All week, I have been watching the news with a mixture of horror and terror. I’ve been horrified and terrified by the escalating rhetoric between the United States and North Korea. Where will that lead? What can we do to say NO to the potential use of nuclear weapons and the devastation of our world?
This week, as well, with sorrow and concern, I’ve watched news about Tuesday’s election in Kenya and the unrest and violence that has followed. Having just spent a weekend with Rev. Phyllis Byrd, our UCC Mission Partner in Kenya, I have some sense of the complex issues of disenfranchisement and distrust that are at play. As I prepare to travel to Kenya on Thursday (hopefully), my concern is also personal: is it safe to go?
Today the horror and terror I have felt all week has reached a peak. Last night, alt-right protesters–some shouting slogans directly out of Nazi Germany–descended on the University of Virginia in Charlottesville with torches. Today, they came back, clashing violently with counter-protesters. After a State of Emergency was declared and the crowd began to disperse, a car was driven deliberately into a group of counter-protesters, killing one person. It was an act of pure hate–what I would call domestic terrorism.
What an awful week. We have seen the destructive power of distrust and hate at work. What do we do? How do we respond? What does it mean to proclaim a God of love and justice in this troubled world?
As Fran and I were watching the news this evening, we got a call from a friend, pointing us to what we had not seen on CNN. On Friday night, in Charlottesville, there was an interfaith gathering, described by Rev. Tracy Blackmon of the UCC, as “a moment of motivation, a moment of prayer, and a moment of encouragement for people who wanted to provide faithful witness of love anticipating [Saturday’s] march.” In the midst of their prayers inside an Episcopal Church on the UVA campus, hundreds of white supremacist converged on the church, carrying their torches and shouting their hate-filled slogans.
The interfaith community was not cowed. They showed up again Saturday morning for another prayer service, and then linked arms as they went outside to stand firm against hate.
I tell this story because it means we were there. Rev. Tracy Blackmon is the National UCC Justice-Witness minister. Rev. Kelly Gallagher, our Associate Conference minister here in Massachusetts, was also at that service. They were standing firm for justice on our behalf. In the midst of my horror and terror, I am so grateful that they were there.
That story reminds me that we are also in Kenya. Phyllis Byrd, who spoke so eloquently at our church on Sunday morning, has been working on our behalf in Kenya for 30 years. She has built rich, meaningful relationships with church and community leaders. She has been part of an on-going movement to build understanding and respect and peace. The problems are far from resolved, but we, through Phyllis, are there in Kenya, seeking to be part of the healing.
This Sunday–tomorrow–we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism. In the face of the terror and horror in our nation and our world, we celebrate the promise of God’s love for a little girl, Addison Jean Bennett-Winship. We celebrate that she is part of this family of God we call the church. We celebrate that we are all part of something larger than ourselves. We can’t all be in Charlottesville or Nairobi–but we can support our sisters and brothers who are there. And we can do what we can, where we are, to say NO to hatred and violence, YES to community, compassion, and healing.
Tomorrow, during coffee hour, I invite you to sign a card for our friend and colleague, Rev. Kelly Gallagher and Rev. Tracy Blackmon, thanking them for their witness on our behalf. I will invite you as well to sign a card of gratitude for Rev. Phyllis Byrd for her ministry in Kenya on our behalf.
Mostly, I invite you to come and celebrate the good news of God’s love for each one of us, love that cannot be defeated by hatred and violence.