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Guns — A Terrible Thing Happened!

The Smith County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a shooting incident at Starrville Methodist Church.
.ZAK WELLERMAN/TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH

           Pastor Mark McWilliams (no relation to me) was shot and killed in his home church, Starrville Methodist Church, last Sunday morning. Starrville is a small, rural community approximately 15 miles northeast of Tyler in Smith County, TX.

            Upon entering the church and preparing for the morning services, McWilliams, his wife and another church member opened the bathroom door and found a young man hiding and holding the church bank bag. According to authorities, the young man had been the focus of an unsuccessful police pursuit and man hunt the previous night.

            According to the arrest affidavit, upon finding the intruder in the bathroom, McWilliams, who was armed, started telling him to leave and pulled out his handgun. The intruder lunged at McWilliams, and a struggle ensued in which the intruder seized the gun and shot McWilliams. He also shot at Mrs. McWilliams and a third man who was approaching the church after hearing the gunshots. She was not hit, but the third man was shot. The intruder fled the scene in a truck belonging to one of the victims. He was caught later in the day by Harrison County deputies and returned to Smith County where he was treated for a minor injury and booked into the county jail on numerous charges including capital murder.

            When I first heard about the shooting, I was shocked that something of this nature could happen so close to home and in the sleepy little community of Starrville. I began my teaching career 50 years ago in Winona just up the road from Starrville. Many of my students had lived in Starrville. I was saddened by the pastor’s death and the loss for his family, the church family, and the community. I felt sorrow for the intruder, undoubtedly a troubled young man. Yes, a terrible thing happened! 

            As I considered the incident more, my thoughts began to dwell on the gun. If there had been no gun at the scene, there is a very good probability that the pastor would still be alive, the third man would not have been shot, and a young man would not be facing a capital murder charge. Granted, it was not a good situation, the young man had committed a crime for which there would be consequences, but the presence of a gun compounded the danger and contributed to a tragedy for all involved.

            I can remember a time in the not-too-distant past when carrying a gun was an oddity, an exception to the accepted norm. Carrying a gun to church while worshiping the Prince of Peace was never considered a possibility! Today, our society seems to be enamored with guns – concealed carry, open carry, shooting ranges, and long guns slung over shoulders while walking down the street. Yes, such a tragedy!

             I just wonder what might have happened if the pastor had approached this troubled young man as the Prince of Peace, the Christ of turn the other cheek  — in peace, with grace, love, and compassionate confrontation.  Maybe something we all might want to think about as we keep all involved in this terrible thing in our prayers.

“Black Boy” . . . in America

   

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2001 Edition

 I was finishing Richard Wright’s 1945 groundbreaking memoir, Black Boy, when the news broke of George Floyd’s death. I was horrified, incredulous even as I watched the appalling video. How could and why would anyone keep an unarmed, handcuffed (behind his back) man pinned to the ground with a knee on his throat even as he pleaded that he could not breathe and was in pain? I don’t know that there is any acceptable answer. The events of the day and Richard Wright’s story of growing up black in the Jim Crow South set me to wondering Have we made any meaningful progress in the past 100 years?

1993 ed

1998 Edition

     In Wright’s story he states that “. . .a sense of the two races had been born in me with a sharp concreteness that would never die until I died.” As post World War I racial conflict flared in the South, he recognizes that “A dread of white people now came to live permanently in my feelings and imagination.” As a ten-year old Wright listened to stories of violence against blacks and reports “Nothing challenged the totality of my personality so much as this pressure of hate and threat that stemmed from the invisible whites.” Wright’s story offers some sense of what it was, perhaps still is, like growing up a “black boy” in America. Admittedly as a white woman, I could never fully understand or appreciate his feelings or life experiences.

     On the surface we have made some positive strides toward racial equality and equity. We no longer see the signs at water fountains, restrooms, or business establishments designating which is accessible for “White” or “Colored.” Our schools are integrated and open to all races, if not in reality at least in theory and public policy. Yet there remains an undercurrent of racial segregation and inequality in the most vital of our societal structures – such as our neighborhoods, our places of worship, our educational and job opportunities. We see disproportionate amounts of poverty and violence among African Americans. Many hearts and minds have been opened and awakened to the racial disparities in our society and are compelled to speak out and work for change in these vital areas that impact the future and well-being of all our people, our society, and our nation.

2008 centinnial birth ed

2007 Edition: 100th Anniversary of Wright’s Birth

     Even so racial prejudice, both explicit and implicit, and violence targeting African Americans has always and tragically continues to be alive and well in our society. From the “terror lynchings” of the Civil War, post-Civil War, and Jim Crow eras to the murders of Emmett Till, James Byrd, and most recently Aubrey Ahmad private citizens have committed acts of violence against African Americans for no apparent reason other than racial hatred. Most recently, we have seen seemingly senseless deaths of African American men at the hands of our police – those who have pledged to “never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust.” We all remember Michael Brown and Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, Freddie Gray of Baltimore, and now George Floyd in Minneapolis.

     It would seem that regardless of our positive strivings, racism – racial strife, hatred, and violence – continues among us. I am reminded of Wright’s words:

“… both of us, the white boys and the black boys, began to play our traditional racial roles as though we had been born to them, as though it was in our blood, as though we were being guided by instinct. All the frightful descriptions we had heard about each other, all the violent expressions of hate and hostility that had seeped into us from our surroundings, came now to the surface to guide our actions.”

   

75th Ann

2020 75th Anniversary Ed

     Let’s listen more and better. Let’s hear the words of Richard Wright and our African American neighbors. Let’s strive to understand, appreciate, and affirm one another. Let’s take action and make more meaningful progress in breaking the bonds of our “traditional racial roles” and crumble the “sharp concrete” between races.

     Perhaps this can best be done by expanding on and living out a couple of Wright’s insights. In spite of the “place” the white South had assigned him, he states emphatically that “It had never occurred to me that I was in any way an inferior being,” and that no word he had ever heard “made me really doubt the worth of my own humanity.” God help us to claim and boldly live out our belief that all men are created equal and by the mere fact of their humanity all men are worthy.
   

 And, let’s  follow Wright’s lead and keep hope alive in us “by imagining a place where everything was(is) possible.”

 

 

 

 

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