Friday, June 26, 2015

Was Blind, But Now I See

It's hard to avoid feelings of despair when a 12 year-old black boy is gunned down by a Cleveland police officer for playing with a toy gun and yet people continue in their denial that racism was a factor. That kind of thing has been happening on a regular basis these last few months. It was getting difficult to maintain any hope that things could change.

But then last week a young white man who was filled with hate gunned down nine black people in their church. The explicit nature of the racism was too difficult to ignore. That's why the tears started to flow for me at this point in Reverend President Barack Obama's eulogy today.
We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress. An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas.

He didn’t know he was being used by God. Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group -- the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court -- in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley -- how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond -- not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood -- the power of God’s grace.

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals -- the one we all know: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God -- as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other -- but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.
Our Reverend President knows - like many of us have felt - that over the last week and a half this country has been facing a potential turning point. It's not that we'll cure all of our ills in one fell swoop. But what we make of this particular moment will form the trajectory of our future. Today he went all in on a bet that we'll absorb the amazing grace that allows us to let go of our blindness and find our best selves. He was even willing to go out on a limb and ask us to sing along with him...


  1. Amazing Grace, I'm so thankful for Rev. President Barack Obama. #LoveWins

  2. His voice was authentic and real, his compassion right out for all to see. THIS is a president for all the people. This is a man of vision and care. I am also grateful I had the chance to see what a truly great president can be. Amazing Grace is what he brought to us all.

    1. He's going to be a very tough act to follow.

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  4. What I find frustrating about discussing the Tamir Rice case is that the folks who make accusations of "denial" are also the ones who routinely bury a very important, and I say the central, factor in the shooting: Tamir appeared to be reaching for (what the police believed was) a real gun just before he was shot. That's a very convenient omission to make, to put it as politely as I can.

    People speak of the pattern of police brutality against blacks -- which I believe exists -- but there's another pattern that applies: Airsoft rifles look real, and not even white kids get the privilege of shooting first if the police see a gun being drawn. I was doing some Googling to show that this sort of thing doesn't happen just to black kids -- a white kid in Michigan, a Hispanic kid in California, an NPR story from 2007 about how cops were already shooting kids with Airsoft guns and sometimes the red tip was the only reason a kid is still alive ...

    ... but I ultimately opted not to post the links because they don't matter. Whatever happened in Michigan or California or wherever, has zero impact on the specifics of the Tamir Rice shooting. Was the officer racist? You're the one who is making the accusation of racism, it's up to you to back it up. We know a lot about the shooter, how he was terminated from a suburban police department for various failings; has anyone identified any racist tendencies in him? As far as I can tell, nobody has. If he had a pattern of problems with blacks, you can bet it would have come out by now.

    Now the officers' behavior after the shooting -- failing to render first aid, manhandling the sister -- completely indefensible. But the shooting itself, most likely, had to do with the police perceiving a legitimate threat that had nothing to do with skin tone.