Like so many, I woke up to news that 9 people were murdered in a church in Charleston.
I pray for the families of the victims. I cannot imagine the anger and grief they are feeling.
As a pastor it sends a chill; I have always thought of a house of worship as a place of peace. There is reason we call the worship space a sanctuary. Yet, I have to agree with a friend of mine who writes, “Watching the events of the shooting within an AME church in Charleston and witnessing my white peers express their feelings of now feeling vulnerable within their own (Christian) church, I am growing more and more frustrated. Because while we are all vulnerable to the actions of others, some people are more vulnerable, particularly in our nation, because of their race. So yes, that one white man makes me remember my mortality and that prompts my own fear, but in that same moment is the realization that I am very unlikely to experience a hate crime because my white body reduces my risk.”
I will be a little more nervous when I stand in the pulpit on Sunday. But honestly, just a little.
You cannot legislate goodwill. While we may have come a long way in the last 60 years as far as legal rights, we have light years yet to travel to become the nation we think we are or claim to be.
When my twins were born, my son had difficulty breathing. As a result, they took him to the NICU for observation. When I was able to sit with him, I noticed the other fathers in the room, quietly keeping vigil next to tents, tubes and monitors. A Latino man with tattoos and a way too large Chicago Bulls Jersey. A white guy with perfect hair, and a tie not even loosened for the hospital room. There are some types of suffering that do not discriminate.
I didn’t post anything last week because I was at summer camp. Each summer I go to a Presbyterian Summer Camp and serve as a chaplain for a week, leading Bible studies and worship.
This camp draws children from all over the metro-Atlanta area, and as a result the makeup on any given week is rather diverse. Children of different race, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic level. Some kids attend private school, own their own horses, and vacation at their own beach houses. Others are only there because someone they will never know paid for them to attend. Two summers ago I was talking with a ten year-old camper, and I asked him where he was from. He told me the name of his town. I asked him how he liked it. “I wish it was safer,” was his reply.
But for this one week, the things that typically divide us do not matter. None of these children separates over race, ethnicity, class, or cash. The only currency is kindness. In that place for that time it works.
I came home depressed, lamenting that this doesn’t happen everywhere. However, over the last several days, I have prayed and have begun to celebrate the fact that at least it happens somewhere. To celebrate that there are places where the things that separate so many of us do not matter. I thank God places such as this exist.
Even in the midst of the events from last night, that knowledge gives me hope, because it points to what I believe to be the larger truth.
Hatred is learned behavior. If I can be learned, then it can be unlearned. We can teach, and we can learn a better way. We can learn to let love trump hate.
I do not intend to gloss over any of the suffering. We have a long way to go. Many uncomfortable questions need to be asked and answered honestly.
But I have to believe that love wins.