Today, in the aftermath of the tragedy in Oregon, the President addressed the nation. One thing he said which hit home with me was: “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” He went on to say we should take action to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future. Contemporary church communities would do well to remember: prayer is not enough. Action must be taken.
Whether or not you agree with the President’s political aims, and I’m not afraid to say that I do, the reason that it hit home with me had nothing to do with the politics. It was a stark reminder of why I came to seminary in the first place – my conviction that my faith must lead me to action.
I struggled for a long time with my call. Some of it was just real life getting in the way – I got married, got a job, had kids. Some of it was this uncertainty that I was called to ministry – why would God want me? I was a High School drop out. Prone to sinning and failing, giving up and getting distracted. I was certain that I was one of the people who needed ministering to, not one of the people to be doing the ministering. I didn’t have my bachelor’s degree. I came up with many reasons not to go to seminary.
I lived my life, and periodically tried to figure out this pull on my soul, always turning away from it. I reached a point where I needed my faith, where it became a source of real strength (again) for me. I started regularly engaging my spiritual disciplines of prayer, and reading scripture. One of the verses that leapt out at me in my reading was James 2:26 “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” (NRSV). It lead me to take a more active role in ministry in the church, and ultimately to seminary.
I’m currently in a class called Theology as Living Conversation at the American Baptist Seminary of the West. The very title of the class is a reminder that theology as “faith seeking understanding” must move from thought to conversation in order to be fully tested. It is in community with others that our theological understandings can be engaged and begins to become more than just an abstract. But conversation is necessarily only the start.
Just as “faith without works is dead,” so too theology that does not lead to action is dead. Our theological assertions must goad us to responding with real world action. It is my theology that God is God that leads to my praise, worship and leaning on God. It is my theology that God loves all people that leads me to believe that Radical Inclusion is how we should engage other people.
So I agree with President Obama. It is not enough to have our thoughts and prayers with the victims of this tragedy. Certainly let us not fail to pray on this, but we must also let our theology lead us to action. Otherwise the theology is at best half-done.