With Eyes Wide Open (Longer Version)

(This is an extended version of the text from the front page.)

June 17, 2015 changed things for a lot of us.

Reverend Clementa Pinckney

June 17 is when Dylann Roof went to a Bible study at Mother Emmanuel AME Church, sat and participated for an hour, and then gunned down nine innocent people. Dylann is white; all nine of his victims were black, at least three of them were ministers, and two of them graduated from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, which is where I went to seminary. One of the men martyred was Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was a student there while I was there.

Clem and I didn’t know each other well, he would know me and probably be willing to sit down with me and have a conversation with me if he saw me, but that’s about the extent of it, but the night I learned that he’d been murdered, I was wrecked.
Then the next morning I learned that Dylann Roof and his family are members of an ELCA congregation near me, and the bottom dropped out. It makes me feel better to know that Dylann is estranged, that he doesn’t attend regularly; to see, hear, and feel the genuine shock and utter grief from those in his church home that tells me that church isn’t where he learned ths. But estranged or not, the truth is the truth — we in the South Carolina Synod of the ELCA are doubly connected to this tragedy.

Clem was one of ours, and Dylann killed him.

Certain media outlets wanted to make this out to be a crime against religion, but to me it was clear from the beginning — this wasn’t about a man with a beef about God and God’s people, this was a white guy with a chip on his shoulder about black people, who by his own admission wants to start a race war by firing what he wants to be the first salvo for white extremists everywhere. So far, thank God, this hasn’t come to pass.

People holding hands crossing the Ravenel Bridge.
People holding hands crossing the Ravenel Bridge.

On the other side, we see the really amazing things did happen in the      wake of this — prayer services that united folks of all races and creeds. Hands held across the bridge was a sign of our peculiar resilience in South Carolina, where so many lives have been affected by racism over the centuries that we can’t even begin to count. 

In the midst of this, I kept seeing hashtag after hashtag, one of the most common being #loveseesnocolor. I’ve never really been a fan of this saying, but couldn’t really explain it until yesterday. We’re a society in which color matters. Even putting together this webpage, I pondered the best color scheme for what it was going to say about us.

The fact is, color matters.B470_LoveSeesNoColor

My color determines my experience of the world, and color determines the way Thomas, my partner in this project, experiences the world, too. When we talk about learning to love each other, we’re talking about a relationship in which we learn to see each other clearly and fully. To see me outside of the context of my white skin is to see o
nly a portion of who I am. To see Thomas outside of the context of his brown skin is to see only a part of who he is. Love is something that we do with eyes wide open. If we ignore color, we ignore a large part of someone’s identity. If we really want to love someone, we have to accept that the notion of colorblindness can’t be part of love because love is the act of learning to value the whole person, all of their experiences, in the context of their full identity.

Love sees color.

2 thoughts on “With Eyes Wide Open (Longer Version)

  1. I used to say I was colorblind because I wanted folks to know I didn’t care what color they were. However, as I got older, I realized that was not true. You can’t help but see skin color. You are right. It has a lot too do with our life’s experiences. Having lived when there was segregation, I know the color is significant to others. I came up with another phrase that I try to live by and that is that ” I see past the color”. I just don’t stop at the skin. I look deeper into the real person.

    1. I think that’s a great distinction, and certainly a healthy start. A question that comes to my mind (and this is an honest question) is whether color’s something we need to see past. Is the sense that we need to see past it a symptom of seeing one color or another as “normal” and another as “other”?

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