The Crying Okra

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When I moved to Cleveland, Mississippi, a few years ago, I looked forward to:

1. Eating fried okra.

2. Wearing my "Fear the Okra" T-shirt.

3. Wearing my "Fear the Okra" T-shirt while eating fried okra.

Delta State University's unofficial mascot, with his boxing gloves and "fierce" expression, is a delightful conversation piece. The Food Network has mentioned the fighting okra on one or two of their shows. The okra made some "top lists" of "coolest/most creative/awesome-est mascot." I don't remember the names of the publications or websites, but I do remember a lot of good attention paid to this mascot--and its university.

On Monday, September 14, 2015, Delta State University received a different kind of attention that no campus desires. An alert sounded on computers and phones across campus: Active Shooter. Lockdown ensued, and word spread. 

It was a dark day for Delta State University and the entire Cleveland community. The hours between gunshots vibrated with fearful questions.

What's going on?

Are you okay?

Where is the shooter?

How long will this last?

Why?

As social media swirled with updates and prayerful pleas, cartoonist Marshall Ramsey posted a powerful lament on Facebook.

Marshall Ramsey (https://www.facebook.com/marshall.ramsey)

Marshall Ramsey (https://www.facebook.com/marshall.ramsey)

The fighting okra.

The fearful okra.

The crying okra.

I took comfort in the downcast eyes of my green friend that Monday afternoon. In the helplessness of helicopters swirling overhead, I realized that no matter how strong we are or how hard we fight, such unthinkable circumstances turn all of our boxing gloves into tissues.

.. the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don't know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans (Romans 8:26).

By the wee hours of the following morning, professors Ethan Schmidt and Shannon Lamb had died. Lamb had murdered Schmidt in his office on campus. He later took his own life after a day-long search by law enforcement. Authorities also learned that Lamb had shot and killed Amy Prentiss, the woman with whom he lived. 

Four days have passed, and so many questions linger. To move forward, we know that we have to face the future with courage. Hashtags across the community remind us to be #DSUStrong, #StatesmanStrong, and #OkraStrong.

But it's also okay to weep with the okra.

We are frail

We are fearfully and wonderfully made ...

With these our hells and our heavens

So few inches apart

We must be awfully small

And not as strong as we think we are.

The late singer-songwriter Rich Mullins wrote these raw lyrics many years ago after the loss of a relationship. While the circumstances that led to the song were different from what Cleveland and Delta State University faced this week, the words speak to one truth:

We need God.

Yes, we are strong. Yes, we can become a stronger community in the midst of tragedy. Yes, we are stronger together.

But our strength is weak without Jesus Christ.

We still need that Spirit who intercedes for us. Needing the presence of the Holy Spirit means admitting that we are not as strong as we think we are. Admitting we are not as strong as we want to be means laying down our boxing gloves and burying our tear-stained faces on the shoulder of Jesus Christ. 

I heard Bill LaForge, the president of Delta State, say this week, "The crisis is over. Now the healing must begin." Whether the crisis you face today is the shooting at Delta State or something far different, may your healing begin. May we grow stronger through our questions and our tears. May God transform our fear of the unknown into the knowing that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made."

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian

"We Are Not As Strong as We Think We Are" by Rich Mullins