The New Bloody Reality

As of September 1st, there have been more mass shootings than days this year. The worst part of this is that it appears that these types of violent outbursts began to spike around 2012, during the second term of Barack Obama. Nevertheless, some entities reported a rise in hate crimes as early as November of 2008. The rise of this phenomenon is actually not mysterious or inexplicable at all. Social scientists have long argued that this spike in hate is the result of shifting power dynamics in the country.

Vera Bergengruen and W.J. Hennigan wrote in the August 19, 2019 issue of Time magazine, “Law enforcement officials say the cancer of white nationalism has metastasized across social media and the dark corners of the internet, creating a copycat effect in which inspiring killers draw inspiration and seek to outdo one another.” This is the “45 Effect” – It is an emboldened mass of those who are determined to revert back to former times by any means necessary.

It appears that a large portion of the dominant group is unwilling to live in a country where equality reigns. They prefer to perpetuate systems of disproportionate power, dehumanization, victimization and oppression. In order for them to feel that all is right in the world they must maintain a position of power, authority and control.

This Has Always Been, America

Furthermore, on top of all of his fear-mongering, hate-stoking, and violent rhetoric, 45 has appeared to plunge into yet a deeper and deeper chasm of depravity and failed diplomacy. Yet, his followers are undeterred. They are convinced that the #MAGAtrain will surge ahead until 2025. Interestingly, the 2020 election has inspired hope in some on the other side of the aisle. Many democratic candidates and voters believe 45 will be defeated and that we will achieve, in our lifetime, the beloved community.

In my estimation, we would do well to remember that while the Pledge of Allegiance proclaims this to be the “land of the free,” the reality is that your station and status was settled by your skin tone. The violent terrorism that held those systems in check then have morphed a bit, but they are still very vibrant. And a changing of the guard in 2021 will not change this entrenched social system.

This is America. Or at least, this is the enduring legacy of America. This is the land that many have long said, “looks like a lamb and speaks like a dragon.” This is the same America that defrauded the indigenous peoples out of their land, and ravaged their tribes. This is the same America that has separated children from their parents at our southern border. There is no justice for minorities in America. And just in case you forget it, the dominant group has quite a few fringe members who will quickly grab an AR-15, run to a public place and remind us all that this is their country; and they will do with fear and force whatever is necessary to keep it that way.

Mourners gathered on Monday outside the Walmart in El Paso where at least 22 people were killed. Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The Pain in Prophecy

Here’s the sad news, and a bit of a bold prediction. This pattern of violent terror is not going to relent. As a matter of fact, this is (in part) predicted in scripture. Jeremiah says:

From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,” says the Lord.

Jeremiah 6:13-15 (NIV)

Now, while that text may not apply directly to white-nationalists, just think, if the very priests that were set aside to care for God’s people had become unscrupulous because of greed and deception, what do you think we can expect from people who are bent on hate? The text, in essence, points to a time when people will lose their sense of compassion and decency. That time is now.

Our New Reality

This is the new reality. The battle lines have been so indelibly drawn and entrenched that it is highly likely that we have passed the point of no return. And remember, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12 KJV). These are not simply natural expressions of bigotry and hate. These instances are being fueled by the very essence of the one who is the archenemy of our souls.

Now, this is not a message of gloom and doom. Jesus has promised that he would always be with us, and that he would never leave us nor forsake us. In another place, he reassures us saying, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

With this is mind, there are some things that we should do in light of this new reality:

  1. Strengthen relational networks and systems that serve as safe places for underserved communities. Whether that takes the form of an active shooter training at your church, a mentoring program, or simply a more consistent time for family meals, we need to preserve the spaces where we belong authentically and fully.
  2. Develop systems for civic and economic engagement that consistently empowers those on the margins. Children at the border who have been separated from their parents need advocates who will continue to speak up for them. Small minority businesses find it even more difficult to develop in this reality. We need creative ways to provide support, build advocacy and create lasting value.
  3. Finally, pursue more dynamic and empowering opportunities for faith development. This may take the form of a Bible study, prayer group, or a church plant, or maybe even more consistent and committed service initiatives and the like. There is a definite need to grab hold of those themes of hope, faith and trust that will help to sustain us.

Protestors take part in a rally of Moms against gun violence. Photo by Johannes Eisele/Getty Images

These are very difficult times. With each mass shooting we are reminded of our vulnerability and the ever-encroaching scourge of bigotry and hate. When I was a kid riding in the front seat of my mom’s car, she had a tendency to stretch her arm out across my chest while she drove whenever she felt there was danger approaching. Her outstretched arm was in an effort to help shield and brace my body from potential impact. Today we need the arms of the community members to reach out, create safer communities, and shield our people with hope that Jesus will come just in time to save us from the impending collision.




Hope Garden: A Sanctuary in the Middle of a Desert

A young mother and her two children walked down the street coming from our church’s daycare. It was their first day, and this mother was walking her children home. They obviously lived nearby, but we were alarmed to learn they lived right across the street from the church. Joining them on their stroll we struck up a conversation, the path took us past the garden. We asked if they like to eat. They laughed and responded “of course!” To that we responded, “then let’s eat!”

Immediately, we turned towards fifteen beautifully raised garden beds. The four closest to us were filled with cherry tomatoes. Before we could offer them to pick their fill, the young three-year old girl, same age as our daughter, picked a tomato and quickly ate it before her mother could object. The image of this little girl eating a fresh cherry tomato, juices and seeds sticking to her little fingers was priceless. This is what it was all about. Giving the community access to fresh organic food.

Ministering in the Desert

It began with a vision of hope for our community. Our church sits in the midst of a neighborhood food desert with crime, sickness, and poverty raiding each home. We recognized that these issues were not mutually exclusive to the systemic problems of our community. Community’s with food deserts like ours need more than simply one-time acts of charity. We need justice. The primary concern for a Christian is to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s justice. Too often justice is discussed in retributive terms, but biblically justice is restorative. Even the judgment in God’s justice is for the purpose of restoration in the earth and the human family. This is why the Hope Garden is an important justice initiative for our community, especially right now.

More grocery stores are closing, destroying more opportunities for people to find fresh food. Even the local food banks are closing down. And as healthy food becomes more scarce liquor stores are popping up in abundance. In fact, more and more liquor stores are being built in some of the most vulnerable communities. Interestingly enough, out here in Georgia, churches still outnumber liquor stores. This should compel believers to come together and speak out against the injustice happening in their communities, but unfortunately it hasn’t.

We need a plan from the city to revitalize our community, but we cannot wait for them. At Emmanuel SDA we choose to lead by example. My wife and I understand how easy it is for churches to become complacent and content remaining within their devilishly designed boxes settling for the occassional handout that fails to effect the root issues. But we want a reason to worship. We want to experience the joy of celebrating a miracle done through us. And so we planted the Hope Garden.

Birthing “Hope Team”

A team of people from my church and others quickly emerged. Tired of program focused religion and feeling a move for something greater, Hope Team was birthed. This movement is a new type of church plant that focuses more on mission instead of programming. The Hope Team searches for ways to inspire and revitalize the communities around it. So, when multiple farmers asked us if we were interested in planting a garden for the community, we felt confirmation that God was moving. The idea for the Hope Garden was planted in our hearts, and the Spirit just kept on watering it.

Soon, the local Home Depot offered to help with the project and encouraged us to write a grant. Taking their advice we wrote the grant and a month later they awarded the project $5,000. With these funds and the help of volunteer workers we built our garden beds. Soon the news media picked up the story and the word quickly got out. Since the inception of the project we have gained several partners and others have even caught the vision for their churches and communities. We’re even blessed that some developers in the city want to use our cite as a pilot for doing future gardens at other churches.

The Hope Garden Harvest

The beauty of the garden project is how so many activists and charitable agencies are seeing the value of the garden within their communities and careers. For example, those in the medical field see the value of fresh fruits and vegetables for patient prevention and recovery. This summer our church will host cooking classes featuring foods from the garden.

Those in the business sector are interested in how community members are being equipped to grow and sell their own produce. Law enforcement loves the idea of making use of void space within the community to train young people how to care for the community. Educators see the connection students can make with the practical science applications a garden creates. And most recently, we’ve partnered with the Boys and Girls clubs and city Parks and Recreation to bus children to our garden to participate in this educational experience.

Hope Garden Vision

Currently, our team is working out the logistics for distributing the food in an equitable manner. Our ultimate vision for the garden is that it become a training ground for individuals to learn how to grow their own food. We don’t want folks to solely rely on the garden for their produce needs. We want the garden to inspire, educate, and empower people.

One of our goals is to allow families portions of our land to grow their own food. We are still working out the details of how to market the project and inspire residents to take advantage of the opportunity. But we’re confident that if we continue to show them our consistency in this area then they’ll grow to trust our intentions and believe in our projected outcomes. We are starting small, but we have so much potential for growth. And we believe that as the garden grows so will our community.

Hope Garden is Hope for the Community

As I finish this article I find myself in the barber shop waiting to get a cut. Music is blasting. Every other word begins with “F”. The barbers and patrons don’t know who I am, or what I do for a living. And that’s how I like it. I love when ministry is unfiltered. Raw. Real. And based on the nature of my environment, I couldn’t help but get sucked into a good barber shop debate: “did black folks start the country music genre?” Like every good beef in the 21st century we pulled out our cell phones and let google settle it.

But any good woke brotha knows that even google can’t always be trusted. And just like that a new debater began to reel about other untrustworthy things like the processed food we eat. We began talking about Nipsey Hussle, Dr. Sebi, and nation building. At the end of our discussion we coordinated a partnership with his people and our garden to help educate and employ black men. Experiences like this have taught me to embrace the uncomfortable spaces in search for where Jesus really is. And this experience has showed me that He still lingers where the religious people least expect Him. And there is where Hope continues.