Standing in the Breach

man praying

The second meditation in a series on the national unrest and call to prayer by Bishop Mark Lawrence

If it is true as author Shelby Steele has stated in a recent interview that “racism is endemic to the human condition,” and, I believe it is, it is so because sin itself is endemic to the human condition. To address endemic racism in ourselves, others or our institutions whether it is a prejudice, bigotry, guilt or shame, which hides in the shadows, or that, which parades itself in public, we shall be more successful if we invite the Holy Spirit to journey with us. He after all is not only the promised “Helper,” the One Jesus taught would be sent; he is also the One who shall convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement. (John 16:7-8)

Racism is a dark dimension of sin that is difficult for most of us, regardless of our ethnicity, to admit is in us. We sometimes hear someone say, “There is not a racist bone in his body!” One might as well say, “There is not a sinful bone in his body.” For most people such a statement would be nonsense. Perhaps for some of us it is more accurate to say, “God’s grace is bringing me forgiveness for and deliverance from the sin that clings so closely to me, including prejudice.” That at least is my prayer.

Therefore, as we continue in this octave of prayer for our nation while in the midst of this crisis of pandemic and quarantine, with tensions about policing, protests, violence and race, and throw in political jousting for good measure, I invite you to what I believe God’s Spirit has been urging us—that is, to step into the breach. The prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah spoke of standing in this breach—through both prayer and action.

Thus says the Lord GOD, And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.” (Ezekiel 22:30) 

And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; /you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;/ you shall be called the repairer of the breach,/the restorer of streets to dwell in. (Isaiah 58:12)

This begins for many of us with intercessory prayer and should lead to prayerful action. Consider the juxtaposition of two black men killed in recent acts of violence.

Most reading this meditation will have heard of George Floyd and his last words, “I can’t breathe.”  His name and words are placarded around the world.  His funeral watched by millions. The context of his death and the words so painfully uttered form a simple eloquence Shakespeare described well when he penned the lines, “O! but they say the tongues of dying men/Enforce attention like deep harmony:/Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain,/For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.” George Floyd through social media has become the archetypal victim and his dying words the rallying cry of a generation that has taken to the streets by the thousands. Upon the archetype whether inherent or not virtue is conferred. To watch even a portion of the eight-minute video clip is to feel the painful scab ripped from the deep wounds of those who have suffered from centuries’ old prejudice and the futility of any who would seek to deny it or put on a band aid to stay the bleeding.

The name of retired police captain, David Dorn, a 77 year old black man murdered during the lootings that accompanied the protests in St. Louis on June 2 fewer have heard of.  He died defending a friend’s pawnshop. His body was found on the sidewalk at 2:30 a.m. He served his community as an officer for 38 years and dedicated his free time to helping disadvantaged youth. His widow, Ann Marie Dorn, remains a sergeant on the police force. The Ethical Society of Police, which has represented black officers in St. Louis since 1972 in  addressing race-based discrimination, said of David Dorn, he was “the type of brother that would’ve given his life to serve them if he had to.”  As it turns out, he did. Nevertheless, he like Floyd is a symbol now, not of victimhood but of individual and community initiative. Yet this will never play so well on the screen or in the street. Frankly, that is about all that I know of him. Except this, one of those young black men fleeing the scene of the crime is overheard on the pawnshop camera saying “C’mon, man, that’s somebody’s granddaddy!” These words spoken by a young man in the midst of violent crime testify to a conscience and heart that is still able to care. This too is the human condition: that in the midst of violence a young man’s heart can still care and he the sort of young person retired Police Captain David Dorn was set on reaching.

To stand in the breach, to kneel in the place prayer is to hold all of this in our hearts before God: the young marching in peaceful protest; a looter and burglar fleeing the scene of  violence perpetrated by his companion in crime; and all the George Floyds and David Dorns of the world . It is not only to stand in the breach, it is to have one’s heart enlarged. In the words of Edwin Corley, intercession “… is the principle by which praying people allow their own spiritual hearts to become enlarged enough to take on [through prayer] the care of others.” To share in the compassion of Jesus Christ for this world where so many people are like sheep without shepherds. To ask God’s Spirit to address our own “…feelings that have become calloused and remote for most of the people around [us].”  May God work in us a deep feeling of love and compassion for His people. So we lift up those suffering from the Covid-19; those working for a vaccine and cure; those burying their loved ones either from the pandemic, the street violence or the normal stuff of life; for those who have lost their business and jobs from quarantine or fire, rioting and looting; for those who continue to suffer the weight of racial injustice; for police officers who risk their lives in their daily round of duty; and those for whom the killing of George Floyd makes the world feel less safe.  That may sound almost like a litany. It is—or at least a prayer list. We pray for the light of Christ to come into our darkened world, and after this week of prayer and fasting to show each of us what the next step is, so we might fulfill the promise of our Lord. “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”