I’m done praying. The next time a politician tells me that we need to pray for the victims of yet more bloodshed, I’m going to simply refuse. First and foremost, it is the job of a politician to promote policy and the job of clergy to lead prayer. Our elected leaders need to remember what it is we’ve elected them to do. Secondly, such prayer is meaningless posturing in the absence of even the most imperfect and misguided efforts to stop the violence. I will not allow myself to be lulled into the false belief that the next round of deaths is part of a sacred plan, or that by faith the increasing cycle of violence can be stopped.
Instead, I will pray for those who are doing something, who are trying to bring peace to our nation and to the world. I will pray for those who seek to give voice to victims of both the violence and the injustices that fuel the violence. I will pray for those who take time to listen to the pleas of the oppressed, the marginalized, and the easily despised.
Maybe it’s the immediacy of 24 news and social media, but it’s very easy these days to feel overwhelmed by the daily reports of senseless violence in our nation and world. Night club shootings, workplace shootings, school shootings, cops shooting innocent people, people shooting innocent police officers, bombs in public places, the list goes on and on. In the past 2 years in my own hometown we have seen a Sheriff’s Deputy murdered while responding to a house fire, a mentally ill person with a gun shooting 3 students inside the library of Florida State University where I earned my college degree, and the murder of Dan Markel, a law professor and member of my synagogue.
The Torah says: “Justice, justice you shall pursue”. It doesn’t say we’re supposed to pray for justice, it says we’re supposed to pursue it. That means action.
It’s simply not true that nothing can be done to prevent these tragedies. There are many things that can be done both at the public policy level and at the individual level. Even though most of us don’t make public policy, we have choices. We can start to reject the language of separation that fuels the seemingly ever-expanding alienation in our society. The next time some bonehead on the radio, television, or internet starts vilifying liberals, conservatives, police officers, black people, rednecks, straight people, white people, gay people, Republicans, Socialists, Christians, Communists, Muslims, transgendered people, Jews, Democrats…. turn it off and walk away. The next time someone tries to tell you who your enemy is, who you need to be afraid of, or who you need to hate, turn it off and walk away. The next time some politician tells you who we need to lock up forever, who we need to deny any hope of redemption for, who is disposable and unworthy of any dignity or life, or how we cannot afford to be merciful or compassionate…. turn it off and walk away. Walk away from anyone who would have you disregard another human being based upon a one-dimensional label, no matter how powerful the label claims to be.
Do this because to see the spark of divinity in our fellow human beings is every bit as sacred an act as prayer. Indeed, I would argue that the fundamental purpose of prayer isn’t to elicit personal favors from G-d, but to prepare ourselves to seek out G-d in the world and in our fellow human-beings. As for me, I’m done praying. Instead, I’m seeking the beauty that remains hidden behind the divisions we create. I believe that it’s only when we see the divinity in our fellow human beings that we can give meaning to claims of sacredness and begin to find our way out of the seemingly endless cycle of violence that appears to be overtaking our world.