I had barely finished putting the ashes on the foreheads of the folks who came to our noon Ash Wednesday service, barely finished reminding them that they were dust, and to dust they would return, when the news from Parkland, Fla., began to emerge. Another school shooting. Multiple fatalities. Many teen-agers killed and wounded. Others spared through the actions of heroic teachers.
That familiar old sickening feeling settled in. The horror. The anger at our government’s inability to respond. The memories of the devastation that enveloped our own community nearly 20 years ago, and the overwhelming sense of injustice at seeing lives cut short so needlessly.
With that came the realization that, down deep, I didn’t really mean it when I told young people to remember their own mortality. Children ought not have to contemplate their own deaths. Not yet.
And on the heels of that insight came another: What a privilege to live in a culture where we feel children should be exempt from the ever-present awareness of the fragility of life, the suddenness with which it can end. Especially when we consider that for most of human history – and for most of the world still today – the death of a child is hardly unexpected. It’s commonplace.
Then again … it’s never been commonplace for children to die like this, not through gun violence. It’s not commonplace anywhere in the world except right here in 21st century America. This time and this place, alone, stand out in human history as a time and place that allowed its children – and other citizens – to be murdered with gut-wrenching regularity, and we do nothing except mumble something about prayers and mental health.
It’s not just the killers who are crazy. The true mental illness here is thinking that anything is going to change without radical action on our part.
Prayers? You bet they’re needed. But not just prayers that God comfort the grieving, though we certainly desire that. We also need to be praying that God will forgive us for making an idol of our guns, and for putting the Second Amendment ahead of the Sixth Commandment. We need to pray that God will free us of our fears and give us the courage to stand up to the evil that envelopes us.
Mental health? It would be wonderful to see some meaty funding put into expanding access to mental health care. But I’m not holding my breath.
We are one week into Lent. Now is the time for self-reflection, for prayer, for serious examination of our shortcomings and failures. It’s a time to take stock of ourselves as individuals and as communities.
I’m inviting each of you to help hold me, as a leader in our faith community, accountable. What am I doing to make a difference? What am I doing besides offering platitudes? Likewise, I will help to hold you accountable as well. What are we all doing? What CAN we do? It’s easy to slip back into old, ineffectual patterns. Something’s got to change.
What can we do? The answer varies for each of us, depending on what we have or have not done in the past. Have you ever written or called a public official? If not, that’s a good place to start. And if you have, keep it up, only moreso. Have you ever attended a rally? If not, try attending one. Have you ever taken steps to limit violence as entertainment in your home? Might give that a try.
Have you honestly, earnestly prayed about this? Prayed that God will show you a path out of this violent, gun-obsessed morass in which we find ourselves? Never, ever doubt the power of prayer. We just can’t use prayer as an excuse to do nothing else.