Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Time to Pray – Thoughts on Alton Sterling

Photo credit: © Nouubon |

Photo credit: © Nouubon |

Each time an incident like this happens I struggle.

I look in the mirror at my own brown skin, and I struggle.

I look at my husband – six feet five inches tall and nearly 300 pounds. He’s the gentlest giant I’ve ever known. And believe me when I say I’ve been far too up close and too personal with non-gentle men a fraction of his height and size in days gone by. His stature alone gives pause. Men look respectfully and joke about how he makes them feel small. Women (especially older white women, for some reason) in department stores and grocery stores are thankful for his presence when they enlist his help to reach items on high shelves. It’s quite cute to witness. Kids…Well, I love to watch them the most. They fix their gaze on him in awe, especially the little ones. He towers over them and, in their eyes, he probably resembles their favorite super hero – strong and mighty.

But there’s a special segment of the population that lately gives me cause for concern. What do they see when they see a towering black man like my love? Do they know he’s a a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend and a Christ follower above all? Do they know he spends his days working and his evenings pursuing higher education? Do they know he loves basketball, sports in general, hip hop (the good stuff) and the word of God? Do they know he awakens each morning and begins most of his days listening to his favorite ministry’s podcast? What do they see, when they see him in his sweats and t-shirt, headed to or from class, the gym, or a basketball game – in a ride that doesn’t scream “Hey! Look what I have!” Is he safer if he always looks like he just walked out of church, left the golf course or is headed out for date night?

So I pray. Constantly. For his protection and the protection of others who look like him. I’m not talking stature now, though. Just skin color…

I’m moderately active on social media when I choose to be. But I get especially silent during times like these. So many voices crying out in what feels like a vast wilderness. Maybe I don’t want to get lost in the crowd. Or maybe I just don’t wan tot be a part of it. Not that crowd. There’s been a lot of “shouting” on Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram. Some even suggest if you’re not shouting along with them (on social platforms) you’re asleep, unaware, not moved or troubled by the images of yet another black man losing his life, senselessly, at the hands of law enforcement officers. Their assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. After all, I have young nephews, uncles, cousins, in laws, and oh…I did mention my love earlier, didn’t I? 😉

Our struggle as black people is ongoing, confusing, complicated, escalating and very real. Even those of us who, in the past, may have felt incubated from it all by our degrees, white collar jobs, integrated neighborhoods and middle class lifestyles, are now more aware than ever of our collective struggle – inherited at birth.

The reports about Brother Alton Sterling carried my thoughts a multitude of places: Why was he selling CDs out there? Were they bootleg? Did he really pull a gun on someone (before the cops arrived)? How on earth must that person feel now? Relieved – like he got what he deserved? Remorseful – like “if I’d just let it slide.” But who lets it slide if someone pulls a gun on them? Would you? Would I? My thoughts continued. Why such force (by the police officers)? I watch nature shows with my love, and I swear the takedown of Alton Sterling rivaled that of a lion in the fields of Africa. Brutal. But what led there? And why did he struggle? I know he didn’t want to go to jail. Who would? “But you’re a black man,” my thoughts screamed. Don’t you know you almost need to play dead to get out of this encounter alive. Sad, but seemingly true.

I wondered about his life. His chosen “hustle” (what selling CDs in front of a corner store would be called in our neighborhoods). Did he have another job to support his family? And as the information unfolds, we learn more. Why the run-ins with the law? Why give them a story to tell – one that subtly distracts the public from the incident in question and paints your life as less than important? My struggle for motive and explanation is futile.

The cries of his oldest son still flood my heart. What will happen to him now? Social media has reduced “Jesus be a fence” and “Jesus take the wheel” to mere hashtags, but I make these pleas from the depths of my heart. For five children who will plead the question, “Why,” and for a wife and mom burdened to try and answer them.

The simplest, most perfect answer is sin.

Sure there are systemic injustices. But it’s still sin.

And having a gun is vastly different from waving a gun, brandishing a gun or pointing a gun. Was it in his hand, barrel pointed at you? Or was it in his pocket – easier for you to reach from your position on top of him than for him to reach? Did you yell, “He’s got a gun” to cover what you’d choose to do next? I don’t know the answers. The facts will soon flow. The evidence will be revealed. The story will evolve. But will change come?

I didn’t watch the entire video. Heck, I check websites like Rotten Tomatoes to see if a movie’s rating (PG-13, included) is due to violence. If I can’t watch it fake, I certainly can’t watch a 37 year old husband and father of five be killed in real life. Not me. But the little I saw led me to here, to this writing, and to you specifically. I could share my thoughts with the masses on social media, but my heart draws intimate at a time like this. I can’t trust that 400 Facebook friends or Twitter followers will hear my heart and join in prayer, but I trust you will. Because, at the end of the day, all of the “whys” I had about Mr. Sterling are irrelevant. They speak to a culture that still has a long way to go and many obstacles (internally and systemically) to still overcome…someday. In the meantime, I remind myself of the blood of Jesus Christ. When things like this happen, I may look AT my timeline, but I look TO Jesus.

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” – Psalm 121: 1,2

Will you pray with me? It’s easy to wonder why our Lord allows such nonsense to persist in the world. But I try to move beyond “why” to the knowledge, the assurance that our God reigns. He rules over the good, bad and the ugly in all of us. Let’s lift this and situations like it up to the Father, the ultimate Judge. Let’s ask Him to guide us in our responses, conversations, judgements and actions and remember that if we are followers of Jesus Christ, we’re still commanded to LOVE, even when hate seems to abound.

Let’s pray for a family who lost one they deeply love.

Let’s pray for our brothers to be covered and protected by the Father.

Let’s pray for a scales that are unbalanced and seemingly uncaring.

Let’s pray for the truth to prevail.

Let’s pray for a culture, wrought with broken homes.

Let’s pray for the vast majority of law enforcement officers who risk their lives to protect ours and actually do so for ALL people, honorably. They get caught in the crossfire of their comrades who may go the other way.

Let’s pray against a code of silence that sometimes protects perpetrators and punishes victims.

I feel it’s my duty to pray. Will you join me? Leave a comment here or shoot me an email to let me know if you will. Together, let’s turn our eyes and our hearts to the mountains, to the only solution there is. For our perfect (note the word “perfect”) help can only come from the Lord.

P.S. I have a small email list. So I chose to send this message to you because I know most of you and believe you will pray. Now, let’s invite others to do the same. Share this message with your friends, family members, coworkers, clients, colleagues, classmates, church members, sorority sisters, supper club friends, book club buddies and gym partners. Encourage them to pray and share.