It's hard to know where to start in praising the Time magazine cover on the legacies of the nine believers lost at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. This story sets out to let readers meet all of them, using the voices of those who survived and others touched by the glimpses of hell, and heaven, during that nine-minute massacre.
It's true that the reporting team that produced "What it Takes to Forgive a Killer" -- David Von Drehle, with Jay Newton-Small and Maya Rhodan -- were given an extraordinary amount of space in which to paint this masterwork. When you start reading this, close the door for privacy and have some tissues ready -- especially if you watch the YouTube at the top of this post, which is referenced in the article.
In a way, the size of this article only raises the stakes. You see, forgiveness is a massive personal and theological subject and the goal of the article was to show that people are complex and that grace works in different lives at different paces. There are several theological perspectives to consider, and tons of biblical material to reference, with many places to stumble in handling the facts and the background. In a way, this article seems short, when one considers its ambition.
For me, as the son of a pastor in a Bible-driven tradition, the key is that this story focuses on a small circle of "Wednesday night" people, the ultra-faithful folks who end a long, long day by gathering with their shepherds for Bible study. This is not the Sunday morning crowd. If you were looking for the true believers, Wednesday night Bible study in Mother Emanuel is where you are going to find them.
At the heart of the story are three words, spoken by Nadine Collier, daughter of the fallen Ethel Lance, to gunman Dylann Storm Roof. Sharon Risher is her sister. This is long, but essential:
“I forgive you.” Those three words reverberated through the courtroom and across the cable wires, down the fiber-optic lines, carried by invisible storms of ones and zeros that fill the air from cell tower to cell tower and magically cohere in the palms of our hands. They took the world by surprise.