In the Face of Violence

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.

Light and Pine artwork; Charleston Names

“Even when we are still unsure of so much, we must honor these men and women – these victims, whose lives were taken in a brutally violent way because of the color of their skin. These are their names. They had stories and lives and families, like we all do, cut short by this heartbreaking violence, and it’s not okay. We must do better, as allies and family and coworkers and friends and fellow citizens and humans. We must.” Art and wisdom courtesy of Helen Boggess at Light and Pine http://www.lightandpine.com

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.

Stay Informed, With or Without Opinions

The last few weeks have lit the internet up with stories and opinions on every piece of tragic news. First there was the Israel and Palestine conflict, then Robin Williams death, and now the horrible situation occurring in Ferguson, MO.

With each emerging story I have considered whether or not to write and share my own set of thoughts. Sometimes having a blog makes me feel overly responsible, as if I need to be constantly ahead of trends and declaring my opinions on every piece of news. Thankfully this isn’t true, and instead of making claims I’m not an expert in I can stay informed through the words and opinions of others.

So instead of repeating what is already out there, here is a list of some of the most important stories and opinions I’ve found regarding current events:
Regarding Robin Williams and depression:

Regarding the Situation in Ferguson, MO:
police

Photo by Mary R. Vogt, courtesy of morgueFile

Regarding the conflict in Israel and Palestine:
Sadly, we can now add the conflict in Iraq to this list, as well as the Ebola virus in Africa and continued tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Although the internet is never a perfect vehicle, it does allow us to stay informed about a lot more than what was previously possible.

To be clear, my intention in sharing these articles is not about political opinions or staunch outcries on one side or another. I typically see myself as a middle-ground type who plays the mediator role in conflict. However, I think a lot of people hesitate to even read these kind of news stories or opinions because they are afraid of having to pick a side. Ignorance is not the answer to the difficult challenges in our world; you don’t have to pick a side, but you should at least know the truth of what is going on.
 
For Christians especially, we should not hide in a false security of religious withdrawal. When Jesus prayed for his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, he was specific in distinguishing them as people who would not separate themselves from the world, but rather do his work in and among unbelievers.
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”
(John 17: 15-19)
In fact, as Christians we should be some of the first people to speak out against the kind of injustice, depression, and lies that go against the gospel of God’s love. I repeat: this should not be political, nor should it be about right and wrong. The life of Jesus was more about compassion for the hurting, not proving a point. As his followers, we should do the same by knowing what is happening in the world, praying for peace, and contributing love to the conversation.

Have you read any other good articles on these subjects?