What Love Looks Like: An Anatomy of Love and Forgiveness As We Seek Racial Healing

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Within twenty four hours of the deadly Charleston massacre, some directly-affected family and church members were heard offering prayers and love to the perpetrator of the hate crime. I was held in deep honor by the stories of each victim. I could only respect and admire the amazing lives they were. The murdered mother of two, Ms. Singleton’s legacy, recounted by her two children, was forever etched in my memory. What a tremendous generosity of heart she must have exhibited! Her children could not talk about their unjustly slain mother without smiling and laughing, which only moved me, a stranger, to tears. It was as if I had known her personally. But I was left to wonder: Isn’t this what true love in action should look, sound, and feel like?

Of course, as is typical with our short-lived reactive lives, embodied so well by the news cycle, we were all ready to move on to related issues of racism, gun control, “N” word, and now the confederate flag. The latter which has been arguably the uncontested remaining symbol of racism, short of white sheets, seems to be on its final journey to the museums of history. Its significance of past glory, pride…and whatever else it means to those who claim such ties will no longer be state supported. South Carolina’s Gov. Nickki Haley and America are ready to move beyond the racism the flag equally embodies. But is America truly ready for this moment?

A deep examination of love and hatred and everything in between is yet to be carried out. Enough of short cycle hyperboles. When some people talk about “love of/for country”, how is that love expressed? When one loves country so much so that they believe and act to take it back from other citizens, there’s something hateful about that love. When high ranking public figures accuse a sitting president of not loving the country, we need to question their own interpretation of love.

There is really a dire need to examine our concepts of love. Two glaring images are presented to us: Charleston families articulating love– marginalized, bereaved, and yet loving and forgiving….

Confederate flag-carrying, Take-our-country-back patriots also articulating love,  of country. But “country” is all of us and not merely a notion of We vs. Them.

It’s a stark contrast, but we are asked to know them by their fruit.  Of course, pain and loss are experienced differently and so the responses to them too. Consequently, let’s take the direct victims out of the equation for a moment. The rest of us are going to respond one way or the other to hateful terrorists that Roof (Charleston) and Tsarnaev (Boston) both are. To the extent that both have challenged our love as citizens and members of a common humanity, it might truly be very telling how we respond and label both of them. They each espoused hatred and acted on their hate. If we are going to apply mental health coverage on one, then it should apply to the other. But that’s not the point. It’s America’s willingness to look ourselves in the mirror and come to the conclusion that the race and ethnicity of the hateful criminals (nor of the victims for that matter) should have nothing to do with how we respond. Anything less belies our racial untruths that race does not matter.

South Charleston has proven to us that race does matter, but that love can heal the racial wounds. The enactors of such healing love were not carrying flags or posters to demonstrate their love — their love of self, of others and of this beautiful country. In fact, they were the least expected to offer this path forward, having been the recipients of the hatred they encountered. In life, they welcomed the stranger to their Bible Study in love; in death, they remain undeniable, unexpected symbols of racial healing. Their family and community who continue to demonstrate love silence the noise and din of racism –a powerful testimony to carry America towards racial healing and forgiveness.

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