Christchurch, Mosque, Synagogue

“We are how we treat each other, and nothing more.”

The faithful prostrated themselves in prayer, giving their hearts, minds, spirits to God. And, soon, their blood. Once a community unified in prayer, held close in sanctuary, they are now unified in terror and death.

A sanctuary is a holy, sacred, safe place where faith and doubt, searching and reaching, giving and receiving all have a place. A sanctuary’s walls contain us. And worship within those walls — whether as a believer or seeker — can fortify us to step beyond those walls and try to live out our faith as best we can.

Those protecting walls can also separate us. You enter your holy space; I’ll enter mine.

But tragedy within those protecting walls, a slaughter of innocents, defeats the separation.

Last night, I attended a vigil at Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center. We mourned the death of 49 faithful people, slain in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. We grieved the injuries of many more and the deep suffering of those communities.

We also grieved the renewed fears of people of Islamic faith as outsiders, targets.

hijab muslim street woman
Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

We passed armed guards at the mosque’s door, a chilling reminder of the fear and anxiety that cling to so many people. That clings as tightly as skin. As tightly as an accent. As tightly as a skull cap or head scarf.

The terror in Christchurch — a name evoking salvation and sanctuary, but perhaps only for some — rekindled fear and anxiety. It showed once again the unquenched hatred born of others’ fears and anxieties. As people of many faiths gathered for the vigil, we demonstrated solidarity and shared grief. Indeed, the Imam thanked the Rabbi of our neighborhood synagogue for reciprocating, sadly, the love shown by Muslims to his congregation after October’s Squirrel Hill horror.

But we also acknowledged that solidarity and shared grief are insufficient. We must act, even if only though small daily acts of love and service.

This is what I will do:

I will honor the lives of the Christchurch dead by sharing their stories.

When I see a woman in hijab or burqa, I will greet her with loving eyes and a kind smile. I will be a sanctuary for her in that moment because too often — from people who look like me — she sees only confusion, distrust or fear.

photo of women laughing and dressed in hijabs sitting next to each other
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I will sit with people I know who speak fearfully of the “religious other” and ask them about their own faith tradition, its commandments and its teachings about fear and love. And I will listen to that person with generosity and try to see him as a beautiful striving person weighed by his own anxieties and fears.

I will attend community events at my local mosque and synagogue, and invite someone to go with me.

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I will be bold and take a stand for love every day, even in the face of cynicism or resignation.

What will you do?

I met last night a 27-year old member of Virginia’s House of Delegates. He is the youngest Muslim elected official in the state and, perhaps, the country. He told me he chose to serve because he wants to lead change on a dozen different issues. That is his stand. And to me he also stands, by his very person, for his faith and for all people of faith; for his youth; and for this generation’s call to serve and change.

At church today our pastor reminded us that fears and anxieties — and their offspring hate — pollute not only the hearts of those spewing such things but also our own hearts. It pollutes us when galvanized by fear, anxiety and even hate, we respond in kind: righteously, confident of our judgments and untempered by love, curiosity or humility. As the band U2 cautions us, we mustn’t challenge the monster by becoming a monster.

Also at church today, our singing group, Honey & Locusts, offered a beautiful song written by The Alternate Routes called “Nothing More.” The song described all people in God’s creation as one. And it reminded us that our very selves ultimately depend on one simple thing: “We are how we treat each other, and nothing more.”  [To hear the song, click below.]

I believe that’s true. And I’ve noticed that when I approach everyone — the passerby, the store clerk, my work colleague — from the possibility of generosity and love, I find that my own anxieties abate. I discover that the world  — person by person — actually is not as scary as I fear. And I contribute just a tiny reason for the other person to believe the same thing.

I remind myself: Every day, whether I know it or not, people experience me as either my fears or my love.

“We are how we treat each other, and nothing more.”

white and brown concrete building under cloudy sky during daytime
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

12 thoughts on “Christchurch, Mosque, Synagogue

  1. Thank you for sharing these words and this wisdom, and thank you for your important work to interact with others with love and curiosity.

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    1. We are all blessed with curiosity and love. You and I, now, are called to use them more than ever.

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  2. Beautifully written, Carol Ann. Thank you for reminding us to be the force of love in the world as best we can, with every interaction we have. It’s the only way to peace. ♥️

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    1. Thank you, Carolyn. Good loving people are indeed the path to peace. I will not despair.

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  3. Laura Elizabeth Vaught March 19, 2019 — 6:36 am

    I absolutely loved this post. So insightful and just really uplifting about something so difficult and such a terrible incident. It’s one of my favorites of yours, and I love all of them!

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    1. Thank you, Laura, for your encouragement — and, most important, for taking a stand with me.

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  4. This statement from your essay stood out to me with particular power: “But we also acknowledged that solidarity and shared grief are insufficient. We must act, even if only though small daily acts of love and service.” I felt such a deep, profound sorrow following this massacre – sadly, not a new emotion these days. I felt compelled to be more tangibly connected to the grieving, and although I wasn’t at the vigil, I did go up to the mosque to pay my respect. I’m wondering when we as a nation will reach a collective tipping point where our grief and sorrow transform into meaningful actions that are rooted in genuine kindness and respect toward others, including those who are different from us? I know this is what I’m hoping for every day. In the meantime, I also commit to taking some new steps, even if small ones, to try and make a difference.

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    1. Wendy, your comment inspires me. Choosing to visit the mosque to pay respect — a “small” action that has so much meaning: for the community you visited and for the rest of us hearing about it. With love, you challenge us to act with kindness and respect toward all others. That’s where transformation begins.

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  5. Carol Ann, thank you for expressing how we can counter hatred and generally make the world a better place. Showing love in different ways is being the change we’d like to see in the world. Your final reminder in your piece is especially awakening. People don’t often know how they transfer their fears and irritations to others. It is better to be intentionally loving about the other person or the world.

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    1. I love this, Jini, thank you. Beautifully said: “People don’t often know how they transfer their fears and irritations to others.” Yes, let’s work to be intentionally loving. Eventually, it won’t be work.

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  6. Beautifully written sentiments born of a senseless tragedy. The actions taken by your community to embrace those more closely affected is encouraging and brave. We always have a choice whether to sit idly by in sorrow masked in solidarity or speak up and be present. Even in simple ways.

    “I discover that the world — person by person — actually is not as scary as I fear.” I love this idea most. We are only one person and do not have to carry the entirety of our culture but by being our best selves, we become the brighter face of our entire culture in every encounter.

    Well done, Carol Ann!

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    1. Dear Kendra — I am honored and moved that my reflections elicited the beauty of your reply. Yes, we bring so much to the world when we interact with each other freely and fearlessly and when we are “being our best selves,” as you say. One person, one best self at a time. A miracle awaits.

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