Beneath the stereotype
Originally published in the Christian Science Sentinel
He MATCheD the stereotype of a terrorist perfectly: Middle Eastern, dark complexion, heavy Arab accent. He looked just like the mug shots of terrorists seen flashed around the world on CNN - just like the "Arab bad guys" in countless Hollywood movies. He was my dad.
At home, the stereotype played out, too. He was angry and often abusive. Because he was an immigrant from Syria and had never been formally educated, he suffered emotionally from the embarrassment that he couldn't read. Nevertheless, he had a very successful career as a masseur for many movie stars and studio executives. But even though he did well professionally for over 60 years, he lived in constant fear that his luck would change.
Growing up with him was traumatic. But when I was a young adult, I began to study Christian Science, which taught that I had to see beyond outward appearances. I had to see everyone - including my dad - as the likeness of God (see Gen. 1:26). Because I had such a desire to follow the Bible's teaching, I wholeheartedly wanted to lose my fear and change my view of him.
The day came when I was put to the test. My dad called to ask if I would have dinner with him. That sounds innocent enough, but I knew he could easily exhibit unpleasant behavior in public. So with the stipulation that I had to be somewhere immediately following dinner, I agreed to meet him. Frankly, two hours was all I could bear to spend with him.
Although he had picked the restaurant, the food was not to his liking. As I'd feared would happen, he made a terrible scene - so horrible that I walked out. We drove in silence to his home, where now I had two uncomfortable hours to spend with him. Sitting with him in the living room, I tried to find a subject that would interest him, but he disapproved of them all.
Finally, in desperation, I just silently prayed to know how to reach this very angry man. I recalled this passage from "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "Desire is prayer; and no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in words and in deeds (pg. 1).
My prayer went something like this: "Dear God of Love, You created me as Your child, but You also created my dad as Your child. Because You are the Father of us both, we must have something in common." With that, I felt God's love surrounding both of us, and, to my surprise, I found myself asking a question that had never occurred to me before: "Daddy, tell me about your dad." I will always treasure what happened next.
My dad's features softened. He looked at me with an expression that I had not seen in all my life. With deep love and tenderness in his voice, he began to talk about his father, who had passed on when my dad was only five. And before I knew it, two hours had vanished. When I got up to leave, he humbly said in his broken English, "Please know that I don't want to be mean and angry. I feel the love in my heart, but I don't know how to show it. I am not bad."
Just one moment of prayer, when I'd recognized that we were both the spiritual likeness of God, had turned around what appeared to be an impossible situation. That one moment of prayer had changed my view of him, and that one moment of prayer took away the real terrorist - who was never a man, but a fear, his and mine. And with that fear abolished, at that moment my dad's true nature as God's child became apparent to both of us.
When we are willing to turn away from what appears to be an impossible situation - or from an impossible person - and to let divine Love speak to us, this is a form of prayer. If we will take just one moment to correct our view, we will not be so quick to judge on the basis of appearances. When we see pictures of suspected terrorists, it's crucial not to generalize from those images. I feel we must recognize that terrorism itself isn't a nationality or a religion - or a person. It's fear.
It's important to challenge all negative stereotypes so we can see the children of God, who exist right where fear distorts the true story. For as the Bible promises: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment" (I John 4:18).