Charleston: Which way will we choose?

Like everyone else, I was deeply saddened by the events in Charleston, South Carolina. In an act motivated by racial hatred, a 21-year-old white man named Dylann Roof allegedly shot and killed nine African-American people during a bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Shockingly, he told his victims that he had to do what he did because “You rape our women and are taking over our country.”

It is a horrific event, and of course I send love, light, and prayers to everyone involved. But I wondered what else I wanted to say about it. Sadly, this type of thing happens often enough that I’ve already written a number of articles about how to respond to such painful events from a Course perspective (like my articles on Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, and forgiving murderer). What more is there for me to say? But then, something happened that felt like a real gift of God to me, and I’d like to share that with you now.

I am an avid fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, so I wanted to see his take on what happened. It’s a comedy show, but of course there wasn’t anything funny to say about this. In a powerful, joke-free monologue about the murders, Stewart spoke of how we need to squarely face our country’s “gaping racial wound that will not heal,” but lamented that we would most likely just sweep that wound under the rug again as always. I could hear the sense of hopelessness and resignation in his voice, and to be honest, I could relate to those feelings.

Then it came time to introduce the guest for that night’s show. And though no doubt this guest had been booked weeks or even months in advance, I have to think the Holy Spirit had a hand in making sure this particular guest appeared that night of all nights. The guest was Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner who, at great personal risk (she was even shot in the head by a Taliban gunman), has devoted her life to promoting education for girls in her native Pakistan and around the world. As Stewart said, with what looked like a sigh of relief, “I don’t think there’s anyone else I would rather talk to tonight than Malala.”

What followed was, for me and I think for Stewart too, a miraculous infusion of hope. In a trailer for an upcoming film about Malala, an interviewer asked her if she ever felt angry about what the Taliban did to her and she said, as if the answer was obvious, “No.” When she finally came on stage, Stewart said, “I feel better already.” Throughout the interview, I could see the weight being lifted off of his shoulders as Malala shared about all the good work she is doing. At one point, Stewart said, “The easy thing to forget is how easy it is for darkness to wreak havoc, and to forget that we’re really much more surrounded by light.” At the end of the interview, he said to her, “You are a wonderful tonic. I felt somewhat despairing today, but I think your single-mindedness has helped lift a bit of that fog for me, and I really thank you for that.”

She was a tonic for me too. And as I listened to her speak, I couldn’t help but think of Dylann Roof, another young person like her. I have compassion for him and pray that he will find the light. But as I thought about the two of them, I couldn’t help but think that they represent the choice that all of us face, the choice the Course calls upon us to make every day, every hour, every minute, and every second. In a world that we perceive as attacking us, we can be like Dylann Roof and choose to lash out in anger against our apparent attackers. Or we can be like Malala Yousafzai and say no to anger at our apparent attackers, responding instead with forgiving love and helpfulness for all.

We have a choice. And as we contemplate the tragedy in Charleston, my question is: Which way will we choose? I pray that in whatever way we can, with the help of the Course for those of us who are Course students, we will learn to make the choice Malala has made-the choice for love.
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