“Please be extra safe as you go about your day-to-day lives and try not to walk alone.”
That’s the advice that one of Burlington’s religious leaders gave to their congregants. It’s reminiscent of the rules we had to live by when I was a child – the “buddy system” – swimming in the lake as a middle school camper; walking “holding hands” as a first grader. The buddy system was for our own good; but the counsel of this leader to their people is about a different kind of safety.
It has to do with what Larycia Hawkins did. She is a tenured professor at Wheaton College who, though a Christian, decided for the month of Advent she would wear the hijab as a sign of support for and solidarity with her Muslim neighbors. She believes Christians and Muslims worship the same God. For that belief and for her determination to walk – as a committed Christian – in solidarity with her neighbor, she has been placed on administrative leave from her work. In her sensitivity to those who may feel particularly vulnerable and her desire to walk with them, she is singled out.
There is a woman who attends our weekly Bible Study. She walks home from our church to her apartment following the study. I worry about her. Several times I have walked part way to her home with her, talking about some of the church business we need to discuss; but I worry when I walk with her, too. Sensitive to maintaining boundaries that are crystal clear, I do not want her ever to fear or question my motives. Since my wife worked in a Domestic Violence Intervention program a number of years ago, I find myself sensitive to the concerns of women who walk our streets in the evening. Surrounded by college students, I worry about them walking alone; but I worry about them worrying about me if I am behind them. So I cross the street – leaving them to walk alone.
I read a blog written by a friend of mine who has a child currently undergoing some extremely difficult health issues and taking medications that have some serious behavioral side effects. He tells of this child having a seizure on Saturday in a public pool – and no one seemed to notice. He wrote of his son acting up in the store such that people stared; and in their staring it was obvious they were judging. In that moment my friend was walking alone in a sea of misunderstanding. How can you be in a crowded public swimming pool and no one notice you? And then be in a crowded supermarket and everyone stares at you? In both situations one feels very much alone. He counsels us when we see a parent struggling with a child: “You have no idea what is going on with that poor family,” he writes. “And they’re not going to stop and explain it to you.”
“Your job is to help,” he continues, “not judge.”
Speaking of “explaining”, we don’t hear much about the 70,000 Muslim clerics who have signed a fatwa against the Taliban, al Qaeda and the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State. It seems that if you are a certain kind of person, it doesn’t matter how many there are of you – you still walk alone. How do you explain that?
It was the counsel of our local Imam to his congregants following the recent tragedies in Paris and San Bernadino. He feels safe, but … “don’t walk alone.”
What do you say to the parent whose child is acting up, or seizing in public? How do you reassure the young woman walking alone, or the one wearing the hijab? How do you stand in Christian solidarity with the college professor who takes a stand for biblical neighborliness? Without intruding, or getting creepy, or patronizing them, how do you let them know in a way that has some meaning and integrity to it, that even though they walk alone and even though you walk alone, you are doing it together?