Don’t Shoot People

I was away from home at the time of the two recent shootings that have been in the headlines. I had little access to media when a shooter opened fire in a Colorado movie theater. In a way, I was relieved not to have been caught up in the speculation that generally follows such events. While seemingly well planned, the attack also seemed random and senseless. I did not feel I had much to add to the general conversation about societal violence and the state of gun control in our country.

I was not away from media this past week when a white supremacist started shooting in a gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship in Wisconsin. My heart ached. This attack, at least on the face of it, appears to be less random. It appears to have been targeted. It appears to have been about hate. Although it is rare for me, I found myself without words. I read other people’s words, but every time I tried to express myself, the same thing came out… “Don’t shoot people.”

I read some commentary about the lack of knowledge regarding the difference between Sikhs and Muslims and Hindus among much of the America public. I read some commentary about how those differences didn’t matter in this case. Would knowing the differences have made it OK to shoot someone else? Well, of course, not. Really, don’t shoot people.

Still, I think it would be a good thing if we all knew a little more about each other’s religions and cultures and traditions. One of the blessings of the last year for me has been my participation in the Interfaith Coalition of Central Florida (ICCF). That involvement has helped shift my classroom learning about other faith traditions into lived experience. This was especially true with regard to Sikhism about which I had previously known the least. Being in relationship with others changes information about doctrines and customs into knowledge about real people, people about whom I care. In this case, it changed a philosophical outrage into a personal sorrow. Please, don’t shoot people.

The shootings took me back to a time just 4 years ago when a man walked into Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee and opened fire leaving 2 dead and 7 injured. The motive for the shootings during a worship service, which featured musical performances by the congregation’s children, was said to be the congregation’s liberal stance on a number of issues including welcoming GLBT people to the community. The shooter blamed liberals for society’s ills as well as the problems in his own life. His frustration and hatred was not personal but it was targeted. It was a chilling time for those of us leading liberal congregations. Reflecting on that time makes me better able to understand some of what our Sikh neighbors and friends may be going through at this time. My heart goes out to them.

Both now and four years ago, the response of the communities under attack has been one of great generosity of spirit. (For event at Sikh Society of Central Florida this Sunday, August 12 see SSCF Flyer.) At a time when one might reasonably expect a community to bar its doors, doors have been flung open. Hearts have been flung open as well, increasing the chances for greater understanding all around. May we all open our hearts to one another.

The events four years ago inspired the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, which encourages a visible response to acts of hatred, bullying, and intolerance. Sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the campaign is open to all and intentionally designed to be inclusive. The bright yellow t-shirts of the campaign are hard to miss. They make the statement over and over again that we will not stand idly by in the face of hate. We are called to love.

As we speak out against this latest tragedy, may we remember not only what we are against (Don’t shoot people.) but also what we are for. May we uphold the values of respect and understanding so that our differences can be our strength. Let us commit ourselves to true and deep relationship with people of varied perspectives so that our lives and our world may be enriched. May we honor that age old lesson, so simple and yet so challenging… Love one another… and may we stand together… on the side of love!

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5 Responses to Don’t Shoot People

  1. Rhonda says:

    What a beautiful message! Thanks Kathy. This is so true. Don’t Shoot People! I am 100% with ya. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Tim says:

    I see. But love is no conqueror, what is love, can you give me an absolute definition that applies to each and every individual that has, is, and will walk the face of the earth? This shooter loved killing these people just as much as Bin Laden and Saddam loved seeing the Twin Towers collapse 11 years ago. By that historical evaluation, love would have to be relative to each person’s thoughts and desires, i.e. the desire to spread your religion by murdering just has easily as spreading it through thought-provoking peaceful teaching that educates the public. As well as the desire to take a stand for something versus pulling out a gun and killing people. Who’s to say what is right? What is supposed to be our universal epistemology, so that every human can discern from right and wrong? We all have general ideas of love and hate; of right and wrong; of truth and deception; but how are we to determine what is absolute? I can tell you that I love chocolate chip cookies, but to a person with a severe wheat allergy they won’t and can’t. Likewise, I love my ideals and my philosophies because I know I’m right, but another person doesn’t agree with it because they know they’re right in they’re ideals and philosophies. How are we to honestly find a bridge, or as you call it “love”, that connects us, and how are we both supposed to be right if two separate ideologies clearly and boldly contradict each other? Christianity could be correct, or Islam could be correct, or they could both be wrong and another religion could be right, but there is no possible way for both to be correct. You cannot have both dark and light, you have to have one or the other, there is no bridge. Now at this point, if you’re still reading this, you’re most likely thinking that I have a lot of presuppositions, and I do just as much as we all do. I am presupposing that only one religion can be correct, when I cannot clearly prove this. But when two religions so obviously and plainly contradict as to make it ludicrous to suppose they are similar, how can you say love is all we need? My entire point of this is, and believe me (if you will, or not, you are entitled to opinion as much as I) I understand the promotion of world peace, of helping developing nations and humanitarianism, as an Eagle Scout candadite, I’ve done my share. (though with recent issues you may disagree) But is there honestly supposed to be a “Univeral” way of bridging such an impassable divide? I don’t believe so, and if you want to comment back arguing with me or the language I use, go ahead, what I am asking from you is to educate me on your faith. My first and foremost question is and will continue to be, what is your epistemology and how is it universal so that all people agree with you? You’re smarter than me, I’m only a sophmore in college, I don’t know everything, but I know what I believe in. So if you really truly do believe in world/universal love and peace, you’ll answer my questions as best you can. Forgive me if I seem to be demanding or rude, I would greatly appreciate your reply; I do say this with full sincerity. Thank you for taking the time to read and answer my questions.

    • Rev. Kathy says:

      Thanks for sharing your ideas. You are correct that you and I make some different assumptions. Hopefully, that just keeps life interesting. Let me say, first and foremost, that while I believe that love is critical, I wouldn’t say that it is all we need.

      I understand you to be asking for some universal definitions and principles. That is of course difficult. I can only tell you what I mean when I used terms.

      When I use the word/concept “love,” I mean wishing for the well-being of others with an open heart. This is most difficult with people who have very different world view than I do. I believe that too often we close ourselves off to such people. I believe we need to stay open, in conversation, and avoid demonizing them. This does not mean I agree with them or support their views. It doesn’t mean that I can’t put forward my views and try to convince others that my vision is better suited to help create a better future for us all.

      However, as I don’t think I know it all, I am well advised to consider the possibility that others, even others who I find distressing, might have something to teach me.

      I don’t think that anyone has a corner on the truth either. I am neither Christian nor Muslim, yet I can learn from those who do place themselves in those traditions.

      Our inability to live compassionately with our differences is one of the biggest problems in the world today. Open hearts won’t solve all our problems, but, I doubt we will truly solve many problems without them.

  3. George Hooper says:

    Rev. Kathy . . . I think you have the right approach. I used to think this was merely a “hardware” problem (i.e. take the guns away-problem solved) but I don’t think it’s that simple. Even if we could do it, we still are still an incredibly murderous country, killing even more people with knives than guns. It’s about changing minds and hearts. Perhaps this starts with some control over the violence we share with our children in games, books and TV. After all, how many murders does a child read about, watch on TV, or “commit” on the violent game of the week?

  4. Mary Ellen Mayo says:

    I wish I could have stayed longer on Sunday afternoon, but still, it was a very meaningful experience for me. Maybe someday, either the bus will go out that far or a third Gurdwara will be built closer in. But I will never forget being able to ride out to Oviedo and meet these good people and experience their gracious hospitality. We ought to ask them to come to 1U every now and then. I am distressed by the level of violence that is going on. I also like what George Hooper has said about changing minds and hearts, and I’m remembering that a wise spiritual teacher once said that change in oneself leads to change in the world. My dad is a retired soldier, and he has said that we need to feed each other now so we won’t fight each other later. He’s seen the reality of the quote, “War is all hell…”, having been in combat and having survived the Tet Offensive.

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