Feb, 1993. I was 18 years old, sitting with my best friend at a ‘Fireside Chat’, a talk on spiritual or religious topics, by one of the leaders of my faith. We sang a hymn together and then bowed our heads for the prayer. As the speaker, one of the church leaders, started to talk, an audience member strode up to the dais. He was carrying a suitcase, shouting, and waving something with his hand.
The word was shouted. I didn’t actually understand it when I heard it. I was waiting to hear inspired words of faith. Instead, the man rushed the podium, ordered everyone off, and handed the speaker a paper.
I suddenly understood the word. I felt my heart race as I sat, watching from my seat. Scared and uncertain, I gripped the hand of my companion. Was I about to watch our leader and several classmates be blown to bits? The helplessness of being only able to watch was indescribably awful. Someone started singing a hymn and I gratefully joined in.
Singing and watching, we poured our fear into our faith. For ten minutes, we watched the terrorist angrily argue with the church leader. We watched the leader indicate no, shaking his head.
Something happened to embolden the two body guards for the speaker. They moved with purpose and disarmed the terrorist, with young audience members joining them. It was over. The man was escorted out. We breathed a collective sigh of relief. The leader stood up to continue his spiritual talk and we moved on.
That wasn’t the first time I experienced the possibility of violence in my life. It was the first time I felt it as a result of something wholly unrelated to the idea of violence. To worship, to pray, to follow your faith, is most usually about connection- the opposite of violence and terrorist threats. Fall of 2018 we have seen pipe bombs delivered to political officials and reporters and faithful people gunned down in their place of worship.
Twice this year I have attended conferences that were threatened with violence. I run in the mornings and in the back of my mind, I usually remember the women who have been killed, attacked, assaulted while running. I go to the movie theater and wonder if there is another Batman shooter at my fun action-movie premiere. I attend open air concerts and occasionally feel a twitch and wonder if this is the concert someone will copy cat the Vegas shooter and open up on a concert in Colorado. The last open air concert I attended, two of the band members were survivors of a massacre at a concert in Paris.
The politics of fear.
I have evidence that my politics and my interests put me in danger of being shot and killed. And I am a white girl. I don’t have the additional layer of race to increase the odds of violence I might experience.
I won’t let it stop me from going out or supporting the causes I believe in. And, for those of you that wonder why people make ‘a big deal’ about the rhetoric of violence, this is why. Because, for some of us, the reality that we may be killed in a house of worship, attending a movie, doing our job, or attending a conference is very real. It matters when leaders speak in ways that imply or outright state violence is acceptable. Or violence is a solution. Or violence is inevitable. Or that some people are more valuable than others. We have become the countries we used to look down on. The countries with bomb threats in coffee houses, where people terrorize each other on the streets. America’s beacon of light is tarnished with the blood of the innocent and the fear of the privileged. And it is time to wake up and notice if you are part of the problem.