Lookin’ down on my soul now
Tell me I’m in control now
Tell me I can live long and I can live wrong and I can live right
And I can sing songs and I can unite with you that I love, you that I like
Look at my life and tell me I fight.”
— Kendrick Lamar from Flying Lotus’s “Never Catch Me”
On the evening of Wednesday, June 17, faith was disrupted.
As common as it has become to see Black life treated with such disregard, this attack hurts the most and cuts the deepest. My eyes see very clearly the racial dynamics at play here, how yet again someone deemed Black bodies a threat and took it upon themselves to perform an act of terrorism on them. This has handicapped my faith in humanity. But my heart is not looking at the news, it is looking up in the sky, where I’m told Heaven is.
For those of us who go to church, part of the reason we do so is because we want to believe we will be inspired to be better people who contribute to a better world. We also go to strengthen our faith in the power of God’s love and ask that it keep us safe. But now I wonder where his power WAS that night. I may never know the answer, so instead I’ve been asking him a different question:
What do we do now?
From the moment we heard the news about nine people being shot during bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, we have been told to pray for them, for Mother’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where the shooting took place, for the families of the victims, and for the survivors. The tweegrams with scripture, the Facebook statuses and Tweets telling us to pray. I’ve seen them and never have they felt so hollow, so worthless. The sad irony of the “pray for Charleston” message is those folks were already praying, and they were killed while doing so.
“I’ll pray for you” is a common phrase we hear and say whenever we’re confronted with tragedy. Sometimes, we ask people to do the same for us. I say these things and I ask for them too because all my life I have been told to believe in the power of prayer. All my life I have believed in that power. The nine people who were killed in their home of worship, they believed in the power of prayer too, probably more than most. After all, that’s why they were there on a Wednesday, probably just getting off of work. That kind of dedication usually comes from people who have a deep desire to connect with Christ through prayer. They’re either there to study the good book or because they just needed their spiritual batteries recharged. I too have been to many mid-week services simply because I needed to call on God to help me make it to Sunday.
Those nine people did not make it to Sunday.
It’s a nice sentiment to tell people we will pray for them. I encourage anyone who feels compelled to do so to go ahead and say as much out loud, but do not be surprised if some people question its worth because they are thinking about the nine people who were killed while praying. I will not stop praying either. But, if I’m being honest, it’s getting harder to do so these days. I am not afraid to go to church on Sunday, but if I’m being honest, I wonder what good it will do. In the book of James, chapter 2, verse 17 it says: “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead…” And yet, people who were doing the work to strengthen their faith on a Wednesday evening, were killed.
Believe me, these thoughts are not a damnation on God’s power. Rather, they stem from the mind of someone whose belief in God and his power has always been innate. But my relationship with God is not immune to the ups and downs of any relationship I have with my loved ones here on Earth. I don’t think anyone can go through life and see all its ills without wondering if the devil is sometimes winning the war between good and evil. That is why I will never tell anyone to stop praying, but after what happened this week, I have two questions for all of us who do: How do we keep our faith and how do we keep praying?