I remember being telephoned by a newspaper reporter (not the one I’m married to) on 9/11/01. She asked me for some comments on what people can do. I said “I’ll call you back in 15 minutes.” I phoned my friend Tracy, a chaplain who worked in Oklahoma City when the Murrah building was bombed. She didn’t have much time to talk, because she was organizing a prayer vigil. (That was the first helpful bit of information she had for me. I organized a prayer vigil that night at our church.) She advised me: “Don’t send teddy bears to the hospitals. They have enough to do without dealing with ‘things.’ Don’t obsess over the TV. Get exercise. Take a walk. Be with people. Don’t isolate yourself. Pray.” So I repeated her eloquent words to the reporter. My interview made the front page and bumped my husband’s story from the Red Cross off the paper.
My non-white friends and acquaintances experienced racist actions and words. They wore and put up American flags in case anyone questioned their patriotism. A Pakistani-American couple put a sign in their motel window: “100% American owned.” I heard racist comments from neighbors and, sad to say, church members. My child’s preschool teacher thought the solution to 9/11 was to bomb Iraq. All of it.
After the prayer vigil, I started a quilt of the NYC skyline for my friend Elaine who lived in NYC. Our Sunday School and preschool sent pictures and letters to a member’s son in Washington DC, to the Medical Examiner’s office in NYC, and to my friend Elaine. My three-year-old daughter, who was fond of the Goosebumps books and videos, drew a picture of a “machine that turns werewolves into good people.”
Prejudice has prospered since 9/11. I have felt like a lone voice. This is the first time I’ve lived in a city where a community of people are committed to organizing events to stop hate, expose and expel prejudice, and teach and learn how to be allies. Tonight I am going to my second Not In Our Town board meeting. With them, I don’t have to put up with sexism, racism, classism, homophobia or transphobia. When someone who wants to be an ally mis-speaks, they get corrected, they apologize (no excuses—just an apology!) and we all keep going. Instead of always being the one who teaches it, I get to learn. It is freeing. I am thankful.
Many in the group have been hurt by a church and/or cruel Christians and so are atheists. My pastoral presence surprises them. I feel Jesus next to me at these meetings as we talk about ways to protect the powerless and challenge the powerful. I have the joyful privilege of being a representative of God’s love to people who don’t think they deserve it. I rejoice at the work of the spirit.