What I Need You to Say in Response to the Shooting in Charleston

AP_shooting7_sc_ml_150618_mn_16x9_992I almost wrote this post when there were riots in Ferguson and I almost wrote this post when protestors were holding up signs that read, “I can’t breathe”.  This post was very nearly published when black women stood in the street topless, a prophetic picture of both the African American woman’s vulnerability in this broken world and her strength in the face of brutality. Then I saw Dejerria Becton, a black 15 years old wrestled and held to the ground by a white police officer, so I wept and sat at my computer with these words. And now, nine brothers and sisters lost their lives to racism in Charleston last night and I cannot ignore this post anymore.

In the next few hours there will be even more coverage of the shooting of nine people at a historic African American Church in Charleston, South Carolina.Soon news outlets and bloggers will begin speculating about Dylann Roof, the accused shooter’s motive and we’ll be tempted to assign blame and make assumptions.  These are the critical hours that sets the trajectory of this new conversation on racism in America.   These are also the hours our helplessness rises to the surface and we’ll use our words to alleviate it.  

Two weeks ago, in the hours and days following the Mckinney Pool Party, I read some of the most hateful words used to shore up defensiveness.  I saw people blame the teens.  Memes were made that called a vulnerable young woman- rude, disrespectful, and deserving of the treatment she received. I can’t fathom how it’s appropriate to blame her for her mistreatment in a day when there is a collective gasp of disgust when someone suggest that a drunken girl raped at a party brought that onto herself.

Our words matter.  Right now, they matter, oh so much.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

You see, there is a deep pain in the African-American community today. Last night, when my white husband told me what happened in Charleston I sat still.  Unmoving. Heat pounding.  Tears burning in my eyes and lump in my throat. I saw those nine lives taken. I saw welcoming the newcomer, offering him refreshments, inviting him to cast his cares on Jesus.  I heard the loading of the gun, the yells, the running.  I saw the pools of blood on the church floor.  I’m a pastor’s wife.  My church meets in Downtown LA and we invite every one – mentally ill homeless to loft dweller– to meet Jesus, learn of his great love, and leave with a new sense of their immeasurable worth.  This is the life we’re called to– loving the stranger well because we’ve been wholly loved by God. So I saw what happen as a pastor’s wife who worries about her husband’s safety.

Then I saw it as a black woman.  I imagined my initial confusion when a white man who’s never attended shows up, but then Holy Spirit anointed love brings me to invite him in.  I imagined the questions I’d have, “who?  how?  What can we offer him”?  I imagined the brief moment of hope, maybe gladness that the Lord has brought us a new person to pray for.  I imagined the fear soaked confusion.  The terror of running for my life.  The desperate last thoughts for my family, my babies, my church.

At this moment, this painful imagining is happening for black people across this country.  The pain we’re feeling right now is akin to the loss of a child because whenever black lives are treated as worthless, whenever our story is marked yet again with violence, whenever we’re forced to remember the brutality our grandparents endured when they stood for freedom and dignity- it feels like Dr. King’s dream is a hope deferred and our hearts are sickened.  As a white person, you may have heard Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and thought, “yes, that’s a nice sentiment.” That “nice sentiment” is a defining dream for the African- American community.  We don’t want to be angry anymore.  We’re tired of being afraid.  We’re tired of these headlines.  We want to have peace.  We dream of unity too.

But sadly, race and division and the rending of the Imago-Dei are Satan’s favorite weapons, so I’m not sure we’ll ever completely get past this.  Lord help us, something like this may happen again. Maybe not next month or the month later, but racism is still infecting the system of our country.  I fear the disease will flare up again and again. So, what then?  Is there nothing we can do?  No. No, not at all.  It’s time to claim these hours as our stand for peace and stretch out our hands for solidarity.

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9 (NLT)

Reading the news stories and getting the details of this shooting is painful in and of itself, but one thing makes our pain even greater. When in these dark hours as we mourn the loss of the nine lives of the Charleston martyrs, our suffering is used as a means to push your agenda, whatever it may be.  So today, I offer two responses that promote peace, lay a foundation for unity, and point to the love of Jesus as displayed on the cross.

I’m sorry.


I’m listening.

I’m sorry because we’re called to be peacemakers.  We are the ones on the front-line of violence with the sword of the Spirit- his words that bring life.

We’re called to be the ones to cry out, “Immeasurable worth!” when image-bearers are devalued.

We’re the voices of justice.

We’re the ones who draw in the sand and level the playing field.

As peacemakers, we’re tasked with identifying with our Prince of Peace who overcame our blood-thirsty enemy by shedding his own blood- selflessness and love flows from the cross and lies out our chosen path- humility.  “I’m sorry” tames the anger.  “I’m sorry” respects the pain. “I’m sorry” positions you as a friend and not adversary.

I’m listening because we’re called to be reconcilers.  Like Jesus reconciled us to the Father- it’s a painful process.  A denying process.  A humiliating process.  But a Kingdom process, nonetheless.  “I’m listening” says, “yes, I have an opinion and yes I have strong feelings, and yes this makes me feel more than a little helpless, but I’m going to press into this specific pain and listen.”

Last week after I watched the video from the McKinney pool party, I called my white friend to process.  As the phone rang, I crafted intelligent analysis and a bullet point list of angles to talk about the issue, but the most profound moment of that call was when I broke down and cried for almost five minutes.  She sat and listened as I wept for the lost dream. I didn’t have words for my grief and neither did she,  but she healed me in her silence.  Her willingness to sit Shiva with me mitigated the loss and cleared out the anxiety.  “I’m listening” is all you need to say right now. “I’m listening” disrupts the enemy’s plan to pit pride against pain.  He’s delighted with every defensive word, every zinger post, every grandstanding status; they perpetuate us/them.  Right now, Kingdom people, our Prince of Peace is asking us to rally behind him with few words, compassionate hearts, listening ears.

 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, James 1:19

I’m kneeling at the cross today, wetting the ground with my tears for the suffering of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. I’m full of sorrow for Dylann Roof. And right now, I need to hear, I’m sorry and I’m listening.

I suspect, I’m not the only one.

Will you let your words be few and your love great today as we process the shooting at AME? Will you practice Shalom by putting aside your agenda and taking up the call of the cross to die to yourself?  Will you hold ground for healing where violence trampled our hope?  The choice is yours, Kingdom person.

And if you can’t say, “I’m sorry” or “I’m listening”, if you can’t understand the need to enter this conversation, then may I gently ask you to not.  Stay away.  Go before the Lord and ask him to touch your lips with the coal so that you may use your words wisely.  These are critical hours, people.  Defining hours.  Let’s push back the darkness, one peacemaking response at a time.

Shalom for Charleston,


Photo credit: AbcNews

120 thoughts on “What I Need You to Say in Response to the Shooting in Charleston

  1. Pingback: Listening | notfromthewell

  2. Pingback: A Letter From a White South African to White America | www.afridigi.com

  3. I’m sorry. I’m listening.

    And I thank you for offering these gentle words on a day when we’re all struggling to figure out what to say and who to listen to.

  4. Reblogged this on Fascinated Ferret and commented:
    Some days, we wake up and there is suffering and grief everywhere, and we find ourselves at a loss for words.

    This may help: A gracious and gentle suggestion that there are only four words we need right now.

  5. Yes. “I got you covered in prayer” and “This is not okay” and “I will stand up for black lives anyway I can in my corner of the world.” I am white, horrified weekly, and do NOT understand what is wrong with these people. Fear? Control? I do not understand. I am praying. No one speaks ill of other races and religions around me. But I see that is just not enough. I had hoped that electing more leaders of minority would help, but that’s not enough either. They must be taught to love all in their schools. No place for bullying. No place for violence. No place for hunger. Stamp it all out.

  6. I’m sorry & I’m listening!!!!!
    Being a single African American dad of a wonderful son,I have to keep encouraging my son to be strong and love as Christ so loves us. Keep a happy spirit because your happiness can truly bless others. Pray for those that not only do good but also pray harder for the ones whom are out to do Evel. We serve a forgiving God. True this is hurting our nation but keep everyone lifted up in prayer and speak positive words. Be Blessed!!!!

  7. I’m sorry and I’m listening.
    But, I’m not praying. I used to. Don’t mind those who do but I can’t believe anymore. I’m as against all this hatred the Black, Brown and any other color have had to withstand, but I’ve never seen prayer do any good anywhere. I find it something people do/say because they aren’t going to do anything else.

    I’m sorry and I’m listening and I’m going to work to rid my little corner of the world from prejudice by making sure my children, grand children and great grand children aren’t prejudiced. And by making sure that my friends and acquaintances understand my beliefs. That I can do.

  8. I recall long ago a teacher who admonished students that to say “I’m sorry” to a grieving parent was inappropriate, since it confused people because “sorry” involves connotations of blame and guilt. I’m not sure she was right–“I’m sorry for your loss” is the standard response–although if a communications professor can get that wrong, maybe “sorry” does get misunderstood. Many of the racially charged events in this country over the last year have involved some complex issues, wrongly simplified by those with political axes to grind, all with implications of blame and guilt. With each episode, political camps are urged to divide, and all the listening is within a camp. Some of this insensibility has already started to touch this latest episode. This latest tragedy is all too senseless, it descends into the outright demonic. What demon possesses a man to do this? The spirit of Cain who hated his brother and slew him. I’m not sure what meaningful dialogue can take place on this without the power of the Holy Spirit causing our hearts to overflow so that when one member of the Body suffers, all suffer. More than transcendent dialogues, we need revival and the presence of Christ in His body, one with another. Our conscience is strained. Iraqi Christians, and other Christians around the globe, are slaughtered and they barely get a thought from believers or unbelievers in our relative paradise. Charleston is “closer to home” but the Body everywhere is in so much pain, it is paralyzing. Horror is paralyzing. We need a miracle.

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  10. I’m sorry and I’m listening.

    From the album “Sold Out – Rod McKuen Live at Carnegie Hall”, 1969

    It makes me cry to see the things
    Some men do to one another
    Makes me cry to see the things some men do.

    Every street’s a battlefield and every door’s a jail
    And never the sword and not the shield
    Can stay the widow’s wail.
    I cannot understand, I will not understand
    Why freedom stumbles in our land
    And it makes me cry to see the things
    Some men do to one another
    Makes me cry to see the things some men do.

    Every road’s a bitter road and songs are only songs
    And when in church children kneel
    They cannot right the wrongs
    I cannot understand, I will not understand
    Why terror rumbles in our land
    And it makes me cry to see the things
    Some men do to one another
    Makes me cry to see the things some men do.

    Every night’s a lonesome night that lasts a lonesome year
    And torches all the brighter burn
    To burn away the fear
    I cannot understand, I will not understand
    Why freedom staggers in our land.
    And it makes me cry to see the things
    Some men do to one another
    Makes me cry to see the things some men do.

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  14. Pingback: On the Murder of Nine African-American Christians in Charleston, SC | A Better World

  15. The families of our martyred brothers and sisters have set us a beautiful and extraordinary example of forgiveness which will assist many who struggle with the things they have to forgive. Thank you for that gift.

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  18. I came across this post this morning…and I’m sorry. I’m listening. I want to understand, frankly, what makes a person look at others and think, not only “You are inferior” but also “You must die.” In what environment is such a person reared? How can we prevent this from happening again? I have two children – and both of my children’s best friends are black. Beautiful children with wonderful parents. Loving, open, and welcoming. The type of people I want to see my own children grow to be. I saw *their faces in the pictures of those slain, and I cried. And cried some more. Children are reared in love and acceptance or fear and rejection. A society exists and is built on love/acceptance or eventually will fall apart due to fear/rejection. We must choose love. We must choose openness (of hearts and ears and minds). We must pray for guidance and help to open hearts and ears and minds. Change begins with each of us, with the Lord’s help.

    I’m sorry. And I am listening.

  19. Thank you for your post. I’m sorry, and I’m listening, and I agree we need to pray for the grace and wisdom to be hearing as well. I’m praying for you and your church, and for repentance and redemption in our country.

  20. Lovely,gentle lady, I’ve been listening to you for a while. I am so sorry for each occasion for weeping, and for the awful regularity with which they rise up. I am listening, and I am weeping.

  21. Even if we had all the answers, it wouldn’t stop the pain. Even with God’s help it wouldn’t stop the pain but hope will use it to reveal hearts and our trust in the goodness of God will prevail. shalom.

  22. Pingback: Mourning Broken, Mourning Whole | Esther Emery

  23. I say “I’m sorry” “I’m listening.” I say I’m white and I do not understand, will not understand this kind of hatred. I say I grew up in rural southern Virginia and never understood the people, young and old, who lived around me…the hatred and disrespect that they carried for the black people who lived around us. And for the white people who tried to help the black people. Did not understand my own mother when she didn’t want a (white) friend of mine in my wedding because my friend was dark skinned. Now I have 2 adopted grandchildren one black with albinism and one black/possibly mixed with Native American or Hispanic. My oldest granddaughter and her partner who is black/mixed have a little girl, my great grandchild. My grandchildren and my great grandchild are living in this world full of hate. Because, alas, I’ve discovered that it is not just an illness of the United States but of every country in the world. And beyond the hatred felt toward people of African descent there is hatred toward people with albinism…when my youngest granddaughter had her 8th birthday party recently it was held at an indoor playground…while she and her friends were in the “playhouse” a young boy called her names like “vampire” and “zombie” AND THEN he kicked her I understand that black people have endured atrocities for centuries, just because their skin was dark. I do not wholly understand the why. I’m stopping now, I hope to read more post from you in the future…”I’m sorry” “I am listening”

  24. Pingback: On the #AMEShooting in Charleston, SC | Gaudete Theology

  25. Osheta, I am a white middle class Australian living in a peaceful city where gun violence is very rare. Unfortunately, racism isn’t. After reading your piece this morning and others over the last few days, I made the decision to talk to my white, privileged children (8 & 4) about what happened in Charleston, to other people of faith who had come together to love God. To be honest, I don’t think my daughter believed me. We have spoken about racism before, but in her sheltered life (as in mine) we just don’t see the effects. I am sorry. I am sorry because I am part of the problem – me and my white privilege and my safe community in Christ. I am sorry that this violence is so far out of my children’s experience that they have no way to comprehend it, while yours must live in fear. I promise that I am working to be part of the solution – by actively seeking out blogs like yours, by widening my circle and trying to imagine the world as it must be like for my POC brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. I am listening. I am praying. God be with us all.

  26. I am sorry because with the death of one parent, we all lose a parent; with the death one a child, we all lose a child. With the death of a brother or sister, we all lose a sibling. And I hope to listen and hear.

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