Thursday, December 3, 2015

Fear Not

The fog that permeates the mind of a new mother is real. Before the birth of my daughter three months ago, catching a flight required next to no energy.  Cruising through security in time to get a cup of coffee before boarding the plane was perhaps my greatest challenge.  My luggage and my life felt streamlined and organized.  The plight of new mothers juggling bags of bottles and diapers, doll-sized pajamas and blankets, were simply not on the radar.  But things have changed. Today I am lucky if I get to the airport having taken a shower in the last three days. The adage is true: parenting is all joy and no fun. 

Today as I sit in my office a million miles away from all that is manicured and fashionable, I am thinking of Valarie Kaur, a new mother like me and a fellow faith leader who was at the airport yesterday preparing to return home in time to celebrate her son’s 1st birthday.  As she was organizing the many trappings of motherhood she innocently pulled a tag off the bag carrying her breast pump.  This small gesture alarmed a nearby passenger who after scanning the lovely, brown-skinned woman, angrily asked what had prompted such a move.  More passengers got involved as did a gate agent who demanded she open the bag and prove that she was carrying a breast pump.  The air was thick with suspicion and fear and though no one uttered the word, terrorist filled the thoughts of those involved.

Fear is a powerful thing. I am a Presbyterian Minister and in our faith tradition we are celebrating the season of Advent. In these four weeks leading up to Christmas we are preparing our hearts by telling stories connected to the birth of Jesus. In many of these narratives found early in the Gospels, we find a divine command: do not fear.  Why is this command given over and over again? I believe it is because fear makes us the most miserable version of ourselves. Fear is like a disease that eats away at a person before being passed along to others, transforming them into shadows of their once-bright selves. Fear has the capacity to so transform hearts and minds, that new mothers become suspects. Bags carrying supplies that help feed small babies are transformed into a security threat. Long, dark hair accompanying a brown-skinned woman becomes a sign of danger.  In the United States today, fear is transforming our Muslim and Sikh brothers and sisters into enemies.  I have had fellow Christians ask me recently, voices full of apprehension, “Have you studied the Qur’an?  Do you know what is in there?”  I reply, “No.  I am a Christian.  I study the Bible.  Do you know what is in there?”

Now is the time for those of us who are not profiled as terrorists to raise our voices against foolish stereotypes that breed fear and mistrust. Now is the time for open conversation among followers of all faith traditions as we attempt to address social ills together.  And now is the time for this new mama to say to another new mama: I am sorry.  I am sorry for what happened to you yesterday as you prepared to celebrate the first birthday of your little boy. I promise I will do what I can to raise a daughter who will not fear your son, but embrace him, learn from him, and delight in this good world alongside him.

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