A tragedy happened in Charleston, South Carolina last night. It is easy to respond with anger and outrage, but there are other important responses we should keep in mind.
In the face of violence, we must grieve.
A state senator, a pastor, a grandmother, a wife, a cousin, a coach, a librarian, a student, and a leader were all lost last night in Charleston. They were each wonderful people, and we should mourn their loss. There was also a lost young man, who we must pray for and grieve for as well.
Grief has no time limit, no easy answers. Grief should not be sped up or moved aside. Grief is normal and necessary. We must all grieve in our own ways, which means really absorbing the reality of what happened and understanding its impact in our lives. Because it does affect each one of us, regardless of our skin color or location or age.
In the face of violence, we must come together.
What happened in Charleston last night was not an isolated incident. It is not the first hate crime against innocent people. It is not something that can be solved or fixed. It is not something to deal with alone.
Systemic problems can only be changed by collective will power. American history has been stained and bleached many times. The tragedies and pain are part of the story, but so are the movements and efforts that created positive, monumental change.
Brene Brown, on her blog today, wrote these wise words:
“Until we find a way to own our collective stories around racism in this country, our history and the stories of pain will own us…This is not bigger than us. This is us.”
In the face of violence, we must speak out.
It is easy to read the headlines, and say this is a terrible thing, then move on. I went through work today smiling and happy, trying to pretend like I didn’t have to say anything. I thought about what to write about and avoided facing the only real option. Because what happened in Charleston is frustrating, and difficult, and heartbreaking. But it can’t be ignored.
Charles P. Pierce, in his article on esquire.com, wrote:
“What happened in a Charleston church on Wednesday night is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not is “unspeakable.” We should speak of it often. We should speak of it loudly. We should speak of it as terrorism, which is what it was. We should speak of it as racial violence, which is what it was.”
There are too many questions we ignore. What leads a young man to decide that killing 9 people will solve his anger or hatred? How can we generate a culture of compassion rather than fear? What makes someone believe that isolated violence solves nationwide problems? Why can’t we overcome misguided stereotypes and assumptions based on skin color?
Most importantly, how can we change those ways of thinking and prevent future violence? These questions must be asked, spoken about, and kept alive. Violence in the dark only continues when we forget to keep shining the light on it.
In the face of violence, we must hope.
I cried today as I read the stories of each victim and looked at pictures of their smiling faces. My heaving chest could not bear the weight of why this happened, and my tears were thick with disillusionment. Even as the waters receded, my eyes had hardened with the weight of exhaustion.
Then I read an entry in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest that said:
Human frailty is another thing gets between God’s words of assurance and our own words and thoughts. When we realize how feeble we are in facing difficulties, the difficulties become like giants, we become like grasshoppers, and God seems to be nonexistent. But remember God’s assurance to us “I will never forsake you.”
God has not forsaken our country. God has not forsaken people of color. God has not forsaken those who operate out of violent fear. God has not forsaken our broken world.
I do not have all the answers, and on days like today it feels like I don’t even have words. I am grateful for the words of others, those I’ve included here and more beyond that, speaking truth into hard places. We may be feeble, and the difficulties may seem like giants, but we can have hope in those who speak out, those who come together, and a God who is good even in the face of evil.