by Rev. Garrett Rocha
When I sat down to write this post my mind was full of joyous images and ideas about renewal. But as I started to put words to paper (hand write all my drafts) I kept getting interrupted by the Holy Spirit. God kept giving me feelings of heavy sorrow. My mind with dark over cast skies. The only words that would come to mind were renew, heal, and unify. Following the prompts of the Spirit, let us go beyond thoughts and prayers in the world full of fear and a country crippled by gun violence. The world is a big place full of wondrous things. The world is also full of things that are terrifying. The reality is that we have a problem in the United States with gun violence. It is not earth-shattering news, but we have lost over 270 people, and over 1,000 others have been injured due to mass shootings this year alone. It is hard to find hope in a country that is so steeped in violence.
Think on this reflection Dietrich Bonhoeffer had at the close of WWII:
We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we all need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain honest straightforward men [and women]. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness [in Christ]?
This still rings true for many today. As a pastor, I am humbled to be present in the vulnerable and raw times in people’s lives. Unexpected deaths shock families to the core. But the loss of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren can wound entire communities in so many ways. There are no easy answers to gun violence. There must be a cultural shift, mass education, community renewal, family support, and resources for those who struggle with the traumas in life and mental illness.
The Spirit led me to Psalm 85 as I sought wisdom for this subject. Verses 8-13 ground me because praise and lament are both present. There is thanksgiving and the reality of ongoing challenge, failure, and loss experienced by the people of God. Walk through the psalm and listen to the singer affirm God’s shalom. There is no direct English term that fully describes shalom. The best we can get is to understand it as wholeness, completeness, fullness, balance, and peace in absence of hostility or brokenness. Today that peace is needed in our bustling malls, long hallways of our schools, in our parks filled with excited laughter, in our dark and cozy movie theaters, and beyond. God will usher in complete shalom in our lives and in our communities. In God’s work we find salvation. Salvation is a dynamic process which the character of God is in all its fullness at work.
We are called to be in the work of this salvation and renewal. Have hope and trust in Christ who is the fullness of God’s salvation on earth (Colossians 1:19). Remember Christ’s commandments to love our neighbors, make disciples, spread the gospel, and work alongside God to bring about the peace and harmony on earth as it is in heaven. That makes a good prayer, but where is it in the world today?
Part of my process in seeking wisdom is listening to music. The artist that I found to guide me writing this post is Kota the Friend. Although he is a secular artist there is much wisdom in his lyrics. They capture what the psalmist is saying in an incredible way. Kota is an independent rapper based out of Brooklyn whose lyrics are full of stirrings images, stories, and samples of his life. He raps about his career, his family, and struggles with mental illness present in many communities in the United States.
My favorite aspect about Kota’s music is that it is wonderfully infused with spirituality. In a 2017 interview with Vibe he said that “I was privy to spiritual things because of my mom. As I got older I became more in tune with my own spirituality, which is often the subject matter of my music.”
Read the quote from Bonhoeffer again from the beginning of the post. He surmised that the world does not need a new set of saviors with extraordinary gifts. The world already has a savior in Jesus Christ. He said that the world needs people to actually live out their faith in the face of oppression and violence. Today we are to act courageously to create political change, that we need to actively mentor our younger generations, actively mentor our older generations, restore and empower our impoverished communities, and build a society where people thrive in all areas. Kota’s music and the Psalm remind us that we live in a world that is complex and full of life. There are small joys to be found amid tragedy, brokenness, and poverty of body and spirit. We must still continue to pray but do so actively to bring about peace, unity, and renewal.
I offer you a few things to use in your prayer time. First is a prayer from the Iona Abbey, a Celtic Christian community in Scotland. Say it together in a call and response with your prayer group or silently a few times on your own.
Prayer for Justice and Peace
Leader: Creator God, wellspring of our lives,
All: REFRESH US WITH YOUR MERCY, WHO KNOWS OUR OWN INJUSTICE.
Leader: As the stream flows steadily on, defying all odds of stone and water,
All: FLOW OVER EVERY BOUNDARY AND BORDER THAT SEPARATES US FROM EACH OTHER.
Leader: As the waters of our baptism washed us and welcomed us,
All: RENEW US NOW IN THE NEWNESS OF LIFE AND UNITY OF LOVE.
Secondly, I leave you with an opportunity to broaden your musical library. Be warned, there is explicit language in the songs. So if you have children/youth or if that language is a stumbling block I advise you not to listen. If language is not a problem search for Kota the Friend’s album FOTO on Spotify or any other music platform. You will hear several ballads of celebration, samples of family witness, and the spirit of resilience that you might not have heard in any traditional sense. May it be a reminder to continue to pray for the victims, their families, and other survivors of the recent attacks in Ohio and Texas. I am hopeful in the work of God’s shalom in our communities. I am excited to see you on Sunday morning at 8:15, NINE45, and 11:15 a.m. services or throughout the week.