Dr. Rudolph Featherstone was our professor of African Theology at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in 2002. A self-proclaimed, “janitor for Jesus,” his words were as prophetic as they were memorable. From him I learned the words to Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing, because he routinely sang as he walked the halls at Trinity. It was one of the ways we could find him.
“There are defining moments in every community,” he told us. “Defining moments of crisis, after which the community must decide whether they will draw nearer one another and become stronger — or break apart.”
I worked on our term project in that class with my sister in Christ, The Rev. Imani Dodley. With dreads down her back and tattoos illustrating her sable skin, we traced the intertwining history of our faith, our heritage, and our futures.
Our children played together — Hakeem, Adam, Maisha, and Chase. She scolded my son when he got mouthy; I wrote her daughter words of hope in a time of trouble. She whispered reassurance to mine; I prayed hers through agony.
Our theme for the project was the same theme that was used at the Youth Gathering in 2000.
Ubuntu, a sub-Saharan African word meaning humanity, was introduced to more than 40,000 youth ages 14-17 at the Youth Gathering of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) three years ago in St. Louis. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a keynote speaker at the event, spoke then about humanity and people’s relationships with both God and neighbor. – See more at: http://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/4938#sthash.za9eSMAx.dpuf
This morning I woke up to the news that 9 black people, including the dynamic pastor and state senator, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, had been killed in the beautiful Emanuel AME church — the oldest church in the South. Recently, Pinckney had backed a bill to have police wear body cameras in an effort to bring more truth to the controversial crimes of police brutality against blacks.
Also upon waking, InstaGram showed me a photo my son had taken at a Needtobreathe concert last night in Columbus, Ohio. The hashtag, #Brother, suggested this was the song the primarily white audience was singing when the white gunman was shooting black people, gathered for bible study and prayer in this holy space named Emanuel, which means, God With Us.
The irony and tragedy of what unfolded while I slept overwhelms me. When my tears subside, I am reminded of the words I heard just last week in Miller Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary.
“Angels and demons have been ushered into the souls of people on the back of words.”
“Despair is running rampant through our world.”
“We need writers to interject words of hope and light to take on despair.”
A colleague urges us to preach boldly in the face of this latest tragedy. He reminds us that we were not given a spirit of fear but of power.
I flash to sitting in the theater with my youngest son and his sweetheart just weeks before their high school graduation. We are watching Les Miserable. They are singing “the blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of France.”
I am compelled to write. To try to bring words of hope and light to take on the demon of despair.
And yet, my tears blur my vision as I type. And I must now pack to attend the gathering of clergy in Orlando where I will raise the bread for all to remind those gathered the words of Jesus: “This is my body, broken for you … my blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins.”
And in this space between knowing and doing, I pray: that the defining moment in our lives is now. June 18, 2015.
That the choice we make in this defining moment is to come together.
That words of hope will sustain us; that words of truth will guide us; that God Almighty who brought Jesus back from the dead, will be with us as we cry together and work for a better tomorrow.
Lord, have mercy.