I awoke this morning to the news that overnight another nine lives were taken…and infinitely more forever altered…by an act of hatred in Dayton, Ohio. That right on the heels of another mass shooting in El Paso, TX approximately 14 hours earlier where 20 people were randomly gunned down in a Walmart. You know, for standing there deciding which Sally Frank notebook to buy for their child’s return to school. Oh…and for being ‘brown’. It’s really hard to ignore that part.
I want to call it horrific. Horrendous. Loathsome. Heartbreaking. But there’s one word that sticks out above and beyond them all; common. And that, perhaps is the most gruesome truth of them all. The abominable normalcy of it. Just another shooting. I mean, after all, that makes four this month. Here. In the good ol’, democratic, safe-haven USA. Four. That’s 250 this year. Did you know that? Let that sink in a minute. There have been 250 mass shootings on US soil this year. We are, give or take, 215 days into this year. You do the math.
Does that number surprise you? Enrage you? Frighten you? Most of them you never even heard about. We have become so incredibly desensitized by the commonality of acts of mass violence that we don’t even hear about or register them anymore unless at least a dozen people were injured and/or killed. Four people? Five? Meh. Not even newsworthy. Commonplace. Boring even. Today I actually read the words that the El Paso massacre was ‘worse than’ the Dayton one. Why? Because ‘only’ nine lives were taken in Ohio. I wonder how the families of the nine people they will be burying this week feel about that…
It should make us regurgitate our lunches.
This morning with my heart shredded, I sat down to pray. And I barely could. Not because I don’t love and believe in God. I do. Not because I don’t think prayer is exponentially important in a society that has apparently leaped off the sanity cliff without a parachute. I do. Because I don’t know what to pray for. I am at an utter loss. And because, frankly, I’m more than a little pissed off.
I’m pissed off at humans for being so vile. So mired in hatred. So deeply emerged in depravity that we count human life of such little value. I’m pissed off at the church for not doing more. For not walking the talk. For hiding behind the skirts of political agenda and forgetting that pew sitting isn’t what it’s all about. For thinking that our thoughts and prayers mingled with inactivity is going to fix anything. I’m pissed off at our government for so many things that I don’t even know where to begin. I’m pissed off at the media for selling death and destruction with a dash of romanticism. For actively seeking and creating division between us all. For giving a stage and an ovation to chaos, hatred, and crime. I’m pissed off Satan for the darkness of this present time and his obvious part in the play.
And, if I’m being even a little truthful here, I’m pissed off at God too. For allowing it. For not intervening. For standing by as His innocent children – his saints even – are slaughtered like cattle here and around the world. For not coming back yet. How long must we endure the tribulations of this time, Lord? How freaking long???
Yeah, yeah. I get it. I have read the Bible cover to cover. I know the mantra and even the end game. I know God is good. I know why suffering exists, even if I do not fully understand and absolutely do not accept it. I know that even Jesus, the spotless lamb of God, was brutally murdered at the hands of men. His disciples likewise. Why should we be any less fortunate?
I believe. Lord, help my unbelief.
But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I don’t. The darkness around us is so thick that I feel like I am choking and gagging on it with every gasping breath. I cannot breathe. Cannot breathe.
Thoughts and prayers? Cute. Good and well-placed intentions. The problem is that another candlelit service decorated in righteous tears and $2 teddy bears is not going to bring back someone’s child. Spouse. Parent. It’s not going to prevent the next one either. It’s not going to drive out the hatred that feeds all of this evil or bring Love to the very core of depravity. Post-emptive platitudes and greeting card sentiments are not going to upend the utter brokenness that has wrapped its icy fingers around our world. Only getting our feet dirty and plunging our hands into the filth and sharing the gospel is going to do that. Strap on your boots; it’s time to wade waist high into the muck.
We have fed too long on our false security. We have been complacent about the darkness. We have allowed it to fester and roil outside our walls like the cancer it is while we grew fat and lazy underneath our umbrella of invulnerability. Unfortunately, the umbrella is beginning to tear. The acid rain is pouring in, dousing our communities and disfiguring our comfortable way of life. We are drowning.
I hear nonbelievers often get angry when Christians offer up thoughts and prayers after another tragedy. I understand their contrition. I really do.
Thoughts and prayers are good, noble even. We should think about this issue. Not just for the moment. Not just when it happens in our neighborhood. Not just until the next tragedy or episode of The Bachelor distracts us. Not as vague sentiment. Deeply, constantly think about it. We have to think about it to the point where our brain meets our feet and we do something about it. I’m not talking about more legislation or political agenda or empty tweets of empathy. Those things have just furthered our massive division. We have been slapping band-aids on a gushing artery, and we are bleeding out.
No, I mean do something real. We have to get our feet dirty and do something. Personally. Our thinking should be peremptory to our action. Thoughts for the sake of thoughts are just empty thinking. There’s already more than enough of that happening already. We need to physically cross whatever lines of division separate us and grasp hands. We must seek out the lost and love the Hell out of them. We must open our doors and our hearts and see ‘those people’ through the eyes of Christ and then love them as fiercely and unendingly as Jesus did. After all, He commands it.
We have to erase socioeconomic lines and embrace one another – regardless of color, creed, religion, upbringing. We must judge others by the character of their hearts and not the color of their skin. We have to stop teaching our children that hatred of any kind is acceptable, whether those lessons are gleaned from our own words, actions, or reticence. Or Facebook comments.
We have to look people in the eye when they vomit their racially-laced rhetoric and say, “That’s NOT okay with me.” With our silence we have condoned the hatred. If we say nothing, then we have sided with the oppressors.
Silence is not golden. Stand up, church! Stand up.
Should we pray? Absolutely! Hard. Unceasingly. Like we have never prayed before. Really, intentionally pray. Like the world depends on it; it does. Not just when another tragedy strikes. Not just on Sunday morning because we have to. Not just as something to pretty to fill the gap because we really don’t know how else to rationalize the great suffering around us. Not just when we want our vending machine God to give us a new shiny truck.
We can say we pray all we want, but how often have you, personally, actually sat down and beseeched God on behalf of our government leaders? Our world? Racism? Division? Hatred? Be honest with yourself, now. God already knows the truth. We type it out as some cheap cliche on social media and proclaim to do it a whole lot more than we actually do. Almost all of us are guilty of that. Not all, but most. When is the last time you prayed for your enemy? Really prayed for them? On your knees? For more than three minutes? If that.
Saying I’ll pray for you isn’t synonymous with actually doing it.
If prayer is as powerful as we say we believe it is, then we are truly doing the world a great disservice by making it a passing side-note in our busy lives. In fact, we have convinced the world that prayer doesn’t work at all by telling people we do it when we don’t. Maybe even convinced ourselves of the same. We have become so busy with our acts of Christianity that we are forgetting to act like Christ.
Yes, pray. Pray like never before.
However, I think we need also realize that the act of prayer runs far deeper than just asking God to do something about this brokenness and going on with our lives. Remember that book I mentioned? The Bible? Well… when I read it, there was a lot of praying going on. But that praying did not just end there. Prayer is a communication tool between God and his people – his text messenger before there was text messaging. Cool, right!? However, in the Bible, it seems to me that prayer was almost always coupled with action embedded in obedience. God’s people prayed; He sent them into the battle. He used prayer to communicate his will to his people; He used his obedient people to change the world. All in. Hands on deck. No passes.
The prayer I see in the book was not the end game; it was the battle cry.
Noah prayed; God sent him to face a flood with a pile of gopherwood. David prayed; God sent him to face a giant with a slingshot. Paul prayed; God sent him to…well, just about everywhere…with his speaking skills. Moses prayed; God sent him into enemy territory with a stick. Gideon prayed; God sent him up against a profound army with a measly 300 men. Jesus prayed; God sent him to the Cross with a crown of thorns.
They prayed; God sent; they went. I think the church as a whole is completely missing Act ll of The pray play.
When we pray, I wholeheartedly believe God’s going to send us out against immeasurable odds with a tool, that feels completely inadequate for the job. It is. You know why, right? Because then the right person gets the glory for the victory. God. The thing is, we actually have to go for that victory to be achieved.
We have to go. This world needs us to go. Desperately. More than ever. One must only glance at the headlines to see that. Not thump Bibles on a corner. Not grace pews on a Sunday. Not plaster Christian cliches on social media. March to battle at the wall with a trumpet.
There have been 250 mass shootings on US soil this year. We are, give or take, 215 days into this year. You do the math.
If that doesn’t make us angry enough to do something, I really don’t know what will.
You believe in Jesus? Good! Even the demons believe and shudder at his name. The great chasm between the believing and the following is the action – the part where we get mad enough – believe deeply enough – to actually get up and follow in his bold footsteps.
By all means… Think. Pray. Then pick up your tiny slingshot and go face the giants. If we truly are God’s chosen tools to fight the brokenness, we must, must, must join the fight against hatred. Now. Otherwise the darkness has already won.
Beautifully, Brokenly Yours,