When Rose Hamid held a silent protest at a Trump rally by wearing a T-Shirt that said “Salam, I come in Peace” she told the media that she was trying to show those in attendance that Muslims are not scary. What was scary, for her and for all of us, was how quickly hatred was fuelled against her as she was thrown out of the hall at Winthrop University.
When she was later interviewed by the media, somehow Rose ended up being the one to defend her country, saying that people in the United States are not all like this, and that some at the rally were even quite friendly.
We may argue that we all act irrationally when we are afraid. When we feel that the things that we have worked for and the ones we love are not safe, our behaviour may be far from congenial. Our fears come out when we consider questions like: Who we are willing to interact with? Who do we allow to touch us? Who do we touch? Who do we welcome into our spaces? And who do we exclude? Even questions of where do we live and when do we go out? All relate to issues of safety.
We have devised and measured policies, rules and guidelines, all around us to create safe places. To protect those who come through our doors or who attend our programs, as well as to protect us from actions or accusations that may harm us. Insurance policies, safe church programs, professionalism, and self-care, have been the agenda of the age. They tell of our fear for litigation, our fear of loss, our fear for ruined reputations, our fear for others coming to harm, and our fear of failure. And while I believe in these measures, fully endorse and practice them, can we ever guarantee safety?
I have had to tell people to leave places because these places were meant to be safe and they were threatening that safety. But do I really have the right to call any place safe? Recent world events would suggest that I don’t.
I remember in my first year of Seminary a group of us would deliver sandwiches and hot chocolate to those sleeping on the streets in downtown Toronto. Our first night was an orientation where we went out in groups of 2 or 3 to get to know Toronto’s night time personality. A comment was made about safety, which was quickly dismissed by one of the leaders. But one of my friends pressed it, emphasizing that the leader couldn’t be sure we’d be perfectly safe. That has stuck with me. I remember thinking at the time that she was overdoing it, but now I see that she was right.
We can’t ever be completely safe. We can’t ever completely safeguard ourselves, our loved ones, or even our possessions. We can try to act wisely, we can equip ourselves with policies and try to make good decisions, but the guarantee is never there. Perhaps that is why there are so many commendations in the Bible to not be afraid. As Mr. Beaver says about Aslan “Who said anything about safe?”
It’s our response to this lack of safety that is important. We can hole ourselves away and surround ourselves with safe neighbourhoods, safe homes, safe friends, safe jobs, safe hobbies. We can respond with hatred, exclusion and outrage when our safety is threatened or breached. We can try to live in the proverbial bubble. But what will we miss?
Just this week, if I were to withdraw and be safe, I would have missed my new friend that I’ve met through an AA group, I would missed the teary confession of ‘J’ and his stale breath as he hugged me, I would have missed toothless grins and smiles, I would have missed a 2 year old reaching up to me, I would have missed the call of someone who has come to trust me, I would have missed opportunities of seeing God’s light in dark places.
I am not saying we should not be cautious or wise. I am not saying that we ignore common sense. I am not saying that there are no dangerous people. I am not saying that there aren’t people and places that we should avoid at certain times. I am saying that we should not be afraid. I am saying that when we extend ourselves to others there is always a risk, but there is also a risk in refraining from looking beyond ourselves and the environments we are familiar with. There is great risk, as Rose Hamid can witness, in letting our need for safety turn our thoughts towards hatred and fear of the other. There is great risk when we reject, scorn, belittle, and malign because we want to keep what we have and be safe. Do not fear, we hold Good News that transcends safety.
By Jasmine Chandra