I 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 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,