Would we press harder if we thought of our words not as another voice in the fracas but as God’s mandate to justice? The word of the Lord hits Amos as one who is otherwise apt to mind his own business. Those who are compelled to speak should never stop speaking.
I’ve heard it said that you don’t know true love until you hold your baby for the first time. I hate that, for so many reasons. And I hate whoever has said it to me or anyone else. Hate it.
This may come as a shock, but I’ve got the slightest anger issue. It’s more accurate to say I didn’t know true anger until I became a mother.
There’s the daily anger, like slaving away in the kitchen for hours only to have people gag and demand crunchy toast and cookies to eat, while they scream and scratch their sister and slip on spilled water and cry for hours. There’s the hourly anger, like the struggle between wanting to check out and check e-mail in the face of little people wanting to play or needing to be disciplined.
The Rev. C.T. Vivian, who was central to the achievements of the civil rights movement of the 60s, said in an interview with me this week that the evil perpetrated at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., was “the best thing that could have happened.”
Not the deaths of the innocent people, he says, but the evil act that was carried out in a house of worship made way for critical action that might not otherwise have happened. “It came out even better than anybody would have thought,” he said, “because we not only got the flag down, but more than that, we got rid of the great Southern symbols. If we handle it right, we have a good chance of getting a whole lot done more than we thought. Black ministers have to go to white ministers and say this is the day that we've been waiting for, the day when the public is really ready to have the war of yesterday forgotten.”
Vivian may well be right, but the incident made this writer wonder, yet again, about the whereabouts of God in the presence of oppression.
“God is in control.”
The statement comforts many people because deep down we know that we are not in control. We can do everything we can to protect ourselves and our families, but we know that despite our best efforts, tragedy can strike at any moment. And so it’s comforting to believe that if we aren’t in control, Someone else is.
But something inside of me recoils whenever I hear the phrase, “God is in control.” Many believe that God’s sovereignty means that God is behind everything that happens. But I find no comfort in that view of God. In fact, a God who micromanages and controls every event isn’t a God worthy of belief.
The world is swirling with issues.
Picking up my phone and opening my news app each morning is being met with more and more dread each day.
When something hits the news, it is fascinating to watch people jump onto social media and begin “yelling" out their answers for how to heal our broken systems.
Of course, there are almost always at least two completely different opinions for how these problems should be fixed, which typically leads to people drawing lines in the sand, picking their stance, and not budging. Relationships often fracture and a polarized a world gets more polarized, rendering it immobilized for the work of reconciliation.
Whether it’s on our Facebook page, Twitter feed, or around our table, I assume most of us can think of an interaction where this unhelpful and potentially destructive reality played out.
So, does this “yelling” of our opinions actually help heal the broken systems and the people whom those systems are breaking?
Andrew W.K. at the Village Voice received a question from someone whose brother was diagnosed with cancer. In his grief, he is frustrated by his grandma’s prayers and sees them as “superstitious nonsense.” Andrew’s brilliant response is a very worthwhile read, in which he positions prayer as a posture of humility, a deep realization of our smallness.
When senseless tragedy occurs, people of faith often rush to explain and control. As finite human beings, we are limited in our knowledge and power, which makes us uncomfortable. When we encounter something incomprehensible, we are driven to explain it. When a situation reels out of control, we long to control it. We invite God to fill those gaps of our discomfort, our lack of understanding and control.
We look for redemption stories, the ways God is bringing about good through a tragic situation. We do this to avoid letting the grief overwhelm us. Like grandma, we pray because we are hoping to claim some power in our helplessness. Our prayers end up being more beneficial for ourselves than the person we are actually praying for.
Unfortunately, what happens then is we cease to need God beyond the quick explanation. We’ve tidied up the situation with reverent prayers and spiritual meaning. We’ve quickly salvaged the ecosystem of our faith despite a tragic intrusive incident — our belief in the God of the gaps remain intact. Everything stays the same. When we do this, we are making God into an idol, one that explains and controls according to our sensibilities.
The television show Castle involves a mystery writer (Richard Castle) who helps a New York City homicide detective (Kate Beckett) solve tough cases. Beckett decided to become a police officer after her mother, a community activist, was murdered and the case was never solved.
In one episode, Castle notices that Beckett keeps a stick figure in the top drawer of her desk at the precinct. It’s odd-looking. The sticks that form the limbs don’t match exactly. The head looks like one of those football-shaped coin purses. It’s all held together by what appears to be seaweed and twine.
Castle wants to know the story behind it.
Beckett tells how on the day of her mother’s funeral, she was really sad so her father took her to Coney Island, one of her favorite places. They walked along the beach in their funeral clothes for a long time. It became a special time for the two of them.
At one point, they decided to gather items that had washed up on the beach and they made the stick figure.
So, why does she keep it in her drawer?
“He’s a reminder,“ Beckett says, “that even on the worst days, there is a possibility for joy.“
Like many of you, I’ve been overwhelmed and deeply saddened by the events that have transpired in Ferguson, Mo. And at times I’ve felt helpless, 350 miles away in Cincinnati, as friends of mine are in Ferguson praying, marching, organizing, and working for peace and justice.
In my conversations with friends of color, I have witnessed their pain and frustration and deep angst over the events of Ferguson. The past two weeks have hit very close to home for them.
With white friends, the response has been mixed, but the overwhelming sentiment is one I’ve already identified: helplessness. I am not satisfied with this response. I believe there are ways we can respond, bear witness, be in solidarity and work for justice in this moment. Our love for God and neighbor demands we engage. If you are like me, you are praying without ceasing for the Shalom, peace, and justice of God to reign in the hearts and minds and streets of Ferguson and throughout this nation and world. So how can we pair our prayers with constructive action?
Here are ten ways white Christians can respond to Ferguson.
One in four individuals will suffer with a mental health issue in a given year — and that these statistics can often be our friends, family, or ourselves. After tragedies like what happened in Isla Vista and on Seattle Pacific’s campus, we listen to the voices of victims’ families and mourn with them as they share stories of their lost loved ones. But we ignore an even more painful story about the lives of the gunmen.