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In the Ashes we Meet Each Other: A Message to the Hendricks Chapel Community

Students, Chaplains, Staff, Advisors and Friends of Hendricks Chapel:

Grace and peace to you,

I am writing in response to Chancellor Syverud’s most recent message to the campus community, for I believe that we at the spiritual heart of campus possess a special responsibility, and together we are called upon to lead in service to our common good through religious, spiritual, moral and ethical life.

In light of all that is taking place around and within us, I have been reflecting on the following poem from Jan Richardson, titled “Will You Meet Us?”, intended as preparation for the annual Christian practices surrounding Ash Wednesday:

Will you meet us
in the ashes,
will you meet us
in the ache
and show your face
within our sorrow
and offer us
your word of grace:

That you are life
within the dying,
that you abide
within the dust,
that you are what
survives the burning,
that you arise
to make us new.

And in our aching,
you are breathing;
and in our weeping,
you are here
within the hands
that bear your blessing,
enfolding us
within your love.

In addition to its spiritual significance for Christians and Ash Wednesday, these words also offer a lens for our entire community to observe our current state of affairs. Our pain, shock, grief, anger, fear and frustration has left us in ashes. Each and every manifestation of hate and terror carries with it a significant and sustained impact, especially among those targeted. We also recognize that recent acts are more than just acts, but they are grounded in longstanding and wide-ranging efforts by some to tell others that they do not belong. We have stumbled in our attempts to respond and are now faced with tremendous agony and mistrust, to the point that some have questioned if our community is now scorched beyond repair.

I respect the cries and concerns of our students, and I am grateful for those who have sacrificed to ensure that silenced voices are more fully heard. Our hearts should be broken whenever confronted with the consequences of violence, but we are especially troubled when those whom we have been entrusted to serve – our students – do not feel welcome in our midst. The hate and terror that poisons each and every corner of our country and world is on our campus. We should acknowledge that the sting of racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and other expressions of violence and erasure is real, especially among those of minoritized and marginalized groups. At Hendricks Chapel we should not be afraid to state the truth of our reality: We are now in the ashes, on campus and beyond.

While much has been lost, I continue to believe that life can rise out of death, and I am convinced that together we can help to spark our campus renewal. At the core of my own Christian faith is a belief that confession and forgiveness can spark reconciliation and transformation. I do believe that hurt can give birth to healing, wounds can serve as sources of strength, vulnerability can overcome violence, surrender can overcome scarcity, and that which seemed dead can be reborn. At Hendricks Chapel I have witnessed the ways in which diverse collections of people can transform and transcend conflict for the sake of building a beloved community. I have observed a diversity of learners being invited into the fullness of life, and I have celebrated with admiration as many in our midst have repeatedly chosen not to be captive by history but instead commit to being authors of it. While the route to restoration is often painful, I am confident in our shared ability to breathe new life into the ashes, kindle the fire of our moral imaginations, and create an era of unlimited possibility. 

I am grateful for Chancellor Syverud’s most recent message to the Syracuse University campus community. Not only does he recognize the harm that has taken place and takes responsibility for recent actions, he also proposes tangible steps and insists that we need each other to move forward together. Through his words we are shown that justice and mercy can dwell together, and while there is much we need to do, we can also affirm that a great deal of good has been done. At a time when our campus seems ablaze with panic and aggression, Chancellor Syverud’s message offers a resolution to meet each other “in the ashes” and resurrect our fallen hope. I am thankful for his communication during this critical moment, and while many will debate the details of our next steps, I am confident that we are indeed moving toward the fullness of truth and reconciliation.

So where do we go from here? I believe that we at Hendricks Chapel are now presented with an important opportunity. As people of diverse ideologies, abilities, nationalities, and identities, we now have an opportunity to show those who fuel the fires of hatred that the arc of the universe can bend toward justice. We have an opportunity to show that goodness is stronger than evil. We now have an opportunity to show that love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness, and life is stronger than death. For the sake of creating, strengthening and sustaining a bold and beloved community, we now have an opportunity to send a clear and powerful message – through our words and our deeds – that we will not be overcome by those who seek to dampen our spirits and diminish our souls. I believe that we are ready to do our part.

As the heart of Syracuse University, Hendricks Chapel leads in service to our common good as a student-centered global home for religious, spiritual, moral and ethical life. This is our mission. This is our identity. My hope and prayer is that we uphold who we are, recommit to what we do, and promise to meet each other “in the ashes” to bestow peace and grace to our campus and beyond. Together we can resist the temptation of isolation. Together we can oppose the dangers of detachment. Together we can refuse the attraction of apathy. From the depths of division we can challenge each other to offer a new vision, for at a time when so many are tempted to turn on each other, we can reveal what is possible when we turn toward one another.

I am honored to serve alongside you, and I ask for us to be both bold and humble, so we might learn from our past, respond to the challenges of our present, and embrace the conviction that together we can arise and be made new.

With gratitude,

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The Rev. Brian E. Konkol, Ph.D.
Dean of Hendricks Chapel
Professor of Practice, Department of Religion