Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Mark Of Cain

While considered suburban, with my mailing address Elgin, the western half of Kane County is decidedly rural.  Our house is surrounded by horse farms and corn fields that stretch to the west and south through much the rest of Illinois to Iowa, Nebraska, and beyond.  Our quiet countryside looks much as it has, by and large, for much of the 20th century.  The parsonage is about four miles south and west of the church on a pleasant drive past acres of corn, the tiny town of Plato Center just down the road.

If we decide to head to the slightly larger yet still tiny town of Burlington, we head in the other direction.  Driving up Burlington Road, we drive past a Buddhist Temple/Monastery.  In the winter, it's quite a sight, the monks in their orange robes out shoveling the long, sloped driveway.

If we want to make our way to Hampshire or Huntley or even Woodstock, we head up IL Rte 47, one of those razor-straight Illinois roads that still amaze at just how straight they are.  About three miles north and west at the intersection of Plank Road and 47, sits the Temple Shirdi Sai of Chicago and the Suburbs.  Each week, the parking lot and surrounding roads are jammed with cars as believers from around the Metro area make their way to what looks like an old country church to worship their God, remember their prophet, and to celebrate their community and its devotion to service for God with one another.

Now, Oak Creek, Wisconsin isn't very far from where we live, either.  It would probably take about an hour and a half to get to this Milwaukee suburb, maybe more if the interchanges are jammed up.  I have to wonder what these rural enclaves of very different faiths are thinking today, one week after Wade Michael Page shot six people before turning the gun on himself.  It hasn't been enough for domestic terrorists that Christian churches provide opportunities for them to act out their violent fantasies.  Now a small group of peace-loving, God-fearing non-Christians  have found themselves quite literally in the crosshairs of white supremacists.

I have been thinking about our local outposts from world religious expression quite a bit over the past week. I've been thinking about the many ways our country still cradles the wounds inflicted upon us by terror in the name of the God called All-Merciful.  I've been angry that small-minded ideologues have been screeching at any attempt to label an act of racist terror, well, an act of racist terrorism.  Before the bodies had even cooled last week, as it became clear the killer wasn't just some depressed nutjob but a racist reveling in armchair Armageddon who, reaching a point in his life where he had nothing left to lose, got out of his chair with his gun in his hand, we heard not from average Americans or thoughtful commentators but from the right.  Their refrain, yet again, is the same as it has always been: Do not place responsibility for yet more right-wing violence on the rhetoric of the right.  Do not mention the DoJ report that cited right-wing domestic terrorism as the greatest terror threat facing the United States.  And please don't, whatever you do, bring up the matter of guns.

We also saw and read many news organizations struggle to state the obvious as headline after headline seemed to purse its lips in confusion as journalists sought a motive for the killing.  That Page was a racist; with ties to groups linked to other acts of violence; that Page had recently been through a series of personal shocks that left what few ties to others he might have had lying in tatters; none of these things seemed to matter for some, at least, of those whose job is to tell us what was abundantly clear from the evidence.

That ours is a violent, hate-filled land is clear from the abundant evidence.  That hatred is aimed at any difference, real or perceived.  The violence can be as simple as the sneered epithet, the casual threat, or the on-going dehumanization of any persons whose lives don't fit in with an ideology.  It might express itself in a beating, the trashing of a place of worship, or intimidation.  Bodies pile up, one or two at a time, whether they're young gay men and women whose lives are destroyed by others or even themselves; people of color who find themselves committing the national crime of living while black; Muslims who wish only to build houses of worship to Allah that continue to be burned down.

Our failure to look at the mass grave, into which we continue to toss bodies on an almost daily basis, is mute testimony to our refusal to deal with this sickness that pervades our land.  It is also evidence of our refusal to hear the blood of our brothers and sisters as it cries out to us from the ground.  Until we are willing to name this murderous impulse as part of our collective heritage; until we are willing to do actual work to prevent our fellow Americans from adding to the pile of corpses; until we can look in the face of Wade Michael Page and see our reflection staring back at us; until these things happen, we shall continue to read and hear of more mass killings.  Until then, we should note the mark of all our foreheads, denoting our failure as siblings to our fellow Americans, a failure that, yet again, has ended in death.

Virtual Tin Cup

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