We Are Friends
by Martin Brooks
Most Saturday mornings Susan fixes a great breakfast. Friends arrive around 10. Sometimes as late as 10:30. Some are Iranian. Some are Palestinian. Others Turkish and Yemeni. We always have halal food for our Muslim friends. Most weeks they pitch in. We have traditional eggs and pancakes mixed with dolma, samoosas, hummus, and borek. Savory and sweet, somehow it all comes together over Turkish chai and American coffee. We were going to call it "Brunch and Share," but we are friends, so most just call it breakfast. Fridays we send out a text message, "Are you coming to breakfast this week?" Six to ten usually show up.
"How did your week go?"
"Pretty good. Are you feeling better?"
Typical banter among friends. Susan is putting the finishing touches on the meal as I pour coffee and tea. Our friends flow in and out of the kitchen helping themselves to serving plates for whatever they brought that week. "Can I use the microwave to warm this up?"
Over breakfast, we never know where the conversation will go; movies or their graduate classes, kids, travel or world politics. "What did you bring this week?"
"This is dolma. It is grape-leaves with some rice and spices inside." (Did you know making proper dolma is a test used to by families to evaluate a potential bride? Apparently, it needs to be small, the size of the little finger.)
Around 11:00 the dishes are cleared from the table, coffee cups are refilled, and the conversation turns to spiritual things. We have been reading through Matthew in the Bible.
"Where did we leave off last week?"
"We finished the section in chapter six about fasting."
"OK, who wants to read the next section?" And off we go.
The readings nearly always remind our Iranian friend of a Persian proverb.
"Yes, we have something like that in Turkey, too."
"Well, the Qur'an says...."
"What do you think Jesus meant when he said....?" It's amazing what we learn from each other's cultures and religions as our life experiences are compared and contrasted.
We had talked about seeking first God's kingdom and how we should not have to worry about clothing and food and drink. Was Jesus just stating a general principle or making a promise? What about starving people in Somalia? Was their suffering due to God's failure to provide or man's greed and hoarding goods that were meant to feed the hungry?
"OK, Matthew seven. Who wants to read?"
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.¨Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces."
"So what do you think? I understand the judging part, but what is this pearls and pigs thing? How does that tie into judging?"
"Sometimes when you share your deepest thoughts, people judge you. Maybe Jesus is saying you should hold back and not put those precious pearls out there for pigs who judge you and use it against you."
"So Jesus said, 'In the same way you judge others, you will be judged.' Sometimes my Christian or Western friends get frustrated and say things like, 'Why don't Muslims speak out against terrorism?' I know they do, but I am wondering if there is anything about not judging others in Islam."
"Yes," my Palestinian friend said, "Kafir." He looked to our Turkish friend for confirmation. "Kafir" means unbeliever. If you say someone is "kafir" and they really are a believer, YOU will be considered "kafir" in God's sight for making a false accusation."
My Turkish friend gave an example. Fethullah Gulen spoke about Osama Bin Laden. He said, "Terrorism is inconsistent with the teachings of Islam and no one who participates in terrorism can be said to be Muslim. He did not specifically say Bin Laden was not a Muslim."
In the context of friendship, we can talk about anything. God takes the conversations in amazing and frequently unexpected directions. We learn from each other's cultures and experiences and perspectives. No one takes offense at the questions because we know we truly love each other. We are friends, and our friendship has stood the test of time. Tears are sometimes shed. Misunderstandings are clarified. Disagreements are acknowledged, and we remain devoted to each other. We are better off because we are friends.
When noon rolls around we close the Bibles, pack up leftover food and begin to look forward to next week. What will Susan fix? The Bible passage will tell us to ask, seek, and knock; and God will open doors. I wonder where this conversation will go.