The tragic, fatal shooting, in Florida, of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, by a community neighborhood-watch leader has recently captivated public attention in the United States. Fresh details emerge almost daily, and demonstrations and calls for justice mount. Many people are praying for a peaceful resolution.
Those prayers can embrace all concerned – Trayvon’s family and friends; the Sanford, Fla., community; as well as George Zimmerman, who fired the fatal shot. My prayer has been to see justice served fairly, without passion or prejudice, and that God’s love can be known and felt, and lead out of anger, hatred, fear, and grief.
Yet perhaps a greater need is to defeat the type of fear that precipitated this tragedy. In a recent editorial, the Monitor observed, “When people in a community fear each other, it is far better to build up community ties than to add more fear by increasing the police presence, forming more neighborhood-watch patrols, or loosening gun laws.”
The editors mention a number of practical ways to “build up community ties,” all of which are beneficial. Yet there is another type of neighborhood watch that will help – one which is based upon prayer. I’ve found that to do this it helps to start with a better understanding of what it means both to be a “neighbor” and to “watch.”
A neighbor isn’t simply someone who lives next door or in the same community. A neighbor may not even be one with whom we feel a kinship or who shares our views. Christ Jesus illustrated this point in his parable known as “the good Samaritan.” When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he answered with the story of a man, whom his audience would identify as a Jew. He’d been robbed, badly beaten, and left for dead by the side of the road. Two of his own people passed by without offering assistance. Yet a Samaritan – from a group the Jews regarded with antipathy – stopped and took care of him. Through this parable, Jesus showed that everyone is our neighbor. And being a good neighbor isn’t tied to status, race, or tribe, but is the natural result of obeying the commandment to love “thy neighbor as thyself.”
To watch is to be attentive and vigilant; to keep something under close observation. So we can ask ourselves, What am I watching? Some neighborhood watches are known to rely on fear, distrust, and suspicion to guard against crime. Those feelings may seem very real and well founded. Yet the Trayvon Martin case illustrates how fear-based acts can have terrible consequences.
A prayer-based neighborhood watch begins with God’s view of His children as pure, innocent, honest, and motivated by love. God doesn’t judge by dress, demeanor, or circumstance, but knows each of us as Godlike, made in His image and likeness. The founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, “True prayer is not asking God for love; it is learning to love, and to include all mankind in one affection” (“No and Yes,” p. 39). By watching our own thinking, and prayerfully acknowledging the true identity of each of us, not as a potential criminal, but as the child of God, we include all our neighbors in that “one affection.”
This type of prayer isn’t a head-in-the-sand approach that ignores or excuses wrongdoing or avoids calling law enforcement when needed. But it does not leave us unarmed, either. The Apostle Paul described it this way: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (II Corinthians 10:4, New International Version).
If I am tempted to be afraid in my own community, or anywhere else for that matter, I often set a watch on my thinking, asking myself how am I seeing my fellow man. Am I judging by appearance, race, age? Am I allowing myself to be influenced by news reports, stereotypes, or other sources of fear? Or am I recognizing every individual as my brother or sister – the loved child of God? Doing this often makes me smile. More often than not, the smile is returned, and fear dissolves.
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