Back in November of 2015, Washington State Representative Jay Rodne (R-05) made some inflammatory remarks about Muslims and Sharia law, leading to many ugly statements from others in the community expressing their own ignorance and hatred. In response, the Muslims in our community of Snoqualmie and North Bend came together in a community open house on Saturday, January 30th, and invited me, along with the mayor of North Bend and others, to speak to them and our wider community as part of their outreach program. Here are my remarks prepared for that meeting.
I extend my thanks to Mujeeb Mohammed, President of the Muslim Association of Snoqualmie Ridge, along with the Board of Directors, and the Board of Governors, for asking me to speak; the members of the Muslim community for hosting this open house; and all the residents of the Snoqualmie Valley who have come this morning to learn about and to welcome our neighbors. And as a member of Snoqualmie Valley Alliance Church, I’d like to express my thanks for the presence of my pastor, Monty Wright, and his wife, Amy Wright, soon to be the principal the newest school in the community, Timber Ridge.
I would like to start off my remarks with a story about people and faith and community. Given the circumstances of the past few months, the statements that have been made, and even the questions that have been raised, I think it’s important to get to know the people around us in our community.
Now, in my faith tradition we learn much about our lives and our values through the stories told by Jesus, and so I have found that the stories I tell are the best way to for me to explain to others what I’m thinking.
So let me tell you how it is we came to live in this valley which welcomed us and where we made our home.
It was midnight of January 1, 1990, and finally we’d finished packing our four-seater Hyundai, crammed with food and clothes for myself, my wife, and our two boys, one not quite 2, and one six months. We began our journey to Washington State, travelling from the arid Southern California coast to Puget Sound. You see, my employer had decided to move me to their headquarters, and so we pulled up stakes and headed north, driving for 3 days until we reached Canaan—or more properly, Bellevue.
Our apartment was bare for the first week as we waited for our furniture. With two small kids and a new job keeping me busy, no friends and no family, we were hungry for human contact, for relationships, for that daily interaction between neighbors, for the sense of a community we’d left behind.
I have to tell you, it was hard. Our apartment neighbors were seldom home. Our kids were too young to be in school. We had not yet found a church home, and not yet really settled into living in Washington State. We were used to things being dry and hot—and it rained here, all the time! I remember the TV news reporter in May of 1990, gleefully announcing it had been some 55 days since the last time the sun broke through the clouds. Y’all were happy about that! I thought we were gonna die.
So we lived in Bellevue for that first year. We tried to make connections with people in the “big town,” but it was hard. No family, no friends. I worked in Issaquah, my wife was in the apartment in Bellevue.
We were talking to friends back home, sharing our frustrations at connecting with people. We were friendly, we thought, but even striking up a conversation at the supermarket was met with puzzled silence.
“Oh,” our friends said. “There are some people we know who live a bit east of you. Why don’t you look them up?”
Turns out these people pastored a church in Snoqualmie. So we got up on a Sunday and drove out to the valley.
That church embraced us and made us feel at home. We’d found the family and faith community we needed. We were invited to their homes for meals. We found playmates for our children.
Soon we moved to the valley, buying our first home in Snoqualmie and then our second (and current) home in North Bend, where we raised our kids in a safe, loving, accepting environment, surrounded by people we’d grown to know and love, in a community that embraced and included us.
For the past 25 years I’ve taken for granted that everyone who lives in this valley is like that. Open. Accepting. Friendly. Helpful. Patient. When we were flooded out, twice, in Snoqualmie, our neighbors and community pitched in to help clean up. When our kids were in Little League, our community stepped up to provide a baseball park. We have community pools and recreation centers, parks, schools, libraries, and wonderful neighborhoods.
There are opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the area, and all kinds of people with different interests. Some of us are hunters and fishers, some are kayakers and hikers, some participate in Fun Runs through the mud, some take hikes in our city and regional parks. There’s a community theatre company, homegrown artists, music groups, dance troops, karate studios, sports and fitness academies—if there’s something people want to do, there’re probably people in the valley who are doing it.
Of course, we also have a strong and vibrant community of faith here. What drew my family here was the natural beauty, of course, but what got us to move here, to live here, to buy things from stores here, were the people of the church we attended. And whether our own neighbors worshipped as we did—or did not worship at all, as they might please—we were safe to worship as we would and live where we wanted.
And so, this is where we are today, a community with a diverse set of interests and talents, opportunities and events, viewpoints and values, faiths and no faiths. Not everyone in the valley walks the trails, I understand. Not everyone in the valley enjoys a hike to Mt. Si. Some, like me, enjoy seeing Mt. Si from our own warm and dry homes. Not everyone in the valley attends the same church, or even a church at all.
We can appreciate those who live here and how they work, play, relax, and worship, and none of us needs have any concern.
You see, we are all neighbors here.
And as neighbors, if we have questions about those around us, or don’t understand them, or even just wonder what they’re like, the best thing we can do about that is to do what we’re doing here, today—to get to know them as neighbors, through potlucks and dinners and play dates, Fun Runs and hiking and kayaking, plays and dance exhibitions and parades. We get to know each other by doing things with each other, and just talking to each other about ourselves, our families, our hopes, and our dreams.
I would like to invite us all to get to know each other, as neighbors, as friends, as a community. Let’s build up our trust in each other, and let go of the fears that can divide us.
I would like us do what our prophets and our wise teachers and even our parents have asked us to do: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.
That’s what we’re here for, I think. To do the best we can, to be neighbors and friends, to love our families, do our jobs, and, if we so wish, attend the church or synagogue or mosque of our choosing, knowing that there is, after all, no compulsion in religion.
Thank you for listening to me today. Thank you for showing up to learn more about your neighbors, and to welcome your friends in the Muslim community of Snoqualmie Valley. May we all find a home here, a place for all our families to grow, and a community of friends who accept and embrace each other.