Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p 823)
Today, for our “church without walls” service, I vested in red – the color of “the blood of Jesus,” as one parishioner noted. Only this day, the red signified also the blood of the 9 Christians brutally murdered at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last Thursday.
We spoke about this terror-filled event as a community, and I could tell by the expressions on some of the faces that they were hearing about this tragedy for the first time.
During the Prayers of the People, we prayed for the victims and for the shooter. We prayed for each other and for the Church. We prayed for tolerance for all people.
One congregant took me aside as we were waiting for lunch. “That was awful, Mother Beth. I can’t stop thinking about it,” he said of the shooting, as he shared his feelings of deep pain and upset. “And to think I was so full of hate just like that young man. It was bred into me,” he said of the racism he had been steeped in for much of his growing up, for much of his life (his neo-Nazi tattoos testified to this.)
“But look what Jesus is doing in you,” I remarked, as I looked into his tear-filled eyes. “You remind me that there is hope for all of us.”
This evening, as I mowed my yard, I found myself struggling with something more than grief. It became apparent to me that I carry a wound that can no longer be avoided. It is a wound that comes from the complicity of silence. From the weariness that says, “I haven’t the energy to deal actively with racial injustice; besides I have no idea where to start.”
Twenty-three years ago, I was in Los Angeles during the Rodney King trial, when police officers who were captured on video brutally beating Rodney King, stood trial for their actions. During the time of the trial, I happened to be sponsoring two African American women, who were in rehab. One Saturday night, we went to dinner and a meeting, and the two of them predicted that riots would occur. Blissfully ignorant, I interjected: “How can that be? The police officers are on video beating the man senseless with batons. Of course, they’ll be found guilty!” My friends cast each other a knowing glance as if to say: She may be our mentor, but we need to take the white woman to school. The following week, the riots unfolded in startling fashion from my perspective, but reflecting what was inevitable in my friends’ world.
Today, on Father’s Day, I remember to be proud of the work my father did as a federal judge in the early 70s, drawing up a busing plan to desegregate Duval County when the school board violated federal law by refusing to do so. Our family paid a price during those years. The tension of the time — having people protest and threaten to burn crosses in our front yard; having U.S. Marshalls live with us in our modest. 3-bedroom ranch house; being ostracized by classmates – was like throwing gasoline on the fire of my mother’s alcoholism. It heightened the ever-present sense of anxiety that surrounded us.
What my father did during that divisive, hate-filled time was important. It was a frightening period in our history, and doing the right, just thing took courage. But we had the privilege of having U.S. Marshalls protect us. And my father could have stepped aside, at any given time, like so many others chose to do. We had choices.
I have known my own form of fear, worrying as a child — when my father tried organized crime cases in the midst of threats — if my daddy would make it home okay. I’ve had a tiny taste of what it is to have people – mostly white folks – say hateful, threatening things. But I have never known what it is like to be afraid simply because of the color of my skin.
May the Holy Spirit awaken us to the reality that we are all wounded, we all suffer, whenever and wherever violence and hatred find expression. May Love make itself known in each of us, in our communities and in our world.