you, however that is NOT the case.  There were, however, Nabateans, which was a group of Nomads that settled in southern Jordan circa 600 B.C.  They were like, “Hey y’all, this here running around with our camels and tents all the time sucks.” 

So, instead they decided to corner the trading business in the region and BAM, before you know it, they were the Wal-Mart of the desert without all the plastic food storage containers, expensive oil changes, cheap car stereos and Dale Earnhardt tribute t-shirts.  According to yourdiscovery.com (Hey you scholars, cut me some slack, it’s 2:30 am.  I don’t have time to cite real sources.  This is history for the masses in 30 second word-bites) the Nabateans traded over multiple continents, including Asia, Rome, Africa, Europe and North and South America.  Just making sure you were still with me.  Bush fans, Rome wasn’t a continent (just like Africa wasn’t a country) and if they could’ve made it to the New World, we wouldn’t have to celebrate they guy who murdered indigenous populations by gorging ourselves with the most foul-tempered fowl annually.  So..for real, they did trade ivory, spices, precious materials etc. over China, Rome, India, Syria, and Egypt. (thanks yourdiscovery.com).  During their reign, they carved out magnificent buildings from the local red limestone, which we will be visiting soon on our trip to Petra.  Think Indiana Jones or search for Petra online and you’ll be bombarded with pictures and info.

Why am I carrying on about this you ask?  Mainly, because you’re still reading, so stop complaining.  If it was that bad, you would’ve stopped.  But really, this leads to what we did today in Jordan, after a brisk morning walk and breakfast of course.

Today, our team toured the American Center for Oriental Research (ACOR).  For those of you who don’t know about ACOR, (probably most of you who aren’t archaeologists or anthropologists) let it suffice to say that it is one of the coolest places a history geek could be.  On the walls, there are examples of hand-embroidered Palestinian clothing.  They have an excellent collection of artifacts, including reconstructed pottery recovered from Petra that puts our modern stoneware to shame.  I can tell you this is a fact.  I held a 2300 year old (approx.) bowl in my hand that weighed about as much as a few sheets of paper.  I really almost wanted to wet myself.  I think our group must have said “wow” about 5000 times in an hour.  No joke.  The tour, led by soon-to-be Asst. Director Sarah Harpending, was top-notch.  I have to give her credit.  She’s an English speaker and speaks Russian and Arabic.  Those people are awesome.

From there, we moved on to our Amman Rotary Club Banquet at the Landmark Hotel.  5 Stars.  Simply awesome, unless you’re not really into marble and hand carved wood, awesome rooms and a really cool swimming pool.  Then it would probably suck and you should consider staying at our hotel – Amman International Hotel.  The accommodations are excellent, the staff is phenomenal, but just don’t expect a single cab driver in Jordan to be able to find it.

At the banquet, hosted by soon-to-be Rotary Club President Daoud (a UWGB Alum), we made some awesome contacts, including Urs, whose position will not be mentioned.  He was kind enough to give us his interpretation of Insha Allah in a cultural context.  While it technically means “God Willing”, he pointed out that American soldiers he served with told him it means not a freakin’ chance (words slightly modified for the sake of keeping the article PG.)  He did give one of our group members a great contact to learn more about the British Mandate system.

I was able to make a contact as well.  His name is Dr. Samuel.  Since I haven’t told him I’m writing about him, I’ll leave his last name off.  He is going to hook me up with the head of an Arabic language school, Mark LeChance (sp?) so that I can get some ideas for the text book I’m writing.  He also invited me to the Evangelical Free Church, which I’m looking forward to attending.

As you can tell, it was a busy day.  I would be remiss if I didn’t relate the story of our attendance of the World Cup Semi-finals at a trendy restaurant in Amman called the Blue Fig.  I’ll keep it brief.  Jay Harris was kind enough to reserve us some space in front of the big screen on the couches for the game.  I was convinced that Germany would win.  Apparently I know less about football (soccer for you Americans) than a German octopus, who picked the Spaniards to triumph.  Mr. Octopus picks the winner of each game by placing more of his tentacles on a box holding the country’s flag that he thinks will win.  He is six for six so far.  I am 0 for 1.  I hope I’m right about the Netherlands beating the pants off of Spain though.  That would be a nice way to let the Spanish know that if you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much. 

So, it has been awhile, but things have been kind of crazy.  In the last three days, we have had another Arabic class at the school and I’m about to run my second tutoring session.  We have also had a TON of meetings with various contacts throughout Amman.  On 5 July, two of my colleagues and I decided to walk up and down the monster hill outside the hotel for 30 minutes.  I then did some push-ups in addition to that.  I figured there’s no better time to end my three-year exercise hiatus than when there are no kids around.  OUCH!  I’m a little sore now. 

hill

That was from about 8-9 a.m.  We then ate breakfast and attended a 10 a.m. meeting at the Amman International Baccalaureate School.  For those not familiar with IB schools, I will tell you that, unlike most schools, IB schools actually encourage students to think.  We were hosted by Robert Jones, who was an incredibly interesting English chap.  He gave us a general review of the Jordanian public school system and his school.  This was incredibly beneficial.

After a quick lunch we attended a security briefing at the U.S. Embassy. amman_embassy

Strangely enough, the foreign service officer who briefed us was from Kohler, WI.  Go Wisconsin!  He told us about how the variety of services available and warned us about some of the dangers and workings of the local law enforcement system.  He also made us aware of the fact that many women will try to marry American men to get the U.S.  In addition to that, many foreigners will ask for letters of recommendation or letters stating that they are invited to visit you sometime.

The craziest thing is that before the meeting, our driver had his girlfriend on the bus and he told me that she wants to “come back to America with you.”  She then noted that I am married.  I told her I am, and proceeded to show her the pictures of our kids.  She complimented me on how beautiful Kyra is and then stared at me really closely for what seemed like an eternity.  I told her that Kyra’s beauty comes from her mother.  As I tried to look at other things and pretend this situation wasn’t happening, she took off her headscarf and tossed her hair around like she was in some kind of shampoo commercial.  She told me that she was 17 and that she and a lot of the other “college” girls like our driver because he gives them a ride home.  This seemed a little strange since, in Jordan, it is not appropriate for men and women to be alone together.  It seemed even more unusual since the bus we were in has blackout curtains, a large stereo system and a DVD player mounted inside.  I replied that I’m 35 years old in an effort to hint to her that I’m old enough to be her father.  Oh, and by the way I’m still married.  I’m not keeping it a secret!  Then she and her driver decided to ask me if I think she’s pretty.  I politely replied that she is.  After our security briefing, our driver asked if I would write him a letter to show that he would be coming to the states to visit.  Unfortunately, I had to inform him that the expert inside just told me that wouldn’t matter.  He wasn’t very talkative after that for some reason.

Moral of the story?  Like my high school English teacher said, “Jeremy, brains are sexy.”  More likely is that when you are living in a foreign country, even a middle-aged, married guy with four kids looks like a possible option.  I’m starting to wonder if it would be a bad idea to hand out the escapetowisconsin.com bumper stickers the Appleton Chamber of Commerce handed me.  People might take it literally and I don’t know if we can deal with a refugee population right now.

Jordan: The First 48 Hours

After a couple months of anticipation and way less preparation, it’s off to Amman.  Of course, the first part of any great adventure is the travel.  To get to our destination, we flew out of Green Bay Int’l…er…Austin Strabel Field at 5:55 on Thursday, the 1st of July.  We arrived in Amman after stops at O’Hare and London Heathrow.  After the last leg of the trip on Royal Jordanian’s Airbus (phenomenal plane by the way), we took a bus provided by the University of Jordan to the Amman International Hotel.  Upon arrival, we learned that wi-fi happens very slowly and 24 hours at a time, which I believe will throw a wrench into my plan to communicate via video chat.  Sorry guys!  After unpacking to the sound of Arabic television and a failed attempt to set a wake-up call (which everyone in our group experienced), I finally fell asleep at about 4 am.  I woke up at 10 am, which was precisely when we were supposed to meet down in the restaurant.  I was obviously late for breakfast, so I caught a quick bite and a cup of apricot juice.  After that, we walked to the University of Jordan, followed by the fun of purchasing cellphones, partaking in Turkish coffee (which is almost all that is served) and a lunch at Lebnani.  After assurances from Michael, a student in our group from Chilton, I took the plunge and ordered a tongue sandwich.  This obviously is not as common as some of the other dishes, but I thought it would be interesting to try something different.  I was very impressed with the flavor and texture.  The meat was tender and savory, even though it is weird to think of your food tasting you back.

It is an interesting experience to be surrounded by Arabic on all sides.  Vehicles, signs, and ads for furnished apartments spray-painted on walls abound.  It is clear to me that I should have been studying more over the years after a few conversations.  After struggling for words and the barrier between speakers of Levantine dialect and Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic) I have realized that I have my work cut out for me.  I am, however, able to communicate effectively after much clarification and repetition.  As the only Arabic speaker on the trip, I have been given plenty of opportunities to help the group and I’ve managed so far.

We spent the afternoon looking for a handicraft fair and looking for the Old Town Amman Market (Suq).  Our bus driver decided that we needed to see all the “hand-made” products available for sale at his Palestinian friends’ store.  They must have been great products, because the ladies eventually paid 3 dinars for scarves that were going for 38 dinars at this shop.  After listening to the sales pitch for “all natural” Dead Sea mud masks, lotions and skin conditioners we looked around the shop, where I had a long conversation with a man, who seemed to think I might still be in the military and was very curious as to why I learned Arabic.  I told him that the government taught me because they like to waste money and I never really used it in the Army.  In other words, I told the truth.

At the Suq near the King Hussein Mosque, the ladies bought headscarves and I had a conversation with a man from L.A. who found my Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) amusing.  Everyone here speaks in dialect, but the dialect is very close to MSA.  After a night at a restaurant named “Doors” (namesake of the band).  I then came home and went to sleep.

4th of July

I woke up today and was the first at breakfast.  I poured a coffee for an Italian woman and after using one of only three words I know in Italian, I ate a nice breakfast of hummus, cucumbers, olives, smoked turkey, pastries and eggs accompanied by some nice, strong coffee.

We then headed to the Language Center for our first Arabic class, where I met Ahmed, my future partner in the Arabic class we will teach this fall.  He is a very upbeat, enthusiastic instructor.  David Coury, our fearless leader, is going to hook me up with some dialect instruction as the level is a little below what I need.

The Moth

I was watching Lost last night, which I had never watched before about a week ago. The title of the episode matches the title of this post. In the previous episode, Locke confronts Charlie regarding his continuing drug addiction, asking him to hand over his stash. He reasons that Charlie will run out of heroin soon anyway. Locke points out that if Charlie willingly hands it over, then it will at least be his choice to quit. Charlie agrees.

Later, after lock uses him as boar bait, Charlie is furious and demands that Locke give him his drugs back. Locke refuses to do so, and explains to Charlie that he’s going to let Charlie ask for them back three times. At the third request, Locke says, he will give Charlie the drugs back. Charlie asks Locke why he doesn’t just throw his drugs out. Locke replies that would essentially nullify Charlie’s choice to quit, which is the only thing that separates him from the boar Locke just killed.

Later in the episode, Jack is trapped in a cave-in. Charlie runs to find Locke to help with Jack’s rescue.  Locke lets Charlie know that it is clearly not the real reason he came to find him. Locke show’s Charlie a cocoon that is just starting to open. He explains to Charlie that he could help the moth get out of the cocoon, but after getting out, he would not survive.  This is because the moth has not strengthened itself through struggle.

It occured to me that before I became a Christian, I faced an incredible amount of adversity, most of which I created for myself through continuous sin. For years, I was trapped in my cocoon. I knew there was something greater than my existence in the “cocoon” out there. I struggled toward that light, but was unable to break through no matter how hard I tried. At points in my life I could see rays of light poking through my cocoon in the form of friends who tried to share Christ with me. Those seeds fell onto unfertile soil. My “ground” was dry and hard.  It was depleted. Some of the seeds started to sprout, but were blown away before taking root. I was not ready to come out of my cocoon.

Recently I reconnected with a childhood friend. We discussed God and the Word. My soil began to soften, my cocoon to break open. He was sowing seeds on this soil as were some of his friends. As farmers do, they recognized that it was time for sowing. One day, after a bible study, we were sitting around talking like we usually do.  I felt the spirit very strongly as I spoke of all the times my life had been spared and my struggles.  I realized that over the years, God was working in my life behind the scenes.  It was after all those years of struggling and seeking that He reaped His harvest as I gave my life to Christ.

That, however, was only possible because he had some patient, faithful farmers sowing seeds at the right time.   Now, I’m amazed at the freshness of  the air and the the intensity of the light outside the veil of the cocoon.   Much in the same way as a moth is drawn to light, I hope to continue to do the same now that I’m out of my cocoon.

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