Monday, January 30, 2012

Arrogant Innocence...?

I stumbled upon this quote in Snow this afternoon:

There are two kinds of Communists: the arrogant ones, who enter the fray hoping to make men out of the people and bring progress to the nation; and the innocent ones, who get involved because they believe in equality and justice. The arrogant ones are obsessed with power; they presume to think for everyone; only bad can come of them. But the innocents? The only harm they do is to themselves. But that's all they ever wanted in the first place. They feel so guilty about the suffering of the poor , and are so keen to share it, that they make their lives miserable on purpose.

What an accurate quote.

Or is it?

The complete dichotomization of the two types is revealed well in history. We see the arrogant Communist leaders bent on progress to the point where the people become exploited and oppressed. We see the innocent Communist dreamers who believe in the words and ideas, and still defend Marx's ideas as unrealized in our history.

However, the quote leaves me wanting more. More substance, more nuance. It states that only arrogant Communists, who do not uphold, or even believe in, equality and justice, are the only ones who bring progress to their nations. This is problematic because innocent idealists can also bring progress to their nation - after all, Hoover lead the U.S. through World War I - and because in this quote, that the arrogant power-hungry men are Communists. These men are not Communists at all. 

There is a line drawn here which connects the innocent and the masochistic. Innocence is equated with an inherent desire to live in suffering. I think the innocent yearn to empathize with the suffering - not to suffer to a point beyond hope themselves. People who believe in equality and justice above all do not want to bring themselves down to the level of the most impoverished sufferers, they want to bring those who are suffering out of their depravity and into some sort of harmony.

Or is the hope of true equality naïve to the fact that the only way humanity will ever be equal is in its ability to sin and its ability to suffer?


I like to believe that we are capable of bringing a morale and hope-filled equality that is based on Reason, Rights, and Righteousness. Does that make me an innocent Communist?

Which is my final problem with this excellent, thought-provoking quote. Both types of Communists defined here are capable of bringing nothing but pain to the world.

 Let's remove the label Communists.

It's quite understandable that arrogant men who want nothing more than power will not bring good to their constituents, or the world. But to declare that innocent men who believe in equality and justice are only capable of bringing harm to themselves and creating suffering? I have a hard time buying that.

Maybe that makes me an innocent who believes in equality and justice.

But what does that make me?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cause I Need You To Look Into Mine...

We have some pretty awesome students on this trip.

Below is a video shot and edited by one of them, Keaton Hudson.

He did an awesome job.

Westmont In Istanbul - First 2 weeks from Keaton Hudson on Vimeo.

Sorry for posting two links with the same song, but hey, I guess it means that somebody heard my words.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Day in the Life...

I didn't really have a good plan for my last day in Istanbul [we are traveling the country from January 22nd to February 3]. Except for fish-bread.

Well, that's the literal translation, anyway. Fish-breads, or Balık Ekmek, are actually Mackerel sandwiches that are made fresh on one bank of the Golden Horn. You grab the sandwich straight from the grill master, who grabbed it straight from the fisherman. It's a bit of an Istanbul institution. So, I was sure to get one before I was out of there.

I woke up after sleeping in late and walked about two miles along the Bosporus. Stumbled upon some old churches from the Ottoman period. Found some intriguing and fun street art. Went out the wrong way from the underground pedestrian crossing. Was mesmerized by the row of fisherman along the bridge. Had trouble deciding which sandwich boat to buy from. But finally, I got my fish-bread.

It was delicious.

But it was only 1 o-clock by now. I had a long day ahead, and no plans. Naturally, this leads a man to do the one thing he can do when he has time to burn in a city. I started walking.

I didn't make it far.

I headed down. To the lower level of the bridge. It's covered with restaurants and hawkers. It's fun. And surreal to have your view interrupted by lots of fishing lines connected to poles forty feet above you. As I was walking, I decided that "gosh darnit, a beer sounded great right about now". So I stopped by one of the restaurants and ordered an overpriced Efes.

It was delicious.

And what a scene! How great to sit and sip while many pass by. To practice my Turkish with the waiter, and laugh with him at tourist who walk quickly by his doors. Then, I noticed a younger man walk by with a very nice camera. He looked me in the eyes. There was a sense that he wanted a companion, but it wasn't strong enough for me to take out my earphone.

He didn't make it far.

Two minutes later he walked by again. He asked me if the food was any good. I said 'yes, but probably overpriced. Though I haven't seen a menu'. "Can I join you?" he asked.

"Absolutely, brother!" came my response. I think it surprised me as much as him.

And so began our four hour conversation. He is a Canadian-born Pakistani-by-descent recently Master's-thesis-defending political scientist. He specialized in international relations, especially regarding Pakistan. He is a hockey fan. He is trying to balance various methods of communication - seeing the benefits of interconnectedness, but missing the real relation and conversation in personal correspondence. He is a travel fiend, and adores seeing the Fallen Empires of long ago. He is extremely personally interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but would call himself "pro-understanding" and struggles with bringing people together rather than perpetuating narratives. He is grappling with his religion - and his fellow believers - trying to fight against truth being twisted in ways that crush its inherent value, or his religion being manipulated to harm others.

Can you see why we got along so well?

I think I may have met my Islamic doppleganger.

I hope our paths cross again.

Days of the Future-Past...

I gave the following devotion to the group of Friday.

Past - Future - Present

Think back to that far way time: 2011. Remember  yourself innocently. Think of where you were.
-You were home. Soaking up your last few days in America.
-You had no idea what you could get for just two Lira.
-You didn't know the taste of fresh kebap.
-You had no idea what roasted chestnuts smell like. Or how annoying that smell could be.
-You had never seen the majesty of Justinian's great church.
-You hadn't heard the call to prayer minutes apart from church bells.
-You had no idea what "bomba gibiyum" or "lavabos nerede?" meant. Or how useful they would be.
-You probably had no idea what the inside of a mosque actually felt like.
-Or what Syriani church services were like.
-Or how hilly Istanbul really is.
-You hadn't seen the fire in a Turk's eyes when they talk about politics.
-Nor the slow measured words used when other words like "Armenian" or "Kurd" come up.

You've come far! 2012 has been an eventful year! You should be proud of how much you have been blessed to see in two weeks. But, before we continue.
Think back to 2011 again. Remember what you were actually feeling like on January 5th? You weren't focused on January 5th, you were thinking about where you would be on January 7th! Us Westerners are trained to focus-on-the-future.

Speaking of the future, lets try another thought experiment. Clos your eyes and picture this:
-Golden. The sunset reflects off of the sea. Birds fly by and cry out against the ocean wind. You're surrounded by beauty - but Izmir is known for its beauty. [Izmir]
-Now imagine a stone amphitheater. You can see a Roman path to your right and the ocean in the distance. The marble is warn out and chilly - but it's alive. Long ago, a man from Tarsus orated his letter in this very theater. Can you hear his words? "And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the good news that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as His own - by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago." [Ephesus]
-Now imagine a strange ceremony. It's religious, and somehow relatable, yet it's untouchable. It's bizarrely romantic. It seems totally normal that one of the most famous poets would find many muses here. [Konya]
-Now imagine silence. Warmth. Laughter. The beach. Relaxation. Refreshment. Slow-ness. [Antalya]
-Now imagine rock. Lots of rock. But imagine soft rock - not like Enya or Sting or Ray LaMontagne - like easily malleable. So easily malleable there are caves all around. Interconnected caves. Cities, even. All underground. Now imagine going into one of these caves and looking up to see a dome decorated with paintings of Mary, Jesus, and many angels - then, you realize that this is a church - an actual, ancient, underground church. [Cappadocia]

OK, open your eyes.
Sounds good, doesn't it?
But don't get too carried away just yet. These next two weeks could be really hard. You could be sick of that person who snores on the bus. You could be sick of buses in general. You could just be sick. You could be experiencing your first wave of homesickness. The future is totally unknowable - and it's impossible for us to live future-oriented.
Eventually, our future-oriented emotions - excitement, nervousness, anxiety, fear - they all run out. They hit their expiration dates. Or, you become so enraptured with them that you forget what it's like to live without them.

So, this is a challenge.
To me as much as it is to you - to live in the present. To dwell on what the call to prayer means for you right now. To commit that Turkish to memory instead of flushing it our of your head. To think about your friends on the streets of Istanbul, and not the ones on the streets of Santa Barbara. To talk with the person in this room who you still don't know. To look at the people on Istiklal - not the ground or the buildings, but the people. To get a Turk to tach you backgammon. To see how present God is in this room - and out in the streets.

I'm going to play a song , and for the five minutes it's playing, just live in the present. Be with your thoughts. Find meaning in the words, or just listen to the melody. But shed yourself of anything regarding excitement or worry about the future or longings for the past, and just be here.

This is the song I played:

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I am watching snow fall silently upon the streets of Istanbul. The Silence of Snow… Thanks for giving that meaning, Pamuk. My typing is the only thing that can be heard apart from the occasional Turkish murmuring. You see, the snow and heavy rain has cut the power in this little café. The refrigerator, the kahve grinder, the oven – it’s all off. Powerless. Silent. These snowflakes are the biggest I’ve ever seen. They fall hard and fast, but their impact is totally unseen among the much more present rain.

The dance of this storm is quite like listening to a symphony. It will increase in speed and size; snowing hard and quick. Then, suddenly, it will slow to almost a strolling pace. Just a slight reminder of the bitter cold above.

The Bosporus is totally indistinguishable from the clouds and fog. And Asia is completely invisible. It is over there. On the other side of that bridge in the distance, that now looks like it ends midway over the water. Only a few miles from the other continent, and yet it feels as far away as if I were back in North America.

Without making a sound, the snow has separated continents, tamed the busyness of the city, and muzzled the bustling noises of 18 million as they stand and watch.

How can one not love the snow?

Incense and Rose

We timidly entered the foyer. Our whispers, despite our best efforts, still reverberated off the cold and gray marble. Should we go in? The priest is singing Vespers. How improper would it be to go in now? I don’t know…

Then, we were startled by a loud thud as the door behind us closed. We looked at the shorter, dark-haired man heading our way. “Tamam? Acık?” We asked with our teeny knowledge of Turkish. “Evet. Evet” He replied and threw open the huge church doors.

The sound of vocal harmony flooded our ears as the grandeur of the sanctuary was revealed.  Gold. Marble. Limestone. Silver. Massive columns and portraits. All twelve apostles numbered among uncountable Saints. The song, totally in Greek, meant nothing to us, except it was gorgeous. The divinity of the words was impossible to miss, despite not knowing more than 10 Greek words.

But all of those senses paled in comparison to the most unmistakable marker that you are now in the presence of the Almighty: Incense filled every corner as we sat, and prayed, in the Aya Trinada Greek Orthodox Church.


Our pace noticeable slowed as we stepped through the large, foreboding gates garnished with gilded Arabic calligraphy. Ok, do I take my shoes off now? Or should I wait. It’s Friday, should I go in yet, or will I be shooed out during prayer? I don’t know…

Then, suddenly. Keaton opened the canvas flap into the mosque. He immediately found the face he was looking for. “Hello! Merhada, Ibrahim!” The aged, mustached groundkeeper smiled wider than seemed possible. “Hudson! Hudson!” Ibrahim greeted Keaton in the traditional Turkish way, but did it as if he was seeing his grandson again. Throwing open his arms, he did the same to Peter and I.

We were given a tour of the impressive Tophane mosque. The intricate painted tiles shone in the dim lights. Medallions with massive Arabic words proudly presented the names of those holy forerunners. The only sound were the occasional mumble of prayer and Ibrahim’s proud voice explaining, in some twisted Turkish-German-English the incredible history of the building. We were then left at the back sitting in awe of the domes, arches, and friezes left by Mimar Sidan.

But all of those sensed paled in comparison to the most unmistakable marker that you are now in the presence of the Almighty: Ibrahim returned with a bottle of rose water and filled our cupped hands as we sat, and prayed in the Ali Paşa Mosque.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tabula Rasa...

One week ago I stated to be lost and enraptured in a sense of Wonder. I'm not sure I was aware of how I would be completely unable to be in any other way! 

 The past week has been spent prepping for the students to come for their semester. After all, this is THEIR semester, not mine. You see, I thought that I knew Istanbul kinda-well. Like I had some bearing on what it was like. Perhaps I was 50% integrated into what this city was like. 

Try 10%. Maybe. 

 My first encounter was to wander - just a bit - to try to get my bearings a little on my first morning. Not only was I completely wrong on where I thought I was, I had no clue at all as to where I was or where I would be going. Combine that with the fact that I had 0 internet access in my flat, and I was very thankful that the other leaders were coming to find ME, and not the other way around.
 After breakfast and some walking, something hit me. I had seen absolutely nothing of what we were experiencing on that walk. When I was here last, I had spent the entire week on the other side of the Golden Horn (in Sultanahmet for you Istanbullions). I was in completely uncharted territory. Sweet :) So, being three steps behind where I thought I was; it became clear that it was time to follow, and not try to lead at'all. This was wise. For some reason, I can get around European/Middle Eastern cities with no problem once I can map them out a bit - completely contrary to American urban centers. 

After about three days of relying totally on a map and others to guide me through the 20 minute walk from my flat to the rest of the group, I think that I've got it down. I think. 

 This week was filled with meetings. The language institute we're using. The university where we will be staying. The many wonderful people already here supporting our crazy little idea. Basically days were: 
 -Walk the city. Get bearings. Revel at street art. 
-Meeting for breakfast - dicuss plans, current state of our idea, current state of Turkey - drink Turkish tea.
-Walk. Get bearings. Ride form of public transport. Marvel at the how gorgeous and new every bus/tram/metro is. 
-Meeting for lunch - dicuss ideas, talk about current state of things - drink Turkish tea 
-Walk. Remember that this city is actually built on hills and makes SFO look flat. 
-Afternoon break - spent recapping at a café - drink Turkish tea 
-Walk. See the lights turn on. Try to figure out how to get places in the dark. 
-Meet for dinner - discuss at length where we are in plans, recap ideas - drink Turkish tea 
-Walk home. Pace self to not look like a tourist. Think about maybe brewing a cup of tea. 

 Last night was nearly inexplicable. I thought I was over the butterflies after I got here. The whole ride to the airport to pick up the students I was giddy.

'Seriously. This is it. It all starts now. You've prepped for a whole year for this.'

How incredible it was to see them all come through the arrivals door - with every one of the bags to boot. Now THAT'S a miracle. Bringing students to their flats was just as incredible. I was filled with joy when they opened the door and were dumbfounded at how sweet these apartments are. There was nothing like standing on the roof and looking out at the Bosphorus with the 7 names you've read too many times, prayed for over and over, and graded the papers of. That is something special. 

 Finally - and more philosophically - something truly divine happened today. Dana and I have been preparing a scavenger hunt for the students to do for today (they are all currently out in Istanbul. Wide-eyed, I'm sure). We had a time for breakfast and were all talking about the night. We were keen to see how many of them would be wrecked by jetlag. Thankfully, they all said the same thing:

"I slept great! Didn't wake up till my alarm at 9! In fact, did anyone hear the call to prayer this morning? No? Huh, I wonder what it sounds like..."

 As we were commissioning them and getting into our introduction for the semester, we took some time to pray. Out loud, the group spent about twenty minutes. It was beautiful - students and leaders alike, lifting little thoughts, concerns, and mostly praises up to the keeper of these good words. Then, suddenly, through our relative quiet, came the echoing sound of the Adhan. This gorgeous reminder that we were not alone in our prayers electrified the room. The feeling of awe from the students was palpable - even when the room had its collective head bowed. 
 It was, in a word: Mükemmel.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Wandering Wonder...?

When I traveled to Europe two years ago, my wanderlust infected self reflected. Often. 

One of the beautiful outcomes of this reflection was a need to redefine some of the more commonly reference virtues and emotions. I was wary that this practice was a one-off, but as I sat to journal for the first time in 2012, on my flight across the Atlantic, it happened again.

"I almost feel as though my excitement has hit a wall. You can only maintain a future-oriented emotion for so long. It seems that anxiousness, nervousness, and excitement have expiration dates - or perhaps Fill To lines? Either way, I'm hoping that every emotion runs anew upon landing in London... 
 Wonder. Now that's a future-oriented emotion. But it never runs out. 
Some people just lose wonder. Forget what it is - how it feels coarsing through your blood. Most, however, always send something of "wonder". Maybe the reason it can be sustained is due to the fact that wonder is not focused on the self. 

 Wonder, awe, marvel - these are all selfless emotions. They turn the gaze of the subject to an outside object. Nervousness, anxiety, excitement, on the other hand, are all intraspective. They may regard or incorporate other objects, but the focal point is on he self, and how the self experiences or acts. 

 How much more beautiful is wonder? It is Marvelous, Awesome, Wonderful. There it is then. That's it. A pledge: To live this trip inundated, insulated, and inebriated with a sense of wonder."