three days of headlines

Last week was a news-maker, to say the least. I didn’t envy those sitting at the anchor desk trying to sort out which stories to cover first, but it wasn’t particularly easy to sit in the audience, either. Not only is it hard to absorb the headlines, it is hard to know how to behave in light of them. Of the many stories we were deluged with, here are four from just the last three days, and what I pray to learn from them.

Practice True Religion
On Friday, June 26, the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney was held. Pinckney was one of nine African Americans shot at a prayer meeting in the basement of a Charleston church. James, the brother of Jesus tells us that true religion expresses itself by looking out for widows and orphans in their distress. It is significant that he makes this point to introduce his admonition not to show partiality. Reverend Clementa Pinckney leaves a wife and two daughters, a widow and orphans created by that familiar old-time false gospel of partiality we know as racism. How heavy a task for our President to deliver that eulogy, himself no stranger to racism and death threats. How could he possibly look into the eyes of Pinckney’s wife and daughters without seeing his own? Lord, may partiality not be found among the people of God. Grant me empathetic eyes to see and hands to serve the widows and orphans, the marginalized and voiceless in my own spheres of influence. Teach me to practice true religion. And should I see my deepest fears confirmed in someone else’s tragedy, may “Amazing Grace” be my anthem.

Embrace the Rainbow
On Friday, June 26, with the SCOTUS ruling to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states, my social media feed filled with rainbows and vitriol. Even among believers, fresh water springs spewed salt water. That ancient traitor, the tongue. “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” For the believer, the rainbow is God’s everlasting sign to remind us that mercy triumphs over judgment. Whatever else it may be used to represent, it will always be that. Lord, help me to bear that sign on my head and my hand. In thought, word and deed, may I be an instrument of mercy rather than judgment. May your rainbow color every line of my status updates and every syllable of my conversations.

Scale Your Flagpole
On Saturday, June 27, Bree Newsome taught us about civil disobedience when she climbed the flagpole in front of the South Carolina State House and removed the Confederate flag.  I had to smile that she wore a helmet and appropriate climbing gear. Even in its riskiness, hers was the picture of a rational act. Upon her descent, she announced matter-of factly, “I am coming down. I am prepared to be arrested.” When Henry David Thoreau was imprisoned in 1846 for refusing to pay a poll tax that violated his conscience, his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson visited him and asked, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” Thoreau replied, “Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?” As I watched the coverage of Ms. Newsome I asked myself what matters of conscience I was willing to draw disapproval for. Lord, help me not to crave the approval of others or the safety of anonymity. You have given me proper gear and a message that needs to be heard. When truth needs a voice, may my lips not be found silent.

Don’t Aid Convicts
On Sunday, June 28, police apprehended the second of two convicts, dangerous murderers, who escaped a maximum security prison in Dannemora, New York, paralyzing the state with fear. My first reaction to hearing of their escape was to wonder how on earth they had pulled off such a miraculous exit. The unsurprising answer soon became clear: They had had inside help. Winning the confidence of prison employees, they wielded the tools of charm and bribery every bit as well as the actual tools they secured. The longer I thought about their story, the more I detected a spiritual parallel: How often have I been willingly cajoled by a dangerous sin pattern to set it free from the bonds of sound judgment? How often have I disregarded God’s law to aid and abet my past sinful inclinations in going on a spree? Lord, teach me not to flirt with sin. Help me to see it for the killer that it is. Let its conviction stand and its sentence be fulfilled. And should it escape its bonds, help me to give it no quarter for the good of my soul.

The headlines can leave us feeling overwhelmed and impotent at times. It’s true we don’t control the seasons and times. But we do control our response to them, by the grace of God. I want to remain mindful of that. The headlines of the past three days will wither and fade, replaced by a new crop tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. But the word of the Lord stands forever. Among the myriad hymns Charles Wesley wrote is one that reflects on the ever-changing nature of life. When the headlines shout that the earth has been shaken to her foundations, its closing lines remind me of an unshakable truth:

And all things, as they change, proclaim
The Lord eternally the same.