The Lie of Thoughts and Prayers

I am one of those who suffer from the condition recently identified as mental illness, which means that I believe someone other than my mother has always heard my prayers. I will refrain from naming the recipient of my meager offerings of blessings, praises and requests in order to protect the one who has already been identified as being innocent of all sin. But for the sake of full disclosure I must also confess that I am not a gun owner. Not that possession of a lethal weapon other than prayer is the point of what I have to say. It is just that these two aspects of my mortal existence can be viewed as colluding in order to form a bias embedded into this week’s message. For what I want to write about is the lie embedded in the use of a specific platitude, when commenting on a tragedy such as the shooting of other innocents at a school, a concert or any other public gathering. Whether the comment is made when standing before the news cameras or fingered when taking refuge in a text message, the offending statement is expressed in the words about our thoughts and prayers being with the victim(s).

I can be sympathetic to those who feel that they must respond in the moment if only to prove that they are not callous to or unaware of the tragedy. But the T&P response now falters under the weight of repeated use given the absence of any action to even mitigate the onslaught of terror in our neighborhoods. As we all know, talk is cheap and clichés oft times represent the bargain basement version of our verbal wares. A sad countenance, the perquisite sagging of the shoulders as a sign of humility and the dilatory wringing of the hands have become an unintended array of mocking gestures, especially when aped by people who are in a position of authority – and therefore responsibility – when it comes to protecting the society they supposedly represent.

Given the nature of my faith I am especially sensitive to criticism of Christian politicians. But I also share in a non-believer’s skepticism towards those of us, who proclaim a charitable faith on the one hand yet seemingly bow at the NRA altar on the other. I would prefer that they acknowledge the true benefactor of their loyalty rather than mouth the T&P balm for inaction, for idleness in the midst of need is the antithesis of the Christian mission.

I base my perspective on a simple but compelling principal written at a time when we, as a prayerful community of believers, were once the intended target of madmen and stood in the direct line of their fire. Then the bullets came in the form of lions, gladiators and wooden crosses and our people made every sacrifice to end the violence, benefitting every sector of their society and creating a legacy of care and compassion, which should be at the symbolic heart of our spiritual family crest.

This principal I espouse is housed in the words Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well: keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

James, the brother of Jesus, asked this question in a letter written to those who endeavored to establish a new way of living in keeping with the teachings of the one who chose to represent himself as a good shepherd and not a religious, military or political didact. If James were writing such a letter today he could easily substitute the phrase about our thoughts and prayers being with you for the equally obtuse I wish you well. Of course this is the same fellow who has made generations of callow Christians sweat by stating that our faith, without action, is dead.

This sentiment makes it seem like we have too many dead walking the halls of Congress. But I would be remiss if I failed to include the dead zone we call the newsroom. As long as the mainstream media, hiding behind its own platitude of the public’s right to know, continues to lionize the shooters as if they were sports heroes or rock stars, then the devious dreams of those who seek a separate kind of immortality will be played out for us in a never ending enticement for a repeat performance.

I started this year by making a commitment to accentuate the positive in these weekly writing exercises known as blogging. But there is just some news of which you cannot make light. Darkness prevails. And in this case it is a darkness of human spirit preventing the will from doing good. We should, as a caring people, be able to at least curb accessibility and the proliferation of firepower without doing any harm to anyone’s right to own a gun. And we should be able to show discretion in our reporting so that terror loses its appeal, while keeping people informed with regards to their own safety.

The lie of the T&P bromide is that we do indeed care, for caring is only displayed when seeing a brother or sister or school child in need and then doing something constructive to address that need. Otherwise, as the man said, what good is it?

So allow me to end on a somewhat positive note by quoting the words of one of James’ contemporaries; another disciple of the one, who modeled the power of caring for us through the ultimate display of personal sacrifice. This dreamer, by the name of John, wrote to his community of new borns in the Christian faith, Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and truth.

Please defy the mental illness label imposed on us and pray for the leaders of our nation that they will live this admonition to act instead of talk regardless of their own mental, emotional or spiritual intelligence. As James also wrote, The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

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