On Sunday, I went to the prayer vigil organized by the India Association of Kansas City, to honor Srinivas Kuchibhotla, Alok Madasani, and Ian Grillot, who were shot in an Olathe bar last week. As everyone knows, Kuchibhotla was killed when a white man came into the bar, yelled, “Get out of my country!” and opened fire.
That is reality. And we can’t wish away the deeper reality those actions illustrate. Yes, the killer no doubt is disturbed, but he was not speaking for himself alone. Just yesterday, I received an email from a well-meaning friend, an email with photos of dark-skinned young men wielding machine guns. The argument was about limiting refugees’ access to the United States, and the caption read, “These children are training to kill your children.” That kind of language – language that presumes a malevolent heart in people who look different from most of the people we know – it infects our own hearts. It gives people permission to inch just a little further, each time we hear it, toward words and actions that turn human beings into avatars of spiritual darkness. And it’s no accident that people in a white culture find it easy to ascribe that spiritual darkness to dark skin. We have centuries of perceived darkness to overcome.
Sunday's service of prayer and remembrance incarnated a contrast reality. So many people came to the suburban conference center that the crowd had to be managed in three sections – hundreds within the ballroom, hundreds in the foyer, and hundreds more outside pressing toward the open doors, struggling to hear the voices of peace over the PA system inside. Those voices were powerful in their quiet proclamation – Hindu and Muslim and Christian and Sikh and Jew, all praying for the same things from the same divinity of Love. The call to strive for peace, healing, and reconciliation knows no religious boundaries.
The religious voices then gave way to those who know the need for healing more personally. Alok Madasani, recovering from his wounds, stood to speak of his dear friend and how a drink after work turned into cold-blooded murder. But Madasani shunned bitterness and moved toward healing, just days after being shot and watching his friend die. “It was rage and malice in another’s heart that killed my friend,” he said. “That’s not Kansas, or the Midwest, or the United States. It’s not what we know.” He then described how a stranger in the bar took off his shirt and stanched Madasani’s flow of blood, likely saving his life. “That’s what I’ll cherish,” he said. “That’s why we made this country our home. We just ask for tolerance of diversity and respect for humanity. I hope I’m not asking too much.”That’s my prayer, too – that Madasani is not asking too much. I pray that we will speak and act to “respect the dignity of every human being,” as our Episcopal Baptismal Covenant puts it. And I pray that each time we find a moment to speak or act against the presumption of darkness, whether in public events or intimate conversations, we will seize that opportunity for witness.