A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel is weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more.
American author Barry Lopez once said, “The storyteller’s responsibility is to remember what we are all prone to forget, and to say it memorably.” This quote sits above my desk – as a reminder of why writers write. I don’t know if I will share something memorable, but I do have a sense that we have forgotten some things. I’m afraid we’ve forgotten what’s important. I’m afraid we’ve forgotten that we belong to each other.
We grieve once again for lives lost due to senseless gun violence. We’ve been here so many times before. I don’t even know how to pray anymore, because my prayers don’t seem to reach. But I persist, and with stubborn hope I whisper,
God be near.
Be so very close.
Be the tangible presence in those surrounding the suffering,
The light that shines in the darkness.
I read an article yesterday morning that made me so upset I couldn’t breathe. Prone to bouts of low-level anxiety, I reminded myself that there are times when feelings of anxiety and anger and despair are warranted; our body’s way of telling us something isn’t right. And this is such a time, albeit familiar. I decided that this was a topic worth talking about, setting aside the pages of words I’ve been working on, to share these thoughts instead.
This essay is in response to Scott Sauls’ article in Christianity Today – a reflection on the Nashville school shooting that left six people dead this week. He is a pastor in Nashville, and aside from this article, I do not know him. His piece is entitled, “Go Ahead. Get Mad at God for the Nashville Shooting.”
Right away, I’m irked by the title. Because it never once crossed my mind to be angry at God for yet another mass shooting in America. It’s like the author is immediately trying to shift the blame to the Almighty, diverting our attention away from any possible solutions to this truly American problem.
In the very first paragraph he describes parents dropping off their kids for a magical day at school, stating “no one could fathom” how the day would unfold. He obviously hasn’t been in a school lately. The reality is, teachers can fathom. Administrators can fathom. Students can fathom. And parents can fathom. Yes, we can fathom. We fathom every day when we send our kids to school among bomb threats and lockdown drills; anxiety rising and receding as often as the tides. Sadly, this is just another day in America.
The author permits us to ask several questions: Why would God allow this to happen? Why would he not intervene? Why didn’t God change the heart of the perpetrator? Why would he allow students to experience such trauma? Where was God in all of this?
The questions were infuriating, but the answer made my spirit wail:
“We’ll never know the answer to these questions. The ‘Why?’ question really cannot be answered from our earthbound perspectives.”
In the words of my teenage son, “This is bullshit.”
We should be feeling a lot of things, but bewilderment and confusion should not be among them. We know the “why.” It’s because we have a gun obsession in America. We’ve made guns into idols that we worship above anything else. We have more guns than people in this country, and gun violence has become a public health crisis. We have politicians who won’t enact common sense gun reform because the gun lobby lines their pockets. Guns are big money here in America, and money is power.
This isn’t a cancer diagnosis. This isn’t a tragic accident. These aren’t just some unfortunate circumstances we’ve been handed. Such heartaches would have me crying out to God “Why?!,” and they do. But this? This is another preventable, predictable slaughter of innocents. And we have to look at what our responsibility is in all of it.
Are our eyes blind?
Have our hearts been hardened?
Do we value human life?
Do we want to see this nation healed?
I never questioned where God was in this. I never wondered why God “allowed this to happen.” Because he didn’t. If he did, he’d be a callous, cruel, unloving, and unjust God, and that simply is not true. To say he allowed this to happen is offensive. Jesus is not our scapegoat. The blame does not belong with him. Scott Sauls’ essay feels like a lengthy version of a familiar refrain: “thoughts and prayers.” Let us not be fooled. It aims to silence us, something evangelicals are prone to do when they want to protect something that they hold dear. Pray – that’s all we can do. Go ahead and mourn with those who mourn; we just can’t understand God’s ways. I can’t believe this is a Pastor’s message to a grieving nation. It sounds so hopeless, and we are not powerless. This is not the end of the story.
To me, Pastor Sauls’ shows insensitivity when he reminds us that “none of us is guaranteed another day.” Of course this is true. But his words follow a tragedy that could have been prevented if we had lawmakers who cared enough to act. Katherine, Mike, Cynthia, Hallie, Evelyn, William. They should all still be here.
“Thoughts and prayers” are empty words without action.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” -Acts 1:8
As Rachel Held Evans used to say, “On the days when I believe,” the truest thing I cling to is that God is with us. Immanuel. If I know nothing else, that’s the promise I hold close. And we know how he accomplishes things here on earth. Through us. (What was he thinking? We can’t understand God’s ways.🤷♀️) We are his witnesses. We are his hands and feet. If anyone is not showing up, it’s us. He gives us beautiful minds to think freely, and hearts that can be moved to compassion, and choices so that we can flourish more fully, along with our families and our neighbors.
This gun violence? It’s a choice, and we are choosing it.
Let’s consider some of the data:
Firearms are now the leading cause of death in children.
There are more guns than people in the US, and the US has far more guns than its peers. More guns = more gun violence. If guns kept people safe, we’d be the safest country on the planet, but that’s not what the data shows.
There are reasonable solutions to decreasing gun violence in America. Over and over again, tragedy after tragedy, I see the same people wailing, like that voice heard in Ramah. We are praying. We are marching. We are learning. We are educating. We are voting for politicians who stand for sensible gun reform. We are giving money to gun-sense causes. There is not much else we can do without the unified support of our conservative and moderate friends. We need more than thoughts and prayers. In addition to prayers for victims’ families and first responders, we need prayers that transform us, mold us and shape us. Prayers that are inextricably linked to action. What action can we take to ease the yolk of suffering and injustice?
Here are some suggestions, and I welcome others:
Learn more about the gun violence epidemic in America.
If you own firearms, practice secure gun storage.
Republican and moderate friends, please contact your state representatives. Tell them to pass common sense gun laws, or you will withdraw your support. Republican lawmakers often block meaningful gun reform, so you can have a great deal of influence here. Silence is complicity.
Lift your voice. Literally. On social media and in your spheres of influence. Add your voice to the choir of others that say “enough!”
Scott Sauls references lyrics from a song by Charles Ashworth: “Silence the people with all of the answers. Gently show them that now is the time, now is the time, now is the time for tears.”
For those of us far removed, our tears will eventually dry up. Not so for those who grieve. And not so for the ones who come after. There will be more casualties in this war. So my question is, when is the time to talk about this? When is the time for solutions? Because we seem to forget so easily. If not now, then when?
The time is now. The time was yesterday. The time was ten years ago, and many more years before that. With each ensuing gun death, we will continue to rail against systems that place idols and policies over people, knowing that the process is slow and the fight is long. In the meantime
and we wait…