Our world has been ripped apart by another act of white supremist terror. How can I respond in some way that makes a difference? By the time you read this, two events will have been held in our community to offer a prayerful and thoughtful response. But as we know, sometime thoughts and prayers, as important as they are, are not enough. For me sometimes I have to go through certain feelings and emotions before I can respond in a meaningful way beyond thought and prayers.
First, this trauma-producing event reminded me of who I am and where I come from. As a southerner approaching 70, I come from a time when bigotry and systemic racism were the law of the land. This current racist event reminded me that I am still infected with racism and bigotry and must struggle daily to overcome my past.
Second, when I heard of this event, I responded with lamentation. I cried, “How long O Lord must this continue?” And, “Will you abandon us to a future that is filled with this kind of white supremist hatred and murder of your people at home and abroad?” Though I am a Christian I know these victims are also God’s people.
Third, closely tied to lament is grief. I grieve for the families and friends of the people left behind by this terrorist act. 50 sacred lives were taken. This loss touches places deep inside me where I, too, have suffered traumatic loss.
Fourth, my thoughts turned to Psalm 137(please read it noting the last two verses) as a reaction to this evil event. I responded with part of my Biblical Heritage, feelings of rage. I don’t want to hear about forgiveness. I want vengeance, not justice, vengeance. My tradition is not afraid of rageful feelings. They are not forbidden, as they are real. However, acting on those feeling is wrong and places us in the same category with the terrorists.
Fifth, when I did think of forgiveness, I knew I am not there. Even more I am not sure I will ever be there. But I was reminded of the terrorist attack on an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Many relatives of the victims, while not lessening the impact of the murders, spoke of a spirit of forgiveness. When asked why their answer was because it was the bedrock of their faith what else could they do.
As I work through all of this, I seek to find something that matters to me and give myself to it. I think that is why I seek to promote interfaith events. I want to work at building bridges and tearing down walls. I would suggest that in light of this act of racist terrorism a way to make a difference is to find one action, even one small action, and do something to make our community and our world a place of peace. It is when many people take small actions that true change can come.