Yesterday I was crushed when I woke up to the news of the senseless slaughter of a family of faith attending a Bible study and prayer service in Emanuel AME Church in my beloved state of South Carolina. Shot down in cold blood by an evil killer who came into their midst during worship, they laid down their lives in a place that should be holy.
I’ve been reeling with grief. Tears, then prayer, then more tears and more prayer. These people are my brothers and sisters in Christ. This is my state. My religion. This is deeply personal to me.
As a South Carolinian, a Christian and especially as the mother of a 20 year old male who loves guns, I am numb.
Yes, my son loves guns. Taking his example from me—the hunter, and my father before me, a hunter and a military rifleman—he picked up shooting at an early age. He is fluent in shotgun and handgun and archery. Sporting clays dominated his middle school and high school extracurriculars. At the final tournament of his high school shooting career, he broke 98 out of 100 tiny flying clay targets to own the highest score in his division and claim a Harry Hampton Wildlife Fund Scholarship.
This killer lived in the Greater Columbia metro area. My son attends the university there, where this murderer scoped out the mall. My son frequents that mall, and I am no stranger to it. He was apprehended in Shelby, North Carolina. Shelby is less than two hours from here and one of my cousins lives there.
Like I said, this is personal to me.
So I have to ask myself, what goes so very wrong in a person to make him go into a movie theater, an elementary school, a mall, a college campus, a highway overpass or a church and begin mowing down random strangers?
You can say what you want about nature vs. nurture. I know nothing of this young man’s upbringing, so anything I say about his family life is only conjecture. But as a person who knows something of genetics and a tidbit or two about culture and families and mental disturbances, I am going out on a limb and say: Acts like this take “a perfect storm” of things gone horribly awry to produce such a killer.
I think it is a yank on the handle of a slot machine with the slots lining up: Demon. Demon. Demon. A rare combination of mental illness and/or drugs and/or deficient moral upbringing and/or heritable mental illness and/or acquired mental illness and/or learned behavior/learned hatred and/or the effect of relatively harmless recreational drugs on the developing brain.
Did you notice I said mental illness a lot?
Note to parents: if your child is a testosterone-fueled post-adolescent who is severely introverted, cannot make eye contact, stays in his room all day playing violent video games, doesn’t have any friends or interact with others, has a weird haircut and vacant soulless stare and may have a substance abuse problem, please, PLEASE don’t give him a gun. Ever.
This is becoming a really recognizable asocial personality type. I am not a psychologist.
How blind do you have to be to miss this?
At any rate, I have to look at my son to reassure myself. Though at times he does everything in his power to provoke me, he is socially involved, does well in school, makes eye contact and interacts well with people of different ages, classes and social backgrounds. He attends church regularly and is engaged in what goes on in the community, thanks be to God. I can take credit for none of this normalcy. It is goodness intrinsic in him.
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I cannot address this tragedy without addressing the elephant in the room, though I wish it was not a factor. Race.
It is my belief that even without his obvious racism and hatred, this young man was so abnormal that he would have found some excuse to kill someone someway somehow for something. Disturbed individual that he was, he was bound to kill a lot of somebodies. But it sticks in my craw that he chose to make it about black and white. Because that seems to be a very real problem in the USA.
I feel that I grew up during an exciting time in race relations. It was right after the peak of the civil rights movement. Our cultures were coming together and liking it, in part thanks to newly opened minds, music and fashion and sports. We looked at them and said to ourselves, I really like what she’s wearing or it’s got a great beat and I love that song! We worked together on our sports teams, the student council, the yearbook and the newspaper staff. I thought we had seen the last of racism in 1977. That’s almost 40 years ago. I was woefully wrong.
What the heck happened? Why does racism still rear its incredibly ugly head? And what can we do to stop it?
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As I said, this mass shooting is personal to me. Immensely personal. So I am making a conscious effort to look beyond the soulless dead eyes of this boy killer du jour and into the sparkling warm eyes and lives of these beautiful victims. I am making an effort to memorize the faces and the names of each of these people and memorialize them in my heart. To learn a tidbit or two about each of them. To remember them and their loved ones—individually—in my prayers.
Here, again, are their names. They are important people. Remember them always:
Reverend Clementa Pinckney, 41
Reverend Sharonda Singleton, 45
Myra Thompson, 49
Tywanza Sanders, 26
Ethel Lee Lance, 70
Cynthia Heard, 54
Reverend Daniel Simmons, Sr., 74
Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49
Susie Jackson, 87
These fine South Carolinians gave their all in service to their church and they gave it to their Lord and Savior. They are martyrs. Some say they are now saints. In my very mortal voice, I agree.
As a Christian, I have to think to myself: What would Jesus do?
A few months ago, I learned of a hush-hush initiative to put concealed weapons into some area churches. I was shocked and disillusioned to learn of it. This is what it has come to? Armed men in places of peace, tranquility and reverence? Perhaps these people had foresight. They knew it was coming. In denial, you knew it was, too.
Yes, they are there wearing earbuds and are carrying concealed weapons. They are in constant communications with each other, kind of like the Secret Service of the Lord. WWJD? In these days and times, he might be packing heat.
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Grace. It is an ill-defined Christian concept referring to God’s granting a lenience to those who unequivocally do not deserve it. I am right with the concept of grace. Too many times it has been extended to me when I had done nothing to merit it.
Today I witnessed Christian grace granted by better Christians than me who have just had their hearts cut out and desecrated. Last night I tried to pray for the sonovabitch who did this horrendous act. Try as I might, I could not extend him my grace and forgive him in private prayers. I tried to pray for his poor, confused family and I could not find it in me to do so. I am mortal. Through my tears, I could not do it.
Yet I see during his arraignment, lo and behold, victims’ families are praying for him and asking our God for forgiveness on his behalf.
I am learning something. In this simple act of Christian forgiveness and grace, God is working in our evil, evil world.