The Mayor, the Police and Fire Chiefs, State Reps and Senators,
Interfaith Leaders, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist,
All gathered here in brown cushioned pews in the bare walled sanctuary.
All here to remember the Charleston 9 massacred a year ago, this very night
At a Wednesday evening Bible Study by a lonely, confused and angry young man,
A stranger whom they had welcomed that night into their little group, as Christ taught them to do,
Prayed and studied the scriptures with him.
Then he turned on them shooting.
He wanted to start a race war, he said.
Here to remember what happened Saturday night, just a few days ago, almost closing time at the Club.
Another lonely and confused and angry young man killed after killing 49 and injuring 53 young people
Just out celebrating and having a good time.
It was Latino night, that night.
More Brown and Latino brothers and sisters killed.
It has been a long week.
The little choir of five assembles on the stage.
The drummer, the organist, the guitar player, take their seats.
The lead singer picks up the microphone. The microphone squeals, stops. He taps the microphone.
He starts to sing.
They start to join in, to play along and sing.
Yes, let’s sing out some praise, yes, let us begin with praise, the Deacon says.
I haven’t sung all week. I didn’t come here to praise this night.
I came here to sit alone in the back pew and feel the hurt.
I came to find my way back to meaning after the meaninglessness of it all.
Alright now, up on your feet now. Come on, come on, he says.
We rise, one, two, then more and more.
I’m standing too.
Beginning where we don’t even know if we can possibly end, not on a night like this.
Doing what we don’t even know if it’s alright to be doing, not on a night like this.
What kind of praise is this? What kind of song? How can we sing when so many have died?
How can we praise when we know so many more will die, so many more will be taken
If we cannot end our love affair with guns, with violence and with hate?
They share the stories, the Charleston 9.
We see again their smiling, beautiful, hope-filled faces.
Life ahead of them, looking straight out at it.
We hear the long litany of names of those killed at the Club.
The names go on and on and on. Keep on going on. The beautiful cadence of their names,
Their tender ages. Their hope-filled lives.
How young, how very young they were.
The song begins again.
Let’s get up, come on now, come on, the Deacon says.
More and more are standing.
I am standing too.
We begin again, with praise.
Praise so hate won’t erase the wonder of their lives, the particularity of their stories.
Praise to hold us in our grief.
To move us through the pain.
To stir us to passion.
Praise when they wanted us to start a war of hate.
Praise – We’re clapping our hands, we’re starting to swing. Slowly back and forth. Hands in the air.
We’re singing and praising.
Praise to stand up,
To stand out.
To never forget.
The Pastor stands and remembers,
They just loved their Lord and were just doing what they loved to do –
Gathering for fellowship, scripture study and prayer on Wednesday nights.
A little spiritual renewal midweek to buoy them up,
Revive them in hope, so they could see it through to the end of the week.
Praise to sing loud!
To sing clear! Courageous and brave when they wanted us to cower in fear.
Praise! The possibility, the reach, the hope, the song that will never die, never be taken from us.
Praise! In spite of so many that have been killed,
In spite of the lynching’s and captivity, the slavery and addiction, the prisons and police,
The homelessness and hopelessness, the joblessness and abuse, the despair and so many deaths,
And yet still this rising, this hoping, this Praise.
The Pastor remembers,
They were just some young people out having a good time on a Saturday night.
Doing what young people do. Nothing wrong with that. We were all young once. Yes, we were.
And we remember too.
Praise that we are not here to condemn or judge.
Praise for the possibility of the church growing and changing in acceptance and love.
Yes, sing out our praise!
Take back our song!
Reclaim our sanctuaries!
Turn our prayer to action!
Sing us out of despair!
Three hours later:
The praise goes on.
I know it’s late.
About the time I used to be ready to head out to the Brown and Tan, the Deacon says.
We’re almost done, but before we go, go take a hand. Let’s share a blessing.
I take the usher’s white gloved hand in mine, stretch out my hand to hold
the small bony black hand of the woman beside me.
The night’s been a blessing. A surprising blessing.
We shake hands. Hug. Button up our overcoats. Zip up our jackets. Say our goodbyes.
I tuck my helmet under my arm. Spill out with the rest into the dark night, drizzling rain.
Streetlights sparkle in puddles.
The music from the neighborhood bar spills out in the street.
The young couple walks by laughing, holding hands.
June 21, 2016