My community has been the focus of national and international news this week, for a horrible reason.
When my husband and I checked email just after dinner on Tuesday night, February 10, this message appeared:
|screenshot from my computer|
That relief never came to the parents of UNC dental student Deah Shaddy Barakat or the parents of his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.
The site of the killings is about 15 minutes from my house, in an apartment complex close to the UNC campus.
The scenery in this part of the world is lovely, almost idyllic--and usually peaceful. But not this week. This week our community has been shaken to its core by the actions of a criminal. As the story unfolds, we've learned that Craig Stephen Hicks, who turned himself in to police, has had long-running disputes with his neighbors over--get this--parking.
Parking is, of course, a big deal around here. We live right in the middle of university country, with Duke University on one side and UNC-Chapel Hill on the other. With many thousands of students and thousands more faculty and staff, parking is at a premium in many parts of our community. The apartment complex where the victims and the killer lived had limited parking, and the killer had a history of becoming visibly angry over parking disputes. He had reported parking violations so often that a local towing company had finally made a policy of not responding to his calls to have cars towed.
But seriously. . . parking? Mr. Hicks was angry enough about parking that he killed three people in cold blood?
We may never know the issues lurking in this man's heart and mind. What little we do know so far comes in part from his own Facebook page, where he proclaims himself not just an atheist but an anti-theist. It would appear that he hated religions of all kinds. His victims were faithful Muslims, so perhaps his passions were fueled by hatred of their religion.
A number of people around the globe have called upon American authorities to denounce the murders as "hate crimes," which are officially defined as "criminal offenses against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation" (www.fbi.gov). In this case, it would appear that the crime was motivated at least in part by the offender's bias against the fact that the victims were religious, although it's unclear whether he had a bias against their particular religion.
As I've wept and prayed along with everyone else in this part of the world, I've reflected on the fact that the heart of the matter really IS hate. Whether this crime should officially be labeled a "hate crime" is for authorities to decide, but it is without a doubt a crime full of hate.
"Hate" is a word that's bandied about often in our world. Perhaps I'm naive, but I'm always surprised how often the word "hate" is used in everyday conversation. Around here, fans of Duke University will say that they hate UNC, and UNC fans will say that they hate Duke. In fact, UNC's alma mater usually ends with the chant "Go to hell, Duke!" instead of "Rah, rah, rah!" While I understand intense rivalries, particularly in sports, I'm still amazed that such vitriolic verbiage is the norm.
Of course, it's not against the law to hate. In a society like the U.S., where personal freedoms are guaranteed by the Constitution, people may hate something or someone as much as they like, provided that they do not act on that hate to do harm.
But my heart is heavy at the thought of how much this atmosphere of hatred must grieve the heart of God and how much damage is done to our society when we not only tolerate but sometimes champion hate.
As a Christian, my charge is clear. To love, not to hate, is my calling.
When Jesus was asked which commandment is most important, He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)
In talking with His closest friends just before His death, Jesus said: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
By this all people will know that you are my followers--if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
And one of Jesus's disciples later wrote: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." (I John 4:7-8)
With such violent acts as those perpetrated in Chapel Hill this week, it would be easy for us simply to despair about the state of our world. But God calls us not to despair. He calls us to be world-changers, wherever we are. How? By loving God first and by loving our neighbors. All of them. #AllLivesMatter to God.
I may not be able to influence public policy, but I can love my black, Latino, and Asian neighbors. I can love my Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu neighbors. I can love my disabled neighbors. I can love my gay neighbors and my straight neighbors. I can even love those neighbors who choose to hate me because I am different from them. And in so doing, I can change my own little corner of the world. Even if hate still reigns in my community, there will be love mixed in.
Thank God, I'm not left to try to summon up these traits under my own power. Neither are you. These things we need are the fruit of the Spirit that lives in us (Galatians 5:22).
I'm convinced, even in dark days like this: hate will not prevail.
What do you think?