As a pastor, police chaplain, and citizen of Lee’s Summit, I’m deeply saddened by the tragic events last week in our country, and the deep divisions they expose. Emotionally, and spiritually, this feels similar to me to the days that followed the terrorist attacks on our country in September of 2001. There is a deep awareness of hurt, sadness, loss, grief, and pain. There is uncertainty and fear as well. Some wonder if our society will ever face issues squarely. Others fear that the foundations of our nation are crumbling. This is a moment of opportunity.
Back in 2001, I have vivid memories of Sunday, September 16. On that day church attendance throughout the country doubled, for one Sunday only. We heard messages calling for repentance, invitations to faith, an emphasis on love, reminders of the great promises of God, and hopes for peace. I have no doubt that some lives were changed in meaningful ways by that week in our history. For every image of chaos and destruction, we also remember acts of heroism, expressions of community, and the call to serve and love one another. It was a moment of opportunity. For some, however, and perhaps for society as a whole, the opportunity was lost. We were anxious to return to our lives and our lifestyles. We didn’t have time, or the spiritual energy, to face the weightier questions of our life together.
I believe this is a moment of opportunity.
First, we have the opportunity to face the evil that confronts us all. In my theological tradition we call that evil sin, the brokenness of the world, the common condition we all share. Before I can begin to even discuss the problems we face, I must acknowledge evil in my own life. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said it so well in The Gulag Archipelago: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” G.K. Chesterton, the famous British author, is said to have once written a letter to a London newspaper. The newspaper had asked the question, “What is wrong with the world?” Many people responded with essays of some length. Chesterton sent the following letter: “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton.” That kind of humility and recognition of our need for help will go a long way right now.
Second, we have an opportunity to squarely face the issues of our day, and to engage in thoughtful and meaningful conversation that moves past slogans and polarized position-taking.
The vast majority of police officers serve their communities with honor. I pray for safety for men and women in law enforcement, and I hope they will receive honor and respect from all of us in gratitude for the ways in which they protect the innocent, pursue the guilty, and stand in the gap to keep our society from disintegrating into chaos.
At the same time, I believe with all my heart that we can fully support those who protect us, and at the same time acknowledge our country’s racist past, episodes of police brutality in that past, and institutionalized expressions of that racism. And, we can and must acknowledge that these are not just dark spots in our history, they continue today.
There is a meaningful dialogue possible for those who would listen to one another, and work together to make our communities better places for everyone. Honor and respect for those who serve. Accountability and justice for those who would abuse authority. Institutions addressing patterns, behaviors, and values that are destructive. Communities and police departments cooperating with each other to increase communication, build relationships, and address challenges.
We all have the opportunity to work together on this, and, throughout this last week, I have seen many positive examples of such work. Demonstrators from two opposing marches in one community crossing the street to embrace. Gifts of food and words of encouragement to officers and our police department here. Inter-faith and diverse gatherings throughout the country for worship and prayer. “Protests” that were conducted peacefully, raising issues while still extending respect and civility.
The opportunity to address the concerns of the spirit is also before us. We are all called to personal self-examination, a willingness to turn from that which is wrong and broken, a return to faith, and steps of growth in that faith. As you consider the events of the last week, please take some time to reflect. Do you feel something more than just sadness? Is there, growing within you, a holy discontent? Will a return to life the way you know it be enough to answer that spiritual hunger? How will you respond?
The faith community of which I am a part, New Springs Community Church, will be offering an evening of worship on Saturday, July 16, at 6:00 p.m. Please join us for this evening of prayer and praise. We are coming together to stand for and pray for unity, justice, and peace in our community and country. Contemporary praise, worship, and prayer will be led by New Springs Music. The evening is open to the community, and for the community. No admission or tickets required. We’ll see you there! Doors open at 5:30 p.m. 1800 NE Independence Avenue, Lee’s Summit MO 64086.
This is a moment of opportunity. May each of us, and all of us, take advantage of the opportunity while it is yet before us.
Dave Moore is the Senior Pastor of New Summit Church 1800 NE Independence Ave. Lee’s Summit, MO 64086