37 years ago my mother and I were victims of gun violence. The guns were held to our heads, they clicked over and over and over, but by a miracle, they never fired. We lived to tell about it, but the mark, the impact, the future was changed for me. We also learned that a woman in the exact same spot a few days earlier was shot to death.
It took me years of therapy to get through it and there are still moments…especially when I hear of mass murders due to hate, that are difficult to contain. Those men had a sickness of their heart…they were connected to the evil that moved through it, and that is the nature of the brokenness we call the human condition. This act this week was connected to it as well…the evil that does exist in this world. I could have allowed the hate connected to fear to alter my life forever in a negative way. Instead, I chose to forgive.
So last night and today I was faced with how, as a human, I process this? How do I not turn a blind eye, not become ambivalent, and not choose to let apathy take the place of action? I prayed about it, long and hard, and what I felt led to do was paint about it. I wanted to honor those 9 beautiful humans who chose to meet, study about the God they loved, and welcome a stranger into their midst because that is what love does. I wanted to say their names but more than that, I wanted to picture them in heaven, around a beautiful table together, as friends, sharing the love of God that they held dear and like they were doing here. I also wanted to create a visual reminder of the souls they would impact and watch over by the faces in the walls. I didn’t know these nine humans, but I can tell you people will be changed because of they way they lived.
A few years ago I attended a bible study on Wednesdays just like these folks. We met, we studied, we prayed, and one day I opened my art journal and recorded the event as a marker of how beautiful it was that women could come together, create, and share their faith. The image of that day left an impression so when I went to paint this piece, which was much more emotional and difficult, I turned to my art journal to connect the days.
We gathered, they gathered. We prayed, they prayed. We welcomed anyone, they welcomed anyone. They lost their lives because of their skin color….we did not. Hate is an emotion that is taught I believe, from a very young age children are taught to hate. They are taught that in the subtle ways of the idea that they are better than others based on their color, their social status, where they live, what they wear, who they are friends with, and what their faith is. I don’t believe most parents set out to teach hate, but some do…and I also believe that children learn a ton from their peer groups despite what they parents teach them, good and bad. But hate like was shown this week was learned.
I don’t know what the answers are, except I know LOVE must prevail. I know our world is sick, we have a disease of the heart that is pandemic. I know that well intentioned folks camouflage hate as Christian love. They camouflage it as liberal ideaology. Yes….they do. I also see huge amounts of hate disguised as political humor, religious humor, satire…it breeds a system…it breeds a system of hate that is like an invisible wind blowing through every inch of the places we call home. Guns are methods of hate spreading, knives are methods of hate spreading, words are methods of hate spreading and we must address those as a society but honestly, at the core of all of this…is a sickness in our hearts. What are we doing as a society to treat the heart?
My heart is heavy, What these 9 souls did was model that love for God and love for others is what it is about. They gathered to study and pray…may I never, ever forget that. I am heartbroken at the racial divide in our world. Despite my history, I don’t hate anyone. In fact, I have developed this beautiful love for others because that is what I believe Jesus calls us to do.
I am one human, one human called to love others as myself. I will live that, I will teach that, I will paint that, and I will spread that light into this beautiful world we have. These are my thoughts here, my choice to do something rather than nothing, to speak out for love rather than hate, and to tell any other person of color, race, religion, or status that they are loved…dearly loved and valued by this one human.