ABOUT THIS SERIES. Our national election was Tuesday, November 8. I spent much of the next day following up on election analysis, messaging friends to be supportive as we processed the results, and thinking about what I could contribute that would be constructive in such a time as this. I decided to post a series of articles on experiences of peacemaking, and what it means to be a person of peace who welcomes others, stands against injustice, and challenges people and systems that cause harm. I do not know how many posts I will have in this series, but already have selected some pieces that I’ve not previously published.
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Sojourners Under Stress:
Perennial Questions, Present Responses
Written after the events of September 11, 2001.
Nancy* knocked softly on the door of the tiny apartment house while Suzie B. and I stood silently beside her. Behzad peeked through the front window curtains. When he saw it was us, he unbolted the door quickly, ushered us in discretely, and re-locked his door immediately. Meanwhile, his wife, Afsar, finished closing all the drapes. She flicked on another light with a nervous twitch, smiled to greet us, and then offered us tea.
Nancy had befriended several single Muslim college students – one from the Middle East, another from Pakistan – and also a married couple, Behzad and Afsar. Given the current situation, she didn’t want her Muslim friends to assume all Americans were like the ones who were threatening retaliation. Our presence guaranteed at least our goodwill – an atheist, a Buddhist, and me, a follower of Christ.
We were all still in a state of shock from the previous week’s actions. Our hosts were anxious about this new international terrorist situation, yet obviously relieved that some Americans would actually come to their home to visit them. Conversation came slowly as they sought to express their fears and frustrations, and why they had barricaded themselves into their apartment and relied on Nancy and other Caucasian friends to run all their essential errands for them.
I felt sick to my stomach at their plight, and sat quietly, trying to eat some of the rhubarb cake, freshly homemade by Suzie B. “We call rhubarb spring tonic,” she explained. “It’s one of the first plants in my garden that’s ready to use.”
Her calm demeanor and gentle smile helped make us all feel more at ease in an uneasy situation. I thought about her own story that she’d shared with me one day while she took a break from pulling weeds in her front yard flower garden. As an older Japanese American woman, Suzie B. – Mrs. Suzibiki’s self-proclaimed nickname – was no stranger to suspicions loaded onto immigrants in a hostile land. She knew firsthand the fear, anger, and racism that resulted in people like her being herded into internment camps for the duration of World War II. She said this experience motivated her to accept Nancy’s invitation to see Behzad and Afsar. “We must go! We can’t let them feel alone.”
Would Behzad’s and Afsar’s voluntary internal exile during the crisis spare them from intentional violence threatened against anyone who happened to look like them – black hair, dark eyes, bronze skin – because of those who’d apparently done these despicable acts?
There were many periods of awkward silence as we sipped tea together. Yet, I sensed our friends were grateful for the gift of this visit.
I’ve been mulling over some spiritual ramifications of those intense moments together. I have questions:
- Christians are sojourners under stress in this world, so how do we protect sojourners in our own land when their physical appearance could be considered by some as an invitation to inflict harm?
- What should we do to stand against the current cycles of violence and revenge that plant seeds of future violence and revenge?
- What’s the difference between justice and revenge?
- How are we to love those considered our national enemies in the ways that Jesus loved us when we were His spiritual “enemies”?
There’s a twist in the timeline here: Such questions are as relevant this week after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, while I am writing this piece in 2001, as when we visited the home of my Iranian friends Behzad and Afsar over 20 years earlier, during the spring of 1980, months into the Iranian hostage crisis. When the questions don’t change, hopefully our responses as followers of Jesus do – to become ever more Christlike and Kingdom-influenced.
*Most names in this piece have been changed.
NOTES: This reflection piece was previous unpublished. It remains essentially as I wrote it in 2001, other than inclusion of a few added memories and minor edits to improve the clarity.