Dear Ones,

Something nagged at me telling me I had to travel to Charleston, South Carolina. I felt there was unfinished business for me if I did not bear witness to the church shootings at Emanuel AME. I took with me a chalice pin and a brief note written on a notecard from our Congregation. I added both to the condolences collecting outside of the church on behalf of us all.

I arrived to blocked streets, the Red Cross on site, a large police presence, and barriers creating a confusing path for all wanting to join in our final steps of our pilgrimage. Hundreds of mourners were pouring out of the church and onto the street. I didn't know that inside lay Myra Thompson, dead. She was shot and killed because her skin was black. I walked a block and joined the long line of others wanting to pay their respect. I could smell something sour, something rotten. I discovered that most of the flowers laid in the past week on the sidewalk outside of the church were in decay. The stench filled my mouth and nose and rightly so. This hateful act should smell foul and make me uncomfortable. Let it be a reminder of an unjust culture that reeks of racism.

I finally reached the church steps and climbed toward the door leading to the sanctuary. I was greeted by a member of the congregation with a kind smile and gentle hand. The stench outside had been replaced by an incredibly fresh and welcoming floral scent-obviously from the beautiful and large arrangements flanking the body of Myra Thompson. Bright light from the sanctuary chandeliers exposed the deep rich red carpets and the antiquity of the pews and other furnishings. My eyes immediately were drawn to the stained glass window that was floor to ceiling behind the pulpit. This was the pulpit that Martin Luther King, Jr. and others graced during the civil rights movement.

I began to weep humbled by the moment and the history. I passed by the body of Myra Thompson. I paused and offered words. I remembered what Myra's brother had said about her in a news article. She was a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, and a cousin. She volunteered to teach Bible Study classes for years and had decided to teach only for a couple more weeks when she was killed. A few quick glances brought all of this rushing back to me. I could only ask myself, "why?"

I followed others to the exit and as I shared glances with those who were black I wondered if they were angry with me or if they thought I had some nerve being present. They were gracious and I was experiencing white guilt. I was feeling guilty because a white man, like myself, killed nine people of color in this church because they were black. This is the psychological cost of racism.

Racism kills all in a community one way or another. It's brutality wants us to live in fear, separated and hateful. I experienced the opposite in Charleston. I found myself within a community that will heal. A community that still holds the hope of freedom and love. Resilience is palpable. I return to my car with no words.

As I drive north I smell the scent of the sanctuary flowers on my clothes. I believe it is a reminder of Myra Thompson, the hope for justice and compassion, and a reminder that as an ally I have much to do to change a culture of hate and violence to one of acceptance and a right to live with the love of self, our family, our church, and our community. All taken from Myra Thompson and the other victims.

May we mourn and act.

Blessings, CJ


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