The Billings Outpost

Grand, glorious Fourth, filled with God’s grace

OPINION

By SHARIE PYKE

My eyes filled with tears as I listened to President Obama lead the mourners in the first verse of “Amazing Grace” at the funeral for the Rev. Clemente Pinkney in Charleston, S.C. We needed God’s grace. The murders of nine people at their prayers harked back to brutality most Americans hoped was over.

But the president’s voice lifted in song wasn’t the most important act of grace. We heard amazing words of forgiveness spoken by all the bereaved families toward the murderer of their loved ones. They spoke with dignity and without anger, totally ending the shooter’s hope of starting a race war.

Instead of riots, prayers echoed across the country. Instead of looting, black hands linked with white ones. Instead of the slogan “Black lives matter,” “All lives matter.” Instead of the hoped for race war, we Americans chose the noble, the moral, the best.

If you think that this was easy for those families, think again. I remember a story that Corrie Ten Boom, a survivor of the Nazi death camp of Ravensbruck told.

After the war, she felt that God had called her to minister to the German people.

She traveled from town to town preaching forgiveness and redemption. But one night, as she was greeting people after her service, a former SS guard came up.

“Will you forgive me?” he asked. Rage bubbled up in her, a hatred so deep it surprised her.

This was not any guard; this was her guard: the guard at Ravensbruck who had tormented her and her sister for weeks and months at a time. “Jesus, help,” she prayed silently. Somehow, she took her torturer’s hand and the words, “Yes, I forgive you,” came out of her mouth.

That is God’s grace, God acting in spite of our human frailties, creating something beautiful out of the worst human tragedy. That is what happened at Charleston.

All over the South, the Confederate flag is being removed from public buildings. It’s time. Someone posted on Facebook that the flag of the German Reich is only seen in museums and that should be the case with the Stars and Bars. The swastika is not a beloved symbol anymore, with the exception of small pods of Neo Nazis. White supremacists in this country love the swastika along with the flag of the Confederacy.

With all the discussion about flags and symbols, let’s not forget which one the young racist burned: Old Glory, the Red White and Blue, the Stars and Stripes.

But really, the current crop of haters is just an extreme version of what we’re all capable of becoming. We all have our secret, illogical prejudices. I’m too ashamed of mine to admit to them in print. We’re all capable of every human action, for good or evil.

Even minorities can be hate-filled. A friend and I had stopped for gas at a convenience store in Hardin on our way to Sheridan, Wyo. He came out of the men’s room with an anxious face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Someone wrote ‘Kill the honkies.’ And someone else added, ‘And all he N’rs, too,’” he answered.

I had the privilege to be loved by Eunice Terry, a black immigrant to Montana from Alabama via Chicago. Mrs. Terry was one of the most amazing women I’ve ever known: stubborn, faithful, talented, and hardworking.

I was proud to know her, but God bless her, she treated me as if I were a prize, taking me to Church Women United and Christian Women’s Club. Trust me, I’m no prize.

After what happened at the African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, I have a small inkling of just how courageous Mrs. Terry and her fellow Christians were.

They trusted me and invited me to their Bible study. They took a risk. The murderous young gunman looked just as safe to the Bible study group at Mother Emmanuel as this fat old white lady did to the members of All Nations Church here in Billings. 

My better self still believes that love wins, and I’m not talking about romantic love. I’m talking about the gritty kind that surrenders to Spirit and acts on faith rather than rage and fear.

Love is both a noun and a verb. Christ called his followers to action. We were to love God and love our fellow man as we love ourselves. 

I grew up listening to Kate Smith belt out “God Bless America,” a patriotic song written by Irving Berlin, a Russian Jewish immigrant. Since it was written by a Jew, the song was boycotted by the KKK, strong Nazi sympathizers.

The song regained popularity during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and again after 9-11. It still brings a lump to my throat.

The words remind me of the God of my childhood, a deity neither angry nor vengeful. He looked a lot like my human dad: honest, dependable and a bit stodgy. That God was not just loving, he was love.

For this July 4, Americans chose the Right, Love, Spirit, God, Goodness, and Kindness one more time. Let’s rejoice.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 July 2015 14:04

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