Several years ago I attended a "National Day of Prayer" breakfast event here in Dallas. The keynote speaker for the morning was, then mayor, Ron Kirk.
I remember noticing the mayor as he entered the hall. He wore his familiar bright smile and he greeted people already seated at tables, as well as those standing visiting with one another. He carried a black Bible in his hand.
When it came time for Mayor Kirk to speak, he stood before the crowd and looked us all over. His opening line was unforgettable.
"I realize this is a prayer breakfast and I didn't come here to cause a problem," he began. "But, you know what I think?"
He paused to let us think for a moment.
"I think we've prayed long enough in this city! It is past time for us to go to work changing things for the better!"
Kirk went on to challenge us about the pressing issues facing Dallas, including a number of concerns he shared about the poor and the weak among us.
I don't remember the details, but I'll likely always remember his opening challenge to us--we who were, and remain, so religious, so full of faith and so ineffective in really bringing about community transformation.
The Mayor's words remind me of Gustavo Gutierrez, the father of Liberation Theology in Latin America. For Gutierrez, as for Kirk, faith doesn't matter if it is not connected to the streets of a community. Faith is about how we relate to and engage other human beings, how we work together to make things better, more just and more open to the possibilities of peace and community.
Faith that does not embrace the pain of world is really no faith at all.
I appreciate the way Gutierrez puts it,
". . .charity has been fruitfully rediscovered as the center of the Christian life. This has led to a more Biblical view of the faith as an act of trust, a going out of one's self, a commitment to God and neighbor, a relationship with others. It is in this sense that St. Paul tells us that faith works through charity: love is the nourishment and the fullness of faith, the gift of one's self to the Other, and invariably to others. This is the foundation of the praxis of Christians, of their active presence in history. According to the Bible, faith is the total human response to God, who saves through love. In this light, the understanding of faith appears as the understanding not of the simple affirmation--almost memorization--of truths, but of a commitment, an overall attitude, a particular posture toward life" (A Theology of Liberation, page 6).
I think this was the mayor's point. We've had enough prayer in this town--we're way "long" on prayer. We've got churches on every corner!
What we need is some action motivated by faith and love. You know, the kind that doesn't mind getting the dirt of the street under its fingernails.