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MY ALTAR IN THE WILDERNESS


"We altar that which alters us."


It's coming up on a year since my trip to India. At this time last year, I was packing and preparing for a month+ away. I would be living out of a duffle bag and a backpack and had yet to decide exactly where I was going. I had only booked accommodations for my first few nights. I was going to feel it out and go where the wind took me (which, honestly, was one of the best decisions I ever made.)


India changed me: my heart, my mind, and my body.

(Feel free to go back and read my journals about Varanasi, Jaipur, my train rides, the Taj Mahal, and more.)

However, one part of my trip did not make it into my journals for no other reason except that I never got around to writing about it. But I am now coming up on a year since I decided to completely cut pork out of my diet, and it is as good a time as any to share my reasoning behind that (because I definitely get asked about it enough). I skip on pork bacon at breakfast, no more ham at Easter, and I have to say no to the pulled pork at a cookout.

You see, Goa was the last place I would end up traveling in India before heading back to Mumbai to catch my flight home. Goa is hugely different from the other parts of India I explored- and I was looking forward to hanging out and writing on the Arabian Sea, with giant palm trees and ocean air (and I did.) The beautiful Portuguese-inspired architecture was beautiful in the pictures I had seen, and the food sounded delicious. But, I wasn't prepared for what else would come from my stay in the more southern part of India.

One of the best things about traveling alone is meeting new people. A month alone in another country pushes you into talking to strangers more than you would normally. During my time in Goa, a couple days in, I came across a local who was happy to take me around and show me the area. (Don't tell my mom I'm off trusting strangers to drive me around in their cars… but that is precisely what I did.) He seemed really nice, very cool and was young like me. He was adventurous, loved where he lived, and wanted to meet new people.

We sat out on the beach one night and chatted for a while about life. He enjoyed traveling, he worked for his family's fish business, enjoyed music, and he was gay (but afraid to ever let his family find out due to strict laws in India and being disowned by family). He was brilliant and loved many of the same things that I did. However, one of our main differences was that he was Muslim, and I was Christian. We sat on the beach that night, discussing our religions. The similarities and differences between the two and how they have impacted our view of the world.

In this conversation, we got on topics like ISIS and Donald Trump. Of course, being American in any other country usually means discussing Donald Trump at some point. But, he shared with me how much he hated ISIS and how he hated that America viewed Muslims as such. He shared with me the virtues of his religion and things like not eating pork because it is unclean (which is also true in the Christian faith, except now it is ok because Jesus' blood covers it- along with many other things.)

I asked him if he had ever been to America, particularly New York City, and told him I would show him around if he ever decided to. And it was then that he said he would probably never be able to come to America. Perplexed, I further questioned him, and he told me how fearful his family was towards Americans. How they would never let him go over there because of the way that a Middle Eastern Muslim is viewed. And that even if he could sway his family or go against their concerns and wishes, he would probably have a tough time being granted a Visa.

Here was a young guy, so much like me. Who wanted to quit his family's business, be open and free in who he was, and travel the world. He wanted to feel safe, and his family feared for his life. The same way my family had shown concern about me visiting India.

I didn't stop eating pork that day because I became Muslim.

I didn't stop eating pork that day because I became vegetarian.

I didn't stop eating pork that day because of a healthy diet. (although that's a plus)

I didn't stop eating pork that day because pigs are cute. (although they are!)

I stopped eating pork that day because I set up an altar in my wilderness. As many did in Biblical times, I made a point of remembering this very moment. To carry it with me as a reminder of what God was teaching me. A paradigm shift had taken place in my mind and heart.

I grew up being fed fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of differences, fear of hearsay. But, I am learning that we must understand what it means to embrace differences and diversity. To see people and individuals as that, and not as extremist groups or "dangerous" or "opposing" religions. That a woman with a head covering is not a terrorist. We have homegrown fear and ignorance running throughout our veins, and we cannot settle for that.

Whenever someone asks me, "Why don't you eat pork?" I am reminded of him. Whenever I have to ask for a pork substitute at brunch, it's a moment of pause. I am reminded how blessed I am and how not to judge another person before getting to know them. I think about my own life and the way that I see people. Humanity. Diversity. How we are all one, and we are all trying to figure out this life. And how often we hate that others can speak for us, that they become the example of who we are.

I don't eat pork because it's a sacrifice. It's a reminder. It's my altar. It reminds me, almost daily, to walk in another's shoes... and never think I know it all or that I have, somehow, arrived. Always seek truth.


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