Tag Archives: Charleston

Orlando I. Dissonance

I went to a vigil thinking it would make it more real, but what I found was dissonance. As the crowd overflowed the sidewalk and spilled into the street, a cop appeared. “Step into the road, we’ve stopped traffic” he said. “That’s a first,” I mumbled. A young African-American woman turned and met my eyes. “Have you met the Liaison?” She pointed down 10th Street towards a group of three uniformed officers. “Oh. No.” They started that after the Eagle; I am unable to hide my skepticism. Earlier that day I’d read an article that described the 2009 incident at The Eagle as a “botched raid,” as if there is an acceptable way for police to “raid” anywhere, but specifically a not-exactly-mainstream gay bar. When I moved back to Atlanta nine months later, I found a queer community still raw with mistrust, still angry. “You should meet her,” the woman in front of me said as the crowd gently pulled us in opposite directions. The idea that police protect us hung with a question mark in the air between “back then” and “now,” between me white and her Black, between the snipers on the rooftop and the speakers at the podium, between what I believe about the basic goodness of individuals and the terrible realities of institutions and power. I can’t shake the feeling that the legitimacy that stopped traffic was handed to us as a Supreme Court ruling, announced in a windowless courtroom and celebrated nationwide while President Obama eulogized, and while the family buried, Senator and Reverend Clementa Pinckney. It seems as if the whole world is strung together by bullets.  

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“Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.

Sharing this poignant reflection written by Darci Jaret.

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A prayer for forgiveness now could be like a slap in the face.

Almost immediately after seeing the news about this terrible hate crime and terrorist attack at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, I heard white Christians speaking about forgiveness. This verse from Jeremiah jumped into my head, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 8:11)

I was in church today and we prayed for the community of Emmanuel AME Church and the nine people who were killed. I couldn’t be in the moment. I held my breath. My prayer ran counter to the prayer being spoken. I prayed earnestly, “don’t do it, don’t do it”. “Don’t turn this prayer into a call for forgiveness. It’s too soon. I won’t pray that.” Don’t be the priest who calls “Peace, peace…when there is no peace.” But then it happened, the prayer became a weapon as we called the name of the shooter and prayed for the healing of his soul.

We didn’t call the names of the nine people who had died, but we called the killer’s name. This hurt my heart. It felt like a slap in the face. My cries became sobs. I cried for those who died, but I also cried for those suffering. I am suffering. I pray for those not ready to talk about forgiveness. If the church doesn’t give space to feel this pain, we are perpetuating a system that sweeps racial injustice under the rug.

These nine people lost their lives and lest we dehumanize them even further we must speak their names. Susie Jackson, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, and The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

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I want to send a message to white Christians who implore us to forgive the perpetrator of this massacre. You might mean well in a call for peace. The fact still remains that a call for forgiveness can feel like a slap in the face. You might even look and see the resilience and beauty of the victims’ families and their call for forgiveness and prayer in the face of hatred. These voices in that community have found their place, and their role in reconciliation is inspirational.

We are not they. We, the white Christian clergy must recognize that it is inappropriate to call for forgiveness in this moment. To lament with people suffering and provide safe space for mourning is appropriate. I understand that the role of Christian leaders is to challenge ourselves and our communities to live in the way of Jesus and to build justice. This challenge to our communities of faith must come in calls for justice, not for pre-emptive forgiveness.

We must call out systemic racism. We must repent of racism. I cannot attempt to imagine the pain and anger that black communities are feeling right now. I can hardly wrap my head around the hurt and frustration in my own heart. But what I will not do is act like the priest and call “peace” when there is no peace.

Right now there is no peace. No peace in this country with hate crimes and terrorism. No peace in society where racism is systemic and justice looks different for a white terrorist, yet remains absent for people of color. Let me be as clear as I can: white Christians – and especially clergy -this is not your time to challenge those in mourning. This is not yet the time to quote the greatest challenge of Jesus. This is the time to weep. This is the time to lament. We need to check ourselves. No one called for forgiveness the weekend after 9/11. This would have been unthinkable. It would have been a slap in the face.

I don’t claim to know what to say in this moment of tragedy. I don’t know the exact words to help in healing. I won’t say “peace” when there is none, but I can share Jeremiah 8:21, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me.” I can also say the names of those who died. Susie Jackson, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, and The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

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Emanuel, God is With Us

Last night I dreamed of a sanctuary packed tight with Jewish people – religious and reform and culturally connected, some with tattoos and some covering their hair, some with long payis and some with partners of other faiths, some with family who’ve made aliyah and some who’ve divested from Israeli companies, united in mourning the loss of 9 African American community pillars in Charleston. The room in which we gathered had simple wooden walls, we stood in front of angular wooden benches, this shul had no police presence, no security guards, no video surveillance system buzzing in the background. We felt safe. On each person’s lips the words of the Mourners’ Kaddish, in each person’s mind the names of those killed at Emanuel AME Church this week by a white supremacist, and the memory of Denmark Vesey and the 34 other African slaves and former slaves affiliated with this same church, murdered two hundred years ago. In our collective memory, a contradiction, that of knowing the trauma of white supremacy and of knowing the privileges of white America. And it is this contradiction that sits in our hearts, that propelled us to stand for the Mourners’ Kaddish, to declare these murdered men and women our family, and to remain standing as the #blacklivesmatter movement and social media continue to force this country to look itself in the mirror, to see what so many have long refused to see. It is no longer enough to be sad. Our mourning must mark our solidarity. It starts with our standing up.

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