This weekend I attended Writer’s Corner at West End United Methodist Church, with Joy-Jordan Lake as the featured author. Some moments of the workshop gave me goose bumps.
The first occurrence was Friday night when Joy shared some stories of her childhood, which she wove into her first novel Blue Hole Back Home. She told how she grew up in Signal Mountain, a sleepy Southern town overlooking Chattanooga, in the 1970s. Some not-so-sleepy events were taking place, with race riots in Chattanooga.
About that time, a family from Sri Lanka who were nonpracticing Muslims moved to her town, and they wound up attending her church (a Southern Baptist church, where her dad was pastor). Joy became friends with the young girl in the Sri Lankan family, and the girl became part of her youth group. The Sri Lankan family felt fairly safe and accepted in Signal Mountain, a lily-white community.
First Joy recounted her memory of a frightening incident that took place when she was a child: her family got stopped at a Ku Klux Klan roadblock. The roadblock was set up with orange and white highway traffic-control barrels, and several men from the KKK, cradling rifles in one arm and holding Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets in the other, were stopping cars and “gently” encouraging them to contribute money to the KKK. (I don’t remember Joy saying the men were in their Klan regalia, but I imagine they were, since the organization has often relied on the secret identity of its members.)
Joy described what happened when her father approached the roadblock. A Klan member thrust the KFC bucket in the window toward her dad, saying, “Would you like to contribute today?” Joy commented, “Somehow I knew how my dad was going to respond.” As she and her brother watched wide-eyed from the backseat and her mom looked on nervously, her dad replied, “No, I will not contribute to your organization.”
In response, Klan members surrounded their car and started rocking it back and forth. Joy described the fear she felt, wondering whether their car would roll over. Somewhat miraculously it did not, and her family was allowed to leave the roadblock.
Another incident she told about–this is the one that gave me goose bumps–was about a cross burning that took place in her Sri Lankan friend’s yard. Her dad was contacted the night this horrifying incident occurred, and he went to be with the terrified Sri Lankan family.
The father of her Sri Lankan friend asked her dad, “Which way is Mecca?” Joy’s dad tried to help him determine which direction to face so they could pray toward this holy city for Muslims. Together both men prostrated themselves on the floor and prayed toward Mecca. (This is the moment I felt goose bumps, as I thought of both men, one from a conservative Christian denomination and the other from a Muslim background, bowed down to the floor, side by side, in a posture of utter humility, praying as if their lives depended on it.)
When we get right down to what really matters, there are no barriers between us humans in moments of crisis. Even when our faiths differ, we still feel the need to pray to an unseen and all-powerful God. We know that we are beyond our own strength.
Would that all of us would have the courage and sensitivity to pray with a fellow human being, a child of God, regardless of that person’s religion or race, in moments of crisis . . . or even in the ordinary moments of our lives.