For some communities the age of terrorism began long before the attacks on September 11th. Living in perpetual fear and trauma they know firsthand the impacts violence, crime, poverty, or isolation can have on the human psyche. For them it seems as if deep loss and pain calls out to greater misfortune and they’re ever submerged under waves of sorrow. In a sense, they’ve learned how to make their home in the valley of the shadow of death all the while maintaining hope of life on top of the mountain. Dredging through valleys is not uncommon for certain communities and they’ve the challenge of balancing grief and new normalcy. A year ago today, our country collectively entered that valley when a gunman walked into a bible study at “Mother” Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Indicative of our African heritage and Christian character the attendees extended hospitality to a stranger and welcomed him among them. However, what ensued was the manifestation of evil as their neighbor, beguiled by a force that opposes good, became unneighborly. In his wake, nine people were killed, families shattered, and a nation was brought to its knees in disbelief and prayer. The trauma of terrorism felt by so many marginalized communities was now felt nationally as our collective conscious sank in sorrow.
Like the prophets of old, we tore our proverbial clothes, wept aloud, swore and sat in dismay. It was incomprehensible that someone would walk into holy space and commit such an unholy act. We strained to fathom how sacred space could become the place of profaneness. We watched as details surfaced and resonated with the stories shared by the victims loved-ones. In a sense, they were our mothers, fathers, pastors, brothers, sisters and friends. We understood that not only were those lives taken from Charleston but they were taken from America. They were taken from a wider village that was tired of racial disparity, inequity and violence. They were snatched from a people who had grown weary of senseless shootings, bigotry and ignorance. So, our collective tiredness and mourning turned into shared action. We as a family were not going to sit idly by as erroneous ideologies widened the gap of our brotherly love. We used this egregious event as the platform to address the issue of race that still pervades this country and the necessity for gun control. Collectively, we were not going to allow those who lost their lives to die in vain.
As we recall what happened a year ago in Charleston, we now add the names of those who died at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida last weekend also due to senseless violence. There, fifty lives were cut short as a gunman walked into a known gay club and commenced the largest targeted mass shooting in U.S. history. Instead of extending the hospitality he’d received, he handed out pain. That pain was not limited to those who felt the sting of a bullet, but extends to those who survived and are left with the horrific memories. It extends to the families of the victims and America. Once more, we prophetically weep and condemn violence against those whose sexual orientation is anything other than heterosexual. We weep because of loss and mourn because of hatred. We sorrow because of one persons ignorance. We wail because another sanctuary has been desecrated. Yes, like “Mother” Emanuel AME Church, which was safe space for congregants to exercise and explore their faith more deeply, Pulse nightclub was hollowed ground for the same. It was safe space where party-goers asked tough questions and gained insight. As they danced, sang, shouted cried and laughed they were reminded of the spiritual reality that awaits us all. In a church and a club both found room to recline from the cares of the world.
Now, in the shadow Orlando we must decide to confront head-on the issue of violence against the LGBTQ community. We must decide how their lives will be memorialized. Let us contend that a loss of any life is reason to bemoan and work towards maintaining safe space for people to live fully into themselves. May we conclude that racial epithets, religious intolerance and violence against those who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender or queer will not be tolerated. In fact, those who promulgate such insensitivity are the anomaly. I pray we model acceptance and instruct our children to do the same. Let us stand rally for greater gun control. Pastors must remind congregants that the church is still safe space - for them and the stranger. The young must continue to dance, sing, shout and joy. Collectively, we must correct unsound ideologies, clarify misperceptions and practice an ethic of love. This will tough, but it’s the work to which we have been invited.
Feb 2016 Statement from Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
June 21 - Call for Acts of Amazing Grace
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