It's been tweeted, posted, and spoken millions of times since Sunday's tragic shooting in central Florida.
Our thoughts and prayers are with . . .
Pray for the victims and families . . .
By Monday, I thought to myself, "Have I really prayed? What do I even pray for?" Horrific tragedy leaves us speechless. So we default to cliches and bumper sticker slogans. "Thoughts and prayers" is one of those lines.
If I'm going to say it, I better be willing to do it. And not just a personal meditation or thoughtless batch of words. Prayer isn't a conjuring of good vibes. It is a pleading cry to the living God of the entire universe.
Here are 12 things to specifically pray for:
We live in the second half of the second decade of the 21st century. In this era, our worldview is defined by the word "instant."
No need to travel to a library. We have instant access to information.
No waiting to develop photos. We have them instantly on our phones.
No waiting to see a friend 1,000 miles a way. Facetime them instantly.
No waiting to reorder toilet paper. Push the button and instantly Amazon will ship. Maybe even by drone.
We live for the moment.
We want things immediately.
We expect results now.
We ride the 24 news cycle and swipe through our friends' feeds - all streaming instantly.
But if we only live in the moment, we miss out on a worldview that the faithful have had for millennia.
Mother's Day is approaching. For some, it's not as pleasant as a Hallmark card and brunch after church. Motherhood is filled with surprises, and not all of them are good.
As you prepare to celebrate Mother's Day, consider all the situations in which women find themselves. Be sensitive to the many circumstances that exist. Pray for those who are living through a variety of situations. Here are a few.
We were walking across the parking lot to the grocery store. My son spotted a penny on the ground. “Dad! A penny!!!” He handed it to me and I flipped it back onto the blacktop.
Pennies are a nuisance. The U.S. Treasury might even discontinue them. It actually costs1.8 cents to produce a penny. In 2013, taxpayers lost $105 million on the making of pennies and nickels.
My son picked up the penny again. “Can you even believe this is on the ground?! Should we look for the owner? Maybe they’re missing it. If we can’t find them, can I keep it?! I’ll put it in my piggy bank!”
I saw the penny as insignificant. He saw it as a treasure. He valued what I believed had no value.
In the Bible, there are three insignificant people found throughout the law and the prophets.
My friend Ben was listening to a radio program last month about Ferguson. It was analyzing the complex factors of race, education, poverty, and politics. He was certain that this was a local St. Louis radio station. At the end of the segment, he was surprised to hear "this is NPR news." Over a year after the rocky events of Ferguson, it is still a national story.
Ben's radio experience reminded me that we in St. Louis are at the center of the race conversation in our country. This was further pronounced yesterday when the University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe resigned over his handling of racist incidents on campus. Again, this story hit the national media.
If my city and state are a forum for conversations about race, what should I do? As the pastor of a predominantly white congregation, I ask, "What is our role? What do we do with this tension in our community?" I often get frustrated by my inability to do something. I have an urge to "fix" things.
Seeking insight, I met with an African-American pastor last week. He lives in the neighborhood of my church. He's planting a church in North County, the general vicinity of Ferguson. I simply said, "Help me understand." I find my own Anglo perspective to be limiting and I wanted the perspective of a black pastor.
We sat across the table from one another at a St. Louis Bread Co. He breathed a deep sigh. And then he said, "We have to do this one person at a time. That's all we can do."
His words were a relief to me. In all of the severity and complexity, could we actually do something so simple?
A white officer playing basketball with a black kid.
Black and white pastors praying together.
White leaders listening to the perspective of black leaders, and vice versa.
Neighbors checking in on one another.
White patrons frequenting a black-owned business, and vice versa.
My black pastor friend reminded me, "Our identity is ultimately not black or white, victim or perpetrator, north or south. Our identity is in Christ. If we focus on that, the conversation changes."
Juan is a pastor in Watsonville, CA. His town is 80% Hispanic. With Halloween approaching, he was telling me about the prevalence of celebrating Dia de Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Throughout Mexico, this holiday focuses on praying for and remembering friends and family members who have died. A darker version of the holiday involves actual worship of death itself.
Juan was noting this sinister side when he asked, "Do you know why they worship death?"
"Because if they worship it, they think death won't take them."
He spoke of a superstitious Mexican gang member whose rigorous devotion to death was supposed to keep him alive. Juan chuckled, "But he got shot."
With the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, many Christians have responded in fearful panic. We are entering an era very different from the last century. Among American Christians, there is fear of changing societal norms and the continued marginalization of Christianity in what was once believed to be a “Christian nation.”
By contrast with the “Christian panic,” I am really excited about being a Christian in this new era. Why? We are returning to our pilgrim roots.
A pilgrim is one who journeys a long distance; a traveler and wanderer in a foreign place. God’s people have a pilgrim history, living as strangers in a foreign land, exiles in a country not their own (Gen. 12:1). Augustine wrote, “The Heavenly City, while on its earthly pilgrimage, calls forth its citizens from every nation and assembles a multilingual band of pilgrims.”
While pilgrims make a home in lands that God has given, they are never quite comfortable in any one place. If we put too much faith in an earthly dwelling, we find ourselves disappointed. So we tread on, our feet walking the earth below, our eyes set on a land beyond. Because we know of a heavenly City, we live lives on earth that are distinctly hopeful.
The church in this modern era must reclaim the pilgrim way, discovering what it means to be a church “at the margins” and not at the center. What is the pilgrim way?
Here are five pilgrim traits:
The crisis continues in Ferguson. People in St. Louis are weary and worried. Beyond the immediate need for security, there is a mountainous road ahead to attain some kind of genuine peace. Long after the streets of Ferguson quiet down (and we pray soon), there a difficult road to true and lasting social harmony. This isn't a Ferguson issue, it's a St. Louis issue. And I would argue, it's a broader issue for an increasingly polarized America.
So what do we do in social unrest? How do we begin to address racial tension, segregation, and systemic societal woes?
Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers), the children's TV icon, once wrote about the struggles of his childhood. In his book about Mr. Rogers, I'm Proud of You, Tim Madigan records Roger's own words about how he coped with being a "pudgy, bookish, and extremely shy" boy. After being bullied and taunted, Rogers writes:
I started to look behind the things that people did and said: and little by little, concluded that Antoine de Saint-Exupery was right when he wrote The Little Prince: What is essential is invisible to the eyes. So after a lot of sadness, I began a lifelong search for what is essential, what it is about my neighbor that doesn't meet the eye."
In the age of digital media and instant Twitter responses (#ferguson, #handsupdontshoot), raw images abound. But are we missing something? There are "essential" things that are "invisible to the eyes." There is an echo of Jesus' Great Commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" when Rogers says, "what it is about my neighbor that doesn't meet the eye." Loving your neighbor as yourself requires you to search beyond skin and circumstance to find out who your neighbor truly is.
What is it in my neighbor that I can't see? What's behind his words? What's in her background? What has he experienced that I haven't? Discovering what's behind a person - the things not easily visible - takes time and patience. It takes clear communication and a persistent desire to understand the other. Is it obsessively asking the question, "Who are you?"
What if the protester and the front-line police officer were experiencing the same thing. Behind the angry yelling, and "hands up," the protester is worried and desperate. And maybe behind the flack jacket and riot mask the officer is too. But words and tweets fly by, as do tear gas canisters and bricks. There is no understanding.
As I pray for peace in my city, I wonder how God might want me to be a part of it. My first move is the task of understanding my neighbors, especially those different from me. A compassionate curiosity causes me to wonder, "What is it about my neighbor that doesn't meet the eye?"
I am burdened by the unrest in Ferguson, MO, on the northern end of the St. Louis metro area. Since Saturday, tensions have been running high after a Ferguson police officer shot an unarmed African-American teenager, Mike Brown. Tensions have been running high. In addition to peaceful protests and calls for justice, there has been rioting, looting, and stand-offs with local police.
There's an old saying, "Never waste a good crisis." There is nothing good about this crisis, but we dare not let it pass without learning from it. This demands our attention and understanding. Mass outbursts of anger in the streets don't happen overnight. Behind the angry displays are deep roots of fear and desperation.
For decades, parts of our city have lived in chronic poverty and crime. These communities have been isolated and oppressed. Children grow up in cycles of desperation and frustration. Their worldview is painted by their segregation, transient living situations, broken educational systems, and lack of basic needs. While violence cannot be justified, the emotion that has come from this event reveals serious and complex societal ills. Poverty, joblessness, racism, segregation.
In all of this, we must not forget that a young man has died and a family is grieving. We dare not diminish the value of a life. Many seek to profit from tragedy, by looting or by politicking. We will not dismiss the fact that tragedy has most certainly occurred.
Please join me in prayer for peace, reconciliation, and long-term change in our communities. Also, I have some members of my church who are police officers called to work 12 hour shifts in Ferguson. We lift our prayers with weak and feeble hands, and place them in the mighty and merciful hands of God.
On this day, the 11th of September, we remember the year 2001. Wicked men perpetrated a ruthless act. Today the world is focused on a wicked man from Damascus in Syria. A man willing to damn his own people. What shall we do with such a cruel man? How shall we respond to such ruthless brutality? The kings and rulers of the world debate.
There was once another wicked man who traveled to Damascus in Syria. He too would damn his own people. To that man, God inflicted a unilateral air strike. It disabled Saul, brought him to his knees and blinded his eyes.
God meant this for more than just punitive action. His judgement had greater ends. Can God turn wickedness for some kind of good? Can a terrorist become a bearer of peace? Mercy confounds us. Only God could do such a strange thing with a wicked man.
Wicked men are damned. "Their end will correspond to their deeds." Yet God can deliver the damned. And before the scandal of this thought agitates my inner justice, I must remember that I live by the same mercy that can redeem a wicked man.
Acts 9; II Cor. 11:15; II Cor. 12:9