Enough with the excuses. Get up and do something about our problems.
There are a lot of things going on in the world right now that can be upsetting. The situation at Standing Rock seems to be coming to a head. Many are concerned about choices being made as the new presidential administration begins to take place and some are still trying to prevent it from happening at all.
At the same time, an East Congo militia kills 30 from a rival tribe. Militants kidnap six Pakistanis working for a Polish oil firm. Daesh appears to have used ‘chemical gas’ against Syrian rebels. Then, there’s the increasingly complex and anxiety-ridden situation with Russia.
If that’s not enough for you, there are still the omnipresent issues of hunger, homelessness, poverty, education, debt, and access to healthcare. Those have been with us my entire life and show absolutely no sign of going away no matter who is President or what new programs Congress might trot out.
What might be most disturbing, however, are situations like this one reported by Reuters this morning:
Hateful letters sent anonymously to three mosques in California with a warning that President-elect Donald Trump would “cleanse” the United States of Muslims have stirred fears among congregants, a community leader said on Saturday.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the letters were identical and were postmarked as being sent from Santa Clarita just north of Los Angeles.
Ayloush said his group is considering asking the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into the letters, which he believes were sent to other mosques aside from the three that received them earlier this week.
The increasing number of events such as this one is extremely worrisome. What frustrates me to no end, however, is when I look at the comments below every last one of these stories and see comments such as, “Only God can resolve this problem,” or “Our prayers are with them,” or “Trusting God to keep us safe.”
I get it, your belief system places control of the world in the hands of a deity who, allegedly, cares about the outcome of these events. I won’t argue that particular point at the current time. That’s your decision. However, what I will argue is that even if there is such a caring and attentive deity, he/she/it is not going to suddenly reach down from the heavens and reset the chessboard! The work of your God has always been carried out by those who trust him the most. So, if there’s trouble anywhere in the world, stop waiting on God to do something. If he exists, he’s waiting on you.
Putting Feet To The Fire
For those of you just now joining us, my late father was a Southern Baptist pastor for over 45 years. As a result, I still have several of his sermons deeply engrained in my memory. The issue of what he called “religious buck-shifting” frustrated him 40 years ago as much as it does me now. From his perspective, he would say the problem stemmed from an Old Testament verse found in Psalm 27, verse 14:
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
The issue, he would say, is that we misunderstand the intent of the verse. God did not mean for his people to sit on their hands until he passed out specific instructions. Rather, he was instructing those who are anxious to not get ahead of themselves, to wait until there is a plan and not go off tackling one’s enemies half-cocked.
Poppa would then follow with the story of a small-town congregation that was woefully worried about a bar that had opened up on the edge of town. Especially concerned were the women of the church whose husbands, they feared, might start sneaking out of the house at night to go drinking at the bar. The women started praying that God would burn the bar to the ground. They prayed, and prayed, and prayed, but nothing ever happened. Making matters worse, the women began to see their fears materialize as more men would find an excuse to slip out and have a drink. The women were terribly worried about the problem.
After a while, an older woman moved to the small town and joined the church. The other women immediately welcomed her and implored her to join them in praying that God would burn the bar to the ground. The older woman agreed that this was a most dire situation and promised that she would begin praying that very day.
That night, the bar burned to the ground.
The women in the church were astonished. “How did that happen?” they asked the older woman. “How is it that we’ve been praying for months that God would burn down that bar and nothing happened. You come along and on the first day, you prayed the bar actually burns to the ground! How come God listens to you and not all of us?”
The older woman answered, “It’s really rather easy. You see, I prayed that God would burn down that bar. Then, I got up off my knees and put feet to my prayer.”
Therein lies the problem. Too many of us expect God, or the government, or some other mysterious entity to do the very thing we should be doing. If we want the problems of society to go away, then we have to realize that we are society, we are government, and we are the hands of our deities. For anything to actually get done, we have to be the ones to do it.
Behaving Like An Atheist
While the issues we see are contemporary in nature, the problem of dealing with such social issues is neither new nor limited to Christians. There is a Jewish text, not scripture, mind you, but a book published by Martin Buber in 1947 called, Tales of the Hasidim. The book is an attempt to capture some of the oral history and folklore of the Hasidim, an orthodox sect that began in the third and second centuries. Specifically, the books focus on the teaching of a Ukranian rabbi, Baal Shem Tov, considered to be the founder of “modern” Hasidic Judaism. From that oral history comes this story:
The Master teaches the student that God created everything in the world to be appreciated, since everything is here to teach us a lesson.
One clever student asks “What lesson can we learn from atheists? Why did God create them?”
The Master responds “God created atheists to teach us the most important lesson of them all – the lesson of true compassion. You see, when an atheist performs an act of charity, visits someone who is sick, helps someone in need, and cares for the world, he is not doing so because of some religious teaching. He does not believe that god commanded him to perform this act. In fact, he does not believe in God at all, so his acts are based on an inner sense of morality. And look at the kindness he can bestow upon others simply because he feels it to be right.”
“This means,” the Master continued “that when someone reaches out to you for help, you should never say ‘I pray that God will help you.’ Instead for the moment, you should become an atheist, imagine that there is no God who can help, and say ‘I will help you.’”
Now, let’s give this a little perspective. This story is, at the very least, as old as the early 18th century, perhaps older. Social media had yet to be invented. For that matter, electricity was an unknown quantity at that point in time. However, even then, they still had a problem with people of faith, particularly, expecting their God to solve problems that were right in front of them and within their ability to address. As humans, we’ve been getting this wrong for a very long time.
What’s interesting about the story is that the rabbi’s reference to an atheist solving the problem is spot on. In general, those who profess no faith in a deity, or are at least agnostic on the subject, are more likely to give to charities, volunteer their time to community efforts and to respond with acts of compassion. Don’t take my word for it when there’s research to demonstrate the difference.
Robb Willer, University of California, Berkeley social psychologist, along with Laura R. Saslow, of the Osher Center at the University of California, San Francisco, published research in the journal, Social Psychological & Personality Science showing that compassion predicts generosity more among “less religious” people.
Three studies tested the hypothesis that, with fewer religious expectations of prosociality, less religious individuals’ levels of compassion will play a larger role in their prosocial tendencies. In Study 1, religiosity moderated the relationship between trait compassion and prosocial behavior such that compassion was more critical to the generosity of less religious people. In Study 2, a compassion induction increased generosity among less religious individuals but not among more religious individuals. In Study 3, state feelings of compassion predicted increased generosity across a variety of economic tasks for less religious individuals but not among more religious individuals. These results suggest that the prosociality of less religious individuals is driven to a greater extent by levels of compassion than is the prosociality of the more religious.
Stop and think about what this means. Flip it to another perspective and one can easily make the argument that one’s religion or belief system might actually be standing in the way of one doing any good or acting on their compassion. Again, if one is waiting on their deity to solve all the problems, they’re less likely to do anything themselves.
Zeroing In On The Problem
Religion has been a hot point in political conversations this year. The misinformation that we are or were ever a Christian nation has not only raged strong but has been the basis for an incredible amount of hate both before and after the election. While only a few might exhibit their hate in a public manner, be sure that there is hate sitting in the pews of every church gathering together this Sunday. Not everyone in the church hates, of course. Not even a majority. Still, the hate is there and everyone is expecting God to be the one to do something about it.
Take the letters sent to the mosques as an example. The person who wrote those letters is almost certainly sitting in a church somewhere this morning. They could even be teaching a Sunday School class. Their friends and neighbors may look at them as “fine Christians.” Yet, that hate still lurks. Fueled by a belief system that leads them to mistakenly think that God has given them permission to annihilate “those who serve false gods,” the president-elect’s rhetoric against Muslim people has emboldened them to bring their hate public.
Mind you, that hate has always been there. I saw it when I was little. The first time a black person attended one of our services, there were those among the church leadership who wanted her escorted out the door and off the property. As a teenager, I saw that hate directed toward a music director whose mannerisms led some to attempt to “out” the young man as gay and force him from the church. As a young adult, I saw that hate as those of a more moderate belief system, specifically those encouraged a cooperative attitude in working with Muslims and Jews in the community, were driven from the denomination in which I grew up, ruining the lives of pastors and others with false stories alleging heresy.
That hate is still there, right now, in churches all across this country. Fortunately, I’m not the only one who believes the hate has to end and that we can’t wait on someone’s deity to take specific action.
John Pavlovitz, a pastor at North Raliegh Community Church in North Carolina, is someone whose stance against hate within the church is one I’m quickly coming to admire. In a post on his website earlier this month, he made the following statement:
At times like these, Christians like to smile sweetly and say, “God is in control.”
No. God is not in control.
God didn’t vote for Donald Trump, you did.
Stop passing the buck to God.
God isn’t defacing prayer rooms.
God isn’t taunting gay teenagers.
God is not bullying kids on buses.
God isn’t threatening Muslim families.
White Christians are.
You are in control of this. You have pulpits and pews and a voice and influence and social media, so get to work.
In the same piece, he also instructs:
Your pastors need to speak clearly and explicitly into this, now.
Your church websites and social media pages need to address this harassment and bullying and terrorizing, now.
You need to talk to your white children and teach them how not [to] be horrible to other kids, and how to stand up to those who are being horrible, now.
You need to talk to your kid’s coaches and to your midweek Bible Study and to your co-workers and your church staff and your gun club—and you need to call this poison out, now.
White churches, this Sunday, your only sermon should be the one that reminds your white members what the parable of the Good Samaritan was compelling followers of Jesus to be: radically merciful when everyone else looked the other way.
You need to reach out to your neighbors and coworkers and classmates and social media friends who are part of marginalized communities and reassure them, listen to them, care for them, be Jesus to them.
Of course, those words don’t only belong to Christians, they can be said of anywhere there is any measure of hate. YOU have to fix this. YOU are the one who has to address the issues of hate that are growing by leaps and bounds across our country. YOU have to be the one who instructs your children how to respond to people who are different from them. Whether you believe in a deity or not, YOU are responsible for challenging the hate in our society.
It is up to us, you and I to speak out when we see hate, no matter where we see hate. There was a story earlier this week, whose link I can no longer find, of people coming to the rescue of a woman who was being berated in a store for wearing her hijab. There have been other similar incidents in the past two weeks where good people, kind people, people of reason and people of faith, have stepped up to fight against the hate. This is what we all need to be doing.
Of one thing I am sure: the skies are not going to suddenly open up with a great, thunderous voice like that or Morgan Freeman and give us instruction to love each other. All the relative deities have already done that through their respective books. That we are to love each other is a universal message through all the world’s dominant religions. The problem comes, across all religions, that we just don’t like to listen to the teachings of our deities.
Again, pastor Pavlovitz stated in a message earlier this week:
At some point silence becomes something else.
It becomes negligence.
It becomes compliance.
It becomes blessing.
It becomes participation.
And at times like this, it becomes fully sinful.
We can disagree on many things. We can disagree about sex and sexuality. We can disagree about marijuana. We can disagree about whether my pictures are appropriate for this message. What we must agree on is that hate has no place in our society. None. Our responsibility is to respond to each and every instance of hate that we see, defuse it if we can, and hold the person(s) accountable for their actions. We might not be able to do anything about the hate in someone’s heart, but we can do something about the hate that spills out into the public.
Don’t be silent. Don’t wait on God. Get your ass up, put feet to your prayers, and do something. Now.