Finding Faith ... in togetherness


For those in the minority, it's not just been a difficult week since a 46-year-old man walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 people last Saturday. ... Rather, the incident is just a very stark and deadly reminder that being in the minority can often be deadly.

"It hasn't just been a tough week (since the shooting)," Concordia College's Dr. Faith Ngunjiri said to a packed room in the Knutson Campus Center chapel on Thursday night. "It's been a tough week, tough month ... tough years ..." for anyone who is a minority.

Ngunjiri was one of about a dozen people who spoke at the vigil held just six days after such an unimaginable hate crime. And, I was thrilled to see that dozens of students, faculty and community members participated in the event. I was afraid that it would be a sparse turnout. And, I am overjoyed that I was wrong.

But full disclosure here: I don't know that three months ago, I myself would have attended such a vigil. You see, since August I've been participating in a chaplain internship at the new Sanford Medical Center here in Fargo, and as part of that clinical experience, I meet weekly with other interns going through the same process. Luckily for me, I've been grouped together with a number of interns with a variety of faith backgrounds, one of them being a Jewish rabbi.

That is what brought me to Concordia's ecumenical vigil last night. Because I wanted to be there for my new friend Rabbi Jamie Serber whom I've gotten to know over the past 10 weeks. She's introduced me to the Jewish faith, and I have had the privilege of seeing faith through another believer's eyes, and the experience has been beautiful. And so when the tragic news about the shooting started rolling in last Saturday, my thoughts turned to Jamie, and her husband. ... Sadly, I can't say that the awful events of that day would have hit me as hard prior to my having met Jamie. ... So I must admit that I am the better man for it.

And so, last night, I found myself at the Concordia vigil, a beautiful event that would have passed underneath my radar had I never had the budding friendship with Jamie.

Jamie was invited to speak at the vigil, and her words were powerful. Speaking in front of a room full of dozens of Midwestern Lutheran Christians, Jamie courageously held up a mirror for us to help us realize that we are not helpless in this fight against evil. Actually, that's far from the truth. ... We, as Christians, have enormous power in this society. ... I dare say, maybe even too much power. But we often choose to use it only to further our own agenda.

But Jamie, last night, bravely reminded us that we cannot stay silent when faced with evil. And in particular, when we hear someone speaking hateful words or see someone treating someone poorly just because they are are not the same as them, we are obligated to speak up. ... And, she is absolutely correct.

I get it. ... Standing up to evil takes courage; often times the sort of courage that I don't know if I possess it. But, if we stand up together -- Christians, Jews, Muslims ... heck, even nonbelievers, alike -- there is synergy in our effort, and it becomes much easier. There's nothing like the strength in a crowd, which we too often forget can be a positive outcome when we will it!

There was a heavy focus last night on togetherness, and it was so holy to see so many people, from so many differing faith and ethnic backgrounds, coming together in one chapel to stand up to evil. But that was just a step. My prayer is that we now take that peace and spirit that was generated last night and move with it out into the world. Because, after all, if the light that was created last in that chapel does not see the outside world, it will never achieve its potential.

It is only the light -- and in our case as Christians, the light of Christ -- that is carried forth into the world that can make a difference. And so that is my challenge to each of us who profess to be Christians: We must take the light that is Christ and use it to shine on the evil in this world. And we especially must use it to shine a light on the evil that would prey on our Jewish brothers and sisters, and any other people who are disenfranchised by their religious beliefs, their ethnicity, their gender or their abilities.

We are called to do so, and I am proud of my friend Jamie who encouraged us to grow into our power in this society. And I am lucky to call her a friend, as I'm the better man and faith leader because of it. ... Amen.

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