Author examines fear vs. faith

<p>Karen Zacharias</p>

Karen Zacharias's book, "Where's Your Jesus Now?," had its genesis one terrifying night about 10 years ago in Umatilla County.

Zacharias, then a reporter for the East Oregonian, covered the story of an area man named Eric Shannon who abducted his children from his mother, who had custody. Shannon and his girlfriend, Robin Hocker, crashed into the home, demanding the five youngsters.

In the process, Shannon shot his stepfather, Charles Dunham, and Hocker straddled Shannon's mom, Shirley Dunham, holding a gun to the woman's chest. Hocker glanced at a painting of Jesus on the wall above Shirley's head.

"Where's your Jesus now?" she taunted.

"He's right here," Shirley said.

"You really believe that?" Hocker asked.

"Yes, I do," Shirley said.

Hocker just laughed.

She and Shannon drove off with the children, leaving Shirley tied up on her bed.

"Every law enforcement agency in Umatilla County was called out that night for a chase," Zacharias said. "I was there when Eric was killed by police officers at the BP station."

Shirley's reaction to Hocker's mocking question profoundly affected Zacharias.

"I marveled over her calmness in that moment," Zacharias said. "She had a rifle pressed to her chest and a woman mocking her about her faith and she didn't even waver."

The story appears in the first chapter of Zacharias's book. The author will sign copies of her books from 1-2:30 p.m. Saturday at Armchair Books in Pendleton.

Zacharias, now an editorial columnist for the Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina, widens the scope and explores the connections between faith and fear in America. She weaves in stories and essays from her personal life and also her time at the East Oregonian and the Tri-City Herald.

Fear versus faith is the overriding theme.

Christians, she said, are letting fear blind them to the god they worship. The "home of the brave" is now a land packed with the fearful, she said. She attributed the constant anxiety to easy flow of information and traumatic world events.

"I don't know if the information age has made us all that wiser," she said, "but it sure has escalated our fear factor."

People fear Alzheimer's, heart disease, kidnappers, pedophiles, nuclear threats, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, bin Laden, global warming, losing their retirement - and the list goes on. A terrorist attack on the twin towers and the Pentagon in 2001 put the nation's collective anxiety into overdrive.

"Since 9/11, Americans are living in a nagging state of hyper-alert," Zacharias said. "Neurosis has become as American as billowing flags and apple pies."

The fear factor, Zacharias said, is eroding faith. The more afraid people get, the more rigid they are in their daily routines, family dynamics and doctrine.

"We often swap out a true faith for a Religion of Certainosity," Zacharias said, "where being right is considered more worthy than being redeemed."

She called the nation a fractured community that often wrongly looks away from Jesus.

"If Jesus is not that hope in the midst of despair - if he can't give us calm in the midst of our worst moments," Zacharias asked, "then what good is our faith?"

Proceeds from book sales will go into a fund started at U.S. Bank by Zacharias and Charles Dunham to put into a college fund for Shannon's two youngest daughters.

Shirley Dunham died four years after the abduction of breast cancer.

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