When I was a senior in high school, the Miami Valley suffered a brutal winter. I was taking British Literature with Ms. Schlater (not doing so hot), and we were reviewing for the next day’s heavily weighted, and therefore very important, exam. We sat in class on that Tuesday afternoon all abuzz about the most recent weather forecast and full of hope for a school closing on Wednesday.
“Even if we don’t have school tomorrow,” Ms. Schlater warned, “we HAVE to take the exam on Thursday.” We had missed so many days of school already and she was always talking about how far behind we were falling.
One of the smart aleck’s in the class (it might very well have been me, I honestly don’t remember) asked “What will happen if we don’t have school on Thursday?”
She gave a sideways look and coldly replied “Then you’ll have it on Friday; no matter when it is, the next time you’re in this room you will take this exam. Be sure that you study.”
The snow came that evening and our joy was complete the next morning when “Versailles Exempted Village Schools: Closed” scrolled across the bottom of the TV screen. I had done as she had warned and studied the night before, but was still very glad to be spending the day at home rather than at school.
School was cancelled again the next day and the day after that. Each night I would finish the evening by studying, just in case the dream came to an end and we were forced to return to school. Each morning began with thankful smiles as we were told we could go back to bed.
We didn’t return to school until the following Tuesday, and as promised, Ms. Schlater gave us the exam. To my surprise, all that studying actually worked and I got a great grade on that exam.
For fifteen more years after that, throughout college and my time teaching in the United States, I continued to pray and be thankful for the days when school was closed. Whether I learned of the closing from a phone call or a text, a facebook post or a news station listing, the reaction was always the same: first a joyous celebration and then a happy trot back underneath the cozy covers.
That is, until last Tuesday. When I read the message on my phone informing me that we would not be going to school in the morning, my heart dropped; joy was the furthest thing from me. As I turned off my alarm that had been set, I did not do a little dance nor did I fall asleep imagining all that I might do on this bonus day off.
Instead, I cried.
School was closed because a 13-year-old boy in our community had been shot on his way home from school. We would be staying home and all businesses in the community would not open their doors out of respect for the life that had been ripped away.
It was not joyous; it was painful.
And so were the days that followed. These days have been filled with questions like “Why?” and “How can they?” and “Why do they?” and words like “innocent” and “young” and “unfair”. But the violence continues. There have been shootings and stabbing, rockets and tear gas, riots and hijackings, arrests and funerals. Each of these things filling people all the more full of fear and anger and hatred; one side no less than the other. These vicious acts lead people to use words like “retaliate” and “justified” and “deserve.” I watch and listen, knowing that it will soon become too much and it will all spin more horribly out of control.
Evil feeding evil.
And we hear the news and we choose sides. We read the papers and decide who is right and who is wrong. We watch videos and we become enraged and we blame and we accuse. The spinning continues.
Evil feeds evil, and the dark monster grows. It grows within each of us, and it drives us to fight one another.
Because we forget: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
On Tuesday night I received another text: School is closed. This time a 26-year-old boy on his way to work at the Intercontinental Hotel.
The cycle continues. More shootings, more stabbings, more rockets, more tear gas, more riots, more arrests, and more funerals. More fear, more biases, more hatred, more accusations. All because we forget what we’re supposed to be fighting, and we’ve forgotten how to fight it.
But we Christians, we don’t have to forget what this struggle is really about and what it is with. We are called to remember that we have been equipped specifically for this battle.
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes with the gospel of PEACE. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for ALL the Lord’s people.”
So I urge you: when you watch the news, when you look at facebook, when you click on a video- do not allow the monster to overtake you. Guard yourself against words like “fault” and “guilty” and “deserve.” Instead, pray for ALL of these people: that they may be freed from evil and know peace.
And please, pray for me.
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador…Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” Ephesians 6:10-20