“Our City Comes Together: Community Prayer and Healing Vigil”


Rev. Rivers, Rev. Rutledge and I were together when we received the devastating news of what had happened Wednesday night. We were three days into a bus tour of civil rights sites in the South. We’d been to Atlanta and Selma, Jackson and Memphis. We’d stood in the precise locations where great leaders had been shot and walked down the very roads where communities had marched and lifted one another up. At some point in this whirlwind, I’ve lost the ability to differentiate what’s been preserved in black-and-white and what is happening in living color. I had hoped against hope that we had left behind the racism that could spur such violence and destruction. It is heart-wrenching to know that the same hate that murdered four African American girls in a church in Birmingham, AL is the same hate that has murdered nine African American men and women praying and studying in their own church here in Charleston 52 years later.

But this too, we know. The love in which we come together tonight is, must be, and will be stronger. The same spirit that moved Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers,Septima Clark and Abraham Joshua Heschel, that too is alive and strong, flowing down through the generations, reverberating in our own hearts.

And so we come together, and we pray.

Esa einai el he-harim
Mei-ayin yavo ezri

The Psalmist said: “I lift my eyes to the mountains, what is the source of my help? My help comes from God, Maker of heaven and earth.”

We come together this evening in grief and sorrow, in shock and disbelief. We come in anger, concern and outrage. We come together looking for hope and courage, for comfort and consolation. We come together to find and affirm our strength.

The Psalmist lifted his eyes and found God in the mountains. We too lift our eyes, but where do we look? We lift our hearts, our hands, our souls and spirits – with all our being we search, but what is the source of our help?

That we come… together. THIS is help’s source right now. This community. This fellowship. The knowledge that we don’t have adequate answers to our questions – Why these nine souls? Why Depayne, Myra, Ethel Lee, Daniel, Sharonda, Tywanza, Susie, Cynthia, and Clementa? Why haven’t we eradicated the hate? Why haven’t we stopped the violence? – We search, but we search together.

We know that feeling expressed in the ancient parable – where a wanderer is lost, unsure of the way out of the forest. And when he meets a fellow wanderer, that man is no more clear of the way out than the first. But they both know from whence they’ve come, and that now they can continue on a new path, together.

O God, we turn to You today, not for explanation – it is hard to believe You could understand this any more than we. But we ask You to do what You can, and that is powerfully mighty – to turn our common searching, our common longing for hope and meaning, into strengthened connections that can indeed lead us to make meaning from this most tragic of moments, and to find and hold on to hope and faith.

The Psalmist lifted his eyes to the mountains; we look into the eyes of one another in this beautifully diverse community. We look into the eyes of our fellow human beings of all races, of all cultures, of all faiths – we look into one another’s eyes and there we find You, O God, our abiding Source of hope, of courage, of strength, and of peace. And let us say: Amen.

Freedom’s Travelogue, Part I


I don’t have much experience with touring by bus. My only experience, really, is travel through Israel – and this is certainly a different experience.

Winding our way though the South, we’re making a pilgrimage to significant sites and markers on Freedom’s (often bloody) Road to civil rights for African Americans here in the U.S. Unlike virtually every site in Israel – which can astound you suddenly and cumulatively with the realization of just how far you are from home – every place we’ve seen on this trip is striking in its familiarity. The Atlanta birthplace and home church of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which has grown into the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, is in the heart of one of America’s busiest cities. The home of martyred Mississippi civil rights activist Medgar Evers, nestled in the first middle-class African American neighborhood in Jackson (and probably all of), Mississippi could be, from outward appearances, the home of one of my parents growing up in St. Louis or Philadelphia – except for the lack of a front door and the children’s mattresses lying on the floor below window-level, both intentional decisions to protect against the very real and constant threat of gun shots from extremists.

But there’s one thing that reminds me very much of Israel: The street signs. In Israel, they read “Jabotinsky” and “Achad Ha-Am.” In Mississipi and Alabama, they’re “Carver” and “Evers” and, seemingly everywhere, “Martin Luther King, Jr.” – or just “King” or “MLK.” In both places, history is never further away than the green sign at the end of the road – and that street doesn’t have to be a major freeway, it could be the one you live on, everyday, just at the end of the driveway of your very own home.

But do we read the signs for history, just as we do for navigation? To figure out where we’ve been, to know how we’ve arrived here, and to see how we need to get where we need to go? Maybe we need to hand out maps to our students along with their text books. And remember that so many names have been lost to both.