Many of my friends are posting comments like, “No more prayers” on social media in response to the most recent mass shooting in America. I understand their point, but I think it is misguided, and I chose the title of this blog post to illustrate this.
One person, whom I’ll refer to as a Radical Humanist attacked me on Twitter when I posted “Make straight the way of the Lord, in San Bernardino, in Colorado Springs, In all those places of darkness where God's lLove seems so far away”
I choose my words carefully. As an Episcopalian, I seek to coexist with people from all belief structures. I seek to find common ground and ways we can work together. Unfortunately, there are radicals in every belief structure that fight against coexistence. Some simply pick fights online, others pick up physical weapons. I’m glad that the radical humanist that attacked me chose to do so only with words, and I challenged him to show me where the compassion is in his words. He could not.
My tweet harkened to the season of Advent, which we Episcopalians are currently observing. It is a time of waiting and watching for the coming of the Kingdom of God, of waiting and watching for Christmas. It is a time of recognizing the darkness that is in the world.
To me, this does not mean not doing anything. In a sermon I preached in the summer of 2013, I said
Yet, another issue with prayer is that too often it is viewed as an excuse for doing nothing. Too often, we feel, when we've prayed about something important, that it's all we can or need to do.
Yet I don't believe that is at all what God has in mind for us. Prayer is linked with mission, with going out to proclaim the Gospel. One of the things I've learned from much time working with various well run volunteer and non-profit organizations, is that when a person says, “I think we should....” and goes on to talk about one task or another, the wise leader responds, “Thank you for the great idea. Does this mean that you are willing to head up a group to make this happen?” Suggesting is volunteering. Prayer should be too.
It is an old problem, either/or thinking. It is possible to do two things, like pray, and act on the prayer. I believe this is generally what God calls us to. I went into this in a comment I posted on Facebook:
I think it is a dangerous path to take saying "No More Prayers" or "God' Isn't Fixing This". It sets up a narrative for the gun culture about Godless liberals taking away their guns. It reflects either/or thinking which contributes to so many of our problems and blocks progress in many cases. Instead, Senator Murphy's approach has a nuance that is much more effective. It is a both/and approach. If you're going to pray, back up your prayers with action.
Saying No More Prayers is very much like saying No More Facebook. We all know the problems with Slacktivism, but telling people not to use Facebook until the issue of gun violence in America is fixed just doesn't seem wise.
My two cents, as a candidate who has gone door to door talking with voters about gun violence, and still posts messages of praying for victims.
Instead, we need to promote the narrative that ending gun violence is the Christian thing to do, as well as the humanist thing, and the Jewish thing, and the Muslim thing, and the thing of all religions. We need to stand with Bishops Against Gun Violence to http://www.claimitgc.org/> Claim Common Ground Against Gun Violence. We need to be part of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. We need to participate in The 2015 National Gun Violence Sabbath Weekend is December 10-14
We need to change the narrative about gun control and gun culture to one of proclaiming God’s love by working to stop gun violence.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Yes, I understand the fear that terrorists seek to instill in us. I feel some of the same fear. Yet I believe we are called to face our fears and show our compassion. Yes, I know that it is hard, yet I’ve hoped our elected officials would show the moral leadership that is so desperately needed right now.
I think of these things as I try to write about my disappointment that both Rep. Himes and Rep. Courtney from Connecticut voted in favor of the house bill that could limit Syrian refugees.
A CNN article about the vote notes:
FBI Director James Comey has expressed deep concerns about the bill, two U.S. officials tell CNN. Comey has told administration and congressional officials that the legislation would make it impossible to allow any refugees into the U.S., and could even affect the ability of travelers from about three dozen countries that are allowed easier travel to the U.S. under the visa waiver program, the officials say.
I pray for Rep. Himes and Rep. Courtney that they might find the courage and compassion that was so sorely missing in that vote.
It seems like everyone is talking about the attacks in Paris to push their own agendas, and instead of resisting the trend, I’ve decided to go with the flow.
Many people are changing the background of their pictures on Facebook to the French flag. At church today, the organist played “We shall overcome” in the background at one part of the service and played the La Marseillaise as the postlude. Others are expressing concern over the recurring drumbeats of war and pointing out that there were also attacks in Lebanon which aren’t getting the same attention. I’m thinking about changing my Facebook picture to the Lebanese flag.
This has brought about various reactions on Facebook:
“I really wish people would stop trying to delegitimize my feels by suggesting that I should be just as heartbroken about places I don't have a personal connection to or where I have friends living”
“Stop it with the #PrayForParis thing. Just stop. If you want to help people, donate to a charity. Donate time. Donate blood. Don't pray - if we've learned anything from this, it should be that the last thing the world needs is more religion.”
In response to one of these, a friend shared, The Empathic Civilisation which is a wonderful video worth commentary on its own.
My thoughts, as they often do at times like this, went to John Donne’s No Man Is An Island
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Some people may be only able to have empathy for one group of people, for the French, but not the Lebanese, for people who donate to charities, but not for people that pray. Others may have no empathy at all, or all they can do is change their Facebook avatar.
Yet another friend put it in another frame that I think is really useful.
Applying the French tricolor scheme to your drunk selfie isn't the most effective response to terrorism. But compared to launching a bloody, expensive, and counterproductive eight-year occupation of an irrelevant country, it's a master stroke of geopolitical strategy.
Meanwhile, other friends have shared the statement from the Bishop Pierre Whalon of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, In Paris, do we have to love our enemies? Bishop Whalon statement
My agenda? With apologies to those who have no empathy for those of us that pray, I pray that we might all take a moment to become a little more empathetic to those that are different from us, whether it is differences around nationalism, religion, or anything else that separates us.
What we need is not less religion, but less intolerance of those different from ourselves
All you sinners stand up, sing hallelujah (hallelujah!)
Show praise with your body
Stand up, sing hallelujah (hallelujah!)
The music from Panic! At The Disco blares in the Connecticut Convention Center. My wife, who is still recovering from sinus surgery couldn’t take our daughter to the concert, so I am here instead. My phone is almost dead as is my daughter’s, so I’ve turned them off and they are in my pocket.
We’ve agreed at where we should meet after the concert. As we stood in line, we started talking with a mother and daughter in front us. The other girl is tall and two years older than my daughter. They have both come without friends trusting in that special sisterhood of Panic! At The Disco fans. They are excited and eager to rush to the front of the giant mosh pit. They are also probably hoping to shed their parents, parents cool enough to take them to a Panic! At The Disco concert, but not cool enough to view this night as the most important night of their lives.
We agree that the two girls can rush forward and the two parents will stay towards the back, out of the crowd.
We learn that the girls have gotten separated in the rush. The mother feels responsible and frequently texts here daughter. I try to assure her that our daughters will be fine. We take turns trying to make our way through the crowd to find our daughter, to no avail.
There are three hours of warmup bands, and part way through some girls help another girl out of the crowd. She collapses at the table next to where we are sitting. Other parents are talking about low blood sugar or maybe dehydration. Medics arrive and help the girl out of the venue. I’m wondering if it is really Molly.
I am worried about my daughter. She has her own health problems and I’m not sure how well she can stand for four hours in a crowd. I make a few more trips to try and find her, but the crowd has grown larger and thicker.
I turn on my cellphone briefly in case someone has been trying to get in touch with me. The only messages I see are about the attacks in Paris, at a crowded music venue, not that much different than where I am at. It heightens my anxiety, but I don’t mention it to the mother of the girl who was going to be hanging out with my daughter. I worry that she has enough anxiety, with her frequent texting, and this might compound it.
Most of the warm up bands aren’t all that exciting, but finally Panic! At The Disco takes the stage. The atmosphere is electric. I feel sure that my daughter is enjoying herself now, and that the long wait standing in the large crowd will have been worth it. The lights are done incredibly well, and thousands of fans hold up cellphones to capture moments of this wonderful experience.
I wonder if the band knows about what has happened in Paris, and if they do, if they will say anything about it. The play one of their better known songs, “Let’s Kill Tonight”.
Let's kill tonight!
Show them all you're not the ordinary type …
May your feet serve you well
And the rest be sent to Hell
Where they always have belonged
Are there others struck by these words on this night?
On the ride home, my daughter is ecstatic. It has been a wonderful night. She is very sore and thirty. We stop and get her a large bottle of water, we talk a little bit about the concert and what happened in Paris.
It is now Saturday morning. My daughter is still asleep and I am reading the news. A friend is in Paris and has checked in as being safe. Mixed with all of this are more discussions about freedom of speech and political correctness. The idea of replacing ‘political correctness’ with ‘treating people with respect’ comes back to mind as I read Terry Cowgill’s Op-Ed At Wesleyan, A Shocking Disrespect For Free Speech
“Even by the hypersensitive standards of political correctness that dominate the academy…”
“Even by the hypersensitive standards of treating people with respect that dominate the academy…”
Terry seems upset that people used freedom of speech to express displeasure with criticize a newspaper. I comment,
Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as the people speaking say things you agree with. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as no one uses it to criticize a news organization or suggest the organizations funding be cut. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as no one uses that speech to point out that you say things that hurt other people or that you're racist. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as long as it doesn't injure your white fragility.
Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and I’m glad that people like Terry Cowgill and his supporters, as well as those criticizing hurtful, racist, Islamophobic speech shoot off their mouths, and not the music venue.
Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, when it asks people to pray for Paris and when it asks people to pray for Beirut whose bombings on Thursday have gotten much less attention in the western media.
Yet in all of this, the beginning of Panic! At The Disco’s song Hallelujah remains
A moment you'll never remember
And a night you'll never forget!
Today, I created an image of a Red Starbucks cup with “Concerned Student 1950” written on it because I believe these two hot topics are closely related to what is going on in the 2016 election and are all part of a much bigger context. I’m also including the Halloween issue at Yale in all of this.
I’m trying to avoid getting mired in the nitty gritty of all of these, although I have had a little run with the red cups, and I’m trying to look at this from a much larger picture and I could easily go off on a thousand different tangents about what is going on at Yale.
It seems that Colin McEnroe tried to do something similar in his column, Yalies Whining For Protection, Not Fighting Adversity.
He says the students are “overindulged”, attempting to place all of this in the context of the sons and daughters of entitled helicopter parents. On one level, what he is saying might have a little validity, but I do worry about painting all students with such a broad brush.
Instead, I see the overindulgence and the entitled helicopter parents as yet another manifestation of the same larger underlying dynamic, the transformation of the American Dream.
To recap: Most — perhaps not all — of the current uprising is the fallout from a campuswide conversation about Halloween costumes. Not Ferguson. Not Afghanistan. Not immigration. Not Planned Parenthood.
This is where I think he gets it wrong. It isn’t really about Halloween costumes. That is a gross oversimplification. It is about Ferguson. It is very much about Ferguson as I see my friends of color from colleges and universities around the country posting things like
To the students of color at Mizzou, we, Wesleyan alumni of color, stand with you in solidarity. To those who would threaten your sense of safety, we are watching. #ConcernedStudent1950 #InSolidarityWithMizzou#daretobeblackinamerica
And it is very much about immigration, and planned parenthood, and all the things that threaten the Christian White Male Hegemony.
Despite the myths of Horatio Alger and the melting pot, the American Dream, until recently has been the primary domain of white Christian men of European dissent. That is changing. America’s global dominance is slipping in this era of globalization. American Empire is heading the direction of the British Empire. We live in a country where a black man, or more accurately, a person of mixed race, has become president. We live in a country where there is a strong chance that the next president will be female. We live in a country where fewer and fewer people identify themselves as Christian; where Christians, Whites, and Men have become, or are becoming, minorities.
We can perhaps learn from the decline of the British Empire. We can perhaps even see parallels. It is little surprise that the shooter in Charleston wore insignias from Apartheid era South Africa and from Rhodesia. People resist their group losing power. They threaten, they exclude, they become violent.
Those gaining new power, may not be great at wielding it. They still carry the emotional scares of being oppressed. They seek to be treated with respect. It is sort of like when the kid who has been bullied in school finds some new allies and starts standing up to the bullies. This is illustrated nicely in the browser extension which replaces ‘politically correct’ with ‘treating people with respect’.
If you are part of the old power structure, you may complain about political correctness, or about having to start treating others with respect.
It is a difficult process. We will complain about not being able to fly confederate flags, about holiday greetings, and holiday coffee cups that don’t acknowledge the dominance, fading though it may be, of our religion. We may suffer white fragility as people of color point out how things we are saying or doing can be hurtful to others.
But all of this is part of the transition to a country, that hopefully comes a little bit closer to the myths of Horatio Alger and the melting pot. As a straight white cis Christian male of European descent who has compassion for those different from myself, all I can say is, it’s about time.