In the corridor leading from the classrooms in Demerest Hall to St. John’s Chapel are two banners, right next to one another, that I pass on a daily basis. One depicts an interracial handshake with the words from the New Testament, “Love casts out fear.” The other features three dancers beautifully posed in silhouette with a verse from a beloved Shaker hymn, “Dance, then, wherever you may be.” Their colors have faded with time. Their message of hope is timeless. Indeed, they took on a deeper meaning for me today when I passed them once again to enter the chapel, light a few candles, and pray for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and all who mourn and care for them.
I learned of the dreadful massacre at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina while lying on a sleeping bag on the floor of my empty apartment. This is the very church of Denmark Vesey (1767-1822), a former slave who bought his freedom. He attempted to organize what might have become one of the largest slave revolts of the U.S. antebellum era. Those who recruited black soldiers to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War invoked the name of Denmark Vesey.
Tonight Cliff and I stole a few moments of recreation. We wondered whether seeing the documentary Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine was the best way to spend them. After dealing with religion, race, and violence in the last two sermons and a book study, I had said to him earlier, “That’s it. No more violence. It is just too painful. I am worn out and I need a break.”
We saw it anyway. As fate would have it, writer and director Michele Josue, her co-producer Liam McNiff, and another of Matt’s friends were there for the showing. Afterwards we had a chance to linger over conversation in the cool Berkeley evening air. I am glad we went.