This post is also featured in this week's newsletter from St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas. To read the rest of the newsletter and learn more about what God is doing in and through the people of St. Paul's, click here.
On Sunday night, I joined many from our community at Temple Shalom to remember and bear witness to the sacrifice made by eleven faithful children of God who were murdered and martyred in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. As I approached the door, I noticed two signs taped on the wall on either side of the entrance: “No Large Purses or Bags Please.” The signs reminded me that the violence in Pittsburgh was not a fluke. When our Jewish siblings invite us to stand with them in solidarity against anti-Semitism, they must consider the possibility that hate-filled extremists might bring the evils of terrorism to their own doorstep right here in northwest Arkansas.
In my prayers, I often give thanks for the freedoms I enjoy and, when naming them, regularly include the freedom to worship without fear. Saturday morning’s shooting and Sunday night’s memorial service reminded me that I have the privilege of taking that freedom for granted. On Sunday mornings, I come to church worried about whether the temperature in the nave will make everyone happy. I worry whether there will be trash in the parking lot. I worry about the possibility of having to awaken a person who has been sleeping out by the playground. I do not worry about a religious extremist walking through the door with violent intentions because, as a mainline Protestant congregation, we are not the target of hate groups. Nevertheless, despite not needing to worry about that for the sake of our congregation, if there are people and congregations in my community or anywhere else in the “Land of the Free” for whom that fear is real and reasonable, that itself should become my concern—my worry—and, as a committed person of faith, I must be willing to respond. I invite you to consider your own faithful response.
What will we do about it? How will we respond to yet another violent act? What will we do about another mass shooting? Will we offer our thoughts and prayers to those who are affected? Yes, of course we will pray, but we will pray for more than comfort and peace. We will pray that God will give us the courage to use our privileged position of relative security to take the risk of speaking out on behalf of those who are threatened. We will ask God to use our prayers to shape our lives, our actions, and our public voices to call for change. We will ask our political leaders to enact common-sense gun reform by strengthening requirements for background checks and limiting access to assault weapons and ammunition. We will keep our own firearms locked up, secure, and inaccessible by children. We will support adequately-funded mental health care.
We will not wait until blood is shed in this community before taking action. We will condemn not only violent acts but also the speech that leads to violence by promoting a culture that denies the full and equal dignity of any human being. We will speak out against racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT rhetoric when we hear it at our workplaces, at our dinner tables, and from our local and national leaders. We will strive for political dialogue and debate that are impassioned but remain focused on policies instead of personal attacks. We will remember that the forces that hold us together are stronger than the forces that seek to pull us apart.
On Sunday night, Rabbi Adler reminded us that one way to honor the dead is to ask that their memory be a blessing. That is my prayer this week—that the memory of the eleven martyrs in Pittsburgh will be a blessing for their families, for their community, and for all of us. May their lives and their deaths lead us closer to our Creator. May their sacrifice be a light that shines on the path that leads to God’s dream of peace and reconciliation for the world. May their witness live on our in our hearts and minds and leave us restless until the holy work of making peace is finished.