9 killed at the Buddhist Temple in Waddell, AZ 6 killed at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, WI. 9 killed at Mother Emanuel in Charleston, SC. 26 killed at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX. 11 killed at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. 50 killed at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand.
I usually don’t enjoy conversations about how much the world’s religions have in common. Of course, I recognize themes and values shared across faiths, but so often, people talk about similarities in a way that glosses over what makes any one spiritual tradition beautiful, distinct and vibrant. So I mostly prefer to learn as much as I can about the scriptures, theology and history of religions, and appreciate them for their differences.
But this week, I can’t stop thinking about something all people of faith seem to share in our time – the experience of being targeted for mass murder while gathering for prayer and worship. It keeps happening, to all of us.
It’s a ghastly fact to call our common ground, but it’s a truth we should dwell on. And it’s right to gather here, in compassion and solidarity.
The alternative has been tried, of course, and it leads to nowhere good. We’ve always known how to turn against each other in the aftermath of trauma, even when we share the most fundamental concerns. The long history of our violent world is full of arguments about which kinds of religious people are more violent, more guilty of horrendous crimes. A disturbing but logical extension of this debate is the suggestion that some communities are on the whole more deserving of violence being visited upon them.
This kind of competitive condemnation is both dehumanizing and futile. We cannot solve problems, we cannot heal wounds, and we cannot undercut the violence we say we deplore by saying that this faith or that is the evil one.
What we can do is to see, truly see, how being victims of violence illuminates our shared humanity. Yes, people who’ve claimed our respective faiths are among the perpetrators of vile acts, but the more valuable fact is that we are all targets of violence, as well. Call it pain democratized or whatever you want - we are in this together, and we can do ourselves no greater service than to try to comprehend, at our very core, that the people we see suffering over there, are just like our people here. Their shattering heartache is the same as ours. The fear we feel is the fear they feel.
This is what really makes all faiths one: love and lamentation.
When we choose kinship in our pain, we embrace the opposite of the killers’ power. They are fueled by demonization and vilification, and they want the world to have more of it. Claiming one another as neighbors, as comrades, as kin, is a proclamation that the murderers are wrong, not only in what they do, but in what they believe.
We weep for the treasured ones lost in Christchurch, and for victims of every faith and no faith, everywhere. As we grieve for ones whose prayers and customs and names for God we may not know, we prove the reality of compassion and unity in our time. Our tears become resolve - to raise children who look for friends across difference, not foes, and to defy together the claims of the vicious:
We are not enemies. We will not be enslaved to hate.
The Table is a Christian church in Davenport, Iowa, pursuing transformation:
from greed toward generosity
from violence toward peacemaking
from isolation toward neighborliness
from fear toward faith
Worship Sundays, 5pm. 102 E. 2nd St., Davenport