The church has always been a place of refuge for me and millions of others. It’s been, and still is, my source of inspiration. In the early years of my life, church was the place we got dressed up for — adorning ourselves in our “Sunday clothes,” going to pay special tribute in worship to our Savior. As a child, I loved attending church and Sunday school. All my friends were there, and best of all, I I got to sing in the Junior Choir. Oh, happy day!
I was born, and grew up, in the era of segregation. But at church, all the hurts and hatred of Jim Crow was left outside. Inside, there was praying and praising and having a “hallelujah good time,” and seeking to “find” the Lord in the spiritual sense. Back then, I was a child and hate had a white face.
When I grew up and got married, social changes were slow in coming. There was still segregation and a once-in-a-while cross burning by the Ku Klux Klan. It didn’t bother me too much. I knew change was on the way and so church was still a place of refuge, a place to honor and the place where I brought my baby sons to be dedicated, or Christened.
Now it seems church has, too often, become a place where hateful gunmen can walk in off the street — not to praise God — but to gun down His creation. And so, I have lived long enough to see that hate comes in many colors. But hate also has no color. Hate is a coward.
America is still reeling from the aftershock of the June 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, when Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist, walked into a prayer meeting at Emanuel AME Church and killed nine worshipers and wounded three others. Now, as we try to wrap our brains around the news of the recent church shooting at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee, the same question pops out of our mouths: Why?
In the Burnette Church of Christ shooting, one person, Melanie Smith, 39, was killed. Seven others were wounded, including the minister Joey Spann and his wife Peggy.
Thank goodness the accused shooter, Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, came late to church. Had he been on time, perhaps there would have been more bloodshed. When he got to church, the benediction had been said and parishioners were on their way home, or perhaps to meet a loved one for Sunday brunch or lunch. Samson had already interrupted the Sunday routine of Smith, leaving her dead in the church parking lot. He was about to disrupt the routine of several others, when he entered the sanctuary at the rear of the church and began shooting indiscriminately.
Thanks be to God for the quick action of Caleb Engle, a 22-year-old church usher who, with holy boldness, confronted Samson and struggled with him to keep him from hurting more people. In the struggle, Samson shot himself and Engle was rightfully declared a hero.
In my research for this column, I read over the 2015 shooting stories, and something popped out at me: The church — Emanuel AME, where Roof ended nine lives — had the same name as the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ shooter — Emanuel. What a coincidence. Emanuel is a holy name. It means, God with us.
But Emanuel Samson did not live up to his good name last Sunday. God was not with him on that day when he let hate overwhelm him.
Samson, a black man who had came to America from Sudan in 1996, was known to be a legal resident. Television news stories showed pictures of him pumping iron, like many other young men. He went to the gym often and seemed to be fascinated with bodybuilding and his good looks. From the pictures I saw, Samson worked hard in the gym, making the outside of his body buff and nearly perfect.
Yet, he neglected the most important part of his body— his heart. He let it soak up so much hatefulness that it spilled over to the outside and he became a murderer at the church that bore his name. How sad.
Happy Jewish New Year
I want to take a moment to wish all my Jewish friends a very Happy New Year. Let us continue to pray for peace and unity among God’s creation.
‘What is Sharia’ discussion
Speaking of unity, from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday the Coalition of Muslim Organizations in South Florida (COSMOS Fla.), in conjunction with Miami Coalition of Christians and Jews(MCCJ) and the Islamic Center of Greater Miami (ICGM), will have a panel discussion on “What is Sharia?”
Islamic Sharia is a most-misunderstood term and has been used to spread Islamophobia and xenophobia by hate groups, according to a news release. The panel discussion is an effort to help the public understand the true meaning of Sharia, according to Dr. Abdul Hamid Samra.
The event will be at Florida International University Law School in Room RDB 1100 at 11200 SW Eighth St. The panel will feature local Islamic scholars. Admission is free, but it’s advised that you RSVP. Call Samra at 954-505-0701 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Lady of Charity feast rescheduled
The feast of Our Lady of Charity, rescheduled because of Hurricane Irma, will be on Oct. 12, at Watsco Center (formerly known as Bank United) at 1245 Dauer Dr. on the University of Miami Campus in Coral Gables.
Doors will open at 5 p.m. and the procession with the image of Our Lady of Charity will be at 7:25 p.m., followed by the Eucharistic celebration presided by Archbishop Thomas Wenski.
The community is invited. For more information go to, www.ermitadelacaridad.org
Belen students honored
A warm Friends and Neighbors salute to the three seniors at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School who are finalists in the semifinals for the 2018 National Merit Scholarship. They are Ivan Barral, Andres Dones and Conner Yurkon.
Also, my hat is off to 15 other seniors at the school who have also been named Commended Students by the National Merit Scholarship Corp.: Andrew Burch, Daniel Corrada, Ricardo Espina, Daniel Fager, Thomas Gallinar, Javier Guerrero, Eduardo Hernandez, Justin Izquierdo, Gabriel Krikorian, Jorge Moscoso, Allan Navarro, Deiter Prussing and Roger Torres.
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