When I was in the fourth grade in 1970 South Carolina was celebrating its Tricentennial. Imagine three hundred years of statehood! (I live in Idaho now, and it has been a state for a mere 125 years.) For the Tricentennial, a park called Charles Towne Landing was built with 300 years of artifacts and history depicting the lives of the people who had been native to the land and those who made it their home; and of course, those who were brought as slaves to serve the particular settlers who owned plantations and lived according to a code that made sense to them alone.
In college and as a young adult, Charleston was a mecca to go to for the beaches or with the party-goers for the great clubs and bars and an occasional big name concert appearance. In 1989 Hurricane Hugo ripped through Charleston and I was there with the American Red Cross. I had just completed Disaster Services Human Resources Training and spent three weeks in the field delivering food to people who were in all sorts of disarray. I kept thinking of the people of a church where we delivered food on one of the barrier islands in Charleston after Hugo. These folks had almost their entire church roof ripped off by the hurricane yet they were setting up a food distribution center to take care of the community and going forth to do God’s work. I remember that they asked our crew from the food truck to come to Sunday services and we did. We might have been the only white faces there but we simply felt like the family of God in His house. We were welcomed and there was joy like no other in that place. Except for seeing the sky because of the missing roof, you wouldn’t have any reason to believe that anything was amiss that day! These people knew how to glorify and worship their Creator. I learned more about lifting up and adoring God that day than I had in a lifetime of reverent liturgical protestant services. This church was alive with the Holy Spirit!
I read reports of people who were shocked that Emanuel AME was having services on the Sunday following the shootings, but I didn’t expect anything less. I’ve seen comments that “everybody” in the South is a racist. I believe there are surely plenty in the South as well as many other places but there are lots more people who are not racists. Just because a person is from a community or a family where there is prejudice or hatred or judgement that does not sentence them to living a life carrying those beliefs. Every person decides for himself or herself what to think and how to act. Does everyone in a family or a town or same club or same church have to like the same color? Or the same food? Do they all have to like the same books or movies? Wear the same style clothes or hair? Dig a little deeper. Do they have the same religion, work ethic, bedtime, philosophies of life? Get real!
I’m very proud of the families of the victims of the Emanuel AME tragedy. Their faith and Christian response is admirable and I hope for that kind of strength when I have trials. I hope that some good can come from this sad and tragic loss. Maybe the people of SC who continue to glamorize the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Old South with take notice of the harm it can do in the mind of a person like Dylann Roof. To him maybe it’s more than just a memorial of a time past, it empowers hatred and fuels a need to turn the clock back to a time when he feels that hate was acceptable.And so my heart is heavy for the people of Charleston as they mourn a great loss and my prayers go with them. For the families of the nine, I pray for comfort in the loss and strength to face each new day with purpose and joy. I also pray for Dylann Roof, that he listens to the families’ admonitions and repents and seeks to know the only One who can save him from eternal damnation. To the Roof family I pray for peace from what must be hell on earth. Finally, after a lifetime of hearing “the South’s gonna rise again”, maybe just a new phrase will come from this like “the South will rise above it, together and for all!”