But there was another group whose starting point was simply fear. Some of them were (and some were not) interested in Christian orthodoxy. But they were clearly fearful of Muslims. My lecture had indeed suggested that the church must "let go" of an attempt to dominate the world, must "let go" of medieval Christendom models that continue to live on in contemporary American Christian communities. This struck a vein of fear: there can be no dialogue with Muslims, no parley with the enemy, no trusting conversation, because the enemy simply wants to convert you, kill you, or make you submit.

So another email, apparently from a real estate developer in Memphis, came with the subject line "Professor Dhimmi is your name." Dhimmi—a new vocabulary word twice in one day. Dhimmi is not in the Webster's dictionary I have on my shelf. Several of my colleagues did not know the word either. I would learn that a dhimmi is a poll tax paid to Muslim authorities in exchange for protection, typically required from Jews and Christians. The developer said:

I will not give up my belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that he is Lord of all—period. I believe there are several hundred million other Christians who believe the same way and are willing to die to defend their beliefs. There will be no peace with Muslims because that is not what they want. Muslims want one of three things—converts, dhimmis, or death.

By the way—the Crusades were the Christian response to Muslims raping, pillage, and killing everyone in their path that stood up to them as they swept across Europe. Learn some history you moron.

I actually would learn more about the Crusades, and I would learn that the one who called me a moron (in Jesus's name, of course) actually knew less about the Crusades than he apparently thought.

But that would be later. At the time, I found that day's events instructive for my own inner life. I realized the immense power of media and the rapid ease with which media can misconstrue substantive conversations. I realized, in later reflection, how vain and fearful I am. My own university and church community were immensely supportive, but I realized that I nonetheless remain a people-pleaser. I still want everyone to like me. More perniciously, I realized how much I like attention: "All press is good press," someone told me, and there was a deep place that resonated with the attention, a realization that prompted shame. I would confess later to a mentor that the greedy part of me was pleased with the thought that the attention might mean I sell more books. And, on the other hand, I realized how one's own psyche, when publicly called names and made a public spectacle, if only for one's fifteen minutes of infamy, leads one to duck one's head and keep quiet so as not to be dubbed a troublemaker.

There also remained this nagging question: what do I really know about Islam? The furor, the fear, the outright hostility—what was behind this? Had I been a dupe? (One emailer compared my reconciling words to the acts of Neville Chamberlain.) Moreover, why had I, as a faculty member in a university with explicit Christian commitments, never taken time to have any substantive conversations with Muslims, especially when a mosque sits just about a mile north of our campus? I realized my own failing to get to know my neighbors. And thus some new experiences began to unfold.