“We’re here tonight to make sense of the senseless.”
So said the Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, to an overflow crowd of 1000 at a special service for the dead and wounded of Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN.
To end the service, which was held at neighboring Second Presbyterian Church, TVUU children, whose performance of Annie, Jr. was interrupted by the shootings, sang the song they didn’t get to sing on that fatal morning. A part of that song goes like this:
When I’m stuck with a day that’s gray and lonely,
I’ll just stick out my chin…
and grin…and say,
‘Oh, the sun’ll come out tomorrow,
So, you gotta hang on ‘til tomorrow,
Come what may.
I love ya, tomorrow,
You’re always a day away!
The words must have resonated with those in attendance, as, just before the service began, the skies over Knoxville had poured forth rain, as if weeping in sympathy.
It is not easy to make sense of such an act as blasting away at a sanctuary full of people who have gathered to watch children put on a play on a Sunday morning. It is not easy to imagine how a human being could have been brought so low in his life as to do such a thing.
As I write this, three days after the event [sic], facts about the perpetrator are becoming more and more known. It appears that the safest thing that might be said about him is that he was a failure at just about everything he attempted. As people are wont to do, he likely sought to assign blame for his troubles. Ultimately, that blame descended with a vengeance upon a group of people--self-proclaimed liberals--whose willingness to welcome everyone, regardless of race, faith, or sexual or gender orientation, was deemed by this one man’s troubled mind to be the greatest threat to everything he held to be constant and valuable. Unable or unwilling to deal with his dilemma creatively, he acted in the only way he felt competent—through violence.
His first victim, Greg McKendry, was a 60-year-old man who served on the Board of the church and was an usher. (I identify personally with that description.) Witnesses say that Greg positioned himself between the shooter and the congregation. In doing so, Greg “gave the last full measure of devotion” to the cause of liberalism—to believe that the lives of those who are vulnerable are worth even the sacrifice of our own.
If there is any sense to be made out of what happened at that UU gathering place on that day—or at Virginia Tech or Columbine or a thousand other places where hatred has bred death—it must grow from the tiny seed of realization that, while lives can be altered forever in the flash of a gun barrel, it is the spontaneous act of selfless love that can turn the world around.
As Unitarian Universalists, it is our belief that “sainthood” is manifested by those who, like Greg McKendry, see a human need and fill it, though we don’t always have to die in the cause to be appreciated. More than perhaps any time in our memories, the world needs UUs to rededicate ourselves to doing the work that can heal our battered and bruised world.