I used to have a lot of time to think when I had only one baby and no job. I used to pray a lot about the things that really worried or scared me the most. I still pray. I still think. But now I also act.
This morning, I read an op-ed from Dana Milbank of the Washington Post called "Republicans' thoughts and prayers have become cruel joke." He's talking about the roll call of empty tweets from lawmakers professing to care a lot about the victims of gun violence in the midst of their inaction. It's easy for me to also cast an accusing finger at members of Congress for their neglect and inaction. But instead, I'm going to extend an olive branch and say, "Hey...that was once me, too."
Look, I don't talk a lot about my faith on this particular blog. But today, I will. Because I think there are a lot of people - members of Congress and regular constituents alike - who need to hear this about the "Thoughts and Prayers" phrase that gets bandied about so casually.
I, too, was someone who looked to G-d to solve all kinds of problems that I thought were too big for me to handle. Famine. AIDS. Malaria. My awareness of children suffering in Haiti was keeping me up at night. I read newspapers and magazines about it. I learned and I thought. I prayed with my congregation and on my knees at night. But it took some special activists in my life to introduce me to advocacy and show me that it was G-d acting through humans that was making steady progress in ridding the world of such suffering. And things might go a heck of a lot faster if I would become one of those humans! One Lenten season, I decided that in addition to praying every day about children dying for 40 days, I would also take an action every day. It could be an email, a phone call, or submitting a letter to the editor, but I would speak out in some way every day for forty days. In that discipline, I began to see bits of progress that were so much more impactful than my years of empty prayers without adding the conviction of sacrificing some time, giving some energy, and maybe even risking some public reputation.
I'm no biblical scholar, but as an average, run-of-the-mill Christian, I favor the words of James who declared, "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone ways he has faith, but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, it it does not have works, is dead." (NIV James 2:14-17) And here, I'll share that my personal understanding of this interprets "faith" to be "sincere thoughts and prayers" and "works" to be "personal acts to bring about change."
He didn't say to stop having faith. He was saying we need to have both. I'm not willing to say prayers are useless. Actions make prayers more full and robust. They bring intention into being. I believe they bring us closer to G-d as we act together in concert to bring about a better world. I think when we pray to do G-d's will and then do something about it, G-d blesses our actions and is the wind in our sails. Thoughts and prayers combined with actions can be immensely powerful. They can bolster our own strength and conviction and help us choose the wise and morally right actions. I mean, we don't want anyone acting without thinking, right?
So, I'm urging everyone to pair their thoughts and prayers with actions. Act in positive ways that will push back against the indolence that allows not only children to be gunned down in classrooms, but also allows babies to die of malnutrition and AIDS and TB to take parents from their children forever. If a member of Congress reads this...man, do we need you NOW to align your public thoughts and your actions! As I write this, gunsense legislation needs a push to be brought to the Senate AND the White House is looking to work around Congress and cut poverty-focused foreign aid. But even if you are a reader who doesn't hold office, we need you, too. Join a group or call a senate office. Don't just go to worship and then shake your head helplessly. Pray about it and then do something.