What I Believe

I’ve been reflecting a lot about what I believe, and why I believe what I do. I don’t think I could trust another who has not been through this process. Because, if you don’t know why you stand for something, then there’s someone you’re fooling–either yourself or someone else.

I am not having a crisis of faith, but I’ve had to reexamine it, in light of some recent events. Here, I’ll merely focus on Trinidad & Tobago’s carnival celebration this past February.

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No, this is not me. But there were feathers, feathers everywhere

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I was delighted to find traditional drumming!

Carnival is a five day street party (though officially two days) in Trinidad, and the largest annual event in the country. Having just moved here a few months prior, I made it my mission to see different aspects of it. I was convinced that it would give me deeper insight into the culture and history of the people and nation.

Long story short, it did. It was fantastic, seeing the city come alive in preparation and with people. The electric feeling of excitement in the air. The academic conversations it sparked. Also, the more superficial conversations it sparked.

Some of my Christian friends, however, did not approve of my methods, and it turned into a situation where I was led second-guess myself.

The point is this, Christians in Trinidad and in the wider Caribbean shun carnival because of what it ‘represents’ and what goes around it and out of it. I use quotation marks because I acknowledge the dualistic nature of the event. Firstly, it began as a celebration for the freed enslaved to celebrate their emancipation from the British colonial masters. Over time, it has become an outlet for mainstream media to feature music, for liquor companies to make money, and for ordinary people from near and far to dress scantily and carry on in the streets with their “baddest behavior.”

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A float depicting stick-fighting

Bad things follow carnival. Just this year, a beloved Japanese tourist was found dead in her costume just days after the event. People get alcohol poisoning. Men and women alike cheat on their partners, fueled by too many drinks and the general sexuality of the event. Thieving rises. Prostitution rises. Unplanned-for babies are conceived.

Yes, indeed, I understand clearly why the Christians flee. Why they condemn.

However, I feel another point just as strongly: it is possible to enjoy and take part in carnival without subscribing to any (most) of those things. I had a really great time meeting new people, observing the costumes, listening to the music, and understanding that sexuality is an inherent part of the culture of the African diaspora.

I have my faith, but I am also a scholar and a traveller. I have learned not to condemn something that I do not understand. I have learned to observe and question. I know how to research (and I intend to do more of it). And I have learned, also, to have a good time without compromising my own principles. There is more to the story, of course, but I will not go into excessive detail about it. It isn’t necessary.

At the end of all of it, I have this understanding about myself, and I’m okay that it will offend some or make them uncomfortable. This is what I believe for myself.

Blessings,

Feroza~

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Here’s Looking Back

img_20151223_154259.jpgI feel like I’ve spent a lot of time looking back. But I do because I want to remember. The power of memory is that people and moments are kept alive. The power of memory is that you know exactly what you want (or don’t want) moving forward. It’s important to remember in order to be grateful. It’s important to remember, in order to be kind. It is important to remember, so that you can chart your path forward and avoid the mistakes of the past, if you can.

But I think I’ve done too much remembering in the past weeks. I’m ready to properly look ahead. 2015 taught me courage to go after my deepest desires, and I learned of the beautiful ripple effect that occurs when one goes after their dreams. This year, I wish for no holding back. I wish the same for you: go after your dreams. Do what you can. See how the universe rewards you. It will.

~Feroza

Journey of a Single Step

 

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Travel? All I need is a notebook, a guitar and a pocketful of soap.

Sometimes the universe will give you a helping hand in realizing you deepest passions or desires. For me, it was when I studied abroad in Brazil. Living in what was then an ‘alien country’ was necessary in providing the conditions for me to finally turn to music without shame. You see, despite all the travel adventures I had while I was there, between those bright moments and epic photos, I was deeply lonely. I had to face a kind of alone-ness that only my guitar could help me navigate through. What I didn’t anticipate in using music as my medicine were the perfect strangers and new friends who would affirm me in my gift. I needed that extra push. But I took that first step.

I want to encourage you to take a tiny leap of faith in going after what you’d only dream about doing this year. Wanna publish a book? Start writing short stories or poems. Start small: a sentence. Or start big: an entire book in one go. Share them with friends. Wanna dance? Maybe take a class, if you can. Or maybe start following those ‘how-to’ dance videos on YouTube. Wanna run a marathon? Start by running up and down your block. Wanna travel? Take a breath and book that flight. Or, find alternative ways to make it happen if you don’t have the money for luxury.

There are so many ways to make it happen. So many ways. Start small. Start big. Set those goals. And then work practically toward them.

You get the point. Over time, the jar will get full with tiny droplets of water. Start where you are, and do what you can with what you have. Soon enough you’ll find yourself free falling into something you couldn’t even imagine when you began. This is my wish for you in the new year.

The quote that made 2015 for me:

I am going to do something in your days
    that you would not believe,
    even if you were told. [Habakkuk 1:5]

~Feroza

Worship On Campus

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Find us near Tommy Trojan every Wednesday, 1-2pm


The institution where I did my student exchange in São Paulo, PUC-SP, is a school that oozes with creative energy. At first, it baffled me. There, different people like to blast different music at the same time in the same quad, people dress in bright colors and feathers, graffiti is everywhere, and there is no general concept of ‘respectful public sound space’. It was annoying at first. But, in a blog post at the time, I wrote:

“What I…love…is that every other person has a guitar, and that there are always at least one or two guys nearby, jamming in an open space. Some people stop to listen for a bit, others keep walking by. The expression of creative energy is totally accepted as normal here. So beautiful! In this environment, I feel free to join the conversation by kicking it with my own guitar in between classes.”

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Looking back six months later, I can shamelessly tell you that I went native. I became one of the usual people you’d see on a bench somewhere on campus strumming between classes. I got used to the creative environment. I grew as a musician and thrived in it. Prior to that, I had been a singer-songwriter in the musical closet. Being at PUC, along with the experience I had later on in October, helped get me out of my shell. It was to the point where, when I returned to school in Los Angeles this January, I was indignant that there was none of that in-your-face raw creativity that I’d grown used to. What made my righteous fury worse was the knowledge that USC is filled with creative spirits, with musical and artistic people. But, we keep it reserved for institutions and structure, locked away in the form of an organized event or locked away in our rooms as I once did. Continue reading

Circle Encircles the Earth

How does one face one’s childhood bully? I’m thinking of two extreme responses in my case: smile, give her a hug, and then punch her in the face, or; smile, give her a hug and simply let the past stay in the past. Forgiveness.

It’s a pretty messed up situation because her parents were absolutely wonderful to me, treated me well, and went above and beyond giving me opportunities to learn different things outside the classroom—swimming, computer, even music. They widened my tiny little world just by being themselves: friendly and helpful and foreign. One parent was from Canada, the other from New Zealand, and somehow they ended up running a successful business in Belize and having a family there.

All my childlike mind could understand, though, was that these were really nice people from far, far away who let me play in their big house and hang out with their daughter who was super cool and pretty and smart.

I never fathomed in that time that my relationship with this girl would be my undoing and the source of pain, brokenness and trauma for years and years to come. Now, centuries later, I’m presented the opportunity to possibly see her again. And, I’m gauging my response.

I know the Christian response. I know what Jesus would do. Because I’m thinking not about the fact that He died for me, but that He went through all that, and I repeatedly, in my sinful manner, throw that in His face. Yet still, He comes to me with love, not vengeance. Understanding, not righteous hurt. He comes with reconciliation and forgiveness, not the fury that would have me suffer measurably for all that I’ve done against Him. [give a listen to Circle by Flyleaf]

Now I have to bestow all of that grace on someone else. Given the magnitude of the kind of forgiveness that I continually receive, I realize it’s something that I can’t give to others while using just my own strength. My own strength is only strong enough to want to destroy her, quite honestly. I’m not strong enough to forgive.

As I wrote this, as I reflected, and as I listened to the lyrics of ‘Circle’, I recognized a literal circle of forgiveness that I have never perceived before. Christ died and paid the price for her sin, just as He paid for mine. Therefore I must forgive her because Christ already did. Holding on to this pain does me no good, does the Kingdom no good, and though I still suffer the consequence of her sins against me, Jesus already paid the ultimate price. It’s not my place to make her suffer.

In my years before accepting Christ, I caused others immeasurable pain as well. I’d hate for any of them to come at me in self righteous vengeance when I’ve made it so far from the person I once was. Funny, because when I had started to write this post, I was convinced that I would do something horrendously violent against this girl if I were to see her again.

But, given everything—her sin against me, my sin against another, and their sin against another, I realize I have no right. I prefer meditating on the circle of forgiveness rather than the circle of pain that we inflict and perpetuate.

A tough lesson to learn, indeed. Painful because it’s so counter-cultural. But at the same time I feel a kind of peace in finally facing up to the pain of the past, and starting to truly get past it.

 

~Feroza

 

[A close read of Matt 18: 21-35 also helped me out. Just a suggestion.]

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“The worst thing I could have done was write about the lows of a breakup while in the throes of the emotional instability that comes with two hours of sleep while sitting in a boring lecture. The worst thing I could have done was write. Write about my heart. How it hurts. How I ache. How no one can do anything about anything because it’s nothing they can control or even influence. I’m just left, alone, holding on to everything. 

I wonder if I have a chemical imbalance. A mental imbalance. My emotions are oftentimes a riot. I oftentimes can’t do anything. And sometimes, not often, I want to die.”

An excerpt from my journal. I’ve been debating how up close and personal I want Daily Sojourner to be, and I realized that though I don’t want to divulge all the nitty gritty details of the chaos that would be anyone’s life, I also don’t want to tell half a story.

And this is my story as I sojourn this course I’ve decided to take. As an artist, my highs are as high as my lows are lows, and I see in color and emotion. Luckily, I’m old enough to understand this, and sit in Grace when the darkness creeps in.

I write this because I want to document this moment, and perhaps share a drop of encouragement. My testimony. I’ve been in a storm of darkness and spiritual warfare lately, and as it sought to consume me, I sought to write it into music and turn that darkness into a weapon against itself. It has worked on every occasion. Glory to God. He does not leave us without tools to defend ourselves.

I wrote this ditty the very next day:

I could be chained by regret
by all of what I ever did,
I could die with this heaviness
Of a heavy, heavy heart.
No, I must own up to my sin,
the price of which was paid by Him
I will rise from this undead
And pray that you are saved from it…

(Part of a song, “Heavy Heart”, coming to you soon)

~Feroza

Oh My Days…!

I want to tell the story of how I lost nearly everything and gained everything. I want to tell the story of how I lost everything—financial security, back up plan (which you, yknow, kinda sorta ish need when traveling alone anywhere in the world)—but through that, how I found greater joy. But, I don’t even know how to begin.

Because, I would have to admit that I put my security in my bank account and ATM machine. I would have to admit that I had really wanted to do what was actually going to be a very superficial backpack trip along the coast of southern Bahia. I would have to admit that I was actually super uncertain about the backpack trip, but that I was going to do it anyway despite my misgivings…and so for more reasons than one, it was actually a blessing that my wallet with all my IDs, bank cards and phone, got stolen.

Stolen. Some would say violated. I would like to say, “liberated“.

How incredibly sobering and humbling it has been to be forced to just slow down, live super frugally and, only as a result, be subjected to the beauty of Christ’s generosity and blessings. Cause and effect is a wonder.

Only because of losing my stuff did I elect to stay the rest of the rest of the week in Salvador instead of hop skipping along the coast. Only because I elected to stay did I get to deepen the relationships I made with other residents of my hostel. Only because those relationships deepened did we form a type of genuine, unparalleled hostel family. Only because of the love and generosity of this family have I touched their lives and they mine in incredibly meaningful ways. And, because of this fluidity of cyclic positive energy, my spirit is healing in ways that I didn’t even realize I needed.

Superficial, worldly concerns were forcibly shoved off my hands. Emptied, I was filled with blessings and love that I can’t even verbalize, that I wouldn’t even recognize for myself if none of this had happened.

Oh, the lessons that we never plan on learning….

~Feroza

Is This Real?

I chat with a few relatives and friends about my experiences studying abroad, and at some point into the conversation, without fail, they ask, “so, when are you coming back to real life?”

I must ask, is the life I am currently living not real? Those tests I had last week were real enough, these presentations I have at the end of next month seem real enough, and the amount of reading I need to get through tonight are definitely real enough. It seems that far more people than I’d like are buying into the conspiracy that study abroad constitutes traveling every free weekend, having not a care in the world, and paying minimum attention to school. And, apparently, that isn’t real life.

It isn’t. But, no one seems to believe me when I say that I actually came for the study part of study abroad. No, I don’t have papers due every week, nor do I have an official ‘midterm’ season, and I really do just have to get an average score in order to transfer credit to my home institution. But, I’m taking my courses seriously. I actually enjoy studying Portuguese and Theology and Foreign Policy. It didn’t take long to realize that I didn’t know just how much I don’t know. I love it. It’s been an emotional and academic challenge without the pressure of tanking my GPA.

So, it’s rather offensive to say that the life one lives while abroad isn’t “real life”. It’s as if one means to devalue the experiences had while abroad. And it’s as if “real life” constitutes a soul-sucking nine to five job, withering away under the stress of fitting into the mold of what society tells you is right. As if real life constitutes living life in parts more known and accepted. As if real life is the traditional trajectory of undergrad, grad, real job, paying bills, having a family, buying a house, and comfortably paying off debts for life….

Wow, real life has been defined for me.

And then there’s the life that Christ calls us into, one where we cast off the cares of the World and follow the lead of the Holy Spirit…apparently, that isn’t real life either (because that’s exactly how I got to this life Brazil in the first place). That’s the life of the crazily, ‘outrageously’ devout.

Maybe it’s because I’m young, and I feel that I need to live my life the way I want to. Maybe it’s that I’m not yet hounded my the responsibility of caring for a family. Maybe it’s that I’m just plain naive and sheltered to think that I can grow up and enjoy what I do professionally.

I’m not questioning myself. I’m questioning the people questioning me. It seems there’s only one one way this will go. It seems I must appear mad.

“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I will be mad.” -Rumi

-Feroza

Funny How Things Change

They aren’t kidding when they say that God transforms once you leave your comfort zone. My perception of God certainly has.

Photo cred to: Abarah Joy

Back in LA or wherever else I happen to be where I actually understand 100% of what’s happening and what’s being said around me, I see God as Jesus, and I see Jesus as my homie; that cool older brother who tells me what to do because He’s got the ultimate big brother wisdom. But in Brazil, where everything is uncertain outside the four walls of my room, I’ve learned to see God as God the Father—as an actual parent. Big brother is still hanging out, but I hear God the Father far clearer than I ever have. I’ve been given challenges that only a father could set, and I’ve had to rely on a strength only a father could give.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Matt 8:20, which says that foxes have holes and birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. I truly respect Jesus for being the ultimate expatriate. He would stay in a town for only days at a time at most, teaching the Word. I bet He met some pretty awesome people wherever He stayed, wherever He went. Yet, He continued the lifestyle of saying hello and goodbye in practically the same breath for the sake of His mission.

I’ve never quite understood it, really, despite knowing the importance of the mission (saving our souls is only pretty important). I’ve always wanted to put roots down in a single place, and I’ve never been really okay with Jesus’ call for us to be an ambassador on earth, to not get attached, because our country is Heaven. St. Paul literally tells us not to get too comfortable [1 Peter 2:11].

But, funny how things change. I’ve been traveling to different parts of Brazil at every opportunity since settling into school life, and I’ve met a host of people with colorful stories. The summation of what I’ve learned is that there are far more people than I ever realized who have left everything behind in their homeland because they discovered something grander in Brazil. Like the man who sold everything he had in order to buy the field in which he found treasure [Matt 13:44-45]. Those people actually exist in real life. I’m not talking about the typical Christian missionary (though ya’ll are awesome, too). I’m talking about people who don’t even necessarily believe but felt a tugging in their soul (guess who be tuggin’?).

On my trip to Búzios, I met these fools and ended up making sweet, sweet music with them.

On my trip to Búzios, I met these fools and ended up making sweet, sweet music with them.

After traveling so much, I’m finally beginning to understand the lifestyle of transience. And, I’m beginning to be okay with it (surprise, surprise, I see you, Jesus lol). I’ve learned through experience that spending time with new people is wonderful, but when it’s time to say goodbye, it’s time. No use prolonging it. Especially when there are more people ahead of you to get to know.

Meeting such colorful people at every stop, and having to eventually say goodbye after a short time, was at first painful, but over time it has taught me that my heart must ultimately be in Christ. My hope is not in people specifically, but in what God is doing in them and doing in me in meeting them. There are wonderful people who I’ll never see again, and that’s perfectly okay.

Funny how things change. I now consider goodbye with joy, rather than with the pain of pulled teeth.

“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.” -Rumi

~Feroza