It has been a couple of days since a madman walked into a historical black church in Charleston, South Carolina. It has been a couple of days since he chose to make a decision, based on hate and division, that took the lives of 9 innocent black Americans who were studying God’s Word inside the walls of their sanctuary. According to many people close to the investigation, his goal was to start a race war. I haven’t been able to think about anything outside of Charleston since it happened. I think about their families, that community, and everyone across our nation who is mourning the loss of these individuals and I can’t help but to find myself in continuous prayer for them.
I don’t have the words. Before I sat down to write this, I prayed that God might speak through me. I prayed that I would be granted a level of empathy that allowed me to write as someone who knew the people, who lost their lives to utter hatred, personally. And, even though I sit here now, I know my words will still fall short. The state of our nation has taken me through many emotions. There are days when I am angry. There are days when I am disgusted. Some days I feel complacent and desensitized to the constant tragedies unfolding before us on mainstream media. Today? Today, I am completely heartbroken.
Earlier this morning, I took myself to a craft store that is local to my city. I was on the hunt to find the perfect Father’s Day present for my husband. As I navigated the aisles, I found myself standing in the center of the 4th of July decor. I picked up and tiny wood replica of the American Flag. The words “Land that I Love.” were written in the center. My nearly 4 year old chimed in and said “Mommy? What’s that?” As I looked up, I was met with his piercing blue eyes. They were predictably innocent, pure, and hopeful. I knew that his little mind wasn’t ready for me to explain the concept of nations in a great big world yet but I entertained him by saying “This is the American Flag. It’s something that mommy and daddy love very much.”
I’m not a woman that cries often, however, I found myself fighting back tears as I set the flag back down on the shelf. I don’t know what our country will be like when he is my age in the next 20 years. It’s a fear that could devour me whole and paralyze my mind if I allowed myself to think about it too much, however, I’m definitely not naive. At the rate that we are going, I know I won’t be handing over a better world to him. As a special needs little boy, I wish so deeply that I could set him free in a world that did not divide based on religion, gender, race, or sexual orientation. But, that’s life and it’s my job to prepare him to meet the world head on with qualities like grace, kindness, integrity, forgiveness and acceptance.
What does this have to do with Charleston? Everything. When the news broke out on this unspeakable tragedy, I watched. I watched the world respond on social media and I have to be honest, I was disgusted. If you ever want to see the depravity of man in it’s entirety, log into twitter after a horrific crime has been committed against a people group. What people don’t understand is that evil doesn’t just come in the form of murder and other tangible crime. Evil comes from words. Evil resides in callous banter in the face of injustice. Evil is division. Evil is a machine that is easily fed and even harder to extinguish once it starts to burn in our hearts. We are all susceptible to it. We all have it in us. The question is whether or not we will allow it to buy ownership within our minds and our hearts.
The interwebs struck up an instant argument about whether or not this was a hate crime, a terrorist attack, called for gun control, and some people went as far as calling it as a “consequence for a pattern of bad behavior.” If we had to choose a time where people are standing up and saying “enough is enough”, it should be right now. Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, Law Enforcement, Blacks, Whites, Christians, millennials, baby boomers, and everyone else under the same American sky, should be standing up together in a joint force. A great friend of mine, who differs from me in many ways, once told me “People should be cultivating our similarities instead of exploiting our differences.” He couldn’t be closer to the truth. We don’t have to agree on anything in order to be kind and compassionate to one another.
We should never become so desensitized to the loss of human life that we lose our compassion. We should never use tragedy to exploit our own personal agendas. We should stand together. When we all stand together, we stand to be something great.
I have this vision that’s very similar to what we saw in France after the terrorist attack that took the lives of many individuals. Their citizens, politicians, police, and every other walk of life poured into the streets and they held up signs that said “WE ARE NOT AFRAID.” They came together in the face of adversity and they stood up against it. It was, by far, one of the most powerful images I have ever seen in my lifetime. It will resonate with me forever.
Our biggest threat to our great nation is ourselves. We are exploding from within. We are killing each other, disrespecting each other, and drawing sands in the line that create an US vs. THEM mentality. I refuse to ever give up my God given empathy that allows me to understand when it’s time to rise up. And, the time is now. Our churches should be filled with all walks of life this Sunday, whether you are a believer or not. Law Enforcement should respond to this tragedy by locking arms with Black America across the country in demonstration that they will not let hate divide them any further. Liberals and Conservative politicians can drop their differences, bow their heads, and honor the lives that are lost. If you’re not willing to do that, I’m not sure that you’re truly interested in opening the dialog that could bring us together.
One of the most beautiful things about America is that we have the right to our opinions but, our opinions should never take away from our basic human respect for one another. When something is evil, it’s evil. When, by the very definition of law, a hate crime happens, we should be collectively mourning that as a nation. We should be collectively mourning that as a species. If you’re not, the status of your soul and your heart may be in question. A man walked in and killed 9 black Americans because of a very deep darkness in his heart that should be despicable in the eyes of everyone.
As for me, I will continue to teach my child to love regardless of anything outside a person’s integrity. I will teach him to forgive. I will teach him to educate himself and to challenge himself to be better every day. And, I’ll remind myself to follow my own advice. I’m not giving up on hope. I’m not giving up on my country. And, I’m definitely not giving up on my God. There is much work to be done. There is much healing to be had. There is much grace to be received. We are not afraid.
Much love – Elizabeth