by Rev LeAnn Blackert
A literal rainbow of colours decorates the wall. A montage of photos, including a shot of the letter Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent. Photos of candles flickering, ribbons streaming, individuals, groups, crowds. Each photo a testament to the outpouring of love and grief after the shooting which took 49 lives at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016.
On a recent trip to Florida I visited the Pulse Interim Memorial. I stood on the grounds where so many lost their lives. I walked the length of the wall, my heart moved by the love and solidarity evidenced through the photos and messages. I read the names of the 49 victims out loud. I prayed for their families and friends.
As I write this the world learns that another 49 people have lost their lives to a shooting. This time at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Though the reasons given for these attacks – and for the other mass shooting deaths the world has experienced recently – in both cases the attackers were fueled by hatred and anger, by a sense that these lives had no value other than as expressions of the shooter’s hatred.
In the immediate aftermath of these horrendous acts so much attention is paid to the shooter. Soon the stories of the victims will emerge. We will learn more about the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and friends who were killed. These are the stories that will touch our hearts. The stories that identify the victims as fellow humans, doing their best in a world that is difficult. Stories are the vehicles of healing, of bridging, of uniting.
In the gospel of John, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. He asks her for a drink and she reacts in surprise. He was a Jew. She practiced a different faith. Typically their differences would create a boundary – a wall between them. But they engaged in dialogue and he learned her story. He responded with understanding and compassion, and she shared water with him.
Jesus often sought out those who were different, who were “other” and engaged them. He listened deeply to the stories of “others” and responded with understanding and compassion. He calls us to do the same. Nearly every faith tradition has an admonition that we love our neighbours – those who are not quite like us. Differences might separate us, but as we seek to understand the humanity behind our “otherness” we can find healing, bridging, and perhaps unity.
Kamloops celebrated our diversity with a walk on the North Shore on March 21st. Together people from all over the world and those from different faith traditions or no faith tradition walked and talked. We told our stories. We celebrated one another. In the coming weeks, many faith traditions will celebrate holidays: the Christian and Orthodox churches will celebrate Holy Week and Easter, our Jewish neighbours will celebrate Passover, Hindus – Ramanavani, Jains – Mahavir Jayanti, Sikhs – Vaisakhi, Bahá’ís – the Festival of Ridván, Pagans – Beltane, Buddhists – Therevada New Year, and Muslims will enter Ramadan.
Let’s continue to celebrate our diversity by reaching out to someone who seems “other” to us. Walk together, talk together, hear one another’s stories. Look beyond the differences to the inherent value every person has. It might seem a small thing to do in a world that seems to be filled with vitriol and violence, but it’s a big step toward learning to love our neighbours, no matter who they are, no matter where they are from, no matter how different we seem to be. Let’s not wait for a horrific tragedy to pour out our love and solidarity for one another. Let’s do it today. And tomorrow. Let’s change the world!
Rev LeAnn Blackert ministers with the congregation of Mount Paul United Church on the north shore of Kamloops (www.mtpauluc.ca) and is a co-facilitator of the new Wild Church in Kamloops (wildchurchbc.org). LeAnn was imported from the United States in 2009 to serve in ministry with the congregation of Mount Paul United Church (Kamloops, BC). LeAnn is passionate about worship and loves to bring her creative spirit to all aspects of the church. She graduated from Vancouver School of Theology and was ordained in the United Church of Christ (USA). She served San Leandro (California) Community Church before arriving at Mount Paul. In May she will be transitioning to serve full-time with Wild Church (Kamloops), a church plant reaching out to those who experience the Divine in the natural world.