Thursday, July 2, 2015

Charleston: It's Personal.

I know.

You’re tired of hearing about the shootings in Charleston.  It’s old news.  Other stuff is going on in the world, in your life.  Why am I writing about something that happened two weeks ago, all the way across the nation?

Because it’s personal.

The two pastors who were killed went to one of my denomination’s seminaries.  Not the one I attended, but I have dear classmates of color who taught me much about faith and trust and God’s steadfast love and mercy.  I mourn the deaths of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and Rev. Daniel Simmons as deeply as if they were one of my classmates.  Indeed they were my colleagues in ministry, as was Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor and Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton who also were murdered that night.

I can’t imagine the deep shock and grief of a congregation losing not just one, but four pastors, as well as five other congregation members:  Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, and Susie Jackson.  My heart aches for my sisters and brothers at Mother Emmanuel.  While I have never worshipped at Mother Emmanuel AME Church, in seminary I did worship at two AME congregations in Columbus Ohio as part of the African-American Religious Experience class.  I remember being one of six or seven white faces in the congregation as we nervously looked at one another waiting for the service to start.  I remember that nervousness fleeing as we were warmly welcomed as brothers and sisters in Christ, truly included as part of the worshiping community, experiencing the joy of faith in a new way.

The shooter was a young man from a congregation in my denomination.  I said this was personal – it gets very personal here.  I imagine him standing in front of the congregation only a few years ago as they congratulated him on his graduation from high school, presenting him with a gift from the congregation, perhaps a quilt lovingly made by the women’s circle.  I see him as a young teenager on his confirmation day, rejecting the forces of sin, death and the devil, professing his faith, and kneeling at the altar rail as the pastor lays hands on his head and says, Father in heaven, for Jesus sake, stir up in him the gift of your Holy Spirit; confirm his faith, guide his life, empower him in his serving, give him patience in suffering, and bring him/her to everlasting life.  I see a 5th grade boy reaching out his hand for the bread of life the first time he took Holy Communion.  I see a proud 3rd grade boy clutching the new Bible the congregation has just given him.  I see a young boy in a bathrobe wishing he was old enough to be a wise man instead of a shepherd at the Christmas pageant.  I see a baby, the waters of baptism poured on his head as he was named and claimed a beloved child of God.

He was one of ours.  A child raised to love God and love the neighbor as himself.  Taught to follow Jesus, who gave us a new commandment: to love as he first loved us.  And I wonder how this young man found the story of white supremacy and hate and fear more compelling than the Story in which he was raised?   

It’s time to ask ourselves some questions.  Yes we need to pray.  Pray God comforts those who mourn the nine deaths in Charleston and brings comfort and healing to everyone who suffers from hatred and violence. Pray for the young man who did such a terrible act, for his family, for his congregation.

But we also need to take a long look inside ourselves and ask some hard questions.  We need to repent of our own fear and hatred of those who are different from us. To ask God to open our eyes so that we see in the other someone who is created in the image of God, who is deeply loved by God.  To ask God to open our hearts so we may love with God’s love for the world.     

This is personal.  It's about you and me and the systems of racism and injustice in our societies and how we participate - often without even realizing it - in those systems.  It's about realizing that this could have happened anywhere, in any of our communities.

This is personal.  We serve a God of love, who created ALL humans in the divine image.  Who loves ALL the world so much that God came and dwelt among us.  Lived and died on a cross, because of those systems of power and injustice.  We are called to follow the one who knelt down and washed the disciples feet, commanding them to love - the last act before he was unjustly arrested and crucified.

This is personal. The resurrection is God's resounding "NO!" to the forces of sin, death and the devil.  We are called to bear witness to God's "YES!" to life and love, to stand in the face of hate and death, We need to talk about racism.  We need to listen to those who suffer from it's insidious hold on our society.  We need to name those places where racism, poverty, injustice, violence, hatred and fear still reign - and to take a stand and say "No more!"

This is personal. 

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