Thought and prayers

Two people comfort each other as they sit and mourn at one of 17 crosses, each representing a victim, after a candlelight vigil on Feb. 15, 2018 for the victims of the previous day's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(RNS) — The headlines, alerts and tweets appeared on my screen — again. Another school shooting. The 30th U.S. mass shooting this year alone. And it’s only February.

Not long after the first alerts came the offerings of thoughts and prayers. And for too many people the offering of “thoughts and prayers” means little. It’s checking a box as though the offerer is absolved from further action or duty.

At some point, we become like the man turning down the help of those who came to his aid as the flood waters rose. If we’re honest with ourselves, we passed this point long before a gunman walked into a Florida high school, even before a gunman walked into an elementary school in Connecticut.

“The Lord will save me,” the man said as the water rose above his knees, his chest, and then his head. After the man died, he asked God: “Where were you? Why didn’t you save me?”

God replied, “I sent you a bus, a boat and a helicopter.”

Prayer is important. But as people of faith, we are called to be in an active relationship with each other and with God.

Students grieve outside Pines Trail Center, where counselors are present, on Feb. 15, 2018, after mass shooting the previous day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

Around the world, Christians are entering into the season of Lent — a 40-day period in which we struggle with our doubts and our humanity. It’s an intentional time of acknowledging that we’re not perfect and confronting our failures.

As a part of marking the season of repentance, some fast or give up a particular food. Others refrain from social media or cursing. Still others opt to participate in a new Bible study or take up a new spiritual discipline.

It’s a time of prayer, but it’s also a time of action.

We are a people of active faith. Jesus did not simply call us to believe but to go into the world.

In fact, Scripture explicitly reminds us that faith without works isn’t much. “Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.” (James 2:14-17)

More than 90 people are killed by gun violence every day in this country. We must act.

People in America are 25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries. We must act.

Certainly, acting includes legislative changes, but it also means teaching our children how to relate to one another. It requires a fundamental cultural shift in how we understand community, our humanity, and how rigid gender norms endanger our children.

It requires actively living out our call to love our neighbor and care for the least among us.

The challenge before us this Lenten season, therefore, is not whether we can avoid chocolate or uttering a four-letter word.

Rather, it’s whether we can finally say that not one more person will be lost to gun violence and mean it. Can we look at ourselves in the mirror and truly not feel a sense of complicity in the mounting death toll? What are we going to do after we say “Amen”?

Thoughts and prayers are not enough and will never be enough.

(Shannon Craig Straw is a senior director at West End Strategy Team, where she works with foundations, faith-based nonprofits and advocacy organizations. She lives in the Chicago area with her family and attends Urban Village Church. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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Shannon Craig Straw


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  • Thoughts and prayers?
    Send tots and pears. They are far more useful. Prayer is not an act of faith, it is an act of doubt. God’s gonna change his mind about 17 young lives snuffed out? Before or after? God’s plan? Well really isn’t so great. and prayer after the fact of yet another mass shooting is as useless as prayer before.
    How about no thoughts and prayers, but evangelical pressure on their loverboy and the do-nothing republican congress.

  • One has only to look at the amount of money the NRA donates to Republicans to know that there will be thoughts and prayers and no action.

  • Where’s investigative journalism when massacre’s survivors need it the most?

    Irregardless, start here:

    (1) “Nikolas Cruz was trained taking JROTC marksmanship course” – Daily Mail – 4 hours ago

    (2) “FBI was tipped off 5 months ago on Florida school shooting suspect” – American Military News – 8 hours ago

  • I remember commenting at the last massacres, the Texas church and Las Vegas…wondering if all the thoughts and prayers would stop the next massacre? We have our answer…”thoughts and prayers” didn’t come through for us and probably made things worse!

  • I have to ask an honest sincere question to believers…please do not perceive this as an attack but an attempt to understand your diversity of thought.

    What precisely…not generalities….do you believe prayer accomplishes? Please describe the process and actual mechanism of this outcome.

    Simply put: If person X prays — what is the most likely expected outcome.

  • I think the idea of thoughts and prayers has become akin to a mantra or spell we speak. Almost like saying Bless you after a sneeze.

    I think people say it because it gives them a false sense of control ..as if speaking words can affect reality absent action.

    I’m not a Christian but am familiar with the Jesus stories.

    I’m not convinced that the claims of the Gospels are how things really happened. However…even if viewed as an allegory or legend…..one thing that is striking is that Jesus talked more about taking action than praying…assigning more priority to “go and do X” rather than…”pray pray pray a lot”

  • Pick me! Pick me! Even though I am not a believer.

    Answer: exactly what would have happened if there were no thoughts and prayers. Either way, God has the last word.

  • Free Will and Future are inherent to all the thinking beings in the Universe. This being the case, it is not possible to alter life with prayers. Statistically, your request might come true but it is simply the result of the variability/randomness of Nature..

    So put down your rosaries and prayer beads and stop worshiping/revering cows or bowing to Mecca five times a day. Instead work hard at your job, take care of aging parents, volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to charities and the poor, report to authorities those who threaten others especially with guns and continue to follow the proper rules good rules of living as gracious and good human beings.

  • It was refreshing to see Randall Margraves reaction a few weeks ago. One guy who didn’t wait for ‘thoughts and prayers’.

  • A Christian write put forward these axioms of his faith. May be of interest.

    Prayer is AT LEAST a form of meditation that encourages the development of healthy brain tissue, lowers stress, and can connect us to God. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of prayer, the health and psychological benefits of prayer justify the discipline.

  • I can agree that any kind of mindful activity that the person believes is therapeutic could indeed have noted effects. Meditation/prayer could have that kind of effect.

    Since we have no evidence that any claimed god exists, I’d have to lay aside the claim that prayer connects to god.

    But..if it did — what precisely would a prayer accomplish in this situation beyond making the praying person feel good or that he believes he is connected to god?

    What I was asking is..what does it accomplish specifically following a mass shooting?

    If the praying did something observable like bring the dead back to life or instantly cure the wounded..then that would be a clear outcome we could then analyze (Was it a Christian prayer? Who prayed the successful prayer? Was it one person or did a critical mass achieve the outcome? Was it a Muslim? Or..did it happen when a Christian, Jew and Muslim prayed together?)

  • The least comments are based on scientific research (I agree the connects to God part isn’t verifiable) around the practice of prayer.

    So would it mystically make someone come back, hasn’t been scientifically proven so we can move on from that.

    There are though scientific benefits, so I would ask the question of those who offer their thoughts and prayers if they are really doing either? If they were, I think you would see more clarity in their discussion and policy making.

  • So it seems like the only precise effect praying after a tragedy is that it makes the person praying feel better. I’m not denigrating that…if it helps them cope…fine.

    I just get sicking of people mouthing “thoughts and prayers” like it was a magic spell and then doing NOTHING to address the problem.

  • Never “thoughts and prayers”. Just spooks I mean spooky!

    (1) Second student witness says up to three shooters in Parkland Florida school mass shooting – steemit – February 16, 2018

    (2) Multiple shooters participated in Florida school shooting according to eyewitness Alexa Miednik – steemit – February 15, 2018

    (3) Deputies called to shooter’s family home 39 times – CNN – February 15, 2018

    (4) Local law enforcement: No ties between militia and Florida high school shooter – Tallahassee Democrat – February 15, 2018

    (5) School shooting drills prove beneficial in Parkland gun tragedy – MSNBC – February 14, 2018

  • Nowhere, but why? Because US government to guns are like lungs to oxygen, according to Josh Harkinson, “Fully Loaded: Inside
    the Shadowy World of America’s 10 Biggest Gunmakers: Meet the moguls making a
    killing from gun sales in the United States”, Mother Jones, June 14, 2016.

    Best investigate the real killers behind the real killers, instead. Which nobody wants to do.

  • “…we have no evidence that any claimed god exists”…

    …Except that we actually DO have evidence that God exists, just like Rom. 1:20 says. When carefully confronted with such evidence, atheists immediately withdraw from the specifics (and even the published definitions) at hand.

  • How many RNS articles like this now; I’ve stopped counting. It’s as though assassinations & massacres – but yet sugarcoat them with religious overtones – have become a permanent column at Religion News Service. How about investigate further, RNS? At least some writers and directors in Hollywood have put an intelligent spin to this American phenomenon, so as to pin something down? But around here, it’s always, Thoughts & prayers. Thoughts & prayers. Oh and another discourse on gun control. Then every reader takes a bath tonight, have their dinner and go to sleep. All forgotten.

    … Until the next assassination and massacre – Made in USA – make news yet again.

    And again.

    And again.

    Ben in Oakland, my friend, stay safe wherever you are, and your loved ones.

    Oh how my heart breaks and breaks by these deaths of REAL human beings worth absolutely nothing to these “real killers behind the real killers”!

    Stay safe!

  • Thanks for the kind words. I’ll do my best. ?

    I thoroughly agree with you. We have a three fold problem. People who see their guns as essential, so much so that any attempt to regulate a lethal weapon is itself seen as an attack, a threat, and a declaration of war. And we have a weapons industry that gleefully supplies them and everyone else all the guns they would wish, and encourages them in their mode of thinking. Both of them fund an excuse and deflection propaganda machine.

    And then we have a lot of dead people who were going about their business when someone who can get a weapon of mass murder more easily than he can get a drink or drive a car decided that murdering people was a good idea.

  • Or rather let’s focus “thoughts and prayers” on these:

    (1) “Here Is the List of Attackers the FBI Was Warned About But Still Failed to Stop” – The Western Journal – February 17, 2018

    (2) “Parkland student: ‘Secret Service was present, changed school security policy, several weeks before shooting'” – Intellihub – February 15, 2018

    (3) “There was obviously, definitely, another shooter involved: Stoneman Douglas High School student” – Intellihub – February 15, 2018

  • “When carefully confronted with such evidence, atheists immediately withdraw from the specifics (and even the published definitions) at hand.”

    You are making a hasty generalization. List for me the evidence you think is convincing. I am always open to credible evidence that goes beyond “A book says it..”

  • Why & what’s the real reason?

    (1) “Police say more deputies waited outside school during Stoneman Douglas shooting” – Sun Sentinel – February 23, 2018

    (2) “Armed sheriff’s deputy stayed outside Florida school while mass killing took place” – Washington Post – February 23, 2018

  • Isn’t my Christian community going to investigate along these lines?

    (1) “Commanding officer initially ordered responding deputies to ‘stage’ not enter Stoneman Douglas, sources say” – Fox News, March 1, 2018

    (2) “Broward County Sheriffs deputies were ordered not to enter Florida school unless body cameras were on: Sheriff’s Department told Broward deputies not to enter the Florida school during massacre” – The Duran, February 27, 2018

    (3) “Questions Emerge Over Florida Shooter’s ‘Full Metal Garb'” – Zerohedge – February 26, 2018

    (4) “”Never Seen Such A Large Crowd’: Record Numbers Flock To Florida Gun Show After Shooting” – Zerohedge – February 26, 2018

    (5) “Parkland Shooting: Top 10 Reasons for Deeper Interrogation” – Global Research – February 25, 2018

    (6) “Teacher grazed by Parkland shooter’s bullet: ‘Shooter was in full metal garb, helmet, face mask, bulletproof armor, shooting a rifle I never seen before’ – Intellihub – February 24, 2018

    (7) “District proposes tearing down Stoneman Douglas High building where attack took place” – Sun Sentinel – February 16, 2018

    (8) “‘This building must come down’: Lawmakers agree on $25-$30 million to demolish school: Florida legislators said Thursday they will provide the resources to help the Broward School District tear down Building 12, the site of the massacre that killed 17 students and teachers” – Tampa Bay Times – February 16, 2018

    (9) “The building where the Florida school shooting took place will be torn down” – Business Insider – February 16, 2018

  • Thanks for the advice, but I’m already on a long-term laity sabbatical, actually.

    Just never ever going to lose faith in God & Jesus, however, till the day I die.