I don’t know why I am still surprised by human depravity and sin or a person’s ability to hold intense hatred at a group of people who he personally knows little or nothing about, but I am, even after all these years. I was shocked a few days ago when I heard about the shootings at two Jewish community centers in Overland Park, near Kansas City. The rampage was the alleged work of gunman Frazier Glenn Cross, also known as Glenn Miller Jr. He was identified as a “well-known white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
It is 2014 and after all the distance we have travelled as a nation, all the wrongs that have been addressed, hate crimes still come with such consistency that while I still have room to be dismayed, I should never be surprised.
Recently I have been watching Simon Schama’s very fine series, The Story of the Jews, on PBS. It traces Jewish history from ancient times to the current era. Such a long history of persecution. During a recent trip to Israel, I observed that much of the current conflict in that region is based on deep-seated anxiety. Jews live a history of fear based on the persecution they have faced virtually everywhere they settled, from ancient Rome to western and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and parts in between. History is replete with individual hate crimes and collective pogroms targeted at Jews. In the United States, the KKK and other white supremacist groups continue the tradition with the type of violence we saw on the news.
Glenn Cross, however, was not checking ID’s when he opened fire. Two of those he killed were white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Reat Underwood, 14, and his grandfather, Dr. William Corporon, 69, both members of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas where Rev. Adam Hamilton is the Lead Pastor. Reat’s grandfather was giving him a ride to the Center so that he could try out for a singing contest. Both were involved in their church. Reat was a Boy Scout, and enjoyed singing and drama.
Glenn Cross probably felt justified in killing two United Methodists when he got the news of his actions. As the people called Methodists, we are well known for our views on the equality of all persons, respecting people of differing faiths, the leadership of women, and ministry with people who are vulnerable or economically poor, among others. That is the sort of thing that makes you dangerous to people like Glenn Cross. That said, it is unusual for us to see our own as targets in a hate crime. Such actions make me realize the deep sadness and pain that others in the world have endured for so long, and the way you can hold sorrow for people you do not know but feel are kindred spirits in the faith they practice and the hope they hold dear. It is a terrible fellowship to be a part of, even briefly.
It’s Holy Week, a time for deeper thinking, a week full of days to consider the world’s depravity and our need for redemption praying in the shadow of the cross. This week, of all weeks, we pray for those killed in the Overland Park shooting, for their grieving families, and for faith communities, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, and all people of faith who are taking extra security measures in case hate is unleashed somewhere else because they dare to hold any faith at all. Holy Week is a time to sit in the darkness and acknowledge sin’s hold on the world. Such news makes Jesus’ embrace of the cross as he walks the way of suffering all the more poignant. The news makes me realize again that he does not die for any one of us, but for the world as a whole, a world that includes all kinds of people, including Glenn Cross. This is what frustrates me when I am honest, that Jesus loves Glenn Cross and offers him a chance at redemption even as he does me and you and the rest of us. Now I doubt Mr. Cross will embrace Jesus or his cross, Jesus being Jewish and all. Yet there is Jesus, in the days before his death, on a hillside overlooking Jerusalem, weeping as he looks down on the city and its people coming and going. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he said, “you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37)
This is a week to join Jesus in his weeping, his passion for the lost, his love of the unwilling, as well as the innocent who suffer just as he suffered innocently himself. Jesus longs to gather us in, so that we might begin to embrace the goodness of his love, and in so doing, find our salvation. This week I feel I can still hear the echo of Jesus’ sadness for the victims of recent violence, the victims of violence in centuries past, those who still cling to the ways of contempt and hatred, and everyone in between. During Holy Week I find no small amount of comfort knowing that his love remains the one true light in the darkness, sufficient to surround those who grieve the suffering of the world with the sweet communion of his presence.