It was shocking to wake up this morning to the news of the attack on the Mosque in Quebec City last night. A violent attack on people at prayer, it is wrong, it is evil, words too easily fail and yet it is impossible to stay silent.
Last week I was at a conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Reformed Worship Symposium, it gathers together worship leaders, pastors and ministers, congregants from across North America and beyond.
One of the workshops I attended addressed the question: What does faithful ministry look like after Trauma. The panel speakers included pastors and counsellors who had ministered close to Ground Zero after 9-11. There was a pastor from Orlando, close to the attack on the LGBTQ Pulse nightclub last year, he had conducted several of the funerals and continues to minister in that context. There was a minister whose good friend was one of the nine killed in Charleston, in the 2015 attack on the Emmanuel AMEchurch. Together they had experienced grief, depression, anger… And as he talked about his own experience Makoto Fujimura, shared the question he continued to ask for years as he stood at Ground Zero “Can I live in this place now, even though I cannot?”
That is what comes back to me this morning as my heart and prayers reach out to Muslim brothers and sisters in Quebec and around the world? His standing there on Ground Zero and asking of the question: Can I live in this place now, even though I cannot?
Another phrase that he used that came back to me today was this, he talked about the slow drip of collective trauma. We all feel it.
Makoto who is an artist and a counsellor talked about how resilience came, over the years, with people given room to express themselves and with the continued telling of the story. The continued affirmation of the wider community that something so very wrong had been done. It was not forgotten. Those who suffered loss were not left behind or isolated from the truth of what had happened to them.
A pastor, Chinetta Goodjoin, spoke about how after the shootings in Charleston, her church began to talk about Gun Violence and reaching out to all who were affected by it. They put up a huge cross in their sanctuary and it wasn’t long before every inch of it was covered by pictures of people hurt by gun violence. Children from Sandy Hook, Black and coloured people from their own neighbourhood, police officers, Paris, from around the world. Soon there were pictures upon pictures, all on the cross of Jesus.
Out of this, Chinetta said, came listening sessions. “We cannot afford to not hear each other.” And as they listened, they found their direction.
One of the women sitting next to me in this workshop stood up to say that even as we talk about the experience of trauma, she needed to say she was in the midst of trauma now. You could feel the room change after that. It was like the elephant in the room had been named. And it was named over and over again in the conversations that followed, sometimes over dinner, sometimes during breaks, sometimes in workshops and worship. The language of hatred and division, us and them that is being so openly expressed in these early days of the new US Presidency. This is not the language of Christ, it is not the language of the church.
When I was coming home, I had to fly first to Washington to catch a flight to Ottawa. The airport security in Grand Rapids seemed heightened to me. My suitcase got flagged for a search. There was something dark and dense on the X-ray screen.
The security agent who took me aside for the search was polite, doing his job. “Anything in here that can hurt me, needles or such?” he asked as he lifted my bag onto a table. “No” I said. “You have to watch while I open your bag but you cannot reach out to touch anything”, he said. “Okay”, I said. The dark, dense something turned out to be my Bible. He swabbed it, tested it and then looking at my suitcase which had other materials from the conference asked me what I do. “I am a Presbyterian Minister”, I replied.
He stopped what he was doing and he looked me in the eye and in a very different voice said, “Thank you. Thank you for what you do.” Then he asked me another question. “The next time you think of people having a hard day at work, would you please pray for me.” And then he blessed me as he left me to repack my bag.
I have been thinking of him and many others like him as I watch the news, see the demonstrations at the airports. I think of the countless people whose names we do not know who are living and struggling in these times. All those who are in the airports not knowing if they will make it home.
Then I awoke to the news this morning.
I am appalled by the hatred.
“How long Oh God, How Long?” The psalms resonate with me this morning.
This is not the first time innocent people at prayer have been killed. It is not the first time that people gathering in peace have been deprived of life. As I type I don’t even believe we know yet who the people who committed this act are or what cause they thought they were doing it in. But this I know. It is evil. It is wrong.
Acts like this don’t come out of nowhere. Who knows when the seeds for this were planted, but they were nourished for certainty in the all too destructive language of “Us and Them”. Language that is not Godly Language. Language that we must not stoop to using. Language of racism and division, language that condones implicitly or explicitly, abuse of power and the legitimization of violence.
Let us use our words carefully.
Read the Psalms. Sometimes the language in there is hard but if the rest of the Bible is for the most part God’s word to us, the Psalms can help us speak to God. Even our words of hurt and anger. They give us words that trust those feelings and even those we feel angry towards to God.
But use your words carefully when you speak to others.
Use them to share your support of those who have been attacked and those who are hurting and grieving.
Or come on Wednesday at noon to talk and pray together. We are always here with our midweek Service of Communion and Prayers for the World. Stay for lunch and talk afterwards.
Walk in the way of Jesus,
To see the response of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, http://presbyterian.ca/2017/01/30/praying-victims-mosque-shooting-quebec/