On thoughts & prayers

This blog is called thoughts, prayers & songs.  Here, I think through issues related to theology, justice, calling, and faith, or whatever comes to mind.  My thinking has been shaped by the reading of books and I have reviewed many books here (and on my Goodreads account), but I don’t think of this primarily as a ‘book review blog.’ It is a blog, and books are some of my conversation partners as I think through issues, and seek to grow in my Christian walk. I know stuff, but I don’t want to just be knowledgeable. I want to be wise and have a vibrant devotional life: to pray, read Scripture, and live out a compelling, missional faith. I want to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with God. So, in addition to book reviews, I have intermittent liturgical reflections, poems, scriptural musings and theological meanderings.  My blog tagline “My journey from self-absorption to doxology” captures the movement that I strive toward:

From thoughts, ⇒  to prayers, ⇒  to & songs.

And I hope people take the journey with me.

Nevertheless, I know thoughts & prayers have fallen on hard times (few people will rail against songs, though a rare unmusical soul may try). Thoughts & prayers are offered across social-media whenever a friend or loved one is facing trying circumstances. A lost job, an unwelcome diagnosis, the death of a family member. “You are in my thoughts & prayers.[insert heart emoji and cryface].When we hear these words from friends, we understand that they are saying that they care and that they are holding us in their heart while we are in a difficult place. But when a politician says it in the wake of yet another tragedy we feel more cynical:

“I’d like to begin by sending our thoughts and prayers to the people of Puerto Rico, who have been struck by storms of historic and catastrophic severity,” -Donald J. Trump (source, Business Insider, “Trump on Peurto Rico Crisis,” Sept. 29, 2017)

“My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Nepal” Hillary Clinton on Twitter, April 25, 2015)

Our cynicism about politicians offering thoughts & prayers is because we perceive they have the power to do something about the situation, but are not responding in a tangible way. If they offer up thoughts and prayers but fail to act to alleviate the suffering of others than we feel like they don’t care, they just say they do. This is especially true in the aftermath of gun violence. Democrats and media outlets have criticized a number of GOP politicians for offering thoughts and prayers in the wake of both last year’s Orlando shooting at Pulse night club, and last week’s shooting in Las Vegas. Here is a sampling of headlines:

GOP Congressmen Offer “Thoughts and Prayers.” Here’s How Much the NRA Gave Them to Offer Nothing More. (Slate, June 12, 2016)

Why ‘thoughts and prayers’ is starting to sound so profane (Washinton Post, Oct. 3, 2017)

Rubio and Florida GOP Offer Vegas “Thoughts and Prayers” While Taking Thousands of Dollars From NRA  (Miami  New Times, Oct. 3, 2017)

THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS AND NOT MUCH MORE: POLITICIANS REACT TO LAS VEGAS SHOOTING (Newsweek, Oct. 2, 2017)

Messenger: America, land of thoughts and prayers, mourns its dead, again (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct 2, 2017)

This growing angst against thoughts & prayers in the wake of recent gun violence is due to a lack of effort on the part of Congress to pass some sort of common sense gun control law. Certainly, they feel bad for the people in Vegas who were killed or injured when Stephen Paddock unleashed his arsenal on a Country Music festival. But the NRA has given a number of our congresspeople thousands of dollars and Christians in America are more likely to own a gun and be pro-gun than any other segment of the population. So, nothing happens. But thoughts & prayers.

Or worse, instead of thoughts & prayers, we allow our fear of the other to cloud our thoughts and prayers. Instead of thinking or praying, we beef up our arsenals and prepare for the worst. If a bad hombre threatens us or our family, we are prepared and can take him out before he does any damage.

A couple of years ago, I was pastoring a church in Florida. When Dylann Roof shot up Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, one of the elders asked me if I wanted him to start carrying his gun to church in case someone decided to shoot up our congregation (he had a conceal carry permit). I declined the offer, but I get this desire for self-protection. There are bad people in the world and nobody wants to be a victim.

Good people carrying guns in church sounds so sensible. Didn’t Jesus say, “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one”? But two swords were enough for the whole lot of twelve disciples and I can’t see Jesus giving his blessing automatic assault weapons with armor piercing rounds. Those who live by the sword perish by the sword.

I follow Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace, Mr. Turn-the-Other-Cheek. He overcame the violence of his age by submitting to death on a Roman cross. I think and I pray to be shaped in the image of Christ. I want to be like Jesus. And while I have had few real-world opportunities to practice the non-violence of Jesus, this is the way of the cross. Christ followers who think and pray about the state of the world will be moved to a certain sort of action. Their response to violence will be cruciform. Thinking and praying are formational activities.

Some liberals and media pundits get hung up on thoughts and prayers, but thoughts & prayers are not our problems. Failing to act is the problem, both in the wake of tragedy and proactively to avert a crisis. I feel the weight of my own critique here. I am a reader and a thinker and can be accused of living too much in my mind sometimes. Yet, thoughtless actions wreak havoc on the world and prayer-less lives have no Divine spark. Think, pray and act, so that your life may become a song.

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