August 6, 2011

Karenzo Audace's funeral, August 6

I wasn't able to attend the church service for Karenzo Audace today,  but I was able to join the mourners at the cemetery for the final graveside rituals.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Mr. Audace was from Burundi.  He was one of many who fled violence in that country, migrating to Rwanda just before civil war broke out.  When Rwandans started slaughtering Burundians, he moved to Congo and, later, to Tanzania.  Eventually, he reached the United States.

A brilliant mind, a buoyant smile, and an undaunted spirit led him to English classes.  As soon as he learned to speak the language, he began teaching anyone who wanted to learn, at no charge.  At the grave site, one speaker handed over the badge Mr. Audace was to have worn in Washington D. C. on the day he was killed.  He was to have been there to meet with officials and discuss the needs of Burundi and Burundians in America.

"He was a teacher," said another speaker, holding aloft a silver ball point pen. "This pen is a symbol of his life as a teacher.  I am putting this pen into this flower arrangement to remind his daughters that they have the right to an education."

More than one speaker referred to Burundians' right not only to education but to justice.  I ask you: what justice allowed a violent man who had threatened Mr. Audace, his family, and bystanders with a knife to be released from jail so quickly, before the family's efforts to move away and end the conflict could be fulfilled?

To search for a reason for the death of a man so gifted, so young, so important to his family and community is fruitless.  I have come to believe this week again that some people despise the goodness, happiness, and commitment that they see in others.  I also concluded today after the graveside service that the trouble with killing people to keep other people safe is that there is no end to it. As much as we'd like to see the bad guys get shot, fall off their horses, and lay lifeless as vultures descend to pick their bones, we can't go down that path.  Mr. Audace did not take the path of violence; he was trying on the day of his death to remove himself and his family from such threats.

Murder, I regret to say, begets murder.  Once we begin -- we, the people, self-appointed vigilantes -- there is no end to the killing.  We become what we are trying to protect others from.

Several years ago, two other ministers (the Reverend A. Clark Jenkins and the Reverend David Smith) and I worked on a book about the church's role in violence. We met once a week for months to bat around ideas and choose who would write what parts and to search for understanding of how to create in the Church a commitment to peace.  I'd just come through a tough spell pastoring, during which I'd pop into the Reverend Jenkins' office to ask if I could kill a few people.

"No," he'd say firmly.  "We can't kill them."

"Why not?"  I asked.

"Because Joe Bethea told me so."  Joe Bethea -- Bishop Bethea to the rest of us, the first African-American elected bishop in the Southeast Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church and a man despised as thoroughly in some corners as our president is now.  Joe also had supporters who loved him.  If Clark said Joe Bethea said we can't go around killing people, you can take that principle to the bank.

I will write more about the service, which was carried out in the Burundi tradition, later.  I hope to have some photos as well; a young man at the cemetery was taking photos with his cell phone, and we exchanged e-mail information.  In the meantime, go in peace.

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