When violence surrounds us

July 22nd, 2016

The problem as God gave Habakkuk to see it: God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? How many times do I have to yell, “Help! Murder! Police!” before you come to the rescue? Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day? … Justice is a joke. The wicked have the righteous hamstrung and stand justice on its head. (Habakkuk 1:1-4, MSG)

The problem as God gave it to Habakkuk is the same problem that we face today: murder and violence…day after day. As soon as we write a statement or preach a sermon that promises prayers for all afflicted by the violence, and we express our anguish over how to change a culture hamstrung on violence, yet another shooting happens.

Our hearts go out to each victim in the past weeks of police violence and each police officer’s family who has been afflicted with gun violence, murder, and sometimes mental illness all wrapped in a culture of racism. Lord, have mercy! How long, O Lord, how long?

But in Chicago, the shootings are nearly a daily occurrence. As of this writing, there have been just under 3000 shootings in Chicago so far this calendar year. This week alone there have been 17 deaths and about 60 shootings, including a girl who is 6 years old. A handful of children have been shot so far this summer. In mid-May the Chicago Tribune wrote, “We dread the sound of summer in Chicago—the screaming of the mothers.”

One weekend in the spring, one neighborhood called for a prayer vigil that sought to have a whole day without a death from shooting. That day was designated to be Easter Sunday. And indeed, the day came and went without anyone dying from a shooting. Should we pray for another weekend? Mother’s Day was suggested but in the end there was 50 shootings and eight deaths. We grow weary and discouraged in our praying.

The little girl shot this week was within two blocks of one of our Safe Havens; a joint program with the Chicago Public Schools and churches in key neighborhoods. Children come to the church, get breakfast and lunch (between the hours of 10 and 2), tutoring, do crafts, and generally have fun. Safe Havens literally save the lives of the children who attend and invest in their futures. The churches that sponsor Safe Havens are putting legs to their prayers for safety and peace in our communities. But it’s a lot of work for ten weeks! We grow weary in our action.

How then do we live? We must live, trusting that our prayers and our efforts to provide “safe haven” or racial justice or efforts against the proliferation and availability of guns will and in fact do make a difference. We scream with the mother whose child was shot this week but we rejoice with all those children in Safe Haven who went home to their mothers and fathers. We grow weary but we must not let our weariness keep us from our faithfulness.

One of the passages at the end of this emotionally and spiritually exhausted prophet, Habakkuk, is this:

Though the fig tree doesn’t bloom,
and there’s no produce on the vine;
though the olive crop withers,
and the fields don’t provide food;
though the sheep is cut off from the pen,
and there is no cattle in the stalls;
I will rejoice in the Lord.
I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance.” (Hab. 3:17-18, CEB)

Even when we don’t see the results of our prayers and actions, we are called to trust in God and not grow weary. We stand a better chance not to grow weary if we support each other. Some of our churches with Safe Havens have been supported financially and even more importantly with people from outside of the city of Chicago, coming to make a difference. In one translation, the notation for this praise song is: “For congregational use, with a full orchestra.” We need to worship and sing to restore our hearts and minds to trust in God and the results of our prayers and efforts. Strike up the praise band!

But until we see the results of our prayers and action: May God protect each one of you and your loved ones who are so very vulnerable in the blink of an eye!

comments powered by Disqus