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!