The Most Important Lesson of the Charleston Shootings

9 Christians are dead. They welcomed a young stranger into their midst, treated him with kindness and grace, and he killed them. Ruthlessly and without remorse he shot them all because of the color of their skin. The killer has been appropriately described as a monster, a beast and a psychopath, but the family members of the slain called him something else and with their words taught us all what it means to be a Christian.

When the gunman was brought for a preliminary hearing the family members were allowed to address him in the court room. One by one they went to the podium and addressed the video screen on which the murderer’s image could be seen. Here are some of the things they said-

“I forgive you, my family forgives you. … We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Do that and you'll be better off than you are right now.”

“You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you. I forgive you.”

“For me, I'm a work in progress, and I acknowledge that I'm very angry. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul”

“You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

Their lack of vitriol, malice and a desire for vengeance was astonishing. Their loved ones had been brutally murdered, at church. Families were shattered, parents and children were gone. Instead of calling him a monster they called him forgiven. How could these suffering people forgive such a man?

The answer can be found on the official website for the AME Church. A part of their statement of faith is the Apostle’s Creed, which says-

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead; and buried. The third day he arose from the dead’ he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Church Universal, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

They forgave, because they are forgiven.

They do not despair, because they believe that death is not the end.

They rest in the assurance that they will someday be reunited with those they have lost, that no evil deed done by a man on earth can alter their eternal destiny. Their loved ones that are gone are not gone forever, they are in the presence of God. They understand that as terrible a man as the shooter is, he is still loved by God and that God could save him and change him, and that would be a good and glorious thing.

In a letter written by the Apostle Peter to the church at large he spoke of the power of faith through trials such as these-

“Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, these have come so that your faith… may be proved genuine and may result in praise glory and honor.” 1 Peter 1:6-7

I thank God for the encouragement and testimony of the AME Church of Charleston. Their faith has been proved genuine indeed.

- Bart


Being Fired Isn't Always the End

“This is it. I am going to have to let you go.” And with that a 5 year relationship with one of my favorite employees ended. I have always hated letting people go but this one was especially difficult.

I hired her when she was 19, the sister in law of one of my other employees. I was not sure she would be up to task, being the primary receptionist for a busy family doctor with high standards is not an easy job. She excelled out of the gate, handling the phones and patients with grace and aplomb. They all loved her as her natural sweetness and willingness to help were impossible to resist. In the 5 years she worked for me I cannot remember single complaint from a patient.

I genuinely cared for her, and as she is Hispanic, often called used the term of endearment “Mija” when I talked to her. She talked to me about her life and her family and I felt as if we were as close as a boss can be with an employee.

So what happened?

Overtime she began to make mistakes. I wondered if it was due to the fact that she was trying to go to college in the evenings or if it is was financial pressure. Whatever the reason was, things started to fall through the cracks. I talked to her about it, counseled her about it and even warned her about it. She improved for a while but when one morning I discovered some patient results had not been forwarded to me for several weeks due to an oversight, I felt I had no choice but to say good-bye. I had to draw the line at quality of care. She was heart-broken and so was I.

A short time later she applied for a job with the Medical Group I contract with. They called and asked me about her and I gave them the best recommendation I could, telling them how she had been so wonderful for so long. To her credit she had been honest in the interview about all that had happened. They offered her the position.

We had limited contact over the next few years, she would occasionally answer the phone when I called the Medical Group and her sister-in-law gave me updates every once in a while. There were never any negative words exchanged and she never spoke ill of me to anyone. I never thought that our relationship would improve but was grateful that there seemed to be no hard feelings.

A few months ago the staff wanted to change cleaning services for the office. Her sister-in-law asked if she could do the weekend cleaning. “Why not?” I thought. So I hired her for that position. The job is on the weekends when the office is closed so I did not see at all and we talked only once or twice for brief moments.

In the last two weeks we have had staff shortages in the office due to vacation and family illness. Normally we would call a temp office for help or just struggle a long, but she is on winter break from college and the office staff wondered if she could fill in. “Why not?” I thought again!

And so she is back at the desk, answering phones and smiling at the patients. When she came in for her first shift we embraced, genuinely pleased to see one another. We have talked some and updated each other on events in our lives and I have been reminded of the sweetness and kindness that have always been a part of who she is. I have even called her “mija” again.

Her story reminds me of how life is supposed to work. Mistakes sometimes have unavoidable consequences. Bosses need to make changes and employees need to move on. Good people, kind people, can still care about one another and still wish each other well. We can forgive one another and sometimes even work together again. If only we could all forgive and love in this way!

-          Bart