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Thoughts and Prayers revisited (February 23, 2018)

In October, I wrote a column about thoughts and prayers, in which I suggested that if you’re going to say that you are praying, you really ought to be praying.

Today, I want to say something different. It has become increasingly obvious that “thoughts and prayers” are not nearly enough. It’s not enough to pray. I am grateful to those students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who are saying this with an inspiring passion and a holy anger. Thoughts and prayers won’t fix the problem. It’s time for action.

Miroslav Volf, founder and director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture, agrees. “There is something deeply hypocritical,” he says, “about praying for a problem you’re unwilling to resolve.”

These courageous, inspiring, angry young people are speaking with a gospel voice. They stand against a rampant evil in their country, an evil which has affected their lives for as long as they live.

This evil is not a passive thing. It has recruited thousands of co–conspirators who are busy trying to discredit these courageous young people. “They’re just kids. What do they know?” Or tweeting and re–tweeting false reports with cyber–bots. Or falsely identifying some of these young people as “tragedy actors”. Make no mistake. Evil is alive in our world, and there are thousands of people who are willing to work with that evil to secure their own power and prestige and influence.

Thankfully, these young people continue to speak out. As Emma Gonzalez repeated again and again the day after the horrific massacre, “We call BS” on anyone and anything which tries to say this wasn’t the fault of the gun lobby, “We call BS” on those politicians who feather their nest and seek re–election with the help of the NRA, “We call BS” on anyone who gets in the way of gun reform.

Thoughts and prayers are not enough. But there are some courageous words spoken in the wake of this tragedy which may inspire further action.

I was struck deeply by the opening prayer offered by Rabbi Joe Black at the Colorado State House in the aftermath of the tragedy. It is a powerful lament which speak with brutal honesty about our failure.

“Our God and God of all people; God of the rich and God of the poor; God of the teacher and God of the student; God of the families who wait in horror; God of the dispatcher who hears screams of terror from under bloodied desks; God of the first responder who bravely creeps through ravaged hallways; God of the doctor who treats the wounded; God of the rabbi, pastor, imam or priest who seeks words of comfort but comes up empty; God of the young boy who sees his classmates die in front of him; God of the weeping, raging, inconsolable mother who screams at the sight of her child’s lifeless body; God of the shattered communities torn apart by senseless violence; God of the legislators paralyzed by fear, partisanship, money and undue influence; God of the Right; God of the Left.

“God who hears our prayers. God who does not answer.

“On this tragic day when we confront the aftermath of the 18th School shooting in our nation on the 46th day of this year, I do not feel like praying.

“Our prayers have not stopped the bullets. Our prayers have changed nothing.

“Once again, a disturbed man with easy access to guns has squinted through the sights of a weapon, aimed, squeezed a trigger and taken out his depraved anger, pain and frustration on innocents: pure souls. Students and teachers. Brothers and sisters. Mothers and fathers- cut down in an instant by the power of hatred and technology.

“We are guilty, O God. We are guilty of inaction. We are guilty of complacency. We are guilty of allowing ourselves to be paralyzed by politics.

“The blood of our children cries out from the ground. The blood of police officers cut down in the line of duty flows through our streets.

“I do not appeal to You on this terrible morning to change us. We can only do that ourselves.

“Our enemies do not come only from far away places. The monsters we fear live among us.

“May those in this room who have the power to to make change find the courage to seek a pathway to sanity and hope.

“May we hold ourselves and our leaders accountable.

“Only then will our prayers be worthy of an answer. Amen.”

This is not just an issue for the USA. It is also our issue. A week ago, there was a shooting in Kerrisdale, one of the toniest neighbourhoods in Vancouver, near two elementary schools. There are shootings in the lower mainland, in Calgary and other major cities in Canada. Violence is all–pervasive, including right here in Cranbrook. No one is immune.

One of the tragic ironies in this story is that a week before the shooting, Parkland was named the 15th safest city in the USA, based on FBI crime statistics. It’s a small city, a little larger than Cranbrook. It has a median income which is 2½ times higher than the national average.

In the midst of the hell of Parkland, a gospel word was spoken by young people who are saying, “Enough is enough. No more! We call BS!” That gospel word is also being translated into gospel acts as these courageous young people organize a National School Walk Out on March 14, and the March for our Lives on March 24.

They’re right. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s time to act. As Edmund Burke said in the 18th century, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”

Rev. Yme Woensdregt