May 13, 2010 | 09:46 am

Thursday – Cats, Christianity, and the Middle East

My helpful colleagues at the church helped care for my two companions, Tabitha and Miss Kitty, while I was in Oman. When I returned, they told me that one of the cats was friendly, the other quite shy. I immediately assumed Tabitha was the friendly one (the ‘big-boned’ grey cat above). But to my surprise, it was Miss Kitty. Tabitha hid whenever they came to feed them. Then I remembered that a few weeks ago I accidently stepped on Tabitha’s foot while pouring her food. (Yes, I felt terrible. No, she was not injured.)  Since then, she heads for cover at feeding time. Tabitha is usually so friendly she could be mistaken for a dog, but her food-related trauma has resulted in a more cautious disposition. Unfortunately, no one was able to experience her winsome personality while I was away.
Our experiences affect us in the same way. I quickly learned this as a Christian leader working in the Middle East. With the globalization of information, there are now Muslim scholars who have read the historical literature on Christian mission to the Middle East. What they discovered was a strong evangelistic motive of which they were not fully aware. And while there have been many Christians who have served the mission of their churches with integrity, there have been a few who have set up charitable fronts for covert proselytizing. For many, this has left an air of duplicity about Christians. These experiences shaped the hue and reception that some would extend to me. I sympathize with their position. If I were them, I probably would be more skeptical and less trusting of Christian leaders who come from the West to the Middle East. What I learned is that if trusting relationships were going to be possible, there was no side-stepping this issue. Time and honest conversation were needed. I also discovered that I had some baggage that needed to be checked-in if I was going to be open to more than superficial relationships.
We bring our personal histories into our relationships. How we approach love and friendship, work and recreation, are influenced by our past experiences. We do not encounter each other as blank slates. If we want meaningful relationships, we must work through the past that we bring to the table.
Random thought of the day: There is a Persian proverb that says, “He who has been bitten by a snake fears a piece of string.” To form meaningful relationships, we need to know what is a string and what is a snake!