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Writing about another redesign and reorganization at The Star (see previous post) prompted me to think, once again, about how far The Star and most other major U.S. dailies have fallen in quality and monetary value.

…In 1977, a little-known company called Capital Cites, which owned TV and radio stations and some relatively small newspapers, bought the employee-owned Kansas City Star for $125 million.

Twenty years (and two more KC Star ownership changes later) the Knight Ridder newspaper chain bought The Star, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and two smaller papers for $1.65 billion — the largest ever sale of one or more newspapers.

At that time, considering that The Star was the premier part of the package, The Star probably was worth more than $500 million.

Today, The Star has a market value of less than a tenth of that.

I can understand if you’re thinking, “Where’s the support for that statement?”

Example No. 1: Two years ago a Boston businessman named John Henry, who owns the Boston Red Sox, among other enterprises, bought The Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for $71 million. That’s The Boston Globe that The New York Times had paid $1.8 billion for in 1993.

Example No. 2: In 2012, a group of Philadelphia investors bought The Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister paper, the Philadelphia Daily News, for $56.7 million. Six years earlier, the papers had sold for $605 million.

Such declines in value are astonishing — almost incomprehensible to those of us who spent careers in the newspaper business.

But that’s the way it has gone for almost all major metropolitan dailies since the Internet established unequivocal and relentless dominance over print the last 10 years.

About the only newspapers that are worth anything close to what they were a decade ago are The New York Times, which had deep enough pockets to lose a lot of money while adjusting to the new newspaper landscape, and the Wall Street Journal, which has long had a prosperous niche.

**

I have written several times about McClatchy’s spectacular overpayment of $4.5 billion for 32 Knight Ridder newspapers, including The Star, in 2006.

At the time, that purchase looked like a big gamble. Today it looks like the worst newspaper purchase of all time. McClatchy assumed $2 billion in debt and has lurched around with a debt of at least $1 billion ever since.

I understand why McClatchy bought the Knight Ridder papers: McClatchy was an ambitious company that had been successful with mostly minor-league papers, like the Sacramento Bee, and they wanted to break into the majors…So, company officials convinced themselves that they could. Gary Pruitt, then-McClatchy CEO, said:

“Opportunities like this come along once in a company’s lifetime. These papers are a natural fit for us.”

At the time of the purchase, shares of McClatchy stock were selling for more than $50 a share. I know because I bought, as best I can recall, $10,000 worth, or 200 shares. At the time, I convinced myself that McClatchy knew what it was doing, and I mistakenly placed my confidence in the future of the newspaper business.

Very soon the value of McClatchy shares began plummeting, and they fell to less than a dollar each. (I sold at eight, thank God.)

The deal was a colossal miscalculation by McClatchy.

In December 2006, six months after closing on the Knight Ridder deal, McClatchy unexpectedly announced plans to sell the Minneapolis Star Tribune — its largest paper before the Knight Ridder purchase. The sale price was $622 million, less than half the $1.7 billion McClatchy had paid for the paper in 1998.

Pruitt explained the sale like this:

“It (The Star Tribune) was a drag on the bottom line and we felt we would do better without it. We could also pay down debt and be more flexible to make digital investments…”

With good reason, reporters and other employees at The Star Tribune were alarmed. Nick Coleman, a metro columnist, was quoted as saying, “At a fire sale people get discounted, so we’re very concerned, worried and anxious.”

**

Earlier in that fateful year of 2006, Gary Pruitt had come into the newsroom a couple of months before the Knight Ridder deal closed and told reporters and other editorial employees McClatchy expected the newspaper to grow and that he did not foresee any buyouts or layoffs.

I remember the gathering very well because I had been hoping for a buyout under Knight Ridder, and I still had outside hopes McClatchy would offer some buyouts. When Pruitt dashed those hopes that day, I realized there wasn’t going to be any golden parachute for me, not even a gentle letdown. I was on my own.

I had just turned 60 and still had plenty of time to do something else in life. And even though I was betting stock money on the future of print journalism, the future looked hazy.

In May 2006, I told my supervisor I was retiring, and June 30 was my last day.

I was one lucky duck. Within two years, good friends and longtime, dedicated Star employees were being shown the door…Boy, was I wrong about McClatchy and the future of the newspaper business.

**

Below is a graphic from the Pew Research Center showing the sharp decline in the value of several major U.S. dailies.

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A former Kansas City Star colleague, Joe Keenan, posted a comment this morning, saying that effective next month, The Star would no longer have a business desk, as such.

That got my attention, of course, and I put out some feelers.

Turns out Joe was right on the money: The Star’s three remaining business-desk reporters and its three editors are getting new assignments under the Metro umbrella.

The changes are part of a reorganization and redesign that editor Mike Fannin announced to the newsroom a few months ago. One of the main thrusts of the redesign is to push more readers to The Star’s website and wean them away from the printed edition, which has been flagging for years. (That’s true at nearly every major metropolitan newspaper in the country, by the way.)

We have already seen strong evidence of the push to the web. The printed edition of the sports section, for example, no longer carries the results and game stories for Royals’ games that end after about 10 p.m. A text box urges readers to go to the website.

Other changes, besides the business-desk demise — are probably in the works, but so far I’m not privy to them. I also want to emphasize that The Star will continue to report business stories; they just won’t be coming from a business desk. Anyway, here’s what I’ve got. (Thanks to Joe for the tip and to everyone who provided information.)

:: The Star will no longer have a managing editor. Steve Shirk, the last person to hold that title, retired a (when). Several years before that, The Star’s co-equal managing editor, Jeanne Meyer, was cut loose. (By the way, she is married to Keith Chrostowski, who has been the business editor.) As Metro editor, Greg Farmer will be the big dog in the newsroom, under Fannin.

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Keith Chrostowski

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Greg Farmer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

:: Business reporters Diane Stafford and Mark Davis are becoming part of a news team that Chrostowski apparently will head. Chrostowski will oversee several other current Metro reporters as well.

:: The third business reporter, Joyce Smith, who does a great job tracking restaurant and retail comings and goings, will take her portfolio to FYI, the features desk. (I don’t know if FYI will be under Metro or remain separate…Perhaps some of our commenters will clarify.)

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Diane Stafford

:: Assistant business editor Steve Rosen will be a news-team editor, along with Donna McGuire, who has been an assignment editor for many years.

:: Assistant business editor Greg Hack will be a trouble-shooting, news-team assistant, producing graphics and suggesting “different ways of telling stories.”

 

 

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Ed Eveld (Smile, Ed, you’re going back to news.)

::  Ed Eveld, a former Metro desk reporter who has been an FYI writer for many years, will return to Metro as the Kansas statehouse reporter…This is a key appointment because former statehouse reporter Brad Cooper left the paper recently, and some reporters feared that he would not be replaced. For the last few weeks of the recently concluded legislative session, The Star relied on the Wichita Eagle-Beacon for statehouse coverage. The Star would have bathed itself in ignominy had it continued to rely on Wichita, which, of course, is significantly farther from Topeka than Kansas City.

:: FYI reporter/gossip columnist Lisa Gutierrez will expand her sphere of writing to include, as one insider put it, “anything clickable.”

I’m told that all other current Metro reporters will continue doing what they have been doing — in other words, working their asses off to keep up with all significant developments in a metro area of 2.75 million people.

**

Several weeks ago, The Star was down to under 20 full-time Metro reporters. I would estimate that it had about 50 reporters in 2005, the year before I retired. That does not include Neighborhood News reporters, who were buzzing around everywhere, when the newspaper’s “center of gravity” appeared to be tilting toward Johnson County. (Fortunately for us all, The Star went back to its roots, covering KCMO relentlessly, as its bureau system disintegrated.)

With this change — along with what appears to be the recent hire of a couple of new hands (or maybe they’re summer interns) — Metro will be up to about 25 reporters, for the time being. All the editors, reporters and other hands left on this wayward but still-strong ship are doing great work, and we should be thankful for their dedication to bringing us the news.

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Mi-Ai Parrish

Whether they are being ably guided by Fannin and Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish is another matter. The newsroom certainly isn’t getting much support from HQ in Sacramento…That would be the McClatchy Co., which paid way too much — $4.5 billion — for The Star and a couple dozen other Knight Ridder papers in 2006 and has been paying the price ever since.

I was down in Northwest Arkansas over the weekend for the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, one of the stops on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour.

More about the tournament in a minute, but I was really impressed with the way Northwest Arkansas has grown. When Patty and I started going to Hot Springs, AR, for the horse races back in the 1980s, there wasn’t a lot to see or do in that part of the country.

There is a run of four cities in the space of about 10 miles — Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville.

Bentonville, the home of Walmart, was a sleepy place, with a Holiday Inn (where Sam Walton had breakfast or coffee every morning) and the town square. Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas, was — and still is — the largest of the four cities. Springdale and Rogers were just a couple of red-light-heavy cities you had to endure before you could get back up to speed on U.S. 71.

Bentonville, Rogers and Fayetteville have grown considerably, but Bentonville hit the jackpot a few years ago, when Alice Walton, one of Sam’s daughters, developed the amazing Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Bentonville was growing on its own, but Crystal Bridges put it on the must-go-to list, if you’re in the area.

Saturday night I went to the town square for dinner, and hundreds of people were out and about, many dining at the restaurant I had gone to — Table Mesa — and others just walking around or visiting ice cream shops or other establishments.

Rogers, immediately south of Bentonville, has grown by leaps and bounds, too. Sunday morning I had breakfast at a 24-hour restaurant called Lucy’s Diner, a couple of blocks from the city’s “historic” downtown district. Lucy’s was packed, and the waitresses were abuzz about the pending birth of a colleague’s baby.

The area of Rogers that seems to have mushroomed most is Pinnacle Hills, a prosperous area just off I-49/U.S. 71. The area features a modern, sprawling shopping district and lots of fine homes. The trigger for the development was Pinnacle Country Club, which was constructed on farm land and opened in 1990.

The LPGA tournament has been held at Pinnacle the last nine years, and the local favorite is Stacy Lewis, currently the third-ranked women’s player, who attended the nearby University of Arkansas. She won the tournament last year.

This was the second time I had attended this tournament. The first time, a few years, ago, it was blisteringly hot and breathtakingly humid — so much so that I had to stop following a particular group and retreat to the clubhouse area.

This time, the temperatures were in the 80s and a nice wind was blowing, particularly on Sunday.

On Saturday, I followed Suzann Petterson, the fifth-ranked player, and I began following her again on Sunday but dropped out after nine holes because she was far out of contention. As I was deciding whom to follow next, I got swept up in a crowd that I followed to the 10th tee, where none other than Stacy Lewis was about to tee off.

Lewis, playing in the second to last group, was tied for the lead with one of her playing partners, Mika Miyazato, and Na Yeon Choi, who was playing in the last group.

Lewis took the lead after Miyazato double bogeyed the 13th hole and Choi, playing behind them, bogeyed it. Miyazato got one back at 16 with a birdie, and Lewis held a one-shot lead over her two closest competitors going into the Par-3 17th hole. Things were shaping up beautifully for the local favorite.

No. 17 green is surrounded on three sides by grandstands, and the fans are encouraged to get loud. Pinnacle is promoting the hole as the “loudest on tour,” and the fans did their best to justify that when Lewis arrived at the hole Sunday.

To huge cheers, Lewis put her tee shot six to eight feet from the hole, for a very makable birdie opportunity. Miyazato, meanwhile, put hers 25 to 30 feet away. As the players walked toward the green, the crowd was doing the “woo pig sooie!” call, and a smiling Lewis urged the crowd on by waving her arms up and down and applauding the fans.

I looked at Miyazato to see how she was handling the outpouring of exhortation and affection for Lewis, and, to my pleasant surprise, she was also smiling…Good sport.

Then, the tables started to turn.

Miyazato made her long putt, and Lewis missed the short one, to a collective groan from the crowd.

That put them in a tie going into the last hole.

But then, before either of them hit another shot, the table flipped onto its top: Word came that Choi, who had been one shot behind, had eagled the Par 4 16th hole. With one swing — a 135-yard shot that she holed out — Choi had gone from one down to one up over both Lewis and Miyazato.

After Lewis and Miyazato hit their drives on the Par 5 18th, more shocking news came: Choi had birdied No. 17. With three consecutive swings, Choi had gone from one down to two up.

That meant Lewis and/or Miyazato had to eagle the Par 5 18th hole. It didn’t happen. Choi parred and Lewis bogeyed.

As I watched from the grandstand, Choi put her third shot on the green and two-putted for the victory. Seconds after Choi holed out, a friend or relative ran onto the green and gave her a champagne bath, instantly making her white pants transparent.

In her victory speech, a smiling Choi thanked the crowd, the volunteers, the sponsors and the LPGA. Then she was off to the autograph line.

…It was a tremendous event in an increasingly dynamic part of the Midwest/near South, and I hope to be on hand next year, when the tournament turns 10 years old.

With that, I leave you with three photos…

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Stacy Lewis with a young admirer

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Na Yeon Choi signing a young fan’s cap

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The 18th fairway, in the gloaming

 

Damn it! I thought two or three times in recent weeks about writing a post predicting that the Supreme Court would vote 6-3 in favor of upholding Romneycare…uh, I mean the Affordable Care Act.

So, you’ll just have to trust that I’m still able to tell which way the wind is blowing without tossing blades of grass in the air.

I felt sure that Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy would vote with justices Sotamayor, Kagan, Ginsburg and Breyer mainly because they have demonstrated that they are not political hacks. The same cannot be said of Scalia/Thomas (a twofer) and Alioto. (To this day, I blame former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth — otherwise a pretty good man — for getting empty-headed Thomas on the bench. Thomas worked for Danforth after graduating from law school.)

But anyway, the law — along with affordable health insurance for millions of Americans — is saved because the Big Six saw the light.

By early afternoon, The New York Times had posted an editorial, along with at least two stories. The editorial drew several hundred comments, and I’d like to share a few with you. (If you don’t read the comments on big NYT stories, I suggest you give it a try. You get a good sampling of what a wide array of people are thinking, as well as some funny and eloquent writing.)

**

Sam McFarland, Bowling Green, KY —

Now if we can just resurrect and pass the public option! We could then have a national health insurance program that could serve all Americans, and insurance companies would no longer be the big winners.

BlueNC, Chapel Hill — 

You just have to wonder about (and I’m not going to say all) Republicans…Think about all of their wasted time, energy and money to undo this societal accomplishment. Had they spent these same amount of resources to improve the ACA, we would be much better off as country.

Pragmatist, Austin —

People may disagree with the ACA proposition, but the American people are sick and tired of a small, well-financed, minority monopolizing our legislative agenda. Get on with things that need to be done, including making the reasonable modifications to ACA that need to be made.

BloodyColonial, Santa Cruz — 

Antonin Scalia needs to retire from the bench. He’s an arrogant jerk and a clown and he doesn’t have the temperament for the office. Disagree with the majority opinion if you will, but carry yourself with the dignity Americans expect from a Supreme Court justice…Can’t FOX lure him away? By nature he is an angry right-wing talk show host, not a Justice.

Dawit Cherie, Saint Paul

God bless Chief Justice John Roberts. He acts again with such decency to solidify our faith in the American justice system.

Steve S, Minnesota —

The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. I have no respect for the Republican party because instead of offering ways to legitimately make it better, they just want to completely destroy it. Since the party would probably approve of corporal punishment, they should be spanked and sent to a corner until they learn to play respectfully with other’s building blocks.

Empirical Conservatism (no city or state)

Justice Scalia is an opera lover. Surely he knows when the fat lady has sung.

CQ, Maine — 

I don’t understand why the House of Representatives doesn’t just vote to repeal the law. What? They did? How many times? Really? Oh. OK. Sorry.

**

NOTE:

I learned about the Supreme Court’s decision by checking The Star’s website, as I do frequently each day. Despite it being a landmark decision, however, the Obamacare story didn’t merit top-of-the-page treatment. No, that honor went to a story about a polar bear named Nikita at the Kansas City Zoo. In addition, the McClatchy story that The Star ran about the court decision didn’t even have a breakdown on how the justices voted.

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Later, the lead story was about the American Royal parade moving out of downtown.

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The Star is going through a redesign in which one of the goals is to wean readers from the print product and to the website…If this is the direction we’re headed, we’re soon going to have a newspaper website that is more appropriate for “boondockia” than a major American city. (Credit for that inimitable term goes to reader and commenter John Altevogt.)

Most of us will never forget the Boston Marathon bombings. Horrific sights. Innocents crushed. Children maimed. But with the sentencing yesterday of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the case can begin to recede a bit, at least for those of us not personally affected.

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Judge O’Toole

In reading The Star’s story this morning about the sentencing, it struck me, just from a few quotes I read, that U.S. District Court Judge George O’Toole Jr. must have given a memorable sentencing statement. That prompted me to Google the entire statement, and I think it will move many of you, as it did me.   He opened his address to Tsarnaev by quoting from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Here’s what the judge said: “One of Shakespeare’s characters observes: ‘The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.’ So it will be for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.” Think about that — evil trumping good. It’s not the way it should be and not what we want to hear, but… Then, the judge explained what that line meant as it pertained to Tsarnaev. “Whenever your name is mentioned, what will be remembered is the evil you have done. No one will remember that your teachers were fond of you. No one will mention that your friends found you funny and fun to be with. No one will say you were a talented athlete or that you displayed compassion in being a Best Buddy or that you showed more respect to your women friends than your male peers did. What will be remembered is that you murdered and maimed innocent people and that you did it willfully and intentionally. You did it on purpose.” …And then there was the brothers’ twisted rationalization of why a human slaughter was acceptable. “You tried to justify it (the bombing) to yourself by redefining what it is to be an innocent person so that you could convince yourself that Martin Richard was not innocent, that Lingzi Lu was not innocent, and the same for Krystle Campbell and Sean Collier and, therefore, they could be, should be killed. It was a monstrous self-deception. To accomplish it, you had to redefine yourself as well. You had to forget your own humanity…” …The judge ended his statement with another theatrical allusion.

“In Verdi’s opera Otello, the evil Iago tries to justify his malice. ‘Credo in un Dio crudel,’ he sings. ‘I believe in a cruel god.’ Surely someone who believes that God smiles on and rewards the deliberate killing and maiming of innocents believes in a cruel god. That is not, it cannot be, the god of Islam. Anyone who has been led to believe otherwise has been maliciously and willfully deceived. Mr. Tsarnaev, if you would stand, please…

…Thank you, Judge O’Toole. You gave one of the monsters of the modern world a memorable send-off.

It has been difficult for me to reflect on what happened in South Carolina last Wednesday and not wish the state was wiped off the map, partly because it is abundantly clear to reasonable people that a state proudly displaying the Confederate flag outside the State Capitol — even if it’s not flying atop the Capitol — has a distorted view of democracy.

I only know two people in South Carolina — former Kansas City Star editor Mike Waller and his wife Donna — and I thought several times about sending him an email urging them to pack up and leave the state.

I didn’t do it, and I’m glad because I’m starting to think there’s hope for South Carolina. The inspiration is coming from Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who yesterday passionately called for the Confederate flag to come down.

Flanked by a large, bipartisan group that included both of South Carolina’s U.S. senators, Haley said:

We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand…That flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.

From the outset of this tragedy, Haley, an Indian American with a Southern accent, has demonstrated compassionate leadership. At a press conference the morning after the slayings, she choked back tears and uttered a line that will be long remembered and quoted, in South Carolina and beyond:

“We woke up today, and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken.”

Yesterday, on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews today,” commentator Robert Costa said that after seeing that press conference, “I knew that flag was coming down.”

The eyes of the many people throughout the country are riveted on South Carolina, to see how its state legislators respond to Haley’s call.

 

COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 22:  South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley arrives with other lawmakers, activists and along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (L) to speak with the media asking that the Confederate flag be removed from the state capitol grounds on June 22, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Debate over the flag flying on the capitol grounds was kicked off after nine people were shot and killed during a prayer meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley arriving with lawmakers, activists and Sen. Lindsey Graham (front left) before a news conference in Columbia, SC. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Indicative of the level of interest in the situation, a New York Times story yesterday about Haley’s press conference generated more than 1,000 comments.

The Times’ story said legislation dating to 2000 provides that a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the South Carolina General Assembly is needed in order to change the law pertaining to the Confederate flag display outside the state Capitol.

Haley said that if the General Assembly did not act soon, she would call it back into a special session to address the flag question.

It appears that won’t be necessary and that opposition to bringing down the flag will not be stout.

The Times’ story quoted Ken Thrasher, a South Carolina leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans group, as saying:  “With the winds that started blowing last week, I figured it would just be a matter of time. Whatever the Legislature decides to do, we will accept it graciously.”

For now, though, the spotlight is rightly on Haley, a governor who seems, to me, deeper and more clear-headed than any of the Republicans seeking their party’s presidential nomination.

In a time of national mourning, it’s good to put politics aside as much as possible. At the same time, it’s very tempting to project Haley into the Republican race.

As Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post wrote today: “It’s no secret…that the GOP needs faces and voices like Haley’s.”

I started to write a post last night about what a moron Dylann Roof is. I got one sentence down and stopped. Didn’t really know where to go with it and ran out of time.

On Sunday, however, the associate pastor of the Olathe church Patty and I attend — Saint Andrew Christian Church — deeply moved about 150 of us attending the 10:45 a.m. service, and she gave me permission to reprint her sermon.

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Rev. Erika Marksbury

Erika Marksbury is a very smart person and a gifted preacher, and she is one of those rare clerics who can rise to the biggest and most unsettling events. She has the ability, in times of great distress, to hold a mirror up to a congregation and help the congregation see itself in the context of a broken but ever-hopeful world.

This morning, Erika used as her stepping-off point St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, in which he urged the Corinthians to “open wide your hearts.”

Here’s what Erika said…with the exception of an anecdotal section, which I omitted for space considerations.

**

So you decided to come to church this morning. We came to church this morning. We sang, and prayed, and have just heard scripture together.

We did this despite what happened on Wednesday, in a church, to people who sang, and prayed, and heard scripture together.

Maybe you thought it would be ok because here is not there. Because Kansas is not South Carolina. Because a twenty-four-year-old suburban church is not a hundred-and-ninety-nine-year-old southern church. Because most of these people are white, and all of those people were black. And so we are not like them.

Except that doesn’t hold up. Especially here. Because the story we tell every Sunday at church is our intentional effort to break down those boundaries. The story we tell says that in this place or in that place, new or old, white or black, all who gather around the story of Jesus are one. When we sing, our folk songs blend with their gospel choruses. And when we pray, our celebrations and our sadnesses mingle with theirs, because our hearts carry all the same stuff.

And when we break bread and drink from the cup, we remember brokenness and love, bodies and blood. Some of the earliest church fathers used to say that the bread we share is the body of Jesus and it is our own. This morning it is that of Jesus, and it is ours, and it is Clementa’s, and Cynthia’s, and Sharonda’s, and Tywanza’s, and Ethel’s, and Susie’s, and Depayne’s, and Daniel’s, and Myra’s. We are none of us, really, separate from each other.

We do not come to church to be reassured that we are unaffected. We come to church to be reminded that we are bound. We come to church because the songs remind us that we belong to God and to each other and the prayers acknowledge that there are some things we cannot do alone and the scriptures make clear that justice is hard and it has always been the call of God and the work of people of faith.

We come to worship because the sanctuary has historically been a safe space. People who were persecuted could come seeking refuge. They would run into the building and collapse on the floor beneath the cross and know that inside those walls they would find amnesty. Even though much of that old meaning has slipped away, still, when people find themselves afraid or unsure, they often find their way to a sanctuary. And when that very principle is violated, when people are not safe in their holy places, it is up to other people to create sanctuary outside of those walls once thought to contain it.

**

The people of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church opened their hearts. They did not withhold their affections or their faith. They prayed and sang and studied scripture with a stranger, and they acknowledged him as fully human. They made themselves vulnerable.

But what else could they have done? Deny him? Allow within their walls only people that they already knew and trusted? They are a congregation named Emmanuel – a people named God-with-us – so that really wasn’t ever an option. Maybe they knew that invulnerability was impossible. They surely knew it was anti-gospel.

What Paul is asking in these scriptures – open your hearts – takes on a strange and sad and scary new resonance today. What does it mean to open our hearts in a world where welcoming strangers means risking our lives?

But that’s not really a question for our context, is it? Or it’s only one of them. Our questions are: how brave, and how vulnerable, will we be? How many difficult conversations will we have with our friends and relatives? How hard will we work so that Grandmothers Against Gun Violence will have a voice that can be heard over the NRA’s? How will we tell our kids the hard and horrifying stories of our racist past, a history that stretches from centuries ago to just last week? How much rearranging of our lives will we do to make sure we have chances to learn more, to stand with, to speak up, to reach out? And how will we treat all our neighbors as fully human, not just as people with sad stories but also as people with dreams? How will we learn to trust and celebrate one another? How will we open our hearts?

We were never those people that believed racism was over with the Civil Rights Act or the election of Barack Obama. We have always been those people who have believed that white privilege is real and that most of us benefit from it and that something is fundamentally unjust about that. And believing those truths is the tiniest beginning. But knowing the truth does not change it. Sitting down with it – confessing our gain from it – sharing our fears connected to it – speaking our dreams to strangers, and hearing theirs – that’s movement towards real change.

I mean, I hope it is. I hope we’ll at least try. And when we fail, I hope we will try again, and not be afraid to fail again, and then try again, and fail some more, and keep trying. I hope we won’t get tired. I hope we won’t get lazy. I know that’s easy to do, and it’s easy for white people, for privileged people, to turn away. I do it all the time. I like to think of myself as an ally but that can be exhausting and some days I’m unwilling to be exhausted by anything other than my own kids. But we turn away at the risk of coming right back around to here, to this place of mourning and horror, and despite all the ways I will mess up I want to commit to doing what I can to create sanctuary outside of these walls. If you want to also, here’s a small way we can start:

**

Get out a pen. If you don’t have one on you there should be one in the red book – you can pass it on when you’re done.

Write this address down: Emanuel AME Church, 110 Calhoun Street, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. And sometime this week, send a card. If you don’t have one at home there’s a stack in a basket near the door – feel free to take one of those. Write a note of sympathy and solidarity, and drop it in the mail.

Paper may be flimsy. But even walls are no protection to people committed to welcoming neighbors, strangers. And if these cards carry our love, maybe they can help to create a sanctuary, and a space for dreams to be shared again, for those who are mourning now.

**

I put my card in the mail Sunday…It won’t change anything, but it’s better than just stewing, being angry and wringing my hands.

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