Remarks at the “We are Harrisonburg” Event
Remarks delivered by Brian Augustine, Board Chair, at the "We are Harrisonburg" event on Sunday, September 16th,
On behalf of Redeemer Classical School, I would like to thank Kai Degner and the Islamic Center of the Shenandoah Valley for organizing the “We Are Harrisonburg Gathering” and including Redeemer Classical School in this event. I also would like to thank everyone who has expressed their support of both the Islamic Center and Redeemer over the past few days, and for everyone who has decided that attending this event is an important statement about who we are and who we want to be as a community.
I want to limit my comments about the actual graffiti because the more that we talk about this cowardly act, the more life that is given to it. I would prefer that we focus more on moving forward as a community and less on these vile acts.
But before leaving the topic entirely, I think it is important for us to consider that the two institutions that were targeted are institutions that are pillars of a civil and just society. In 1831, when French historian and political observer Alexis de Toqueville spent a year travelling around a young new nation called the United States of America, he was struck by how different the American experiment was compared to the European society that he was brought up in. And one of the things that he noted was the abundance of “associations” that had proliferated across this new country—organizations founded by individuals with a common interest and belief that led to a vibrant civil culture and community spirit. Two of the most critical pillars of this common civic culture were houses of worship and educational institutions to teach and model virtue and goodness across generations. How ironic then, that an Islamic mosque and a Christian primary school just a few miles apart are the very two organizations that were targeted over the weekend.
I have been asked several times in the last 24 hours what is the connection between the Islamic Center and Redeemer and why did this happen to both places. I don’t pretend to have an answer to that question, but I think that we can already see the evidence that this pathetic and disturbing attack has had the exact opposite effect of what was intended. Instead of fear, there is resolve, instead of anger, there is forgiveness, instead of hatred, there is love and fellowship.
In Christianity, one of the most well-known commands of Jesus is known as the Golden Rule. Most know this as “Do unto others as you would have done to you”. If you listen to the full text, the bar has been set even higher by Jesus in Luke 6:27-31. “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” With the bar set that high, this command actually becomes an impossible charge apart from the grace of God. In the Book of Matthew we are told to forgive those who have wronged us 490 times, far exceeding the commonly held standard of three strikes and you are out. We are living in a world desperately in need of the Golden Rule--especially by those who call themselves believers. Let today be a day in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County when we can truly live out the Golden Rule by God’s grace.
So where do we go from here? On the crest of Redeemer Classical School there are three Latin words. You’ve seen these academic crests of schools and universities before with some words that you can’t pronounce and have no idea what they mean. You can see ours on our website. Redeemer’s three words are: Veritas, Pulchritudo and Bonitas. These mean the True, the Good and the Beautiful. These three words are not new to Redeemer, they are actually not new to Latin or even ancient Rome. They were celebrated long ago in ancient Greece before the rise of Rome and articulated and taught by Plato himself. The search for Truth, Goodness and Beauty were goals worth striving for in every examined and meaningful life, and these lofty goals are the core values at Redeemer Classical School. That is the reason that they are on the crest.
What happened this past weekend is almost the exact opposite of the True, the Good and the Beautiful. The nature of the obscenities and the institutions that were targeted are more like the False, the Evil and the Base. (Not being a Latin scholar myself, I cannot give you the translated words.) But what has developed in the intervening 48 hours looks a lot more like the True, The Good and The Beautiful. “You meant it for evil, but God intended it for good.” (Gen. 50:20) Looking at the group of people gathered here this afternoon from across all walks of life in our community—each coming with different faiths, beliefs and creeds, yet gathered for a common purpose—to stand up for Truth, Goodness and Beauty. This begins to approximate what Plato and all who have strived for freedom and justice since his time have had in mind.
I guarantee you that we don’t all agree on every detail, but I pray that we can at least agree that others have the right to disagree with us and that because of that right, we are a better and stronger people for it.
We are a blessed people living in a blessed nation and a blessed community. Our country was founded on earth shattering foundational principles: “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And enshrined in our Constitution by our own James Madison, we are guaranteed the right to the free exercise of religion and the freedom of speech.
Today we stand united against the voices of tyranny and oppression, be they halfway around the globe using fire bombs and rocket propelled grenades, or in our backyards with a $5 can of blue spray paint. You have shown us today that there is a better way. There is a way of forgiveness, understanding and mutual respect. I am proud to be joined with new friends here at the Islamic Center and with you gathered here to model what a vibrant civic community looks like.
Islamic mosque, Christian school, and everyone here from every walk of life—We Are All Harrisonburg.
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