Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Forgiveness Flows from Charleston

I took this picture at Coventry Cathedral. The church was bombed
during the World War II by the Germans. This statue stands in the bombed out ruins adjacent to the new sanctuary.

Forgiveness. Strange word to be uttered by family members as they addressed the man that killed their loved ones in Charleston. Nadine Collier’s 70 year old mother was killed. She said to Dyllan Roof: “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” Twanza Sanders , a  26 year old poet was shot. His mother told Roof that those killed in the Bible study were among the most beautiful people alive. “Every fiber in my body hurts…I’ll never be the same. Twanza is my son but Twanza was my hero. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you.”

Forgiveness. Mercy. Strange words for an “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” world.  One national newscaster who heard their statements said that he did not go to church . But from what he heard from those family members it made him wonder. He said he might just have to change his mind about church.

Those of us on the inside of the church know that we don’t always forgive. I have seen the slitted eyes and pursed lips sitting on some pew with folded arms Sunday after Sunday. They weren’t many—yet there were always a handful on every church I served. They were some of the most unhappy people I have ever known.

And yet—the heart of the Christian faith are those words that Jesus spoke to his enemies from his cross. “Father forgive.” If those in Charleston that lost so much cannot finally let their rage and sorrow go they will carry a burden too heavy to bear.

It really is amazing that some of our finest teachers of grace have come from the black community. Despite all the dangers, toils and snares that they have been through—many of them have found the secret of Jesus’ teachings. Seventy timers seven—Jesus told Simon Peter. Simon thought those multiplications were a mite excessive. Jesus meant that we never, ever can leave forgiveness behind. We bump into its challenges as long as we live.

As I read the heart-rending responses from the family members in Charleston, I remembered back to my Birmingham days. On an airplane I met a black woman named Mrs. Robinson. As we talked she said she lived in Birmingham. I asked her if she was a member of the 16th Street church where the bombing took place in the sixties. She said, “I was a member of that church.” “Were you there during the bombing,” I asked. She said, “My daughter was killed in that bombing.l Her name was Carole—with an “e.” She told me her daughter was 14-years -old and played the clarinet and loved pretty dresses. She told me she was getting ready for church that Sunday morning when she heard a loud noise that would change her life forever. Her husband came home with the sad news: Their church had been bombed and Carole was dead. 

Years later they caught one of the bombers Thomas Blanton and he was on trial. And they wheeled Mrs. Robinson into the courtroom in Birmingham and she addressed this man who had helped kill her daughter. She told him that day in court was her daughter’s birthday and she would have been fifty two years old. 

Mrs. Robinson was featured in Spike Lee’s film, Four Little Girls. The movie told the world what happened that terrible Sunday morning. Toward the end of the film Mrs. Robinson spoke, “I have worked very hard not to feel anger and hatred. I had to keep my spirits up so I could help my husband’s spirits up and the folks around me. We had good friends and family who gave us a lot of support. But you have to work with it and pray…Gradually, “ she said, “healing came about because hating people would not do me good and it would do me more harm that it would them. “ She continued. “I think I conquered it but every once in a while it comes out, not the hatred but anger…It comes out in different ways. I’ve tried to put all that behind me and go on and live. My husband is gone, my three brothers, my sisters and parents are gone. I still have my son and daughter and three grandchildren and give great-grandchildren. So I have something to be thankful for.” 

If I had a Benediction for all the grievers in Charleston—it would be the words of a woman who lost a precious 14-year-old daughter of her own over fifty years ago.
photo by Celestine Chua / flickr

--Roger Lovette/ rogerlovette.blogsplot.com

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