I had a morning meeting in Hyde Park. It’s about 25 miles from where I live and takes me through the heart of downtown Chicago. At best it’s a 45 minute drive; at worst, it can take more than an hour and a half. I hate sitting in traffic. My solution? Get up when the humans are still asleep and get on the road. Early. Upon arrival, sit in a coffee shop and get some work done until it’s time for the meeting.
It took 45 minutes. Perfect. Found that coffee shop, did my journaling and then turned to one of my lenten commitments: to read through the gospels in these 40 days. I sat there in that public place at a small table next to the counter with my little pocket bible open, reading Matthew 13 and 14.
Where I live, that’s a common thing. On those days when my morning meeting schedule takes me into Panera or Starbucks or Blackberry Market or River City Roasters, I can virtually guarantee that someone will be sitting there with a bible open. Just as often there’s a group (usually it’s men) having their small group/accountability group/prayer meeting right there in that public place. In fact, I remember some of those books I had to read for evangelism class in the seminary encouraging that very tactic as an opportunity to witness to the faith. Someone will stop and ask what you are doing and you can tell them about Jesus. It’s ubiquitous. It’s expected. So, afraid to open my scriptures in a coffee shop? Never.
On Monday evening, I sat with a group of Muslims and Christians. This came up in the conversation: my friend and colleague said in passing that she’s “afraid to open my Koran in a public place, much less pray.” A public place like a coffee shop. Or restaurant. Or library. Afraid of harassment, or worse, of physical abuse.
And I cried inside. A simple thing that is so common for Christians is something that our Muslim neighbors are afraid to do.
This xenophobic climate being fanned by public figures is not theoretical. It’s not empty rhetoric. Words matter. These are real people. And they are our neighbors. Fellow Americans. Fellow citizens.
Silence is complicity.