Remembering Oak Creek
I put this on Facebook last Friday and several people encouraged me to share it with all of you.
I was privileged to be at the federal courthouse in Milwaukee last Friday…..the beginning of a time to remember the shootings at the Sikh Temple on August 5 of last year. It opened a flood of memories…..
One year ago, I was driving home from Jackson, Wisconsin on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when the breaking news stopped the world in its tracks. It was a senseless act, probably executed by an individual filled with hate who knew so little about the Sikh community. I`m pretty sure he thought he was shooting Muslims as though that would be any less sinister. Part of me would love to assign this to a solitary demented individual; so much of me realized that his actions were symptomatic of a society run amok.
In the next hours and days I began to see clearly the vapor trail of violence. Here it is… Ignorance begets Fear…Fear begets Hatred…Hatred begets Violence.
I think violence begins with ignorance. Oh, that we could assign ignorance to a third party. However, one of the sobering images of the next few days was a realization that I learned more about the Sikh community in the 48 hours following the shooting than I had known in a lifetime. In our ignorance of each other, we all participate in the path to violence.
Ignorance gives way to fear. I grew up in a town where there were very few blacks, Native Americans were present but invisible. Hispanics (almost all Mexicans) lived on the other side of the tracks. And so I grew up with idle myths. Myths like “all Mexicans are related” and “if you go to South Park, they`ll jump you”. I NEVER went to South Park. Thank God I didn’t want to take art in the 8th grade and chose Spanish instead. This decision eventually led to a few life-changing experiences and the privilege of being called to serve in Hispanic communities through most of my life in pastoral ministry. It also led to the exposing of a ton of lies and the lifting of many idle fears.
Fear, when it is not faced, evolves into hatred. Hatred is so rarely based in reality and so often based on the perpetuation of lies. It is the single most powerful, most destructive element of racism. If the music from South Pacific says that “you’ve got to be taught to hate and fear”, it is my conviction that we have been singing that song for too long now.
And hatred? When it no longer gives one a proper fix within the confines of bigotry it finds an outlet…it erupts in the most unlikely places….it finds its mark in the faces of the innocent.
I do not believe that the God who is the center of my life puts tragedy in our path for instructional purposes. However, I do believe that God, who is never far from broken humanity in the wake of suffering, enters in when we least expect it….to bring healing….and to show us a better way.
Part of the remembrance today included a word of thanks for the Sikh community, a community that chose a path of peace in the wake of unthinkable suffering and in doing so called us all back to the heart of our believing. As a Christian I find their godly response not as a threat to, but as a means of, calling me back to the way of Jesus.
What I find lamentable is that it takes a tragedy of unthinkable proportions to call us back to our senses.
I urge us now, my brothers and sisters, to commit ourselves to break the cycle of ignorance which begets fear which begets hatred which erupts in violence. We are all so much better off, sooo much better off, if we enter at the point of ignorance and fear than if we wait until hated boils over.