Sunday, June 21, 2015

After Charleston: Somehow America Must Still Keep the Faith

"I want to say to you this morning, my friends, that somewhere along the way you should discover something that's so dear, so precious to you, that is so eternally worthful, that you will never give it up....great faith that grips you so much that you will never give it up. Somehow you go on and say 'I know that the God that I worship is able to deliver me, but if not, I'm going on anyhow...'"
--Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.

They keep on going on, anyhow. They keep the faith.

Let that be the news this week.  Let this be at least some piece of good news, a direct challenge to all the bad news, awful news, unfathomable news, such incredibly sad news.

Last Sunday morning, less than four days after nine members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, were gunned down in a bible study, murdered in cold blood by a hateful white supremacist gunman; just eighty six hours after the sacredness of their sanctuary and church was violated by evil violence, hundreds of Emmanuel's members, friends and supporters all went to church. Returned to their church. Turned and returned to God. Leaned into, and leaned upon God's everlasting arms and hopes. Reassembled their community and reaffirmed their historic faith.  

Even after losing their pastor and their shepherd, still those Emmanuel folks did the one thing, the only thing, in a way, that they could do.  As Interim Pastor Neville Goff declared from the pulpit of "Mother Emmanuel" as the church is known in AME circles, "A lot of people expected us to do something strange and to break out in a riot. Well, they just don't know us. We are people of faith."

Faith, and so they keep on going on, anyhow.

Even before Emmanuel's Sunday worship service, relatives of the nine victims: in faith they spoke words of forgiveness to the accused shooter. Forgiveness and mercy!  Said victim Ethel Lance's daughter: "I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you...You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you." Felicia Sanders, mother of victim Tywanza Sanders and a survivor of the shooting said, "Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. May God have mercy on you."

They keep on going on, forgiving somehow, in faith.

As a child of God, a white American, a pastor, and a fellow person of faith I am in awe of these faith-filled responses. Would I, if so hurt and wounded, respond with such grace or might I instead just lash out? Give myself over to cynicism and despair? Let the headlines roll on by until the next mass shooting or act of domestic terror and then go back to my largely privileged and protected life?  We've been through this cultural script far too many times before. As a nation I fear we are numbed to it all now: to violence, racism, bias, and our wild west gun culture.

What then can we do? Must we do? Have faith.  FAITH.

Stand with the people of Emmanuel and like minded and like hearted folks everywhere.  To keep the faith and keep on going on. To keep on keeping on. To keep on demanding that we live up to our highest ideals: liberty and justice and mercy for all, all, no one left out.  Finally it is all about faith.  Faith in God whose heart breaks whenever a child of God dies unnecessarily.  Faith in an America whose dream of brother and sisterhood has to come true one day. Faith.
This faith does not deny the pain and heartbreak of the killings.  Does not ignore the collective sorrow of families and neighborhoods, a city shattered by the loss of nine souls, here one moment, gone the next.  "I'm going to Bible Study.  I'll be home later. Love you!" Such rock solid faith to carry on does not turn us away from the injustice of it all.  The anger. The fear.

Instead an unbreakable faith directly challenges the truth of intolerance still so deeply embedded in America's collective social DNA. Faith declares racism is always wrong and always against God's hope for the world. Faith refuses to break even while being bent. It refuses to meet violence with violence, even as some politicians line up to call for the execution of the accused gunmen. Faith declares that even in the shadow of so many African-Americans suffering as a result of our nation's original sin, still our faith to work for better days must not be moved or bowed or broken or destroyed. 

We must keep on going on in faith. There is no other way. There is no other choice, save a continuing downward spiral into even more death and more rage and more bad news.  Do we as a country and a people have the faith of our witnesses at Emmanuel AME, faith enough to go on?  To pray and work for peace.  To be in relationship with folks the world deems as "the other".  To recognize, in the words of Reverend King, that, "I cannot be who I ought to be if you are not who you out to be.”

In faith, the folks of Emmanuel keep on going.  In faith we must too.  God help us all.

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