Mother Emanuel’s Open Door

The door was open for a Wednesday night Bible study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. It had been a busy day at this historic African-American church with several lay members being ordained to preach the Gospel. Once the festivities were over approx. twelve leaders of that church remained to listen for God’s leading from the ancient scripture.

A young white male, age 21 walked in. This was his first time and he received a warm welcome and listened as the small group shared, sang and prayed. At the conclusion when the benediction was given, he took out a handgun and murdered nine people. Each time he reloaded he uttered racist oaths.

The shooter fled and left behind a devastated church who had lost nine well-loved members including their pastor. The city of Charleston and the state of South Carolina which has a long and painful history with slavery, segregation and racism struggled to make sense of such blatant racist hatred.

This tragedy adds to the conversation on racial tension that we as a nation are being forced to have in the wake of recent police shootings of unarmed blacks and abuses of ‘stand your ground laws’ in Florida and elsewhere. It also highlights the desperate need we have to restrict access to guns.

In the midst of the heightened emotions and debate the people of Emmanuel AME Church continue to show us the way to live. Drawing upon their faith in the teachings of Jesus they offer us a way beyond hatred, beyond violence, beyond revenge.

The day after the killings, the families of the murdered stood before the now captured accused and offered forgiveness. Said Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance: ‘You took something very precious away from me. But I forgive you. And may God have mercy on your soul.’ One after another, each family member bore that same witness.

In Charleston, the church is known with affection as ‘Mother Emmanuel’. Since its founding as a church for slaves in 1820, this community has witnessed to the Good News that each person is created in the image of God and has inherent worth and beauty. It was a belief that made this church a beacon of hope during the painful days of slavery and Jim Crow. It was this belief that empowered Mother Emmanuel to be a leader for Civil Rights. And, it was this belief that enabled those victimized by an act of racist hatred, to see even their assailant as a fellow child of God, worthy of mercy and forgiveness.

On Sunday morning, just days following the mass murder, the doors to Mother Emmanuel were open. Open doorAn elderly African-American usher welcomed a little black girl to worship. He wanted her and all of us to know, that love always win. His faith was rooted in the belief that we are loved and cherished by our Creator, that there is no ‘them’ but only ‘us’.

Weddings and Idealistic Distortion

Seascape-Wedding-Coupl51DAThis evening I am officiating at the wedding of my cousin Chris and his fiancé, Laura. He and Laura are in their mid-twenties and have been dating since High School.

In preparation for the wedding they filled out an on-line survey designed by psychologists to help an engaged couple reflect upon various aspects of their life together: personality and communication style, finances, spiritual values, how they relate to family and friends etc.

Once the survey is completed I receive a summary which serves as a take off point for conversation. In the past 15 years I’ve used this tool with approx. 150 couples.

The summary includes a category called ‘idealistic distortion’. This measures how realistic the couple are in recognizing the challenges that come with married life. With 50% of marriages in the USA ending in divorce, the idea is to help couples manage the inevitable challenges that come.

Most young couples tend to have a relatively high rate of idealistic distortion, in other words a sense that their love will never fade. Older couples that I meet with, often married previously, bring in a higher level of awareness that life gets complicated.

This evening I will stand with Chris and Laura on a peninsula looking out to sea. We will gather as family and friends as we offer our blessing and ask God’s grace to uphold and accompany them throughout their life together.

As we do so, our ‘idealistic distortion’ as family and friends will be high. We will choose to be idealistic, choose to be hopeful, even as we know (from our own life and marriages), how complicated and challenging life can and be.

We will have great hope for Laura and Chris, because we know (and they know), that they are not setting on their life alone. Their marriage will be accompanied by the love, support and prayers of many.

One thing I say to each couple before I pronounce them married, is this: “Today you have made a life-long commitment to one another. But this is more than a two-way partnership. You are acknowledging your openness to the accompaniment of God, who is the source of all that is good, lasting and true…that which we call love.’

This evening our idealism level will be high. Because we know that Chris and Laura won’t journey alone. This is very good news.