Please welcome today’s guest writer, Caitlin Gent (’15). Caitlin studied writing at Calvin and currently works as a part-time pastoral care intern at Eastbrook Church on the north side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When not at work, she keeps herself busy by writing cover letters, meeting friends for coffee, discovering weird indie bands, and biking around Milwaukee.
I had one job for today. That one job was to write a short piece about any nonfiction topic, and to preferably write words that deserved someone else’s attention. So, when I sat down to write, I was determined to be witty, whip-smart, and winsome. After fiddling around with a few ideas, I settled on writing about oral surgery and nitrous oxide. I hate the dentist, so getting my wisdom teeth removed a few weeks ago was surely an adventure worth sharing. I had finished writing a particularly comical bit of dialogue when I decided to take a Facebook break—after all, I had earned it.
That Facebook break is how I heard about what happened in Charleston. Several of my friends had posted an article about the shooting, but I only had to read the headline once to know that I was done with writing for fun, at least for awhile. In the face of such tragedy, comedy seemed painfully frivolous. A few days have passed since then, but it still feels thoughtless to jest. Any desire I had to be charming is gone. Nine people are dead. Worse, nine people were killed. Just for being black. How atrocious. How absolutely horrific.
I have more adjectives at my disposal: tragic, disgusting, hateful, absurd. I could easily rant about how absurd and devastating this shooting was. But to be honest, I am sick of adjectives. Nine people are dead. Someone shot them, with a gun, as they were worshiping. Can a measly adjective describe or atone for such injustice? Can writing a few choice words really justify my privileged lifestyle in the face of such chronic societal evils?
No. While I can use my writing to advocate for justice, I cannot combat injustice with words alone. I cannot fulfill my duty to the angry and aggrieved simply by issuing my written condolences. And while I know it is not my unique task to obliterate racism, I also know that I cannot sit idly as my brothers and sisters in Christ are oppressed and overlooked. Rather, I should not sit idly. If I am honest here, I know that because I am white, I can ignore racism; because I am white, I can mourn these deaths without fearing for my life or the lives of my friends. My privilege allows me to neglect and to forget.
This truth convicts me today because, as I write, only two days have passed since the massacre, and public attention is still focused on Charleston. I do not know precisely when this post will go online, but I would be willing to bet that by then, news media will have turned their cameras from Charleston to some other atrocity—better yet, to Taylor Swift’s beauty regimen or the latest cringe-worthy Twitter post by a presidential candidate.
I am guilty of letting my care and attention wander with the public eye. I am easily distracted by sensationalist headlines about the latest political debacle. But as Christians, we must struggle against this attention deficit. The road to justice requires a long-term commitment to care and awareness. We cannot leave our brothers and sisters mourn alone, even after the media has moved elsewhere.
My prayer today is that we would not hastily forget our brothers and sisters in Charleston. I pray that despite our chronic forgetfulness and our political opinions and our incapacity to love as we should, Christ would lead us forward in peace.