By Jake Hall
published in Family Matters eNewsletter June 16, 2016
Like many of you, I learned about the details of the massacre in Orlando after worship last Sunday. Omar Mateen murdered forty nine people and injured fifty three more in a nightclub called Pulse. The details on his actions are still forthcoming, but a few things seem clear; he was a man motivated by hatred, specifically hatred of homosexuals. Immediately, I spoke the words of prayers for the victims and family members of this horrific crime. I confess that my words felt small on that day.
When you heard the news, maybe you had the same heartbroken feeling that I had: “Oh God, not again.” We wondered what tangible things we could do as so many people grieved and felt vulnerable. We wanted to do something. On Monday, a 22-year-old college senior, named Bentley Hudgins, organized a prayer vigil at Tattnall Square Park. Individuals, churches and community groups joined with him. I received a call asking if we could donate candles for this prayer vigil. We had none to offer. We gave them all away for the last community prayer vigil for a shooting, just months ago in Macon. As sacred symbols go, the idea that we have run out of candles to keep up with vigils for violence is something that haunts me.
We decided that in these moments, showing up matters. We gathered water bottles. Erin, Logan, Cass, Ruth and I drove over to the park Monday evening. We simply walked through the crowd, offering bottles of water to the people gathered in the summer heat. Among the 300 people there, some were students, community leaders, people who identify as the LGBTQ
community, clergy, and people from the neighborhood. Many people accepted the bottles of water with a smile. Some folks, however, had a moment of suspicious glances towards us as we approached them and held out a water bottle.
I realized that I was wearing my church T-shirt from the morning's service projects, the one with a cross on it. I wondered to myself, how many times has someone approached these folks while wearing a cross and said or demonstrated hurtful words? How many times have the people who claim this cross done things that have nothing to do with the love of Jesus Christ? Most of the people realized we were simply offering cold water on a hot day. I confess that my heart broke for these neighbors who were hesitant to engage with the people wearing a cross. I confess that too often we who claim the cross do not behave like followers of Jesus.
As we stood together in the park, I looked around. People came to be present, pray, cry and be silent. Being together seemed to be what mattered. For a moment it felt like the church, a gathering of all different kinds of people who are made one by a Love that is stronger than hate and peace that is stronger than violence.
A news reporter came up and asked me why we were handing out water. I offered the best words I had: “In the wake of such an enormous tragedy we wanted to offer a small gesture of kindness and solidarity, a cup of cold water.”
Our words and our meager actions really aren’t enough. We were there handing out water because people are thirsty. Here is the hard truth: People thirst for more than water. People are thirsty for true compassion and justice. People are looking for Christians who claim the gospel to show it in our actions, not just tell it. I confess that we as the Church have tremendous work to do in these days of healing,
We have much work to do,