It’s Not OK


Service at Temple B’Nai Israel August 11, 2019 in Response to Recent Shootings


Message by Rev. Sue Browning, Chairperson, Talbot Association of Clergy and Laity, and Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowships in Easton and Chestertown.


Communities have power when they gather. When we gather for a wedding, there is power in sharing joy. When we gather for a funeral, there is power in sharing loss.

Communities also have power when they gather around a common cause. Today we – those of us gathered right here, right now – have power when we look at one another and say: “Violence does not need to be so. It’s not OK.

Shortly we will lift in prayer the names of those killed in the most recent mass shootings. As we lift these specific names, we know many others have been killed this summer as victims of domestic violence, crime, and dispute. Many have died in the name of hate.

Before the prayers, we need to say together: These deaths did NOT need to happen. These injuries did not need to happen. These losses were not inevitable. Violence is curated.

In a tribute to Toni Morrison this week, the New Yorker reminded us of her 1993 speech when awarded the Nobel Prize. She considered the power of language and said, “Words have the capacity to liberate, empower, imagine, and heal, but, cruelly employed, they can ‘render the suffering of millions mute.’  …Oppressive language does more than represent violence, it is violence.”

It is not OK for families to be shopping at a Walmart and to be gunned down by someone who had a clear message that Mexicans were bad. A horrendous act, but folks this action did not occur in a vacuum.

It is not OK for a top leader to ask elected representatives to leave their country.

It is not OK for Baltimore and its leaders to be disparaged.

It is not OK for anyone to keep a rape list.

These actions cannot go unchecked. The language cannot go unchecked.

Violence is fueled by toxic ideologies. Ideologies that say a person’s race, or ethnicity, or country of origin, or religion, or immigrant status, or gender or sexual orientation make them ‘other’ are dangerous. My colleague Rev. Lisa Ward reminded me this week that, “We are all capable of violence and can be swayed by predatory, fear-based persuasion. We are all responsible for the cultural climate and moral grounding of our civic life.”

We all have a responsibility to stand up and challenge those who divide; to counter those who foster this sense of ‘Other.’ ‘Other’ than what? Naming any group as ‘Other’ dehumanizes. Naming some as ‘Other’ stokes fear.

Such disparaging views are NOT normal. We can’t afford to be numb to these messages.

Friends, this is a not partisan issue. It can’t be normal in a civil society for anyone to spew messages of bigotry. Of course, there are multiple ideas and different perspectives on how to best address complex problems. Of course, there are passionate views. This is normal. We need multiple views and debate and conversation. Yet, that is not what we are experiencing in today’s climate. It is not what we are feeling.

It is not ‘normal’ in a healthy democracy for violence to be stoked through words. And, it is not healthy when violence is stoked through silence. We need solid leaders who stand up with clarity and who bear witness. We each need to stand up with clarity and bear witness. As a community we have power for change, but not if we watch in despair; not if we lose hope that decency and respect can prevail.

And we know too well that when violence is spurred, and when the tools of killing are readily available to those wanting to harm, we end up here in prayer.

Shootings in these last years…Virginia Tech, Aurora, Newtown, Washington DC Navy Yard, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Texas, Parkland, Santa Fe, Annapolis, Pittsburgh and Kentucky, Thousand Oaks, Virginia Beach, and in the last weeks, Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton.

I did not come close to listing all the sites of killings – the places where powerful weapons, capable of slaughtering many in seconds, were used in schools, and churches, synagogues, and mosques, and banks, and offices. Killings were at movie theaters, fairs and at concerts. It is not OK.

We come together today because we know we are stronger together. Whether at vigils or rallies. We lobby. We write. We talk to neighbors. In a moment you’ll hear from Moms Demand Action and from a former member of congress.

The pressure for meaningful change is here. Through this gathering here in Easton, and groups gathering across the state, and groups gathering nationwide, there is a call for change which is being heard. (1) A call to change to a culture of violence. This is long and hard work, but the potential is there, AND (2) A call to change the ready availability of guns – common sense changes you will hear about more from Theresa.

What I too want us to hear, together in this moment, is that overall there is much more good and much more kindness in the world than there is hate. This is overwhelmingly true. As humans we are a people capable of great compassion. We see the humanity in one another when we get to know one another.

As you hear the stories in times of tragedy, look to the first responders who act selflessly; look to the bystanders who jumped in to protect others. Beyond tragedy, hear the everyday stories in your neighborhood of help extended to family facing illness or hard times. See the heroics of our educators gearing up to teach, and the many assuring children are fed and prepared with supplies so they can learn.

Go to a playground. See children, and families, in all shapes, sizes and colors laughing. As we work toward change in a struggling world, we need to hold fast to the joy too – the wedding-type joy. It is when we are out in community that we encounter the souls of one another. It is then that ‘Other’ becomes impossible.

We need to name today ‘It is not OK’ for violence to prevail.

And yes friends, communities have power – power to reassure; power to care, and, yes communities have the power to press – proactively and passionately – against violence; to press for change that matters.

In the coming weeks and months, may we sense the power of a greater spirit, a divine force, calling us forward to act with shared purpose. May we together act in the name of Love.

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