by Cassandra Vincent, ICJS Justice Leaders Fellow

“I don’t want thoughts. I don’t want prayers.” — Susan Orfanos

Our nation continues to face crisis and tragedy that rocks us to the core. Tragedies we could never imagine and in scared spaces, we pray would never become targets of such hatred and evil.

Another black father ripped from his family and killed by law enforcement, concert-goers increasingly concerned about their safety, children fearful of being separated from parents, high school students fearful to attend a class for fear of being bullied or worse being involved in “another” school shooting — our nation is in peril.

Fear is rippling in the hearts and minds of many. These tragic headlines are ones we could never imagine. Perhaps, we can imagine these tragedies that seem to continue to repeat with the same headlines, just in different locations. The crises our nation has experienced are repetitive and without warning, and we continue to brace ourselves in hopes that our loved ones or communities are not next.

My thoughts today are less about particular policies, political lines, or cultural and religious differences. But today and as of late, I have been extremely reflective about where I need to expand and stretch beyond my usual days and activities. As many of us are searching and reflecting on the needs of our community, city, and country, there are so many questions and areas of concern. As a person of the faith community, I am empowered by biblical texts and draw an understanding of the times we live in. I am also challenged by this same text to execute the instructions that are included in the text. I deeply believe people of faith have the answers to this nation’s most pressing issues. People of faith should be challenged in these times to not only hold the answers but elevate to another dimension of leadership and action in the public square with solidarity in focus.

The recent tragedies that have claimed innocent lives across the nation are heart-wrenching but also outright infuriating. There is a frustration and anger that ensues when lives, young and old, are taken viciously without regard. Regardless of the intent or factors involved what we do know is that this senselessness toward humanity is on the side of evil — period.

As people of faith, how should we respond? In a recent interview, following the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California an outraged grieving mother said, “I no longer want your thoughts and prayers. I want gun control.” This mother’s cry for change is truly what I believe so many in our nation desire — ACTION. Action that leads to changes that protect, heal, and strengthen our nation. We, as a people, are being challenged to see ourselves more and more as one.

How can we be empowered in times like these?

We should be empowered by our faith and by those who were examples to us who were triumphant in crisis during their lifetime. Like those past leaders, every human emotion is experienced as you grapple with the reality of a tragedy that occurs — tragedy impacts each of us in many ways, directly or indirectly.

The increasing tragedies our nation has faced challenges me to elevate my level of understanding and serving others. Serving others beyond thoughts and prayers.

The state of our nation has undoubtedly caused me to take a step back and find solace in my safe place. But the truth is, my safe place must be enlarged and shared with those who may not feel as safe and who may be looking for answers and hope in these times we face. Why? Because what happens to one of us ultimately happens to all of us.

In these times of crisis, we have to go beyond comfort zones, invisible lines, and thoughts and prayers. We are being called to a greater level of action on the side of love. There are many people pursuing change and taking the power of charity, hope, and faith into positions they would not have considered ever taking. People such as Lucy McBath, a newly elected congresswoman. Lucy is the mother of a teen who was gunned down for playing loud music at a gas station. From this crisis, Lucy, a former flight attendant, took action by running for a public office to impact change through policy change. Lucy’s story should inspire us to move beyond our usual roles and discover ways to impact change in a greater capacity.

I am encouraged in this climate of our nation to do more and find opportunities to maximize my current capacity. As a person of faith, I am moved to take greater action and to share in more collective spaces such as the Imaging Justice in Baltimore Community Conversations hosted by The Institute for Islamic Christian Jewish Studies. Our collective voice and action is required of us because as a nation we are facing a crisis that draws the line between love and evil.

These days, I am less inclined to discuss differences of opinions on matters and more inclined to learn more about how we can unify to create amazing change. I am at nausea for why we are so different, why one group seeks to keep another from keeping children from their parents, and why other groups have to beg and lose their lives for equal justice. I am at the nausea ease of how people allow opinions and practices to keep them divided on any given day. We are inundated with the problems, the opinions, and the mass majority speaking on what others should do or not do. The problems we face are evident. They have been highlighted over and over and over, yet what consistently remains is the need for a collective, colorful, diverse nation to rise and continue to do work that improves life for everyone. Yes, there are many paths to support the strength of our nation. As a nation, we have to continue to forge ahead and deconstruct systems that negatively impact life and freedom for all.

Now is the time to stand in solidarity, challenge our personal assumptions, and be a collective force for the betterment of our nation.

Today, I am empowered to use my religious voice coupled with actions to help my community, city, and nation.

Cassandra Vincent is Personal Development Coach and Speaker at Vincent Media and Consulting, and a  member of the 2018 ICJS Justice Leaders Fellowship.

Baltimore is part of a national conversation around questions of justice, race, and community. Members of the ICJS Justice Leaders Fellowship consider how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teachings and practice can contribute to the public conversation about (in)justice. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely the author’s. ICJS welcomes a diversity of opinions and perspectives. We do not seek a single definition of justice between or within traditions.