Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Speaking the Queen's

About that last post...sorry if it threw you for a loop. Sometimes I get grandiose notions about writing here in Arabic EVERY DAY, and slowly building a bilingual audience. Then I actually try it, and it takes me half an hour to write three paragraphs, and I scale back my ambitions slightly.


I have a permanent place to stay, but not a permanent place to sleep.

I shall explain.

For the first five weeks I was in DC, my best friend since I was 9, Adam, let me crash on his futon in his tiny apartment in Arlington. This was a good arrangement, and I'm blessed to have friends as generous as him, but I clearly needed a place of my own.

I had originally planned to housesit for some Dordt alums in the area who were selling their place. That didn't work out in the end. So I got on the interwebs, and found a great house out in a suburb called Falls Church. There are six other Christian guys living here, most of whom have jobs in the city, and a few of whom are going to seminary.

So I moved into the house's basement two weeks ago. It's really nice, and very spacious - it has a kitchen, a living room and a bathroom. My housemates are great, although they're pretty busy. One of them works on for a congressman on the hill and rides the same train as me and reads the same science fiction novels as me. So that's pretty special. Another went on the exact same study abroad program as me a year after I did!

All of which is to say, it's very nice to be grounded for the first time in a while. But the basement apartment is unfurnished. And I haven't had the time to go bed shopping. So I've been sleeping on an air mattress for the past two weeks.

I'll get around to it. Eventually.


Almost every Sunday since I moved here, I have attended services at the Arabic Baptist Church, in the northwest corner of the District. I went the first Sunday I was here, the congregation welcomed me very warmly, and I understood a lot more of the sermon than I thought I would, so I've kept going. The congregation is made up almost entirely of Arab immigrants and their families - from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and elsewhere. I feel very blessed to have found this congregation, and honored by their welcome. The only hitch is that it's kind of far from my house. Hopefully I'll be able to keep going.


LAST Sunday though, my good friend Jordan, who was in Syria with me and now, providentially, is working with the Mennonite Volunteer Service in the District

invited me to go to a Syriac Orthodox Church service in Virginia. A bishop he knew from his time in Syria was visiting, and he wanted to see him.

Like the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, the Syriac Orthodox Church preserves the language of the Christians of Syria from before the Arab-Muslim conquest in the 7th century. That language is Syriac, a dialect of the Aramaic spoken by Jesus and his followers, and still widely spoken in Syria today.

The mass was awesome! The ushers gave us books that printed the entire liturgy in English, Syriac, and Syriac-transliterated-into-English-letters so we could chant along with the congregation. It amazed me how similar Arabic and Syriac are. Still, I was able to tell when the bishop stopped speaking in Syriac and started speaking in Arabic. There was no apparent rhyme or reason to which of the three languages was spoken at any one time. It was exhilarating.


My brother Simon and his friend Matt came to visit two Saturdays ago, my first weekend in the new house. They were kind enough to drive my parents' car home for me (I hate city driving, and I love the DC Metro), but that took them all day Sunday, so we had to pack all of our activities into Saturday. To that end, I marched them out the door at 9:00 AM and didn't bring them back until 10:00 PM.

We had a great time! Though, barring an imminent proletarian revolution, I'm pretty sure I've got some career-devastating dirt on my bro.

"Let a unbathed COMMIE teach our kids math? Not my Jimmy!"


Also - ALSO! - I am sharing my massive new basement apartment with one of my best friends from college, Proconsul Alvin Shim himself. His is a life to be imitated by all lost 20-somethings out there in Recessionland. Fresh off a year of teaching English in Korea, when I told him I was moving to DC for work, he decided to move here too - to job search. I have never done anything that courageous. I have no doubt he'll find work soon. Any company would be lucky to have him. And I am very blessed to have his company and wisdom. Here's to you, pal.


Work is good. But I can't really talk about it. Omar B. is probably watching this page...


With a paycheck comes an illusion of riches. I recently succumbed to this illusion by buying five books on Amazon, sheerly for pleasure.

Two days ago, the first three arrived. The Unmaking of Israel by Gershom Gorenberg, Islam Without Extremes by Mustafa Aykol, and Formic Wars: Burning Earth, by Orson Scott Card.

Ohmygoshimsoexcitedicanhardlywaittofinishallthree...No. No. Have to pace myself.


Speaking of books, my friend Adam (not the guy who let me crash on his futon) recently asked me this:

"What books were foundational for you? I'd like to read more but I don't know where to start. A budding Pacifistic Socialist needs some guidance."

Pacifistic socialist? Slow down, Karl.

The Accidental Empire by Gershom Gorenberg
Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East by Rashid Khalidi
The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy
The Unconquerable World by Jonathan Schell
Night Draws Near by Anthony Shadid
The Future of Freedom by Fareed Zakaria
The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott
The Subversion of Christianity by Jacques Ellul
The Case for Democracy by Natan Sharansky
The Scandal of Evangelical Politics by Ronald Sider
Living in the End Times by Slavoj Zizek
Jesus for President by Chris Haw Shane Claiborne (why lie?)
Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
Until Justice and Peace Embrace by Nicholas Wolterstorff

Mind you, these are simply the books I've read that influenced me the most. There are almost certainly better books out there.

What do you think, readers? Which books would be on your list?


If it's all the same to you guys, I'm not going to blog much more about the 2012 presidential race. What more is there to say than this: we live in an age and a country where the national frontrunner can forget which country we were at war in last, where our news media is so nihilistic that the only question they ask about any occurrence or utterance is, "Will this help/hurt him/her in the polls?," where a momentary brain lapse during a debate is both universally acknowledged to be an uncontrollable side effect of stress and universally proclaimed to be a candidacy-shattering moment, where candidates boldly propose cutting ALL foreign aid, only to have their spokespeople rush in after the fact to clarify that, of course, they didn't mean to imply that we would ever, EVER cut off aid to Israel.

In a race like this, camping out with a bunch of petulant signs and no demands actually is a rational alternative to voting.


Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin'.
Like the stillness in the wind
'Fore the hurricane begins,
The hour when the ship comes in.

Oh the seas will split
And the ship will hit
And the sands on the shoreline will be shaking.
Then the tide will sound
And the wind will pound
And the morning will be breaking.

Oh the fishes will laugh
As they swim out of the path
And the seagulls they'll be smiling.
And the rocks on the sands
Will proudly stand,
The hour that the ship comes in.

And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they're spoken.
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean.

A song will lift
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts on to the shoreline.
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck,
The hour that the ship comes in.

Then the sands will roll
Out a carpet of gold
For your weary toes to be a-touchin'
And the ship's wise men
Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin'.

Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they'll jerk from their beds and think they're dreamin'.
But they'll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it's for real,
The hour when the ship comes in.

Then they'll raise their hands,
Sayin' we'll meet all your demands,
But we'll shout from the bow your days are numbered.
And like Pharaoh's tribe,
They'll be drownded in the tide,
And like Goliath, they'll be conquered.


  1. I like how you have an Alvin Maker book just kind of tucked in the middle of all those rather serious titles. :)

  2. Hey, the Battle of Tippy-Canoe, dude. Totally foundational. I'm glad it's you that noticed. :)

  3. Thank you so much for the list, Joel. I see that you have your hands full back east. I hope that your job is fulfilling and that you continue to get the contact you need with the Arabic-speaking world.