Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta–A Book Review

Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta

Reviewed by Marion D. Aldridge

Before, during, and after a recent trip to Mississippi for a writers’ retreat, I read lots of Mississippi authors, from William Faulkner to Eudora Welty to John Grisham. But the gem I discovered was Dispatches from Pluto, winner of the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, and a New York Times bestseller. Richard Grant, an Englishman, is the author.

Grant is a travel writer who took a deep dive into Mississippi, bought a house there, married there, and made a life there. You can’t get much more immersed in a culture.

Locals often can’t see the forest for the trees. What we think is noteworthy is not interesting at all to outsiders. The everyday scenery that bores us is remarkable to a stranger. The language we know deep in our bones is charming to a newcomer. Grant moves into the world of the Deep South and tells our stores better than we can. He notices the strange bonds between the races that dominate our world and, without judgment, helps us understand ourselves better.

He writes of the poverty in the Mississippi Delta (not so different from the South Carolina low country): “Poor children hear thirty million fewer words than rich children in the first four years of their life.”

Grant observes what I’ve known for decades: “People vote against their own best interests, because they’re culturally so conservative.” Grant, to his credit, is unwilling to use the term “racist” too quickly. He quotes one woman, “Compartmentalize, compartmentalize, and then compartmentalize some more. If someone tells you that the Muslims are plotting to destroy America, or Obama is the Antichrist, you just seal that away in its own separate compartment, and carry on till you find their good side. There’s no sense in arguing with them.” Grant discovered that’s a necessary survival tactic in small communities of a few hundred or a few thousand people, where relationships with all members of the community are required. Nobody has the luxury of gated communities or ghettoes. All relationships are symbiotic and necessary.

He discusses not only the economics and politics of the Delta, but also the religion, the music, prisons, sports and education. He is as perplexed as everyone else that, during the Jim Crowe years, “Whites wouldn’t drink from the same water fountain as colored, but they were happy for their babies to have a black wet nurse.”

Grant has entered our world. He wrote he was “drowning in the deep end of the Deep South.” He did as fine a job of explaining us as anyone I’ve read.

Categories: Book Review, Race, South Carolina, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

We Were Wrong…

We Were Wrong…

Marion Aldridge

As I matured as a Christian, I reflected, long, often, and sometimes sadly, even painfully, about much of what I believed as a youngster, and into adulthood. Because my doctrines, my ethics, and my habits have sometimes undergone enormous changes, there may be those who are presumptive enough to wonder if I lost my faith.

Quite possibly, I lost your faith. I found my faith. The Bible calls these transformations “repentance.” Here are some of my confessions:

WE WERE WRONG to believe that science and God could be enemies. Truth is truth wherever we find it.

WE WERE WRONG to assume uniformity in thought or action was better than independence or creativity.

WE WERE WRONG to accept what our culture taught us about racial segregation and the supposed inferiority of black people.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that we could somehow obey the Great Commission by paying for and praying for missionaries to go to Africa while ignoring the Great Commandments, disrespecting the African-Americans who lived down the dirt roads from our churches. We were either unaware or didn’t care that they often drank polluted water, had leaky roofs, and had no indoor plumbing.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that a glass of wine on Thanksgiving would send someone to hell but that it was okay for the preacher to be 100 pounds overweight and continue to stuff his face with fried chicken.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that people in other denominations who paid attention to the Christian calendar (Pentecost, Maundy Thursday, and Ash Wednesday, for example) were somehow less spiritual than Baptists who built their church calendar around secular holidays (such as Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and July 4).

WE WERE WRONG to believe we could be comfortable and Christian at the same time.

WE WERE WRONG to believe the primary thing that Jesus or the Christian faith cared about was Heaven and Hell.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that somehow America was the Kingdom of God.

WE WERE WRONG to believe the assumptions of our secular society, that bigger is better, that might makes right, that getting is better than giving.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that highlighting a few isolated verses could sum up the Bible, as if God could be contained in a bumper sticker.

WE WERE WRONG to trivialize prayer, as if getting all the things we want is the point!

WE WERE WRONG to believe God intended to silence the female half of the human race.

WE WERE WRONG to assume other people could practice the Christian faith on our behalf: pastors, missionaries, youth ministers, and social workers. When was the last time you got to know a welfare mother or a drug addict?

WE WERE WRONG to say there is only one biblical way to focus on the family. The family of Abraham looks different than the family of Jesus, which looks different than the family of King David, which looks different than the family of Mary and Martha, which looks different than the family of Esther and Mordecai.

WE WERE WRONG to think that Roberts Rules of Order, rather than the Bible, is the primary guide for working out disagreements in our churches.

WE WERE WRONG to teach (or imply) that talking, telling, and preaching, was more important than listening. The great sin of the Old Testament, according to Roy Honeycutt, was “They would not listen.”

WE WERE WRONG to let bullies, blamers, gossips, and other spiritually unhealthy people dominate the conversations and the decisions in many of our congregations.

WE WERE WRONG to think that repentance was primarily for non-Christians outside of our churches instead of for those of us inside. The more I know about Jesus, the Bible, the Christian faith, and the Holy Spirit, the more I know I am called to change, to repent.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that any tradition, law, bible, preacher, program, building, doctrine, convention or any other part of creation—even if God made it and blessed it—could possibly be as important as the Creator.

This, by the way, is the short list. I could write a book!

I have always been a loyal kind of guy. For decades, I hung in there, as much as possible, with the ecclesiastical world I inherited. I knew racism was wrong, however, and one by one, I began confronting the errors and inadequacies of my childhood experiences. I am grateful for the church of my childhood, for my family, for the appropriate lessons from my South Carolina culture. But I am also grateful I had permission to continue to grow, to get un-stuck from the habits, behaviors and beliefs of my childhood and adolescence.

(Four years ago, I wrote this column for the newsletter of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina.)

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Holiday, Lists/Top Ten, Race, South Carolina | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Movie Reviews January 2017

Since I’ve been in Connecticut (December 4, 2016) as an Interim Pastor at Wilton Baptist Church, I haven’t seen a bad movie. If I think I’m not going to like a movie, I don’t go. I’m not a movie reviewer! I pay money for my ticket and I want to be entertained.

But, because inquiring minds want to know, here is my list, in order, beginning with my favorite, with a comment or two about each:

  1. Hidden Figures—I loved it. Good story, well told, about an important subject—previously unknown to most of us—well acted, inspiring, educational. A small group of brilliant, black, female mathematicians played a vital role in the American space program, overcoming the obstacles both women and African-Americans faced and face in our culture. Octavia Spencer has been becoming one of my favorite actresses and she is perfect in this role.
  2. La La Land—A bright, clever, pretty, musical movie, but not in the tradition of Grease or Fiddler on the Roof or Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Two dreamers sing and dance their way to an unexpected conclusion. Emma Stone, who charms me in almost every movie she makes, and Ryan Gosling, who is apparently handsome, are the stars.
  3. Manchester by the Sea—Do not go to this movie if you only like happiness and light. This movie wrestles with the dark side of human nature, but does so with sympathy and hope. Fine acting, even by minor characters. It’s not the kind of film you love, but I suspect it sticks with you more than a few days.
  4. Patriots Day—“Based on the true story” of the Boston Marathon bombing and manhunt for the perpetrators. Riveting.
  5. Passengers—I’d be lying if I left this science fiction film to the last of my list. I’m sure serious reviewers would consider this movie too simple, but I loved it. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt were exactly what they were supposed to be, two beautiful, smart, interesting, resourceful passengers who discovered they were stranded ALONE on a space ship for the next forty or eighty years or something. They worked it out.
  6. Fences—I wish I could rate this movie higher, because it stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, two of my favorite actors. Washington directs the film, which was adapted from a successful stage play about an overbearing dad making life miserable for a good son. After I had seen the film, someone suggested that maybe this was Black America’s Death of a Salesman. Could be. The movie has some powerful lines and moments, but, for me, it disappointed. I wanted more hope, redemption, reconciliation, or grace from the father. It never happened.
  7. Lion—Another “based on a true story” film about a five-year-old Indian boy who is separated from his brother at a train station near his village and ends up utterly lost a thousand miles away. No last name. No identity. Taken into an orphanage, he is adopted by a couple in Australia. As a twenty-five year old (played by Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire), he begins an almost impossible pilgrimage to find his home village and his birth mother.
  8. Rogue One—The latest in the Star Wars saga, this was a mostly entertaining installment in the science fiction genre. I go to Star Wars and the Ring Trilogy and a few other series as much out of duty as anything else. I miss the Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher days.

Disclaimer # 1—My Protestant Work Ethic, even in retirement, makes me feel a bit defensive about seeing so many movies.

Disclaimer # 2— Film is an art form. These are not all movies that should be seen by the easily offended. As an English major, decades ago, I learned that good literature portrays real life. So, I’m no longer upset by Shakespeare’s or Chaucer’s bawdiness or bad language in a modern movie.

Marion D. Aldridge


Categories: Book Review, Race | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Not Your Typical Christmas Blog: Choosing our Ethical Battles

One of my friends, still a young man to me, asked a question on Facebook about why every Christian and every church wasn’t actively involved in finding a home for every child who needs to be adopted.

It’s a good thought, and I’ve asked similar questions since I was a teenager. Here’s a problem: What should we do? What should I do?

My doctorate is in Christian Ethics. I wanted (and still want) to cure every ill, fix every problem, right every wrong, join every cause, and march in every parade. All of it can’t be done by one person or even by a single church.

What I recommend is that every person and every church adopt three Big Issues. Mine have shifted over the years. Racism was the Big One of my childhood and adulthood. In my world, it still is. That’s a battle I suspect I will fight until the day I die. I marched to get the Confederate flag off the dome of the South Carolina State House. I go out of my way to befriend African-Americans, to listen to them, and, by extension, others who look different than I do. I write. I preach. I’ve stayed in trouble during my entire ministry for pushing the boundaries with regard to race relations.

When I was younger and the US was building bombs by the truckload and Nuclear Proliferation dominated the Cold War, I got involved in Peacemaking. Jesus said a few things about Peacemaking. I drove to Washington with two other ministers from Batesburg to visit our Senators and Congressman to state our concern. I invested energy to challenge America’s tendency to get into wars at the drop of a hat.

There are fifty issues I could spend ten hours a day trying to resolve:




Animal rights,

Business ethics,

Campaign finance reform,

Clean water,

Consumer protection,

Criminal justice,

Death penalty,

Drug addiction,


Environmental issues/conservation,

Family issues—divorce, polygamy, affairs, forced marriage

Freedom of expression,


Gun control,

Health care,


Honor crimes/shaming,

Human cloning,

Human trafficking,






Organized crime,

Payday lending,

Physician-assisted suicide,

Political corruption/buying votes,


Religious bigotry/intolerance

Separation of church and state,

Sports—concussions, winning at any cost, gambling,



War and peace,

Women’s issues.

Pick three and follow up with those. Be informed. Do something. You can’t do it all. What’s not acceptable, in my opinion, is shaking your head sadly and doing nothing. Volunteers are always needed. Money is always needed. Local board members are always needed.

As a pastor, I tried to give church members information at forums. I was always aware there are at least two very different opinions on most issues, e.g., gun control, homosexuality, abortion, immigration, and the death penalty.

I guess this is why political parties choose “platforms.” Even Miss America candidates have a “platform.” Pretend you’re a celebrity and adopt a cause. Three causes. You can’t do everything, but you can do something.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Lists/Top Ten, Race | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments


We feel helpless to respond meaningfully to the tragedy in Orlando. What to do? What to say?

I went to a vigil this evening on the Dartmouth Green and was reminded that people of faith have a long history of lamenting.

Of course.

Life doesn’t always happen the way we want it to. There’s nothing I can fix in Orlando. As the Dartmouth chaplain, Nancy Vogele, said, “We are without platitudes.”

This was not a time for political rhetoric. It was a time of grief. A Muslim student read from the Quran, “We are all created from one soul,” then prayed for the victims and families of victims. Another person reminded us that “Loud tragedy symbolizes thousands of silent tragedies,” testifying to the pain of men and women who have been shunned or marginalized because of their faith or their sexual orientation or because of their skin color or their accent or whether or not they are handicapped.

“How long, O Lord?”

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Race | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reading in New Hampshire

With cold weather and free time, I may have been reading even more than usual. Of course, I have recommendations.

Fiction I’ve enjoyed:

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, a World War II story about a blind girl as she experiences the war. Very fine New York Times bestseller and deserving winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, another World War II story, usually ranked in the top 100 novels of all time. I’d never read it. I try to catch up every year by reading some of the classics I’ve missed.

Three Spenser novels, all of which take place in the Boston area and all of which I’m re-reading for the second time. Since I’m visiting my daughter Julie and her husband Tom in the Boston area nearly every other week, more or less, it’s fun to read these for local color. Robert Parker does not write Great Literature but he is fun and easy to read. Spenser’s sidekick Hawk is one of the three best in all of literature, along with Sherlock Holmes’ Dr. Watson and Travis McGee’s Meyer.

Non-Fiction I’ve enjoyed:

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, is the autobiography of a neurosurgeon who dies from cancer as he is writing his story. A Number 1 New York Times bestseller.

The Class of ’65, by Jim Aychmutey, is the story of a boy my age who grew up at Koinonia Farms in Americus, Georgia (where Habitat for Humanity was founded), in a radical, pacifist, integrated commune founded by Clarence Jordan. For anyone raised in the segregated schools of the Deep South, this is a fascinating and painful read. Stories of apologies that came to the author before his fiftieth class reunion are particularly poignant.

The Pine Barrens, by John McPhee. I’m taking a course on nature writing here at Dartmouth and have been introduced to the clear prose of McPhee. I’ve also read Encounters with the Archdruid by McPhee. I like his writing. I also enjoyed Henry Beston writing about Cape Cod in The Outermost House. I’m less impressed with E. O. Wilson, In Search of Nature.

Bill Bryson has written books I didn’t enjoy, but I liked most, including his latest, The Road to Little Dribbling, his latest walk across England, Scotland, and Wales, with amusing anecdotes of his travels.

Bob Gibson’s Pitch by Pitch gave me a baseball fix in the dead of a New Hampshire winter. This is his account of the first game of the 1968 World Series.

I was already reading The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh when I arrived in New Hampshire, but I finished it and I’m glad I did. It’s a religious classic that can help a Baptist from the South understand a faith system practiced by millions.

A Sense of Style by Steven Pinker was recommended as a good book about writing. It’s not as good as I thought it might be. It goes back on the shelf.

That’s some of what I’ve read. I’ve just purchased Kill ‘em and Leave ‘em, a biography of James Brown by James McBride. Since Brown and I grew up near each other, I’m anxious to read that. And I’ve purchased The Legends Club by John Feinstein, about the Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano world of college basketball in North Carolina. Looking forward to that.

And I’m always open to good suggestions.

Categories: Baseball, Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Humor, Race, South Carolina, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Courage: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Recently, I heard an earnest young woman assert that the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., did not hesitate to enter into the dangerous and unsafe ministries in which he engaged. Instead, she contended, he never paused in responding, “Here I am, send me.”

Respectfully, I disagree. One of the characteristics I most value when I hear the sermons and read the biographies of Dr. King is his complete humanity. He did hesitate. He did agonize over his decisions. There wasn’t a glib bone in his body. He was bearing the weight of all the racism and hatred in America. He felt it. Even his friends questioned him. He would gather with his closest advisors and they would weigh the options. Ultimately, however, King was the decision-maker.

Years ago, I bought the biography of a Great Baptist Man, but quit reading after three pages. The author’s adoration was such he believed his subject had no flaws. There was nothing I could learn by reading any farther. That saint and I had nothing in common.

Even Jesus agonized over his tough decisions. He spent forty days in the wilderness wrestling with his calling and ministry. Facing imminent death, he prayed, “Take this cup from me.”

Moses resisted his assignment, arguing with God, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me…?”

Even Isaiah, in the passage the young lady quoted, “Here am I, send me,” didn’t jump to his decision instantly. Instead, he hesitated, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” He understood the nature of taking on the role of a prophet. It wasn’t safe territory.

Fearlessness can be nothing more than foolishness. Every sane human being desires comfort and safety. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a fool.

Courage is recognizing the challenges and doing the right thing anyway.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was a courageous prophet. I am grateful.


Marion D. Aldridge (mariondaldridge@gmail.com)

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Holiday, Race | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Tribute to Two Heroes

In the South, we’d say, “They’re good folks.”

Ken and Sandy Hale invested 31 years in the frozen Yankee northland, ministering to Dartmouth students, professors, athletic staff, and nearby neighbors in Hanover and Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Once upon a time, Ken was a young Minister of Music at a Baptist church in Kentucky and Sandy was a schoolteacher. They felt a call (a good Baptist word going back to Father Abraham) to a far land where natives speak a variation of the English language. They arrived in New Hampshire under the auspices of Southern Baptists, but those not-so-good folks changed their mind and decided they didn’t like the idea of women ministers. They withdrew their financial support from Ken and Sandy.

Ken and Sandy didn’t warm to the notion of being told what they could do or not do. The state motto of New Hampshire, after all, is “Live Free or Die.”

Ken and Sandy developed their own support system and stayed, faithful to their calling.

They have been beloved friends and mentors to hundreds of people who came through the Ivy League campus and/or their small congregation. Sandy was primarily the campus minister and Ken was primarily the preaching pastor.

They built the most racially inclusive church I know of anywhere. New Hampshire doesn’t have an abundance of people of color, but Dartmouth College does, and Trinity Baptist Church has become the spiritual home of many of them. Black Lives Matter!

Now (December 31, 2015, more or less) Ken and Sandy Hale have officially retired.

The consensus of everyone who knows them is that they are kind, compassionate and competent. They are stable, faithful, authentic Christians. In an era when many so-called Christians give Jesus a bad name, Ken and Sandy have been wonderful ambassadors for Christ. They are valued members of their New Hampshire community and will be missed here.

They became my friends when they were asked to represent the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of the Northeast in the same capacity I held in South Carolina. I was paid a salary. They weren’t. In fact, they weren’t always paid a salary for any of their assignments. Period. Yet, they persevered because they believed God put them here to do a job.

A few years ago, Sandy had a brain aneurysm and Ken had cancer. They slowed down but didn’t stop.

Now, they have retired, but leaving is difficult. Sandy was going to be gone before I arrived and Ken and I were to overlap for a few days. Sandy was not gone when I arrived and I had to kick her out of her own house. (Just kidding. She left voluntarily.) I’m sure I will have to shoo Ken away next week. Their first stop will be Kentucky to live for a while with Ken’s mother. Then they are off to Ft. Meyers, Florida, where they have a small condo.

They haven’t sold their New Hampshire house because I’m living in it. Besides, they have a son nearby, and they’re not sure where they will eventually reside.

They are grieving and the church is grieving. Like an idiot, here I am in the middle of this difficult transition with the weird assignment of being a “Bridge to an Interim.” Only two things have concerned me about this assignment: 1) The weather; 2) Following Ken and Sandy. The weather will be hard. Following Ken and Sandy will be impossible.

Good, incomparable souls.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Race, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

My Favorite Book


The Pastor’s Guidebook: A Manual for Special Occasions

Out of the four books I’ve had published, I think this one is my favorite.  It is the companion to “The Pastor’s Guidebook: A Manual for Worship.”  I learned a lot about the process of publication before this second volume was written.  The 20 chapters are listed below.  You can see it’s useful for laity who need to give a devotional.  For instance, if you are asked to give a short talk for July 4 or any citizenship occasion, this book and this chapter will help.  For any common subject in church life, from missions to stewardship to Mother’s Day, this book will be useful.  It can be ordered at Amazon or you can get an autographed copy from me.  $20 includes shipping.


  • New Year’s Eve (Watch Night)/New Year’s Day
  • Mother’s Day/Father’s Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Thanksgiving

Holy Days

  • Advent/Christmas
  • Lent/Ash Wednesday
  • Holy Week/Palm Sunday
  • Maundy Thursday
  • Good Friday
  • Easter
  • Pentecost
  • All Saints’ Eve/All Saints’ Day

Days for Special Emphasis

  • Race Relations Day
  • Mission Emphasis
  • Graduate Recognition Service
  • World Hunger Day
  • Homecoming
  • Day of Prayer for World Peace
  • Stewardship Emphasis
Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Holiday, Race | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Column, Brenda Kneece, Executive Minister, South Carolina Christian Action Council

There is no Confederate Flag
flying at the Peoples’ House in SC.

The South Carolina Christian Action Council was not the first, nor was
it the only voice calling for the removal of the Confederate Flag.

The Council’s first public statement asking South Carolina to take the Confederate Flag off the State House Dome and out of the Legislative Chambers was made in 1986.

Under the leadership of then Executive Minister, Dr. Wayne Bryan, the Council, ran a full page ad in the State Newspaper with 698 signatures of Religious Leaders representing many faiths calling for the removal of the Flag and announcing a silent witness for January 21, 1997.

On that day, the Council organized the circling of Carolina Plaza, the Legislature’s temporary location, by more than 750 people in a silent
vigil of love and prayer for the convened State Legislature.

The Council, again led by Dr. Bryan, and
Julia Sibley, Director of the Council’s
Sabbath of Support (a ministry formed in response to the rash of churches burned in the mid-1990s) worked with the SC NAACP, the Urban League, the Chamber of Commerce, many other entities and individuals to plan and implement the largest protest march in the
history of SC.

My tenure as Council Executive Minister began on December 1, 1999, so I, too was involved. However the months of work prior to the march were done by Wayne, Julia, and others.

King Day at the Dome 2000: A Rally for Unity.

What a day that was. Thousands and thousands lined up in front of Zion Baptist Church on Washington Street in Columbia after a great Unity Prayer Service. Thousands more joined as we marched up Washington and turned onto Main. Conservative estimates of the crowd begin at 40,000 with top figures reaching 60,000.

That session the Legislature reached a compromise taking the Flag off the Dome and out of the Chambers. A compromise that relocated it at the juncture of Main and Gervais at one of the many monuments to the Confederacy on the State House Grounds. Even though a beautiful and moving monument to African Americans came out of that Compromise, the Council and many others were not happy.

Fifteen more Martin Luther King Jr Days came and went; and we marched. The flag was not always the focus. We called for funding for a high quality education for all our children, for access to quality and affordable healthcare for all, for a moral budget and taxation policy, and other just causes. Yet, always, always that Flag hung in each speakers’ face and at the backs of those raising their collective voice for justice.

Until the terrible, awful happened. The massacre of the Charleston 9. The senseless and hate-filled killing of faithful folks, who welcomed a stranger. Ministers and mothers and sisters and brothers and fathers and cousins; a librarian, a coach, a Senator; the young and the old. Nine killed and others injured because a person, misguided at best and with evil intent, did the worst “to start a race war.” His youth adds to our sadness.

It seemed all of Charleston and most of South Carolina were drawn together in grief. Rather than riots, prayer circles filled the streets. Tears were shed and eyes even now grow wet. Thirteen hours after the violence in a sister church just blocks from Mother Emanuel, we gathered as one. African Methodist Episcopal Bishops and Presiding Elders, leading political servants, the faithful, we were one and each a member of the wounded community. And in that first of what would become many unity services, grace showed us God’s broken and loving heart. And we knew we were not alone.

Then the unimaginable, amazing happened. The most grieved, family members of those slain, less than 48 hours later faced that one alleged to be the evil doer in court and spoke words of forgiveness.

Forgiveness. A witness that even today causes me to shake my head in wonder. Again, not what we could have expected. Rather an even better way.

A few days later, we watched as the body of the Rev. Senator Pinckney was carried by wagon onto the State House grounds. We recognized and felt the injustice, the long years of violent hurt, the centuries of prejudice, the disrespect, the disenfranchisement represented by
Flag when it remained at full mast even as the Flags of the U.S.A. and S.C. both flew at half-mast.

The people demanded that the Flag come down. The Governor said it was time for the Flag to come down. Our Legislators agreed that the Flag would come down. And it came down. Finally.


Not everyone is happy. Some–like the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the Faithful Father–cannot rejoice because they feel slighted, they feel their ancestors have been slighted. As has been said, perception is reality.

So, in reality, there is no Finally. Just more work to be done. Neighbor recognizing neighbor. One on one. Hellos and conversations.

We have to listen, to hear each others’ stories. To hear each others’ pain. To talk honestly about privilege and prejudice. To examine our own hearts and habits. I have to accept that my whiteness gives me societal privilege. I must recognize this and live intentionally so that I do not perpetuate the injustices that are the mirrored realities when the majority is unaware of the privilege inherent with being the majority with long-standing power.

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.

–Theodore Parker, Unitarian minister, born in 1810, called for the abolition of slavery. In 1853 a collection of “Ten Sermons of Religion” by Parker was published and the third sermon titled “Of Justice and the Conscience” included figurative language about the arc of the moral universe.

The Council–as are others–will continue to work, to offer avenues of involvement in this movement toward Racial Justice and Healing.

Come, go on this journey to healing and justice with us. And if not with us, with others. As the families of the Nine, and their church continue to show us there is a better way.

Brenda Kneece, Executive Minister, South Carolina Christian Action Council

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Race | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.