A Week Later: Reflections on #AltonSterling, #PhilandoCastile and #DallasShootings

It has been a difficult week. Less for me than for the families that have been directly impacted by this past week's events (although I have had some personal and ministry related challenges that were added to last week's events). It might be a hard few days or weeks for some of us, but it will be a hard few years or more for the families impacted by the deaths of the past week. My heart grieves for the four year old girl who watched as Philando Castile bled out in front of her. Or for the 12 year old boy who had to bury his father after the Dallas shootings.

Beyond the families that were impacted, you can add entire cities and neighborhoods. My small city of Lauderdale borders Falcon Heights, and the Saint Anthony Police Department helps to serve and protect my little suburb. The Philando Castile shooting occurred a mile and a half from my home, and I was driving along a parallel street about the time he was shot. The proximity of that particular shooting has made this so much more personal for me. And I know that I am not alone. The people of Baton Rouge, Dallas, Minneapolis and Saint Paul are experiencing this in a far more personal way. Those who have been impacted by similar events in the past, are being reminded in fresh ways of their own previous loss.

This is my experience. I write this post as my reflections. I recognize that I am a white male, whose experience in life has been largely privileged. I know that as a member of the majority culture, certain advantages have been given to me, and as a result, I cannot fully understand what the black community is experiencing in the wake of these events. But I know they are hurting, and the pain is real. My heart grieves for them as well. I cannot imagine what it is like to walk around in the country you call home, and feel oppressed.

I generally write as a pastor, helping to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry." I write as a mentor, helping you along your journey as a follower of Jesus. In this post, I do not assume a voice of authority on this subject. These are simply my reflections. My thoughts. I am watching as so much hatred, injustice and vitriol is flying around me, and I felt compelled to speak. Not as one who knows the way, but as one who is walking the journey with you.

As I said, these are just my reflections. In the wake of these events, I have been asking, "What am I to do?" I don't want to do nothing, but what am I called to do in response to last week? So, here are five actions I want to take:

Pray

I believe that God can change hearts and minds. Some have found the statement, "My thoughts and prayers go out to... [insert affected party here]," to be a weak and pithy response. I disagree. At a minimum, it is an expression of support, but far more than that, it is a statement about where our trust lies. My thoughts and my prayers have been given to these events and the racial reconciliation I believe God wants - and I trust God with it far more than myself.

I don't know what else to do sometimes. Prayer seems like the only response I can muster. The first action I want to take in the midst of this tumultuous time is to pray. And so that is what I will continue to do.

Listen

I want to be someone who is humble and willing to listen. As I mentioned earlier, I experience a great deal of privilege in this country. And as a result, I believe it is my responsibility to listen well. Whether I agree with someone's perspective on these matters or not, I want to make sure I hear them well enough to understand what they are saying.

I think everyone could do a little better job of listening. I have seen way too much hatred spoken and unfounded statements made over the past week. I don't want to add another voice to the conversation unless I have taken the time to hear another well.  "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).”

Listening also involves hearing more than one side. I have tried to read and listen to voices from all sides of these issues. I want to hear the pain that is real. I want to listen the proposed solutions. I want to use my ears before I use my mouth.

Speak

I don't want to be silent. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who as murdered by the Nazis for his rebellion in Germany, once said, "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." I do not want to keep silent when I see injustice in the world. I don't always know what to say and I want to use my words wisely. The tongue is a powerful tool, so I want to wield it well.

I have a voice and I have a small measure of influence. It might be small, but I feel responsible to use my influence well. I don't have a clear vision of how, but I know that I don't want to stay silent.

Do

Speaking is not the only way to affect change. And I know that I cannot do all things, but I am reminded of Gandalf's statement in The Lord of the Rings,

“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

I may not be able to do much. But I have seen that inequity exists, and so I want to do something. I believe that God wants to redeem and restore broken relationships and broken systems. Jesus, "went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21 ESV)

Jesus came to fulfill what was written in Isaiah. Until the day Jesus returns, we will still see the impact of sin on broken relationships and broken race relations. But God still wants his people to work toward the reconciliation he brings, and will fully bring in a time yet to come. I don't know that I can do much, but I want to do something.

Hope

It can feel perilous. The complexity of the issue is massive. But there is hope. One day, God "will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).” Or you may think of it the way Sam does, when he asks Gandalf, "Is everything sad going to come untrue?" The answer is yes. Yes, it will.

Even now, I believe there is hope. I remind myself that God is good and in the middle of our pain, we can end in praise (Psalm 13). I have seen some reasons to continue hoping that God will restore relationships. There is a video on CNN's website of opposing protesters who come together in Dallas and pray. It is powerful to watch.

I believe there is hope. There is always hope to be found in God.

The final thing I will end with in my rambling reflections is a video. Jenny and Tyler, who have a heart for fighting injustice in the world have a great song called Faint Not. It is a call to endure, even when you feel like your efforts to affect change are not helping. I believe there is hope, so this is a reminder for me to Faint Not.