It is times such as these, when the twin specters of hate and violence rise to once again remind us that they can still wound us. They can still reach us where we are most vulnerable and cast us into fear and doubt, causing us immeasurable pain and grief along the way. In the midst of our pain, even at the height of our grief, we should be comforted to know that our faiths can sustain us and our creator is still by our side.
I have come to understand that violence – particularly violence aimed at the center of what we believe and hold dear –is designed to take away the very thing – our faith – that gives us hope and strength. Its aim is to challenge us so severely that we will shrink, our faith will wane and our connection to the Divine and to one another will loosen and ultimately fade away.
But it is precisely through and for times like these that our faith was built. It was built to last. Built by our foremothers and forefathers who were forced off their land and who were regarded as savages and uncivilized. It was built by our ancestors who withstood the whip and the auction block. Built by our generations who came to these shores to work and to contribute only to be ostracized and regraded as the “other.” Built by a generation who survived the concentration camp and the death house. Built by our generations who were interred in times of war because the country could not trust its own. And built by a distant generation who were escaping tyranny in their own land and thought freedom could be created here.
There was violence in those moments as there is violence now. How do we respond to such violence? What is the nature of our prayer today? In this moment, I am moved still by a Bible verse that has both comforted and emboldened me over the years. The verse is found in the book of Joshua from the Hebrew Bible and uttered by the prophet Joshua at a time of intense peril for his people: “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
And so how will we serve our creator at this time? We are full of grief, pain and dismay, AND that is how it should be. Our losses feel too great to bear. Eleven slain in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, two lives lost in a senseless murder in Louisville and the potential loss of life had the bombs of a deranged man, full of hate, gone off – they were all acts of violence motivated by hate.
Allow me to remind you that we are people of resilient faiths. When practiced with fidelity, our faiths are only about love. So, in this moment we are to pick each other up and help each other stand. Stand in defiance of hate for sure, but stand in the name of love. It is our love that cannot be conquered. It is our love that cannot be extinguished by an assassin’s bullet or a bomb makers’ bomb. It is our love that will ultimately change the laws to get rid of the guns, care for the mentally sick, changes the hearts of those who are overcome with hatred and prejudice. It is our love that bind us back together again. It will be our love that will comfort us now. One day perhaps, when this kind of violence is a merely a sad memory, we will look back and with wonder, marvel that through all of the senseless violence and hate, we nonetheless became the generation of love.
Alvin Toussaint Herring, Executive Director