Nine people who gathered for Bible study and prayer on Wednesday night are in the more immediate presence of the Lord they loved. One was a pastor, who also served as a state senator. Another was a well-respected librarian. Yet even the sanctuary of the church was no sanctuary against hate. Now, even praying while black is dangerous (actually it has been dangerous for a long time–consider the bombing of churches during the Civil Rights Movement). A young, black friend of mine wrote on his Facebook page, “that could have been me.” Another wrote, “I’m tired. I’ll never stop fighting but I’m tired.” This from a friend working on his doctorate in an engineering field.
In my generation, the day troops fired on students at Kent State and four lay on the ground dying, it seemed our country took a collective breath as if we were saying, “has it come to this?” Students with their life before them including two who were just walking to class were suddenly taken from us. We listened to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young plaintively sing, “Four dead in Ohio.” And it seemed for a time we backed away from violent demonstrations and responses, and found a way to end the war in Vietnam.
And I find myself wondering, will the deaths of nine black men and women in the midst of a prayer and Bible study service make us pause and take a breath and ask, “has it come to this?” I wonder what has become of the country I was raised in and love that we fear violence not only in our streets but in our movie theaters, schools, and even our churches during worship. And if this does not give us pause, then what will?
As I write, I have no answers but to lament and to pray, to cry to God, “how long?” We could talk causes and solutions until we are all blue in the face, and I’m sure that for every proposal, there will be at least five arguments about why this will not work. That, it seems to me is a good indicator of how far gone is our national discourse. Again I say, “has it come to this?” What will it take for those of us who are keepers of the common good–all of us really–to pause and consider whether it is time for us to turn away from these ways?
Nine dead in Charleston. Perhaps it would do us well to hear this plaintively chanted on the airwaves and Youtube videos this summer as we did “Ohio” in the summer of 1970. Who will write this song? And who will sing it? And will we pause, and listen, and ask, “has it come to this?” God help us if we do not.