Familiarity doesn’t only breed contempt. It creates expectations. Barack Obama has been president for just short of seven years. I read somewhere during his time in office he has made statements at memorials and mass shootings in America 19 times. He has to extremely tired of this part of the job.
Yet Obama does it anyway because while it’s a dirty job, somebody’s gotta do it. Somebody has to remind the rest of us America isn’t a great big unlocked insane asylum where the inmates are armed and running buck wild in the streets though it probably looks that way to the rest of the world.
The President isn’t only the Commander-In-Chief of the nation’s armed forces. He’s also the Counselor-In-Chief when yet another senseless act of violence occurs such as the killing of Susie Jackson, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Cynthia Hurd, Ethel Lee Lance, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Rev. Clementa Pinckney by a murderous White supremacist.
Obama led a bipartisan group from Washington for Pinckney’s memorial service, and he gave praise to the fallen pastor and those of the parishioners who fell with him. The president used a country preacher’s cadence that while solemn was full of hope, healing and grace and grace particularly was on the president’s mind as he lauded Rev. Pinckney.
What a good man. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized — after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say someone was a good man.
You don’t have to be of high station to be a good man. Preacher by 13. Pastor by 18. Public servant by 23. What a life Clementa Pinckney lived. What an example he set. What a model for his faith. And then to lose him at 41 — slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God.
Cynthia Hurd. Susie Jackson. Ethel Lance. DePayne Middleton-Doctor. Tywanza Sanders. Daniel L. Simmons. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Myra Thompson. Good people. Decent people. God-fearing people. People so full of life and so full of kindness. People who ran the race, who persevered. People of great faith.
To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church. The church is and always has been the center of African-American life–a place to call our own in a too often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.
It was no surprise the president spoke plainly and forcefully on the unaddressed issues laid bare by the Charleston church shootings including the bloody rebel flag the killer wrapped himself in.
For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens. It’s true, a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise–as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.
Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.
Americans have a remarkable ability to focus on something with great intensity and then move on from it. Here today is Rachel Dolezal and tomorrow’s she’s a trivia question. But nobody paid attention when NYPD patrolman Peter Liang was indicted for shooting Akai Gurley That’s the sort of thing which matters while Dolezal’s subterfuge and family matters don’t. The President reminded us there’s still a lot of unfinished business.
But I don’t think God wants us to stop there. For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.
Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system –and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.
Then Obama did something no president ever has done before and may never ever do again. He began to sing. The President of the United State sang “Amazing Grace.”
“Amazing grace — how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see. “
Clementa Pinckney found that grace.
Cynthia Hurd found that grace.
Susie Jackson found that grace.
Ethel Lance found that grace.
DePayne Middleton-Doctor found that grace.
Tywanza Sanders found that grace.
Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace.
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace.
Myra Thompson found that grace.
Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.
It’s been a long time since I was in church but Reverend President took me there.
I teared up AND got chills. This was the Obama I voted for. Every now and then my president makes me proud and he reminds me why. I could never imagine President McCain or President Romeny responding the way Obama did. Would Rand or Jeb or even Hillary preach and sing from the pulpit? Maybe they would, probably they wouldn’t but whatever they would do they could never do something so perfectly human.
We may not know it yet, but we’re going to miss Obama when he’s gone. He’s done some very good things, some very bad things, been exceptional, been ordinary, been inspiring and been infuriating. Coming off a week where he had won fast- track trade authority in Congress (mostly with Republican support) and two monumentally important decisions by the Supreme Court making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states and preserving Obamacare, the president had enjoyed some significant wins. We’ve seen many of Obama’s predecessors enjoy good weeks.
What Obama hasn’t been is anything like we’ve ever seen in any American President. That’s a good thing and a uniquely Obama thing.