Sutherland Springs, Texas. Thornton, Colorado. Las Vegas, Nevada. Charlottesville, Virginia.
This past weekend’s shooting at a small Texas Baptist congregation is just the latest of many violent tragedies our country has experienced over the past few months.
And it’s part of an ever growing list of tragic events that have accumulated over the past several years.
As we continue to experience one tragedy after another, my emotions have been all over the map – hate, anger, fear, resentment and sadness. Like many others, I find myself turning to my religious faith for hope, comfort and guidance.
Two things that immediately come to mind are Jesus’ teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 12:31) and his admonition to be “salt and light” in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).
In short, my Christian faith teaches me that my role in the world is to try to make a difference, no matter how dark and difficult outward circumstances may seem.
Of equal importance, my faith teaches me that I am not a lone ranger and that I shouldn’t try to be one.
The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together … but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
By myself, it is impossible for me to overcome my hate, anger, fear, resentments and sadness to love others and make a difference in the world. But I find strength and encouragement to do that in community with others.
For much of my life, that community has been my church and the broader Christian community that I am a part of.
But in recent years, my understanding of community has expanded to include not only those who believe and worship like I do but also those of other faith traditions and sometimes no faith tradition at all.
At the community college where I teach, we have students and faculty from more than 60 different countries, representing every major world religion. We are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, atheist and many other religions and worldviews.
Theologically, we don’t believe the same things, nor should we pretend that we do. We don’t share the same observances or holidays. We don’t worship in the same way, and some of us don’t even worship at all.
But in spite of our different religions and worldviews, many of us have found that what we have in common is a commitment to loving and caring for one another and to making the world – at least our little, tiny corner of it – a better place.
One of the most meaningful things that I get to do at my school is work with Better Together – our interfaith student club – building relationships with students and faculty of different religious traditions as we work together on community service projects.
We are a part of a growing movement of colleges and universities across the country that seeks to change our world one service project at a time through interfaith cooperation.
We hope that our efforts will reduce hate and fearmongering and promote unity and friendship, first among ourselves but ultimately beyond the walls of our school.
This year our group is hosting service projects at a Jewish synagogue, a Buddhist temple, a Christian church and a Muslim mosque.
As we continue to reel from the impact of this latest act of violence, I realize that I simply don’t have control over many of the bad things that happen in the world.
As my mind and spirit offer up thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families, I hope that they are not simply empty words that serve as an excuse for inaction.
Rather, I hope that that they give me – in the words of the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr – “the courage to change the things I can,” even if those are just small things. Because together, each of our small acts of love and caring will eventually add up to big changes in our world.
Daniel Schweissing, a former American Baptist missionary, currently teaches English as a second language at the Community College of Aurora near Denver, where, among other things, he is the faculty adviser for Better Together.