Thoughts and prayers…

A mass shooting happens in a grocery store. “Thoughts and prayers” is the response.

A mass shooting happens in a school. “Thoughts and prayers” is the response.

A mass shooting happens anywhere. “Thoughts and prayers” is the response.

What exactly are we praying? Seriously, what words are we praying in response? Or is the phrase just the expected response and we aren’t actually going to do thoughts and prayers – even those are apparently too much for us to actually do. We just say it like we do when someone asks how we are doing – “fine, and you?” We aren’t fine. And no, we really don’t want to know how you are doing. We just go through the expected social norms that are anything but normal.

Walter Brueggemann, who is one of my favorite theologians, wrote a book called “Peace” in 2001. In a chapter titled, “Our Story Tells Us What To Do,” he wrote the following:

“The tricky demand in all this is that the Bible never settles for a morality that deals simply with individuals. It always asks about social structures, about government and law and social policy, about institutions that can cause exoduses or prevent them. Today that is the part of morality that tears at the church. We are often eager to confine the claim of biblical morality to private questions of right and wrong. We have a long history of thinking that we can privatize morality and settle for personal virtues of purity and honesty. But the deep issues of biblical morality consistently concern the public, social dimensions of exodus. Pharaoh’s problem is not personal impurity, but a state system of institutional tyranny. The prophets condemn Israel for perverted courts (Micah 3:11) and inequitable real estate practices (Micah 2:1-4; 1 Kings 21). Jesus’ quarrel with the establishment of his time, which finally killed him, was that it had substituted private virtue for social concern, and such perverted morality prevents resurrection (Matthew 23:13-28).

“The catch, of course, is that private morality as it is usually defined fits nicely with our vested interests. By contrast, questions of institutional morality often collide with our investments. But it can’t be any other way. Resurrection and exodus are public events that call into question the structure and ordering of society. Thus, they address us at the places in our lives that demand most, and where we frequently resist most.” (Pg. 71)

And that right there is the issue at hand when it comes to mass shootings, assault weapons, a lack of trust in community and society, and more.

What exactly are we thinking and praying?

My prayer is that no only do mass shootings end, but that we become so uncomfortable that we will act. That enough people in society stand up and speak up and question their own vested interests and investments in the way things are that result in the continued death of children and people of color. That we seek justice for all.

And I pray that I have the courage to continue to speak up and do what is necessary to do my part in it all.

Thoughts and prayers should lead to action. Otherwise they are empty.

The Prophet Amos reminds us of this. According to the Lutheran Study Bible, “Amos clearly announces God’s concern for justice. Properly observing worship practices, festivals, and sacrifice has little meaning if the people did not treat others with justice and righteousness.” (Pg. 1477).

Here’s the passage of Scripture that is referred to:

“I hate, I despise your festivals,
   and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
   I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
   I will not look upon. 
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
   I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 
But let justice roll down like waters,
   and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24, NRSV)

I wonder if we rewrote this to fit our time and place it might sound something like this:

I hate, I despise your thoughts, and I take no delight in your solemn prayers. Even though you offer me your thoughts and prayers, I will not accept them; And the offerings of thoughts of your mind I will not look up. Take away from me the noise of your prayers. I will not listen to the words of your prayers. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24, Pr. Matthew New Revised Version)

Justice is related to righteousness. They have the same root to them – right relationship. As I have said before, righteousness can be described as a right relationship between an individual and God. Justice is more communal in nature. It’s more like a right relationship of people within a community. Those are simplistic definitions of these concepts, but they work.

What is our prayer of justice in the face of ongoing, relentless, mass shootings – whether they are motivated by white supremacy, or anger, or fear, or illness, or any other reason. What is our prayer for justice and what does it cause us to do in response?


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