The tragic events of this summer remind one of a tree with roots that run deeply into the soul of the American consciousness… but bring no nourishment, but indeed offer the truffles of modern-day strange fruit. The senseless tragedy of nine brave souls, struck down in the very essence of living, makes no sense to man.
And yet… there is a reason why.
God showed up at Mother Emanuel on that hot day in June when Dylann Roof did his worst.
He did not reside in the molten rain of hot jacketed lead as it mowed down the hale and hearty like cows under a tree struck by lightning. He wasn’t found in pools of crimson essence on the basement floor. And he wasn’t found in the wails of the living, and the collective gasps as South Carolina and the nation reeled in horror.
God instead, planted himself in a movement. A movement that started with the belief that this horrible massacre needed to result in a sense of purpose. He spirited himself into the acts and action of a governor who never spoke before on matters of diversity and division. He breathed fire into the heart of a Charleston politician, Jenny Horne, who blew warm with her impassioned of her fellow legislators, also not of color, to do the honorable thing. And He resounded in the song of Paul Thurmond. A son of the vintage South, his father Strom may have been hard pressed to believe what came from his lips. Young Thurmond implored the removal of a symbol that, at once personified a system that let one man own another, and glorified the unmitigated hate of groups and factions that believe neither in content nor character.
The crowd there was small at first, but grew to the thousands as they waited, some in patience, some in song of protest, and some in resigned reverence to the setting of a sullied symbol. They looked on as an emissary dressed in white ordered that the Confederate battle flag be removed.
State troopers, in their formal finery, marched to the flagpole, retrieved the flag and removed it forever. Shouts, songs and applause followed from some… while others stood witness of the furling of the flag in silent, palpable pain. Yet, God’s hand was there on those courtyard steps.
Agreeable men and women agreed to disagree on this day, with resolve but no resistance…
as both sides retreated, this battle over.
This left the dead at a place of power in remembrance… and that takes us back to Mother Emanuel.
On a Sunday evening, a couple of months removed from the massacre, I found myself on her steps as the sun dove toward the darkness in Charleston.
As I walked up to the church, I was rendered speechless in the awesome power of tribute.
Flowers, flags, fruit, mobiles of birds in nearby trees, and most poignantly a small Teddy bear on the ground by the fence of the weathered old church spoke to the wishes of the visiting crowds to share their grief and honor the dead. Those visitors that did speak, spoke in hushed, reverent tones much as onlookers at the Tomb of the Unknowns do at Arlington National Cemetery. The solemnity of the visitors spoke much… and yet there was more.
I have never, NEVER felt more of a presence of God’s covering hand of peace over a place in my life. The calmness that emanated from those artifacts spoke to the Creator working through those that sacrificed their being to live on through deeds, words and symbols… removed, and reverently aging on a graying evening in twilight Charleston.
And in this circle of pain around this holy place, the beacon of God’s grace continues to beckon men and women to a better way… a way that came full circle on Statehouse steps as the remnant of a peculiar institution was looked, and locked away to its rightful location. For God has shown up at Mother Emanuel, pulled up nine chairs and vowed to stay awhile.