Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I'm Afraid

For the first time in my life, tonight I was afraid in church.

I grew up in the church. I'm sure that I was taken to church several times per week in my mother's womb. Baptist church. Evangelical Free church. Non-denominational church. Presbyterian church. Most of the churches I have attended have been integrated - sometimes mine was the only brown face in the space, but there I was. Even in those moments when I was a visitor to a church and mine was the only face in the crowd that wasn't white - "the only fly in the buttermilk" as some folks have said - I was not afraid.

Tonight I was in a black church, a Baptist church, in Salisbury, North Carolina. The service was long, powerful, convicting, encouraging, and inspiring. I almost didn't go - why drive an hour for a prayer vigil? Why drive an hour when I know I will get home late and probably be tired tomorrow? I am sooooooo glad I went - for many reasons.

I arrived early - more than thirty minutes before the service was scheduled to begin. I sat in my car eating fruit and almonds, watching parents pick their children up at a side door of the church. Beautiful mothers and handsome fathers reunited with their beautiful children.

Then he walked up to the church. A young white guy. By himself. With a backpack. And a beard. He stood in the shade of a tree in front of the church drinking water. He adjusted his clothing several times. He tugged at something under his shirt a few times.

I got nervous. I got scared. I pulled out my phone and took several pictures of him - just in case.
I wondered - What if he's here to commit another atrocity?
What if he's carrying a gun? What if he has other weapons in his backpack?

Some people in this violence-obsessed country think that perhaps those nine people wouldn't have died in that church in Charleston last week if some of the victims of that racist attack were carrying guns themselves. Is that what we want - people who claim to follow the Prince of Peace carrying guns into the house of  God to kill others? What would people on Fox News be saying if the Pastor had pulled out a gun and killed that racist who was in their midst? Would they be talking about it being an attack on Christians or another example of blacks being violent and carrying weapons? Some of the people I've seen posting that kind of rhetoric on their social network pages are the same ones who I know wore those bracelets a few years ago - you know the ones: What Would Jesus Do? Well, I may not know what Jesus would do in every situation, but I do know this - Jesus would NOT be carrying a gun into the synagogue to kill people, even people intent on evil. Sure, he turned over tables and got angry in the synagogue one time - but he was mad at the people who worked in the temple, not the visitors or the worshippers. Jesus with a gun? I think not.

Anyway, there I was, in my car.
Afraid of that young white guy.
When I entered the church and took my seat, I spotted him across the sanctuary.
I watched him.
I checked him out several times before the service began.
I was afraid in church.

After a few minutes, the music began. The prayers began.
Challenges were issued from the pulpit by several speakers -
Do not be afraid.
Die to your fears.
Stand up for justice.
If you are gonna die, die standing up for what is right.
Know your history.
Speak up for peace and justice.
Take bold and strategic actions.
Expose corrupt politicians.
Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked.
Set captives free. Proclaim good news.
Restore the sight to the blind.

Help the blind to see injustice all around them and within them.
Help the blind to see ways in which we can all stand for justice.
Help the blind to see the legacy of racism in this country.
Help the blind to see how politicians and pastors are so often acting for their own gain and not the good of the communities they are supposed to serve.
Help the blind to see how comfortable we have become and how uncomfortable we need to be in order to change the course of our nation.
Help the blind to see that we cannot be selective in when we demand that people be forgiven for their wrongdoing - forgive this young man? then forgive young black men too. forgive the police who shoot unarmed people? then forgive looters too. forgive corrupt politicians and warmongers and greedy capitalists? then forgive those who defend their countries and those who fight back when we invade and those whose politics we don't begin to understand.
Help the blind to see that they cannot be pro-life only until the child is born - and after the child is born, we become a nation that is pro-death. We must be pro-life for all people all life long. We must make sure that children are fed, clothed, housed, educated, and provided with health care.

Shortly thereafter, my fear subsided. I looked over at the previously "suspicious young white male," and he was nodding his head, clapping, laughing, participating in the service just like everyone else. And I had to confess to God and admit to myself that I had allowed fear and ignorance (due to not knowing him) to cloud my heart and my spirit. I had allowed fear and prejudice to cause me to pre-judge him. I had allowed fear to steal my ability to welcome him into a service of prayer and peace and healing.

But Perfect Love cast out that fear.
Because love wins. Love always wins.

It may not look that way all the time.
It certainly didn't look that way late last Wednesday night.
Love looked defeated when those shots rang out and those bloodied bodies fell.
But Love laid down its life - and rose again. Love won.

It hasn't looked that way as I've read articles and watched the news.
But Love has stood up and demanded to be seen and heard in churches and gatherings all over this nation since last Wednesday night's massacre. Love is still standing. Love is wrapped around those who mourn - those who mourn for Mother Emanuel AME Church. those who mourn for the children killed in Sandy Hook. those who mourn for Trayvon and Michael and Tamir and Akai and Yvette and Rekia and Shereese and Ezell and so many others. Love is demanding an end to the use of the confederate battle flag here in the South and elsewhere.

Love will win. Love has already won.

I am still afraid tonight.
I am afraid that I've been bitten by the bug of fighting and speaking and teaching for Justice.
I'm afraid that I've got a lot to learn, a lot to do, and a lot to change in my life.
I'm afraid that people are gonna get sick of me asking questions.
I'm afraid that I'm gonna cry even more than I usually do as I ask my questions and make changes in my life and speak up more for Love.
I'm afraid that my very comfortable life is about to get uncomfortable.
I'm afraid that my blindness is about to be healed.
I'm afraid of all the injustice I am going to start seeing much more clearly.

Somebody said that courage is fear that has said its prayers.
Somebody else said that courage is fear on its knees.
I'm grateful for the infusion, transfusion of courage I was given by those bold and prophetic speakers this evening as an antidote to the fear I felt earlier.

Jesus, Prince of Peace, Fearless One, Righteous One,
please let your perfect love continue to cast out all my fears
so that I can participate in the advent of peace and righteousness
here in my home, in my city, in my world.


Kate S said...

Love you, sweet friend.

GailNHB said...

Love you too, Kate S. Thanks for your support and friendship.

Lynn said...

How am I only reading this now? Love you, Gail.