Three thoughts are swimming around my head: part two

Ok, back from a memorial service, and ready to pick up on part two of the three thoughts swimming around my head posting: specifically, the story of St. Francis and the Sultan.

Here is how Wendy Hoke summarizes what Francis experienced at the outset of the Fifth Crusade in 1219 CE @ www.catholic.org/diocese/diocese_story.php?id=21816.  Apparently, Francis of Assisi wanted to be martyred.  He was sickened by the violence and destruction of the Crusades, he was horrified that it was be waged in the name of the Prince of Peace and he thought he might convert the Sultan of Egypt to Christianity.  Whatever the outcome, Francis was certain that it would lead to his martyrdom.  So, he and another brother set out to try and communicate with Sultan Malik-al-Kamil.

Francis entered the sultan’s camp empty-handed as a peacemaker. “He did not consider, whom he had been taught by Christianity to be his enemy, as his enemy,” said Franciscan Father Michael Cusato, director of the Franciscan Institute at New York’s St. Bonaventure University, “He approached all people, beginning with the leper, as his brothers. We know he did not insult their prophet or religion, but talked about why he is a Christian and why people find the right way to God. We know he didn’t insult the prophet or he wouldn’t have come out of there alive,” Father Cusato said.

According to historians, the sultan also was impressed with Francis as a servant of God and Francis came to have some appreciation for Islam. “What impressed him most about Islamic culture is that its daily rhythms are centered on prayer,” Father Cusato said. “And when he returns to Assisi he encourages Christians to have a mindfulness to prayer.”

Now there are a few insights that I take away from this story that are germane to our on-going peace-making through music work:

+ First, Francis was humble enough to change his mind and practice a ministry of presence rather than conversion.  When we first thought about going to Turkey it was with a sense of meeting Muslim musicians.  As we studied more - and encountered people of faith and music in Turkey - this quest became more nuanced and complex.  In fact, we had to change our focus to simply playing jazz with Turks because Turkey is a society in profound transition. 

Istanbul and parts of the West are highly secular while the majority of Anatolia is rural and religious.  Given the rapid urbanization since the 1980s, however, both the traditional people of the country side and those with a puritanical commitment to Islam are moving into the cities. To say that there is tension and polarization is only to hint at the complexities of contemporary Turkey.  What's more, once we moved beyond our initial enthusiasm and naivete, we realized that a respectful dialogue with musicians in a Muslim country would take time and trust.  So, this is phase one of a much larger commitment that requires patience and planning as well as the careful building of bridges.

+ Second, by being open to the Spirit he came to appreciate how prayer is at the core of a Muslim's daily life - a practice he sought to share when he returned to his homeland.  In another post I will share some thoughts about the complexity of the clash between contemporary secular Turkey and the growing edge of conservative Islam. I will also want to make some observations about the challenge of a medieval theological perspective on the cusp of the 21st century.  As Ziauddin Sardar and Zafar Abbas Malik note: The creativity and flexibility of Islamic thought came to a close in the 14th century with the rise of the ultra-orthodox and puritanical school of al-Ghazzali.  Over time, the increasingly narrow perspective of the ulama (religious scholars of Islam) came to redefine three key theological principles that had once served to keep Islam dynamic.

First, they reduced the concept of ilm from meaning "all knowledge both acquired in life as well as revealed by God" to mean only "religious knowledge." This reduced the worldview of Islam from the totality of creation to only the rarefied realm of the ulama.  Second, they transformed the meaning ijma from "the consensus of the entire Islamic community" to mean only the "consensus of the learned" (i.e. the uluama themselves.) And third they closed "the gated of ijtihad" meaning that independent reasons outside of the sanctioned religious pronouncements of the ulama were outlawed.

This had a devastating effect on Muslim society... (substituting) blind imitation for independent critique; reasoning, speculation and innovation were replace with repetition so that interpretation of the Qur'an was frozen in time... and Muslim thought became increasingly ossified and totally obscurantist for a once open society had now become closed.  (Islam: a graphic guide)

There is much to say about this - and I will in another part of this reflection - but at the same time I came away deeply touched by the commitment to prayer I experienced by the faithful in Turkey.  I was moved by the beauty of the mosques - the commitment to social justice - and the importance of the inner journey as the font of all social change.  Like Francis, I have seen a devotion unknown in my own realm - and there are parts of it I like very much.

+ Third at least for a short time his courage and creativity brought a break in the violence as both men saw the face of God in one another. We played jazz - we danced and laughed with new friends - and we made contacts that we hope will grow deeper bonds of trust in time. Last Saturday, in Iznik, one young woman caught a glimpse of how there is a connection between music and peace-making.  Today she sent us this message on Face Book:

ANDY AND SUSAN: YOU ARE THE ANGELS OF THE GOD IN THE WORLD. LAST NIGHT WAS GORGEOUS. NOT ONLY US, OUR SPIRITS DANCE TOO.WE DID VERY FUNNY TRIP WITH BURAK..WE ALSO TALKED ABOUT BOTH OF YOU DURING TRIP.NOW I ARRIVED NEAR OF MY FAMILY. I HOPE WE CAN HOST YOU IN EDIRNE.AND I HOPE WE ARE GOING TO COME TO PITTSFIELD TOO.GOD BLESS BOTH OF YOU..AL MY BEST WISHES FROM MY HEART.WE LOVE YOU..SEE YOU NEXT MONTH HOPEFULLY:)))))WHY NOT!!!!!!

MAKE MUSIC NOT WAR.UNFORTUNATELY WAR IN EVERYWHERE IN HOUSES,IN SCHOOLS,IN RELATIONSHIPS,IN HEARTS,IN EYES,IN SPIRITS..I PRAY A WORLD LIKE A HEAVEN.JUST SINGING,LAUGHING,DANCING,SHARING,SENDING OUR BEST WISHES TO EACH OTHER NOT EVEN ONE WORD NEGATIVE.I GOT THE MESSAGE OF LAST NIGHT FROM THE EYES OF SUSAN&ANDY VERY WELL.STILL HAS IMPRESSIONS ON ME:))))))

We are not going to end human nature - and for one person (and those of us in the band) there is a vision for what life could be.  In this, our music is pre-figurative - like the Eucharist points to the feasting of all of God's people - and that is enough.  My friend, Black Pete, puts it like this on his blog with a quote from South African poet, Chris Abani:

“What I've come to learn is that the world is never saved in grand messianic gestures, but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion, everyday acts of compassion. In South Africa they have a phrase called ubuntu. Ubuntu comes out of a philosophy that says, the only way for me to be human is for you to reflect my humanity back at me.”

+ And fourth both Francis and the Sultan had to risk being misunderstood - and go deeper than culture and fear - to find friendship.  When we started who knew the "Arab Spring" would be blossoming on Turkey's doorstep?  Who could have predicted 10,000 refugees from Syria finding solace and rest after the assaults of Assad?  Or the revolutions of Tunis and Egypt?  In the wake of these profound changes, our little jazz band seems foolish and irrelevant, yes?  But sometimes you have to risk being foolish - in my case a fool for Christ's peace and grace - to alter the status quo of fear and retribution.

And in a small and very humble way, that is what we did.  We have been changed forever - maybe some of our news friends have been, too.  And as we build on this first phase, who knows what beautiful and foolish things might be born?

It has been said that towards the end of his life, Francis began to write a prayer much like the Muslim prayer based on the 99 names of God.  Increasingly, this prayer from Francis resonates deeply for me.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.


O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen


(BTW: aren't Dianne's pix the BEST?!?!)

Comments

Black Pete said…
YES to Dianne's pics! She is an artist for real! The commentary on the ossification of Islam is very interesting--I'd suggest a reread of The Butterfly Mosque for Willow Wilson's encounters with "fundies" (including her and her friend's grimly humourous game of 'punch-fundie') and how Islam seeks to stabilize itself.
RJ said…
Thanks, Peter. And I am going to offer a deeper reflection on my encounter with Islam and popular culture in Istanbul in another post. I pray it will be both nuanced and clear; and while Willow Wilson's insights are very helpful, there is a fascinating and unique clash taking place in Turkey born of both the Kemalist's top down push towards modernity - that is only touching the elite and urban folk - and the rise of a Turkish Islamist intelligensia exploring their own non-totalitarian challenge. It is not yet clear how any of this will shake out. But it is clear that secularism and Islam in Turkey are in conflict. More soon.

Popular Posts