Rev. Valerie's Reveries

This blog contains personal reflections from Unitarian Universalist minister Valerie Mapstone Ackerman.

Monday, July 28, 2008

After Knoxville

July 28, 2008 after the killing in Knoxville TN

I wasn’t there. All I know is what I have read online and a little snippet here and there on broadcast media. I don’t pretend to know the thoughts or intentions of the people involved in responding to a violent intruder at the UU congregation in Knoxville, TN.

It is hard to grasp the horror of the events, it is tempting to stop paying attention, but to not pay attention would be to fail to honor the dead and the living too. Terror was intentionally inflicted on completely innocent people by a twisted and damaged suffering soul.

Still, I feel as though I witnessed something precious: compassion and love brought fully to life. A force of goodness stood up to and confronted a force of perversity.

The man with the gun wrote a four-page letter in which he admits that he planned a horrible murder/suicide like so many murder suicides we have seen before. But this time, the targeted people said, “No!” to the planned bloodbath. One man is said to have stood in the way of the gun and took a full blast from the shotgun. People acted quickly and calmly pulled loved ones to safety. Others confronted the man with the gun and stopped him from further killing. He did not succeed in committing suicide that day—he was not permitted to kill his body—though one wonders of the condition of his soul, his metaphorical heart, his very sense of self—these he lost some time ago it would seem.

Commentaries on news blogs immediately began to include messages calling for more armed citizens to be ready to respond violently to such attacks. Media coverage following the shooting in the Colorado Springs New Life Church last December lovingly fawned over an attractive volunteer armed security guard. On one occasion she stated, “It seemed like it was me, the gunman and God.” She claimed that god steadied her hand and helped her to shoot the gunman, who then shot himself to death. She praised god for helping her to shoot the gunman. She claimed that fasting and praying for three days just prior to the event led to her ability to do what god wanted her to do. In one news conference she even hinted that god would now find the perfect man for her to marry. I am not making this up. (google Jeanne Assam to learn more about this)

This, dear reader is the difference that liberal religion can make in the world: when confronted with violence, respond with nonviolence—a force greater than a gun, and more reliable than a bullet because you can take it everywhere you go and you never have to stop and reload.

Did the shooter deserve to be saved from suicide? Yes, he did, because he is a human being-- a human who has done a horrendous thing—he willfully and deliberately took two lives, wounded several other people and harmed hundreds psychologically. And yet, the loving thing to do, the compassionate thing to do, was to stop him as soon as possible. And there were men who did just that.

I marvel at the courage it took to accept the force of the blast, the cool wit to spring into action at the first moment, to put the gunman on the floor and hold him there. Was there a temptation to pummel him? To act out of rage and grief as raw as rage and grief can get? Perhaps. Or perhaps, “god” was truly present this time—as opposed to the pseudo-deity invoked when the desire to kill a killer is strong. If the word god can be invoked here at all, it is in the sense that each one of us has divinity inside of us, an absolute an inviolate piece of the wisdom that makes the universe vibrate with the force of life. The men of the TVUUC tapped into the life force and used it for good, for ending the violence, not for the continuation of suffering and misery brought to their sanctuary.

For this I honor and thank them. May we always remember that dignity and love prevailed that Sunday in July---and that hate cannot win when the force of fierce love is given full expression.

May your life be a testament and a blessing.


  • At July 29, 2008 1:19 AM, Anonymous Martin Voelker said…

    martin voelker said...
    I was just trying to imagine whether an armed security guard could have made a difference in Knoxville, for argument's sake. Who knows. I've done event photography for years, and know from experience how extremely difficult it is to 'get a clear shot' at a target in a crowd. And unlike my camera, which only captures light, an officer's gun can't be used if anything but the target is in the way.
    People overestimate what even a highly trained shooter can do in such situations. (There are enormous casualties due to 'friendly fire where ever SWAT teams are used!)
    That said, they were extremely lucky that the gunman could be subdued. Extremely lucky, and they probably owe it to the man who died shielding others and the ones who jumped him.
    I hope at some point we hear direct reports from them, telling us what enabled them to stay calm and effective. Given such increasingly frequent and brutal scenarios many people are wondering: How would I behave under such circumstances? Hopefully we'll never have to find out but these heroes actions give us a preview of what ordinary people can rise up to be when it comes to protect others with their life.

  • At July 29, 2008 8:13 AM, Blogger ms. kitty said…

    Valerie, thank you for this wise essay. Your words reveal your deep sense of connection to our UU heart.


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