The light shines through our windows and into our homes all over our city this morning, but the light is hard to believe in today. It is a wonderful gift, but we’re just not in the mood to receive it.
Our city is reeling again from another punch to our stomachs, another life ended way too soon. We’re shocked at the callousness of violence and we’re angry at the pain and heartache that comes on the other side of a bullet.
We spent Saturday basking in the glory of two of our favorite pastimes – Tennessee’s Annual Spring Football Game and the Smoky Mountain Air Show – but we woke up Sunday to discover the glory was hard to find.
We’ve known for a long time that young men and women in our city faced threats that we couldn’t understand and likely never would. We’ve seen the stories of lives ended too soon, but we have to confess that for far too long most of us haven’t been moved by it to do much more than shake our heads and return to our busy lives.
That all changed at Christmas. Because at Christmas, that season of perpetual hope, we were shocked into paying attention. We were jolted to learn the name Zaevion Dobson, to understand his depth of love and compassion. At Christmas we learned how he gave his life to save others, taking the bullet so his friends wouldn’t have to, sacrificing his life so they wouldn’t lose theirs. Our hero was memorialized by President Obama and honored at the Super Bowl and his name became one we committed to never forgetting.
We are gutted this morning, because we woke up yesterday to the news that Jajuan Latham, his cousin – his 12-year old cousin – was killed with what police say was a gang-related bullet in the back seat of his dad’s car Saturday night. They were picking up a friend at a local park to go to a movie, but they never made it to the movies. He never made it.
Not again. Not in our city. Not in this community. Not this family. Not any family but certainly not this one. They’ve already been through too much. They’ve already grieved too much. They’ve already lost too much. This, this, is too much. Losing him is too much.
We’ll never know what he might have become. We’ll never know how many rooms his smile would have lit up. We’ll never know if he would have become the leader we needed to show us a better way, a way beyond all this. We’ll never know how bright his light was going to shine.
We will get to the hard conversations that we have to have. At some point we will talk about the culture of gang violence and the weapons that levy mass destruction to our communities and our families. At some point we will talk about our neighborhoods and the opportunity chasm between some zip codes and others. At some point we will talk about investing in schools and churches and organizations in communities that have been abandoned. At some point we will talk about mobilizing everything we have to make sure no family loses a child like this ever again.
But we’re not there yet. We don’t have the strength for it. We don’t have the words for it.
Instead we are sitting together; we can’t stand yet. We are listening to each other. We are going to the words of assurance and the stories of hope from our respective faiths. And, now more than ever, we are praying for each other.
We know that Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom might come on earth as it is in heaven. We’ll get to that too, but right now we would settle for a city where high schoolers can hang out together on a porch and 12-year-olds can go to the movies.
We aren’t ready for bold prayers yet. Instead we sit in our grief, we sit with our questions. And we trust that God knows how to hear those too.
There’s a long Biblical tradition of lament, and so we are sitting and grieving and somehow hoping and trusting in the middle of it.
So together our city asks the words of Psalm 13 that so many have asked and begged of God before – how long O Lord? How much more of this do we have to take? How much more of this can we take?
Joy comes in the morning. We know that. The light shines in the darkness. We know that too.
It will come. It will brighten our faces, it will strengthen our families and it will renew our neighborhoods.
We sit and we wait.
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.