Thursday, December 03, 2015

Thoughts and Prayers

My thoughts and prayers are with the people affected by the San Bernardino shooting.

They truly are, even though I have no earthly idea what that even means. How can my prayers be “with” a group of people?

A prayer goes from me to God, and from God to me. What? Does it kind of make a detour over to California and hang out for a minute before drifting off to its intended target?

And what exactly am I praying? What possible prayer could I offer that would make any kind of difference in the life of a person whose sister or brother or mom or dad or son or daughter was just randomly shot and killed while attending a party with their coworkers? What?

My thoughts and prayers are feeling less and less thoughtful and prayerful these days.

“Pray that they will be comforted.”

But no, I do not want to pray for comfort; in fact I actually want to pray that we be deeply uncomfortable, shaken to our core at the callous violence that defines our nation. I do not want anyone to be “comfortable” with this.

“Pray that there will be peace.”

But no, I do not want to pray for peace; I want to pray for a level of righteous indignation to energize a movement of grace and love that sweeps across the world. I want our anger to empower a radical, revolutionary, incarnate love that stands up and shouts out, “NO!” to every evil in the world.

“Pray for an end to violence.”

But no, I have done that far too many times, and it really isn’t working. It pulls me toward theodicy when I start down that road. And I’m sometimes scared about how easy it would be for me to embrace a full on theodicy at any given moment. Like, really comfortably easy.

My thoughts and prayers are with the people affected by the San Bernardino shooting.

And I really do mean that. Sincerely. But my thoughts and prayers have been with so many different communities from so many different places around the world so many times, it has become rote. Meaning has begun to atrophy.

All the world’s a stage. Signifying nothing. And so it goes.

I hope you’re not mad at me for being so honest. I’m a preacher, after all. I’m supposed to be a source of answers, not more questions. But I just can’t. I’m being truthful, authentic, and hoping for grace. So please don’t be mad.

A politician tweets out “thoughts and prayers” and then gets cruelly attacked for it. This is what we’re upset about these days. Tweets. We live in a nation that literally made it illegal to research gun violence, let alone do anything about it. And we are mad about politician’s tweets.

It happened so slowly, that’s the thing. It happened so slowly that most of us didn’t even notice it. In the last 100 years our society has become gradually less and less appalled by violence. Every war moved us further away, and made the next one a little bit easier. Now we just don’t care at all. Sandy Hook Elementary proved that once and for all.

Oh, there were a few who noticed it was happening. They tried to tell us. They were duly labelled and ostracized. Some were even killed for noticing. The prophets of the 20th century it seems had no more luck than the ones in the Bible.

Some say that things are no more violent today than ever, it’s just that we know about it today. Communication technology, they say, has spread knowledge into everyone’s smartphone, so we instantly hear about things that 20 years ago we wouldn’t have necessarily known.

I do not agree. I understand the premise of this reasoning, but I do not agree. We are fundamentally different today than we were 100 years ago. We’ve developed societal callouses and now we are simply numb. And you do not develop callouses suddenly, it happens over time.

My thoughts and prayers are with the people affected by the shooting in San Bernardino. Colorado Springs. Roseburg. Charleston. Fort Hood. Newtown. Aurora. Virginia Tech. Columbine.

Do you even remember Columbine?

The BBC now reports on mass shootings in the United States like CNN reports on car bombings in Iraq.

My thoughts and prayers …

No actually I do have a prayer for today. We sang it at church this past week. It’s a verse of a hymn.

“O come, Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind.
From dust thou brought us forth to life; deliver us from earthly strife.”

Do you recognize the words? It’s a verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

There’s a refrain to that song, a call to “rejoice.” Significantly it is the only time the song is in a major key. The verses are all minor, gloomy, sad, dark. And after that one major key “rejoice,” the song quickly returns to the minor, with a somber thought that Emmanuel isn’t here yet, but “shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Emmanuel isn’t here yet. No kidding. Because I’d really like for someone to “deliver us from earthly strife” right about now.

And as jumbled and rambling as they are, bordering on heresy and a product of great spiritual struggle, those are my thoughts and prayers.


Susan Schmalzbauer said...

We have the NRA museum in town. Time to do something.Tired.

Roy Robinson said...

Thank you for your thoughtful writing about a tragedy. Last night I heard your father close our choir practice with an emotional prayer on this very subject. For people that truly care about their fellow man, it causes a real struggle with what we, as a nation, have become. It also makes me feel so small because my voice will not be heard. Please keep writing!

Cynthia Astle said...

Excellent post. Picking up for UM Insight.