I finished a two-part January Intersession class in “Introduction to Pastoral Care and Theology,” and am now taking three GTU classes, “Diversity in Counseling,” “Pediatric Chaplaincy,” and “A Good Death.” Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all classes are online. Professors have to make up for the lack of in-person class time and meet the nine-hours-per-week / per class requirement. In addition to assigned reading and papers, my graduate classes meet by Zoom once or twice a week, plus posting 250 to 500 word reflections to Moodle (learning management system). Each class has a different schedule, so I created a table to remember when I need to post and when replies are due to other students’ posts. Every time I log into Moodle, it tells me how many more reflection posts I need to read. I end up posting to Moodle twelve to fourteen times a week. I will be happy when we can get back inside a real classroom.
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To celebrate my finishing writing my Master’s thesis, John surprised me with a large tapestry from the Wissa Wassef Art Center, Giza, Egypt. Normally for a big family celebration, we would go out to dinner or maybe on a trip, but during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, that is not possible.
In 2010, our family visited the Wissa Wassef Art Center outside of Cairo (in Harrania Village, near Giza) where we bought a small tapestry and two books. I am glad to have a second of these lovely works of fabric art!
Our first Wissa Wassef tapestry is a small master work called “Around the Pond,” woven in cotton by Mohamed Achour in 2010. It presents fish and birds with palms and flowering plants around a small body of water.
Our new Wissa Wassef tapestry is undated but is probably much older than the first, even though John just bought it from a store in France. It was woven by Reda Ahmed in wool and cotton. Looking at our 2010 pictures, I realized we saw Reda Ahmed weaving during our Wissa Wassef visit. We hung the tapestry last night and it may take months for the textile to settle into its new home above the stairs. The weaving presents a large blue tree with red flowers, with a smaller tree and bushes as well as birds, weasels, and a lizard. I am thankful for this lovely and generous gift. The lively images and cheerful colors make me happy!
Note: Nothing pictured is for sale. Please do not ask.
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In this paper, as an extension of our weekly class discussions this semester on similarities and differences in theology between Islam and other faiths, I engage with selected historical and contemporary Muslim scholars with regard to how they communicate, by means of theological polemics at one end of the range, through pluralism and interfaith dialogue at the other. I focus on communication by Islamic scholars in their interactions with two other Abrahamic faiths, Christianity and Judaism. I find that some contemporary Muslim scholars value and promote concepts of religious pluralism in the Quran, which may be a sign that Islam is moving away from the polemical rhetoric of its most famous historical scholars.
This semester at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), I took the class “Islam and its Interreligious Context” taught by Dr. Mahjabeen Dhala. One of our final reflection papers was to answer this question, “Present a key historical or contemporary Muslim personality in America. Explain the reasons for your selection. How does this personality inspire you?”
The American Muslim personality I chose is Lila Ibrahim. She came to my attention after she was made President of Coursera in 2013, after she was Chief of Staff at Kleiner Perkins in 2010. Coursera is an American MOOC (massive open online course) provider, founded by Stanford University in 2012. She is currently the Chief Operating Officer for DeepMind. In 2019, Ibrahim was featured on several UK Business Insider’s lists of influential and impactful leaders. Purdue University is her alma mater and she is on their Board of Advisors. Ibrahim is the Co-founder and Chair of Team4Tech, a technical mentoring non-profit for developing countries. She has created computer labs in the orphanage in Lebanon where her father was raised. Ibrahim has a remarkable depth of experience in education, especially online, and as a mentor. I admit that I do not know about Lila Ibrahim’s personal faith but I am writing about her as an inspiring American of Lebanese descent.
In 2014, my daughter Jessica and I started working on a project with Dr. Susan Roger, Duke University Professor of Computer Science. Susan and I had known each other for many years and each of us had developed lists of remarkable technical women. Jessica had the idea to make playing cards and posters from our research to inspire girls and young women. We wanted to include a very broad range of women, socially, demographically, geographically, and by professional area. Susan and I each sorted through decades of our professional contacts to find the 54 honorees, and then we contacted each woman for a picture and to fill in biographical details, or used what we found on Wikipedia. Because she had won an Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award, Lila Ibrahim was one of the women we selected. Since 2014, Notable Women in Tech has distributed thousands of our card decks and posters around the world. Lila Ibrahim is the five of hearts. You can see the 4th Edition list of honorees on my blog.
Lila Ibrahim inspires me not just because she is a remarkably successful professional woman in the highly-patriarchal technical industry but because she has routinely sought out and succeeded in creating educational projects while acting as a mentor for young entrepreneurs. For many senior executives, it is enough to succeed, but Lila Ibrahim has intentionally and consistently carried others along in the wake of her accomplishments. She always pays it forward.
I have finished the major writing for my Master’s thesis, titled “Range of Chaplain Engagement with Prisoners,” and am waiting for my thesis committee’s feedback on the last few chapters. I have to defend my thesis in early February 2021, which means spending two or more hours answering questions by my review committee about the 100+ page document and my research. I officially graduate in May 2021 with my Master of Arts – Christian Theology, with a Certificate in Spirituality and Social Change. I will continue my studies in the GTU Interreligious Chaplaincy Certificate program but I am happy to be done with my Master’s classes.
Getting Closer to God Through Interfaith Work
This paper presents reflections on interreligious dialogue from the lived experience of two notable leaders. Based on conversations with Maha Elgenaidi and Rabbi Melanie Aron, and considering related scholarly material, I examine my next steps with regard to interfaith engagement in my work and ministry. The title of this paper comes from Maha Elgenaidi but I find it rings true for me as well. Interfaith work makes me feel closer to God. I am using this paper not only to document the accomplishments and views of two remarkable women but also to emphasize the benefits of interfaith work to the community.
I love a good meme, so finding one on theodicy is a special treat. (“Theodicy means vindication of God. It is to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil.” – Theodicy in Wikipedia) The image base of Jesus sitting on a park bench, talking with a young man has been used for two memes I particularly like:
24 March 2020: Man: “Facebook?” Jesus: “No, I literally want you to follow me.” Man: “So… Twitter?” Jesus: “I’m going to start over again and you can let me know where I lose you.”
5 June 2020: Man: “So why do you allow things like hate, famine, war, suffering, disease, crime, homelessness, despair, etc. to exist in our world?” Jesus: “Interesting that you should ask because I was about to ask you the exact same question.”
The blank image can be found on imgflip if you want to make a meme yourself.
I am glad to report that I was just accepted into the new Interreligious Chaplaincy certificate program of the Graduate Theological Union! I am finishing my Master of Arts – Theology program at GTU this year. I just turned in my last two papers for Spring semester and I am approved to begin thesis research this summer. I start my chaplaincy studies this Fall.
Interreligious Chaplaincy: Program Overview Welcoming first cohort of students in Fall 2020
The first of its kind, the GTU’s interreligious chaplaincy program equips leaders to practice spiritual care among diverse populations. The program offers students the opportunity to earn a Certificate in Interreligious Chaplaincy, as well as an MA in Islamic, Jewish or Hindu Studies–religious traditions underrepresented among institutional chaplains. The certificate will also be open to students who have previously earned a qualifying master’s degree. The program is scheduled to welcome its first cohort of students in Fall 2020.
My Interreligious Chaplaincy focus will be Islamic Studies. As a TechWomen mentor for emerging STEM leaders in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia (since 2010), Christian volunteer jail chaplain with the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy (since 2015), and Islamic Networks Group Interfaith Speaker (since 2017), I have found many opportunities to discuss and learn about Christianity and Islam. I am eager to gain a more academic understanding of Islamic Studies and chaplaincy.
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