A Day of Lament

Heavenly Father, I was invited by Sojourners to participate with other people of faith in a National Day of Mourning and Lament to remember the lives of the 100,000 Americans who have died due to COVID-19. For the past few months, nearly every day, I have seen graphs and statistics showing the exponential spread of the virus. This virus has been truly devastating. It grieves me but another crisis grieves me more.

Lord, The New York Times honored the lives of thousands of coronavirus victims by printing their names on the front page, a tribute that powerfully illustrated that there was a life worth saving behind every number. Lord, You knew every one of the decedents by name. Please comfort those who knew and loved them. Every lost life matters.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy on us.

In the past week, news of the pandemic has been replaced with news of protests of the death of George Floyd, another black man whose life was taken for no reason. The sickness of racism has taken the lives and devalued the lives of people of color for far too long, from the abhorrent days of slavery to the hard-fought days of the civil rights movement to the we-should-know-better-by-now present.

The names of black men and women and children who lost their lives to the knee-jerk reactions of racism are written in our memories and our collective conscience – Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor. Lord, You knew everyone of these victims by name.

God, this country is in crisis. I lament the senseless loss of life. I lament the violence. I lament racism. I lament injustice.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy on us.

Lord, I grieve for black parents who have to have “the talk” with their children, telling them that they must fear police officers. And Lord, I pray for the majority of police officers who serve honorably. Protect them and help them to make a positive difference in the communities they serve.

Jesus, my heart breaks for the message black Americans are hearing. One of my favorite columnists, Eugene Robinson, wrote a piece titled, Black lives remain expendable. As a black man, he was angry and rightly so. “Stop treating African Americans like human trash and start treating us like citizens.” Black lives are not expendable. Lord, I pray that every white American will start treating every African American as a human being. I pray that we will start treating every black person as if they matter. They do matter.

Lord, I can’t get these words out of my head: I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Sir, I can’t breathe. The words of a man who wanted to live. The words of a father. The words of a brother. The words of a son calling out for his mama in the last moments of his life. He did not deserve to die.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer. Amen.

Word of God Speak

On Monday, after hearing about the latest U.S. mass shooting, I called a stranger on Facebook a fool in response to her defense of killing tools. I stand by the truth of my comment but I was ashamed of myself because I was brought up to be kind. I guess my prayer for courage worked.

I am sad. I am angry. I am disgusted. I am sick and tired of grieving the senseless loss of life over and over and over again. Columbine. Las Vegas. I am sick and tired of hearing the same lame excuses why the elected leaders of this country won’t do anything to prevent civilians from amassing military-style weapons and ammunition to use against fellow citizens. I am sick and tired of learning to associate places I’ve never heard of with mass shootings. Sandy Hook. Sutherland Springs. I am sick of hearing people pretend that semiautomatic weapons are no different from scissors or knives.

Give me a freakin’ break!

I am so tired of mourning that sometimes I react with numbness. My sorrow always hits a wall of hopelessness when I see how hard-hearted and selfish Americans are.

There have been way too many of these tragedies yet the political response is always the same. Why is the loss of 33,000 lives a year considered a fair trade for the man-made right to own weapons that are illegal to use as intended?

The day I called a stranger a fool, a broken-hearted woman posted a couple of questions on a K-Love Facebook post. Wouldn’t now be a good time to talk about gun control? Doesn’t God want us to stand and say this needs to stop? One person laughed at her. Another woman condemned her for politicizing the issue and said we should be praying.

Thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers. As the compassionate and thoughtful woman on the K-Love post noted, thoughts and prayers do not bring innocent lives back.

And I have to state what should be obvious – talking about preventing deaths is not politicizing the issue, it is humanizing it. When you strip away the political identity that means so much to many Americans – to too many Christians – we are all human. We all bleed. We all want to enjoy the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and to have our loved ones with us as long as possible.

This week I’m grieving even harder than after Las Vegas. Because some of the loudest voices I have heard in defense of killing tools are people who claim to be Christians, followers of Jesus Christ. Presumably, they’ve read the 10 commandments. You shall not kill. You shall have no other gods before me. Presumably they’re familiar with the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the peacemakers. No doubt, they’ve read what Jesus says you should do if something causes you to sin. Get rid of it. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. So why do Christians arm themselves to disobey God’s word?

Speaking of God’s word, I opened up a notebook so I could write to express my grief. The last thing I wrote in this notebook were the words of the prophet Isaiah that Jesus repeated when addressing the hypocrites of his day:

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

The thoughts and prayers of people whose hearts are far from God are in vain. They won’t prevent the senseless deaths that result from this nation’s reckless obsession with guns. They won’t bring back the dead. Lips that defend objects that were designed for the sole purpose of killing do not honor God.

I don’t have the right words. I don’t have the answers to the sickness that afflicts this nation. But I do have the word of God in my heart and the lyrics of Mercy Me in my head. Everytime I hear these lyrics, I am comforted.

Word of God Speak. Would you pour down like rain? Washing my eyes to see your majesty. To be still and know that you’re in this place. Please let me stay and rest in your holiness. Word of God speak. I’m finding myself in the midst of You. Beyond the music, beyond the noise. All that I need is to be with You. And in the quiet, hear Your voice.

I’m still sad and I know I will feel this way again and again and there’s not a darn thing I can do about it. But in my grief and even in my anger, I find myself in the midst of God’s presence, soaking in his grace, hearing his voice of comfort. Father, speak to us. Pour down like rain. Wash our eyes to see your majesty, your love, your mercy, your will. Heal this broken nation.


Mourning for America

Tuesday night I watched the election results until it was clear that Donald Trump had a really good chance of winning. I was shocked that such an evil man was embraced by millions of Americans. I cried and went to bed hoping the final results would be different. I slept fitfully. I dreamed that there were big hairy tarantulas on the walls of my living room. When we hit one of them, a bunch of smaller spiders came out. Then they got bigger right before our eyes. We searched the house frantically for insecticide and sprayed it liberally all over the place.

In the middle of the night, I got up and checked the election results. I wept again, worrying about my country. I went back to sleep and dreamed that Trump was walking through the streets in a victory march, triumphant. I was angry; this should not have happened. As I struggled for sleep, I remembered a verse I learned as a teenager:

Isaiah 41:10 King James Version (KJV)

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

I was comforted by these words because they remind me that God is with me.  I believe that my God is in power regardless of who the president is. He will strengthen me as He always has.

But in this  moment, I am dismayed. I had been praying every day that Trump would be defeated, not because I am a fan of Hillary Clinton but because he is a narcissistic demagogue. Hillary was a flawed candidate, certainly not the person I would have chosen if her opponent had been a decent human being. But Trump is not a decent human being. His message is the complete antithesis of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I will not listen to or respect a leader who is motivated by anger and hatred and by the desire to elevate himself onto the highest public pedestal so that he can continue his spectacle of self-worship. I will keep my eyes on the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

I feel like a modern-day Jeremiah weeping for my nation. My pastor and other people of faith have tried to reassure me that God is in control. I trust that He is. But that does not minimize my grief. There is a time for lamenting. God understands this. He feels the pain of my grieving heart.

I mourn this outcome and what it says about the hearts of the American people. I mourn the loss of decency in the way that we communicate with each other. I mourn the lack of compassion for immigrants, refugees, blacks, and Muslims. I mourn the lack of respect for women. I mourn the lack of sensitivity towards the disabled.

I feel betrayed by friends I thought I knew. Now I find myself asking (to myself, obviously), who in the hell are you? What kind of person are you? Why does it not bother you that the person who will hold the highest office in this land treats women as objects, worthless unless they are model-perfect? Why does it not bother you that he thinks women are his for the taking because he is a celebrity? Why does it not bother you that he shamelessly mocked a disabled person? Why does it not bother you that he does not respect the religious freedom of Muslims? Why does it not bother you that he threatens the freedom of the press? Why does it not bother you that he threatens to sue anyone who angers him?

I feel let down by other people of faith. I read that over 80% of white Christians voted for the unrepentant man who clearly does not love others as he loves himself, who clearly does not love God with all his being. Yesterday I read a story on the Sojourners website, O My Soul Faint Not, from another Christian woman who is struggling with the thought of how she can go to church knowing that she will be sitting next to people who voted for Trump. I struggle with that too.

“How can I go to church again?” I asked my mom this morning. “How can I sit there, soaking in the Gospel of grace and love, beside people who chose fear and hate over compassion and justice?”

Tomorrow, I am supposed to get together with a group of five women from my church for a Bible Study. I struggle with this too because my faith is vastly different from theirs. I don’t despise President Barack Obama. I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton is a corrupt criminal. I don’t think America should turn its back on Syrian or Latin American refugees. I don’t resent the needy. I don’t fit in and I don’t want to. Because I hear his voice: Love your neighbor as yourself.

It will take some time for me to come to terms with my new reality. As much as I don’t like the election results, it strengthened my resolve. It clarified my purpose. I struggled for years as an introvert to find my voice. Now that I have found it, I know how to use it: to be a light in the darkness, to spread the message of love that my savior taught me.