Friday, June 19, 2015

Mourn With Those Who Mourn (Lessons From Job)

On Wednesday night, as I was cheering at a baseball game, a 21 year old male entered a church and shot and killed nine people. Nine people who loved Jesus, their families, their community. Nine people who everyday went about making the world a better place in big and small ways. Nine people. Gone. The world seems a little less bright for the loss of them.

I didn't hear about it until the next day. My cell phone vibrated with a CNN update.
One white gunman. Nine people. Killed because of the color of their skin. My spirit groaned. How? How was this happening now? In a year that has seen the black community attacked again and again...and now, this most horrifying terroristic attack.

I was at once exhausted, ashamed, and deeply grieved. There were no words. I am truly grateful for Scripture that says when we have no words to pray, the Holy Spirit translates our groans. Because that is all I had. And to be honest, in trying to put my feelings to words, that is still all I have. Like Daniel, Nehemiah, Jeremiah and other prophets I have spent the last couple of days in a spirit of deep repentance...not because of my sin, but the sin of my people. My heart hurts not only for the families of those lost but for the black community. I am weary of the violence...I can only imagine how they must feel. I think of soldiers suffering battle fatigue and post traumatic stress do they continue to hope in "it will get better"?

I finally understand the practice of mourning in ashes. If I could, I would sit in a corner and grieve but even the families of the victims aren't left alone to isn't in our culture.

Job lost everything. He is sitting in the ashes mourning his losses and his friends come. Seeing him, they tear their clothes, sprinkle ashes on their heads and sit with him. They mourn with him. They sit there with him for seven days and seven nights and no one speaks, they sit there with their friend. And no one says a word.

I fell in love with Job the first time I read it. Before that I thought it was three chapters: Satan challenges God and God let's Satan take away everything. Job's wife tells Job to curse God. Job doesn't. God gives Job everything back times two. But that is not the story of Job. Job is a man deeply confused by what is happening. Deeply saddened. Everything he thought about life untrue. A man who is hurting and struggling. He wants answers. He wants the chance to defend himself. He wants God to explain...I understand all of that. Especially this week.

I once told a pastor about my love for Job. I told him I loved how the friends sat with Job for days without speaking, just being there for him. I just didn't understand why, when they opened their mouths, they could screw it up so badly. The pastor explained the silence was actually because they were following ancient Jewish custom. If you went to the home of someone in mourning, you did not speak until they spoke. In this case, it took a week. Maybe Job's friends should have taken a little longer before they spoke.

I bring all of this up for a reason. While all of us grieve the loss of those nine people, the black community mourns most of all...for so many things. I believe it is our job to sit along beside them. To tear our clothes, throw ash on our head, and sit in mourning. In a figurative sense of course. But in that posture. And when the black community speaks, it is our job to comprehend and empathize...and then to speak. Because, we desperately need to speak. We need to speak love for our brothers and sisters and acknowledgements of the hurts. We need to speak out against racism both overt and subtle. We need to speak out against injustice whether it be the treatment of black men and women by those law enforcement officers who act inappropriately or downright criminally. We need to speak out at the way the media handles these stories. We need to speak out against racism being protected as "free speech"(I am looking at you, Confederate flag).

But we have to be careful...because, like Job's friends...we can completely miss the point and we can really screw things up the moment we open up our mouth.

While we need to speak, we need to watch what we say...from the outright denial of feelings...the denial that a "hate crime" is a real thing...the stance that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of oppression for an entire race of people...the subtle word smithing so that a terroristic act is an individual-indeed isolated-event...the distractions of the shooter's family history or possible mental illness...or the outright denial this was a racist act (An attack on religion??? Really??? How many white churches do you think this guy had to drive by before he got to his target?).

We do not need to tell the community how to mourn, push them to forgiveness, to counting their blessings, to move on...we need to mourn with those who mourn...for as long as they mourn. We need to hear their perspective instead of pushing our own. We not only need to see their point of view but understand it. We need to ask the questions...what is it you need or want us to do, to say? I get that some of these conversations are scary but it is time to put aside fear and discomfort for the sake of reconciliation.

Job spends chapter after chapter wanting to make his case, to understand why, to have God explain. And his friends think they have the answer but they are so far off that when God shows up, He rebukes them and demands their repentance.

Because God does show up. In fact, He was there all the time. And that is what He tells Job. He gives him no explanation, no apology.  He reminds Job that He is God, that He is in control, and that nothing happens without Him being aware. And that is what has given me hope this week. That He is God. That He is in control. That nothing happens without Him being aware. I haven't gotten to the parts where He makes all things beautiful or beauty from ashes or any of that. I am sitting in the ashes with my friends and I pray I don't screw it up. I will not offer trite cliches as condolences and I will not shy away from difficult conversations. I will speak up as my black friends have asked (Or in some cases, demanded. You know who you are and how grateful I am for you.) But I will continue to use the black community as my thermometer. If they tell me the Confederate flag is an issue, then I will engage. If they wonder why the shooter has yet to be described as a "thug," then I am going to ponder that as well. And I am sorry...but no white person gets to be the gage in this. It is an outrageous symptom of our white privilege that we think we speak as authorities in all subjects...but we do not, especially not now.

I am here. I stand with you. I mourn with you. And I continue to do what I can-as blundering an effort as it is-because your life matters. I wish I had a fix all solution or answers to the why. I wish my words were profound enough to tell you how truly sorry I am. I wish he'd walked away.

In honor of...

The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41: A state senator and the senior pastor of Emanuel, he was married to Jennifer Benjamin and the father of two children, Eliana and Malana. He was a 1995 graduate of Allen University and got his master's degree at the University of South Carolina in 1999. He served in the state Legislature starting in 2000; The Post and Courier says black fabric was draped over Pinckney's Senate chamber seat on Thursday.
Cynthia Hurd, 54: According to the Charleston County Public Library, she was a 31-year employee who managed the John L. Dart Library for 21 years before heading the St. Andrews Regional Library. A statement said Hurd "dedicated her life to serving and improving the lives of others." The system closed its 16 branches Thursday to honor Hurd and the others who died in the shooting. County officials also say the St. Andrews library will be named for Hurd.
The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45: A pastor at Emanuel, she was also a speech therapist and high school girls track and field coach, both positions at Goose Creek High School, according to her LinkedIn page. Jimmy Huskey, the school's principal, called her "a true professional ... [who] cared about her students and was an advocate for them." Her son, Chris Singleton, is a baseball player and student at Charleston Southern University. Coleman-Singleton also had two younger children, writes the Post and Courier.
Tywanza Sanders, 26: He was a 2014 graduate in business administration from Allen University in Columbia. Lady June Cole, the interim president of Allen University, described him as "a quiet, well-known student who was committed to his education." Known as Ty, he had worked in sales at department stores such as Belk and Macy's.
Ethel Lance, 70: She had attended Emanuel for most of her life and worked there as a custodian, as well. From 1968 to 2002, she worked as a custodian at Charleston's Gaillard Municipal Auditorium. The Post and Courier quotes a former colleague as saying, "She was funny and a pleasure to be around. And she was a wonderful mother and grandmother."
Susie Jackson, 87: Lance's cousin, she was a longtime church member.
Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49: The mother of four sang in Emanuel's choir. She had previously directed a community development program in Charleston County. In December, she started a new job as an admissions coordinator at the Charleston campus of her alma mater, Southern Wesleyan University. SWU President Todd Voss said: "Always a warm and enthusiastic leader, DePayne truly believed in the mission of SWU to help students achieve their potential by connecting faith with learning. Our prayers go out to family and friends. This is a great loss for our students and the Charleston region."
The Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74: Simmons survived the initial attack but then died in a hospital operating room. He had previously been a pastor at another church in the Charleston area.
Myra Thompson, 59: She was the wife of the Rev. Anthony Thompson, the vicar of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston.
List taken from

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