Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 16 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Fear at Church

He was ascending the long set of outdoor steps. I was descending, and we passed. A new face, unfamiliar, I hadn't seen him before. Perhaps because he was unfamiliar, or perhaps because of the serious intent with which he climbed, he caught my eye. And what about that black bag slung over his shoulder? I glanced back and viewed an elongated, rounded form straining the nylon fabric from within. Perhaps his serious intent, unfamiliar face, and the unknown contents of his bag cumulatively aroused my suspicion and fear. Perhaps. I'm not sure.

Of one thing I am sure, however. I wouldn't have noticed his face, his expression, or his bag one week ago today. I wouldn't have given him a second thought. I wouldn't have lingered at the bottom of the steps, pretending to view the garden, as I anxiously awaited shots. I wouldn't have, not at my church; my warm, welcoming, liberal church where the disturbed gunman would have been welcome to discuss his views.

But when Jim Adkisson entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church he chose violence over discourse. Rather than sit down and watch the children's program, Annie Jr., which was being performed on stage, Mr. Adkisson chose to pull a shotgun from his guitar case and open fire. Eight people were struck, two later died, by the time he stopped to reload. Congregants tackled and subdued Mr. Adkisson before his hateful rampage could resume.

According to our Minister Emeritus (that means she retired a couple years ago), there were over 200 people attending the service last Sunday. Extended families from both of Knoxville's UU congregations came out to watch their children, grandchildren and siblings perform. The other church, Westside Unitarian Universalist Congregation, was founded by Reverend D.B.S., our Minister Emeritus. She ministered to the Westside Congregation through their first six years. The violence and hate had hit very close to home.

During our special remembrance service today, Reverend DBS recounted the events of last Sunday's shootings. Her voice frequently cracked with sadness, frustration and anger. The senselessness of this act speaks for itself. She spoke of heros and bravery, unity and charity, confusion and grief. She eulogized the two congregants who died. Sixty-year-old Greg McKendry was a foster parent who, in addition to his family, leaves behind an admiring foster son. Mr. McKendry likely saved countless lives when he stepped in the gunman's path, putting himself between Mr. Adkisson and the rest of the congregation. Sixty-one-year-old Linda Kraeger was a scholar and an author who had just moved with her husband and another couple from Texas. She was the sole caregiver to her friends' grandchild. Senseless, yet Reverend DBS concluded her comments by focusing on hope.

The service today was moving and filled with tears. I was surprised by the intensity of my emotions. Now, as I write this, my emotions make more sense. Our service connected me to people 1,000 miles away. Rather than feeling this was something which happened there, I learned that Mr. Adkisson could have just as easily attacked here. He didn't attack them. He attacked us. By attacking my faith and the principals in which I believe, he attacked me. I never dreamed our inclusionary, peaceful principals could spurn such hate.

I also never dreamed I'd feel fearful at church. Another sanctuary stolen by violence and hate. I am so sorry for the people of Knoxville. I cannot imagine experiencing such trauma in such an unlikely place. I pray those involved will find the strength to cope. I pray Mr. Adkisson receives the help he needs. Perhaps it's okay to be more aware of my surroundings and the people I pass, but paranoid suspicion of new faces in my church will never feel okay. I have to consciously work to retrieve the serenity Mr. Adkisson stole. I cannot, I will not let my sanctuary be stolen by hate.


Jim Purdy said...

I'm a Unitarian, and is still impossible for me to comprehend how anyone could have such hatred, especially for a church denomination which stands for understanding and peace. But it is impossible to deny that there are many people who, for their own reasons, fear the openness and tolerance symbolized by our denomination and others like it. Thanks for your comments.

Bradley said...

We can not and should not allow our churches bring us to fear. Some in our church even suggested we need bodyguards. But that is not what we are all about. We were welcome to all before the shooting and we must be welcome to all after the shooting.

Mr. Adkisson did not only have differences of opinion, we must keep in mind that he clearly was a sick man. I pray for him as I do for the lives he took away and the many more lives he has scarred.

Strawberry Blonde said...

I was drawn to your blog for layers of reasons. Found you 'cause I'm a runner with hip pain, intrieged by your intro 'cause I'm a psychchologist, then was moved by written words I've heard my clients speak, then read this UUC held a solomn service with your congregation in our thoughts last Sunday.
Thanks for the layers of connection. I'll visit again.