Monday, July 28, 2008

Victims at Both Ends

On Sunday an armed man entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville and opened fire on an unsuspecting congregation that was watching their youth perform "Annie". Greg McKendry, 60-yr old board member, usher and loving foster father, placed his body in the line of fire to protect the children on stage. He was killed. Before the congregants subdued the attacker he fatally wounded another congregant and seriously injured five others. Due to the heroic actions of the congregation no children were injured and the attacker survived to live with his guilt over this cowardly action for the rest of his life. He had written a letter of intention that indicated his belief that he would continue the rampage until police shot him down. He mistakenly assumed that these "liberals" were as cowardly as him.
As one that teaches nonviolence I'm always curious as to what cause is worth losing ones soul over. There are causes for which I'd die, but no cause for which I'd kill - wisdom from Gandhi. So what was the cause this angry man was willing to shed innocent blood, to leave children fatherless and motherless, to leave parents mourning their children and to traumatize the young survivors witnessing this rampage. As news continues to trickle out it appears that this man, Jim Adkisson, age 58, was having difficulty finding employment. Instead of accepting the shortcoming himself, or blaming the current administration for it's shortcomings in domestic policy, he blamed the "liberals". Somehow these people who work tirelessly for economic and social justice were to blame for his discomfort in life, his suffering. I'm so glad that UUs don't come to church armed and that this man was spared his life so that he has the opportunity to ask forgiveness from those he's hurt directly. It is true that he has ruined his own soul with this act, but he can be redeemed if he's willing to take responsibility for his own cowardice and then ask forgiveness. He must learn to stop blaming others for his own shortcomings and suffering. It's a lesson we all need to study more deeply.
If he can be truly repentant with the family and church members he's harmed, than he may find himself the recipient of their love as he faces his decay and ultimate death behind bars. We must always remember that there are victims on both sides of the gun. This man will live inside the American penal system, corrupt and violent as it, it will be his retirement home. But UUs believe in the worth and dignity of every human being, and work toward restorative justice, so even though he will never be back in society he can be restored to his own heart and humanity if he can take the first step.
I couldn't help but recall the megachurch shooting in Colorado last December. I was so pained and angered by the killing of the young shooter, Matthew Murray, knowing that he did not get to face the tearful eyes of those he had harmed. This case was very different in that this young man had been raised in the very strict dogma of the evangelical movement. He was steeped in the psychedelic verses of Revelation, worrying more about the apocalypse than about where he was at that moment. Mostly he had been convinced that he was an abomination to God and would burn regardless of his actions while alive. He internalized these accusations, becoming the monster they most feared. He'd been drugged with numerous mood altering medications prescibed by his physician father. When he was ultimately kicked to the curb by his church and family, his supply of these drugs were instantly cut off. As we know from all the hype lately about teens on these drugs, the tendency toward suicide and homicide is greatly increased. There are always victims on each side of the gun. The same holds to the woman that killed Matthew. If she followed the teachings of Christ she wouldn't be carrying a weapon of death since that in itself reveals the intent to harm others. Worse, it shows an inablility to believe in a power greater than violence, even in a house of God. Maybe we need a campaign slogan for this, "disarmament starts at church".
My deepest sympathies go out to the families and congegants of both churches. May we hold strong to the teachings of love and restoration provided to us by all the great teachers and sages across time. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to engage in meaningful suffering. To turn the other cheek, to be struck open handed as an equal not as a slave being struck by the back of the hand. Likewise Muhammad, Buddha and so many more showed us how to make the Kingdom of God a reality, but it's up to us to take that first step and take responsibility for our own action and not blame it on our neighbor.

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