The ride was a Toyota Corolla. A bit battered. A bit suspect. My husband Dan’s danger antenna flashed red. He furrowed his brow. “Why’s that car parked in front of our house?”
I wasn’t fazed. “What car?”
“That car,” he said, staring through the living room blinds. “It’s been parked out front every morning for a week.”
“Maybe it’s the neighbor’s.” I turned away. Ready for breakfast. Ready to not feel like every unusual person, action, or incident on our block is cause for suspicion and concern.
Love your neighbor? Absolutely. Then keep moving. Don’t worry. Give the other guy the benefit of the doubt. That was my day-to-day mantra.
Then last week three Muslim students were shot to death in North Carolina over a parking dispute. We can suspect, as their friends and family do, that something more than parking was at play. But that’s how our current antipathy starts. You’re parking in my space. Plus, you look kinda different. And worse, you’re wearing that unusual scarf.
We’ve become not just a nation of strangers, but strangers who suspect each other on principle. It’s our 9/11 curse. Suspect thy neighbor. Even if you’re a Christian. Or especially if you’re a Christian? One leader recently posted these words about Muslims on his Facebook page:
Anti-semitism is on the rise in Europe and this is coming largely from the influx of Muslim immigrants who are importing their hatred of Jews and Christians. Even here in this country we are seeing this grow. It is a poison—a cancer—to all freedom-loving people and should be stopped. The enemy known as anti-semitism is not at the gate, it has already come through the gate, and it is time we wake up and realize the dangers of Islam.
I, of all people, should agree. My youngest daughter left the church 10 years ago and converted to Islam. Influenced by college friends and her own searching heart, she ended up turning from the Cross to the crescent. Our family was devastated.
But is she a danger? Especially if she parks in your space? In her used Honda van? With her three little babies eating their snacks in the back seat? A national security risk? As dangerous as a battered Toyota Corolla parked in front of my suburban American house? Of course not. Yet that’s how even Christians seem to see each other these days.
During a recent visit, we were enjoying the day together—doing errands with her in that Honda van—when a scowling man in a truck started yelling at her: Go home!
For a minute, nobody said anything. The children didn’t hear it, thankfully. I didn’t notice at first. But my daughter turned to me, eyes wide. “Did you hear that?”
“What’d he say?” I asked, my hackles up. Not wanting to believe it.
“Go home.” My daughter looked crushed. “He said go home.”
I jerked to look, staring at the truck. Looking for what? A license plate number? A defiant American flag? A bumper sticker flaunting the name Jesus? A sick feeling hit my stomach. Anger? Hatred? Revulsion? Rising in my throat were all things nasty and nothing of Christian love.
And that’s why our suspicion of each other is sickly wrong, and the trouble is hardly due only to “the dangers of Islam.” For followers of Christ, our contempt for Islam and its followers may say as much about us as it says about the people and faiths we suspect and revile. Indeed, doesn’t it say we don’t trust God? Don’t believe his ways in our current interfaith dilemma might be better than ours?
As it is, Muslim communities across the US have reported an uptick in vandalism and harassment following the recent shooting. Meantime, as leaders worldwide struggle to contain ISIS, and its appeal to disaffected Muslim youth, might our scowling suspicion and contempt add to the problem?
Looking at the battered Toyota parked in front of our house, I thought of such things. So I asked my husband, “Did you ask somebody about it?”
“Ask who?” he said.
So I dared suggest it: “A neighbor.”
Yes, just talk to somebody, one person talking to another person—even if they look different, even if they believe different, even if they’re wearing a contentious scarf.
If the man in the truck had done that, he’d learn my daughter is home. If my husband had done that, he’d learn—as he finally did—the innocent story behind the parked Toyota. A high school kid on the next block owned the car.
Why park it on our street? Maybe his family was cleaning out their garage. Maybe his street had run out of parking spaces. Maybe he wanted to protect the Toyota until he could fix it up and show it off at school. We never learned the whole story. But by laying aside alarm and contempt, and taking time to talk to our next-door neighbor, we got enough answers to prevent a non-problem from becoming an ugly issue.
In a world where 1.6 billion Muslims and 2.2 billion Christians now share neighborhoods and nations, sidewalks and streets, to replace suspicion and contempt might be something worth considering, especially as a witness for our faith.
Imagine: Ordinary folks talking to ordinary folks as they park, drive, and live life. A little love, as our Apostle Paul said, might still be the better way.
Patricia Raybon is an award-winning author. Her upcoming book, releasing April 2015 from Thomas Nelson’s W Publishing Group, is Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace.