Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

"Olive Branches at Sunrise"

Yesterday, in the wake of the worst mass shooting in American history, the media and social media were deluged with sentiments of thoughts and prayers for the victims of the terrible massacre in Las Vegas. Pubic figures and private individuals on the TV news, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – everywhere I looked there were expressions of thoughts and prayers.

As the day went on yesterday I also started to see other “media” statements about the mass shooting - many were saying that now it’s time to go “beyond thoughts and prayers,” now we need to start “acting” to stop the senseless slaughter by enacting gun control legislation in this country.

Personally I do think that now is the time for us to go beyond thoughts and prayers and I also believe that now is the time for our society to seriously change how we use and control guns in this culture; but I also believe that a crisis like the mass slaughter of fellow citizens offers each and everyone of us an opportunity to rethink how we live our own personal, everyday lives.

Many years ago President Kennedy gave a speech in which he famously observed:

The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’
One brush stroke stands for ‘danger,’ the other for ‘opportunity.’
In a crisis be aware of danger but recognize opportunity.

The unspeakable horror in Las Vegas is a crisis we are all now facing and it is indeed a time of danger but it is also a time of opportunity for every single one of us. In light of yesterday’s tragedy, whether we like it or not, we are all making some decisions about our response to that event. We can shrug our shoulders and ignore it, perhaps tweet out our thoughts or say a few prayers, maybe lower a flag and observe a moment of silence and then put it all out of mind and go back to living our daily routine as we always have. We can also see this crisis as a moment for critical, personal self-examination, an opportunity to pledge to live every day day with greater compassion and kindness. 

The “crisis” in Las Vegas can serve as our invitation to treat others with greater dignity and deeper respect, to do our best to encourage a coworker or a fellow student, to hug a loved one a little tighter.  In light of yesterday’s crisis we can resolve anew that we will not meet violence with violence in our lives, we will meet injury with forgiveness. The crisis can indeed be an opportunity for each of us to sew the seeds of compassion and kindness that can literally change the world.

Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a tiny little “mustard seed.” A mustard seed is so small that is is practically invisible, just a little speck; and yet when it is planted this tiny seed grows into a large and vibrant bush with deep roots that spreads quickly. Any small act of love, mercy, justice and compassion are like little mustard seeds - they have a way of taking root and spreading, growing into the Kingdom of God. Our seemingly insignificant decisions make a difference.

The Buddha taught something very similar when he said:

Do not underestimate good.
Drop by drop the water pot is filled
Likewise the one who is wise is filled with good
gathering it little by little.

This all makes such great sense to me. Everything and everyone in this universe is dynamically interconnected; so, a single act of violence spreads and grows into even greater violence just as a single act of compassion grows into even greater compassion. It all depends on the decisions and choices we make.

There is nothing wrong with “thinking” about those affected by the Las Vegas massacre and for those who are inclined to pray, it may be a good thing to offer some prayers for those who died or were injured; however, this is indeed a time to go beyond thoughts and prayers. Gun legislation? Yes, of course. But this crisis is also an opportunity for each of us to make new decisions about how we choose to live our lives each each day that we might plant the seeds of a better world.

In the words of the philosopher, William James

Act as if your life makes a difference.
 It does!

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