I know I spoke of the church shooting at the megachurch in Colorado Springs last December because it mentally disturbed me to think of an attack occurring in a place of worship–where people go to feel a sense of security and nourish the soul. It seems particularly offensive to me for an attack to occur in what I feel is a “safe place.” My church–and most churches I’ve attended–give me a feeling of peace when I enter. It’s not somewhere you “expect” anything to happen, if you expect something to happen anywhere. Well, I mean, for example, if you go into a seedy bar, you accept a reasonable amount of the possibility of danger when you enter.
Yesterday morning in Knoxville, TN, a man open-fired on a congregation at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church. Now it feels even more personal to me as I am a UU attending a UU church in Kent, Ohio. In fact, I was actually in church yesterday morning after two weeks of being away due to cycling-related activities and I was there with the intent to replenish my soul, which I often feel I need to recenter myself when battling my own inner demons and the craziness of the outside world. I go to church to worship my amorphous god in my amorphously undefined way and most days I leave feeling whole again. I can’t fully explain this in terms that are rational to the average non-believer; it’s simply the way I feel.
That in mind, it just shocks me to no end when things like this happen at places of worship or solace. Schools are another place I’ve always thought of as “safe,” but I guess in today’s society it’s insane to assume any place is a safe place. Again, I ask, where is all this insanity coming from? From where comes are all these people with anger issues who have found no other way to work through their anger than to shoot and kill other innocent people? It’s hard to believe that things have always been this way… I don’t know if it’s a product of our multi-media extravaganza of instant reporting from around the world, or if, truly, the world is becoming more insane as I sit here. I’d like to think things were always this way and we are just more aware of it now, but I just don’t know anymore.
My heart goes out to this congregation. I can’t imagine the horror of sitting at a service, like I do most Sundays, and having things go so horrifically tragic within seconds. To switch from a mode of worship to one of running for your life is just incredibly hard to fathom even though I keep trying to put myself in the shoes this congregation, to see the event unfold as they did in my attempt to empathize fully with their ordeal.
My heart is filled with hope, though, when I read examples of heroism, of adults throwing themselves in front of bullets to protect children and other congregants. For every “bad guy” there’s a few magnanimous, altruistic folks out there who are willing to sacrifice their lives to protect others. Maybe it was a knee-jerk reaction and not thought out at the moment–I’m sure no one expects to die amidst an act of heroism–but whatever it is that draws people to become martyrs in a split second, I praise it. Perhaps that is really an act motivated by God. Coming from someone who is mostly a deist, believing that God doesn’t interfere too much in the boring details of everyone’s daily life, I find I could believe that a moment such as this is truly a moment in which God intervenes.
It’s just unbelievable when people come together at moment of tragedy. It reminds me of the passengers of Flight 93 who stood up against the terrorists when they learned what happened to the Twin Towers in NYC. To take up a moment and oppose an attacker instead of cowering in fear and keeping low to extend their own lives (as I think I’d be inclined to do) is really inspiring. No one wants to die, but if your life saves the lives of countless others, it’s as the Vulcans say, “The needs of the many outweight the needs of the few.” To realize you’re involved in that sort of decision in a split second is absolutely unexplainable by logic. I suppose we just flip to auto-pilot in that moment and react without thinking. Maybe all it is is some primal coding of our DNA that presses the ultimate message to our brains that screams, “Survival of the species! Must protect the survival of the species!” Still, I hope there is some sort of reward in the hereafter in knowing that you helped others in this ultimate sacrifice.
For what it’s worth from my amorphous repertoire of undefined beliefs, my prayers go out to the members of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church. If you’re the praying sort, or the positive energy sort, and you feel compelled to do so, please send your thoughts and prayers that way too. Especially pray for Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger who both lost their lives in this terrible tragedy. You can also express your thoughts, prayers, and/or condolences on this Facebook page (thanks for the link, L.!)
And maybe add a little prayer for humanity–maybe someday we’ll stop being so cruel to each other. (Damn, that’s that idealist in me speaking again. Must submerge her eternal optimism.)