All of this this violence is overwhelming.
I stood in front of our community on Sunday morning, and had no words, no rage, no comfort, no inspiring call to action. My prayers are much the same, mostly silent, broken-hearted and weary from the pain.
Sure, we give our “thoughts and prayers,” but it’s perfectly clear that maybe they should include, at least a little, action. I’m pretty exhausted at hearing the ‘thoughts and prayers’ chorus, to tell you the truth. It seems exactly like when we pass each other at work and ask, “How are you,” and the reply is always, “fine,” when we don’t really care and they’re not really fine. They’re just words, polite and socially acceptable. Our ‘thoughts and prayers’ are letters and symbols we write on social media, because we live on social media and just have to comment, displaying our carefully crafted avatars.
I am a man who follows Jesus, so I believe whole-heartedly in the power of prayer to bring tremendous change. Also, I am a man who follows Jesus, so I believe whole-heartedly in the power of bringing a thirsty person a drink, in addition to praying they would not be so thirsty.
We had a flood, and were the recipients of so many thoughts and prayers and they were invaluable. We felt like we were not alone, held in so many loving arms, hopeful – and that was the most important thing to us, in that darkness: hope that the darkness would not be forever.
At the same time, a family was washing dirt from thousands of cds, wiping them clean, and putting them in sleeves for binders they bought. Others washed our filthy clothes, in hopes something would be salvageable. A co-worker’s thoughts and prayers led him to buy 2 giant bags of coats, shoes and toys for our 2 young boys who had lost everything. 20 people showed up on our lawn at lunchtime on a weekday to tear out carpet and throw useless furniture and the remains of our home into the front yard for the dump trucks to take. A family took us in and gave us their hearts and groceries, a place to sleep, a place at their table, and a place to heal. An entire town gathered for what was called a ‘swap’ to give appliances, books, shirts and pants to rebuild lives. (And now I’m reduced to a weeping mess, as I knew I would be, as I remember these and countless others who brought us a drink.)
So, the obvious answer to the question of ‘what’s more important, prayers or actions?’ is Yes.
And this leads to the other problem. In a culture that traffics in generalizations and sound bites, ambiguity is the great enemy. It’s tempting (and at least somewhat accurate) to say our guns are the evil devils that are the problem – policy must change. But to say it is the only problem, and a change in policy is THE solution, is disingenuous and clearly agenda-driven. This pandemic is a chimaera derived from so many different animals. Broken families, the hole where men/dads should be, de-sensitizing violent video games, lack of relationships, the human propensity for war/revenge, our collective idolization of the myth of redemptive violence, loneliness, talk radio, the fallacy of us & them – must I continue? It’s not one thing, it’s so, so many things.
There’s that moment in the tv show Hoarders, as they relay the history of the homeowner, where it got too big for them. There was no longer a place to start. The problem was so enormous, with every corner of the house being a new, insurmountable peak. A different life became impossible.
But it isn’t impossible. The show usually ends on a high note, with a place to sleep, eat, sit down. The show is, ultimately, hopeful.
As you can probably guess, I have lots of solutions, good ones, that would certainly work – they involve new laws, dinner tables, hand-holding, board games, actual conversation (with listening and everything), and many, many more. Really, though, all of my solutions circle back to Jesus, the Gospel, and the radical idea that we are loved, right here and now, as we are. Instead of living lives of lack, based entirely on the fear that we are not (strong, smart, right) enough, we could rest in the beauty of love and grace, knowing ourselves as the artwork we are, made in the image of the Artist.
But maybe you don’t want to do everything I say… right away. (You can call me if you do)
The point is, as much as it feels like there isn’t a way, like it’s impossible, the truth is that it isn’t. Ours is a hopeful story, where there is always another way, a way we can change this ugliness, this hate, this fear, this violence. We just have to start somewhere.

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