Straight Outta Mashhad

[Estimated reading time: 5m49s]

I’m still not allowed to speak english when I visit my parent’s house. My parents made sure that while my sister and I appreciated life in the US, we never lost our Persian culture—Food, Language, Manners, Music, etc. This felt like a burden, a torturous measure that accentuated how different I was from everyone else. I wasn’t about it.

I bailed. I quit Farsi-class after the 2nd grade and went after as much non-Persian culture as possible. If it came across as the opposite of what I grew up in, I wanted it. Even if I didn’t want it, I made sure people thought I might want it. Food, language, girls, music—I was gonna find whatever looked unlike what Mom and Dad were used to.

Didn’t you do the same thing?

Only instead of Persian culture, you grew up in a house where your parents and extended family desperately wanted you to love Jesus and go to church and read your Bible and make sure you always believed that hell was a place because where else would everyone who disagreed with you go?

My parents wouldn’t let me speak English in the house. Yours probably didn’t let you cuss. It makes sense that we wanted to escape.

My escape manifested in the form of hip-hop music. I latched onto lyricists and beat makers. More and more often, my relief came in the form of well-intertwined lyrics and sounds.

People made fun of me for it. Persians called me American for it. I remember driving around with my dad, lying to him about the meaning of the songs I was playing for him so he’d think they were “Christian” (I still think Akon’s “Locked Up” has something to do with the gospel).

Then I heard Kanye West for the first time and lost my mind. I’d stay up late bouncing around my room to “Stronger” and “Power,” loving the double-entendres and sonic nuances. I started loving it when people made fun of me for it—It felt good to be associated with something I finally chose on my own.

Don’t you remember the first time a decision you made about your faith or life was finally acknowledged by those who raised you? Even when it came in the form of their displeasure? It probably felt good to finally have made an intentional decision, even if it was bailing on the religious practices you were raised to inherit.

I loved it—salivating at being asked what I thought about God or church or whatever else. “Actually, I think if we go back to the Bible,” I’d say, “you’d clearly see that Jesus doesn’t actually blah blah blah…” You’ve heard the rest. You might still be enjoying the rush of saying this stuff to raised brows and concerned conservatives.

Yes, it feels good to believe something you chose to believe on your own…until you’re ambushed.

My love for hip-hop continued to grew. In fact, it became even more specific. The lyrics had to be better than good and the beat had to coincide eloquently in order for me to memorize the song, letting it get stuck in my head and inform the way I spoke, dressed, and lived.

My respect for good writers skyrocketed. I loved the art. I officially jumped the Persian culture ship and found myself happy on Yeezy Island. Sorry, Persian music, you just can’t keep up.

I hope by now, you’ve found yourself pleased with your exile from Christendom. I hope you’re done deconstructing everything all the time and have found yourself rebuilding your life with thoughts you’ve investigated and enjoyed.

But you should also know what happened to me once I’d settled in on my exile.

I found out that long before hip-hop or rap became a thing, Persians were known for their poetry. I found out my Dad, who I’d lied to about the meaning of hip-hop lyrics, was a poet himself, one whose poetry had actually caught plenty of attention in Iran. I found out he actually worked with musicians who often wanted to use his poetry as lyrics for the sounds they were creating on their instruments.

Wait a second, is my Dad actually one of these lyricists I so thoroughly respect?

The whole thing caught me off guard. I put my Persian culture and brilliant hip-hop lyricism on opposite sides of a spectrum not realizing the spectrum was illegitimate. I had invented it out of thin air to soothe myself. That was the only way I could reconcile bailing on one for the other. These two things are unlike each other. They have nothing in common. One is what I was born into and the other was what I fell in love with.

Did you do the same thing with the God you grew up forcibly singing about and the gods you found more suitable in whatever industry and passion and Island to which you’ve escaped?

To settle the matter once and for all, Beyonce got pregnant again. When Jay Z and Beyonce announced the names of their twins, one of these new beautiful humans was given the name “Rumi.”

Rumi, as in—one of the most distinguished writers and thinkers of all time. Rumi, a Persian poet.

I learned that the poetry I so thoroughly admire in hip-hop owes a great deal to the poetry of my ancestors. At least, Jay and B seemed to think so.

What if I made the same mistake with the Christian faith that I made with hip-hop?

Bailing on Persian poetry proved to be the opposite of helpful when it came time to explore my appetite for hip-hop. It circled back around until I realized these weren’t opposites on a spectrum. Appreciating hip-hop meant chasing down my own history. I thought I was running from Persian culture when I was really running into it authentically.

And what if my departure from Christendom’s late 90’s antics wasn’t me escaping from Jesus, but to him?

If my Persian ancestry and my obsession with GOOD Music can collide before my eyes, revealing they’ve always had a lot more in common than I thought, then maybe our escape from the Christian faith as we knew it was actually God’s way of delivering us into the real thing, distinguishing between those who’ll roll over to please their parents and those who actually want to know him.

What if you weren’t really encountering life and Jesus and truth until you decided to step away from the confusion that came when you couldn’t tell the difference between pleasing your parents/church community and pleasing God himself?

I realize these are ambitious what-ifs, but this gets me excited for the ways the two extremes of your spectrum may be colliding in front of you. You might find out the very things you yearn for today (culture, art, music, sex, meaning, purpose) finds their roots in the faith you stepped away from.

Plenty of people mistakenly associate Iran with terrorism or whatever they see on the ravenous-for-ratings-news, but my culture is actually packed with millenniums of art and beauty. Architecture, poetry, and delicious, incredible food.

The Christian faith is going through a similar experience. Currently associated with so much of what it’s not actually about, many have departed from it.

But if I were to bet on what God is up to in all this, I’d bet we’re soon to meet a lot more Rumi Carters.

I bet whatever you left Christendom for is actually what God is best at. I bet it was actually him who invented it. I bet he wants to perfect it with your help. I bet you love it because he wants you to love it. I bet you can’t enjoy it fully without his help. 

I know scientific findings often come with more logic and pragmatism than tales of fishes eating prophets. I realize that time and time again, B seems so much more real/fun/enticing than A.

I imagine you’re disgusted and exhausted and hurt and tired of how often the reality you encounter seems so far from the sanctuaries you don’t miss—

but I hope you’ll do what I did, and ask your Dad about his poetry. You might find out the thing you long for most has its roots in what you’ve been running away from. You might find your eagerness to depart from Christendom was actually a reverence for the earnest, honest, and good heart of God in the first place.

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