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I’m the only Unitarian Universalist that many of my friends know.  So this past Sunday, when the news broke that a gunman had violently interrupted a UU service in Knoxville, Tennessee, some of my friends—some of you—thought of me.  No one was worried about my safety; everyone knew, after all, that I wasn’t in Tennessee.  But I served, I think, as a kind of conceptual bridge that caused, or allowed, the tragedy to hit a little closer to home.  “Jay could’ve been at that church,” you may have thought.  “Jay could’ve been at a church targeted by a madman.”

I had some of those thoughts, too.  Usually, when I hear about random violence—at a church or a school or a workplace—I don’t really envision myself as a potential victim.  But it’s not all that hard to imagine myself at church.  And, unfortunately, it’s not all that hard, anymore, to imagine that a church might be the target of violence.  But that can’t stop us, right?  Above all else, I’m a rationalist and a Humanist.  Despite what long-term exposure to CNN may suggest, violence does not actually pervade (most of) our everyday lives.  And I realize that society is—and must be—built on trust.  In my day-to-day life, I can and do trust that most of my neighbors mean me no harm.  I wouldn’t want to live any other way.

Anyway, if you thought about me, or reached out to me, this week, thank you.

All week, I put off writing anything about the incident in Knoxville, hoping, I guess, that I’d eventually be able to process it enough to be able to write something cogent.  That’s not going to happen, I realize.  The whole thing leaves me in a state of confusion.  The gunman himself apparently acted out of confusion.  He somehow came, it seems, to blame his personal problems on political liberals, yet he acted out against religious liberals.  He didn’t know that religious liberals, including UUs, aren’t necessarily political liberals.  He didn’t know that religious liberalism is simply a philosophy that embraces and venerates theological diversity.  But, of course, that’s irrelevant.  The gunman shouldn’t have been resorting to violence against anyone.  UUs don’t make sense as his victims, but no one else would, either.

John Bohstedt, one of the Knoxville congregants who helped to subdue the gunman,¹ said this: Hundreds of people have sent their condolences and love and support—and also confusion, which is perfectly appropriate.  It all helps.

I think Bohstedt got this exactly right.  The UU response to tragedy is love.  And we’re a practical people: We respond to tragedy by doing, by supporting one another and the world.  And, as Bohstedt said, the “perfectly appropriate” confusion helps, too.  It’s confusion, I think, that is often the path to the doing.  Even if I can’t make sense of something, I can reach out to my community—which may be just as confused as I am.  When I’m confused, I’m forced to go back to first principles: I’m forced to ask myself again what I believe in, and I’m forced to ask myself what I can do in support of these principles.

At the Service of Healing in Knoxville this week, Bill Sinkford, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, said this:

I’ll bet many of you here have spent some time in confusion: What does this all mean?  I know it doesn’t make any sense, but what am I supposed to feel?  What am I supposed to feel when I see those images and hear those stories?  What is the good person supposed to feel and do?

I’ll bet all of those emotions and many more have been present for the persons who have gathered here.  And then we have the difficult question of how we respond to the person who created this havoc and this tragedy in our life.  How do we respond to the person?  I was asked by the reporter earlier today whether I thought the shooter would go to hell, and my response was that in my religious tradition, we would say that that person had been living in a hell here on earth, for years.

. . .

And we’re not going to stop, and you can’t stop it.  You can’t allow your fear or your confusion or your sorrow, or your anger—you can’t allow any of those emotions to keep you separated from what is central to your living, however you express it religiously.

See how Sinkford’s words take the listener from confusion to doing?  It’s that kind of thinking—that kind of approach to life—that makes me proud to be a UU.


¹Like, among others, Sara at Orcinus and ChaliceChick of The Chaliceblog, I couldn’t be prouder of the way the Knoxville congregation subdued the gunman.  We UUs must find a special way to honor Greg McKendry, who died saving his fellow churchgoers.

Written by Jimmy

August 2nd, 2008 at 11:12 pm

Posted in Jay,Religion

Weekend Reading, Volume 9

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  • Roger Ebert writes about movies that hurt too much to watch.  I can’t bring myself to re-watch either Brokeback Mountain or Schindler’s ListBrokeback breaks my heart or, rather, reminds me too much of my broken heart.  And there’s the recent loss of Heath Ledger, too.  My feelings about Schindler’s List are a little bit complicated.  At the theater, I cried so much that I considered leaving; I felt like I was bothering everyone else.  It wasn’t so much the inhumanity depicted in the film, though there was that, of course.  I was crying in response to the good things that some characters did, at enormous risk to themselves.  It’s a manipulative film, spectacularly so.  (Link via PeaceBang)
  • Mamihlapinatapai: (Yaghan) a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that both desire but which neither one wants to start; eye-contact implying ‘after you…’; ending up mutually at a loss as to what to do about each other (Link via Kottke)
  • In Japan, Buddhism is one the wane, according to this NYT story.  I’ve always really appreciated the “easygoing, buffetlike approach to religion” taken by the Japanese.  We Americans could learn something from that.
  • When I was a kid, way before it was cool, my dad was an organic gardener.  We lived out in the sticks, and no one else got it.  At all.  Least of all me.  So, anyway, this list in the NYT of the 11 best foods we aren’t eating has some, er, special resonance for me.  Actually, though, I already like, and eat, several of these foods.  But Swiss chard?!  Please, God, please tell me I had enough of that stuff in my childhood to last a lifetime.  Please.
  • And another NYT story that I can recommend this week—can you tell what I was reading this week?—details the recent collapse of catfish farming in Mississippi.  Times are hard in the Delta.  Eat more catfish, people!  (Check out the cool slideshow accompanying the story, too.)

Written by Jimmy

July 19th, 2008 at 8:58 am

Mid-Week Reading?

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As promised, it’s time for some mid-week links:

  • In honor of tonight’s All-Star Game, as well as all the recent hoopla about San Francisco Giant Tim Lincecum (including a Sports Illustrated cover story that called him”The Freak”), you can check out video of his trés efficient pitching style right here.  (Link via Kottke)
  • I’m still getting myself ready for the Beijing Olympics (sadly, as a spectator and not as a team handball player), and part of my preparation involves reading about the tricky politics of being an athlete from Taiwan.  Oh, sorry, that’s Chinese Taipei.
  • Atheist and journalist Jeffrey W. Haws runs a very cool blog called The Atheocracy.  In this provocative post, he discusses what it would mean if science somehow proved that God existed.  Among the possibilities: God is uncaring, or incompetent, or even sadistic.  Whether you agree or not, it’s interesting reading.
  • According to a BBC News headline that, er, grabbed my attention: M&S [that’s department store Marks & Spencer, of course] “defends ‘tax on bigger bras.'” Really.  When I visited the site, it listed several “related” stories, too, including one about Shakira’s bra and another about a woman who tried to hide an iguana in one.  One has to keep informed, you know?
  • Stop, You’re Killing Me! is an exhaustive website for lovers (like me) of mystery novels.  The site lists over 2,500 authors with—and this is absolutely crucial when you’re starting a new series—chronological lists of their books.  Here, for instance, is the page for one of my favorites, comic mystery writer Joan Hess.  (Link via Citizen Geek)

Written by Jimmy

July 15th, 2008 at 11:17 pm