After Charleston: What Beautiful Orthodoxy Looks Like
Finding hope and forgiveness in my A.M.E. church
We shouldn't be here. Sitting in our same pews, singing our same hymns, swinging our cars into the church parking lot, running a bit late. Greeting ushers at the door, grabbing a church bulletin, rushing down an aisle to our seats, scooting past Sister You-Know-Who (who, every Sunday, makes latecomers crawl over her ankles to find a place in her row).
She can be a little annoying, this good sister. Yet we smile, peck her cheek, yield to her hug—so glad to see her aged, wrinkled Christian face that we could die.
But there's been enough dying this summer. Enough hurt. Enough controversies. Enough Dylann Roof. Enough hard funerals. Enough bad pain.
Yet here we are again. Stumbling past an old mother's toes to our favorite spot on a pew—and ridiculously glad about it.
I was glad, indeed, when the faithful said unto me, "Let us go into the house of the LORD" (Psalm 122:1).
Because if I don't go? I will die.
That's my simple conclusion. When my black life hurts too much to explain, the beauty of Christ points me back to church to hug an old lady and worship. That is Beautiful Orthodoxy.
On my own, I'd stay home and scream. Nine blacks slaughtered in a church? Black men shot dead in traffic stops? Xenophobic supremacists burning our churches? Saying black people bring them down?
Yet I don't scream. Led by God, I instead go back to church.
And what do I find?
On the Sunday immediately following the Charleston massacre, a white pastor walks into our A.M.E. sanctuary in Denver with his entire congregation. His church members pass out white roses to the members of our church, saying healing words.
"We're with you!" You're not alone. We're fighting for you. We stand beside you.
The pastor's 12-year-old son wears a T-shirt emblazoned with fighting words: Black Lives Matter.
So I smile. Through tears, I say thank you. I take a picture of the boy and a friend with my phone, grateful for their showing of love and beauty.
Frankly, part of me wants to be ugly, to plead: Go away! Leave us alone. Allow us to grieve in private.
They understand that rage, the pastor says. "But we came anyway."
This is orthodoxy made beautiful: loving more than we fear somebody else's pain.
Oh, the risk of it. Just loving somebody because we trust God enough to handle everything else.
But how do we this? We love our neighbor. We choose to show Jesus—like the Amish parents who forgave a neighbor's son after he walked in their one-room school and shot 10 schoolgirls, killing five of the children before killing himself. By nightfall, some of the victims' families came to the shooter's home to love and console his parents. Some later attended his funeral.
"There are not words to describe how that made us feel that day," said the man's mother.
In Charleston this past June, the families of Dylann Roof's victims extended the same love, telling their loved ones' killer, "I forgive."
So now across Christendom, as we speak to the world and ask them to reconsider the Cross, we find we must simply stand under it.
Can we offer ordinary power on our own? Impossible. But like the Christ's Apostle Paul, this is what we can do: We "can do all things through Christ who strengthens us" (Philippians 4:13, ESV).
Thus empowered, we go back to our gun-scarred Bible study rooms. Back to our contested pews. Our imperfect churches. Our broken families. Our complicit neighbors. Our prodigal children. Our broken world.
And we love.
And that is not only orthodox and beautiful. It's doggone right.
Patricia Raybon is an award-winning author of books and essays on mountain-moving faith. Her latest is Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace. She is also a regular contributor for CT's Today's Christian Woman.