On the murders in Charleston

Painting for Mother Emmanuel by Ty Poe

Painting for Mother Emmanuel by Ty Poe

Ever since Wednesday night I’ve been reading post after post by black women and men sharing about what Charleston means to them, and the deep pain and injustice that is still inflicted, every day, on people of color in this country. One theme that has been emerging is the request for white people to do something — to first say they’re sorry for what has happened and listen to the pain and the stories of black men and women, and to then find ways to work to combat the systemic racism in America. Some writers offered suggestions. But many emphasized that it is up to white people to find ways to do it. As Karen Walrund wrote:

“Finally, remember that while racism is an issue that black and brown people have to deal with, it is not our issue to fix. Racism is a systemic problem created by those in power — white power — and therefore it is an issue that only those in power can fix. So please keep this in mind before asking any of your black friends or acquaintances what it is you can do to fight racism: while the question comes from an instinct that is certainly understandable, as an ally, what we really need is for you to be creative and come up with ways that you can put an end to racism yourself. To be even more blunt: being creative for you is not our job.”

I don’t have many ideas yet. But I’m still listening, and I’m trying to be creative. I definitely appreciate that Karen’s call is to be creative, rather than to be organized or to be efficient — creative is more up my alley.

I did have two ideas, neither of which made a lot of sense, but which I did anyway. One was to write a poem, which I’ll share in a minute. And the other was to go to church. If you know me or have been following this blog for a while, you know that it has been a while, and that I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with Christian community. It was just two weeks ago that I wrote about a nightmare I had about going to a church service.

But I just kept thinking about those nine people, faithfully showing up for a Wednesday night prayer meeting, and I knew I had to be brave and go, to honor them. It was a good Sunday to be there, for other reasons that I’ll probably write about soon. It wasn’t particularly profound in terms of the reason I’d come, to bear witness to the men and women killed in Charleston, grieve with the body of Christ, and vow to work towards racial justice in this country.  The pastor spoke briefly about Charleston and said a prayer, naming all nine of the people murdered. The rest of the service was dedicated to something big happening at that specific church which needed to be discussed, and that was fine. But I felt whatever purpose I’d had in going had been fulfilled. We prayed, we bore witness. And the things the church is working through will help it to continue to work for justice and reconciliation.

But there is more to be done. It’s a busy week, so I don’t have time to write much more. But I’ll share my poem. It was inspired by Yolanda Pierce, Osheta Moore, Karen Walrund, Deidre Riggs, Austin Channing Brown, and many others. It was inspired by black women, but it was written to white people, and to myself in particular. What will our response to Charleston be? What work are we being called to do?

On the murders in Charleston

If you only have something nice to say,
Be quiet.

Now is not the time for niceties,
For crying, “Peace, peace”
When there is no peace.

If you have a voice

If you have a soul

If you have a prayer, fine.
Say it softly to yourself.

But if you want God to hear you

If you want to pray for peace

Rend your garments
Fall to the ground

And stay there until God answers you.
And then get up and do the work.