Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hope and Love in the Response to Hatred and Tragedy

The first draft of an editorial I’ve submitted to the Jackson Citizen Patriot. An edited version is scheduled to appear on Sunday, August 10.

By now most people have heard about the shootings that occurred on Sunday, July 27 in the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee. Two people were killed and seven other wounded or injured when a gunman began shooting during an intergenerational service featuring a production of “Annie.” People responded immediately with shock, grief, and anger. That was news.

But what people often don’t hear about is what happens afterwards—the small gestures, the work of a church community to pull itself together, the reaching out of the larger community. The responses we have as time goes on are of healing, love, and hope. These things are not news. But they are the important pieces of our lives as we respond to tragedy.

The next day after the tragedy, members of the Tennessee Valley congregation gathered at the nearby Presbyterian church for a vigil. The children and adults, who only a day before had witnessed horror and tragedy, sang out the words from Annie’s “Tomorrow.” While surely they were still experiencing shock, anger, denial, and grief, they raised their voices in a song about hope, and looking to the future.

The Knoxville congregation members couldn’t know it yet, but that night they were joined by churches across the nation in vigils—on that same Monday evening, voices were being raised in prayer and song in our congregation here, and in at least fifty other Unitarian Universalist congregations across the nation. By middle of the week, over 200 vigils would be held or scheduled—an amazing outpouring of love from a denomination with only a little over a thousand congregations.

A few years ago, the world watched in awe as the Amish people responded to a shooting in one of their schoolhouses. The Amish taught the world about their faith as they responded with love and forgiveness. Today, we learn about a very different faith community, but again the response is love and forgiveness. When UUA President William Sinkford was asked if he believed the shooter was going to Hell, he responded, “In my religious tradition, we would say that that person had been living in a hell here on earth, for years.”

Over time, we learned that the shooting was born out of hate—hatred for liberals, hatred aimed at a Unitarian Universalist congregation for their open acceptance of gays and lesbians, and their work against oppression and discrimination. One of the greatest tragedies is that if Jim Adkission had entered the doors of the church in peace, looking for help, he would have found a wonderful community willing to help him in his struggles. But the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation won’t let hatred and anger and tragedy be their last word. Their message of hope, their message of acceptance, their message of universal love will be heard louder than ever.

The sun’ll come out
Tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There’ll be sun!

Update: The final version was printed Sunday, here.

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