Like so many others, I have spent this day trying to make sense of the incomprehensible evil that is playing out in Charleston, SC.
It has been a day of memory and confession.
Today I remember a class I took in seminary called Resurgent Racism: A Challenge to the Church. Even though the class was designed to help us realize that racism still gripped our nation and that the church was not exempt from its terror, it always seemed like distant history to me, and the stories of church bombings and barred doors seemed as if they came not only from another time, but from a completely different world.
Today I remember the woman in that class, a person of color, who finally slammed her fist on the table at the latest promise of justice “one day.”
“I’m tired of hearing about justice coming in the sweet by-and-by,” she said. “I want justice now!”
Today I remember with shame how I dismissed her words.
Today I remember other students in that class boasting that when they stepped into the pulpit, they would tackle racism with vengeance and fire, no matter the cost.
And I remember how comforting it was to hear the front-line expert who had served with Martin Luther King, Jr. tell us that it would do the church no good if all the soldiers were shot down at the front.
Today I realize how I have used his wise words in a way that renders them false. I have hidden behind them to ease my own fear at the reaction the needed word would create.
At some point today, my memories and confessions led me to remember how Saint Augustine once wrote that “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage; Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”
Today I confess that I have not been nearly angry enough about the way things are that should not be.
From a place of privilege, I have too-easily dismissed the painful injustices too many people must endure. From a place of safety, I have questioned how people’s actions must surely have contributed to their consequences. And from a place of comfort, I have underestimated the fear that torments every moment of every day for far too many people.
And today I confess a failure of courage.
Even when I have been angry about injustice, I have been slow to translate that anger into courageous words and actions to end the things that should not be. I have been complicit in pointing to a promised day while doing precious little about present evils. And that failure was driven by the fear that I would lose my privilege or security or friendships if I were to seek to right the wrongs that plague us.
Today has been about memory and confession. But I am moving toward hope. And I’m not talking about a sanitized hope that points to a distant day, but a hope marked by anger and courage, that notices the wrong that should not be and acts to set it right.
I’ve always loved the words near the end of A Declaration of Faith. Tonight I affirm them in response to my memories and confessions, trusting that God will move me to a deeper–and truer–Hope.
Hope in God gives us courage for the struggle.
The people of God have often misused God’s promises
as excuses for doing nothing about present evils.
But in Christ the new world has already broken in
and the old can no longer be tolerated.
We know our efforts cannot bring in God’s kingdom.
But hope plunges us into the struggle
for victories over evil that are possible now
in the world, the church, and our individual lives.
Hope gives us courage and energy
to contend against all opposition, however invincible it may seem,
for the new world and the new humanity that are surely coming.
Jesus is Lord!
He has been Lord from the beginning.
He will be Lord at the end.
Even now he is Lord.