Sitting in church yesterday morning, I had an odd and ominous feeling come over me. Service had already begun, we were probably about ten minutes in, when I heard our front door open and close and someone came in. Another late arrival - no big deal. But, just as the sound of the door closing hit me - so did one word: "Gunman."
As I sat in service I realized how easy it would be for someone with bad intentions to just walk in and set in on us. There are two doors to the outside on either side of the sanctuary. Too far for me or the choir to reach in time - there's no place for us to go at the back of the sanctuary.
It stunned me that the thought crossed my mind. I shook it off. Of course, it wasn't a gunman at our church - just someone running late. But, within the same time frame of my thought, a gunman did enter a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, killing two and wounding several others.
Police are now saying the liberal stance of the church is what set the gunman off. Our church, along with the UU congregation here in Columbia, are probably the most liberal congregations in town. Our church has repeatedly been the target of vandals who have broken our front door windows, broken the fountain on our property, shot out the passenger window of one of our parishoners, and threw a brick through the back window of another.
I didn't read about the attack in Tennessee until late yesterday - well after my own thought about a church gunman crossed my mind. I told a good pagan friend of mine about my experience, and she told me I should continue to pay attention to those feelings, and not shake them off. My gunman premonition (had in the same time period as this actual attack) is evidence of our universal connection to one another, she told me. Somehow, my intuition knew a gunman was going to attack, or was in the process of attacking, kindred spirits - fellow human beings simply seeking to open God's arms to everyone, regardless of human labels or prejudices.
Some days the depth of human hatred stuns me - other days it doesn't. Today it stuns me, simply because after experiencing this deeply empathic moment across a time zone and state lines, I grieve that we cannot feel those moments of universal connection all the time. I grieve that we shake them off as nothing more than odd moments - then go right back to our feelings of disconnection. Being disconnected certainly feels safer - we're not responsible for anyone else when we disconnect. But, I think if we practiced that emphatic connection with all living beings - we would experience the freedom of love. We are responsible for one another. Instead of being afraid of that - and letting that fear fester and turn in to violence - we need to embrace that, heed those feelings of connection and continue to reach out - even if we only receive scorn and violence in return.
I hope this UU congregation can feel that connection to this disaffected gunman and find it in their heart to see their own failings in him, and forgive him.