It’s been almost a year to the day since I wrote about the Charleston shooting. Almost one year later, we stand in the ominous shadow of yet another massacre.
Ironically, in what will no doubt be another one of my long blog posts, there are no words for what has transpired over the past week alone: Brock Turner and his vile, rapist self, the murder of Christina Grimmie, the execution-style massacre of fifty people in a gay night club, the thwarting of the plans of another person seeking to do damage at the LA pride parade.
It is unnerving and unsettling, to say the least.
That said, I’m starting to see an incipient trend that bothers me. Among the responses to these tragedies, I often see an Anti-Christian, anti-religious agenda or narrative start to emerge. Many people have tweeted and “Facebooked” messages of support by saying things like “Pray for Orlando.” We’ve also seen “Pray for Paris” after the Paris attack. We’ve seen a lot of people advocating for prayer. I see nothing wrong with this. I think this is good. I think prayer is always a good idea. But I also have seen almost as many people being dismissive of prayer. People insinuating that prayer is futile or that prayer is not enough. People preferring action over prayer. People contemptuous of Christianity. People critical of religion.
We saw the same thing in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre, what with people misconstruing prayer as a way to explain away guilt and indemnify the killer. The idea that prayer excuses wrongs and dismisses the issue is a horrible misconception.
I have this to say: I pray precisely because I understand the issue. I also pray precisely because don’t understand. But that’s the point.
I’m a professional but I am, first and foremost, a Christian. That means I know better. I can’t act surprised like everyone else and ask myself why all of this is happening. I can’t really ask, “Why is humanity so dark and ugly?” because I already know the answer. And because I know the answer, and because the answer is more so a spiritual one than a physical one, I respond spiritually. I know that there is not just a physical world but there is a spiritual battle that demands the use of spiritual weapons (this is the part where I imagine some people will start rolling their eyes. You can roll your eyes until they drop outta your head for all I care, but imma say this anyway. And like I’ve written before, if you disagree with anything that I say, keep scrolling).
So when we say “pray for Orlando,” it’s not to wash our hands of the situation. Prayer doesn’t explain away societal ills and human tragedies. It’s not passivity. It’s activity. It’s action. This is how we as Christians fight. We fight with the labour of our hands and our feet yes (and some people just resort to fighting with their hands, labour aside, but I digress) but we also fight on our knees.
Prayer is not impotent. It is not something that delusional religious people do because they don’t know any better. Prayer is not relegated to what the ignorant and unlearned people of this world do in the place of real action and movement. It’s not some opiate used to placate and pacify the populace. Prayer does not indicate ambivalent acquiescence or reluctant resignation to the very real happenings of this world.
Prayer is potent and practical and pure. And it’s not the unpalatable solution that some make it out to be. It’s applicable. It’s appropriate. It’s effective. It’s real. It’s powerful. It’s necessary. It’s relevant.
And just because we are praying does not mean that we are not doing something tangible. God expects me to do what I can with what He has given me. He expects me to work, and work hard. He expects me to do my part. He expects me to act.
Prayer does not negate protest. Prayer does not vitiate action. It does not repudiate any effort. Prayer doesn’t mean that we ought not to fight for gun control or speak out against hate. Prayer and works are not mutually exclusive. After all, faith without works is dead. We need to work in order for our prayers to work.
What prayer is, however, is us asking God to bless our efforts. It’s our humble attempt to work hand in hand with God. Prayer says, “God I need you. This is too big for me. My brothers and sisters are hurting and You love them more than I ever could so I know you hurt too. I understand what’s going on but then again I don’t understand. I feel helpless but you have always been helpful. You have more power than I do. In fact, You have all power. Please get involved.” This is how I choose to fight. Let me fight however I want to fight. We’re in this together. We’re fighting the same enemy. Yes. Yes, we are. The enemy is Satan (I know many people just rolled their eyes at that too, but heck, I’ll say it again – the enemy is Lucifer himself). And insofar as people disagree and say that the enemy is religion and homophobia within religion, well, prayer helps address that too.
What do I mean? I think many people who exhibit hostility towards prayer conceive of prayer too narrowly. Prayer is not always or merely about seeking a specific answer. Prayer changes powers and principalities. Prayer often makes things better. Prayer sometimes allows things to get worse. Prayer is complicated. I still don’t know how prayer works. All I know is that it does.
Prayer shifts the atmosphere. Prayer rattles the ambiance. Prayer invites God to a tag-team in this wrestling match against unseen foes. Prayer invokes dunamis power. Prayer transforms so that the main result is one that was always initially intended – God’s will coming to pass. Prayer gives direction. Prayer opens eyes. Prayer enlightens. Prayer emboldens. Prayer changes other people and prayer often changes the person praying – sometimes even making them more sensitive, kind, sympathetic and — dare I say — less hateful.
In that respect, we can all get behind prayer.
Prayer ought to be a part of the solution, because it bolsters all other physical attempts. Some of us are attending vigils. Some of us are using our voices. Some of us are signing petitions. Some of us are blogging. Prayer still remains a piece of the puzzle. It gives power to all of the other many ways we ought to fight and act.
No matter how we may interpret our Bibles, or how we may feel about sexual orientation, one thing is clear – this shooting breaks the heart of God. This was never His plan. This was not His idea. He doesn’t condone what happened. This shooting – these shootings – rip at His heart. And, contrary to popular belief, He does not stand by idly, laughing at us sinners (yes, us — because we are all sinners, no matter the expression of our sexuality). I imagine Jesus asking God, in times like these, “Can I return to Earth now? Somebody better hold me back because I’m about ready to end the suffering. I can’t watch this no mo’” (Yes, in my mind, Jesus speaks Ebonics). And I can imagine God replying, “I know it’s hard but it’s not yet time.” Killing someone else — no matter the reason — is not lauded or supported by the God I serve.
Because I am a Christian, I hurt when you hurt because I am called to love you. You are my brother and sister. I pray for the people affected by the Pulse tragedy because what happened at Pulse nightclub is indicative of the current pulse of this world. I pray for our collective pulse. So when the LGBT community hurts, and the Muslim community hurts, when humanity hurts – especially because of senseless, God-condemned, sin-induced violence – it hurts us too. At least it ought to. And when it hurts, my natural inclination is to pray.
So — yes, there’s been a mass shooting. Yes, we ought to do something. But don’t tell me not to pray.
I am a living witness that God answers prayer, so I know prayer to be the answer. Prayer is always part of the answer. Please let me join you in the fight by praying.