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.

And

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,

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Photo credit: AbcNews

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

  1. Ugh. We’re so sick at heart with this horrible tragedy here in Iowa. So, so saddening. We’re praying hard here for the families of our brothers and sisters in Christ, knowing that they’re celebrating in Heaven even as we mourn. I’m also praying with the knowledge that God takes terrible things and brings good from them- even now, when it’s hard to see how anything positive could come from something just so awful.

    • You need to know, “I do listen and I am so very, very sorry,” for this horrible incident of hate and anger! Together we come under our God of peace and love and pray for not only those who lost their loved ones but, all of the people that still just don’t understand or don’t want to! We are divided and have been for years. I was not raised to hate people of different countries, or have a different color of skin. My mom told me, “we all bleed the same color and you should never put yourself above any one else. God loves all He created and He is not color blind!” She always asked me if I understood this, I always told her, “yes, Yes, I do mom.” I have always been around others of different races. Let me tell you this, a very good friend married a wonderful black man. His name is Maurice her name is Alice. They enjoy their two beautiful children, a girl and a boy! Perfect…right? Not in her family, they ALL disowned her and Maurice and of course their beautiful children. She is so hurt by this (who wouldn’t be?) and misses seeing the joy they would enjoy with their children (grandchildren). When she told me about this, I was so angry and I had to really think about what would I do? I would accept my child and who they choose because it’s called love and caring! I told her if she ever gets the opportunity to talk with her dad, ask him one question! “Dad, if you go to heaven and find out that our loving God is black…would you still enter in His perfect presence?” I rest my case. Go and feed the world dear sister, God is with us all that want to spread His good News! My heart breaks over so many years of tragedy that to this day seems to continue no matter what! I am praying for all of Gods children and I am praying for God to heal our hearts, for His sake! Be blessed…we will see in time, God’s ways will have the last first and first last! Amen? Amen!

  2. I am so sorry. I’m listening. I want to be better at not just listening, but really hearing. Hearing every heart that’s breaking behind the words.

  3. Pingback: Where to start when you’re afraid to talk about race | between worlds

  4. We don’t do this enough. We think our opinions and agendas are more worthy of defense than the needs of broken hearts. I pray for people who have this listening gift, and I pray to be one of them. They are hard to find, because they’re the ones listening. Quietly, respectfully; not making headlines or blowing up our Facebook wall.

    I’m sorry, and I’m listening. Thank you for your relevant message.

  5. Pingback: What I Need You to Say in Response to the Shooting in Charleston | candiedlilac

  6. Pingback: On Charleston and listening « Ten Thousand Places

  7. Grieving with you Sis. 💗😔But I don’t think I can take one more…”I’m sorry”. I need to hear “I got you covered in prayer” or “This is not okay and I will stand up for black lives anyway I can in my corner of the world.” I need to see your tears and your lament right along with mine…

  8. I’m sorry. I’m listening. I’m praying for unity, for purpose and for change. Our Redeemer lives. We are one body. In Him alone can we love.

  9. I was talking with my daughter today about the same scenario, these people welcoming this man into their circle where he sat while maybe they were afraid of him or maybe they were hoping he would find Jesus. Thank you, Osheta, for pointing us right back to God and what he calls all of us to be, peacemakers and grace givers. Praying and grieving.

    • Thank you for your humility and your leadership. I just started listening to Tasha’s episode on my way back from a prayer meeting at First AME here in Los Angeles. I’m so excited because Tasha is making some practical, wonderful suggestions. I’m praying for you, both for your mama’s heart and for your desire to be a peacemaker.

    • I’m praying for you as you stand, Kara! May your sadness not be in vain. Our God is known for taking what the enemy meant to harm us and making something good. I’m praying for that today.

    • Thank you, Jennifer. Where do you live? This comment is so meaningful because you get it. Urban ministry is wonderful and necessary, but also quite scary. I’m praying for you as you seek the shalom of your city.

  10. I’m deeply sorry for this all the horrific crimes that have been happening…and yes….I’m listening…

  11. Feeling the depth of this loss and heartache with you. Wishing there was more I could do. All I can offer is the solidarity of prayer and support from a white asst pastor’s wife in Indiana and a promise that where I can and however I can, I stand with you. I am listening and so, so sorry.

  12. Osheta, as an white man in rural Wisconsin, I want to say I’m sorry, I’m listening, and weeping and praying. This conversation needs to continue in every church and chapel around the country. Thank you.

  13. Osheta, can we share the first part of this over on Third Way website in our racism section (under Justice) and link back here for people to find the rest?? These are very helpful and well written thoughts and we want more people to find them. I am so sorry and trying to listen. Bless you.

  14. I’m sorry. And I’m listening…in Charleston. The grief here is palpable, and everyone I speak to is ready for some kind of action, to participate in grieving, to start the conversation, to show our faces and to witness.

  15. Pingback: BK’s YouTube Picks: Jon Stewart on Charleston | From The Koala Tree

  16. Pingback: Osheta (and TC) on the Shooting in an AME Church | shelboese.org

  17. This tragedy is so sad. It is senseless and makes someone like me, a white woman, who grew up in the deep segregated south feel like we are all taking 100 steps back and not forward. I just don’t get it. God made us all we are all in his likeness, just with different colors. Our hearts beat the same, I just can’t wait to hear them all beat as one. Being the same, but different is what makes this world the beautiful place it is. I wish that we all could get over our fears and trust in His Peace. I am listening and I am so SORRY… I am praying…for He Is STRONG! His LOVE has already won!

  18. I am so sorry all this has happened and is happening. I am a nobody with no influence, but my heart listens. This tragedy has struck at my soul and makes me so very sad for all the world I know, both white, black, and whatever other colors. All I know to say is Kyrie Eleison; Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine—God have mercy; grant them eternal rest, O Lord

  19. I want to say I’m sorry and I’m listening, but I want to do more. I have prayed, I have lamented, I have wept as Jesus weeps. I also offer solidarity with my Christian brothers and sisters during “our” loss. I have been on vacation with my family in the beautiful, historic old city of New Bern, NC. It celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2010. Lots of history here. We have been having a heat wave while hear so it was necessary to keep my three kids cool. Yesterday, I was taking them to a nice little splash Park in a predominantly African American neighborhood behind the historic Cedar Grove Cemetery. Doesn’t bother us if my kids are the only “white” kids there. On the way, I passed a little church with all of its patrons and leaders outside and a news person there. My heart sank as I suspected something bad had happened. I had not seen the news. While my kids played with their “black” playmates in the water and I was feeding my three month old, I searched my phone for the news. My heart sank again when I read the story and I felt the sting of the tears in my eyes as I sat and felt the pain of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I had no words to offer as healing. I just did the only thing I could do. Pray. Pray for Jesus’ love to comfort us all. Thank you for using your gift of words to express what I could not.

  20. i’m usually one of the first ones to rant on facebook as i watch the ugliness that unfolds far too often in our nation…..i have not responded/reacted to this shooting and a couple of facebook friends asked why. because i can’t, i’ve been left speechless (a rare occasion) i just can’t write the same things again, there is nothing that i can say, and those who most need to hear the words that i would put out are the ones who won’t read them, or who will dismiss them as some ‘liberal propaganda’ or some other such nonsense and i just don’t have it in me right now……..thank you for finding words when they have failed me………honestly, it feels hollow, and it feels small and it feels like i should be DOING something, that we all need to find a way to stop this insanity, but since it’s all i have to offer you right now, “i’m sorry, and i’m listening”

  21. This tragedy is horrific and heartbreaking. Please know that we in the south, who are portrayed as all being racist, are grieving and listening and want to help our nation eradicate the evil of racism.

    We are grieving and crying with you and listening for how we individually can make a difference.
    Through lots of prayer and living our lives as an example of the love of Jesus.

    I am praying for all of the families and the pain all of us are experiencing as children of God.

    I am though encouraged by the youth I see around me. I see white kids and African American kids hanging out together in our malls. Going to movies, having sleepovers and just being kids growing up together through the difficulty of adolescence.

    I pray that our country is truly moving toward Dr. King’s America.

    I hope my comments are taken in the spirit of love, grief, and mourning as it is intended. I love and support and I am sorry and I am listening.

  22. Pingback: thoughts on Charleston | Defeating the Dragons

  23. I am sorry, and I am listening. And I grieve and weep and rage and pray.

    There is the time for grief, and it is necessary for us to grieve because we are humans and we need so much love and protection, and yet there are so many around us who would do nothing more than kill and destroy.

    Maybe later we will talk and collaborate and plan, we will move and walk together and march, but for now —

    I am sorry. I am listening.

  24. Thank you so much for this/
    I’m sorry.
    I’m listening.

    Strength and love and peace and hope…
    brett fish [a South African currently visiting America where i lived the last three years and have a huge heart for this conversation and dream for a brighter future]

  25. Pingback: A Letter From a White South African to White America - LiberalVoiceLiberalVoice — Your source for everything about liberals and progressives! — News and tweets about everything liberals and progressives

  26. Over the last few months I have been having my eyes opened to see things I didn’t want to see, to understand truths I didn’t want to believe.
    I am sorry for the thoughts I have nurtured in ignorance, for the blindness I have embraced in my pride.
    I am listening now. I want to see. I want to understand.

  27. Pingback: In the wake of Charleston | Irresistibly Fish

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