Sometimes you have to make choices between goods, not between evil and good, and sometimes you have to do that on the fly.
I had intended to go this past Sunday evening to a musical performance of the "Seven Last Words of Christ" at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in suburban Shawnee, Kan. Some of the youthful musicians had played in a worship service at my congregation the previous Sunday. But then came word of the catastrophic shootings at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom in Overland Park, Kan., that Sunday afternoon.
Almost immediately my friends Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and Fr. Gar Demo organized a prayer vigil that evening and asked me to be one of the speakers.
So I missed the Good Shepherd event and went to St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, where Gar is rector, to speak at the event sponsored by the church and Temple Israel of Greater Kansas City, where Jacques is the rabbi.
It was quite an amazing event and the church was jammed. The surprise was that one of the speakers turned out to be Mindy Corporon, whose own son and father were murdered at the Jewish Community center. She was astonishing. (And many others have noted the bizarre irony that the man arrested for these killings has a history of antisemitism, but all three of these victims, though shot at facilities operated by the Jewish community, were members of Christian denominations.)
Here's what I said in my brief remarks that evening:
Good evening. I'm Bill Tammeus, former faith columnist for The Kansas City Star and an elder at Second Presbyterian Church of Kansas City.
Many people have ready — and misleading — answers about why there’s evil, pain and suffering in the world.
But the reality is that we don’t have any exhaustive answers to that ancient question. You hear people say that God causes natural disasters to punish people for various sins. You hear people say little children die of illness or in accidents as part of God’s plan that we can’t understand. You hear people say suffering is good for us.
You will almost certainly hear people try to explain what happened today at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom by relying on these and other incomplete and even bogus reasons.
Let’s not spend our time that way.
Rather, let’s do what all the great religions, not just Judaism or Christianity or Islam, but all of them, call on us to do — which is, first, to be agents of comfort for the afflicted. Our task is simply to be present for those who mourn. And as this gathering shows, sometimes that means being present even when those who mourn don’t know yet that we’re here and on the job.
Our task is to mediate the healing presence of God to those who have suffered and to our community as a whole.
Some reports said that the person arrested in this case was heard making antisemitic remarks. If that turns out to be true, then once again we are called to stand against that kind of hatred and to educate our children and our grandchildren about why those attitudes are so wrong and so destructive.
But whether somehow antisemitism was behind this or not, our community is in shock and our call is to help our friends and neighbors through this trauma.
So I would ask each of us to rededicate ourselves tonight to creating a community of compassion, of justice, of mercy, of understanding, even a community of love. And to figure out at least one act that each of us can do in the next 48 hours that will begin that challenge anew.
As we pray God’s comfort for those who grieve and for our wounded community, let us also resolve to be the hands and feet and, indeed, the very heart of God so God’s work in this trauma will truly be our own. May it be so.
(The photo here today was taken at the Jewish Community Center shortly after the shootings by Kansas City Star photographer Tammy Ljungblad.)
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NOW ANYONE CAN SEE THIS STUFF
Transparency is vital for religious organizations to maintain credibility not just with adherents but also with outsiders. So good for the Vatican for moving to digitize lots of things in the Vatican Apostolic Library so they can be seen by all the world.