Three weeks ago I attended a candlelight vigil on the town green in Middlebury. Over 200 of us gathered in the twilight to honor and mourn the 49 people who were killed and the over 100 injured in the Orlando massacre. A few of our local clergy offered prayers. Someone sang “There is a Balm in Gilead.” The names of the victims were read as a candle was lit for each one. Then three final candles were lit and three final prayers offered. One for the first responders who courageously assisted at the scene of the carnage. One for the families and friends of all those killed and injured. And one for the perpetrator of this atrocity. As our local Catholic priest lit this final candle the rain that had been threatening all evening began to gently fall. We all stood solemnly as the rain softly washed over us. Then we sang a last song together and slowly dispersed into the night.
In the three weeks since then the carnage has continued unabated. Just in the past few days over 20 people were killed in a bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh. More than 40 lost their lives and over 200 were injured in a bombing at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey. And over 200 were killed and over 200 more injured in a massive car-bombing in Baghdad, Iraq. I have not attended any candlelight vigils to honor these hundreds killed and injured. To my knowledge there have been no local vigils. No candles lighted. No songs sung. No prayers offered. No moments of solemn reflection. I admit this to my own shame. Here in my little bucolic corner of Vermont it seems that I have the luxury of scanning headlines and moving on, watching from a distance, largely unmoved. Call it “compassion fatigue”, or apathy, or something much worse.
But I’ve been reading lately that God is not unmoved. Through the prophet Jeremiah God thunders, “Stop murdering the innocent!” (Jeremiah 22:3). I’ve increasingly gotten the uncomfortable feeling that God thinks that this murder and injustice, though it is so far away, has something to do with me. That I am connected to it. And that God expects me to do something about it. Seventeenth-century poet and preacher John Donne understood this when he wrote, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Dr. King understood as well when he wrote from the Birmingham jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
I’m coming to see that it was my family that was gunned down in Orlando and Dhaka. My brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters who were bombed in Istanbul and Baghdad. I cannot continue to let these deaths sweep past me unmourned, unwept. God weeps over them all. So must I. These atrocities will continue until we decide that they are unacceptable and summon the courage to act for justice and peace. Until we see that the risks of not acting are greater than the risks of acting. So I’m deciding to speak for those who are being silenced and to act for those who are being restrained, trusting that the work of justice is God’s work and that God will walk this path with me.