Responding to Orlando with more than our lips

Thoughts for the weekly newsletter from The Church of the Holy Trinity, NYC, “News from 316,” June 16, 2016.

Many of us have been left confused, angry, and reeling this week, after the attacks on the mostly Latino Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community at a nightclub in Orlando. While we may be shocked, we should not be surprised.  These are not “random” attacks, as though they were somehow mysteriously a part of a rising wave of terrorism (a fiction used to make us afraid and passive). Instead, like many of the recent shootings in our country—if we are honest with ourselves—there are aspects of the Orlando massacre that were entirely predictable.

In 2012, there was nothing random about a disturbed young man who had been urged to use increasingly powerful weapons eventually turning those weapons on the mother who had bought him guns and taken him to the shooting range.  He went on to kill 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary.  Last year in Charleston, there was nothing random about a young white racist (known to have extreme views by friends and family) attending a prayer meeting at Emmanuel Church and then killing 9 African Americans.  And now, in a season of vitriolic political rhetoric, with candidates and elected leaders publicly trying to scapegoat people according category, is it really so surprising that an angry young man in Florida would go on a rampage against Latinos and gay people? He simply added bullets to the language, suggestions, and sentiments of others.

A cynic might protest, “Evil is evil, and there’s not much that can be done about it.” But that’s not true.  Evil, just like love, can be planted.  It can be fed, encouraged, and allowed to flourish.  Jokes, stereotypes, and unexamined prejudices all work to fertilize evil. Laws sometimes institutionalize evil.  A profit-focused gun industry that buys politicians and clothes itself in a mythological view of American history fuels evil.  Bad religion, stupid preaching, and biblical idolatry all play perfectly into the hand of evil, allowing the devil to turn religions born of love into philosophies of hate.

A popular phrase one finds on social media says, “Prayer alone is not enough.”  If by “prayer,” one means the kind of false piety that would pause for a moment of silence before continuing on with one’s own willful agenda—then I agree.  That sort of prayer is hollow—as meaningless on earth as it is in heaven.  But for a Christian, prayer is much more than that, as powerfully exemplified by U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, a Presbyterian elder from Connecticut.  The Senate’s obligatory “moment of silence” coupled with the worn out phrase of keeping people “in our thoughts and prayers” moved him to a filibuster to force conversation on gun laws and policies. Murphy turned his prayer into action, and in so doing, drew on a long biblical and spiritual tradition.

Mary and Martha of Bethany are often suggested as a unifying model for Christian prayer.  We need them both—Mary’s contemplative, centering, thoughtful approach to God; and Martha’s active, ambitious, impatient, and passionate approach to God.

In the face of evil and violence, we need more prayer, not less. Quiet prayer helps us be calm as we engage those who differ from us. Contemplative prayer helps us not feel threatened and become more open to God’s Spirit of change and renewal.  Active prayer helps us name evil, hypocrisy and fear-mongering—in ourselves and in others.  Active prayer votes, contributes, writes letters, volunteers, gives blood, and works for change.

The General Thanksgiving, said in the Daily Office, includes a prayer that embraces action and contemplation, protest and peace.  It asks, “Give us such an awareness of your mercies,[O God] that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days.” Book of Common Prayer, p. 125.   May God draw us through the many forms of prayer more deeply into the love of Christ, that we might show and share his love in the world.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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