I wish I could say I'm surprised at the tragedy. I wish I could say I'm surprised by the fact that, yet again, one person has entered a peaceful community and violated its safety with hatred and bullets. I wish I could be shocked and saddened at the racism exhibited. I wish I weren't so sure of what will be spoken on the news for the next month or so. But I am.
The news will give us in depth coverage on the shooter and very little information about the martyrs. The "Christian" right, which announces its persecution every November, will be devastatingly silent at this evidence of actual persecution. Gun activists will announce that if more guns had been in that church, fewer people would have died. Gun control activists will dredge up every mass shooting in the last 12 months and demand change. Mental health advocates will announce that we need more access to mental health resources (because we all know that the shooter will be found to be mentally ill in some kind of way).
But the real problem lies within. It is within me, when I yell or honk at a driver I feel threatened by. When I condemn a group of politicians or organization wholesale for their different opinions and policies. Jesus taught me that my words are bullets.
The problem is within my communities. When we declare our own anger justified. When we refuse to accept responsibility for our actions because someone else "made" us feel an emotion. When we get in shouting matches on social media, forgetting that the group we are demeaning is composed of beings created in the image of God. When we refuse to engage in the hard work of relationship and instead throw money and objects at a problem, hoping that will resolve it.
The problem is within us, Americans. It is within our entertainment, where shooting and crime is a given. It is within our movies, when violence is given lower ratings than consensual sexuality. It is within our lobby groups, when a person's individual rights are given precedence over the other. It is within our history, when we embraced the man made concept of "race" and used it to deny humanity to a group of people. It is when we believe that externally imposed morality will solve our inner problem.
What is our problem? We still do not believe or accept God's grace and love. We think we must earn it, by some application of Torah or Fundamentalist Law. We think we must hold the right beliefs to be accepted by God, and so we question each other about theories of creation, evolution, abortion, gun control, feminism, birth control, Viagra, smoking, drinking, dancing, worship style, communion, race, politics, the Trinity, God's gender, the role of the Bible, money, child discipline styles, diet, warfare, self-defense, tattoos, hair length, clothing, modesty, sexuality, mental illness, drug abuse, alcoholism, swearing, etc.
I look for the sin within myself and then I repent, because that is how I deepen my love for God (Luke 7:36-50). I mourn for the church in Charleston because it reminds me that I shoot people with my anger and my mouth every day. And I know that despite all that, I am infinitely precious in God's eyes, today, in this moment and in the next.