Two more school shootings today, on the day that John Lennon would have
celebrated his 75th birthday, if he hadn't been shot to death. Imagine
On Having Opinions
"Wow, you have lots of opinions," a friend once said to me. I'm not sure if this was a simple statement of fact or a tactful critique or a mild compliment. I do indeed have lots of opinions, though I try--for the sake of integrity--to only opine on matters which I have endeavored to research thoroughly in order to arrive at (what I believe to be) a cogent position. The thing is, I consider it a responsibility to have, and express, informed opinions. We're all in this thing called life together and each of us only sees small pieces, obscured by our own ignorance and presuppositions and assumptions and projections and cultural conditioning.
One of the things that being a Quaker has taught me is the value of group discernment; that by giving space for everyone's voice and listening to one another respectfully we can come to a far greater understanding than we ever could have on our own. So, for me, giving my opinion, my little piece, (for example, on my blog or on social media or in a discussion) is an offering to the collective whole.
We live in a time and place of great privilege, where we can express what's on our minds without being silenced or persecuted by the powers that be. So to carefully cultivate and respectfully express one's opinion is, it seems to me, a bit of a sacred obligation. And to tug and pull and wrestle and (as the Quakers would say) labor together to arrive at points of agreement and discover ways forward is a beautiful human endeavor.
At least, that's my opinion.
There is a fable about a man who is stranded on the roof of his house after a massive flood. He prays to God to rescue him. Before long a neighbor comes by in a canoe and yells "Jump off and swim over to me!" The man on the roof yells back "No, God is going to rescue me!" The neighbor paddles off. A while later a helicopter appears overhead, a rope ladder is lowered and a voice through a megaphone shouts "Grab hold and climb up!" But the man on the roof shouts back "No, God is going to rescue me!" The helicopter flies off.
After a little while, the mostly submerged house begins to creak and sway and then collapses into the water. Entangled in the sinking rubble, the man drowns. The next thing he knows he is standing before God. The man is angry, however, and complains to God, "I had faith in you! I prayed and waited for you to rescue me and you didn't!" God replies, "I sent you a canoe and a helicopter but you refused to do your part."
I'm reminded of this silly story every time a mass shooting occurs in the U.S. and social media subsequently fills up with heartfelt calls to pray for the victims and their families and the devastated communities. But like the man on the roof, until we actually do something practical about our situation--in this case the epidemic of gun violence in our nation--our prayers are of little value. Maybe we're just placating ourselves--giving ourselves an illusory sense that we have done something.
I recently read a statement by Pope Francis about dealing with the problem of world hunger. He said, "You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That's how prayer works." Likewise, by all means pray for the victims and families and communities of gun violence if it makes you feel better. Then do something to stop it from happening again. That's how it works.
My hut lies in the middle of a dense forest;
Every year the green ivy grows longer.
No news of the affairs of men,
Only the occasional song of a woodcutter.
The sun shines and I mend my robe,
When the moon comes out I read sacred poems.
I have nothing to report my friends.
If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after
so many things.
"The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays."
-- Søren Kierkegaard
"Jesus condemned no one except hypocrites.”
-- Kallistos Ware