Blessed is the True Judge – Struggling with the Charleston Church Shooting

Victims of the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 18, 2015.

I only seem to find time to write blog posts when tragedy strikes. Let me start, then, by acknowledging that life for us, in general, is good. I feel blessed every day to have a husband who helps me cultivate my best self and is my partner in every way, and a congregation with whom I have incredible synergy. I am grateful for a community which is doted over by its lay-leadership, staff, and clergy, and which feels safe.

Tomorrow, as we gather for Shabbat services, I will feel just a little bit more broken. The sacred trust that is the sanctuary, where a faith group gathers for worship, has been shattered once again. We live in a world where a shooter can enter a synagogue in Jerusalem during prayer, and a seemingly friendly face can be welcomed warmly, enter a Bible study in a South Carolina church, share in words of Holy Scripture, and then open fire killing nine sacred souls.

When we hear about tragedy, Jewish prescription gives us the words, “Barukh Dayan Emet” – “Blessed is the True Judge”. I must remember that, as the psalmist begins (Psalm 27), “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” I do believe. And I believe that the victims at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston also believed. But I am shaken. I identify with the psalmist here, who also writes (ibid.), “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to visit in his Temple.” And yet, the psalmist cries out: “’Come,’ my heart says, ‘Seek His face!’ Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide Your face from me! Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!”

When I walk alone in the dark, I have my guard up. I listen for suspicious sounds, watch those around me, carry my keys between my fingers. Jewish Sages have discussed the dangers of walking alone in the dark. In the Babylonian Talmud’s first volume, Tractate B’rakhot, the Rabbis discuss the notion that one should not place oneself in danger in order to pray if walking at night. Prayer, as acknowledged by this selection, is a moment where we turn inside, focus on ourselves and on God, to the exclusion of other things. These are the moments we are most vulnerable. In order be able to do the work of prayer and self-reflection, we need to feel secure. We need to be sure that our haven, our literal sanctuary, is not a place we are susceptible to those who can do us the most damage. As South Carolina Governor Nikki R. Haley lamented, “Parents are having to explain to their kids how they can go to church and feel safe, and that is not something we ever thought we’d deal with.” How do we answer our children?

Reports that the shooter shouted anti-black remarks bring this event square into the conversation that Black Lives Matter. Charleston has already been struck by the death of Walter Scott, shot by a police officer in April 2015. Charleston is doing the work to make sure that its community is healing, but I wonder if we as a society are doing enough. We cannot just sit on the sidelines while people, whatever their profession, religion, age, or race, rush to kill other people. The world has already witnessed a world, over and over, where beatings and murders are commonplace in the street enough time. Enough, already. Enough.

“Land of the Free and Home of the Brave?” Free — for everyone, to live freely. Brave — Yes, brave enough to speak out against violence. Brave enough not just to speak, but to rise. Brave enough to harness the energy and despair of heartbreak to channel into action.

But where do we start?
And who is with me?

On this, an important message from Jon Stewart, The Day Jon Stewart Ran Out of Jokes

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