Scribbling Outside the Lines

Playing beyond the boundaries in hopes of finding God and inspiration


Adam Walker CleavelandNine

by Adam Walker Cleaveland

Nine bodies.
Nine bodies on the ground.
Nine black bodies on the ground.

It’s been three weeks since the devastating shooting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

In the piece below, the letters of the word racism are shaped by those nine bodies; nine bodies of the men and women who were there at the Bible study: Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons Sr., and Myra Thompson.

I imagine some had their hands up, some tried to run, and others contorted their bodies to avoid the bullets that came to claim their lives. And then the bodies lay on the ground.

And yet, at the end of the word, we see two bodies who look almost hopeful. As I watched the live-streamed worship service at Mother Emanuel the first Sunday after the shooting, I was taken aback at the joy, hope, and determination of those who were worshiping that morning. That same Sunday, I included in my benediction the words of the families who stood before Dylann Roof and said, “We forgive you.”

I applaud the strength of those who can forgive. And I believe we must get to forgiveness at some point. But what about now?

Just three weeks after nine black bodies were shot down because of a racist, terrorist attack that occurred in the United States of America in 2015, just three weeks after Dylann Roof ate his Burger King meal after slaughtering nine brothers and sisters in Christ . . . we need to be angry.

We need to stop talking and start doing something.

Those of us privileged white Americans need to acknowledge our privilege and our complicit role in the institutionalized racism in our country that led a young man to kill nine fellow human beings because of the color of their skin.

Racism is alive and well in the United States of America. And that should disturb and haunt us.

the word "racism" comprised of the bodies of the nine killed in CharlestonClick here to view a larger image.

Adam Walker Cleaveland is a pastor who lives in Chicago. He loves thinking about the future of the church, playing with his three-year-old son and drawing and sketchnoting. Adam blogs at, where he writes about ministry, theology, art, and social media. You can find Adam online at, on Facebook at, or on Twitter at @adamwc.