Have you too felt the emotional twists and turns of the past few weeks like a gut-wrenching roller coaster? Grief, shock, forgiveness, Amazing Grace, joy...one after the other they tumble around. What to pay attention to? What do we hold on to? On a personal level, the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality filled me with amazement and with gratitude. Just this past month, when Barb was out of town, I was able to help my mother-in-law through a portion of her short hospitalization with these simple words that opened every door and gave me all the information I needed: “I am her daughter- in-law.” I cannot imagine the complexity of being considered married in one state and not in another, of being family “here” but not “there.” I also understand, and even empathize with, the desire of some voters to have their say, and yet when statutes like marriage equality vary from state to state in this manner the “united” states feels more like the “fragmented” states.
On a societal level, my heart is broken. A group of people in Charleston, South Carolina who loved God, gathered together in Bible study. Because they read their bible, because they practiced the ways of Jesus they welcomed a stranger, a young white man, into their midst. What these praying Christians did not know, could not know, was that Dylann Roof believed terrible things about them and in some twisted way intended to hold them responsible for his imaginings. Apparently he “almost” didn’t do it. Because they were so nice. Because they welcomed him and presumably prayed with him, he briefly entertained walking away. It must have been a moment of cognitive dissonance, one of those times when the stories he told himself over and over about how the world worked, collided with the reality of his lived experience. The experience of cognitive dissonance was not powerful enough to cause him to change course but it did make him think. This tragedy, as well as others like it, ought to provoke us on many levels:
1) As if we needed reminding, we live in a racist culture. We must acknowledge this and place ourselves in situations where we can come to know one another in meaningful ways.
2) Our gun control laws are in urgent need of change.
3) Our mental health system is broken.
4) Our educational system, our law enforcement system, our judicial system, and our prison system are all skewed to deal more harshly with black people than any other race.
This month, as we celebrate the founding of our nation, let us also acknowledge the complexity of our society that leaves the lives of many in tatters. Let us celebrate the freedom this country affords us and also let us mourn all that has been lost in the name of “freedom.” It is in times like these we know: a more “perfect union” awaits.