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Old 12-10-2004, 12:44 AM   #1
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request for advice and support

Greetings fellow GIS posters.

I have a question or maybe one could say problem that I would really appreciate feedback on. I know that I haven't been posting here much in the last year since I moved to Africa (for obvious reasons...not as much internet availability) but I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself to some of the people who may have started hanging out here since I was a regular.

I suppose you will draw the obvious conclusion from the fact that I am one of the non “general” moderators of this forum (meaning that this is the only forum that I have any responsibility for) that I have some interest or history with faith/religion. Which is true. I grew up as the child of Christian missionaries doing translation and church-planting work in a small mountain village in Indonesia. The island of Sulawesi, to be exact, (ahhh, now the nick makes sense, eh?)

I went to missionary boarding school, became a Christian at a young age, followed the rules, didn’t ask questions, and accepted doctrine as I was told. It wasn’t until near the end of my time at a Christian liberal arts college that I started to come to terms with the fact that there were many inconsistencies within Christianity as I was experiencing it. I had come to the point where I felt I would have to give up my faith because I couldn’t live as a hypocrite. I felt that all the “good” things I said and did, the songs we sang in chapel, the verses that were quoted as reasons for overbearing moralistic “lifestyle” rules weren’t life-GIVING but seemed a lot like an attempt to curry favor with an all-powerful being out of self-interest. The question that haunted me was rather simple. Why do I believe? Is it because I am afraid of hell? Because I want to be on the good side of the big guy who can make me or break me? Is it simply all selfish egotism and if so, then what is the point of even pretending when you are dealing with a God that knows your thoughts? If you say, “oh God, I love you so much,” when you know that actually, you don’t love as you should or at least not as much as you are claiming…then aren’t you lying? And lying to God would seem to be serious? All this to say, I decided to be honest with myself and with God and say openly that actually, I was upset about several things in our dealings with each other and also that I didn’t understand certain so-called doctrines or that I was unwilling to accept others (the systematic dehumanization of women in the religion for example).

After a lot of mental and spiritual anguish, I came to an ultimatum. If Christianity was the narrow-minded legalistic structure that I knew it to be and nothing more, than in order to be true to my conscience, I would have to abandon it. This was actually a really terrifying prospect. It had been the entire underpinning of my life and I didn’t know anything else. But the one thing that gave me a glimmer of hope that perhaps the incredible loving and open heart exhibited by the Jesus of the Bible could be alive and the basis for faith was the testimony of U2. That sounds trite, I suppose, but in all honesty, in my darkest hour of crisis the lyrics and statements of the Christian members of U2 (Bono in particular) showed me that one could be a Christian and yet still wrestle with not only matters of doctrine but also the heavy issues of poverty, equality, hypocrisy, greed, so many things. That it didn’t mean having all the answers. I had the good fortune to find out about a study center in Switzerland called L’Abri (founded by Christian apologist Francis Schaefer) where I spent a good amount of time pondering, questioning, rethinking, and re-seeing Christianity. And I came out on the other hand with something of a fledgling but real hold on faith. I still feel tender. I still can’t sit through a traditional church service without feeling the old cynicism of the hypocrisy of the Church rear its head. But it is a journey and one that I know I’m not alone in. I want to be a follower of Christ and not a follower of rules. In many things I am agnostic. I don’t have the answers and so I try to remain open-minded. I believe that Christ provided the way to God, but I don’t necessarily think that means that each person that will be in heaven will have heard the name of Jesus. I am not suggesting a universal “everyone goes to heaven” approach, but rather that God in his all-knowing and merciful self will see what people did with the knowledge they were given. If that means that people of other faiths are included, I am open to it.

Wow, I am long-winded. All I wanted to do was provide some sort of framework for what I really wanted to talk about. As most of you know, I have been living in Africa working as a Peace Corps volunteer for just over a year now. It’s been both exciting and tedious (as is, I suppose, most of life) and I think I am only just starting to hit my stride in terms of being able to communicate well enough in the two languages I use in order to effect change. One of the biggest changes in my life has been that I have been dating a Malian man for about 8 months now. He is Muslim. I am Christian. I haven’t had the courage to tell my parents. I have always been a very independent person (thanks to being at boarding school since age 6) so it’s not a question of needing their “permission”. It’s because I know that they would never understand. And more importantly that they will feel hurt and sad. And it makes me sad to think of them not taking joy in the relationship that gives me so much joy. So, I guess what I am hoping for is two-fold. If any of you have actually slogged through this tome so far, I would appreciate your advice. I know I need to tell my parents, but I am trying to think of HOW to go about it. And I guess from anyone who has experience with multi-cultural or multi-religious relationships I would be interested in knowing the difficulties and advantages. I am lucky in that my boyfriend and I have been able to not only respect each other’s beliefs but also dialogue openly about them. I have a prayer rug for him at my house for when he is here during prayer times. He has accompanied me to church. I feel that we feel free to express ourselves. So that must be good, right?

Again, I hope that my rambling has not offended anyone. I can only speak of my experience as honestly as I can. I realize that in many ways I am still bitter and cynical towards the Church but it is something I am working on. Thanks in advance to any and everyone who takes the time to read and respond.

Walk on,
sula
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Old 12-10-2004, 10:58 PM   #2
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That was a beautiful post
sulawesigirl4. I can't really offer much advice, but I can keep you in my prayers. It will all work out.

Love and faith are both very slippery aspects of life. To combine the two can be very difficult. My cousin, a Christian, married an amazing Jewish woman. It was difficult on the family, but seeing how incredible of a woman she was and the love they share was healing to the family. As far as "sharing" different faiths in one household I can't really share anything, I'm sorry. I wish I could. I can only imagine how difficult it is.

All I can say is the both of you pray for guidance. I'm a firm believer in the idea that there are different paths to Heaven. But if this is serious raising kids will be difficult. But love is the most amazing thing we have here on Earth, if this is the one than don't give up. I have faith that things like this will find a way to work out.

I hope what I say makes sense and helps out a little. I hope it doesn't sound like cliched useless advice.

I hope the best and God Bless.
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Old 12-11-2004, 05:02 AM   #3
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Sula, I have a few words, but they're not about how to tell your parents. It's something you might not want to hear, but it's something I feel very strongly about (no, it's not bashing Islam). However, I won't say anything unless you give me permission.
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Old 12-12-2004, 04:51 AM   #4
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Hi Sula,

I have also found my way in Christianity because of U2. I don't think it's trite at all.

I wish I had advice for you on how to tell your parents. Do they know you have a boyfriend already? I pray that when you do tell them, they are more understanding than you are predicting.
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Old 12-12-2004, 07:14 AM   #5
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My only advice right after reading everything is to make your love for each other the most important aspect of your relationship. Make sure, when you do tell your family, that they know how much the two of you love each other. When there is no doubt in their minds about this, then bring up the religion aspect of the relationship. Explain to your family exactly what you've explained to us here: that you respect each other's differing religions and are, in fact, able to talk openly about them. Having been missionaries, your family should know about respecting other cultures/religions.

Let me think about this some more...

In the meantime: Hang in there... and tell us more about this wonderful guy!
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Old 12-12-2004, 09:21 PM   #6
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Hey Sula! By sharing with us ur story, ur are being courageous. You'll always find support here

Both you and your boyfriend have dearly and genuinely held beliefs, and for that, both of you should be commended for demonstrating a degree of tolerance and accomodability in a geopolitical environment and uncertainty between Christians and Muslims. After all, we've been fighting each other since the 7th century!

Its great that you two are a couple. I say great because your only concern is for each other. The tricky question is about the long term future. I don't know what long term plans you guys have, but the experiences of mixed marriages between Christians and Muslims often face problems. Don't get me wrong, this is not a GIVEN that mixed marriages will fail, it is a listing of potential problems in the future that you may identify now so that you may resolve it before it surprises you in the future. Which one of us likes unpleasant surprises after all, would we not be grateful to have hindsight?

Anyway, here goes:

1) If you have children, who's faith should they follow. Muslim law stipulates that children if mixed marriages must be Muslim. But seeing as your boyfriend is a loving and understandable person both of you would allow your progeny to choose their own faith. But mind you since Muslim law is open to interpretation, its NOT a must for such children to be Muslim.

2) Parents. The esteem of parents in the Muslim world is paramount, therefore, the exercise of influence of the parents over their children's decisions may manifest strongly. In a lot of cases where mixed marriages go wrong, it is because of the parents interference and insistence of certain practices that make their sons uncomfortable. But because of deference, they accede to their parents.

3) A boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is not the same as a marriage relationship in a mixed religious relationship. Sounds obvious doesn't it? But the obviousness is subtle. The dissonance in a marriage appears more frequently than a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. In majority of cases it is linked to religion.

But apart from that your relationship contains the key ingredient of success which u have identified already: DIALOGUE.

You have established an open dialogue with your Malian stud so now its time for an open dialogue between him and your parents.

Try:
1) Emphasising the common ground of Islam and CHristianity
2) Your boyfriend;s openness to attending church
3) The open dialogue of faiths between him and your parents. Would your parents give up a chance to discuss their faith?\
4) Prayer. Nothing beats prayer. Ask of God genuinely and he will be faithful in answering it.

Despite your experiences of church, it is important to remember this: the church is not Jesus, and Jesus is not the church. The church is a building, the true church is Christ's body which you are part of! The building does not have a relationship with God. You do! Jesus loves you and your boyfriend even if he is a Muslim. After all the Bible does say that even if your partner is not a believer, God will sanctify him by your good conduct. Sounds great doesn't it?

Apologies for any offense.
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Old 12-14-2004, 02:35 AM   #7
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Thanks to those of you who offered comments and advice. I really appreciate hearing your views as well as your words of encouragement. Sul and I have been together for quite a while now and though I am open to the idea of it being a “forever” commitment, I am not ready to make that big of a step yet and am trying to be aware of the ramifications of that possibility without letting it sabotage what we have. What I mean is, I regard him as a potential spouse and try to make observations about what our relationship now suggests for a future one, but I also don’t want to over-analyze, jump the gun and panic because of some small thing that comes up. Does that make sense? In many ways I feel that we have more odds in our favor than maybe other Christian/Muslim, American/African, white/black, 1st world/3rd world couples. (whew, how bout a few more adjectives? ) He is educated and smart, picks up on ideas that maybe haven’t come across his path before easily enough. He speaks English better than pretty much every Malian I have met. His parents were separated when he was young, his father moved away to Canada ages ago and his mother died last year. He was extremely close to his mom, and therefore has a great deal of respect for women (something most Malian men seriously lack) and a spirit of willingness to pitch in and help out. When he is over at my house he jumps in and does the dishes, sweeps and mops, and is generally more a clean freak than I am. He is very independent and unlike pretty much all Malians is not tightly bound to his extended family. In fact, he doesn’t care much as to what they think of him or his choices in life. He’s a very moral person, more so than I am, I would say. He takes his religion seriously and prays five times a day. One evening when we had come back from a restaurant, he was preparing to pray and I, knowing he had already done the requisite number, asked him why he was doing so. “Do you have to have a reason to thank God for the things he’s done for you?” he asked me. “He brought us home safely. That’s reason enough to thank him.” Put me to shame really.

On my side, as I mentioned, I grew up overseas and have always lived between cultures. Never fully in one or the other. So I am pretty comfortable with the ambiguities that exist in a cross-cultural relationship. Not only are we from different worlds, but we speak 3 different languages together. Most of the time we communicate in French, but we also use English and the local language, Bambara. Just think of all the times you have had to second-guess yourself when having a conversation with someone when you both come from the same culture, have the same assumptions,and speak the same language…then multiply the complication factor by a lot! It’s challenging, but it’s worth the work. I have learned more about tolerance being with him than I have in my whole 20-odd years of globe-trotting.

We have had many discussions about theology and run up against plenty of points where we differ. But surprisingly there are a lot of points that we agree on as well. I feel like we are educating each other as to our respective religions, in a way. When you grow up as a Christian, you are taught certain things about Islam and a list of things that “Muslims believe.” But it is interesting to hear their side of it and how it fits into their worldview when not explained through a Christian filter. And likewise, I have clarified a lot of things in his understanding of Christianity. Both our holy books share a lot of the same cast of characters, so it is interesting sometimes to compare stories. You’d be surprised how many “Biblical” names people are called here in Mali. Yacoub, Moussa, Ibrahim, Adama, even my boyfriend’s name Suliman. (Jacob, Moses, Abraham, Adam, Solomon)

In any case, I guess the reason I am so hesitant to tell my parents is that I dread hearing the things like “We’ll pray for you [to change your mind and see the error of your ways]” or verse quoting or telling me stuff about being “unequally yoked” (a verse that is ever taken out of its context) or all the well-meaning things that are going to make me frustrated and want to talk to them even less. We already have an unspoken list of topics we don’t discuss together, such as politics, because we live apart and don’t want to spend what little time we have together being angry and arguing. Also, I feel like no matter what I say, the only words they are going to hear are “black” and “Muslim” and even though my dear parents would vigourously deny being racist, it’s always a bit different when it’s YOUR daughter. My mom comes from the deep south, and my extended family doesn’t even know a single person of color in a social context. And the word Muslim has become so loaded these days, I know the first thing they will think is of headscarves and five wives and forced conversions. I feel that if they could meet Sul face to face and know him for the wonderful individual he is, it would be different. They might not like his religion but at least they would know he was a good man. As it is, I am afraid all they will have to go on are stereotypes.

However, I know I owe it to them to at least be honest and let the chips fall as they may. I am trying to craft a letter, but it is so hard to know how to express myself without sounding like I’m making excuses for myself. I am trying to set it in the context of “you raised me to be an independent person and I know you will respect me for the adult that I am” sort of thing. *sigh * I guess nothing in life is easy.
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Old 12-14-2004, 04:36 AM   #8
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I don't have any solid advice/experience in this, but I know just what you mean when you say "it's different when it's your daughter"

He sounds just wonderful, so I think whatever you have to go through will ultimately be worth it. Maybe just talk about him in the letter to your parents the way you have here.

Good luck
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Old 12-14-2004, 09:53 AM   #9
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Hi Sula,

Here are a couple of ideas, kind of off the cuff:

I don't have personal experience with what you are dealing with, but, I do have a friend who is gay and has to deal with his Mormon family believing he will burn in Hell, and several friends who have married Hispanic or African-American men. I think your approach about being an independent person is a good idea. Are your parents very rigid in their beliefs? Then you have to accept that they may not be happy about your choice. You could also approach them with the idea that you think they may not agree with what you are doing but you prefer to be honest with them instead of hypocritical about it. It's too bad that you can't get them to meet each other, because that would probably make a big difference. The other thing you might try is talking about him bit by bit, you know telling them things he's done for you that are really cool and then eventually telling them that he's black and a Muslim.
You sound like a very intelligent and thoughtful woman, if I were your parents I would be proud of you!
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Old 12-14-2004, 10:35 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by Shaizari
The tricky question is about the long term future. I don't know what long term plans you guys have, but the experiences of mixed marriages between Christians and Muslims often face problems.

Anyway, here goes:

1) If you have children, who's faith should they follow. .
This was the issue I was going to bring it up. Since it's been brought up, I'll go ahead an expand on it.

Islam and Christianity are both "exclusive" faiths, by virtue of the fact that both claim to be the only true way. How can this be reconciled to children, if you are to have any?

I think the children issue will be a big obstacle, even if you have the best of intentions, if you are both strong in your beliefs. I had a Jewish friend who married a Christian woman and confided to me that having the children grow up in both faiths was not working at all. It was creating ill feelings. And Jewish beliefs are much more similar to Christian beliefs than muslim beliefs are.

I fear that one of 2 things will happen:

(1)One of you will wind up giving your childrenm over to the other faith.

(2)The issue will be too big for the marriage/relationship to handle.
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Old 12-14-2004, 01:45 PM   #11
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Sula! It is so good to hear some news from you and to know that you are doing well.


Quote:
Originally posted by sulawesigirl4
I regard him as a potential spouse and try to make observations about what our relationship now suggests for a future one, but I also don’t want to over-analyze, jump the gun and panic because of some small thing that comes up. Does that make sense?
That totally makes sense and seems like a smart approach.

I don't have any direct experience in a situation like yours, but why would that stop me from commenting!

One of my very best friends saw the end of a serious relationship this past summer, due mainly to the tensions of their religious differences. She's jewish, he's christian. I obviously don't say this as some sort of prediction about your relationship with Suliman, I only mean to say that talking with my friend through his experience has made me very aware of the weight of this kind of issue in a relationship and the internal conflict it caused in his own mind. I will be praying for you.


I can totally relate to this feeling:
Quote:
Originally posted by sulawesigirl4
the reason I am so hesitant to tell my parents is that I dread hearing the things like...all the well-meaning things that are going to make me frustrated and want to talk to them even less. We already have an unspoken list of topics we don’t discuss together, such as politics, because we live apart and don’t want to spend what little time we have together being angry and arguing.
I think you're right to pursue honesty with your parents, as unpleasant as it may seem. It may turn out to be quite unpleasant for a while. But in my experience, I've always felt more isolated from my parents when I've witheld my thoughts and life from them, than when I've met their disapproval.
And writing a letter to them gives you a great opportunity to control how you communicate, what you communicate, and the emotional state from which you do so. You might even want to try telling them how you hope they'll respond ("I hope you can...", "I hope you're willing to...", "The best thing you can do for me is...", etc.) Acknowledge the concerns you know they'll have. That can help soften the blow.

Not a lot of wisdom here, but maybe it will help you think about how to approach your parents.

On an unrelated note: Reading your "story" reminded me that I've thought of you a few times over the last year as I've read some books by a guy named Brian McLaren. Don't know if you've ever heard of him or read any of his stuff, but you might like his perspective on faith. Finding Faith (with chapter titles like "Why is Church the Last Place I Think of for Help in My Spiritual Search), and More Ready Than You Realize are two that I've really benefitted from. Check him out sometime if you get the chance. I don't know how easy books are to get in Mali, but I'm always willing to loan stuff out to you or anybody else with a mailing address.
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Old 12-14-2004, 02:52 PM   #12
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I will write a more detailed response sometime soon, but reading your story so far, I am compelled to say that good relationships and love really are perhaps someof the finer things in life.

Appreciate them and cherish them.

And I'm sure that if your bond is strong enough, you can overcome what you need to over come. It's said that the earth moves for love.

But .... hmm.....

"I don't know ...how to say what's got to be said."


But I've felt it, when things click and two hearts beat as one.
I hope the best for you


-Until Next Time
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Old 12-14-2004, 05:40 PM   #13
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Then why don't u and Suliman both write a letter. If ur parents have misconceptions of Islam, let Suliman speak rather than have the media speak for Islam?

As expected, ur not depending on a favourable response, but at least you being open and honest with the situation at hand.
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Old 12-20-2004, 06:57 AM   #14
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Thank you to everyone for their helpful advice and for sharing their thoughts. It is true that honesty is the best policy and that even though telling my parents may be uncomfortable at first, it is better than the alternative. I have thought that writing a letter (with much of the same things I wrote here) would be the best way, because in that respect, I could control the tone of it. However, every time I start, I can't force myself to finish.

Sul and I are going to travel to visit another volunteer friend of mine who lives in a predominantly Christian village (a rarity here in Mali) for Christmas. There are several missionaries that live there as well, and we are going to have dinner with them. So, I thought that I would try to send a letter to my parents before I leave so that during the weekend, they would be unable to contact me and thus have time to think things over. Then, I wonder if Christmas is not a good time because it will make them even more emotional...being all nostalgic and such. Also, my mother recently broke her hip and is pretty much confined to bed, so I worry about here laying there having nothing to do BUT worry about me and my heathen boyfriend.

So, anyone who prays, please do pray for me.

Also, it is great to hear from you again, Spiral! I haven't seen you around in eons! Would love to get to talk to you a bit...drop me an email or something. And if you really are serious about loaning a book or two, I never refuse things sent my way.

walk on,
sula
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Old 12-22-2004, 04:39 AM   #15
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Who knows, maybe it's worse in your mind than it will actually turn out to be

Not to get too personal, but sometimes that happens. I'll remember you in my Christmas prayers
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