Admittedly, I’m a writer who likes logical segues and transitions. That said, I’m somewhat saddened that I have the chance to segue from my last post – reflecting on the shooting in Oslo, a year ago – to reflect on another shooting, this time in my own country. Last week I found myself, like thousands of others across the U.S., stunned to hear of a shooting at a gurdwara, or Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which left six people dead. The shooter was shot and killed by police at the scene, but not after adding another bloody chapter to hate crimes in the United States, and shaking not just a religious community, but the very ideal of diversity in American society itself.
I know; I’m sure some people would likely say, “Hey, Nina, I know it was bad, but really? Dramatic much?” Well, when people’s lives are involved – and especially when people’s lives are taken - then yeah, it’s kind of a big deal. I think we’re in a potentially dangerous place when we find ourselves not moved by the loss of human lives, regardless of how different from us those people may be.
That said, I am pleased to report that I feel that day – though leaving its mark in the hearts of thousands – left us shaken, but not still shaking. Last night I had the privilege to attend a remembrance vigil at a nearby gurdwara, which was my first time at a Sikh temple. As someone who has grown increasingly passionate about interfaith dialogue, recently celebrated iftar – breaking of the Ramadan fast – with some Muslim friends at my former university, I was saddened for visit a gurdwara under these circumstances, but pleased to have a chance to visit nonetheless. Upon arriving at the temple, I was impressed with the level of organization I saw. My friends and I were greeted warmly and asked if we would like to have someone show us around the temple. A young lady named Harman served as our guide, and after removing our shoes and washing our hands and feet, we walked into the gurdwara‘s sanctuary.
I’m sure there are some people whom I would annoy by my identifying as a Christian, and yet when I visit a mosque, I pray with my Muslim friends in the manner that they pray. When I visited a Hindu temple in Toronto a few weeks ago, I paid my respects to the deities represented there. Similarly, upon entering the gurdwara, I bowed before the guru granth sahib to show my respect. I was struck by a particular quote later in the first half of the program that evening: “To defeat hate, it is not enough to simply read [about other communities, religions]…hate takes refuge in ignorance, but knowledge [alone] doesn’t dispel hate; personal interactions and experiences do.” I can only wholeheartedly agree. However, I know that not everyone takes the opportunities to do so, or makes the opportunities to do so.
After the first portion of the event which took place inside, everyone filed outside for the candlelight vigil. Dusk had fallen, and the swelling crowd with lights was a sight to behold as we quietly stood beside the building. There was a relative quiet as the names of the victims were read, their memories honored. I looked around where I stood – people of different backgrounds, ages, likely of different religions, incomes and professions – but I saw only members of my community. There had been a number of notable guests, officials who spoke, and I was glad to hear of so many representatives of so many organizations who had made a point to be there that night. When we filled the first floor of the gurdwara to share a meal together afterward, I looked around again – and I realized just how much this simply had to be it. This has to be what I strive for, this sense of community. I have a friend in England who is pursuing theological training in the Anglican church, and had a placement in a diverse neighborhood that was mostly Sikh and Muslim. He told me once how taken he was with the Sikh traditions and tenets of community and service, and how in his opinion, when he needs to be reminded of how he feels the Christian church ought to be, there are times when he looks beyond it to find the answer.
I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I’m responding to this event, and I am sure that I will continue to reflect on last night’s vigil and all that was said there. Based on my experience last summer in Oslo, I feel something similar now – this conviction that there simply must have to be a better way than this. There has to be more dialogue, more discussion – more listening, more intentional community. We have to come together, to come closer. The alternative is far too costly.
- Here is a list of some of the reported hate crimes perpetuated against Sikhs after Sept. 11, 2001. This link also documents some of the same events, and includes some photos as well.
- I will soon be posting a link to a separate page that includes some of the quotes I jotted down from last night’s presentations; it was quite an amazing event.
- A link where you can donate toward the victims of the shooting