This post was originally written and shared on a now-defunct website about videogames that I started in 2015, prior to starting Exvangelical. It’s original publication date was 6/22/2015. In light of today’s church shooting in Texas, over two years since Charleston, I am publishing it again.
I grew up in a small town in Indiana.
It was a small town like many others in Indiana, and in states all across the country: historically white, a mix of blue and white collar (with probably more blue than white to go around), and somewhat insular. The world I knew wasn’t very large, and though much of that had to do with being a child, it also had to do with where I was being raised. (I’m grateful for that, and I wouldn’t change it—but that’s not the reason for this post.)
But every year we would visit a place that made my world a little bigger: Charleston, SC.
When I was a kid, the church my family attended would sponsor a group of families to go to the rural areas surrounding Charleston, SC for a week. The church partnered with a local non-profit that would put us in contact with people who needed homes built or repaired.
It was always an adventure, especially for a little kid. Our whole family started going when I was just 6 years old. On a Friday in June, we’d arrange a caravan of several cars, hook up CB radios, assign call names for everyone, and spend a day and a half driving south, out of the MIdwest and through the Smokey Mountains to get to South Carolina. On Sunday morning, we’d finish our ride into Johns Island and arrive at the AME church (where we’d stay throughout the week) just in time for the church service.
Things got interesting for us Hoosiers then. We were always fish out of water.
This church my family attended? It was high-church United Methodist: altar boys (I was one), tall pulpits, grand ceilings, padded pews, choir robes, a balcony, call and response, moments with the children, “we’ll be singing verses 1, 2, & 4; that’s verses 1, 2, & 4,” brief & perfunctory homilies, communion once a month, and one hour on the dot services.
The AME church we would visit? It was nothing like that. The pastor would shout for Hallelujahs! Sometimes a man or woman would deliver a 20 minute ad-hoc sermon before the sermon proper began. The songs were lively in a way we weren’t accustomed to. Even the way they clapped was different–I can still see my dad trying to find the rhythm of the claps as he stood next to me, or when they called the fathers up to the front for Father’s Day.
It was all so different, and it was wonderful. It was a thrill to meet people so different than me, who looked different than me, who lived somewhere so different than me. It didn’t matter to them that I, my family, and every other family that came with us from some small town in Indiana was white and they were black. Those people loved us. We loved them. Their children learned about the same God that I did. Those lessons were meant to teach us all to love God and one another.
But let’s not forget the reasons why we were there. We were there to help people in this community that were in need. These people were overwhelmingly people of color that needed basic things like indoor plumbing, or a new roof, or a whole new house because theirs was too dilapidated. These were people who had far, far less than I did.
I came across this tweet while following all the discourse about the Charleston killings:
There is no place more welcoming than the black church. No place more kind. No place more generous. No place more grace-filled.
— Austin Channing (@austinchanning) June 18, 2015
This is absolutely true. Absolutely true. The people that were killed in Charleston were just like the people that formed my life. They welcomed this hate-filled monster into their church because they were the opposite of monsters. They believed they were supposed to love God and one another.
If only our society had a sliver as much compassion as these people did, that god-damned flag would still not be flying over the capitol. I’m not so certain God damns people, but I know for sure that a God who is Love surely damns hatred. And institutionalized hatred–mundane, everyday hatred that devalued an entire race into chattel slavery and then went to war to defend that right–is exactly what that flag stands for.
My life as a white, middle-class, straight, Protestant man was fundamentally shaped by my interactions with the black church. I am so grateful to my parents for giving me those experiences. It made me realize, even as a child, that the world was far bigger and more complex than I imagined. It made me realize my privilege.
It’s a privilege I still benefit from although I don’t deserve it and never have. The flip side of that privilege is the disadvantage of others, just because of their skin color. It’s time that it stopped. It’s time that we all demand it.
I started this site just a couple of weeks ago to post occasionally about video games. The name of this site is itself taken from a video game (see my post here for the explanation). While I was kicking the name around with a friend online though, he pointed out that it also has a hint of the idea of resurrection in it. He was right. “Your Journey Ends (Continue)” is a canny description of the concept of resurrection. I didn’t think I’d get around to using that metaphor so quickly in the life of this site, but so it goes. (I’m not going to compare loss of actual life to loss of life in a video game–the source of the phrase is a video game, but I am discussing the idea presented by the phrase.)
Nine people had their journey ended. They cannot continue until they are resurrected, which they believe will happen. But for those of us who remain, we can continue and we must. We can address the vitriol in our own hearts, admonish the symbols and institutions that perpetuate hate, and continue to demand change from ourselves, our communities, our police, and our governments. We must not give up. We must persist.
We must receive people with love, just as the AME church that took in our church. We must welcome them. And we must fight and demand for better. Because it’s everyone’s problem, but few communities pay the cost. That’s not right. And that must change.