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Chautauqua Interfaith Prayer Vigil: Creating Beloved Community After Charlottesville

President Michael Hill's Remarks for the Charlottesville Vigil

I confess to being at a loss today in the wake of what can only be described as an act of homegrown terrorism perpetrated on good people in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend.

I am at a loss to offer words that might attempt to make sense out of something so senseless.

I am at a loss to provide an adequate expression of sympathy to those who continue to feel beaten down by hatred and ignorance and the cancer that is racism.

I am at a loss to think of a way to forgive those with ideologies that tear communities apart instead of building them up.

And to be honest, I am at a loss to accept the loss of Heather Heyer, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, and Trooper-Pilot Berke Bates, who sadly have become the latest symbols of a nation that feels increasingly fractured and frayed by division and distrust.

Words fail in moments like this, and that’s ok, because what we need now is not words but actions.  And what we cannot afford is to be at a loss of action.

Dr. Franklin called us to this sacred grove with the invitation of “Creating Beloved Community After Charlottesville.”  This invitation asks us to honor the sacrifices of Heather and Jay and Berke, and the 35 others injured that day.  Today is not about providing words that make us feel better; we shouldn’t feel better until we are better.  Today calls us to dig deep into our own conscious and to ask how we might embrace one another while shattering the prejudices that lay in ignorance and intolerance.  We must ask ourselves: what role do we have, as Hosea says, in making those we do not love or understand, our “beloved”?

This is what the white supremacists that showed up in Charlottesville did not do.  This is our charge, here at Chautauqua and when we leave these gates.  How do WE turn the gates of our own hearts into gateways for reconciliation and hope?

Friends, I wish I was coming to you today with that answer.  The truth is: I don’t possess it. But just as Heather and Jay and Berke are examples of what happens if we fail in opening ourselves up to the other, so, too, are their loved ones’ examples of the generosity and hope required to move our nation toward reconciliation.

Susan Bro, Heather’s mother, eulogized her daughter today. In the midst of her own grief, she gave us hope when she said, “they tried to kill my child to shut her, but guess what? You just magnified her!”

Feda Khateeb-Wilson, Heather’s law office co-worker, acknowledged that evil cannot ever be allowed to win when she said, “Thank you for making the word ‘hate’ more real …  but thank you for the making the word ‘love’ even stronger.”

This is a time of moral urgency. Tragedy has a way of shining a light on what can too often feel like a broken world.  But if we can find a way to channel ‘love,’ not just in big ways but in the everyday interactions we have with others, we can marshal a force far greater than any led by ignorance and hatred.

Creating a beloved community demands we find a way toward civil dialogue and engagement devoid of violence. Creating a beloved community asks us to recognize the cancer of racism that is eating away at our communities and our country and to accept that we all have a role in eradicating this bile from the United States.

Creating a beloved community begins with us today.  May what begins in prayer this evening be but the first step toward a shared mission of moving our communities toward peace and understanding. 

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