Beloved Church-in-the-Garden Family & Friends,
It seems like we are back at the same place again as a country: Acts of domestic terrorism. First, the shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, fueled by bigotry, xenophobia and nationalistic ideologies intertwined with a political party, have bereaved communities of faith and left fundamentally good people of this nation aghast. However, there are many who look to the killer’s mental makeup as a mitigating factor to deflect attention away from the massive amount of guns this person had in his possession to inflict death. Second, the domestic terrorist attack on the patrons of the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks was the latest incident of a mass shooting in this country. Yet, still we move no closer to reasonable and well thought out gun control laws in this country.
Like the moving plea of the mother of a victim of the Thousand Oaks shooting who cried out, ‘I don’t want your prayers… I want gun control!’ I understand her sentiments of the uselessness of theologically shallow oratorical refrains of “prayers and thoughts” as a panacea for suffering souls. In not knowing what to say, many people believe “prayers and thoughts” are appropriate responses in the midst of tragedy. It becomes de rigueur politically, socially, and religiously to announce this catch-all phrase at the ever increasing number of shootings in this country. Their words are cheap. At the Church-in-the-Garden we believe in the power of “praying” with our hands and feet and that are thoughts are ideas of action to change the social condition. That is, as pastor I teach the realization of prayer, as it concerns the ministry of Jesus Christ and faith in God, to be an active, living, and dynamic enterprise in human beings. When we pray, we pray to the Lord in thanksgiving, praise, worship, petition, and action! When we ask the Lord to deliver us from evil, or to help us in a situation, we are active and challenged in our personhood to do just what we are asking the Lord to do for us. When we ask the Lord to comfort those who are grieving, we understand that comfort starts with us comforting those who grieve. It means we pray by calling our elected officials, voting, and partaking in social movements that bring about change in our communities. Our “prayers and thoughts” need to be active in the change we ask from God and for that which we seek. If not, they are hollow and useless words and a mother’s heartfelt plea falls on deaf ears.
It is clear to me that the “prayers and thoughts” rejoinder for gun violence victims misses the communal and individual call to action of prayers that rely on God’s people to be the hands and feet of God. I wonder if God looks at humanity as a parent does a child when the parent has given the child all the tools to deal with the situation they are facing. Nonetheless, the child still cries out for the parent to fix something that the child is equipped to fix themselves.
We have seen time and time again people making flimsy arguments and sophomoric rationalization to keep gun control the status quo. The “blame the culture” excuse, exampled by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, who thinks new gun laws are not a solution to violence. Bevin purports that it is a “culture of death” in the media and violent television shows that are morphing the minds of young, impressionable children that creates violence. Let me just say unequivocally, the “culture of death” is not a symptom of this generation or culture. It is the continuance of the historical witness of this country that clings ever so tightly to the use of violence as its ultimate means to an end and to enforce its will. For a nation that proclaims to love God and particularly Jesus Christ so much, we seem to pay little heed to the example of Christ and his instructions to us. I guess trotting out the tired “prayers and thoughts” soundbite is the real measure of our Christianity. Sisters and brothers we can and must do better!
We are all living in times that demand sustained engagement in an active prayer life that informs and challenges our society. In a new FBI annual report on hate crimes in America, the Bureau reported that hate crimes have increased for a third year in a row with 7,175 crimes reported in 2017, a 16.7 percent rise from the previous year. Alarmingly, crime based on religious identity rose by 23 percent in 2017, and anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and anti-Sikh hate crimes all surged in 2017. Alarmingly, these FBI findings are not the full picture of hate crimes because of the underreporting of hate crimes state to state and the laws defining hate crimes are not standardized. Five states do not have hate crime statutes (Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Wyoming).
In a nation that refuses to change its gun laws and has a problem with hate crimes and the laws that define them, we are forced to take seriously the call of Christ to actively pray by involving ourselves and our communities in the lives of one another and the betterment of society. A society where mass shootings are eradicated, the structural laws that make killing commonplace removed, sensible gun laws enacted, a nation where hatred does not have an immediate outlet to violence, and by God, a nation where “thoughts and prayers” are truly active in making a difference. The motivation of our prayers should be our participation in the changing of our society for the better. Our prayers are not just words but the action that spring forth from communicating with the divine!
On November 3rd the Church-in-the-Garden hosted a forum presented by the Health and Prevention Services of Five Towns Community Center entitled “HIV & the Church… Can we talk?” It featured relevant information, meaningful presentations, powerful testimony, and terrific singing and dancing, plus free HIV testing of which many people took advantage. Moreover, I believe we have made our church a safe space for those who feel like they do not have a place to worship, who feel shamed or embarrassed by churches that stigmatize disease, choices, and lifestyles, or who have never been invited to worship. We believe that all are accepted and welcomed into the House of God and specifically at the Church-in-the-Garden. We look forward to working with Health and Prevention Services Inc., and the many other churches and institutions who want to deal with HIV in our communities.
Thank you N. Rick-Anthony Richards, Director of Health and Prevention Services, for partnering with our church! Thank you to all those who presented, sang, danced, served, and attended. Last but not least, thank you to the Board of Ministry of Church-in-the-Garden for supporting this endeavor and making it a reality. Praise God for you all!
This Sunday, November 18, 2018 we will be hosting our annual Thanksgiving luncheon after service. We invite all members and guest to fellowship with us in thanksgiving to God in Doane Hall our fellowship hall.
Finally, as we head into the liturgical advent season I want to suggest that we stop and take a minute, reflect, and be thankful for all that we have. In California, so many have lost lives and homes due to fire. Understanding the blessings that God bestows upon us gives us entrée to be more compassionate and empathetic with others and to not take things for granted. I would encourage you to donate to charities and faith based institutions that are trying to help those who are in dire straits. In this season of thanksgiving be mindful to support organizations that are trying to uplift the human race.
Please join us for worship every Sunday at 10am at Church-in-the-Garden where the Garden is open to you!
Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.