Remember how, back in 2013, during the week of the Boston bombing, that was like one of the craziest weeks in American history? Kind of how The Onion called it, it was crazy and it was heartbreaking and it was a kind of week to not remember.
We just basically had a crazy week just now, from the Charleston shooting until today. And while there was tragedy, there was also inspiration, and reflection and awareness, and justice, and drive, and emotional cleansing, and hope, and above all love. Especially love, today, tonight, this weekend. It was a week to remember.
|Hundreds gather out front, holding aloft their smartphones|
so they can document the celebration.
Last week Wednesday night started us off with the tragic breaking news of the shooting at the Emanuel AME Charleston church. It sparked a round of angry calls across the nation, over the intent of the shooter, the signs of racism that surrounded the city and the state of South Carolina (and the Deep South) itself, and the horror of gun violence visited again on another sanctuary where should not imagine such a happening.
The Far Right, led by their political figures especially the Republican candidates for the 2016 Presidency, tried to avoid talking about the shooting altogether. Worse, some tried to claim that "nobody could tell what the shooter's intent was," even though survivors reported the shooter explained himself as he pulled the trigger. Having spent 40 years pushing a Southern Strategy of White Male resentment, Republicans suddenly realized the bill was coming due.
With the shooter's arrest, more details got out, verifying the shooter knew exactly what he was doing and why: his racist declaration of war, and what inspired him to find a Black church to begin his misdeeds. The shooter had bought into the fear-mongering about Blacks, bought into the "heritage" of Southern resentment, bought into the need for violence against those who were unarmed.
By Monday after the police interrogation went public - proving exactly what happened and why - and after more photos surfaced of the shooter reveling in displays of the Stars and Bars, calls to have the Confederate Battle Flag - the key symbol of the Lost Cause, the symbol of race hatred for 150 years - taken down from public buildings multiplied to the point where the South Carolina governor Nikki Haley had to go public herself, calling for legislation to take the damn thing down off of her state's public forums (in a mockery of law, the state made it mandatory that the Confederate flag remains flying at all costs: when the American flag was lowered in honor of the dead, it just made the contrast more stark and shameful). In other states like Alabama, they just quietly lowered the damn flag and looked away.
Much of the week ended up with a back-and-forth battle on the media channels and the Internet over the "heritage" of the flag, over the right of free speech vs. the actuality of hate speech that flag represented. It was becoming clear that everything that battle flag represented - Jim Crow, racial oppression, a section of our population obsessed with a violent and bloody past - was and still is in risk of imploding on itself (which is, you know, a good thing).
And then Thursday we get good news, with the Supreme Court ruling - and a strong one at that - affirming the core point of Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was to provide affordable healthcare to most Americans. A lot of celebration about how this was a huge victory for Obama, a huge win for Americans needing that healthcare coverage.
And then Friday, two things. The Supreme Court issued the key ruling on gay marriage - on marriage itself - as a self-evident right to all under the 14th Amendment. Twitter and social media exploded. Haters raged. Lovers danced. The United States officially became Pro-People.
In the midst of all this, our nation returned its attention to Charleston once more, as President Obama showed up to perform the eulogy for the fallen pastor Reverend Clementa Pinckney. In that moment, in that place, Obama offered the most stirring, most profound speech he's ever given. (link here to full speech)
He openly condemned the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag. He openly condemned the shameful rate of gun violence in our nation, harking back to the tragedies of Sandy Hook and so many other mass shootings. He openly condemned the fear-mongering and the hate poisoning the national forum.
And Obama spoke of love. Obama spoke of faith, and forgiveness, and family. Obama spoke of grace. Human, Christian Grace.
...Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group: the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court: in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that...
The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley - how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond: not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life...
Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood: the power of God’s grace.
This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace.
The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals, the one we all know: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me... I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see...
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.
As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other... but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.And then Obama tried - bless him, but he was a bit off-key - to sing Amazing Grace, the Christian hymn above all other hymnals.
The speech, the presence, the words and the faith: all inspiring. Closing out a day of grace and good-will. We're still fighting - the haters are still railing against the tide of history and that long arc towards justice - but now there's a sense of real hope, that we're growing wiser, that we're seeing the problems for real this time, that there's something to fight FOR and a future worth keeping our promises.
This was a crazy week. But even with the pain of loss it was a good crazy.