Tag Archives: Dylann Roof

In Memory of the Emanuel Nine: Looking for the words

Image result for names of the emanuel 9I looked at their faces this morning and sighed.  “God, help us.”  One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Lives.

They say a cat has nine lives.  But, how many lives does hate have?  Why won’t it die?  How does it continue to live after this?  How can we let it live on in us after this?

Two years ago, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Myra Thompson, Rev. DePayne Middleton- Doctor and Rev. Daniel Simmons went to church and were murdered by twenty- one year old Dylann Roof.   As both a pastor and a parishioner, this hurts in places I can’t get to and it messes with my faith.

The only death that I think about while in church is that of Christ’s but there’s no crime tape.  No body bag.  No bullets.  No blood.

The Holy Scriptures talk about God as a place of safety and refuge.  And for hate to show up in a place where African Americans have gone to shield themselves from the assaults of society, find solace and support, express themselves apart from the restrictions of the social construct of race and to be seen and fully accepted is tragically unfair.  For this sacred space, a “church home” to be targeted by hate is incomprehensible.

I don’t know what to say or where to find the words to express this grief.  It goes down deep.  I shuffle my feet and begin to put my head between my knees.  I think that I am going to be sick.

“God help us.”

Taking down statues and taking back history: Symbols that segregate

Image result for jefferson davis statue removed

Recently, there has been a push to remove symbols of America’s racial past, specifically those related to American slavery.  In 2015, the Confederate flag came under scrutiny in North Carolina after the murder of nine worshippers at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church by 21 year old Dylann Roof.  Roof wanted to start a race war and the flag seemed to hail a time when African American bodies were legally the enemy, the inhumane, the property of another.  Their death, his aim and that flag reminded many Americans that things had not changed, that we were not as progressive as our politics would have us to believe.

The fight over the flag is proof that some Americans were still on the Confederate side of history, that secession had occurred some place deeper and within the hearts of Americans.  Taking it down was an effort to take back again the truth that Africans and later African Americans were not created as property but as people.  Still, the tug-o-war continues.

And while there are those who would downplay the attack on Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church as an anomaly or the work of some secret hate group that somehow evaded our surveillance for a moment, that would suggest that Roof somehow broke loose from an otherwise harmless group with a morally reprehensible message, that he just got riled up and took it too far, then we are only lying to ourselves.  Furthermore, our ability to take this position is a privileged one as we cannot walk in his victims’ shoes.  They are buried under six feet of earth and less we trample over their graves by dismissing or diminishing the hatred that was expressed in their murders, we might take a few minutes to examine the signposts that led Roof to them.

New Orleans is the latest to remove a symbol of the Confederacy, that is the eleven slave- holding secessionist states of the U.S.  Its members did not want to let go of African American bodies and the statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, reminds us of that.  This history is repeated by the presence of his image, told from his perspective.  Towering above us as a kind of giant, he is positioned to look down on us.

It is comparable to empowering the confessions of an oppressor.  For those who have been oppressed, they are not interested in his side of the story for it makes them no less enslaved and no more free.  Besides, they know what he thinks and the last thing they need is a reminder of his power and presence in their lives.

Putting the past behind us is not the goal but putting persons in their rightful place is.  Statues are reserved for champions, heroes, heroines, leaders, martyrs and idols.  Which one do you suspect Davis is?  Because we don’t memorialize villains, right?  Or are we expected to believe that he was a good, slave- holding person?

Still, there are those who want to leave the granite figure and the past as it is.  They conclude that we cannot change history and removing this symbol does nothing.  But, is this true?

Symbols serve as historical markers, representatives of meanings past.  Unlike a picture, these statues are worth more than words but are tied to experiences and ideologies that have cost the dignity, emotional and mental health and very lives of persons not socially colored white.  And when we erect monuments that reference actions we now understand to be offensive at least and inhumane at worst, we reinjure and suggest that the symbol and not our words carry more weight.

And what is hidden or being held in place by these cultural tokens and signposts?  Why do we choose these graven and woven images instead of relationships?  What of these symbols have a hold on us and get in the way of us practicing community?

Why would we pledge allegiance to a Confederate flag over and against our fellow brother or sister?  Why would we allow a statue to speak for us, material that we have molded and sculpted to get in between us?  How can we call ourselves the United States when we have symbols that segregate?


What the language of apology can do

While the Washington Post reports that there is a surge in hate graffiti in my area and video of the confession of Dylann Roof, accused murderer of nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015, has been released to the public, I am praying that more stories like the ones emerging from the protest of the North Dakota pipeline are on the rise.  Below is proof that if we could all learn the language of apology, then we could talk reconciliation.

There is power in truth- telling, in stepping forward and raising our hands to say, “I did it.”  There is courage in the acknowledgement of fault and seeking accountability for wrong- doing.  It takes a strong person to say, “I have wronged you.”

Anyone can stand to take the credit but there are few who will step from the shadows and break the silence to take the blame.

More than a personal reflection, it is a survey of one’s character that reports all of our findings: “I have lied to you, tricked you, hurt and harassed you, oppressed you, stolen from you, cheated you, murdered you.”  No shuffling of feet, no blame- shifting but an eye- to- eye confession, we are not ashamed to show our faces and we look into the faces of those we have done harm.

Not a deathbed confession, our reputation will suffer.  We cannot close our eyes to see death, comforting in knowing that we will never have to face it again.  This is not for those who just need to get it off their chest.  Reconciliation is compelled by love.

Recently, military veterans went to Standing Rock to apologize and to ask for their forgiveness.  “We’ve hurt you in so many ways.  We’ve come to say we’re sorry.”





We will say more names

A few days ago, I wrote about the death of Mr. Alton Sterling in a police- involved shooting in Baton Rouge.  “I don’t want to say another name” was written from a place of distress and emotional exhaustion.  I just could not take another death, another loss and frankly, another win for the social construct of race.  I never could have imagined that I would revisit this scene again in the same week; though this time, my view was a lot closer.

I am in the car with Diamond Reynolds and her four year old daughter.  She is recording the death of her fiancé, Mr. Philando Castile and live- streaming it on Facebook Live.  He has been shot multiple times and her first reaction is to pick her phone to record the incident.  This is both telling and troubling.

She knows that her word won’t be enough.  Her eyes don’t matter.  Instead, she will need more eye witnesses, more viewers.  In an interview with Fox 5 in Washington, D.C., Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown professor and well-known public intellectual, compared her to Mamie Till, who decided to have an open casket funeral for her 14- year old son, Emmett Till, who was kidnapped, beaten, lynched, shot and then dumped in the Tallahatchie River in the summer of 1955.

It is as if the scene has been paused; the officer is still holding his gun.  The officer, now identified as Jeronimo Yanez, is agitated.  And it is Ms. Reynolds who is composed and respectful, still addressing the officer as “sir.”  She does not want to be his next victim.

Mr. Castile’s breathing is shallow and she thinks that he has died.  More police arrive and Ms. Reynolds holds the camera and her composure until they put her in the backseat of a police car.  She screams and I scream with her.  The world hears her four year old daughter comfort her, “It’s okay mommy. I’m here with you.”  I have a three year old son.  He would have said this to me too.

Heart- breaking. Heart- destroying.  Gut- wrenching.  Sickening.  Frightening.  Paralyzing.  Angering.  Mobilizing.  Marching.  Standing.  Shouting to the top of my lungs, “I’m here with you!”

In the video, Ms. Reynolds asks for prayers. “Please pray for us.”  No confidence in the police department, the justice system or hope for our shared humanity, Ms. Reynolds believes that it will take divine power.  I agree.  Only God can help us now.

Whether we join hands, put our hands up or our hands in our pockets and look down at the ground because we don’t want to get involved, the outcome is the same.

But, THIS is wrong.  Not “I made a mistake” wrong.  Not “I had no idea” wrong.  Not “let me make it up to you” wrong.  This is historically, factually, presently and always wrong.

Still in shock and while I am processing these two scenes in Louisiana and Minnesota, there is another.  This time, we are in Dallas and it is the police officers who are the target and the victims.  Thirteen people are wounded, including one civilian.  Five police officers are killed by suspected shooter and U.S. military veteran, Micah Johnson.

More names.  Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Brent Thompson, Michael Smith and Patrick Zamarripa.

The fear and hopelessness is spreading.  Officers are told to work in pairs.  There are reports of more ambush- style attacks on police who are called to a scene only to be shot at.  If we do not practice the law fairly, the citizens will attempt to balance the scales.  Lawlessness is inevitable and it seems that we are heading toward a race war.  Dylann Roof  says, “Thank you.”  This is what he wanted.

We will say more names because we do more politicizing and propangandizing than truth- telling, more feigning ignorance than owning our complicity, more deflecting and finger- pointing than hand- holding, more blame- shifting than assigning responsibility, more self- victimization instead of comforting those who mourn, more asking for an explanation instead of seeking an understanding, more looking down at the ground instead of looking into the eyes of another human being, more justifying than apologizing, more denying than accepting, more beating around the bush instead of chopping it down and digging up its roots.

The fruit of race is “a strange fruit.”   Still, we continue to eat it though we know that it is poisonous.  But, the privileges are so sweet and the pain so familiar.  So, we pass the race at our tables as we say more names.



When ‘Satan Goes to a Prayer Meeting’

prayer meetingI love prayer. Despite the popularity of social media, status updates and tweets do not compare to sharing a prayer request with God. There is no better connection.

The fact that we can be in direct dialogue with the Divine, a kind of call and response between heaven and earth, amazes me. I delight in the sounds and scenes of prayer, the moans and sighs, the bowing of heads and bending of knees, the folding of hands and quieting of minds. I am grateful for the reverence expressed and the reminder that God is listening out for us.

I appreciate the variety of prayers — contemplative and silent, communal and chatty, spontaneous and written. I love prayer groups and prayer chains. I even write a prayer newsletter for our member churches at the District of Columbia Baptist Convention and a column, Pray-Her, for Smyth & Helwys’s blog. Cheryl Sacks wrote a book, The Prayer-Saturated Church, but I think I am well on my way to becoming a prayer-saturated person.

I spent my formative years in weekly prayer meetings, seated next to my grandmother, Sister Thomas. Attending church was my extracurricular activity and I felt naturally gifted to serve. When I was not in church, I would practice with my cousins. We called it “playing church,” as we would pretend that we were the preacher, a deacon, an usher or one of the mothers of the church. You can guess which one I was.

A mid-week service for blue-collar workers on a nameless country dirt road, it was essential to the community’s emotional, personal, physical, social and spiritual well-being. The church services kept us going and kept our heads up. While it did not have the resources of today’s megachurches with barber shops and beauty salons, gyms and exercise classes, banking centers and conference-style meetings rooms, it still met our needs. Besides, our church membership extended beyond the building as we went shopping and out to dinner together often.

There was nothing perfunctory about the prayer meetings. With no printed program, we left the service’s order up to the Holy Spirit as persons were invited to sing and testify, to tell of the goodness of God made evident in their lives or to share of suffering or testing for which they requested our prayers. Anyone could testify but everyone began with these words: “First giving honor to God who is the head of my life, to the pastor, visitors, saints and friends.”

Now an adult and an associate pastor, I lead our time of prayer. While I write down my prayer, the order is left up to the Holy Spirit. And I still first give honor to God who is the head of my life.

“Satan goes to a prayer meeting” is the title of a sermon by the late Reverend C.L. Franklin. It appears on a sermon collection released in 1994. I was reminded of the title on June 17, 2015, when I learned of the murder of nine church members, including the pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The horrific acts put Charleston, S.C., on the map as authorities tried to locate the suspected killer, Dylann Roof.

In light of this sad reality, I was stunned to hear of this “campaign to eliminate hell.” I didn’t know that it was a goal or an expressed need of America’s Christians: better education, better economy, more jobs and no hell. I suspect that it is the privileged view of those seated in academia’s ivory tower with its socially-engineered greener grass. But it’s foolishness to those whose communities are burning and an unstable perspective. Light and darkness, mountain and valley, salvation and sin, these combinations are the human condition — at least for some of us.

Furthermore, our desire to rework God’s plan so that everyone fits into heaven, to relocate those who have done evil because it makes us feel better about God and ourselves is misplaced. It sounds a bit like Oprah: “You go to heaven and you to heaven.” While we are “the hands and feet of Christ,” our hands don’t balance God’s scales.

Besides, if everyone is a “good person,” then the nails in Christ’s hands are meaningless. That’s not tradition but the gospel and our story, summed up in a popular Sunday school memory verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16).

God’s love requires justice — because sin matters. If not, then what is the hope of the world’s victims, the vulnerable and those deemed valueless? Are they mere scrap people, piled into an overcrowded prison system, crammed into tight, poverty-stricken areas or sold for pleasure in our lust-driven world? What is the good news for those nine praying members?

Evil is real and the Devil does not come in a red jump suit. Though I am not suggesting that Roof or any other person who commits heinous acts is Satan or even beyond the saving grace of God, I am certain that good and bad do not pray well together, that bowed heads should not have bullets in them and that evil is present with all of us (Romans 7.21).

For those who have rightly judged the Church due to hypocrisy, sexual misconduct, spiritual abuse and financial mismanagement, what do we do when the Church is the victim? When we welcome the stranger in love and he turns out to be a hate-spewing enemy? When a church becomes a crime scene and yellow tape covers the stained glass, it’s probably not the best time to talk about the end of hell. But when Satan comes to a prayer meeting, it certainly changes the order of things.

I couldn’t find meaning in their murders then and I cannot come to terms with it now. I suspect that it will take many more prayer meetings.

*This post was featured as an Op- Ed for Baptist News Global and was published on June 9, 2016.