Tag Archives: Forgiveness

LeAnn Gardner: Ordinary Miracles: A View from Charleston

Just about two months ago, the unthinkable happened in my city. A young man entered a church, sat in a Bible study and unleashed bullet after bullet, killing nine church members. There were also survivors, including a child, who witnessed the terror unfold. What happened a few days later might even be more incomprehensible: the families of those victims forgave that killer. If you want to go to church, watch the bond hearing here.


In the moments, days, week and now months that have followed, I have tried to be open to all the experience is teaching me. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Evil and hate exist. You may be thinking, “Of course it still exists.” But when evil comes to your doorstep, its face looks even more sinister. Until June 17, I watched from afar other mass shootings. This atrocity reminded me that we live in a world full of evil, but what came after the shooting, the way my beautiful city responded did not let that evil win out. More on that later.
  • Symbols aren’t everything, but they are something. The Confederate flag conversation began almost immediately after the shootings. I heard people remark that it was “tacky” and “disrespectful” to talk about the flag before the victims were even buried. My thoughts on this were very different. One of the victims, Reverend Senator Clementa Pinckney fought to have this flag removed before his death (and mandatory body cameras on police officers as a result of the Walter Scott tragedy which occurred about 2 months prior to the shooting; you can read more about that here). The thought of Sen. Pinckney’s viewing at the state house occurring while the flag was still up was sickeningly ironic. (officials did cover a window in the state house so it couldn’t be seen). The Confederate flag has become a symbol of hate. You can argue what its roots were, that its meaning has been co-opted by racists, that “the flag didn’t climb down off the flagpole and kill those people”, etc. The bottom line for me as a person of faith is if my brother and sister are offended by this flag, if they have a visceral response to it when they see it, if they remember their forefathers and foremothers being wrapped in it after being killed by the KKK, then it needs to come down. This is not only civil, or polite, but CHRISTLIKE. People before symbols. IMG_5048
  • Policies aren’t everything, but they are something. Gun control. Mental health services. Something needs to happen. We can no longer pretend that our love affair with guns is a healthy one.
  • Reconciliation and peacemaking is holy work. We are all called to this. What does this mean exactly? For my friends Bill Stanfield and Evelyn Oliveira, it means living among the people they are serving at Metanoia. But what about for me? For you? Will this tragedy be a passing atrocity that I allowed to change me for a short amount of time, or will it transform my worldview, and thus my actions? Tragedy, especially at your front door, fosters self-reflection, but my prayer for myself, my family and our community as a whole is that it will truly change the very fiber of who we are.
  • Forgiveness is a choice. When the families offered the gift of forgiveness just days after the massacre, I was talking to an African American colleague who grew up in the Civil Rights era. I asked her, “How can these families give forgiveness so quickly?” She said, “You say it with your mouth. You lean into it. You say it so that the action will follow so that not one seed of hate has room to grow.” It was then that I realized that even the act of forgiveness is different for my African American brothers and sisters. My white privilege allows me to fester, to be angry, to harbor resentment and grudge. For my colleague, for the families, their history of oppression has not afforded them that luxury.
  • Not talking to your children about race sends a message. Although my children are very young and cannot grasp what happened that fateful Wednesday night, fear overcame me. The thought that we are raising children in a world where churches and schools are no longer safe terrifies me. So what would I tell them if they were older? I hope that we could have open conversations about our own biases (we all have them) and that to voice and recognize them is the beginning of change. I hope that we will teach them that there are privileges that automatically come with having white skin and their job is to be aware of this and to listen to their friends of color to really hear others’ experiences. Whereas I will converse with my two boys about white privilege, their African American friends’ mothers will talk about the danger of wearing hoodies and the assumptions that police officers may make because of the color of their skin. Even if these conversations are awkward, they need to happen. Silence sends another message: it isn’t important, we are too uncomfortable to talk about these things, and worst of all, we don’t care.
  • Love wins….every single time. I cannot say enough about how my beloved hometown reacted to the tragedy that occurred. Dylann Roof allegedly said he killed those kind souls to “start a race riot.” That, most certainly, did not happen. The Sunday after the shootings, an expected crowd of 5,000 walked our city’s most visible icon, the Ravenel Bridge. Estimates are that upwards of 10-15,000 showed up, including some of the children of the victims. Love wins. IMG_4956 As the victims were being buried, there were rumors swirling that Westboro “Baptist” Church would be coming to picket: another attempt to smear our city with hate. Instead, a grassroots Facebook movement emerged of volunteers to be “human shields” so that families could grieve peacefully. One of those volunteers held up a “Love Wins” sign as Jennifer Pickney, Clementa Pickney’s widow, exited the church. Mrs. Pinckney hugged the volunteer and whispered into her ear “every single time.” IMG_5091

Dylann Roof told someone that he almost didn’t go through with the killings because the Bible study participants were “so nice” to him. What he experienced, before killing them, was the love of Christ. That love continued at his bond hearing when the victims’ families pled for his soul and offered words of forgiveness. This is the lavish grace of Christ, fleshed out in a courtroom. My prayer is that their hard decision of forgiving the person who killed their loved ones is not in vain; that their example will continue to inspire my city known for its beauty, and now for its soul. Love wins…..every single time.


LeAnn Gardner is a right brained social worker and minister married to a left brained engineer. Together they (sometimes) compose a full brain. She is mother to two boys, ages 3 1/2 and 1 year.

Alicia Davis Porterfield: Sin, Dirt and the God-Bath

Psalm 51:1-10 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy.  Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Amen.


Having grown up in the church and family story I did, I’ve generally had a strong sense of my own sinfulness. I heard it every week in church (and some Wednesday and Sunday nights, too). Our preacher, whom I called a “scream-y preacher” as a preschooler, yelled about my sin regularly, every “you” and “your” translating as “me” and “my” in the concrete-thinking way children’s brains work. I wiggled down as low as I could in the pew so I couldn’t see his angry face, but I couldn’t block out the accusing voice.

If I opted for Children’s Church, I found the same message with less yelling. In every example, every funny story, every serious talk, our children’s minister expressed constant, urgent concern that we take our sin absolutely seriously. I once heard him say that if we didn’t ask forgiveness for every, single sin we committed every, single day, then we weren’t forgiven.

So I stayed up at night after prayers with Mama and Daddy, all tucked in and anxious, trying to recall all the times I’d been mean to my sisters or disobedient or angry or unkind or grumpy or felt anything negative at all. I usually fell asleep part way through my confession.

The fear that I had forgotten to confess a sin haunted me regularly, although another little girl and I once wondered if maybe God was more forgiving than our ministers.

My personal sinfulness was in the air I breathed and the water I drank. I was a wretch, a worm, a sinner, stained. Everyone was telling me it was so: my sinfulness was clearly the most important thing I needed to learn at church and in life.

So one Sunday, I went forward to get cleaned up, to profess my faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. It took all the courage I had to get my little legs moving down the aisle toward the “scream-y preacher,” who never learned my name.

But I had to go.  Somehow, even amidst the constant and overwhelming bad news about me, I had heard the good news about Jesus.

Sunday School teachers told me stories about how Jesus welcomed the children to him. We sang about how Jesus loved all the little children of the world. That included me somehow.


Jesus loved me, wanted me to follow him, wanted me to be with him for eternity. If I could just get to Jesus, my sin would stop being the most important thing about me.

Now, as a minister and the mother of three young boys, I wonder how my childhood understanding of sin, forgiveness and redemption might have been different if someone had told me that sin was sort of like getting dirty. Sometimes we get dirty through a choice we make all on our own, sometimes because we didn’t see the puddle clearly or didn’t know how to get around it—and sometimes because someone pushes us in.  Other times it’s from a mess we inherited from others that becomes our own.

We all get dirty. It’s part of being alive, of engaging with the world, with each other, with ourselves. We are created to be together: in families, in schools, in our communities, in the church-—of course our messes will affect each other.

We are broken and sinful. We are also infinitely beloved.

Jesus understands all that, even if we don’t. Jesus knows why we do what we do even when we can’t untangle the rhyme or reason to our faults and foibles any more than the Apostle Paul did (Rom. 7:15-20).

That’s why Jesus is the one who can truly forgive us.

Getting dirty is part of living; being sinful is part of being human. Psalm 51:1-10 is a gift for when we discover we’ve gotten dirty, when we look and see the wrong we’ve done (intentionally or unintentionally). Your mess, your sin—our mess, our sin—is never greater than God’s forgiving love through Jesus Christ. Never.


These ancient words of confession are like a warm, sudsy bath after we’ve fallen in the dirt. Imagine Jesus drawing you a hot bath, putting out the good towels and handing you the soap you’ve saved for the special occasion that never came.

It’s here. Take off everything that hinders, that holds you back, that covers up what you’d rather not show. Step in and soak awhile.

Let God, who loves you—just as you are and far more than you can imagine—wash you clean.

Alicia casual-1

Alicia Davis Porterfield is a minister married to a minister, the mother of three boys and a writer, teacher and preacher (www.helwys.com). She is grateful to all who have shared God’s love with her, from her earliest days to now.