Are you Afraid of Muslims?

Pillars: How Muslims Led Me Closer to Jesus is launching tomorrow, April 6! I don’t have a copy yet so if you get yours, will you post a photo and tag me so I can see it out in the world? I should get my shipment this week, insha Allah.

And, will you leave a review on Amazon please? That really helps with visibility. Thanks and you’re amazing!

I wrote the book with several things in mind, one of which is that I hope to de-mystify Islam. I’m not teaching about Islam, per se, as I’m not a Muslim. But I write about things I’ve learned and how I’ve experienced it as an outsider. I hope this will inspire others to not be afraid but to see potential for growing in faith, building peace, and creating a beautiful community.

Buy Pillars here!


Are you afraid of your toddler? Are you afraid of your dog?

Are you afraid of Muslims? Terrorists? I say “Muslims” and “terrorists” because media outlets, some politicians, and some religious leaders want us to believe the two words are synonymous.

Franklin Graham and other American Evangelicals seem to believe we should be afraid of Muslims and that we are at war with Muslims both in the US and abroad. We all know about the so-called Muslim ban former President Trump instituted. Graham also said, several years ago, that immigration needs to be closed to Muslims, that we are under attack. He isn’t alone in this kind of ignorant fear-mongering. Over 160,000 people liked his Facebook post.

In Jesus and John Wayne, Kristin Du Mez noted that evangelical Christians are the most likely Christian group to see Islam as a threat. Jordan Denari Duffner has a book coming out in May called Islamophobia: What Christians Should Know (and do) about Anti-Muslim Discrimination. One of the reasons she wrote the book is that this is all too real and serious.

In the United States in 2013, three people were killed by terrorists (who were Muslim), all three at the Boston Marathon. That same year, five people were shot by gun-wielding toddlers, and about 34 died of dog bites.

Why didn’t Graham insist we prohibit toddlers inside our borders? Why hasn’t anyone called for a moratorium on dog ownership?

I think I know, partly, why. Americans are comfortable with toddlers and dogs, many of us know a toddler or a dog. But how many American Christians know Muslims? I mean really know them not just point to them on the street.

I have visited churches in Minnesota and people say, “Aren’t you afraid to live there? Aren’t all those Muslims trying to kill you all the time?”

No. No, I am not afraid and no, they are not trying to kill me. My daughter’s teachers? The man who pumps my gas? The running coach? It would be laughable if these American Christians weren’t so earnest.

They say, “I’m afraid to go to Target because Muslims have taken over, working at all the cash registers.” How is it that a person of a different religion working at a cash register can strike fear into hearts? How have we become so divided that we will turn a stranger into an enemy?

I think right there is the problem. We have become so divided that Muslims are strangers rather than friends, neighbors, and coworkers. We isolate and segregate and so we don’t know each other on a human level. We fear the unknown. We fear the unfamiliar and we fear difference. We’re threatened by it and so we hunker down, build barriers, throw stones.

But Christian faith calls us to not be afraid and to live a life of love, which casts out fear. We are to welcome the stranger, care for the outcast, bless the foreigner or alien.

Carl Medearis wrote to Graham: If “Muslims” are your enemies, it’s clear what Jesus calls us to do with enemies.  And if these “Muslims” are your neighbors (and many of them are), it’s clear what Jesus asks us to do with neighbors.  Either way I think you’re stuck. You gotta love em.

And Marilyn Gardner wrote: To build relationships with people of other faiths is not compromising our faith. Rather, it’s living out a faith that is not threatened but firm.

I think as Christians get to know Muslims on an individual basis they will discover Muslims also grieve when people are shot, they also are horrified when marathoners are bombed, they reject violence.

Inflammatory words and religious-based immigration bans only increase fear and divisions. This is not the way of Jesus or the Kingdom.

Discussion Topics:

  • How can we help each other move from fear to faith?
  • How do we speak up about the fear-mongering about Islam? How do we prepare ourselves to speak truth and love in the face of fear?
  • How can you grow in building a cross-religious friendship?

For more:

Carl Medearis: An Open Letter to Franklin Graham

Marilyn Gardner: Dear Mr. Graham, Let Me Introduce You to Some Friends


For more about building relationships across religious boundaries, check out Pillars.

By |April 5th, 2021|Categories: Pillars, Writing|Tags: , |0 Comments

Book Launch Party!

Sign up here!

I am consistently stunned by the kindness and generosity of writers who are strangers.

I have goosebumps thinking of Barbara Brown Taylor reading my words.

I cried when I read Abdi’s foreword.

In a world of so much grief, anger, and division this is an event to celebrate hope and connection.

There is goodness. Sometimes we must fight to see it, but is there.

There is beauty. Some of my favorite images of Djibouti are the desert with a single flower. Or a bougainvillea bush tangled in barbed wire. Or the sunrise over a garbage dump. Beauty will insist on itself.

We would love to see you at this book launch party!

Sign up here!

Mary, Emptied

My friend Jess talked recently about the holiness of feeling empty. I had read an article for grad school about breastfeeding as an entrance into theology, breastfeeding as spiritual practice. We do not talk about this enough in our faith teachings or sermons. Have you ever heard a Christmas sermon about the pain, blood, and visceral reality of Jesus being born? Have you heard a public meditation on what it might have been like, or meant, for Mary to lift this tender newborn to her breast to feed him? How much do we miss when we neglect these very female aspects of our spirituality and faith stories?

I thought about my friend’s words of emptiness and thought about Mary.

How did Mary feel after Jesus was born?

I don’t mean in her emotions, we know she paid attention to all the events around Jesus’ birth and early years and pondered them in her heart.
I mean how did she feel in her physical body? How would this pregnancy compare to future pregnancies? After Jesus was born did she feel strangely emptied, her womb no longer the dwelling place of the divine? Her body no longer a shelter for the sacred?
(If you’d like to hear me read this out loud, check out my IGTV on Instagram)
Mary, Emptied
breathed into
and full
belly growing
breasts filling
ankles swelling
bladder squishing
kicked from inside by tiny feet
plagued by strange cravings
hungry, always so hungry
back aching and no comfortable way to sleep
the fire, the pressure, the need, the terror, the thrill, the release
The Word became flesh and
What did this feel like?
Was there a hole where the holy had been?
Was there an ache to be filled with God again?
Was there a relief to release this baby into the world,
your body no longer the sole container of eternal justice and hope?
Was there grief because you could no longer protect this gift with the power of your own body, flesh, blood, bone, uterus?
arms filled with love
belly poured out,
When did you next feel so filled?
Or did you walk the dusty roads of Palestine
ever aware you were now emptied of the Divine?
By |December 20th, 2020|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , |1 Comment

Leaving Demons Behind

Leaving the Little Demons Behind. An essay about exploring history and legend in Somaliland. Click to read the full essay.

…5,000-year old paintings proliferate inside caves thirty-four miles outside Hargeisa, Somaliland, in an area called Las Geel. Some paintings are possibly as old as 7,000 years. Who painted them and why is unknown. Exactly what they represent is unknown. Who will protect them is also unknown.

Fear of jinn, or mischievous little demons, protected these paintings for centuries as people feared becoming cursed or possessed. Some people said the paintings were drawn with human blood. Goat herders avoided the caves unless sudden thunderstorms drove them inside for protection.

I grew up believing fear was a sin. I was also afraid of everything, which left me in a constant state of guilt. God told Joshua, “Do not be afraid.” Almost every time an angel spoke with a human, the angel first said, “Do not be afraid.” What was I supposed to do with my fear of heights, fear of adults, fear of talking to a stranger on the telephone, fear of a bad grade? My fears were trivial, not like the fears Somali herders felt about jinn, but they were still damning.

As an adult, a longing to be free from fear pushed me toward scary things and I moved to Somaliland in 2003. This felt like one way my faith could work itself out in action and with trembling. What I didn’t yet understand is that facing fear gives faith the opportunity to actually be faith…

Leaving the Little Demons Behind. An essay about exploring history and legend in Somaliland. Click to read the full essay.

By |December 7th, 2020|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

One year of Stronger than Death: What people wish I had done differently

The most critical pushback I have experienced for the story of Stronger than Death has been from American Christians. We are a hard group to please!

I told a story and tried to be as faithful as possible to the research, interviews, letters, and photographs used to uncover that story. But I’m telling the story of a woman I never met, who is now dead. There is, by necessity, interpretation.

I also told a story which intersects with my own life, which was why I made the ultimate decision to place myself in the book, something I tried hard to avoid at first. This means at times I interact with the story I’m telling. Some readers told me they wished I had presented my own opinions about Annalena’s choices more firmly, or that I had pointed out where I (or they, or they assumed that I) disagreed with her thoughts or behavior. Maybe they’re right, I’m not sure. This isn’t my story and it isn’t a story of a worldview or a religious view in the way some readers hold it. It is Annalena’s, filtered through mine. I stand by what I wrote, which does make some people with some worldview uncomfortable.

This is not a missionary biography, which some readers read it as, because she was a Christian Italian living internationally and because I am a Christian American living internationally. But Annalena said herself that she was not a missionary. It isn’t a “how-to” book of how to live among people of a different religion and culture or of how to treat sick people or of how to develop systems of care or of how to change people’s minds about religion. Readers don’t have to agree with her choices, I don’t agree with all her choices. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read her story. If I could only read things I agreed with, well, that doesn’t leave me with much of anything and would be pretty boring. When I read things I disagree with, I am forced to respond to it, forced to figure out why I don’t agree, what I might do differently. This is what living abroad does for me, I live among people who see the world very differently to how I see it. This is fantastic for personal growth.

This is not a book that presents “The Gospel,” meaning it does not present a step by step guide of becoming a Christian as Evangelicals understand it. There is no Bridge Illustration, no Romans Road, no Sinner’s Prayer. Which I am comfortable with for all kinds of reasons I won’t go into here (teaser for Book Two!).

There is just a story of a woman who chose radical love both for people and for Jesus. She took the words of Jesus seriously, more seriously than almost anyone else I’ve read about or known. Give to those who ask. You can’t serve both God and money. Blessed are the poor. And I do find that inspiring.

Imagine if we all did that: chose radical love. What a world! We might not be so angry, broken, and divided.

I do know that some people wish I had written a more religious book while others wish I had written a more scientific book and others wish I had written a “how-to” book and others wish I wasn’t a white woman writing about a white woman in Africa (there is a whole chapter to address that).

I wrote the book I wrote. I will end by letting one reader’s words stand. This was written down after I gave a talk at a school in Djibouti. The person who wrote it read it out loud during a small group discussion afterwards. I asked for permission to photograph it because I found the words so moving.

Plough: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Indiebound: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Barnes and Noble: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Amazon: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Go to Top