Not Just a Christmas Song – #ChimeWithCharleston

A horrific mass murder occurred this past week in my hometown of Charleston, SC.

Filled with hatred and bigotry, Dylann Roof walked into Mother Emanuel AME Church in Downtown Charleston, sat through a Bible study, and then opened fire, killing 9 and hoping to incite a race war.

The eyes of the world are focused on our city. How do we respond to this absolutely senseless, brutal act of terrorism?

The response in Charleston has been amazing. The street in front of Mother Emanuel AME is never empty. People praying, crowds singing, spontaneous worship and proclamations of the gospel.  Tears are shed from family, friends, locals, and those “from off” (that’s Charleston speak for visitors) outside of Mother Emanuel AME. Hands being held belong to people from all races. Literally, the Kingdom of God on Earth, as it is in Heaven.

Unity memorial services are at capacity across churches of all faiths and denominations in the Lowcountry, often spilling into the streets.  Tomorrow evening what many are thinking could be 10,000 people will line up, holding hands, and span the bridge over the Cooper River, the largest landmark in our city.  It’s all over social media with the hashtag #unitychaincharleston.


And tomorrow morning, the first Sunday after this tragedy, we’ll see a massive show of support here in Charleston and around the country, even. #ChimeWithCharleston is gaining steam. Right now close to 100 churches here in the Tri-county area as well as throughout the US, will ring their church bells at 10 am in honor of Mother Emanuel and the Beautiful 9 who died. This is the first time that all the churches in the historic peninsula area of Charleston will at one time ring their bells. People are being encouraged to ring hand bells outside of the churches and homes and businesses.  A somber, yet beautiful lament of sound as the bells ring in Charleston, Mount Pleasant, North Charleston, Daniel Island, Summerville, the beaches, the midlands, the upstate, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and elsewhere…

As I thought about this event, I started thinking of a song – a lament of sorts – written during another era of racial injustice and sorrow. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem called Christmas Bells, or as you know it now, the carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

Longfellow had lost his wife in a horrific fire as the Civil War was starting. His son enlisted in the army and in 1863, was severely wounded. Longfellow travelled from Boston to Washington to be with his wounded son. In his despair he wrote this poem to express his feelings. How could we celebrate Christmas, a time of good cheer, when the world was full of war, death, and injustice?  Yet, through it all, God is not dead, nor does he sleep. The poem ends in a cry of hope, that perhaps there could be peace on Earth and goodwill to men.

I just want to leave it here… all seven stanzas of the original poem.  As the churches around my hometown and throughout the country ring their bells tomorrow, so many are wondering  if we’ll ever see the end to injustice, the end to hatred, the end to bigotry, the end of death and sorrow? Remember, remember these words as you hear the bells tomorrow. Hold on to them and be the change that brings that peace on Earth, goodwill to all.

Christmas Bells
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 – 1882

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

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