Like many of you, I will never forget where I was the day of the mass shooting in Newtown. I was at the gym walking on a treadmill with a tiny tv attached to it. The news of the shooting broke, and I stopped dead in my tracks. I stood there staring into space, probably for a few minutes. Then, I looked up at the people around me. They were running, lifting weights, chatting, like everything in the world was perfectly fine. Had anyone else heard? Did anyone else know? I wanted to collapse on the floor and sob, right there in front of them.
Mass shootings are always horrific, but school shootings elicit a specific kind of response. First there is grief over the senselessness of the tragedy. Then, there is fear. School shootings strike at the heart of every parent, triggering both protective instincts and anxiety over our kids’ safety. Deep down in the place we don’t like to go, we wonder, “Could this happen to my kids?”
No tragedy is ever the same, but this week my mind drifted to Newtown again and again. The grief and fear I felt that day is etched into my brain forever, and I think those emotions have something to say. Or rather, teach us. I think that grief and that fear is how black Americans are feeling right now. I think it’s how they feel every time a black man is shot by the police. There is grief over the loss, and fear that it could happen to them (or their husbands, brothers, or sons).
In that sense, I think the grief and the fear might be a bridge of understanding. And we could use those right now.
This morning at church, I spoke with a woman who was crying during the worship service. She has three sons, and she is afraid for them. She has given each of them “the talk”–instructions for surviving an interaction with the police–and she told me about her husband, who has a PhD, getting tailed by an officer on his way home. She looked me in the eyes and said, “This isn’t new. We’ve been living with this for years. White Americans are just starting to see it.”
Now, I think it’s important to state that this brokenness is not, fundamentally, about the police. Not really. The mistakes of individual police officers do not represent the police as a whole. What they do represent is the wider American culture. Racism is still here in our borders, and in our hearts.
Unfortunately, many Americans still can’t see it. Not in themselves, anyway. Racism is “out there” but not “in me.” I don’t know anyone who would admit to being racist.
But here’s the thing about racism: it’s just like every other sin in creation. And you and I? We are just like every other person. Every human possesses the seeds of every sin. It is our inheritance from Adam and Eve. The more we deny any seed of any sin, the more we allow the sin to dwell in us unfettered. Until we can acknowledge that truth, racism will persist freely in our hearts.
This week, I have spent a lot of time thinking and praying about racial injustice, and the word that keeps coming to mind is “revival.” We need revival. But not the kind that avoids action with platitudes about how “the world just needs Jesus.” That is often an excuse for inaction–especially considering how many Christians are contributing to the brokenness. No, what we need is a revival of seeing. We need a revival of listening. We need a revival of humility. And we need a revival of repentance.
What we need in the church is something only the Holy Spirit can accomplish. We need him to sweep through our hearts with the same wind, in the same direction, to effect the scale of change we actually need.
And you know what? I think he’s already started.
Last night I got an e-mail from a friend of mine, Anna Broadway, who is a co-contributor at Her.meneutics. Anna wrote me to ask if I would join her in fasting and praying for our country. Around the same time, I noticed another writer friend, Trillia Newbell, issue the same call. My friend Michael Wear has been gathering Christians in prayer as well.
I believe these are early signs of something big. The Spirit is moving. I see change coming. I see it in my friends who used to shout “wait for the facts!” but now join in the lament. That is God. He is turning hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.
But because God is on the move, we will meet resistance. We will slam up against it, hard. And in this, I want you to be clear-eyed: many times, we will mistake our neighbors as the source of the resistance, but as author Deidra Riggs put it, “We only have one enemy, and it is not each other.”
The battle we fight is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). The pain and the division we can see with our eyes is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a bigger spiritual battle at hand, which can only be fought with spiritual weapons.
That is why I am joining with my friends in calling the church to fast and pray.
My friend Anna is fasting from lunch on Mondays of this month, and that’s what I am going to do also. I want to invite you to join us. During your time of fasting, I encourage you to treat your hunger pangs like a tiny, internal alarm. Let each one remind you to pray for our country, for our church, for racial justice, and for hearts to be broken and changed. Pray that we could be a witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in tangible, resurrection ways.
If you have been feeling helpless, if you’re looking for something that you can do, this is a good start. Let’s fight for each other instead of with each other. Let’s do this good work, knowing that so much hangs in the balance.
In all of this, I am with you. I am cheering for you. And I am praying for you too.