The other day, my dad brought me a beautiful table he made from American chestnut planks that were harvested before the blight took out every single one of these trees in our nation. The boards are scarred with etchings and pits dug by the mouths of chestnut worms. Somehow, this makes the wood even more beautiful.
Because I have not yet moved the bookcase from the place where this table is to rest permanently, it is leaned up against my desk, blocking my view out the door. I can see out the windows to my right and left, but the way ahead is invisible.
The way ahead for America seems invisible to me today, too.
I am not sure how to move forward when story after story involves the death and maiming of black people. I don’t know how we heal, how we stop killing, how we end the hating when this much pain and bloodshed blocks our way.
I do know this, though. The answer is not to just say – “I don’t know” and give up, assuming that we have to live with this much awfulness forever. I will not accept that. Ever. The God I love is not a God who sits idle while people are killed because of their skin color. The God I love does not watch helplessly as people are gunned down at a Bible Study. The God I love does not give up.
The God I love does weep with those who weep. The God I love does seek justice and show mercy. The God I love acts – every single minute of every single day – out of reserves of compassion that are unfathomable.
Last night, a white man walked into a historic, black church and shot 9 people dead while they were in Bible Study. Put yourself in that scene.
You are sitting in a small group of people, chairs probably in a circle. Most of you have known each other for decades, some of you are parts of families that have lived together in this church for a century or more. A new face has joined. A young man. A white man, which is unusual but not unprecedented. He sits with you and listens. He doesn’t talk or speak. He’s just there.
You have your Bible open on your lap. The book may be well-worn, with passages that have challenged or soothed you underlined. Or maybe it is pristine, the gold leaf on each’s pages slim edge still pristine. You are studying with these people, moving week by week through verses and chapters, listening to each other’s stories and God’s quiet voice.
You are sitting, perhaps a bit reclined in your chair, relaxed. Restful.
Then, the young white man you don’t know pulls out a gun and fires. 10 times. 20. You have fallen to the floor. You are seeing the faces of people you love as their lives fade away. You catch the eye of a young woman across the circle, and you now know what terrors looks like, and you know your own face looks the same.
You think, as you lay there and watch your friends die, “Why?” You think your own answer, “Because we are black, and he is white.”
Today, I am staring at the scars on this beautiful wood table, scars made decades, maybe centuries ago, and I am wondering about the individual stories of how each scar came to be for each of us. What does racism feel like to her, to him? To that black man who lived enslaved all his life? To the young black girl slung face-first poolside? What does it feel like to the white man who walked into a church and shot 9 people before walking away again?
I don’t know much, but I do know this. Our stories will help to heal us all IF we will listen to each other. Our stories will help heal us if we white people will listen to our black brothers and sisters. If we will really listen, try to understand, and not seek so much to dismiss or defend ourselves.
One start to the end of hate is story.
So I’m listening. I’m following black people who know these wounds on their bodies, in their souls, and in their families. I’m listening to how they say we need to move forward. I’m listening with sadness, anger, and the reserves of hope that reach me from that endless Source.
Tonight, I will move this table from in front of my desk, and I will know how to take the next steps out of this shadow. I won’t know the whole road ahead, but I will know tomorrow’s work.
Today’s work is to listen. Listen and pray.
My prayers for the families of the people shot in Charleston, for the families of all black and brown people for have been victims of 400 years of violence in our country, for all black and brown people who have lived this oppression for 4 centuries. My prayers for the white shooter, for justice to reach him and compassion, too. My prayers for all white people who have perpetuated hate in word and deed. My prayers for all white people as we struggle with the need to give up our privilege in order to find true equality. My prayers for me, a white woman with black ancestors, for humility, for submission, for understanding.