Last night many of us went to bed after hearing the tragic news of the shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina church, or certainly woke this morning to hear of the news over our morning coffee. There are no words deep enough to express our grief that, yet, another expression of pure hate was leveled against a community of love, a sister church to us all. All that we can do at this point is to pray, and there is much for which to pray. And, hopefully, there may be much we can learn.
I call Emanuel AME church our sister church because we are related in so many ways. When we look at the name African Methodist Episcopal church it is easy to immediately think since the Episcopal is a part of their name they must have come from the Episcopal Church, but that is not the case, directly. The use of the word Episcopal comes from the type of leadership they employ, like us, they have Bishops (Episcopate leaders) as the head of their organization. The AME church comes out of the Methodist denomination back in 1787 when Richard Allen led most of the African American members out of St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia protesting segregation within the worship. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones were the first two African Americans licensed as Methodist clergy. Ironically, while Richard Allen started Mother Bethel AME Church, Absalom Jones went on to become an Episcopal Priest.
An additional connection between the AME church and the Episcopal church is that the Methodist Church was founded by John and Charles Wesley, both of whom were Anglican Priest in the Church of England, and remained so until their deaths. The name Methodist comes from practicing worship in a certain “method”, and that method comes from using the Book of Common Prayer—a version of which is still used in both the Methodist and Anglican churches (ours is the 1979 version of the BCP) to this day. However, all being said about the closeness of being “kissing cousins”—and we are—the main reason we are sister churches is in we are all Christians following a loving God who created us all equally, equally the children of God and brothers and sisters with Christ—we follow Christ, therefore we are Christians.
This open letter to you is my article for the newsletter, and unfortunately, a timely piece, for the world has again become a crazy, hurting place.
I had hoped to use this article to tell you a little about my sabbatical and some of the joys I found. And, I will in a small way.
In my last article I talked about a “cleansing rain” that comes in spring to wash away the effects of winter so we can prepare for summer. Little did I know that the cleansing rains would last for weeks, instead of just a few hours. Because of the rains I spent a great deal of time indoors reading and reflecting. One of my goals, or hopes, during sabbatical was to help reestablish my sense of Spirituality. Over time, with too much work and not enough down time, my Spirituality had become dulled and dark. I needed the time to regain a connection with God and with what is good in our world and universe. Gratefully, that mission was accomplished, but only after returning to work and to the Church family I love.
But, now, our extended church family has been hurt, and some murdered. How do we make sense of this? And, what does this mean for us? That is a multiple answer and the first part is that we can’t make sense of it, it is too unreal in our known world, the world of coming together on a Sunday morning to worship together, to pray together and to be with each other. Thankfully, what happened last night is not a part of our world, and is very unlikely to ever become so. However, it is important for us to try and make some sense of what happened and why. Some of the work I have been reading talks of the seventeenth-century scientist Emanuel Swedenborg and his search for the seat of consciousness, centering on the brain. After a revelation he discovered he was looking in the wrong place, Swedenborg began looking inward. Through spiritual meditations he began to find answers. Because of his methods his writings of what he discovered became the ridicule of both scientists and theologians, but still hold many truths for today. What Swedenborg “found” was basically, if you are a person defined by love you will be found in the presence of God both here and in heaven, and if you a person defined by hate, you ended up in hell. Further, we find that “birds of a feather” really do attract like kind, and if you are a person of love, you will surround yourself with love. In like manner, if you surround yourself with hate, and you attract others who hate and live a life of hell, now and in the after-life.
One of the basic understandings we have about our faith and the universe God created is there is both good and evil. Last night, as we have seen so often in the past, evil emerged. We know who the young man was, and that he was quickly captured. What we do not know, just as we do not know why with James Holmes in the Aurora Theater shooting, is why. The pundits and theorists will debate any and all such acts of hate, and they will give answer upon answer, but in the end only God knows. What we do know is we have lost some very wonderful, loving people and it hurts. Moreover, we know that those who were lost last night, they will rest in the arms of our Lord, as we all will who surround ourselves in love. For now, what hurts them hurts us. I am reminded of the work of physicist John Stewart Bell in his 1964 theorem, proven in a 2014 experiment that paired particles separated by millions of light years will move in instantaneous concert with each other, because time and distance are illusions. What is not an illusion, what is real for those who live in love and in the presence of our brother Jesus, is what hurts one of us hurts us all, for we are all family members.
God has made us equal; gentile or Jew, man or woman, one race or another, straight or gay, conservative or liberal, it does not matter. What brings us together is love—God’s love, and what divides us is hate. Jesus tells us no house divided can stand, but goes on to tell us to “love one another as I have loved you.” At this time, a crisis within our extended church, let us stand united in love, and in mutual sorrow and grief.