The Women of Xavier’s Muslim Community celebrating Eid. It was a blessing to celebrate with them, warmly welcomed into community no matter our differences.
Lent. A time of self-examination and reflection. A time for us to remember Christ’s time in the desert. Preparation for Easter. The in-between, almost-there time, when new life is around the corner, visible, but out of reach.
For me, this kind of time is not relegated to Lent, but this season helps me to see those ways that God has been preparing me, those places in my life where I feel like I am on the edge, nearly there, even those places where I need to improve or change.
Lent this year coincides with a season of increasingly public, terrifying crimes against Muslims. The deaths of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill just about two weeks ago, and another death in Louisville just yesterday. As the Christian communities I am involved in listen for God, I find myself listening to the anguish, grief, despair and hope of student Muslim community I advise.
Standing with them, being open to their pain, has transformed me. This place is not a literal place and yet it is a geography. It is a place I choose to be, a place that has transformed me into a better pastor, and a more faithful disciple of Christ.
When I showed up for my peculiar job at Xavier–part minister, part students affairs professional, part insider, part outsider–I constantly found myself unsure of, literally, what to do. I had never advised clubs before, I had never worked on staff at a university before, I had never worked to build faith community with people who weren’t of my own faith before. I was (still am) making a lot of it up as I go.
So, I relied on the one ministry skill I felt I had honed as a congregational pastor. When in doubt, show up. The ministry of presence. So I showed up, and I tried to show up a lot.
This definitely applied to my role of advising MSA. What little knowledge I had of Islam came from one friend I had for about a year in college. What use could I possibly be to a group of high achieving, undergraduates who were organizing around a faith I knew practically nothing about?Looking back on that first year, or even two, as the advisor to MSA, I had been stripped of most of my gifts AND my flaws.
I like to problem solve things. Well, being able to solve problems requires a sense of orientation, applicable skills and creativity. When I tried to be a problem solving advisor for MSA, that usually failed. I also like think outside of the box about how to do ministry, how to approach the hard questions of life and faith. Well, to think outside of the box, you have to have a good sense of what the box is. Turns out, I didn’t have that either. I didn’t know what scholars to read, or to direct students to. I didn’t know how to pray. I like to know stuff, to know theology, to know who and what to read, to know how to do things. Knowing is usually my best asset. I knew nothing, which made me uncomfortable and insecure. And if I don’t know something, I know who to ask. I survived my early days in ministry on this skill alone and yet, I didn’t know how to contact the local Muslim leadership or to build relationships there. My usual networking skills weren’t working out as I had hoped. Back to just showing up.
This was God at work, God changing me from the inside out.
What did I have? A curiosity about the students I worked with and a passion for being in community with them. That I could do. Show up. Listen. Ask them questions, sometimes hard questions. Listen some more. Without an agenda. Share your life with them. In general, I didn’t know how to be an advisor, but I thought I knew how to be a pastor. So, I aimed to be a pastor to the Muslim students I worked with as puzzling as that seemed.
I think this is what Christ meant about losing your life to find it. I had to lose my professional skills to find a life as a pastor. I had to lose my identity as a professional Christian to find my identity as a disciple of Christ.
Again and again, when I read the Gospels, Jesus challenges us to stand with those who are different than ourselves. To see the pain of others that would be easy to ignore, and to respond to it.
It was Eboo Patel, a Muslim, who challenged me to live with, and live, the parable of the Good Samaritan. This winter, as I have re-read this familiar story, I have noticed that the man who acted as a neighbor, he was the one who saw, really saw, someone else’s pain and responded to it. That act of seeing, of noticing, that is the first step to the love of neighbor we Christians are called to.
In the last few weeks, I have been invited to see, to see the pain of a community that is misunderstood, misrepresented, hated and hurt at the intersection of American culture, religion and racism. Christ is calling me to be a neighbor as the Samaritan was, to love across difference, to respond to pain, to stand with those who are hurting. That is the place God is calling me to, this Lenten season.
Rev. Abby King-Kaiser is an assistant director at the CFJ and a Presbyterian pastor. Raised in Cincinnati but in love with the Bay Area, she brings all these places with her to campus. Just ask her about the best city in the Bay; it’s not San Francisco.