Wonder Boi Writes

25 Songs of Christmas – Coventry Carol

Yesterday was another sad day of American gun violence.  The sadder fact is that virtually every day is a day for American gun violence. The mass shootings in​ Savannah and San Bernar​dino are not uncommon.​ ​I​n fact they are the very definition of commonplace. I am simultaneously horrified and not at all shocked. I completely understand the reaction people are having to the canned “t​houghts and prayers.”  It’s frustrating to see, time and time again, the discussion end there.

Still, condemning thought and prayers just makes for another scapegoat and another convenient argument for us to have that does nothing to offer actual solutions. The problem isn’t that people offer up thoughts and prayers​;​ the problem is they leave it there.

Both that mindset and those who condemn it have a fundamental misunderstand​ing​ of prayer. I’m star​ting to get the sense that much of the American population views prayer like they view the drive up window at Taco Bell.  Like we just roll up and give our order to someone we can’t see, th​e​n pull forward to collect what we wanted.

God: What can I get for you today?
Us: I w​ant​ one order of no mass shootings, and one end to hunger.
God: Would you like to make those a combo?
Us: Sure, but make the drink a diet.​ ​A​actually,​ can you just go ahead and make all of it diet? Preferably no calories at all.

Sorry, but that’s messed up.  Prayer doesn’t work that way.  God doesn’t work that way. God has never worked that way, and I don’t think we have any more powerful example of how much God doesn’t work on command than in the Christmas story.

The people of Israel lived in an occupied state.  Their government basically enforced martial law, and the religious community was corrupt and overblown. The general population was poor and undereducated and hopeless. They prayed for a king.  They prayed for a warrior. They prayed for the mighty hand of God ​to ​come down and smack the crap out of everyone hurting them.

They got a baby.

They had to wait 30 years, and then once he finally got old enough​,​ He didn’t even strike anyone down.  He didn’t raise an army or take political power.  He did a few party tricks like the whole water-​to​-​wine business and then he asked them for a great deal in return. He asked them to give up their wealth. He asked them to examine the plank in their own eye before condemning the spec in someone else’s. He asked them to love their neighbors and even their enemies. He didn’t come to free the people from the Roman army.​

He came to free them from themselves.

I hear people crying out in condemnation of thoughts and prayers right now, and to some extent​ I agree. Thoughts and prayers are not enough.  They will never be enough on their own. The Bible tells us,​ “Faith without works is dead.” Thought and prayer are only the first steps.  Still,​ the first step is an important step. An essential step. It’s the step that keeps us from lashing out in rage and fear. It’s the step that allows up to contemplate something other than our own basest needs.  It’s the step that allows us to center our intent away from ourselves in the moment and onto the bigger picture.  Prayer, at its best, should also remind us we live in conversation, and that we are not alone, but that if we wish to hear we must first listen.

It’s the listening that’s the hard part. We like Taco Bell God.  We want to ​place our or​der and to hear​,​ “Okay, please pull forward.”  We do not like to hear, “Okay, here’s what you’re going to have to do. It will be hard and inconvenient,​ and it will take decades worth of work.”  Nope.  No one wants to go through that drive-​thru​. So we don’t.

Christmas reminds us of Emmanuel, God with us. But it should also force us ​to admit that​ God with us is not the same thing as God in our own image. The God of Christ is not God the short order cook. The God we meet at Christmas is God with us for the long haul. The God who asks a great deal from us. The God who says faith without works is dead.

I do pray about gun violence.  I pray that God comforts those left behind.  I pray that God makes Her presence known​ in the moments of terror and years of grief. I have faith that God knows how to do those things better than I because God had been doing them si​nc​e the dawn of time.  The harder prayer, and perhaps the more important one​,​ is the prayer where I ask, “God what can I do? What do you require of me in this moment?”

What if we all acknowledged today that God isn’t just with us, but God is waiting for us to ask what part we are to play in the solution? What if we each asked the question,​ then truly listened to the answer? Or the answers, because we’re going to need more than one.

I have my own political beliefs about what should be done.  You might have yours. Another person will have others​. One of us might work for common sense gun laws. Another might work to secure funding for the mentally ill. One might work to promote peace and reconciliation between different religious and ethic groups. One might seek to root out racism and inequality in our political structures. One might even run for office and actually live up to the promises they make along the way.

All of them would help. Each one could start with one prayer and one person who decides not to stop there. Every solution could begin by listening for their answer and actually put it into action, no matter how challenging or frightening or inconvenient.

Faith without works is dead, and Emmanuel means nothing if we don’t seek God’s will.

The problem is not prayer.​

T​he problem is our unwillingness to listen to the response.


December 3, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Thank you for this essay. You have put into words what many of us are feeling but are unable to voice so eloquently.

    Comment by canuckeh | December 3, 2015 | Reply

  2. So the best prayer should be “What can I do, God? Please guide me”.
    I agree. Changing the world must begin with myself. Even if I only reform myself, the world is changed. And then there is the example I give.
    Thank you for your words.

    Comment by Enrico | December 4, 2015 | Reply

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