Let me define my ground at the very beginning of this reflection. I am not against the right to own guns for the purpose of hunting nor, in most cases, for self-defense. There is a lot of difference, it seems to me, between owning a gun in rural areas of Texas where snakes and varmints abound than there is in the suburbs of Waco. I hunted as a teenager and enjoyed it. So don’t paint me into the corner that interprets any effort at gun control as meaning that I want the government to come get your guns.
That said, as I heard the news about the slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School driving home last Wednesday, I was enraged on multiple counts. First, for the kids and their parents whose lives were forever changed. Second, for the kids and their teachers, both in Florida and across the country, who now plan and undergo drills for what happens in case of a “school shooter.” No educational environment should have to do that. Third, as a clergyman, sympathizing with every single person who said that “prayers and concerns” are not enough. Fourth, agreeing with the high school student in Florida who said: “Now is indeed not the time to talk about gun control. It is too late.” Fifth, once again awed at the courage of teachers and students who responded by putting themselves in harm’s way to protect other students. Finally, mad at myself for not doing all that I might be able to do to prevent these tragedies from happening.
Please note carefully: As a clergyperson, I am often awed by the power and importance of prayer. But I also believe, as the writer of James famously says, that prayers and faith without works are empty. In the spirit of an old Pogo cartoon applied now, the conversation would go like this: “I often feel like asking God why God does not do more to protect these children and to prevent shootings like this?” “Well,” Pogo’s friend answers, “Why don’t you?” Pogo: “I am afraid God would ask me the same question.”
One power of prayer is that it can mobilize the ones doing the praying to align themselves with the work of God and God’s spirit in the world. A wonderful meme came my way last year that simply said, “If you go to sleep at night asking for God’s help to move a mountain, be prepared to wake up in the morning with a shovel by your bed.”
We thanked God for the courage of those first responders in Parkland, Florida, last week. Courage is the capacity to step out of the ordinary, to go above and beyond the call of duty, to put oneself at risk for the sake of others. In a country where millions are too easily put into defined boxes of “gun haters out to take away Second Amendment rights” on one side and “gun nuts who see every attempt at even a conversation about gun control as a threat” on the other, courage may mean the capacity to step out to begin real conversations rather than cowering in fear of being labeled “impure” or a “traitor” by your friends. First responders act with a deep sense of responsibility. If we express admiration for responders, doing so without our responding in some courageous way is empty and hypocritical.
So I am still enraged and very tired of dollars and profits defining the debate rather than freedom, rights and a keen sense of responsibility . Bill Klein, a pastor in Virginia, said it best from the pulpit of his church: “If one of the 17 killed at Douglas High School had been my son or daughter, brother or sister, I would be a man possessed. My confession is, I should be a man possessed because they are all our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters.”
It is time for courageous conversations, prayers that are as much about votes and action as they are about heartfelt words, and the collective will to respond in ways that move us beyond the immobilizing power of fear, money and stereotypes. We elect public leaders to help us in these kinds of critical times because of their confessed love of country and love of fellow citizens. But if that love has no action, then the Apostle Paul has it right: They, and all of us who duck and hide, are like noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.