Fear Factor

jeremy-yap-199223-unsplash

This guest post is by Heidi Naylor, who teaches English at Boise State University and writes amazing books for BCC Press on the side.

My brother Karl Beus and his wife Lisa have worked hard to help build an interfaith alliance in their Cleveland community. As good people, and as Latter-day Saints, they’ve forged relationships with the local Islamic congregation, with benefits of community and friendship for all involved.

Not long ago they received the following message from the local imam:

Our Brothers and Sisters in Faith,

We are so saddened by the events in Sri Lanka this morning. Another horrific act of targeting houses of worship. This is unacceptable. Enough is enough.

We … wanted to see if there is anything we can do to support our community in faith.  Please let us know … if it would be OK to attend [your] church services next week to show our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in faith.  Happy Easter!! and may this Easter bring peace and tranquility to all. 

Karl phoned me shortly afterwards, for my thoughts about remarks he’d prepared for the bishop to present at the next day’s sacrament meeting, in response to the above. He sent me the following draft, by email.

As you know, one week ago in Sri Lanka, on Easter Sunday, upwards of 250 people were killed in terror attacks that targeted Christians celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ at worship services.  As tragic and incomprehensible as these attacks are, our spirits were lifted later that day when we received a kind and inspiring letter from our friends at the Chagrin Valley Islamic Center (who, you may recall, are only a few weeks removed from an equally senseless massacre of Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand).  

Brothers and sisters, I can’t begin to tell you how touched and humbled we were to receive this thoughtful and inspiring expression of support and solidarity. But we are even more grateful and honored to have members of the Chagrin Valley Islamic Center in attendance with us here today. I hope you will take a moment to introduce yourself and make them feel welcome. This morning we are forced to confront the reality of yet another synagogue attack, this time in California, that has left Jewish worshipers dead. It should be more clear to us now than ever that an attack on one religion is an attack on all religions, and that we must stand together.   

To our Muslim brothers and sisters, thank you! Thank you for standing with us. We welcome your congregation to Solon. We are excited about the progress of your mosque, and we invite you to worship with us any time you so desire. And we also stand with you, and pray for you and your fallen brothers and sisters, and for all those on this earth who desire to live and worship freely and peacefully. 

It was nearly midnight in Idaho, when I read these paragraphs. I was sitting in bed next to my husband, Pat, the glow of my laptop bringing light to the room. Of course, I loved the outreach from the Islamic Center. I admired what Karl and Lisa and their community were involved with, and I told him so.

What happened next is startling, and not easy to admit. As I sent that message, a cold breeze rattled the window behind me. I shivered and realized that my shoulders were clenched, my jaw set, my stomach rigid and tight. My voice was unsteady as I turned to Pat.

“Somehow,” I whispered, “I’m afraid.” I spoke of Karl and his family and their ward, whose fellowship was progressive, open, intentional, and hard-won—yet also easy and natural to all who’ve experienced it. Dozens of kind, lovely people there have served in and outside the ward to build community.

But in light of the same violent tragedies that impelled the Islamic Center to reach out, I felt newly aware of the vulnerability people have as they sit in a peaceful house of worship.

“What are you afraid of?” Pat asked. So calm and reasonable I could have slugged him.

“Well. I’m …. I’m worried. What if They just want a way into the building? What if They want to waltz in there….and….and….” What I couldn’t say was easy to imagine: What if Their real intent is something sinister…if They have a bomb under Their cloaks….Their robes….Their burkas….?

I’ve tried in the weeks since to understand this fear. In my defense, I’d recently read about decorated Iraq War hero Chris Kyle. Kyle’s first long-range kill in the Iraq War was a woman who was approaching a Marine cohort with a grenade in one hand and a toddler at her side. I forgot, momentarily, the sorrow of how Kyle’s eventual demise came at the hands of a fellow American veteran at a Texas shooting range.

In my defense, attacks in recent weeks throughout the world had come from outsiders entering houses of worship and targeting congregants.

In my defense, it was midnight at the end of a long, tiring week.

In my defense, I’d read The Looming Tower.

In my defense, I was thinking of my brother and his family and of my love for them.

Pat stared at me. “What if They?” he said. “Their way into the building? Who is this They? Honey. Get a grip.”

“I know,” I said. “But—”

“Think about what you’re really saying,” he continued, more gently than I might have deserved. “You’re saying that because they’re Muslim, there’s a good chance they want to kill Americans. You’re saying that due to their faith, you can expect them to eventually murder innocent people.”

He didn’t say this, but he may as well have: You’re saying that based on the one thing you know about them—their religious tradition—plus their evident interest in friendship in the community where they live, they are to be feared, maligned, and distrusted. Rejected.

In my defense, as the adherent of another oft-maligned and misperceived religious tradition, there really is no defense. And all of this is not even to mention the persons of the Muslim faith that I’ve personally come to know and love. If anyone should know better, I should.

Yet it was so easy for fear to begin to get the best of me.

As we talked this through, I saw more clearly: “I’m jumping to conclusions. I’m succumbing to prejudgments. I’m allowing fear to make me ignorant.”

This may be a small example, but I’m confident that larger ones are all around us, and that as the times move forward, they’ll increase. They will demand more of us, personally and as a people. We can learn a lot from the Chagrin Valley Islamic Center and the Solon LDS Ward about ways to build on friendship, community, and compassion; to decrease fear and ignorance—as they threaten our own pathways as well those of others; to increase the light and love of Christ in every situation.

When Corrie ten Boom and her family were changing their Amsterdam home and their lives to make a hiding place for Jewish refugees during the dark years of the early 1940s, they approached a neighbor and friend for help:

Color drained from the man’s face. He took a step back from me. ‘Miss ten Boom! I do hope you’re not involved with this illegal concealment…it’s just not safe! Think of your father!’ I pulled the coverlet back from the baby’s face. The man bent forward, his hand in spite of himself reaching for the tiny fist curled round the blanket. For a moment I saw compassion and fear struggle in his face. Then he straightened. ‘No. Definitely not. We could lose our lives for that Jewish child!’

Unseen by everyone, my father had appeared in the doorway. ‘Give the child to me, Corrie,’ he said. He held the baby close, his white beard brushing its cheek, looking into the little face with eyes as blue and innocent as the baby’s … ‘You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family’ (The Hiding Place, 1971).

The Solon Ward, Kirtland Stake enjoyed the fellowship of five Muslim visitors—who had reached out in full faith—on that following Sunday. By Karl’s account they were warmly received; and they were gracious and complimentary of the meeting. A short time later, the area celebrated the National Day of Prayer (May 2, 2019) with an interfaith gathering, the theme being Love One Another. Solon Ward Primary children sang “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus”—who claimed that “they [and we] might have life, and … have it more abundantly,” as we exchange fear for faith and love.

*Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Wayfaring Stranger says:

    Thank you for this wonderful reminder of what it truly means to love our “neighbors” bravely and lovingly. This is exactly what Christ taught and exemplified in His life here on earth.

  2. Fear comes unbidden. The work we must do is moving through to a better place. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people of the Chagrin Valley Islamic Center weren’t doing their own work to move through and past fear and separation.

    Thank you for this. The self awareness and disclosure makes it powerful, beyond anything possible in a straight didactic.

  3. nobody, really says:

    In my last stake, there was an Islamic group struggling to save enough money to purchase their own building. I was quite pleased to find that we made one of our chapels open to them each Friday evening for weekly services. When they closed the contract on a building, they sent a very nice letter that was read in each ward in the stake – they had apparently approached many, many other churches and been turned away every single time. About the only request they made was to be allowed into the janitorial closet so they could help with the building cleaning. The parking lot was prime real estate for a police speed trap, and our members were used to finding cigarette butts left by the cops. While the Islamic Society met there, they made sure the litter was gone prior to Sunday meetings.

    A member of my triathlon club is Muslim – she swims, bikes, and runs in very modest attire – head covering, sleeves to the wrists, pants to the ankle, and a cute skirt over the top. When she found out I was (a member of the church formerly known as LDS), tears ran down her face, she clasped both my hands, and thanked me for our kindness to her faith family. I was proudly introduced to her children and her husband. It’s really, really hard to be scared of the person who shares a swim lane with you and who claps for you when you cross the finish line.

  4. It’s hard not to fear what you have been told to fear.
    The year after 9/11 we were stationed overseas in a non-military location. The only time I interacted with other Americans was at church or at the Embassy. I was acutely aware of being American and possibly a target and had to tamp down my fear all the time when in public with Muslims. Logically, I knew they didn’t mean me any harm. But emotionally, I had been conditioned to fear and distrust them. I was always embarrassed by my initial reaction. But I was also so scared. I think it has only gotten worse. The rhetoric is constant and it is a daily battle to rise above.

    FYI, the ten Booms lived in Haarlem.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m sure that was not an easy post to write, but the honesty of it was powerful. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Carolyn says:

    As an attorney at a Muslim civil rights organization — we work every day to try and build connections, educate the public, and dispel fear. It’s such an uphill battle. An entire Islamophobia industry exists to malign and condemn us. But when we call out the bigotry, at some level we know we’re also promoting it. Counter-messaging helps reinforce the hateful messaging. It’s the tragedy of media reality.

    It takes a lot of courage for Fox News fueled minds to acknowledge what they’ve been conditioned to fear and to confront it head on. Thank you for putting it that emotional mental work. Thank you for acknowledging the rawness of it. And please, go visit your brother and eat dinner with his friends. Muslims and Mormons have so much to befriend each other and exercise solidarity about.

  7. Simply Put.. LOVE Will ALWAYS Win Out-
    GRATEFUL For This Amazing & Heartfelt Story-

  8. This touched me deeply, thank you.

  9. Glenn Thigpen says:

    And, in your defense, Sister Naylor, you did think about your reactions, you did discuss them with your husband, and you did choose love over, not hate, but fear. I think that is called “schooling your thoughts” and emotions. Thank you for your honesty and for a humble lesson that we all can learn from.

    Glenn

  10. I’ve traveled in Muslim countries. I have never been treated better as a guest. I would rather live in the middle of Istanbul than Utah Valley. No offense to those who live there, but I wish my inactive sister were treated better. Maybe if she were Muslim…

    Thank you.

  11. Nick Scholz says:

    This is one of the most powerful messages I’ve read all week.
    We all have prejudices, Heidi. There is no shame in that fact. There is only shame in not doing our best to face them, evaluate them, and dispel them. Those who refuse to do so will find their life all the poorer for it.
    Your vulnerability in sharing this means the world to many, including me. Thank you for helping me have greater courage today.

  12. I wonder if our modern medicine and weather forecasting and agriculture has so changed our relationship with death that we can no longer relate to the way prior generations lived. We fully expect to live long healthy lives, to have our children outlive us and to live in peace and safety. We feel cheated if our mortal lives are not simply a foretaste of what we expect in the next life. So we fear, in some ways because we are clinging tightly to this world.
    Terrorism is a current day risk, right now usually in the West perpetrated by Moslems against Western sources of power on 9/11 and more lately against worship services. But now also directed back at Moslems. To be unaware of the risk would be foolish. To let it control you equally foolish. And to not see that this is our time to witness for Christ by loving all would be a tragedy. Satan really is trying to get us to turn on our brothers and sisters, to not remember them as such. We can choose to ignore his tactics the same way we would a manipulative teenager. And we can choose to focus our energies on building Zion, which will surely include Moslems. And knowing this life is temporary and we will surely die.

  13. Beautifully and powerfully written, Heidi. Thanks for this.

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