Why I Prayed With the Sikh Community Last Night


Indian Sikhs place flower petals and candles near pictures of those killed on Sunday. PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/GettyImages

I wasn’t sure what to expect as we pulled into the parking lot of a local Sikh temple — or gurudwara— last night, but I assumed it would be culturally enlightening and offer a glimpse into a worldview and religious tradition I have only sparingly engaged. While yesterday was the National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity for the victims and mourners of the shooting in Wisconsin, I felt deeply compelled to stand with them in their pain as a follower of the Prince of Peace. 

Walking into the gurudwara's courtyard holding my two-year-old daughter’s hand, my wife and two friends were immediately greeted by the priest with a handshake and smile. He thanked us for coming and invited us into the experience that included a short service in the gurudwara and vigil outside to remember the six worshipers who were shot by a man that had never met them. I can only speculate, but if this man would have engaged these people on a relational level at any point, he certainly would have reconsidered his actions.  

Much like the response of the Amish after the horrific schoolhouse massacre in 2006, the Sikh community has intentionally chosen to respond to by offering radical love and forgiveness. Although somber, they carried a deep conviction to embrace the way of peace as retaliation for the death of these innocent victims.  

Sikh Calls for Peace Echo Amish Shooting Response

Amish boy (left) and Sikh boy (right).

Amish boy (left) and Sikh boy (right).

Like most people, I was deeply troubled by news of another mass shooting, this time at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., not far from Milwaukee. On the heels of the tragic massacre in Aurora, Colo., this seemed all the more savage to me, given that it took place in a house of worship.

Maybe it’s because my wife and I work in a church and are aware of such vulnerabilities every day, but my first reaction is defensiveness. I want to raise my guard, double-check the locks and do whatever I can to ensure our safety. It’s the response that makes the most sense, after all.

Or is it?

Separation Anxiety: God is Dead! Long Live God!

God's hand illustration, George Nazmi Bebawi /

God's hand illustration, George Nazmi Bebawi /

This is the third and final installment of my little series on Harry Emerson Fosdick, his sermons about Modernism and Science, and how these century-old sermons remind us that our present conversations about the same are anything but new. They may be necessary, but they aren't new. You can read my first post, “I Love How History Repeats Itself,” and my second post, “Science, Faith, and An Ongoing Conversation.”

I want to continue to focus on the same two sermons, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" and "The Church Must Go Beyond Modernism," and finish up a line of thought about American Christian Fundamentalism and interlace a third and final sermon entitled, “The Greatness of God” in which Fosdick outlines some of his own understandings of atheism, science, and religion. Typical of Fosdick, there is a tome hidden in between the lines of that sermon. Nevertheless, I'll try to share some of it with you.

What does Fosdick say is the trouble with Modernism? In “The Church Must Go Beyond Modernism,” he lists a few problems. Here's a list:

  • “... it is primarily an adaptation, an adjustment, an accommodation of Christian faith to contemporary scientific thinking.”
  • for this reason it tends “toward shallowness and transiency” and thus cannot adequately represent the Eternal;
  • “Unless the church can go deeper and reach higher than that it will fail indeed.”
  • “... excessively preoccupied with intellectualism” eschewing the heart and thus missing much of Christian spirituality
  • excessive sentimentality, which means the eternal progress of the human character and the eradication of evil and the loss of moral judgment, scientific progress being equated with human moral progress
  • “... modernism has even watered down and thinned out the central message and distinctive truth of religion, the reality of God.”

Sikhs and Sacred Ground

Members of Wisconsin's Sikh community hold a candle-light vigil for six people killed in an attack a day earlier.

Imagine the terror.

You are in a temple, a safe, sacred place, preparing for a morning service. In the kitchen, you are busy cooking food for lunch, while others read scriptures and recite prayers. Friends begin to gather for the soon-to-start service.

At the front door, you smile at the next man who enters. He does not smile back. Instead, he greets you with hateful stare and bullets from his gun.

Such was the scene Sunday at a Sikh gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wis., just south of Milwaukee, where a gunman, Wade Michael Page, killed six and critically injured three others before being shot down by law enforcement agents.

As Page began his shooting spree, terrified worshippers sought shelter in bathrooms and prayer rooms. Rumors of a hostage situation surfaced, and those trapped inside asked loved ones outside not to text or call their cell phones, for fear that the phone ring might give away their hiding place.

The first police officer to arrive on the scene stopped to tend to a victim outside the gurudwara. He looked up to find the shooter pointing his gun directly at him, and then took several bullets to his upper body. He waved the next set of officers into the temple, encouraging them to help others even as he bled. 

That magnanimity is a common theme among the stories of victims and survivors of the Wisconsin shootings. Amidst terror and confusion, Sikhs offered food and water to the growing crowd of police and news reporters outside the gurudwara as part of langar — the Sikh practice of feeding all visitors to the house of worship.

Good Men and the Secret of Happiness

Sargent Shriver in 1961.

Sargent Shriver in 1961.

In June my husband, who gets lots of review copies unbidden, asked me if I wanted to read Mark Shriver's memoir about his father, Sargent Shriver, who passed away in 2011 at age 95.

"Since you're a fan of all things Kennedy," he said, "I thought you might want to see it."

I didn't.

True, a high point in my adolescent life was standing in back of St. Matthew's Cathedral one December morning in 1963 waiting for mass to begin when suddenly a very tall, very disheveled, very pregnant Eunice Kennedy Shriver pushed past me, wearing smudged red lipstick and a full-length fur coat. But sons are not necessarily good biographers, and anyway, I had a stack of mysteries awaiting my attention.

But then in July, a Facebook friend pointed me to Reeve Lindbergh's review of A Good Man in the Washington Post, suggesting that this was a book I might want to read. Lindbergh — herself the daughter of two famous parents, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh — called it "a moving and thoughtful book." Maybe I'll read this after all, I said to myself. And then a week or two later, my friend Estelle sent me a copy of the book as an early birthday present, telling me she thought I'd connect with it on many levels.

I must be supposed to read this one, I thought.

Amish Report Staggering Growth in Midwest

RNS photo by Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer

RNS photo by Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer

The Amish are one of the fastest-growing religious groups in North America, according to a new census by researchers at Ohio State University.

The study, released July 27 at the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society, suggests a new community sprouting every three and a half weeks.

Nearly 250,000 Amish live in the U.S. and Canada, and the population is expected to exceed 1 million around 2050.

The growth may not be visible outside Amish country, but the rural settlements definitely see the boom.

Survey: Most Americans Keep Faith Private Online

Facebook image: 1000 Words /

Facebook image: 1000 Words /

Meet the social media “nones.” A new survey finds that Americans, while mostly religious, generally do not use social media to supplement worship and mostly keep their faith private online.

The Public Religion Research Institute survey found about one in 20 Americans followed a religious leader on Twitter or Facebook. A similar number belonged to a religious or spiritual Facebook group.

The results seem to defy the familiar story of prominent religious leaders using social media to build a following – and a brand.

“We were surprised when this turned up really low levels of people engaging religion and faith online,” said PRRI research director Daniel Cox.

Church No More: Part 4 — I Don't Want to Go Back

I love the Church. I have literally been going to church my whole life — that is, until two months ago.

Then I stopped cold turkey. You can read about it in my post "Walking Away From Church."

Masses of people responded. It astounded me. Most ministers expressed concern saying things like, “My Brother, I am worried that you may be on a dangerous journey,” or, “I fear you may lose your faith.”

Frankly, what I heard them saying was, “Faith is so fragile it needs the Church to enforce it,” which only made me more certain I was making a remarkably healthy spiritual choice.

Former church-going folk frequently told me things like, “There is a large disconnect between the 'Church' of today and the teachings of Jesus,” and “I have found God in a dynamic, deep way and I love God so much more and for real now than when I was unwittingly trying to fit in with my church culture.”

I've been away from church for two months now and I have to say, I am more at peace than I ever have been. My faith is stronger than it ever has been. My family life is healthier than it ever has been. My desire to seek out God and follow the teachings of Jesus is stronger than it ever has been. 

I do not want to go back to Church because life outside of Church is better. It just is. There's no dogma complicating the path to God. It is more than refreshing to escape the games church-folk play with the intent of establishing control and “rightness” on their part; it is life-giving to escape it.