Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Vigil for Memory and Courage

I am leading a vigil at my own congregation this evening for the victims and survivors of the shootings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church.

As I shared briefly on Sunday, and surely you have read more now, at 10:15, Jim Adkisson, walked into the UU church and began shooting during a children’s service featuring songs from the musical “Annie.” Greg McKendry, the head usher, who tackled Mr. Adkisson, died first. Linda Kreager, a visitor from the neighboring Westside Unitarian Universalist Church died later that evening. Seven more people were wounded; several are still in critical condition.

According to news reports, Mr. Adkisson, frustrated by his inability to find employment “targeted the church because of its liberal teachings” and that he “hated liberals in general, as well as gays.” Surely, in a few days, these murders will be labeled a hate crime and calls will go out for better mental health care services and gun control. Horrifically, the blogosphere already contains hateful comments about how the shootings were a rational response to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s commitment to full inclusion and social justice.

This week, thousands of Unitarian Universalists across the country are weeping with our congregations in Eastern Tennessee and searching to make meaning of this tragedy. The UU faith’s first principle is to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person; our last is to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Our grief extends to all of the families affected.

As people of faith and advocates from a wide range of religious traditions, the challenge is to fight the temptation to feel a little less safe this week because of our commitments to social justice, to sexual justice. Surely, as Mr. McKendry and Ms. Kreager prepared for church that morning they did not know they would die that day because of their beliefs. I have had to pause in preparing this vigil and ask myself if I am prepared to do so as well. It is appropriate to remember that in the words of my senior minister, Reverend Frank Hall, this tragedy “reminds us to continue to work for peace and justice and…that there is a heroic quality in the living of our everyday lives.”

The first hymn in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal is “May Nothing Evil Cross This Door.” It ends, “though these sheltering walls are thin, may they be strong to keep hate out and hold love in.” May that love sustain us in the difficult days to come.

If you'd like a copy of the homily I offered this evening, please email us at info@religiousinstitute.org and we will email you a copy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just sending prayers (and prayers and prayers) for all those affected by this terrible crime. Praying in solidarity with you.