Yesterday’s shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC is distressing not only because of the hatred and willful ignorance which seems to have driven the shooter, but because of its location.
We think of museums as safe places. They aren’t necessarily apolitical – in fact they can be the focus of political action or spur debate – but I feel that they are supposed to be places where those discussions and debates can happen without violence. They are a sanctuary.
The online edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “sanctuary” as “2 a (1):a place of refuge and protection”. When I was a child, I learned about the medieval practice of Sanctuary, refuge from the law within the bounds of a church, by watching Cadfael (The Sanctuary Sparrow) on PBS. Naive though it might be, I applied that idea of sacred spaces being beyond the reach of mundane violence and brutality to the modern world, to churches and museums (both sacred spaces to me, although in different ways).
The shooting in the Holocaust Museum is more upsetting to me because it comes so close on the heels of another violation of Sanctuary space, the shooting of George Tiller within the walls of a church. There are moments when it is vividly brought home that the fact that the way I see the world is not universal. This morning has been one of those times.
On Sunday, I will remember Doctor Tiller, the security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns, and all lost to the Holocaust during the Prayers of the People.