The rain mists down from glum skies today, with occasional outbursts of serious force. Scott is a thousand kilometers away. The first of three pre-packing projects I had expected to finish last night took me double the time so just finished. And in spite of my best intentions, I keep checking the news and reading with sorrow about the shootings in the AME church in South Carolina.
The victims were middle-aged church ladies, an elderly janitor, a young college grad, pastors. The kind of people who spend their mid-week evening in a church. People like me. Except, they were hated because of their racial identity, by a 21 year old kid with a gun.
A thousand people smarter than me will analyze what went wrong. Centuries of injustice of the most horrific sort, kidnapping people, buying them, selling them, trafficking them across oceans, treating them as expendable means of production, as subhuman beings to be exploited. Centuries of enriching ourselves at the expense of others, and justifying it with indefensible laws. Centuries of emphasizing difference, building barriers. Then another century of denying the sins of our fathers and ourselves, thinking we could somehow move on, that it would all go away. Only it didn't. Educational and economic gaps still glare; the tension is still ready to boil at any flashpoint. Baltimore and Ferguson and McKinney and now, Charleston.
Why does someone like Dylann feel justified in walking into a church and shooting people who, but for a bit of melanin in their skin, could be his mother? I think the bottom line in hate-crimes is fear. Fear that the other type of person will get something I need, fear that my type of people won't be OK. Fear based on scarcity, fear that my survival is threatened by the others. Fear that this is a zero-sum universe, and that the equation may not add up favorably for my group.
In Africa, we call that tribalism. Kenya's neighbor breeds that fear, sending young men the same age as Dylann (but more lethally armed) into churches and universities to kill. In Burundi, the decades of mistrust, violence, suspicion between two groups of people are torpedoing efforts to establish democracy. In South Sudan, the newest country in the world is disintegrating as its diverse groups grab for land and power and wealth, ready to kill their supposed competitors. In Uganda, a simmering conflict between the two main language-groups of people where we work heats up, last summer triggering numerous deaths. These are all the places we work, and every single one is as unstable as Charleston.
Ever since Cain, one type of person looks at another and thinks, maybe that one is going to get what I need, let me kill him to save myself.
What can overcome that fear? Only love. Which is not a vague feeling of benevolence towards the other group. Love requires interaction. Understanding. Living alongside. Sharing. Sacrificing for the other. Listening. Repenting. Love brings a change in perspective, from competition in a world of scarcity, to collaboration in a world where grace throws all bets off. Love means confidence that God has my back, that I don't have to kill or threaten or dominate my neighbors to survive. Love celebrates the differences that make this world beautiful and interesting; love lets the toe be a toe and the eye be an eye and is thankful we can work together.
As a minority for the last nearly 22 years, I have been privileged to be befriended and accepted by people whose area of the world was devastated by the area in which I was born. People like the man who wrote a message of forgiveness on Dylann's facebook page. Perhaps my other-ness has been so extreme as to be non-threatening in a sea of tribal anxiety. But I am grateful to rub shoulders every day, working and living with people who do not look the same as I do, discovering that we actually are brothers and sisters.
A church-shooting in Charleston is the predictable outcome of segregation, keeping people afraid of the other, keeping people apart. And ever since Cain killed Abel, we have longed for a world where fear does not drive hate, and where perfect love casts it out.