Of all the thoughts and images that have sprung, in my mind, from the assassination of Dr. George Tiller last Sunday (31 May 2009), one leapt to the fore immediately, and has stayed there ever since.

The man was killed in a church.

Say anything you like about the religions that built the churches, or mosques, or temples – their avarice, their bigotry, their hypocrisy. I’m even likely to agree with most of it. But if there is any one thing that the houses of worship themselves have come to represent, it is this.


Hell, most of them are called “sanctuaries”, in whole or in part.

In Europe during most of the Common Era, Christian churches have been known as places of sanctuary, where persons in strife go for protection against their circumstances or their adversaries.

The principal is pretty universal. In pre-Christian Hawai‘i, a person who broke a kapu or otherwise offended the gods or their agents on Earth had the option of retreat to a pu‘uhonua (sanctuary, usually part of a heiau, or temple). Getting there was more than half the fun (to reach Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau, the refugee had to swim a fair distance across a shark-infested bay), but when (if) the offender arrived, the attendant priest (kahuna) would absolve the refugee from wrongdoing and release him [sic] back into the community, where he would be immune from harm. At least until the next time he offended.

To be sure, the principle of sanctuary has been both abused and violated throughout history. We the People of these Untied States, for example, are used to being told that, for certain Iraqi mosques, “sanctuary” is spelled A – R – M – O – R – Y, which is why those mosques are now one with Ozymandias’s lone and level sands.

Nevertheless, I think we relinquish the notion of sacred sanctuary at our peril. Which is why the death of George Tiller, a man whom I did not know, on whose attention I had no claim despite his position of prominence in our culture wars, continues to bother me.

For whatever it may be worth, a piece of music sprung into my head as a result of my reflections on George Tiller’s murder and the violation of sanctuary that the killer, and whatever sponsors he may have had, committed. Below, a link to a sound file of that piece of music (.mp3). The sound is not quite what I’d like, and I can’t add the lyrics; I’m at the mercy of my rather inexpensive music-writing software. Maybe one day you’ll get to hear it with live instruments/voices:

Words: John W. Thompson and Randy Scruggs, alt.
Music: John W. Thompson and Randy Scruggs, setting IHL*

(* Latin [in hic loco], “in this place”. Pig Latin: drunken and crazy.)

Inscription: In memory of Dr. George Tiller, and of all those who have sought the sanctuary of a house of worship in vain.

Lyrics: (slightly altered from the original)

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary,
Pure and holy, tried and true,
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for you.

It is you, Lord, who came to save
The heart and soul of each one of us,
It is you, Lord, who knows our weakness,
Who gives the strength we hold in trust.

Lead me, Lord, from all temptation,
Purify me from within.
Fill my heart with your holy spirit,
Take away all my sin.

[Repeat v. 1]

For any who are interested in such things. The music is scored for oboe, English horn, and four-part choir. The oboe and English horn parts can be played by any number of instruments of similar sound quality, including flutes, recorders, or harmon-muted trumpets/cornets. I tried adding rhythm (guitar, keyboards) but didn’t care for the results, at least not yet.

Copyright as for this blog. Contact me or Quilly if you’re interested in the sheet music or whatever. Especially if you plan to make a million bucks off this thing. As if.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.


  1. Okay folks, what Amoeba won’t tell you, but I will, is that he composed this particular arrangement. (Not the original song, just this arrangement.)

  2. Very nice music. Congrats on composing this oh humble one. Q…thanks for letting us know. I believe in my heart that his is an extreme act of terrorism on our soil, yet again. As I have said over and over, it doesn’t take a foreigner to do such a heinous act. Did you see Dr. Tiller’s place of work? You talk about an armory or sanctuary there was one. I don’t care if or what anyone believes in what he was doing, it doesn’t give one the right to murder him. I hope the dude that did this rots in jail, or better yet, give me the bullet or the needle that is loaded. An eye for an eye.

  3. Quilly, shh! You wish to tell everybody that I’m a crazy drunk? (Memo to the literal-minded: I may be crazy, but I’m not drunk. Never will be. There’s a reason. Several of them, in fact.)

    Thom, thanks. But I have to say, be careful what you wish for. In Tolkien, there is wisdom.

    As for “extreme act of terrorism”, I know that this expression is pandemic, but I worry about it nonetheless.

    Tiller’s murder is heinous, and the actions of the more extreme anti-abortion groups (and those of certain other of the more notorious pressure groups, such as PETA) are deplorable if not detestable.

    But the total of such murders, at least of those that have come to our notice, is one. That’s a long way from al Qaida. Gang violence in LA County alone takes, on average, 1-2 people a day. And while we’re speaking of domestic terrorism, we’d better start taking a lot harder look at people with driver licenses. They kill 70-75 people a day on America’s roads.

  4. OC… sometimes you just do things that make me SO aware of what Quilly loves sO much about you! That piece of music is gorgeous! I’m clapping and crying! I truly do wish I could hear it with the lyrics… and maybe someday I will…

    You know, I have been a pro-lifer all my life. But pro-life isn’t just anti-abortion. It’s pro-life! Your life, my life, Dr. Tiller’s life, death row prisoner’s life, and unborn babies lives. The person who is truly pro-life understands that there are circumstances which require a life to be lost… but believes that every effort should be made to leave that choice up to God. God gives us life, and in a perfect world only God would take it away. Unfortunately it’s not a perfect world. We sin. And it is very very sad indeed.

  5. I suppose I should be upset because he was shot in a church and a Lutheran Church at that but I’m not.
    I would have been just as upset if he was shot on a street corner or a brothel. They had no right to take his life period. But the song I love. We should be a sanctuary. We should be there to care for the poor, the lost, the hated. We should be there to protect life and if necessary to lay down our own to do that.

  6. Melli, I think that, if your concern is truly about life, then it really doesn’t matter which pro you claim. What I see in this debate is not a concern for life, but a concern for control. If I can get you to march to my cadence, especially if I can make you passionately happy about it, then I have you in my power. And I won’t gladly relinquish it. This quest for power is one thing that I would gladly have God take away.

    Yes we should, Dr. John. Yes we should.

  7. News is coming out that members of Operation Rescue were twitter stalking Dr. Tiller. Appears they were hell-bent on killing him. But why in a church? Is this something new for the fundies? To target people in the House of God? I’m not a great fan of organize religion but this seems to go far beyond simple blaspheme or desecration. Perhaps it is time for Terry Randall to have an up-and-close conversation with Timmy McVeigh.

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