We were late.
We had been driving back from Michigan the day before and not arrived home until after 11pm.
When we fell asleep at 1am, we decided that 7am was too early to leave in the morning, so we pushed it back to 9am.
We were having a leisurely morning and so we didn’t end up on the road until 11am.
We were headed to Charlottesville.
My spouse had been planning to go for a few months. It was his birthday wish to be there, standing up against hateful groups, who had planned a rally for noon. While I hadn’t ever been to a protest like this, I took pride in his desire to stand up and make a difference on a day meant to celebrate him.
I honestly had mixed feelings about going. I didn’t really want to experience the hateful rhetoric of a group of people who felt they were superior because of the color of their skin. I especially felt uncomfortable because my skin is that color and I knew that it could be dangerous for my spouse and I to show up together because our skin colors are different from one another.
As we drove the 2.5 hours south, I checked Twitter for updates and things had already escalated even before the rally had begun.
One video I saw online was of clergy with linked arms, outside the park singing, “This Little Light of Mine” louder than the hateful words of the white supremacists.
I saw images of water bottles being thrown, people yelling and charging. I saw images and videos of reporters or those speaking to the media being threatened and moved out of the way due to fear of danger.
And less than an hour before we arrived, a car had hit people and a young woman had died.
None of these things we saw in person. By the time we had arrived most of the events were over.
It was a hot day and when I stepped out of the car, there was a helicopter flying overhead, monitoring the city from the air. We walked around and it was clear that many people had gone home. Those who were still in the city were reeling from the events that had just taken place. We walked through a church parking lot where water and resource were freely available, and a clergy checked to make sure we were OK. We saw streets blocked off with police still lining them. We saw 50 or so people, using their freedom of speech in the way it is meant to be used, peacefully.
I remained aware of my surroundings and we never encountered any white supremacists or dangerous situations.
As we returned home, I began to share with friends and relatives about our experience, While I was thankful for the words of concern and relief that we hadn’t been there for the worst of the events, I felt strange. I was grieving because we had wanted to be there sooner to be part of the community standing up for what was right, but also for those who were actually there and had experienced something horrific.
I’ve been processing all week on how to express my feelings on all of this. What I witnessed really isn’t unique in this situation, but I was in Charlottesville and I did experience something worth sharing. And what I continue to learn over and again is that there is power in someone’s story and listening is an act to connect to one another.
I’ve been reading chapters in the book of Jeremiah recently and in this week’s devotion these verses struck me:
God was speaking to his people through the prophet, Jeremiah. As a member of God’s family, I resonated with what he was saying to the Israelites. I looked up the commentary on this passage and it expresses better than I could write:
“They must thoroughly amend; in making good, they must make good their ways and doings; they must reform with resolution, and it must be a universal, constant, preserving reformation—not partial, but entire—not hypocritical, but sincere—not wavering, but constant. They must make the tree good, and so make the fruit good, must amend their hearts and thoughts, and so amend their ways and doings. In particular, [1.] They must be honest and just in all their dealings. Those that had power in their hands must thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour, without partiality, and according as the merits of the cause appeared. They must not either in judgment or in contract oppress the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor countenance or protect those that did oppress, nor refuse to do them justice when they sought for it. They must not shed innocent blood, and with it defile this place and the land wherein they dwelt. [2.] They must keep closely to the worship of the true God only: “Neither walk after other gods; do not hanker after them, nor hearken to those that would draw you into communion with idolaters; for it is, and will be, to your own hurt.” – Matthew Henry Commentary
While our reality is that sin is real and we live in a broken world. there’s room for authenticity, transparency and healing. There’s opportunities to share our stories and really listen to others, who likely have a different experience.
I can confidently say that I am glad we made the effort to travel down to Charlottesville, even knowing the outcome. I am called to listen to God through His Word and prayer, but I am also called to meet people where they are at. For Jesus it was a dinner table, for me it is these gatherings.