Thoughts on Thoughts and Prayers


The phrase, “thoughts and prayers”, has become a touchstone of controversy in recent years. The phrase has become repeated so often that the meaning is stretched thin. In modern society in which social media provides instant, ready knowledge of the trials and tribulations that face people to whom we are digitally interconnected, the phrase has become trite.

Diagnoses of cancer and other health maladies, deaths of family members or friends and other circumstances that bring the pain and suffering of others to mind often evoke responses that include thoughts and prayers. It’s a polite, but increasingly empty, thing to say. Particularly in response to all the offerings of thoughts and prayers in response to mass shootings in the last few years, a backlash has even arisen against the use of that phrase.

I assume the sentiment includes the implication that something needs to be done about the problem, and thoughts and prayers don’t get done whatever it is that needs to be done. One CNN article observed after the Parkland shooting, “Among the earnest pleas for social and legislative action, the aftermath of each successive shooting inspires more and more memes and cynical jokes.” (How ‘thoughts and prayers’ went from common condolence to cynical meme)

The point, with the mass shootings, which is well-taken, is that offering platitudes isn’t enough of a response to such a systemic, serious societal problem. “The further [the phrase, thoughts and prayers,] is embedded in our post-tragedy lexicon, the more it’s mocked as a form of civilian slacktivism….”

Of course, part of the problem is that we can’t agree on whatever it is that needs to be done. For as many cries there are for more legislation to limit guns, there are calls for more guns to arm law abiding citizens to combat the lawless ones. In that context, the critical, cynical snarky remarks about thoughts and prayers expresses one particular political persuasion that promotes tougher gun legislation.

When powerful politicians (who are in a position actually to “do something” about the problem) offer thoughts and prayers, while deflecting talk of gun controls and opposing attempts at more effective gun legislation, the phrase takes on a “form of political obfuscation” that sparks the ire of people who want change.

On the other hand, that cynical response often looks like a shotgun blast, implying (or assuming) that all people offering thoughts and prayers oppose gun legislation (and have no intention of doing anything about mas shootings). It conjures up the stereotype of the gun-toting religious conservative.

God, country and guns may be one characterization of a particular political platform, but it certainly doesn’t include all the people who offer thoughts and prayers. Not all “religious people” are of the same color. If we are going to heal and advance as a nation against the scourge of mass shootings that has scarred our societal landscape in the last several decades, we need to bridge the gaps between people of good will and stop burning bridges.

In fact, I suspect that our growing insensitivity, incivility and lack of respect for people who “don’t think like us” contributes to the socio-psychological environment that spawns mass murderers. I don’t think that connection is a leap, though I can hear the counter voice in my head accusing me of “blaming the victims”.

If there is one thing that is sacred in modern American society, it is victimhood. I know that’s a snarky comment itself, but let’s be real here. I am not blaming the people who got shot. They didn’t “deserve” to get shot.

We have to get past the binary political attitudes. We can’t get anything done that will affect a real societal change by objectifying, vilifying and pissing off half the population. We need to find common ground.

My hope is to start building a bridge with this piece by offering some thoughts on thoughts and prayers and suggesting some ways to work together, rather than against, each other. So, first my thoughts (and prayers).

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A Brief History of Indiscriminate School Shootings in the US

Depositphotos Image ID: 4503903 Copyright: tlorna

Ever since the school shooting in Florida, I have had a hard time moving on from the subject, as have many people judging by my social media feeds. I am not sure what is different about this one. Maybe there isn’t anything different – and maybe that is exactly the problem. School shootings have become all too commonplace.

Instead of accepting occasional school shootings as the price we pay for the 2nd Amendment, which was drafted not for hunting and the pleasure of shooting, but to ensure “the security of a free State”[1], we need to come together as reasonable, civil citizens of our great country, and find some solutions to this recurring problem. We have to recognize, first, that it is a problem, and we have to admit that something needs to be done about it.

We can’t hope for solutions if we aren’t willing to listen to each other. We can’t listen to each other if we can’t stop all the ideological rhetoric.

So we must listen and put down our ideological weapons. Our kids’ lives depend on it!

Gun rights advocates are not all crazed, right wing zealots, and gun control advocates are not all soft, naive, liberal elitists. There are good people on both sides who have legitimate points of view, and there is room to find thoughtful solutions. There are many issues on which reasonable minds can differ. Nothing is more unproductive than painting each other in caricature strokes of wild colors.

But I digress. I don’t want to talk about gun rights or gun control. The problem isn’t just the availability of guns, and tighter gun controls is only a band-aid over a much deeper societal problem. I can say that with some degree of confidence after looking at the history of gun violence in schools. Let’s look at the facts.

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The Lost Boys with Guns

Depositphotos Image ID: 184293546 Copyright: belchonock

In the wake of another tragic school shooting and re-ignition of the flames of impassioned debate over guns and gun control, some people have dared to suggest we have problems other than guns. They get shot down pretty quickly now, as it seems we just can’t ignore the gun problem we have. Yes, I have been reluctant to say it… we have a gun problem.

But, we have more problems than guns. Mental health may be an issue, but statistics suggest that the United States has no greater incidence of mental health problems than the rest of the world. Maybe the incidence of mental health problems isn’t the problem. Maybe the problem is the way we treat it (or don’t treat it as the case may be).

But that isn’t the only problem either. We assume that anyone who shoots up a school playground is crazy, but that is a dangerous assumption. We think that they are “not like us”, but history suggests we might be fooling ourselves. Given the right factors, circumstances and pressures, any one of us might do things we could never imagine.

The Holocaust wasn’t just the result of a despot few. It took a nation of “regular people” to allow it to happen. If the Holocaust happened in the US today (not suggesting it will), your neighbors would be going off to work this morning to the concentration camps, gas chambers and sterile government offices that allowed genocide to become a national industry. It could very well be us, given the right mix of circumstances and pressures.

The gun problem in the United States isn’t likely the result of a single problem. Reality is more complicated than that. Rather, a confluence of factors and circumstances have come together to create this perfect storm – this phenomenon that is unique in the civilized world.

Among the factors, I speculate, is the history of gun rights that is unparalleled in any other country. Gun ownership is an individual right in the United States. It’s even built into our Constitution. No other country has that history.

But, I don’t think the availability of guns or mental health or or our history, pick your pet theory, are the only issues. School shootings are a recent phenomenon. The first school shooting took place in 1966, and the incidents of indiscriminate school shootings have risen exponentially in the last 20-30 years. Something else is going on.

We tend to let ourselves fall into the trap of false dichotomies: it’s either guns or not guns. Yes it is! Not it’s not!

Like schoolyard banter, nothing gets accomplished because each side is too busy defending their own side of the argument, and too stubborn to concede anything to the “other side”, so we don’t get anywhere. Nothing gets done. We end up with no resolve and no solutions.

I am not anti-gun, but I am here to say I am willing to listen to reasonable measures to limit gun ownership. We have to do that. It’s a numbers game. The more guns that are available for more people to get a hold of, the more likely it is that guns will end up in the hands of people who are dangerous. I am willing to listen to the people who say we have a mental health problem. I am willing to consider other issues and solutions.

But there is problem that few people are talking about it: it’s a problem with our boys. When was the last time a girl was involved in a school shooting? How about a mass shooting of any kind? Girls and women have been involved in school shootings, but school shootings are overwhelmingly committed by boys and men.

It’s past time that we started talking in earnest about what has happened to our boys!

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The 2nd Amendment, Freedom & Responsibility

Depositphotos Image ID: 173296888 Copyright: zimmytws

Is there a more potent weapon today then a gun in the hands of a person with mal-intent? Are schools no longer safe places for children? These questions are not mere speculation, but serious deadly considerations in the wake of another school shooting tragedy.

It’s clear that platitudes, like thoughts and prayers, are not enough of a response any more, as if they ever were. Not that we shouldn’t be thoughtful or prayerful, but “faith without works is dead”, as the brother of Jesus said.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16)

Likewise, if all we do is offer condolences and our thoughts and prayers, what good is that?! Our faith, if we have any, demands action. Where is the fruit?

I get all of the arguments for the Second Amendment. I am a lawyer. Our nation was founded on the principles of an independent, free and empowered citizenry, and the right to bear arms was intended to ensure that freedom. Guns have been championed as a symbol of freedom. With freedom, though, comes responsibility (echoing the words of Eleanor Roosevelt).

I’m a Christian, but I don’t get the popular Christian response to gun laws. Where in the Bible does it tell us to defend our rights to own firearms? Jesus told Peter to put down his sword, but he’s telling us to protect our guns?

Thoughts and prayers don’t cut it when children are lying dead on the playground. Thoughts and prayers need to be followed up with love and action. We need to do something before there is another tragedy, and another one after that.

But I am not just directing my focus on Christians. I see a much more potent weapon than guns in our society today.

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