It doesn’t matter the week, we’re never far from it – the pain, the hurt and the loss. That’s the beauty and struggle of the Internet – tragedy is closer to us than it ever has been. Packets of data squeeze the distance between us and injustice, bringing the pain into our living rooms.
This week it is Terence Crutcher, a student and a member of his church choir, the latest black man turned into a hashtag after being shot and killed by the police. If you’ve seen the video, you know it’s awful. So bad, in fact, that one commentator called it one of the worst we’ve seen.
It’s a sign of how desensitized we’ve gotten to death – particularly the ones that involve race, police and guns – that one could be described as worse than the others, as if any time someone created, loved and redeemed by God has their life snuffed out isn’t the worst.
A few weeks ago, where I live, it was Kenny Moats, a police officer doing his job when he was ambushed and killed. It was one of the few things in my part of the world with the power to move SEC football off the front page of our newspapers.
We have, of course, settled into a kind of liturgy around these tragedies. Shock and outrage are followed by posts and tweets about whose life matters, a cacophony of blame and anger that doesn’t seem to get us anywhere except in a rage at each other until the next one comes. Then we all begin again.
It’s all enough to overwhelm you, to make you seek escape in anything else, to lead you to avert your eyes and soul, to lock on anything else so you can avoid paying attention. At least, that’s what I want to do.
When I become overwhelmed, I want to retreat and pray about things that are easy. When I don’t know what to say about another murder, another life lost, another family and community fundamentally changed, I want to pray for myself and situations that won’t challenge me. When I don’t know where to find the words to say both that this violence is far from God’s design and yet that things aren’t as easy to square as the social media screamers would make it, I’m tempted to concern myself with only what God would ask of me.
But faith, as my friend Dana is always teaching me, is about paying attention. We are formed by what we watch and we are shaped by who we listen to.
Gregory of Nazianzus, one of the great theologians of the Church, wrote in the Fourth Century, “that which He has not assumed He has not healed, that which is united to his Godhead is also saved.”
In the Twenty First Century we would say that because in Christ God assumed every part and every dimension of human experience and life, there is no part of our lives, no community among us, no nation on the globe with which God is not concerned and that God is not working to heal.
The world, its people, and the issues we face, all of us and all of them, they all matter to God.
One of the implications of Incarnation – that in Jesus God came into our world – is that our spiritual lives and our every day lives aren’t separate. To borrow from Paul, the flesh is the arena of the spiritual, the spiritual is concerned with the flesh. In short, the distinction we want to make between church life and the lives we live and comment on and interpret is really a distortion of one of our most basic beliefs.
Because of this, we can’t pray as an escape from the world’s chaos and heartbreak. God won’t allow us to find refuge from the cares of the world in a sweet and safe spiritual life.
Instead, for our prayers to be called in any way Christian they have to include the struggles of the world. For our devotion to be consistent with the way of Jesus, it has to be open to the hurts of friends.
For our spiritual life to be big enough to welcome the God who has moved into our neighborhood in Jesus, it has to make room for the struggles of our neighbors, especially the ones we don’t understand.
To engage the world as a Christian I have to ask for God’s help and then do the hard work of watching the video. It means I have to seek God’s grace and then listen to the lives of the people who are hurting.
It means I have to get prayed up so I can enter into being uncomfortable, because uncomfortableness isn’t an obstacle to faith but instead is most often the path to finding it.
It means coming to grips with the reality that we are a long way from the beloved community and that living into our calling as Jesus’ people means naming the gap between between what painfully is and what really ought to be.
Even when we don’t want to.
So, today I’m daring to pray, both to listen and to speak the words – words that go beyond the easy labels and words that risk more than I’m comfortable with. I’m praying for the grieving – the friends and families whose lives will never be normal, long after the rest of us have moved on to the next thing. I’m praying for God to move us and to help us find a way beyond the arguments and the predetermined talking points, to find a way to live again as if a loss of life was more than an occasion for winning an argument. I’m praying for God to give me words and wisdom to find some way to be an instrument of peace in a world and a nation seemingly constantly at war.
Mostly, I’m praying for courage and for faith – to listen, to speak, to believe and to live as someone who knows that God so loves this world, the one we’re trying to live in, and all the people in it. And because that’s true, everything can be different.