Roberta Drury had a big heart - which is that one thing that should move each one of us. Roberta had visited her brother, who had a bone marrow transplant not long ago. She went to the grocery store - Tops, in Buffalo - to buy groceries to make a special dinner for her family. She had a big heart.
But her beautiful life was cut short by the bullet of someone, an eighteen-year-old white supremacist who fed on hate - not for his own sorry self but for people like Roberta who didn’t look like him, people like Roberta who looked different, people like Roberta who had asked nothing of him. Yet, this man could find more than enough reason to hate. Hatred is such a powerful human character trait.
I remember when I was a little boy, I heard that the Methodist Church came out of the Anglican Church. My father’s house was right by the manse of the local Methodist Minister. I don’t remember his first name, but I knew him to be Reverend Brandful. I knew him to be a very decent man but I had this insatiable hatred for him because, in my little mind, I thought that the local Methodist Church came out of the local Anglican Church, of which I was a member. I loved my Anglican Church so much that I couldn’t believe that some other group of people would dare to leave that church and form another denomination.
The sad bit about this story was that I thought, in my ignorance, that Reverend Brandful was the one who instigated the separation, and boy did I hate him for that. One more thing: the local Methodist Church building was bigger and more beautiful than the Anglican Church building, and that fueled, even more, my hatred for Reverend Brandful.
It wasn’t until later in boarding school that I came to learn that Reverend Brandful had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the separation between the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church. After a little more reflection, I realized that I had hated this man over nothing, over so many years about something he had no control over nor was he responsible for.
My beloved, for however many years I hated this man simply out of my ignorance. I am not exactly sure if I ever thought about acting on my hatred, but I was a kid anyway, and violence wasn’t part of my experience or vocabulary.
Hatred can be deadly, but hatred fueled by ignorance can be calamitous. And the fact that hatred fueled by ignorance was made manifest in Buffalo a few days ago is more than heartbreaking, to say the least.
I think about Roberta and the many lives that were lost that day. I think about Roberta and the wonderful life ahead of her. I think about the wedding she never had, the children she will never have. I think about an enthusiastic compassionate human being who was needlessly killed because a white supremacist who’s been fueled by ignorance decided to take away her life.
Hatred is evil, and hatred fueled by ignorance can be even more deadly. But in a very surprising way, I don’t blame him. Not because he is a kid. I have a kid his age. I blame the purveyors of all the nonsense that is spewed on TV and elsewhere as gospel. I blame the corporate world for whom the lust for money is endless, those businesses whose desire for profits overrides any sense of moral obligation that they owe to their fellow citizens who may, or may not, be part of their political stripes.
Jesus didn’t condemn money or wealth. He recognized the need for it but he also admonished us to be mindful of it. Be careful where you place your allegiance: "No servant can serve two masters; such a servant will hate one and love the other or will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." So, wherein lies our allegiance? Is it with God or money?
Timothy has some sharp words for us: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” The desire for ratings - which then turns into profit - has clouded our judgment to the extent that some of the stuff that used to be on the fringes of our society now appear to be acceptable mainstream ideas.
How did we get here?
We find it strange that a Moslem kid is listening to hateful stuff on TV and reading hateful stuff on the internet and desires to be a suicide bomber, but we don’t find it strange that our kids are listening to hateful stuff on TV and reading hateful stuff on the internet and acting on them in a different way. What is the difference between a suicide bomber and this 18-year-old kid? They are both fueled by hate, and the only difference is that one is a Moslem and the other is what-I-do-not know.
I grieve for the families that have lost loved ones in senseless murders. I grieve for a society that appears to glorify nonsense and hate as acceptable narratives. I grieve for those who act on their ignorance to hurt others. I grieve for our society.
We need mending, healing, and restoration.
I hope we can offer, to each other and our broader community, that sense of belonging which rejects hatred and embraces compassion - just so the Roberta’s of our lives and the world cannot only thrive but can live their best lives beyond 32 years.