Sitting in our hotel room in London after traveling for a month across Kenya and Pakistan I turn to Amal and share with her that, “I feel like a million puzzle pieces thrown and scattered into the air.” When asked why I feel this way I began to process out loud just how amazing, yet intense 2017 has been with all the transitions for Ubuntu, us getting married and the wake both of these have caused throughout my being. I think the biggest one I was feeling at the time and still am to a large degree is the confluence of religion and culture between Amals family and my own, Muslim and Christian coming together and at such a bizarre time in our world as well as under Trump and his treatment of Muslim nations.
If you were to have asked the eager 23 year old, religiously zealous Zane as he was on the road to becoming a missionary in Kenya if 17 years later he would marry into a Muslim family, my response would have been, “100% absolutely not!!” Don’t get me wrong, I am still shocked in many ways, but mainly how seamless this has happened and with such love. I am also beyond surprised by Christ, who has clearly opened my heart to a greater love than I ever would have been receptive too as my 23 year old self. I was at that time just getting to know God and learning about Jesus Christ for myself, reading the Bible for the first time and learning what it feels like to invite Christ into my day to day living. Now, 17 years later, as a priest who meditates and reads the Bible on a daily basis, Christ is more an intimate part of my life than He has ever been. However, those cultural and religiously imprinted prejudices of Muslims are still alive and well within me. That’s what I have found the most stirring and complicated as Amal and I have begun this journey together is the occasionally arising conflicts of who I was with who I am becoming and how God is navigating our souls through these waters.
This was beyond magnified and amplified as we came off of our Kenya trip and journeyed on to Pakistan to meet Amals extended family. Keep in mind I am a well traveled person who has spent time with a variety of cultures and places, but this was my first time being in a Muslim country and most certainly with my newly inherited Muslim family! Going in with my eyes wide open and trying to be as gracious to the culture as I could be, the whole experience was an assault on my senses. One and perhaps the biggest, is the reality that I am an introvert who cherishes my quiet time and my daily rituals of solitude. What I learned is that Pakistani Muslim culture, and especially Amals family’s culture has little to no boundaries or personal space and wants to be on each other, with each other and talking all around each other at all times if possible. 🙂 This single cultural difference may have dwarfed all others, but important to note as it is so radically different from what I am used to. Two…eating! I don’t think I’ve ever been force fed more in my entire life. Kenyans are a hospitable people, but NOTHING compared to what I experienced in Pakistan. These people love to cook, love to host, and even more so love to feed you! I am now a fat person attempting to make new years resolutions in complete desperation. 🙂 Three the religious divide. I found this to be the most fascinating of our differences and similarities. The primary difference is how their religion permeates everything about their day to day living. The call to prayer is public streaming across cities and country spaces alerting every city dweller and villager that it is time to pray, and not just pray, but truly to commune with God. No joke we were at Amals aunts home in the countryside outside of Lahore and the family got up in groups, walking into the back bedrooms to pray together, the men and then the women. I could see through the windows as we sat and had tea how they lovingly made preparations for one another, who was going to lead prayer and making sure everyone had their prayer rugs, etc and then…prayer time was on! I was truly humbled by this just thinking about how much more calm and loving our family gatherings would probably be back in America if we stopped to pray with one another like this on the regular. And I think that’s the most important takeaway for me about this…the regularity of it all. After all we are creatures of habit and this is a habit. A habit that shapes this peoples way of being human, their public recognition to their families, to their communities and overall public life that we are a people in need of God and one another to pray. Wow. This was incredibly humbling as a Christian leader to observe this and in some ways participate. I say participate, because each time it happened, which was EVERY DAY, multiple times a day, I found myself praying, prayerfully talking with God, and prayerfully observing my souls response to the Muslim practice and way of living with God.
One of the important ways this is processing through me since our travels onward from Pakistan is my recognition that I have in many ways kept my faith private, almost too private I think. I think it may be both a by product of our US culture that wants us to keep our faith more private and two, the reality that I have somehow been ashamed or embarrassed about the fact that I am a priest. I think this honestly started as an attempt to protect Ubuntu as we became more of a business with our partnerships with public companies like Whole Foods Market and American Eagle Outfitters. I hid my role as priest in an attempt to protect Ubuntu so that my faith wouldn’t threaten others and prevent them from wanting to do business with us. What once started out as a protection mechanism, I am now realizing, has become more of a social norm for me and I’m honestly not very proud of it. Being in Pakistan and having that exposure of their public faith life really challenged me to be more myself and that includes my faith life. I’m not exactly sure how this will end up manifesting itself, but I am prayerfully placing the request before God to help me discern how to live this part of myself out more publicly and in a way that can serve others and perhaps even serve Ubuntu. Time will tell.