I went to bed last night to the news out of Charleston, SC, of the gunman who opened fire during a prayer meeting at Emmanuel AME Church. Given that all these incidences suit up in a cultural context, which probably proves more distracting than helpful, we just can't seem to escape the staging of it all.
Something this real, something this heavy and rich with life-altering consequences, gets packaged up nicely into what reflects through the right circular cone area of captured light by a camera lens. Community leaders, police representatives, and others cram into this net of what will be broadcast worldwide. Since I'm a fan of the show, Scandal, I'm even betting their words are chosen carefully and, more than likely, handed to them from those studying to anticipate the public's reaction. The flashing red and blue, the yellow police tape, and the split-screened commentary--sure to give credit to the appropriate pundit--all work together to desensitize and lead us almost into denial.
We swim through systems that require labels in order to mobilize the best resources available, so this is now a "hate crime." It is a hate crime! Any person who ceases to want another's life to improve and who ceases to want the other to find fullness of life has engaged in hate. Christ called that murder. Who really dies, though? The secret's in Mark 12 and Leviticus 19.
Yet, there's the deeper theological issue here. I'm not going to clean it up for you. We can use our logic, our hearts, our experiences, and all resources at hand in order to do exactly what we do in that right circular cone of camera world, but the question remains: How?
One might say that we already know how. The fellow entered and participated in the prayer service for about an hour. No one suspected anything. Besides, it's Charleston. I'm sure the rich history of diversity and variety is the very thing that makes the Holy City special. It's the moment, though, when the gunman simply went for it that's up for grabs here.
Before and after that, I can process. Prior to the incident, maybe he's struggling and wrestling with God and himself. Here, I truly believe there's hope on some level of existence.
However, after the gun is aimed and the trigger pulled, the bullet's trajectory is in the throes of physics. The average bullet moves at about 672 meters per second. Gravity pulls the bullet towards the center of the earth at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared. I've forgotten trigonometry, but using vectors, Pythagorean Theorem, and Cosine, we can guesstimate that the trajectory of a bullet fired would travel at about 0.99998 of a degree from horizontal the barrel, towards the center of the earth in a vacuum. Calculate the mass and area of the bullet, along with wind resistance, and we'd just about know what each bullet did upon leaving the barrel. Regardless of what happened before the gunman fired, physical laws such as this one were flawlessly at play.
For me, asking how puts us into the world of our faith and mythos. Honestly, I struggle with answers that stroke my back in search of a comforted, calm purr. Folks, I presume, were mid-prayer, mid-worship. Try interrupting a family meeting of a king, of our president, or even of a lowly mayor. Someone will intervene, I promise. Yet, can the great YHWH, Commander of the Heavenly Forces, be cutoff mid-conversation by one lone gunman? The responses I've heard thus far, "God did not do this...God hates evil, too...We cannot focus on why..." are no good. Nah. Keep thy tongue, man.
Maybe you find this way of wonder to be repulsive. It's not new. There's an edge upon which we teeter. Some did so gracefully, others got forever smeared for their not-so-graceful approach. Some even stared death in the face; and, at death's door, they too wondered.
The gospel screams out, "Remember me!" I reckon it's the last cord in these times. Paul aside, though, we hear our Lord from the cross speak human words--the human Lord Paul never actually met. There are no directions on how we SHOULD feel or how we SHOULD react in these words from the psalms that come from Christ's mouth in Mark's version of the passion.
Let God answer for God's self. I rest. My day will continue: a mere two-hour drive from what happened; yet, a whole universe apart from those who experienced it. My wonder is my prayer for Emmanuel AME Church.