We walked the lawn of the "Field of Empty Chairs" at the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum this morning where on April 19, 1995, 168 people, including 19 children, were killed in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. The empty chairs, the reflecting pool, the "Survivor Tree" are beautiful. (I had been here once before, when there was just the wire fence with memorials surrounding the vacant space.) The scene that day was grusome. And terror, violence, rages on.
Therefore the statement of the memorial is profoundly important:
"We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity."
Yesterday we heard stories of survivors and of the education and outreach offered so that people might find alternatives to violence, from bullying to bombing. More needs to be done, of course. I remember so well, the first reaction of this nation: the assumption that the terrorists were from outside the United States, not from within. How far have we yet to go in learning to understand one another? In respect? And yet, I could not but respect this community of Oklahoma City for coming together to have conversation in the public world through empty chairs. May we the living sit down together on chairs for conversations of compassion and compromise in our mutual search for peace and justice.
I use the plural "we" because I am attending DOTAC, Diakonia of the Americas and the Caribbean, which meets every four years, this year, here in Oklahoma City with the theme, "Chairs at the Feet of God." Each of the days we focus on: worshipping chairs, listening chairs, working chairs, resting chairs, and sending chairs.
There are fifteen members groups of deacons, deaconesses and diaconal ministers, including Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, and United Churches from Canada, the United States, Brazil and the Caribbean. This is the fifth such conference I have attended, seeing old friends and new. (Also every four years...therefore two years in between...Global Diakonia meets.) My husband Burton is as eager to attend as am I. Each time I am deepened in my commitment to servanthood ministry, strengthened by the stories of the services of my brother and sister diaconal ministers, and inspired for service to Christ. Diaconal ministry bridges church and world. Once again the conversations across the hemisphere draw us to the feet of God and sends us forth into the public world.