Say Their Names

Breath Prayer:

Inhale: Remove my heart of stone.
Exhale: Give me a heart of flesh.
The Say Their Names Memorial displayed on the lawn at a church; black and white headshots with names of Black people killed unjustly, with flowers at each picture
“Say Their Names” Memorial from Lake Highlands Area Moms Against Racism, displayed at Arapaho United Methodist Church
Black and white headshots of Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and Denise McNair, displayed on the lawn with flowers
Every morning this week when I walk my two children into church for VBS, we will walk by the Say Their Names Memorial on display on the front lawn. This morning we walked through the rows of names and faces of God’s beloved Black children whose lives were stolen far too soon due to injustice.
“There’s so many!” my fifth grader gasped. I had told her about the memorial beforehand*, but she was unprepared for the magnitude of it. “Remember the little girls from the church bombing? Remember George Floyd? Remember Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor?” She nodded, and it began to rain.
a portion of the many black and white headshots of Black people killed unjustly, each with flowers by it, on the lawn at a church
a close up of a black and white headshot of Jason Edwards, with flowers
Then, we walked into the building for a joyous reunion on this first in-person, indoor church experience since the beginning of the pandemic. Our senior pastor, wearing butterfly wings, greeted us and chatted with my five year old about Disney princesses. A beloved Sunday School teacher gave my reluctant big kid a warm hug.
 If we ALL belong to each other, and we are family, then this—all of it—is church. I want my kids to see that church is grieving and laughing and worshipping and silly songs and speaking out against injustice, even and especially wherever it lurks in our very own hearts. Church is meals together and ancient stories, loving our neighbors by staying home, masking up, and getting vaccinated during a pandemic.
a close up of the black and white headshot of Ahmaud Arbery, with flowers
Church is crying and raging and then asking God to show us how to make our bodies, minds, hearts, and hands available to become peacemakers. It’s doubting with the doubters while you sit right next to the ones who are full of faith, knowing that the very same people might switch places the next week or month or year. It’s borrowing someone else’s hope until you have your own, and then lending yours to someone else who is weary.
a close up of the black and white headshot of Botham Jean, with flowers
Oh God, let us be the Church. Remove our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. Let our hearts become neither numb nor hopeless, neither apathetic nor crushed by the weight of injustice and lament. Let us not look away when You confront us with the devastating consequences of our own actions and those of the oppressive systems we have participated in, benefitted from, and otherwise upheld. Because only when we can let ourselves feel the depths of communal grief can we open ourselves up to the communal joy that is set before us as we stand with and for each other, Your beautiful, imperfect image bearers. Let us not downplay our sin or our belovedness, for only in the security of our status as loved children of God can we face what needs to change in our hearts and in our world.
 Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
*For a resource about how to talk to children about racial injustice and police brutality, see this guide from the Muhammad Ali Center. The guide is also included at the end of a children’s book called “For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World” by Rev. Dr. Michael Waters.

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