Mildred Gilpin and Peggy Trinkle were members of the Hollywood Hills United Methodist Church in Hollywood, Florida. They were in their early 80's, widowed, and both found companionship in each other's company. On a Sunday evening, as they were entering the sanctuary for worship, an assailant snatched their purses and pushed them to the ground. During this brief scuffle, Mildred's left arm was broken.
The next morning I visited Mildred in the hospital. She was battered, bruised, and shaken to the core. Her bones and bruises would heal. Her soul and psyche would not. "I was coming to church. Why didn't God protect me? Aren't you supposed to feel safe at church?"
A sanctuary, by its own definition, means a safe place. When Saul was chasing David and trying to kill his rival, David entered a make-shift sanctuary and placed his hands on the horns of the altar. No harm could come to you when you entered a sanctuary and did what David did. It was like claiming temporary asylum. When we played "tag" as children this was the equivalent of getting to "base." When on "base" you couldn't be tagged. You were safe.
Dylann Roof's acts of heinous hate have once again violated this sacred principle. The domestic terrorism that was perpetrated by the whoremongers of hate within the shadows of steeples during the 1950's and 60's is well documented. Racism, bigotry, and viral hatred are free-floating toxicity, and like parasites, they look for a target to attach and attack. This Sunday or any Sunday I don't want to pass through a metal detector and be wanded by ushers in order to worship. We are reminded, again, there is no place on the planet we can go in order to be safe.
Mildred never really recovered. Her bruises faded and her bones healed but Mildred was so utterly disillusioned she more or less gave up. She died in less than a year.
We can't afford to do what Mildred did; to give up hope and to give in to hate. Violence only begets more violence unless we are able to live into a higher level of consciousness. "For you have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." In these moments we desperately need the church to be a relevant source and force for reconciliation. We must refuse to be defined by another massacre or by the acts and actions of mass murderers who are themselves enslaved to an ideology of evil. We are called to follow the one who has called us into community by his body and with his blood. Because of his crucified brokenness he is able to identify and enter into our own.
Come, Lord Jesus, come! We are battered, bruised, and shaken to the core. The soul and psyche of our nation are wrenching with shock, anger, and grief. Come heal this land. Amen.