How do we respond to the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine dead after a shooter entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a Bible study? How do we respond?
Maybe like me, you’ve been walking around with heavy heart from upon hearing of the news, maybe you find yourself easily agitated when it’s discussed on television, online, or in person. For me, I find myself angry every time I think about the suspect joining them for an hour during their Bible study. I imagine people said hello to him, I imagine them welcoming the stranger. They likely assumed he was seeking God and perhaps the community of others. I find myself baffled that he didn’t change his intent but rather he still carried out his hideous and deadly plan that was rooted in blatant racism towards the black community. I am shocked and angry and grieving.
This is cause for grief. During such times, I am among those that believe a first and necessary step is to grieve and lament such moments. This happened, it’s tragic suffering, it’s senseless, it’s evil = we lament and grieve.
At every cultural tragedy, there are many who are asking another set of questions towards the seemingly non-grieving. “Why aren’t you hurting with me/us and grieving too?” and “Why does it appear that you never grieve any of the cultural tragedies?” and “Do you only grieve your pain?” Among many other legitimate questions, one that some need to answer in their own hearts is “Do you ever grieve for a black person?”
It would do our nation and our world well if these questions would be wrestled with. These questions lead to a wresting with soul, conversation with friends, a desire to be informed and engaged versus merely opinionated and self-occupied. This might also lead to grief and as you well know there are only some lessons one can learn in the season of grief. Sometimes God speaks only when the heart is truly broken.
That said, I want to be careful that I do not lead you or myself down a new road of legalism. Not everyone can lament and grieve every societal tragedy. Some are going through their own crisis and tragedies and for some, their capacity to grieve is full. May God be with them. Perhaps you have experienced the surreal fog that surrounds you for such a time. It also might do us well to remember that we cannot grieve every instance of evil in our world, our hearts were not made for such a thing. And further, it might be helpful to remember that only God is able to grieve alongside each soul that breathes life here.
Again, no one can grieve all the pain of the world, that’s not human, but it also seems un-human not to grieve any pain outside of our own? And it seems highly disconcerting that one might only grieve a very particular type of tragedy. What I am not calling for is that everyone only focus on Charleston, that every status update and social media expression be on this shooting. I’m not suggesting that we cancel our weekend and change our Father’s Day plans. But to not acknowledge within one’s heart, to not stop and feel the pain, to not offer a prayer or a hope of well-being for the suffering, to not think, aspire and work towards a better world and future – is that possible? To pursue this line of thought further out-loud risks further judgment but it’s an observation found in sincerity and I find myself trying to think and pray my way through it while understanding more of what’s happened in Charleston.
Indeed there are times when one must open their hearts, put aside their pre-occupation, uncover any apathy and pause even their legitimate priorities and stop, and cry. For many of us, and dare I say most of us, the Charleston Tragedy is such a time. So how do respond? We pray, we mourn, we join the side of the grieving, we allow the societal questions and conversations to disrupt our lives in hopes that we find solutions that bring less pain and more good. May God give us strength.
We’ve all been hearing that our world is increasingly volatile and highly reactionary and one thought that is coming sharper into focus is that things will get even worse because hurt and dysfunction always spread. And these days they feel like they are spreading faster than hope and goodness. May we be among the ones that work towards the latter and these days, it begins with grief and prayers of lament.