I’m trying to process the events in Charlottesville, VA this weekend.
I’ve been so caught up in my little world that I had no clue that white supremacists were gathering in VA this past weekend; I read the headline that a car backed into a group of protesters, but not the article; I did my best to ignore the Facebook posts; I tried to pretend my heart did not hurt when I saw the picture of the young lady who was killed; I didn’t want to listen when my mother-in-law started talking about Nazis at Sunday dinner. I JUST WANT TO PRETEND THE WHOLE THING DID NOT HAPPEN!
I want to think about haircuts and school shopping lists and my work that must get done. I don’t want to think about intolerance and extremism.
And I especially do not like to think about hate in Charlottesville of all places. I’ve been to Charlottesville in the spring to see the campus and Monticello. I have a vision of the place covered in beautiful azaleas. And everyone I’ve met from Charlottesville has been so lovely. I associate the town with warmth and hospitality and my first ever taste of sweet potato pie. Even the license plates make it clear: “Virginia is for lovers.”
It just seems like the completely wrong setting for a conflict between white supremacists and anti-fascists with clergy in the middle of it all singing “This Little Light of Mine” and police on the sidelines. And all because of a statue of General Robert E. Lee? I can’t wrap my head around this. Truth is stranger than fiction. This would never be believable as a movie. Not at all!
The only way for me to make sense of this: it was like a fight between two siblings where one brother does something that he knows will rile the other brother just to get his brother in trouble for reacting (and it backfired). I can’t comprehend hate groups, so forgive me if this seems like an over simplification. But I’ve seen kids do this. And what follows seems like a really, horrible grown-up version of bad acting. If the intent was to start a public brawl (and from the looks of it, the group came ready for a fight), then the whole protest regarding General Lee’s statue seems an abuse of both the right of the people to assemble peaceably and our freedom of speech (at least from a common sense perspective).
It’s so hard for me to believe this really happened: On a Friday night, white men marched with torches and chanted “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” as clergy and church members gathered to pray for the blessing to show up at the next day’s protest regarding the statue and demonstrate what love looks like. (This should go without saying: There’s should be no intimidating of people gathered in worship with torches.)
Let me focus on the more positive aspect of the evening: I watched a video of the church service with a mostly white congregation gathered to hear a black, female pastor named Rev. Traci Blackmon preach on David and Goliath, packed to standing room only. This picture seems more reflective of the Charlottesville I know. I’m proud of the people gathered together that night.
We can form our own opinions of General Robert E. Lee by learning history. A pastor, who is also a great nephew of General Robert E. Lee, delivered a sermon this Sunday after all the craziness in Charlottesville:
God, who calls us not to silence but to redemption was watching, and if you didn’t see the oppression, if it somehow missed you on social media or the nightly news you only have yourself to blame… If you are silent at a moment like this, if you do not condemn the racism you see through whatever channels and avenues you have, you can leave church now because you’re doing church wrong.-Rev. Robert Wright Lee, IV
His words hit me hard. These words are all the more powerful coming from a Rev. Lee, who has wrestled with story of his family. By doing so, he is able to own it and change it for the better going forward.
A theme I heard as I listened to all sides of this odd conflict: “Is there a space for us?” We share a common need to thrive, to live, to love. There’s no room for hatred or spreading fear, but there is room for all of God’s children. We don’t all have to see eye-to-eye on everything. There’s work to be done and plenty of space. The loss of Heather shows that not one of us can be replaced. Her family and coworkers and friends will miss her always.
My prayers tonight are with the family of Heather Heyer and also with the families of the two state troopers who were killed in the helicopter accident. I give God thanks for the courage he gave to the clergy who chose to just show up and pray. I pray for all those who live in Charlottesville, who are heartbroken that this happened in their hometown. I pray for all those who are scared by what just happened; may God replace their fear with love and a sense of protection. I pray for students returning to campus, grant them travelling mercies and a peaceful school year. Forgive me when I am silent and when I so badly want to look the other way. God bless our country and let everyone know that there’s enough space for all and that God’s love is for everyone.
What finally woke me up to the troubles in Charlottesville was the picture below of clergy walking together, arm-in-arm with Cornel West at the center of it all. I am pretty sure that Cornel West would not have much patience for me as a girl who grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City (in a county frequently referred to as “The Land of Cupcakes”). And though we may not see much the same way because our life experiences are so very different, I do admire his courage and willingness to show up and to speak love in Virginia. Whenever he speaks, I hear echoes of the prophet Amos so this seemed like a fitting place to put the picture in my Bible and leave a prayer…