Horrible meaningless platitudes echo around the world - some filled with hate...others filled with thoughts of 'prayer' as if that is going to help in any way fill the voids of the families whose lives are now shattered FOREVER. Queers are slaughtered and their deaths are co-opted in a pathetic attempt to bring MORE hatred and fear into our lives, because this was an act of 'terrorism'. How convenient that one of the feared 'Other' committed this, not some psychopathic white dude inspired by the preaching bile of a gay-hating Christian church. Now we can label it as 'terrorism', manufacture more arms, send more troops, [and] perpetuate this cycle of hate and fear.
The only dignified official response I've seen on my feed today is the one by the Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore. Mercifully she leaves the word 'prayer' out, and just expresses solidarity with our community. Would that others take her lead. We don't need <expletive> prayer. We need action - America needs to disarm, and we need to stop the indoctrination of fear and hate that happens every day against people who are 'different'.
Joseph's comments ring true, even in the House of Representatives, earlier this week, where a handful of elected officials left the House floor during a moment silence. Jim Himes, a Representative from Connecticut said in an interview Monday that, "he's done with the moments typically held on the House floor after mass shootings, calling them 'obnoxious expressions of smug incompetence' and the perfect metaphor for congressional inaction on guns."
And here we sit, on a Friday evening shortly after sunset, singing with our choir, reading words from our prayer book, reflecting on the week that has just been, thinking ahead to the week that will be. Are we merely reading platitudes? Are we going through the ritual moments of Jewish life and just following what our tradition tells us to do? Is our act of prayer a self-fulfilling prophecy that we might think gets us into God's good graces?
If we think that praying to God will end gun violence, we are sadly mistaken. If we think that praying to God is going to end the prejudice, hatred, and vilification of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer population throughout the world, we are sadly mistaken. If we think that praying to God is going to end radical Islamist terrorism, we are sadly mistaken. Prayer may serve as a source for critical self-reflection, and prayer may offer us a space and opportunity to think about the tumultuous state of affairs in our world, but if we leave here feeling uplifted and having said "Shabbat Shalom" to our friends, and we change nothing about our world, then all we have recited are b'rakhot l'vatalot, blessings that are said in vain. Prayer needs to lead us to awareness, and ultimately, prayer must lead us to action.
This most recent tragic shooting took place on the Jewish festival of Shavuot, where our people celebrate receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. In the traditional liturgy, in what is known as the Musaf service, the additional prayers recited on Shabbat and Festivals, there is a passage that reads, u-mipnei chataeinu galinu mei-artzeinu, v'nit-rachaknu mei-al adma-teinu, "Because of our sins we were exiled from our land, far from our soil." The passage goes on to express a longing for a return to our homeland, and to create a new sanctuary where we may once again worship.
And yet this passage carries with it guilt and blame, negative feelings, burdensome emotions. As a result of our "ancestors' sins," all of us continue to bear the burden of exile from our land. That's downright harsh. The only uplifting feature of this particular prayer is the hope that someday, if we reflect upon what has happened, and more importantly, we change our actions, our future may in fact present a different outcome. Praying to God to make it better isn't enough. It never has been, and it never will be. Praying to God without engaging in any kind of constructive action to make a difference is meaningless.
We find ourselves exiled from the "land of the free, and the home of the brave." We cannot truly claim to be living in "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," when more than 1,000 people, 66 children under the age of 12, and at least 85 teenagers, have been killed in mass shootings in America since 2013, and nearly 4,000 people have been injured. We are so distant, so far removed, as a country, of what it might mean for us to create a country that is safe for our children, free from horrific violence, and grounded in acceptance and understanding. John Sundholm, professor of Film Studies at Karlstadt University in Sweden wrote:
I'm mad that 20 years after Matthew Shepard and Columbine we've learned nothing and I'm mad that 5 minutes after Sandy Hook and Aurora and San Bernardino and Charleston and all the ones I'm forgetting...we've learned nothing. We’ve done nothing. We’ve prayed and reflected and hashtagged and done literally nothing.... I am sick of listening to people refuse to listen to anything that challenges their own inertia. I am sick and tired of listening to us collectively ask, “How many times must this happen?” and then not even being bothered to show up to vote. I am sick that the loss of these 49 people’s lives and the permanent disfigurement of the survivors’ will be dishonored and undignified by whatever soul-suckingly dishonest, disingenuous, cravenly beside-the-point conversation will ensue in the aftermath of this massacre.
Short of repealing the 2nd amendment, and disarming the United States of America in a weapons buyback scheme, such as happened in Australia in the wake of the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996, there are steps that we can currently take to effect change. The website of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has various links to connect with Members of Congress in passing the Assault Weapons Ban of 2015, a bill that would prohibit the sale, transfer, production, and importation of 157 of the most commonly-owned military-style assault weapons. Another link invites us to urge our Members of Congress to prevent gun violence by improving our background check system.
My colleague Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, has been involved in the "Do Not Stand Idly By" campaign, as part of the Industrial Areas Foundation program on community organizing. Based on Leviticus 19:16, we are commanded, "not to stand idly by while our neighbor bleeds." Metro IAF's goals are to "significantly reduce the number of firearms-related deaths, injuries and crimes in America; safeguard the ability of law-abiding Americans to own firearms for personal use; and modernize and stabilize the U.S. gun industry." There is a webpage inviting us to demand gun manufacturers take action by "making guns safer through the use of smart-gun technology and other safety technologies, and distributing guns responsibly by ensuring that each dealer their company uses as a sales outlet, is committed to keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals." So in addition to reaching out to our Senators and Congressmen, and in addition to casting our votes in November, we need to reach out collectively to the manufacturers of guns, stressing safety and responsibility among their highest priorities.
And we can't stop there. We need to reach out to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community and express our unwavering support and our solidarity. We need to continue our ongoing dialogue with members of the Muslim community, because it is strong relationships with like-minded individuals who want to live in security and with peace, that will see us through this storm. Temple Avodat Shalom was recently selected to be part of the Union for Reform Judaism's "Communities of Practice" cohort. For the next two years, we will be joining a select group of congregations addressing the concept of, "Moving Justice to the Center of your Congregation." Join us. Step up. Be part of our conversations, our learning, our growth, and our development. There is so much work yet to be done, and unless we ourselves engage in this work, we will remain forever exiled from our land, and all our prayers will continue to be in vain.
 Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays, Musaf Amidah, p. 110.
 cf. The Star Spangled Banner.
 Cf. The Pledge of Allegiance.
 http://www.rac.org/gun-violence-prevention, http://www.rac.org/blog/2016/06/15/responding-orlando
 Leviticus 19:16.