Lament: Prayers That Activate the Justice of God

The problem in our world, and in our church, is that we never take time to weep…

All day long the headlines are filled with more bad news than good news. It doesn’t matter if it’s your local news station, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, or even the Young Turks. More than likely, the headline features either a shooting, a robbery, a case of domestic violence, or even a natural disaster. Nationally, a broadcast is incomplete without images of brown boys and girls corralled and detained in subpar facilities. In fact, NBC news published an article yesterday entitled, “Migrant Children Face More Serious Health Risks With Longer Detentions” where they quote Dr. Julie Linton saying, “Children are not like adults. They get sick more quickly and each hour of delay can be associated with serious complications, especially in cases of infectious diseases. Delays can lead to death.”

And while our children are sick and imprisoned at the border, black women are still objectified, senior citizens are losing their homes to gentrification, and the leading cause of death in young black men is police brutality. To top it all off, many are fatigued by the cycle of a black boy dies, there’s a protest, a press conference, then we all go back to business as usual and brace for the next catastrophe. The truth is, like Mother Fannie Lou Hamer, some of us are just sick and tired of being sick and tired.

The God Who Hears Our Tears

I surmise that the problem in our world, and in our church, is that we never take the time to weep. If you notice, we don’t take time to acknowledge and process pain. In fact, in January of this year, researchers at Stanford University discovered that the human brain intentionally tries to avoid the discomfort associated with pain. This is because, according to their research, pain is not a physical sensation, but an emotional one. And so we are all constantly trying to avoid the discomfort attached to emotional unpleasantness. This is why so many of us fail to empathize and sympathize with the wounds of those all over the world. We are intentionally avoiding the emotional discomfort associated with processing oppression, injustice, and devastation.

Social media doesn’t make this any easier. This scroll away feature has trained us to consume injustice and move on. We can watch Philando Castile get shot to death on Facebook Live and scroll away to watch cooking videos or clips of stand up comedians. Our society is set up to feed into our natural bent towards pain aversion. And in an age of scrollers and media watchers, men and women of faith are no different. Many of us are bombarded with images and articles addressing these issues and we too find ways to disregard them. From our places of work to our places of worship, the people of God are constantly trying to avoid the uncomfortable emotional pain of the world’s wounds because we do not know how to process them.

I believe that the first step to truly acknowledging injustice and processing the world’s pain is lament. In his book Prophetic Lamentation, Soong Chan Rah argues that until we learn how to weep for justice, there will never be any change. He goes on to declare that “lament is the language of God.” Lament is the language that gets God’s attention. Based on his pivotal text, we serve a God who hears our tears.

Lament Activates the Justice of God

For example, in Exodus 2:23-25 Moses writes that:

“During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.

God heard their groaning,

and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”

The New Living Translation says, “that God knew that it was time to act.” In these verses we see that lament not only captures God’s attention, but it also moves Him to act. Secularism will have you believe that we serve a God who is aloof, standoffish, and hands-off in His dealings with humanity. So often the injustice and devastation of our world causes many of us to question, where is God? Why doesn’t He do something about the oppression and destruction in our world today? But these verses show that God cares about injustice. And more importantly, when He hears the cries of His people against injustice He hears and He acts.

But what if God is looking for a church that is willing to weep for others? What if the way we activate God’s justice is by weeping for injustice?

When We Weep

When we weep we employ lament in our intercessory prayers. Living in such terrible and turbulent times, there needs to be a collective lament among the people of God for the people and things of the Earth. In the same way we make room for organizing protests, writing rebukes, and campaigning for change, we must also make time for weeping and reflection. Soong Chan Rah says, “lament recognizes the struggles of life and cries out for justice against existing injustices.” Like the prophet Nehemiah we must determine in our hearts that we must lament for our cities before we can start to rebuild them. We must put our souls in the position of empathetic lamentation in order to activate the justice of God in the Earth.

How many times have we prayed for injustice in our churches? When was the last time you heard a prayer for the decisions coming from this administration? Can you say you’ve prayed over the lives of the children held at the border? How can we say we love God and have no love for one another? How are we disciples of Christ when don’t weep over the things He wept for?

When we weep for our communities, for the disproportionate numbers of African Americans behind bars, for the children unjustly separated from their parents, for the families living in food deserts, for the neighborhoods that look like war zones, that is when we participate in the kind of intercessory prayer that activates the justice of God.

The earth is groaning. The question is, as believers, will we groan with it to the God who saves? Will we lament and activate the justice of the God who hears our tears?

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.

Get Enough To Eat? Many People Went Hungry During The Holidays

Hunger Is a Year-Round Concern and Stopping Food Waste Could Change That

Scrumptious, home-cooked meals are synonymous with the holidays. Millions of family members – related either by blood or choice – will be gathering in dining rooms, kitchens and dens for food and fellowship as they reflect on their blessings and look to the future. And millions won’t, because they already don’t have enough food to eat. Hunger is a real, on-going problem in the U.S.

Estimates are that 13.1 million children don’t know when they will eat their next meal. They are among the 42.2 million Americans who live in homes that that U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as “food-insecure,” meaning that they are uncertain whether they will be able to get healthy, nutrient-rich foods for their meals.

According to Feeding America, there are at least 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs trying to combat hunger and food insecurity. Some, such as churches, serve meals or distribute food items directly to people in need. Others, such as the DC Central Kitchen, work with organizations already on the frontlines of hunger and poverty.

“Unlike a traditional soup kitchen, no meals are served at DC Central Kitchen,” said Erica Teti-Zilinskas, the kitchen’s director of communications and marketing. “Instead, we use food as a tool to empower marginalized men and women to build lives of self-sufficiency.”

The DC Central Kitchen serves 5000 meals a day to more than 80 homeless shelters, halfway houses and rehabilitation clinics, according to Teti-Zilinskas. She said they also serve an additional 6,800 meals to 12 schools in the nation’s capital whose students live in low-income areas. It is impossible to separate hunger and food insecurity from poverty.

“We will never end hunger with food alone,” Teti-Zilinskas told Message. “Hunger is the symptom of the larger issue of poverty, which people in need experience 365 days a year.”

The number of Americans living in poverty only exceeds those in food insecure homes by one million. The Census Bureau estimates that 43.1 million lived in poverty in 2015, a decrease of 3.5 million from 2014. Perhaps this is because the median household income and earnings increased in 2015. While the poverty rate is trending in the right direction, the daily reality of food insecurity afflicting many Americans won’t be alleviated by tracking data trends.

Experts suggest that one way to reduce the number of hungry Americans is to stop wasting food. Food worth an estimated $165 billion is thrown away, annually. This much wasted food could feed 25 million people. Another way to fight hunger is to organize a food drive. Donations of beans, brown rice and canned goods always are needed. Finally, food banks, churches and other organizations such as the DC Central Kitchen are always looking for volunteers. People who want to help ease hunger pains should check in their communities to see who is working with impoverished families and individuals. And they should remember that feeding the hungry and helping people in poverty is a year-round effort. Opportunities to volunteer always are available.