After Charlottesville I Am Without Words


Diana Trautwein -Charlottesville3

I like to think of myself as a person of words. I love to read, talk, preach and write—all of which require some facility with language. I even had a dear friend whisper in my ear a week or so ago, “You know what I love about you? Your vocabulary!” My what? Well, okay, I’ll take it!

But at this particular moment in time, in the aftermath of the horrors of Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend, I find myself at a complete loss. I discover very few words anywhere within my usually active brain. I feel unmoored, uncertain, frightened and deeply, truly sad.

I am a person who does not understand cruelty. So deep is this lack of comprehension that I often feel powerless and rudderless in the face of it. I’ve known a few people in my lifetime whose currency is cruelty. Blunt, thoughtless, critical remarks were their stock-in-trade. Every time one of those remarks was directed toward me, I stuttered and stumbled around, trying to find a comeback, a simple sentence that will stop the flood of vitriol.

And every time I’d have nothing. Nada. No words. What is with that?

It’s not that I want to be cruel back. Honestly and truly, that’s not what I want. It’s that I simply do not know what to do in the face of cruelty. If it’s directed at someone else in the circle, I can sometimes muster an objection or a clarification, but I never make it as far as a firm, clear, pushback that stops the ugliness. More often than not, I beat a retreat as quickly as I can and then ponder it all for days and days. What could I have said? What could I have done? What should I do next time?

Today, I am past pondering. I am done. And the one word that keeps coming back to me, over and over again is this one: ENOUGH. Stop. Just stop. Put away your swastikas. Burn them all. You may have a legal right to your misguided opinion, but you do not have the right to name-call, bully, and harass, or to drive your automobile into a crowd of folks who disagree with you, and are brave enough to stand up and say so.

There are no more cheeks to be turned, my friends. None. And I refer you to the fine work of Walter Wink, written decades ago, about the subversive nature of the words of Jesus that have been so abused in the centuries since they were uttered. Turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile were acts of resistance to an intolerable government and they are beautiful things when rightly understood. They are not useful as tokens, bromides, or any other kind sugarcoating of evil words and deeds. Evil demands resistance. Full stop.

And what we witnessed this past weekend in Charlottesville, what we’ve seen over and over and over again in the systematic killing of people of color, is evil. It is an evil that has its roots in fear, the ‘elephant in the room’ I wrote about last month, but it is evil, nonetheless.

On this past Sunday morning, our interim pastor asked our mostly white congregation to stand in honor of those who died and were injured in the melee that struck Charlottesville. And he called the events of the weekend what they were— evil. Wrong. Not to be tolerated. From the staid depths of our usually silent-unless-asked-to-speak congregation, there arose a loud, “AMEN.”

More importantly, he called on us to examine our own hearts for evidence of racism, of xenophobia, of deep-seated, sometimes invisible-to-us, signs of the same kind of hate-based reactivity. Then we spent a brief time in silent repentance. Later in the service, the woman who led us in community prayer built a powerful litany around this line in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” putting words to the emotions so many of us were burdened by as we came into worship that day.

It’s a beginning—recognition, a refusal to be silent.

Now, I pray, it will become a call to action, starting right here, where we live. And I continue to pray that I will find words, and use words, and live words that speak truth to power, that speak truth to lies, that speak righteousness to injustice, that speak life to death.

May it be so.