Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tupelo: Turning Tragedy into Triumph

I wanted to find words that would give comfort, help us find our way through, help us heal in the aftermath of Mr. Shumpert's death. To help black and white alike.  Everything I considered seemed shallow in the midst of such tragedy, pain, fear, anger. 

Last night, I prayed again for words that would heal, and John 15:13 came to mind.

"Greater love hath no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13 esv

As I read those words over again, I was reminded that, in some circumstances, the only One who can make sense of it, make triumph from tragedy, is Jesus. He gave His life to transform ours.

Antwun Shumpert was 37 years old when he died. He was the baby of the family, a husband and father of five children, ranging in age from 3 to 14. He was unemployed but reports reveal that he had recently been offered a job at Wal-Mart, which he didn't live to start. 

I tried to find his obituary today, but there isn't one. What's available is a brief note of his death with the comment, "arrangements are incomplete and will be announced later." I know the facts about his life because I've scoured newspaper articles to find them.

Mr. Shumpert didn't give his life willingly, but his death has revealed things I had no idea still existed in 2016. Prejudice is alive and well, on both sides of the racial divide. There's anger, fear, and hate in both races. 

It seems crazy to me. All this emotion over the amount of pigment in our skin? Really? Our hearts are the same color. Once you peel off the skin layer, there is nothing different about our bodies. Underneath that protective, divisive covering, black bodies are just like white bodies.  

We are a broken, divided people, and only the love of Jesus can heal us. Only His love can unite us, and that's exactly what Jesus intended to do.

If you've read John 17, you know that, in the Garden of Gethsemane the last night of His pre-crucifixion life, Jesus prayed for the followers who would come later. He prayed specifically that we would be one, with such love and unity that the world would recognize Him in us. 

We haven't reached that level of unity yet. We're not even close.

Now that Antwun Shumpert's death has revealed our hearts, we have three choices:

1. We can stay the same, allow the anger, fear, and hate to continue. That doesn't seem like an idea that would please Jesus, does it?

2. We can allow the anger, fear, and hate to increase, allow our divide to deepen. That's definitely not an idea that would please Jesus.

3. We can allow Antwun Shumpert's death to make a difference. We can allow the unveiling of our attitudes and prejudices  to spur us to forgiveness, acceptance, and love. We can choose to let his death bring unity. I think it's the option Jesus most wants to see, because He is love and He prayed for unity.

I've wanted to do something for the Shumpert family that conveys how sorry I am about their loss, but I haven't known what to do or how it would be received. Fear has constrained me, too. 

If I had lost my son in the way his mama lost hers, I'd want answers, but even more, I'd want to know that his life counted for something that mattered, that his death made a difference.

Antwun Shumpert's death can make a difference, if we are willing to let it. And we can. I pray we will.

Today, we can ask God to reveal our hearts the way He sees them. To reveal our prejudice, our anger, our hate, no matter what color our skin. Today, we can ask the God who loves both races equally to forgive us and bring healing and revival to our community, our state, our nation. If we ask Him, I believe He will.

So, in the name of Jesus, let's choose to be done with all this racial divisiveness. Let's look each other in the eye and greet our fellow humans, no matter our skin color. Let's talk to each other. Let's apologize for our heart attitudes and ask for forgiveness. Let's learn to love. 

When we do, God will unite us in ways we never imagined. He will bring triumph from tragedy and it will be the greatest gift imaginable.

A family grieves for the one they love. How much better it would be if, one day, they could see God's love in all of us because Mr. Shumpert's death made a difference.

Let's not waste this tragedy. Let's let the love of Christ transform us and make us one.

There's a community-wide prayer rally at BancorpSouth center tomorrow night (August 3, 2016) at 7 pm. I hope you'll join us. It's a good place for healing to begin. 

"I  do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one..." John 17:20-21 esv
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Ice Cream Church

Here's the link to the world prayer guide: The Prayer List 

#tupelo #tragedytotriumph #antwunshumpert