Last week I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, to meet with my national covenant group of pastors. There are about 25 of us, from around the country, and we meet once annually.
Part of our time together is a learning experience, and our host this year was Spike Coleman, a pastor and police chaplain. Spike was on call the night of the Mother Emmanuel AME church shooting last summer. You may remember the story. A young man walked into a Bible study, stayed, participated in the conversation, and then began shooting at the end when heads were bowed in prayer. 9 were killed.
Pastor Coleman arranged for our group to meet with many who were involved in the incident that night: the police major in charge of the command post, other chaplains, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who covered the event, and others who were there.
Most of us can only imagine the trauma of such an atrocity. Please pray for the congregation and leadership of Mother Emmanuel, as well as the larger Charleston community.
In the face of such evil, however, it is amazing to see the Kingdom of God at work. The Police Chief came up with an idea for Project Illumination. Citizens and police officers are meeting together in small groups. They work together to acknowledge the dual need for public safety and for personal freedom. They talk about what the community might be like if both were valued. They talk about the dangers of over-focusing on one and losing the other. And they suggest ideas that might help in the future.
A few of the ideas seem incredibly common-sense. A high school student said, "If you're worried about how people behave during car stops, why don't we include a car stop in driver's education for everyone learning to drive, so they know how to behave?" The city is listening, and there is a greater spirit of unity and cooperation.
I want you to pray for hurting people in Charleston and elsewhere. But I also want you to make the bridge from Charleston's story to ours.
For most of us, life catches us by surprise. In our over-committed world we often feel like we have no choice but to let life happen to us. We seldom feel in control.
Spiritual formation doesn't promise to take the uncertainty out of life, but it does invite us to participate in a conversation about outcomes. What kind of person would I like to be? What kind of things would I like to do? In what ways might God be calling me to change?
Based on what's happening today in Charleston, we might hope that, years down the road, a shooting will be avoided because of the collective spirit of the community. A deadly and potentially unnecessary confrontation might be avoided because a driver knows how to respond to a car stop. An officer might be kept from an unnecessary use of force because of better training and the building of relationships within the community.
In the same spirit, the call of Jesus in your life today is the call of preparation for tomorrow. Your acts of spiritual discipline today might be the key to your demonstration of spiritual fruit in the future. What would you like to change about yourself? Where would you like to grow?
I recently heard a quote from Andy Stanley that was, I thought, powerful. He said, "You can't pray your way out of something you behaved yourself into. But you can follow your way out." Training, and grateful obedience, as a gateway to the future God wants and we desire.
May it be so. In Charleston, here in our community, and in me!