“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country…”
Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968
Yesterday was a historic day – as is now well-known, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage for all. It was also the day of the funeral for Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the victims of the shooting that happened a little over a week ago.
You will recall that on Wednesday, June 17, a young white man entered a church in South Carolina where a bible study group was meeting, and shot and killed 9 people, including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a senator for the state of South Carolina. Once arrested, the shooter said that he intended to start a “race war”.
Yesterday, President Obama – a long-time friend of Rev. Pinckney – stood before a crowd of nearly 6000 people and delivered a eulogy that was astoundingly beautiful and stirring. His theme was grace.
After discussing the life of Clementa Pinckney and his example, Pres. Obama turned to speak of the killer and his plans to stir up more violence and hatred in this country. He spoke about how the young man acted out the kind of violence that has been ongoing one way or another throughout this nation’s history. The shooter thought he would increase fear and violence. “Oh,” Pres. Obama said, “but God works in mysterious ways.”
God has different ideas. He [the shooter] didn’t know he was being used by God. …Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.
“This whole week,” he said, “I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace…”
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.
President Obama dwelt upon the idea that the shooter did not understand grace, and therefore could not have expected or imagined that the families of the victims would forgive him, that the nation would react with “revulsion to his evil act” and “big-hearted generosity,” that America would come out on the other side introspective and willing to change.
As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.
I love the idea that we have all received grace – generosity, love, and compassion that is undeserved, unmerited, unearned. Should we not now “go and do likewise”?
Let me put it this way: the shooter who killed 9 people at a bible study group lashed out in hatred with a desire to create hurt. He wanted to make people feel bad. Sadly, this is not a unique agenda.
Since yesterday’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, many have set out to make others feel bad for the Supreme Court’s decision. I have witnessed this on my facebook feed.
In the end, is it so very different? Though in varying degrees, the shooter’s plan and the people’s reactions to the ruling carry the same sorry attitude.
The point that I want to make is this: regardless of what any of us believe, we are all given the chance – daily – to analyze our own actions, and take steps to act with more love and compassion towards others. We are all trying to do the right thing – we just have different understandings of what that means. Lashing out or posturing never changes anyone’s mind – but love and compassion can certainly change hearts.
In conclusion to his eulogy for Senator Pinckney, the President of the United States sang the christian hymn “Amazing Grace” before 6000 people who then joined him in song. The halls rang with their voices singing words written by a former slave ship captain who later reformed and became an abolitionist.
how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost,
but now am found;
but now I see.
The best thing any of us can do is to remember our need for grace, and to act with grace towards others.
Watch full eulogy here.
Read text of eulogy here.
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