Thursday, June 25, 2015

Charleston and the Radical Forgiveness of Jesus - Updated

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

I am sure that all of us have been sickened to our stomachs by the recent shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in the USA where 9 people died at the hands of a gun weilded by Dylan Roof. 

Whilst not in our own nation and therefore not our direct concern, the amount of gun violence leading to death in the US seems to be on the rise.

President Obama spoke recently in the aftermath of the attack:

"...Gun violence, “Costs this country dearly”

“More than 11,000 Americans were killed in 2013 alone. If congress had passed some common sense legislation after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classroom, reforms that 90% of the American people supported” … “ we might still have more Americans with us. We might have stopped one shooter. Some families might still be home. Y’all might have to attend fewer funerals. And we should be strong enough to acknowledge this. We should be able to talk about this issue as citizens … At some point as a country, we have to reckon with what happens. It’s not enough to express sympathy. You don’t see this kind of murder, on this scale, with this kind of frequency in other advanced countries on earth… What’s different is that not every country is awash with easily accessible guns. I refuse to act as if this is the new normal.”

What made this case different to many of the other incidents of gun violence in the US and in our own nation was the response of the victims’ families.

In recent days, the chief magistrate offered the families of the victims to make statements to Dylan Roof, in court before his bail was set.  One after one mothers, sisters and grand mothers stood to speak on behalf of their grieving loved ones.

In the face of such inhumanity, especially bearing in mind that the church in question played a key part in the Civil Rights Movement, it would have been all too easy to condemn the gunman and label his actions as acts of racist terrorism and add more words of hate. Instead something else happened in that courtroom.

Felecia Sanders , mother of Tywanza Sanders said:

“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts ... and I’ll never be the same.”
“Tywanza Sanders was my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you but may God have mercy on you.”

Bethane Middleton-Brown, representing family of the Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor said:

“DePayne Doctor was my sister. And I just thank you on the behalf of my family for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress and I acknowledge that I’m very angry.”
“But one thing DePayne always joined in my family with is that she taught me we are the family that love built… We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul. And I also thank God I won’t be around when your judgment day comes with him.”

Anthony Thompson, representing family of Myra Thompson said:

“I forgive you, my family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways no matter what happens to you and you’ll be OK. Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”
Nadine Collier (l), daughter of victim Ethel Lance, offered forgiveness to Dylan Roof
Therein lies the challenge. Jesus said:

‘…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven… For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect…’

I find the offer of forgiveness from these families radically challenging, life affirming, & deeply counter-cultural. In Jesus ministry when we see forgiveness of one person, or their healing, the effects of it spread like ripples when a stone is dropped in a pool. That forgiveness or healing reinstates someone in a family, in a community, in a neighbourhood - as one life is restored so others are affected and renewed. Community is made when love is shared.

We may not come face to face with the horror of a loved one gunned down, but we will often be confronted with situations in our families, friendships or neighbourhoods where our natural inner response might be that of anger based on injustice which if left to fester might lead to hatred. But that’s the easy way.

Jesus’ way challenges us, those grieving families in Charleston challenge us to let go of anger and hatred and in so doing our hands and hearts are then free to choose forgiveness and love. it’s not the easy task but it is the braver and bolder one. Forgiveness is hard to give and harder still to receive but it always renews, it always hopes, it always leads to transformation not just of the one but of the many it touches.



This post above is about forgiveness, but then I saw this video about gun ownership and I hope you agree that it adds something...

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Faith in Social Media 2015

I was recently asked to speak at the above conference hosted by the Beds and Herts Media Trust about how I have been using Facebook in parochial ministry. I had the privilege of working alongside an excellent colleague who has also sought to use social media to build networks within her own local community and into those networks to be and bring the church.

We spoke initially in the 'Case Studies' section of the day and then ran 4 small workshops - more social media surgeries - working from where people were starting from and dealing with their issues and questions.

Our case study presentation looked, in note form, a little like this:

·         Introduce ourselves, parishes.  Perhaps something less formal like explaining our personal profile picture, why we first began to use FB.
·         Overview: reasons for using FB, approaches and intentions.  E.g. Public face, accountability, advertising, building relationships.
·         Basic decisions e.g. who manages the page, linking to website,  page vs group, age limits, difference between Facebook and Twitter.
·         Using FB via a group, blog linking, vulnerability, boundaries, time of day, invitations e.g. baptism. (Referencing my invitations to being Baptised at the Easter Vigil and the Festival of the Baptism of Christ posted on Facebook)
·         Using FB via a page, community linking, messaging, knowing the age/gender profile, creating an ‘event’.
·         Closing comments; not the answer to all evangelism and rapidly changing landscape. Vital to engaging in modern communities.

Following the conference which was an excellent opportunity to network and share what we have discovered through interaction I was interviewed by Mike Naylor for BBC Three Counties Radio - the interview which went out at 8.40am this morning.

I'm very grateful to Stephen, for editing the interview down.