I was halfway around the world when tragedy struck my fellow UUs in Tennessee. On my second day of a 9 day Interfaith Dialogue tour of Turkey, I stumbled into my hotel room in the Aegean port of Izmir and scanned the TV channels for something in English, jet lagged after nearly 24 hours travel, a brief night's rest, and 16 more hours of a packed itinerary that had just begun. I was drifting into that dazed travel slumber when I heard the two top stories on the BBC: first, a bombing in Istanbul, the city I'd left that morning and would return to for the last three days of my tour, had killed 13 and injured 150 others. Since this terrorist attack followed another the week before I left, I was trying to integrate my alarm when the second item was announced: A church shooting in the United States has left one dead and at least 8 seriously wounded..... then these words: a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee was attacked by a gunman. It was midnight in Turkey, just late afternoon here in Kentucky. The details were sketchy. We had to be up at 6AM for another flight to Antalya. There was really no one I could reasonably talk to. I trembled and prayed until I fell asleep.
I have heard that the real source of what we call "jetlag" is that the body has traveled through space so quickly that it takes a while for the soul to catch up. It sounds a little new-agey, but it does suit the feeling one has, of being so disoriented and detached that everything seems like a dream. The next morning I could not remember whether I had really heard this news, or had merely dreamed it (no.. I wasn't drinking! Our tour was led by and sponsored by observant Muslims!) until I spoke with a UU colleague, also on the tour, who by then had heard the news, too. Beyond creating disruption and delay for the rest of the group, there was indeed almost nothing he or I could do for several days to contact, reassure or comfort our congregations. Since we are in the neighboring state of Kentucky, and since we represent the only two full time called clergy there, a gap was left. Would our own folks be okay with us so far away? It wasn't a good feeling, and throughout the remainder of the trip, I shed lonely tears for my beloved UU family.
I need not have worried about their ability to handle this tragedy. Our colleagues Todd Ekloff, Gary Bennett, Kelly Flood, and Esther Hurlburt, as well as my amazing DRE Stacey Stone, were in Kentucky and rose to the occasion with an alacrity and clarity that even today leaves me humbled with gratitude. There were candlelight vigils led by clergy at all of the UU congregations in Kentucky on Monday evening, and even, on the following Sunday, at the newly forming UU Community of Frankfort in our state capitol. There is nothing I could or would have said that these colleagues did not say. With grace and eloquence, they showed what the best of Unitarian Universalism really is. It is courage, clarity, compassion, and love. It really is an astounding beautiful way of being in the world. It is the same passion and fortitude that galvanized Greg McKendry and all of the TVUUC members who saved countless lives. Something called them and they went toward danger rather than run away or cower. We are blessed beyond measure.
In the ebb and flow of church life, we forget this. It is as if we are so far from our roots of love and tenderness that we are like jet lagged dreamers, stumbling around and reacting rather than responding. We need to reunite our souls and our bodies. That day I had visited Ephesus, one of the greatest sites of Greek and Roman ruins, replete with the visions of paganism, Christianity and Islam for nobility, truth, and justice. There are a lot of earthquakes in Turkey, and precious things have been destroyed and rebuilt many times. Still, some of its greatest monuments have withstood even nature's terror. What struck me above all was the determination humans have to rebuild: our faith, our communities, our covenants.... the faith and the optimism to keep standing up for peace no matter what. I really do believe, as humans have believed for eons, that this beautiful dream can be realized on earth, and that nightmares can end. But we must each stand up when we are called.