by Danielle Barnard | 22 February 2018 |
Saturday, February 17, 2018. The lights darken as the praise team walks off of the stage. I grasp the base of the round tall table several pastors use when speaking, and carefully balance my iPad, a blue candle that I call my “peace candle” and a box of matches. In the auditorium where we gather each week, devoid of all light except that of the now eerie blue glow of our logo projected on the high side walls, I place the table center stage and set down my belongings. The silence is deafening. Have you ever heard the sound of a match igniting in an auditorium full of people? Where not even a cough is uttered as the small flame grows? The weight of the words I will speak sits on my chest as I light the peace candle. I open my notes on my iPad. I take a deep breath, looking at the shadowy crowd before me and I say these words:
This past week the lives of 17 image-bearers at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, were cut short by 19-year old Nicholas Cruz.
In December 2012, 20 year old Adam Lanza killed 20 children and 6 adults at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newton, CT.
In April 1999, two teens at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO killed 13 and wounded nearly 20 others.
Children, the most vulnerable in our midst cannot seem to find safety and shelter in the very place in which they should find safety. Yet, it is not uncommon in our country or even in our world for the lives of children outside of the womb to mean less than the ones in the womb. Even as I meditate and reflect this month on my history, the history of black people in this country, the names of children ring through my mind.
I think of:
Emmit Till, 14 years old was lynched in 1955
I think of the four girls who were killed in the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL in 1983: Cynthia Wesley, 14; Carole Robertson, 14; Addie Mae Collins, 14; and Denise McNair, 11.
Even more recent I think of:
Trayvon Martin, 17, shot and killed in 2012
Michael Brown, 18, killed in 2014
Tamir Rice, 12, killed in 2014
Tyre King, 13, killed in 2016
And, Jordan Edwards, 15, killed in 2017
The list goes on and on with names I don’t have time to mention. Black bodies and the bodies of our children—the vulnerable and the disenfranchised have been devalued to the point where we say, “Oh, it’s just another school shooting.” “Oh, it’s another black kid.” “Oh, look, another one.”
It is said that the Masai tribe in Eastern Africa do not greet one another with our familiar greetings of “How are you?” or “Hello,” but they ask one another “How are the children?” The proper response to this question is “All of the children are well.” Not “my children,” not “the wealthy children,” not “some of the children,” but “ALL of the children are well.” How revealing is this greeting of the values of Masai society. They understand that unless their children are well and unless the next generation is well, then their society is not well. Unless the “least” among us are well, then we are not well.
Today, in our country I cannot say that all the children are well. The children in this country have not been well for a very long time. And after this week we sit here and wonder “When will the children be well?”
We cry out with the prophet: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV
We mourn today. We grieve. We lament. Because we ask “How are the children?” And the children are not well.
Let us be silent for the children not well.
Let us be silent for black bodies stripped from the earth.
Let us be silent for the vulnerable among us whose existence we ignore.
Let us pray.
After I pray with all the fervor that burns within my heart, I walk off stage and take my seat—leaving behind the burning “peace candle,” praying that my prophetic cry took root. So, I was caught completely off guard when an older white gentleman walks up to me after the service, shakes my hand in greeting and with a vitriol I never expected proceeds to tell me how my prayer moment and litany were “deeply offensive” to him. He was angry, and after telling me I was wrong for not naming white children, storms off. I stood there stunned as I attempted to process the ire that had just been directed at me, from a man who never before this moment shook my hand or looked me in the eye. I look over at the “peace candle” that I had just blown out in preparation for our second service and thought “I should have left the candle burning.”
How is it that we live in a society today where prayers for peace cause offense? Where cries of grief for mass shootings of school children of all ethnicities, riles people up? Where the mention of black lives somehow translates to ignoring white lives? Why does justice offend?
I posit that moments, like the one I was part of last week, occur because we live in a world that no longer practices the discipline of reconciliation. We talk about reconciliation. We have dialogues about it, read books about it, watch TEDTalks about it, but we still receive nasty emails or comments of offense at any moves toward reconciliation.
Reconciliation is not something that happens in a moment, but something that must be practiced first within oneself.
Howard Thurman, Christian mystic, author, professor and pastor writes about reconciliation in his work The Disciplines of the Spirit. Thurman discusses reconciliation under the premise that ultimately outward violence, hatred and offense result when an individual’s basic human need to be cared for and understood is not met. Thurman writes, “Behind all his hostility, hate, and antisocial behavior, the hunger persists—the ache to be cared for…. When this need to be cared for is not met, the individual is thrown into conflict, an inner conflict that can only be resolved when the need in honored.” There is a level of self-awareness that is necessary to practice reconciliation. One must be aware enough to recognize one’s own need as the cause of personal hatred and anger. But, one must also be aware enough to recognize one’s role to meet this need in others when anger, violence (not just physical violence), and hatred are directed toward us. In the moment with the older gentleman at church, if he had not stormed off, I would have had the opportunity to be a reconciler. How so? That was my opportunity to meet his need of being cared for. In that moment I could have been an agent of reconciliation, helping him to experience the “…inner reconciliation that an individual experiences when he feels that his life is bottomed by another’s caring.” The more I choose to fill the need to be cared for in others, I create the space for reconciliation within and without.
This discipline is counterintuitive. I know this because my initial reaction in the moment was not to be a reconciler, but to give this man a piece of my mind. It was not until I returned home to work on this article that I was convicted of my need to intentionally practice reconciliation in my daily life. Richard J. Foster writes that, “God intends the Disciplines of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings: people who have jobs, who care for children, who wash dishes and mow lawns. In fact, the Disciplines are best exercised in the midst of our relationships with our husband or wife, our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors.” Reconciliation, like other spiritual practices, is for the sake of community. We cannot live in community if we are all lashing out at one another when we are misunderstood. Our lack of inner peace hurts our families, our churches, and our communities in ways that our society reflects today.
All that is required to practice the discipline of reconciliation is intent. We must intentionally create spaces in our daily lives and interactions where the ministry of reconciliation, which God has entrusted to us all, is gifted to the life of another. As I think back to last Sabbath, I imagine a different interaction if we lived in a community that practices reconciliation. A nonviolent interaction. An interaction where hostility is met with honesty and anger is met with care. Reconciliation: a lost discipline, that desperately needs to be found. I found reconciliation this week. I pray you can too.
“ If I knew you and you knew me,
And each of us could clearly see
By the inner light divine,
The meaning of your life and mine,
I am sure that we would differ less
And clasp our hands in friendliness,
If I knew you and you knew me.” 
- Howard Thurman, Disciplines of the Spirit (Richmond, IN: Friends United, 1963), 111. ↑
- Ibid, 108. ↑
- Richard J. Foster, A Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (New York: HarperOne, 1998), 1. ↑
- 2 Cor 5:11-21. ↑
- quoted in Thurman, 111. ↑
Danielle Barnard is a young pastor in her second year of study at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, MI. When she’s not studying, you can find her writing in local coffee shops, painting with acrylics, or traveling with friends.