October 28, 2018. Sunday afternoon in the ‘Burgh. Gray skies with the occasional peak of blue. 48 degrees and a bit of wind. Battling my usual fall change of season sinus infection. “Stillers” are up at the half against the Browns 14-6.
Just a normal fall day in our corner of the country in Southwestern Pennsylvania? It is NOT a normal fall day. It is a horrific day. The gray skies above seem like a pall that has been draped over our city symbolizing our sobriety and our wound because our city, the city of neighborhoods, experienced a mass shooting yesterday inside a synagogue. As worshippers were gathering to celebrate the Shabbat 11 precious souls were taken from their families, taken from their community, taken from our city. A man spewing anti-Semitic vitriol and armed with 4 weapons entered this holy place and began shooting, killing these 11 and injuring 6 others including 3 law enforcement officials.
Mayor Peduto called this “the darkest day in Pittsburgh’s history.” He is right. Tree of Life synagogue, located in Squirrel Hill, is in the heart of the tightly-knit Jewish community here in our city. A community that cares for its own and serves others freely. Generations have lived here and are pillars of good for our region. Today they are shattered and grieving. And we are too, with them.
We can ask why this kind of gratuitous violence happens. We can ask what brings a man to such a state of mind, that his only solution is to take the lives of others in such a vicious manner. But I am not sure we will ever get good answers, other than to know that it is overwhelming fear and enormous pain—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual—that brings out the very worst evil in a human being.
There will be much speculation and politicization of how this happened. In this polarized and hostile election cycle, there will be blame and shame cast widely from all sides, and this will be used for political expediency. This is not at all helpful, but it will happen just the same. I wish it wouldn’t but I know it will.
So, what are we to do? We grieve, we lament, we mourn and we come together. Even as the community reeled, young people organized a vigil. Held outside the Jewish Community center at the intersection of Forbes and Murray Avenue hundreds, maybe thousands, gathered last evening, Saturday. And tonight another, larger interfaith vigil is planned at Soldiers and Sailors in Oakland.
In the shadows behind the interfaith vigil, loomed Sixth Presbyterian Church, where Fred Rogers worshipped for many years. He gave us some of the best words to remember in times like this,
“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
At the essence of this message is love. The apostle John taught us that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) Perfect here does not mean faultless, for we are all with fault. It means wholeness. To love whole heartedly, without fear. We saw evidence of that love yesterday, and more love will come. To the families of the slain, to the mourning community.
As we enter our week, let us show up with love. Love for the loveable, but also for those with whom we differ, those who view the world from another perspective or those who stand on the opposite side of something for which we feel strongly. In doing so, we will drive out fear.
And, as we drive out fear with acts love, let us join with our Jewish brothers and sisters, in their mourning custom of “sitting Shiva”, the week-long mourning for the dead. Let us lament this horrific event. Let us respect this age-old tradition that allows the grieving to adjust to the loss, however devastating. Let us respect the customs and observations that help to make meaning out of death.
Though we have hope that the world will be made right one day when Jesus brings his kingdom into its fulness, Every thing is NOT OK in Pittsburgh today. Today, let’s choose to be with one another, bear one another’s burdens, grieve with one another, care for one another.
Pittsburgh will never be known for God until we are first known for our love for Him and for our neighbors.
Grieving and praying,
Lisa, Jim, Rick, Herb, Katie, Erin and Jay