March 24, 2021
Dear U Park Family,
I haven’t slept well lately, and I imagine that’s true for a lot of us. In less than two weeks, we’ve had two mass shootings. Both hit close to home in their own way. Last week’s murders in Atlanta remind us that even as overall rates of violence in our country have trended downward for 30 years, over the past few years mass shootings and violence against Asian-Americans and women have all been on the rise. Like all of us, I know people who have suffered that violence and racism.
Years ago, I lived near the King Soopers that was attacked on Monday. I shopped there and worked in the United Methodist Church that’s less than a mile away, and I still know people in that area. A friend of mine arrived at the store to do his grocery shopping on Monday just after the attack. Like many, as I read the names of the murder victims yesterday morning I felt a tightness in my chest, recognizing that I might know someone on the list. I didn’t, but hundreds of our neighbors did not have that reprieve.
Neither the United Methodist Church nor our congregation have been silent or uninvolved in these issues. Of course, the denomination has unequivocally and repeatedly condemned gun violence, racism, and violence against women. Just this past week, a group of Bishops and other church leaders from Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities issued another statement in solidarity with Asian-Americans and all those who feel threatened by hatred and violence in our current social climate. In addition to public statements, there are United Methodist curricula and other resources for churches to learn more about these issues and help work toward solutions. On the local church level, we recently ratified our reconciling statement, which says in part that we will go beyond statements and commit ourselves to the lifelong process of working to end discrimination and marginalization of any kind. For several years, we’ve been a member congregation of Colorado Faith Communities United, “a diverse group of faith communities working to help end the deaths and injuries in Colorado caused by the improper use of firearms” (per their website). In a sad coincidence, before the Atlanta shootings I scheduled a phone call with the Director of that organization, who has been reaching out to member churches to check in.
In the end, though, there is no simple solution to these problems. No statement or study or organization will solve them, although those things are all necessary and helpful. I am convinced that one root cause of the racism, random violence, and division in our society is that our culture simply does not know how to create authentic community across differences. Local churches can be life-giving parts of the solution, helping to mend the fabric of community in our neighborhoods and cities.
With some exceptions, we tend not to hate individual people. We hate labels. When we know individual people, the hatred becomes much more difficult to maintain. When we know and come to love individual people, we’re more likely to stick up for them and stand with them when hatred is directed against them. We’re more likely to take action to end the violence or exploitation our friends suffer. We’re more likely to think in terms of “all of us” rather than “us and them.” Church is one place where we can build the relationships that bring that shift in awareness.
Christianity was founded on the idea of bringing diverse people together into one body, so any kind of racism, discrimination, or hatred should be completely foreign to us. We have an important gift to offer the world. We are not powerless. What we do matters. Creating healthy, compassionate, hospitable community can have powerful ripple effects. Our commitment to resist hatred and bigotry adds to the chorus of similarly committed voices.
That not feel like much to offer against what sometimes seems to be an overwhelming tide of rage. Still, as Lent and Easter remind us, 2000 years ago the life and death of a Galilean Jewish peasant would have felt insignificant too: one more religious reformer, ground up in the machinery of Empire. But the Easter story tell us that even in grief and loss, even when we feel overpowered, death does not have the last word.
Grace and Peace,