Category Archives: musing

you say you want a(nother) revolution…?


revolution                                                               © erin dunigan 2013

Because I don’t have a tv, I am not accustomed to the 24-hr a day news stream put forth by the American media outlets. So, I was somewhat shocked to begin hearing that folks who get their news from such outlets were using words like coup and seemed skeptical and somewhat doubtful about the people’s revolution unfolding in Egypt, as opposed to the celebratory sense I got from those actually on the ground in Egypt. 

Here it is, July 4. The day we celebrate our independence – and yet we cannot celebrate with another people’s revolutionary movement, half a world away? This, to me, seems odd, and a bit sad.

Why wouldn’t you be celebrating? I wondered to myself.

Haven’t you seen the images that have been coming from Egypt, the images of hundreds of thousands (and many say millions) of Egyptians taking to the streets to stand for ‘Egypt?’ Can you not see what I’m seeing? How is your view of the same events so different?

Perhaps I got it wrong – perhaps I missed something.

But, upon further checking with friends in Egypt – friends from many different places and sources, the message was clear and it was unanimous – this is a good day for Egypt, for Egyptians. This is a people’s revolution against a sect that had tried to hijack the events of January 2011. So, rather than sit back in resignation, the people decided to take their revolution back.

It is a beautiful story. A story of courage. A story of hope. A story of unity amidst so much diversity – Christian and Muslim, just to name one of the most obvious factors to be seen amongst the protestors.

Of course this is just the beginning. Of course the ‘work of democracy’ is hard and messy and not always linear. Of course it is something that can be hijacked (again) –  but this is precisely what gives these days hope – that the people have awakened from their slumber and have come together to say ‘enough’ – or, in the Arabic slogan for the June 30 re-revolution, تمرد, tamarod, rebel.

It was said during the January 2011 revolution that there were those called couch potatoes, the couch potato party – those who did not come down from their high-rise apartments to join in, but who stayed safely upstairs in their apartments, on their couches – what we might call armchair quarterbacking. Those who did not want to get involved, get messy, or participate in the demonstrations but who preferred to hang back and see how it all played out.

It seems that we in America, sitting in front of our TVs, safely on our couches, are more prone to provide commentary than commendation, to be cynical rather than celebratory.

I wonder if, on this July 4th, as we celebrate our freedom, hard won, often fought for, if we might also take a moment to celebrate ‘revolution’ – for that too, is in our history, in our heritage.

Revolution – a sudden, radical, or complete change, a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something, a change of paradigm.

I wonder if we too might not need a bit more ‘revolution’…

jesus and the big gay shrimp boil


that way                                                                      © erin dunigan 2013

In light of Wednesday’s supreme court decisions, and in light of what has come to be the inevitable outrage expressed by ‘Christians,’ I feel something of an obligation to contribute to the conversation.

I am a Christian – a minister, no less. I’m even technically categorized as an evangelist.

Even still, I find myself more and more a bit hesitant in claiming the word ‘Christian’  –  a term that seems too often hijacked from its original meaning (Christ follower) to become something synonymous to hatred, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, fear, and exclusion. One only has only to google “Why are Christians so…” to see that the most often used completions for that phrase are ‘mean, annoying, weird…’ As someone who has been ordained not just as a ‘minister’ within the Presbyterian church, but as an ‘evangelist’ I’m no stranger to trying to take words back from those who have sought to tarnish them with such ugliness. At its heart the word evangelist means someone who shares ‘good news’ – but you’d hardly know that based on the placard waving ‘Christian evangelists’ whose news is often only ‘good’ for them.

I am a Christian. I am a minister. And the night of the Supreme Court’s overturning DOMA I attended a ‘Big Gay Shrimp Boil’ to celebrate the SCOTUS rulings – not in spite of the fact that I am a Christian and a minister, but precisely because of the fact.

This, as I understand it, is what it means to follow Jesus – the same Jesus who was accused, in his day, of being a ‘drunkard and a glutton’ and of hanging around the ‘wrong kind of people’ while the ‘right kind of people’ hurled insults.

Christian brothers and sisters, how can we be so blind?

How can we not see that, were Jesus to walk this earth today, odds are he would be at the Big Gay Shrimp Boil enjoying his apple martini along with the rest of the guests? That this is precisely where he would be – amongst those who have been told that they are ‘other’ that they are somehow ‘unclean’ or that they are not worthy enough of God’s love…

The Jesus that I follow came to bring good news – for all people – that life, abundant life, real life full of goodness and love and compassion and justice – that this life is available, here and now, and that this God-infused life is already at hand, already here, already now. It is not some fire insurance to keep you out of the fire pits of hell when you die. Jesus offered healing to those who approached him. He touched lepers who no one else would go near. He gave women dignity in a society that did not value them. He excluded no one, regardless of their ‘sin’ – and had his harshest critique for the self-righteous religious who thought they had it all together.

I am so thankful for my upbringing in an evangelical Christian church that taught me to take the Bible seriously, to take Jesus seriously, to take my faith seriously and to seek God. My faith has shaped me. It has made me who I am today.

For it is precisely that foundation that led me to this place.

It is because I follow Jesus that I found myself, that night, cheering in celebration as we toasted to love, commitment, and justice – to rainbows, not to hate.

What was a Christian minister doing at a Big Gay Shrimp boil? Ask Jesus – I followed him there.

subways, hospitality and risk

I had been warned about Cairo subways. I love to travel, to try new things, meet new people, experience things so different from my daily life. But it’s also been somewhat beaten into me – as a woman, you must be careful. As a woman, things are different.


cairo at night                                                                                       © erin dunigan 2013

I’ve ridden plenty of crowded subways in my life − in New York City, in Osaka Japan, in Mexico City amongst them. Subways where one has to push ones way just to board the train. Subways where women are warned to stay close to their male companions, lest the pushing from strangers become a bit too directed.

So as we descended into the station for the Cairo subway I was prepared with such stories. There was even a car just for women, I had been told, to help mitigate some of these issues. I chose instead to remain with my male colleagues, not wanting to get separated in the journey.

We stepped onto the car. It was rather full, but not so full that we had to push our way on. But standing room only full. As I looked around I saw that I was the only woman in the car.

And then it happened.

A man next to me, seated, got up and stood next to me. As he did so he motioned something to me. I quickly realized what he was suggesting. Was this really happening?

He was offering me his seat. I smiled, and thanked him, using one of my five Arabic words – Shukran. As I settled into my seat the man next to me leaned over and spoke something in my direction. “Welcome to Egypt,” he said and smiled.

I am not doubting that there are harrowing experiences for women on Cairo subways. I’m not doubting that it is wise to keep aware and watchful when traveling in new places, navigating other cultures. I have myself experienced such harrowing subway situations in other parts of the world, as have friends of mine. Caution and entering situations with eyes wide open seem to be wise ways of being.

But what I was struck by that spring evening leaving Tahrir Square, was that I had been taught to fear, to approach the situation with skepticism, with a bit of distance, while my experience had been so entirely opposite – one of welcoming, hospitality, and graciousness.  How often are we taught to fear ‘the other’ rather than to be open to him or her? I wonder if that fear of the other doesn’t keep us from the encounters, like my own, that would so completely disprove that generalized sense of disease? For there are some who, I am sure, would have avoided the subway entirely, having heard the stories, and in so avoiding, would have also barricaded themselves from the encounter to disprove those very stories.

This theme made its way to the surface again in a passage from Esther de Waal’s Living on the Border where she discusses white South Africa during the time of apartheid:

“The white proponents of that regime were so completely and utterly confident of the righness of their stance that they shut the door totally on the other. Metaphorically, they barricaded themselves into their laagers, those circles of upturned wagons that the Afrikaners traditionally used to protect themselves on their long marches. Two worlds had now become polarized, without contact, without sympathy or understanding.”

As I pondered her words it was not long before these stories began to overlap – mine on the Cairo subway, de Waal’s about borders and exclusion of the other, and, of course, current debates within my own society and culture about inclusion, exclusion, of whom to fear and what places and people to avoid.

I find that more than any other emotion, I am thankful for that nighttime subway ride in Cairo. Something that could be seen as inconsequential, or even as reckless or unwise. Perhaps it was more of a risk that I realized. But I wonder, if we barricade ourselves off from the other, if we keep ourselves ‘safe’ from encountering those we perceive as different or strange or alien, if we are not, in actuality, putting ourselves at a far greater risk.

“Across the border then, whether it’s a human border or the strange frontier with God, is something or someone who is more hospitable than we dreamed; and we learn this by taking the risk of hospitality ourselves.”                 -Ester de Waal

unexpected hope

TI0A0203It’s my first visit to Beirut, and though I’ve been in the region before, it’s my first time returning since the conflict in Syria. Hearing stories of displacement, violence, fear and destruction made for a good but heavy day. I was full of such thoughts, wondering how one could possibly offer any word of hope, encouragement, or life in the midst of so much that reeks of death and despair, when a bit of something resembling hope came from an unlikely encounter.

I had returned to the restaurant where we ate the night before – wanting to try the artichoke salad that I had turned down in favor of wild mushroom risotto (yes, I love my food). The same waiter was there – the same waiter I had asked the night before for his recommendation between the two. “I had to come back to try the artichoke salad,” I explained. “I knew you would,” was his response.

As I ate, I tried to sort through the many difficult stories we had heard during the day – stories much more complicated than what we seem to hear on American media sources. I wasn’t surprised by this, but I was troubled with all that we had learned in such a short time.

As I asked for the check I couldn’t help it – I needed to know. So, I asked my waiter what he thought of the situation in Syria. “Well, I’m not a political person,” he began – and then shared one of the more beautiful explanations I had heard yet.

“We Lebanese, we just want to dance and to love and to live our lives,” he began. “We don’t want war – we’ve had enough of that already,” he continued.

He explained to me that, though he was a Muslim, those people who were resorting to violence, hatred, and destruction did not speak for him. In fact, he wondered if they really were Muslims at all, since their actions and their stands are so counter to the Islam that he knows and follows. I knew what he meant immediately, as I realized how often I, a Christian, want to distance myself from those who call themselves Christians but whose actions of hatred, killing, and violence do not represent the Christ whose love I aim to bear witness to in the world.

But he also admitted that peace, in his estimation, would not come easily or quickly. Though he and those he knows prefer to live in peace – even with the state of Israel – a state which will not allow Lebanese to enter, and a state whose citizens cannot enter Lebanon – he realizes that not all Lebanese are ready to accept such a view.

I wish now I had recorded our conversation – his responses were beautiful and life giving in the midst of so much conflict, so much violence, so much fear and mistrust.

“We know that peace will not come soon,” he continued. “Maybe not for ten years or even ten years more – but there will be peace. And, in the meantime, we are the ones to work to build the peace in this world.”

Amen. May it be so. And thanks be to God for the gift of this chance conversation – a bit of unexpected grace.