People gather during a candlelight vigil and prayer service for teachers April 8, 2018, at the Oklahoma State Capitol. (Michael Duncan)

As a pastor, I (along with our church, City Presbyterian) stand with teachers in Oklahoma. Yes, the Legislature passed some historic tax increases, but they are not enough. It has taken far too long to get to this point.

We have to invest in our children. We’re simply not doing it. It’s a travesty. I understand politics are difficult, and it’s tough to accomplish each and every competing agenda.

Just look at our state, though: poverty, incarceration, mental health care, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy and much more. One of the above-mentioned conditions may not affect you personally, but you live in a state that is the worst in all indicators. So, if we’re a connected community, then it actually does affect each and every one of us.

Commit to doing better

When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we do all we can to help them. We don’t pass over them to get to where we’re going. We stop and help, even if it feels dangerous and unsafe (most likely it’s not). This is what love looks like: loving orphans and widows, the poor and marginalized, those living on the edges and fringes, the outcasts, the broken and, especially, the children, who are often disregarded and thrown away.

Teachers are a huge part of loving all children well. If we love our children, we need to love and support our teachers, who sacrifice more than we will ever know.

The politics of that? The votes? The bills? The bonds? The re-structuring? The new superintendent? The taxes?

All of that matters. First, let’s agree that we’re at the bottom of the barrel right now, and we’re all committed at a cost to ourselves to do better.

A prayer

Here is a prayer I offer up:

Sovereign, Loving God,

We – church pastors, leaders and parishioners – raise our voices in an angry lament. We stand in every solidarity with teachers and students. Things are not right for our children in our state. We have not loved them well. We have not provided for them and their well-being. We have not enacted even the simplest and most basic legislation or budgets for them to succeed.

This is not a political prayer. We understand politics play a part, but this isn’t a prayer for or against Republicans, Democrats or Independents. It’s for people. We call the government to action. Our state is at the bottom of nearly every unhealthy indicator possible. We are not satisfied with where we are, and the condition of education is only one marker of how poorly we treat people, especially those who do not have as many advantages and privileges. We want change. We long for a better place where everyone can flourish. All people are created in the image of God. God hear our prayer.

We also repent ourselves, as the church. Each of us bear the mark of the broken. We’re all haunted by our inaction and lack of concern. We have not loved the least of these or our neighbors as ourselves. We have not shown compassion on the most vulnerable. We’ve left out justice, mercy and love. We’ve taken care of ourselves. We’ve moved out, voted in and walked away. Not all of us. Many of us. Deliver us, O Lord, for we are sorry.

We weep each day we walk in this valley. We’re wounded, and we’ve learned to wound others, and in the end we hurt even ourselves. We’ve made uneasy peace with half-beliefs, with disillusion, with cynicism. We’ve aligned ourselves with a self-protective lie that kills our best hopes and keeps our disappointments from eating us. Lord, please forgive us.

We weep because we don’t talk enough about what is true, good, beautiful, kind, loving, patient or best. Those things whisper to us, but we banish them as we withdraw and recede. We weep for what we lose in this bargain or our rebelliousness. Heal us!

We’ve curved our souls inward even as the evidences of death move outward more and more. Lord, we repent of our ways. Help us!

We weep for our daughters. And for our sons. We weep for their poor education quality. We cry out against the illiteracy rates, the incarceration numbers, the sexual abuse, the violence, the lack of mental health care, the divorce rates, the food deserts, the obesity, the poverty. We’re all connected on these. These are our children, our brothers and sisters, our aunts and uncles, our parents, our grandparents, our friends. We’re sabotaging ourselves. This is not what is good, right or holy. God, we raise our cries to you. Hear us!

So we weep. We cry out. We lament. We confess. As you taught us to do.

And yet.

Yet somewhere in our tears there is hope. Even in the darkness, we find that tiny flame, these embers of justice, mercy, hope, and love.

Jesus, you wept. Jesus, you felt the weight of a crushed creation when death came to bear on your friend Lazarus, and you grieved over it. You drank the anguish, and it moved you to tears. You were sad at the tomb, and you were sad in the garden, and you can sanctify our weeping. The grief of God is no small thing. The weeping of God is not without effect. Tears preceded your resurrection.

May our tears be a type of intercession. May we, your children, join together in the groaning of the sadness of a marred creation and long for a coming restoration. The curse has ranged far and wide, and we weep with and for that which also breaks your heart. You love your children, may we do the same, not only with words but with actions.

Receive our tears as a holy sorrow, O Lord. Let our tears anoint these broken things, systems, organizations, decisions, policies, laws and prejudices. May our grief be a consecration, a preparation for a promised redemption. Baptize our tears in what you love.

Your children are not well here. Guide us! Save us! Rescue us!