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We had nine white roses on our communion table last Sunday. Nine white roses, one for each of the victims of the shooting that took place in a church.

As I stood up to give the Pastoral Prayer at my church last Sunday, and asked those in worship to look at the roses, the breath and depth of this tragedy overwhelmed me. I have been deeply bereft since I first heard about it, but looking out at my congregation, people who have come to worship and praise God, the lump in my throat got to me. Yes, we are a mostly white, suburban church just outside of Los Angeles in the community of Studio City. We don’t live day to day with the possibility that something like what happened in Charleston could happen to us. But then I had to think, does anyone ever think something like this unspeakable act would ever happen to them? Did the people sitting in a movie theatre? Did the parents who dropped their young children off at school?  For those who have lived their lives with this as an all too common possibility, my heart grieves.

The more I try to make sense of what occurred, and I admit making sense of it will never fully happen, I am faced with a sad reminder of the degree of hate that breeds in our country. This cancer of prejudice has gone on far too long. One would hope that in the 21st century, with better education, and forums to discuss and dialogue with others, that some greater understanding would have come upon us by now. Sad to me that this has not happened, but that those who continue to hate, lash out, and demean seem to do so with a righteousness that is all too scary to believe. People who hate seem to have a sense of entitlement to their hatred. It has been past down to them like a priceless family heirloom and is now proudly displayed on their mantle for all to see. This grieves me deeply. Where is the love for all people, the compassion of the Christ that we are to live out in ministry to others? It is lacking in far too many people. Many of those who hate would, without reservation, call themselves “church people.” If they are, it is a church I couldn’t begin to comprehend and a worship of a type of God that I could never begin to understand and embrace.

We are called as children of an unconditionally loving God to be inclusive of all. We are given the example by the Christ to reach out in understanding to those who may seem different to us. The differences we perceive are cosmetic perhaps, or they are in the DNA that makes us who we are, but the totality of all that we are makes us each a valuable and wonderful individual expression of a loving God. The truth is that as creations of God, in God’s image, we are all precious and valuable. Our uniqueness from one another is a lovely gift that we offer to the world for the complete fulfillment of a thriving community.

So, why all of this hate?

My favorite lyricist is Oscar Hammerstein II. To me this amazing man is not only a poet, but a theologian and a mystic. His powerful lyrics, often to music by Richard Rodgers, have been sung in churches and cathedrals to inspire many. “Climb Every Mountain,” a message of hope in the face of despair and fear, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” (sung at my ordination into ministry), is a song of the continual presence of God moving in and through our lives to direct and guide us at every moment. Powerful messages that inspire us to continue when times are tough.

And still there is a current of hatred that is cancerous in our land. Why?

I believe Oscar Hammerstein II reminded us of that reason in a lyric he wrote for the musical “South Pacific.”

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Nine white roses on our communion table this past Sunday at First Christian Church of North Hollywood in memory of the nine victims of the shooting in Charleston. May their death not be in vein. May God’s Spirit of reconciliation, love, comfort and peace have the final word. That is my prayer.

Rev. Jefferson Beeker


We live our lives one thought at a time. Let each of those thoughts really count for something wonderful.

Be prepared to change your thinking and change your life.