By Nate Akin
Note on this post: I wrote most of this in bed yesterday at 5am.
I woke up this morning fighting back tears and experiencing deep grief. I was upset and shaken on Tuesday night by the killing of George Floyd, but I had not been undone in some of the ways I have been with past tragedies of this nature. Something was different this morning. As I lay in bed, I heard my month-old baby girl making noises and crying just a little. I could not help but contemplate, “What if that had been my little girl on the pavement with a police officer’s knee on her neck?”
As I lay there reflecting, several social media posts and past conversations with both white and African American pastors and leaders came to mind. Here is what I reflected on as I lay there, broken over what has transpired:
First, prayer is not a platitude (if we are actually praying). In a podcast interview on Tuesday (before I learned of George Floyd), Isaac Adams, founder of United? We Pray, told me he understands why some push back against “thoughts and prayers” during these tragedies; in so far as “thoughts and prayers” are a hollow platitude, they’re right. But Adamswould graciously remind us that prayer is a recognition that we cannot do this work in our strength. As he often says, “we must do more than pray if we’re to pursue racial justice, but we cannot do less.” Indeed, prayer is a necessary work during these tragedies because it reminds us even our actions need the help of the One who can do all things including move the hearts of kings. I am so often reminded of Colossians 4:12-14 when I feel like I am undervaluing the necessity of prayer for work and ministry because it seems prayer IS part of the labor. Paul reminds the church at Colossae, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has WORKED HARD for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.”
Second, posting “I am praying” or “come quickly Lord Jesus” can be hollow if there is no action behind it (especially if we are just acting by writing things on social media). Again, I plead with all not to denigrate either that specific prayer or the one who is actually praying because it is part of the work. But as Tony Merida used to always remind me, “Love is more than sentimentality and sympathy because after all sympathy ultimately does nothing for the orphan or the young girls in brothels. True love is compassion that leads to action.” While saying we need more than prayer can denigrate prayer, I cannot help but wonder if our prayers don’t move us to action, are they insufficient? I thought a recent Facebook post from Baptist21 Communications Director, Kevin Simmons, highlighted a good action step: “Planning to write my state’s congressmen and senators about George Floyd, asking them to consider new, harsher legislation that might make an unscrupulous officer think twice next time. Besides this and prayer, I’m not sure how else to intervene.” What are some other ways people should respond in action? (we would love to hear your thoughts, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Finally, if our grief would move us to empathy and action, we must put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. I am lamenting that I can often read news of this kind and am not as grieved as I am this morning. One of the reasons I am grieving this tragedy, more than others, is because of my connection to a pastor friend who knew George Floyd. This is probably why I cannot stop thinking about him and his loved ones as I wake up. This serves to remind me that we have to enter into the lives of others and see through their eyes. I know it is easy to get frustrated by aspects of social media and the politicization of the news, but for those whose initial reaction is, “Well, what is the whole story or what crime was being committed?” I cannot help but think of the end of the movie A Time to Kill. What if this man were white? What if this man were your son even if he was committing forgery? As a new dad, I couldn’t help but go even a step further: What if this were my daughter? Even if she were committing a crime, would I not be outraged? Would I not mourn? Would I not grieve? Would I not do more than just express outrage on social media? Would I not pray more than just a couple of minutes a day that God would bring justice? Would I not pray for clear and wise ways that I could act? For us to truly mourn with those who mourn and for us to act in ways that seek justice, we are going to have to do a better job of putting ourselves in the shoes of those who are hurting most.
As I was hearing my little girl cry and thinking about George Floyd and his loved ones, this is what came to mind. I do not know fully where to go from here. I do know I will be praying. I will be listening to and reading others. And I will be looking for wise, tangible action steps even while I pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”