Following the horrific shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX we invited our contributors to share their thoughts and wrestle with the continuing epidemic of mass shootings in America. We pray their words guide you in your own lament and push us all to consider how we might be part of writing a new more peaceful future.
The Church Anew Team
ACTS 1:1-11 IN UVALDE
Associate Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary
I wonder how the disciples felt.
They walked with their friend and heard him bless the poor, saw him heal the sick.
They found themselves confounded by his hard teachings about a kingdom of the weeping and stories about an unjust judge. They were uplifted by the words he spoke.
And so they had hoped. They had hoped he would deliver them from the weight of grief and death and loss and conquest and demonic forces. They had hoped for life in the midst of death. They had hoped for freedom in the shadow of an empire.
And then their hopes were dashed. Their friend was arrested and killed. Empire flexed its muscles and its most terrible weapon. Their hope was no more. Their hope died on a Roman cross, a sacrifice to empire’s arrogant power.
I wonder how they felt.
When he was with them once again. When his scars matched their grief. When they felt their hopes rising again, though perhaps more tentatively than before. Maybe this time things will be different, they might have thought
I wonder how they felt.
When they saw him lifted into the skies. When he promised they would receive a gift from God.
But, most of all, I wonder how they felt when he told them they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
I worry that too many of us have made a mistake: a witness is not a spectator. There is a difference between bearing witness and looking on to a scene as an onlooker. There is a difference between the kind of witness that enters the pain of a hurting world and a spectator who gawks from a distance.
Witness is a high calling; often it is a burden. For witnesses to the ends of the earth will see stunning instances of God’s expansive grace but also crushing visions of death’s cruel rule.
I wonder how they felt.
I wonder how they felt when their feet were pointed out to the ends of the earth, about to strive through an unjust world, a world riven by empire and warfare and death. I wonder how they felt when only 120 of them were called to proclaim a kingdom that promises to set right an upside-down world.
I wonder if it felt like a hard-won hope, a hope honed by the realities of death and loss, a hope that had been dashed over and over again, a hope that persists not because we choose to be naive but because God has made a promise. And because God has made a promise then we cannot stay in one place gazing into the heavens waiting for Jesus to return. No, we are called to be witnesses to a kingdom we can barely begin to imagine, one where death and violence and grief are no more. One where the weapons of war give way to the generosity of God’s grace.
I wonder how they felt. I wonder how they felt taking that first step into a world so familiar yet so strange.
Perhaps they wondered if they could really believe that this time would be different. Perhaps they wondered if life would once and for all conquer death. They had seen it happen once before.
Could it really happen again?
A LITTLE LIFE AFTER A SCHOOL SHOOTING, A MOTHER’S PRAYER
Minnesota Pastor and Veteran Journalist
He came from you to me.
Tiny, writhing, mouth open wide in a primal scream.
I remember the first time he blinked.
Eyes staring up into mine.
“I’m here.”“I need you.”
Instinct merged with anxiety
Those first long hours
And chaotic, screaming nights
Exhaustion curled up together on the dark green couchHe fit next to me cozily, molded against my stomach like clay
Where he once had all he neededI couldn’t put him back in
He got bigger
2 then 4 then 6 then 8
Big snow boots stomping off
Kindergarten and recess
And COVID lockdowns
He gave me morning hugs
He ate so many little bags of Goldfish crackers
I sent him back gingerly
He leapt onto the football field
He dashed around the playground
He laughed uproariously with his friends
He ate three pieces of pizza
The torn-up toes of his worn shoes flapped in the wind
The snow melted and the rain fell
He pulled up his hood and walked to school, unafraid
He’s only 21 inches taller
Than an AR-15, stood on its end
A little life can’t outlast
A little bullet
Propelled by the latest technology
And a country’s bloodlust
And our leaders’ cold calculations
Of little lobbyists and big donations
So many little bullets
Sprayed out over little lives
Little lives that are no more
No more backpacks or books
No more school drop offs or pickups
Just casings on the ground
All we have left
Of little lives
I wanted him to make 3-pointers
I wanted to go to his piano recital
I wanted to send him to collegeA
nd cry alone under the covers when he was gone
Proud. So proud.
I wanted to dance with him, poorly, on his wedding day.
To music I didn’t know.
And smile as he laughed again.
I wanted the little things.
Popsicles melting down his chin.
Letting me smooth petroleum jelly on his scrapes.
With two arms.
Ma .. ma
I wanted so much for him
And so little
A little life
A little boy
Let him grow old
Let him have
His little life
Poem inspired by John 10:10
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
I BELIEVE THE CHILDREN
Dean, Duke University Chapel and Associate Professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School
“I believe the children are our futureTeach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be”
—from “Greatest Love of All,” sung by Whitney Houston
We don’t believe the children are our future when we kill them in the present in their elementary schools, robbing them of innocent laughter and flourishing lives. When we live in one nation under guns, we can’t see the beauty inside the victims nor victimizers. This violent, virulent ugliness is not of God but reveals how many bow at the throne of the trigger and inhumane evil at the expense of others, especially children.
This is nothing new. At the time of the New Testament, children of the Greco-Roman world were held in low esteem, lacking status, being vulnerable, and socially and physically powerless. Some estimates are that half of 1st century ancient near eastern children died before their 16th birthday. They were there but not there for long in presence, voice or perspective.
Even the disciples of Jesus are dismissive towards children because we learn in the Gospel of Mark that when “people were bringing the little children to [Jesus] in order that he might touch them,” “the disciples spoke sternly to them” (Mark 10:13). Sometimes, many times, followers of Jesus miss the mark, too, when it comes to the role of children in the world. To scold the people who bring children to Jesus for a blessing is a sign of how we can dismiss children. It’s not enough that we never hear their voices in the Gospel of Mark or that we sometimes get antsy if they make too much noise in a church service, the disciples have to scold the constructive attempt to bless them.
In contrast to the mores of his day and also the impulses of his own disciples, Jesus says, “Let the children come” (Mark 10:14). Jesus is a child advocate extraordinaire. He responds to his followers and doesn’t want the children to stop coming to him. He welcomes them and holds them up as models for the kingdom. Jesus then goes one step further. “He took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:16). Jesus literally, “blesses fervently.” It’s an intense force signifying his intense love for children. One translation says Jesus “hugged the children.” If so, his hugging is a form of holy resistance to hate-filled violence against children.
We need to follow the way of Jesus. He embraces children as a sign of his own self-identification with the least of these (Mark 9:33-37). He reveals that how we treat children is an indication of what we think about God and who God is and how close we are to God.
We need to imagine and re-imagine what it means to be a child because welcoming children is a way of welcoming the Christ Child into our midst. We need to “Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be,” as Whitney Houston sings, or as poet Michael Coffey writes, “Take our sticky adult minds and thin our thick thoughts until our flowing childhood wonder returns at every cricket and we are moved by every chocolate kiss…”
Our treatment of children is a test of the truth of our faith—a faith in the God who came into the world as a child. If we hate and kill children, we hate God and our life is a lie.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE, OR PERHAPS A NATION, TO END THIS EPIDEMIC OF GUN VIOLENCE
Associate Professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary
Yet another mass shooting in a long list of massacres that have marked an epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. Can anything be done to end this cycle of violence, and who has the power to do it? As with many other issues, Americans have been responding to these questions in vastly different ways.
Many have been insisting, rightly so, that our elected officials have the power to tame the gun lobby and limit people’s access to deadly weapons. Many politicians who have been refusing to act are quick to suggest that the blame lies elsewhere: mental illness, lax security, our failure to arm more people, etc. So much deflection, but really, who has the power to end this crisis?
The story of John the Baptist in Luke 3 offers some insights. John was ministering in the context of a very different crisis—extreme poverty in the first century—and encountered people who professed a desire to alleviate the crisis even as they were likely perpetuating it to varying degrees. They collectively asked John, “What then should we do?” The question assumes that they didn’t know what needed to be done, or that they might lack the agency to resolve the crisis.
John places the onus solely on them and highlights their agency in remedying the crisis. He asks some to give away one of their shirts or share food, others to not collect any more than what they absolutely had to, and yet others to not abuse their power in order to accumulate wealth. John’s point is that remedying a major crisis is not about making grand, abstract commitments, but about committing to specific, concrete steps.
John also suggests that everyone has agency to varying degrees. Even as John critiques people in power, he called upon individuals to undertake changes at the individual and community level. And he offers specific suggestions they can undertake within their contexts.
Many of us are rightly angry with politicians who seemingly express a commitment to end the gun violence but deflect blame during each crisis only to continue with business as usual once the public outrage abates. We should certainly hold them accountable for their failures in preventing the epidemic of gun violence, but we should also focus on our own potential complicity in perpetuating a culture of gun violence.
Specifically, there is the rampant ethos of violent imagination that stems from a culture of violence and in turn perpetuates a culture of gun violence. And we have become a nation that encourages, or at least, condones violent imagination at an early age. Recently, I was at a birthday party for my son who is eight. Many kids were passionately discussing a violent video game called Fortnite. At one point, when a kid used a cuss word, many parents were appalled but none of them, myself included, said a word about the violent imagination in which the kids were engaged.
We cannot normalize violent imagination at age eight and hope that none of it will translate into lethal violence at age eighteen. We should perhaps actively explore ways of stigmatizing anything related to gun violence. What if we respond with disgust and horror at the very mention of violent video games just as we do when we hear of a shooting incident?
While our elected officials have a moral obligation to enact stringent anti-gun laws, the rest of us too have the power to make a difference. May we not become numb to a culture of violence. May we cringe and be disgusted when we hear the words “guns” and “shooting” at birthday parties, schoolyards, and playdates.
Yes, it takes a village, or perhaps a nation, to end this epidemic of gun violence.
LAMENTATIONS IN THE NIGHT
Program Director for Congregational Thriving at St. Olaf College
Like many of you,I found myself unable to sleep last night.
My heart literally ached within my chest.
My thoughts could not be stilled.
The images in my mind’s eye
Played like an unending,
Ever-expanding reel -
The news images from Uvalde
Intermingled in my memory
With those of Buffalo
And George Floyd
And Mother Immanuel
And Sandy Hook
And Breonna Taylor
And San Bernardino
And Aurora And
And on, and on and on …
An idolatrous love of violence
In the deep of the night,
I recalled another time of
And loss –
That time it was poignant and personal –
Painful in its particularity -
Holding my dearest friend in my arms
As the sobs rose from within her
Like bitter incense
When her son was murdered by police –
And last night,
In remembering that night -
I felt again her sorrow,
And I wondered who was holding
The parents of murdered children
Amid the strangling sobs of this night.
I found myself hoping
–And wanting to trust –
But not completely believing that it was so –
That the Spirit was indeed interceding
Amid the bleeding
And the grieving
But wondering –
Amid our own collective, cultural obstinance
That the Spirit has taken a sabbatical,
Turned God’s back -
And left us to live with –
And continue to die with –
And our inaction.
I believe –
(statement of faith) –
That the Spirit whose presence –
And providence –
I was questioning,
Prompted me to turn
To the only place within our Sacred text
That my heart –
In the deepness of the night,
In the depth of despair –
Was open to both
Voicing and hearing,
Uttering and understanding –
While I know that these words
First arose from a past-tense-time
And amid a past-tense
And need –
They both spoke
for me –Amid this present-tense sorrow.
How lonely sits the city…
She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks….
When her people fell into the hand of the foe,
and there was no one to help her,
the foe looked on mocking
over her downfall….
O Lord, look at my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed….
Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
My children are desolate,
for the enemy has prevailed.
On and on I read,
And as I read,
And my anger
And my sorrow
And my helplessness
Mingled with the generations
that rise in lamentation
amid that which is beyond
And as I found
Not necessarily comfort –
But shadows on the edges of solidarity –
In the echoes of these ancient words,
I came once again
Upon an assurance that
Has sustained me at other times
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
God’s mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness….
Therefore I will hope.
God is faithful;
Therefore, I will hope.
I will hope in the comfort of God
For all who grieve.
I will hope in the strength of God
For all who suffer.
I will hope in the restoring power of God
For all who are despairing.
And I will hope for the people of God
To take up space on this earth
That does not destroy,
But that gives life.
I will hope that the fire of the Spirit
Will fall again from heaven –
Move us to repentance,
Stir us from our complacency,
Blow through us
On the rush of a mighty wind –
And provoke us to act.
I will hope that prayers will rise up
In an embodied defiance
That value life more than weapons of war.
I will hope that God
–The Author and Giver of Life –
Will compel in us
And a resolve
To cast out
And cast off
Hope becomes more than wish.
Peace becomes more than a possibility.
And life abundant edges out
A resignation that
The way things are
Is the way things have to be.
Because we doTrust and believe
(statement of faith)
That Jesus does make all things new.
God is faithful;
I will hope.
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As an ecumenical and inclusive ministry of St. Andrew Lutheran Church, the content of each Church Anew blog represents the voice of the individual writer and does not necessarily reflect the position of Day1, Church Anew or St. Andrew Lutheran Church on any specific topic.