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Mother Emanuel Church

On the day before, he’d felt that his life wasn’t going the way he’d hoped. He might have thought of getting his GED or enrolling in trade school.

On the day before, he was just another kid with an ill-advised haircut. Most of his free time was spent surfing the net, looking for something he couldn’t quite name.

In another version of this day, he might have found a supportive mentor. A teacher from his youth who suggested a project to help the community, or a friend who offered him a job.

But on this day, his life took a terribly wrong turn. Dylann Roof brought a gun into a church and killed nine cherished children of God at a prayer meeting. The whole world cried out in pain upon hearing of this senseless tragedy.

What happened next was astounding. On the very next day, victims’ family members addressed him directly and said they’d forgiven him and were praying for him.

Now he’s entered into the public consciousness as a perpetrator instead of a person. It’s possible that with education and encouragement, he might have gone down a different path, using his own sense of disenfranchisement to help others in similar situations.

If only he had felt that his life had meaning on the day before. If only he’d known that no one else stands in the way of the life he’d hoped to achieve. If only he’d known that God’s grace extends into the hardest of hearts on the darkest of days.

Now, on this day, may we take comfort in the words of this wise sage, and come together to heal as a nation.

“We ask questions, Lord, we ask why… But even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death….we can look through the windows of our faith and see hope and light, and we can hear your voice Lord, saying, I’m with you.”

Rev. John H. Gillison, Emanuel AME Church

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I’ve been going to church since…forever. Or for as long as I can recall, anyway. I remember being so small, the only way I could see over the pew in front of me was to stand on the kneeler, something my mother did not like me to do. One look from her, and all thoughts of bad behavior ceased.

These days, things are different. Parents bring bags of Cheerios to placate and bribe their children into ceasing their screaming for ten seconds. Toddlers wail through the readings. (“It sounded like sinners shrieking from the depths of Hell,” my husband observed after one particularly noisy Mass.) Kids run in the aisles, dart in and out of church, play loudly with toys. One set of parents remains seated, even when the rest of the congregation stands or kneels: They can’t move, or their three-year-old will howl with rage because she has to move out of their laps, where she is being petted and coddled. There is a “Cry Room” in the back of the church designed for these children, but most parents don’t use it. New blinds were recently bought for the Cry Room; in a week they were broken. No parent came forward to claim responsibility for their child’s misdeed.

All of which adds up to a compelling case for a blog post about irresponsible parenting and the decline of “kids these days.” But it isn’t, honestly. This post is about me. I can’t see past these interruptions. They bother me, distract me from the word of God. And guess what? That’s my fault.

Why am I using the most important spiritual time I have each week focusing on the wrong thing? Why can’t I stop condemning? And, most essentially, who is really in the wrong — little kids who can’t help themselves or the grown-up woman who spends her time judging them and their parents? Yup, it’s true. I’m the sinner. My focus is off. Moreover, it’s not my job to judge anyone; that’s up to God. And God understands kids. I’m the one who doesn’t.

Lord, remind me to bless parents who manage, by hook or by crook, to get their little ones to Church each week. Bless, too, the children, who will learn what’s really going on, eventually. At least they have that chance. And when things get noisy or distracting, Lord, center my attention on You. Because I’m supposed to know better. It’s time to demonstrate it.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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