How should we pray for Orlando?

Before worship on Sunday I checked the news about the tragic shooting in Orlando. The report at the time was that 20 people were dead. During worship we prayed for the families of the victims. By Sunday afternoon the number of dead had risen to 50.

That does not seem right, but it happened in lots of churches. We prayed for the families of 20 people who had been killed, and then the news got even worse.

We have way too much evidence that prayer does not work the way we wish prayer would work. Prayer does not keep the news from getting worse. Prayer does not protect innocent people. Prayer does not prevent hateful people from buying guns.

We have gotten used to praying after horrific events; Littleton, 2012, 12 deaths; Newtown, 2012, 28 deaths; San Bernardino, 2015, 14 deaths. Each time, our hearts are broken. Each time, we pray fervently. Each time, we remember the lives snatched away by gun violence. Each time, we experience grief and despair. Each time, nothing seems to change. We have started to feel numb to it.

We do not need to pray silently. We need to make our voices heard. People who pray do not have to agree on the exact interpretation of the Second Amendment to agree that gun violence is a national tragedy. We can point out that there are options between taking all the guns away and the AR-15s that keep being the instrument in these shootings remaining readily available. 4 of 5 NRA members support expanded background checks. There is plenty of room for improvement in the space between the two sides in this debate.

People who pray need to talk to their elected officials before the next tragedy. Innocent people are murdered with weapons specifically designed for killing and we behave as if nothing can be done, but representatives do change their position when enough people speak up. We can push for common-sense gun laws that will prevent more tragic bloodshed. People who pray should protest gun shows—where many of the rules about background checks and waiting periods do not apply. We need to work for change that will make our communities safer.

We have gotten too used to praying after mass shootings. We have to do more. Our prayers will feel routine until we pray, “God, show me what I can do.”

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A Southerner Living in a Foreign Land — Brooklyn

“Yankee” was a term of derision in my fourth grade class.

When the teacher announced, “We have a new student who just moved to Mississippi from New York,” we looked with pity on his poor little lost soul.

The progressive ten-year-olds argued, “It’s not his fault he’s from New York.”

Each year on the Wednesday night before the Home Mission Offering, the Director of Missions would display a map of the United States with red dots representing churches.  The southern states were completely red, but the northern states looked like they had mild cases of chicken pox.

He pleaded, “We have to get missionaries to these unchurched people.”

I was fifteen before I realized that the red dots did not represent all churches, but only Southern Baptist Churches.  That seems like a detail worth mentioning.

I was taught that the south had cornered the market on Jesus, morality, friendliness, food, and football.

I recently moved from Atlanta to Brooklyn, from a beloved home to a foreign land.

New York is a different world.

I drank an egg cream–which contained neither egg nor cream.

The “walk/don’t walk” signs are just suggestions.

Pumping your own gas is illegal across the river in New Jersey.

I have not taken my car out of the parking garage since we arrived.

If you put outgoing mail in your mailbox, it will stay there.

The baby strollers cost more than my car—and have more features.

On those rare occasions that sweet tea appears on a menu, it is a lie.

Chain stores are notable for their absence.  Bookstores, coffee shops, and beer makers are home-grown and independent.  Empire Mayonnaise, for instance, only sells artisanal mayonnaise.  I can’t see this catching on in Alabama.

The Brooklyn Dodgers—who left for Los Angeles in 1957—are still some people’s favorite baseball team.

Soccer and lacrosse are considered sports.

Some of Brooklyn looks like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but most, not so much.

I have not heard any of these—“dese,” “dem,” “dose,” “youse guys,” or “fuhgeddaboudit.”

The neighbors brought artisanal bread and a list of good grocery stores.  People who live this close together need to get along.

The bagels here are better; the hot dogs on the street are not.

A four story, eight room house is like living on a stairmaster.

A stoop is a porch without rocking chairs.

Hipsters are nice people trying too hard not to impress us.

Natives of Brooklyn have also been lied to.  People keep offering grits—which I have eaten exactly once in my life.

A couple of days ago, someone on the street asked me for directions.  Apparently, tourists don’t know who to ask.

And I have been welcomed into a church that has been given to Christ’s way for a long time.  When the majority of churches in the south were defending slavery, Plymouth Church was leading the abolitionist movement.  When my church in Mississippi was fighting against integration, Plymouth invited Martin Luther King, Jr.—a Southerner, by the way—to try out his I Have a Dream sermon before taking it to Washington.  While many churches—north and south—still struggle to include gay Christians, Plymouth has taken a strong stand against discrimination.

Our new church thinks “northern hospitality” should be a phrase.  Our fridge and pantry were stocked when we arrived.  A crew showed up on Memorial Day to unpack “Atlanta Peach Moving” boxes.  We enjoyed a different cook’s offerings each night for the first week—nothing fried.  Our first Sunday was lots of fun.  The banner hanging on Henry Ward Beecher’s statue said “Welcome Youngers,” but it felt like “Welcome Home.”

My parents think Carol and I have gone to the mission field, but we are sharing church with people who have their own joyful ways of sharing church.

I love my southern heritage.  The churches of my childhood included good people who loved Jesus and taught me to do the same.  I will miss college football, driving a car, and having a yard that requires more than a pair of scissors to mow.  But I am discovering again what we all know, but tend to forget.  The Gospel is bigger than any region, any country, and any one understanding of the Gospel.

When the Search Committee announced, “We have a new minister who is moving to New York from Georgia,” I am sure some looked with pity on what they thought of as my poor little lost soul, but by the grace of God we help one another.

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