It may surprise you to hear this coming from a committed Christian and one who actually sought clergyhood at one point, but do NOT send me your thoughts and prayers or ask me to devote the slightest thoughts and prayers to whatever latest atrocity you're trying to get political fodder out of.

It's the believer's slacktivism and most of the people who throw it out don't even believe. It's a nice shorthand for "that's terrible, outrage, rhubarb, rhubarb, custard crumble mumble", followed by complete apathy. Until the very next horrible thing happens in which you then spin up the old virtue signalling and say yet again how absolutely horrible things are, and your thoughts and prayers are with $CITY because of $TRAGEDY and the families of $LOCATION.

Jesus of Nazareth taught his followers to pray in secret. It was repulsive to him to see people rend their clothes and throw ashes into their own faces screaming their false piety to the heavens, while at the same time stepping over the corpse of a half-dead man beaten for the coins in his pocket to near-death.

And when they specifically asked him how to pray, he came back with a succinct prayer which covers the bases. It's called The Lord's Prayer and I'll node it at a future point. Suffice it to say it's about attuning yourself to God's will and asking for the basics so that we will be on the right path. In the Anglican Communion the various rites for Eucharist conclude with something to the effect of

"And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord."

In fact, if you pay attention to what Jesus did when he encountered need, want and suffering, he didn't pat someone on the shoulder reassuringly and say "I'll pray for you". He didn't stand and point out to the disciples and other assembled masses that this is CLEARLY because there's still buggery going on over in the smouldering remnants of Sodom and therefore this is what we deserve, and if only people remembered to NOT EAT SHRIMP and so forth this sort of thing wouldn't happen. No, what he did was grab a hold of someone leaking various disgusting, infectious fluids and made the infection disappear and rotting flesh became unscarred and clean. He saw a hungry crowd and fed it. He saw his best friend scared to death and told the winds and waves to fuck off for a while, walking on top of them to get to his buddies certain they were going to drown.

And when the very last of his first human life leaked away through hundreds of wounds, he told his mother to be a good mother to one of his disciples, and turned to the disciple and said "look after your own mother" nodding at her, even though she HAD other children. He was giving instructions on how to live.

For Jesus, prayer was a private spiritual discipline. I can no more "pray for you" than I can diet for you, work out for you, or keep your teeth from falling out by flossing my own. God is not a Genie, prayer is not spellcraft, and atheists who expected "okay, if you exist, give me a bicycle" to work haven't read the book in question.

But even though that was an important part of a personal spiritual life, and the lifeblood of a healthy spiritual community, faith without works is dead.

If you are genuinely moved to give a shit about someone else, get off your fat arse and do something for that person. "Do unto others" is not, as an agnostic suggested to me once, "don't be an asshole to other people", it's "go do FOR someone else what you would want in their shoes". If you were hungry you'd want food. If someone sent death squads against your people, you'd want asylum and shelter. If you're sick, you're probably going to want a doctor. The last thing you would want is someone standing there chanting something at you, saying "gosh, that makes ME feel so much better", and taking a photo with you to tell everyone else on Facebook how amazing they are.

The mission I was at found some people in the area who didn't get the memo. They went to a country with unsafe drinking water, a diet that consisted of black coffee, salt, and corn tortillas (leading to widespread malnutrition with congenital defects and physical and mental retardation), lack of resources, lack of medical care, lack of dental care, and with people living underneath two pieces of corrugated tin leaning against each other for shelter against a monsoon.... wearing "Jesus is Lord" T-shirts. Handing out tracts. Doing a "prayer walk". Taking selfies with photogenic native children for their Insta feed.

Because never mind that their tracts and T-shirts were in a language most people couldn't understand and every truck had a sunvisor that said "Jesuchristo es mi Salvador" or "Jehova es mi Pastor" or "Jesus es mi amigo fiel" - singing songs for an hour or two having a nice walk in the sun before going shopping is much easier than hodding 2000lb of sand up the side of a mountain.

But it isn't much good.

There's a joke about a woman in a flood, who prays to God to be delivered. A guy comes by in a canoe, and she refuses aid, saying God will provide. Later another man comes by in a powerboat urging her to get on, because the waters are rising fast and are getting too swift to safely navigate. Again, she refuses. God will provide. Another raft comes by and has one place left, hurry madam, get on. She instead continues singing. And drowns. Gets to Heaven, asks God "Why didn't you save me?" and he said "what on Earth are you talking about? I sent two boats and a motorboat!"

Another involves a man desperate for money saying "dear Lord, I owe everyone. I have no income anymore, and they're coming to take my house, my car. I can't feed my kids. Please, please let me win the lottery." After a few weeks of this finally God calls back down "Meet me half way for Goodness' sake, BUY A TICKET!"

The next time I hear someone say "my thoughts and prayers are with..." I will stop them and ask "what are you praying for? What specific aid or help, or change, or course of action are you actually praying for? And since you're doing that, why aren't you matching that with some tangible, physical action that will help move the needle and give God SOMETHING to work with?"

 

 

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