In the aftermath of yet another school shooting, which has ricocheted into multiple copycat threats throughout the nation – including our local community, I would offer the following pastoral reflection. In doing so I realize that not all will agree with me, and it is not my intent to pick a fight or cause more division. However, there are times in life when, as a pastor, you feel something of a kinship in grief with the things that grieve the very heart of God. I have felt this burden for our homeland, it’s current state of political discord, and the spillover of all such things into the life of the church, for quite some time now. Perhaps the events of recent days have served as something of a tipping point for me.
So, what’s a Christ follower to do? What’s a Christ follower to think? How do we respond? I offer the following as a contribution to dialogue, thoughtful discourse and prayerful action:
The latest troubling example of a nation and people who have become paralyzed in public discussion and legislative response to societal ills, comes on the heels of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. This horrific act of violence resulted in seventeen lives being lost and many others being forever changed. In the aftermath of that tragic event it would appear that the students themselves are those who have found the courage to give voice and demand action from the body politic. This determination is no doubt motivated by their own moral outrage and pure terror, felt at the loss of their peers, and in the face of their own personal experience. It is these students, not our state and national leaders, who have been at the forefront this time around to demand change and action.
Sadly, in state and national houses of legislation inaction and argumentative rhetoric wins the day over and over again. We have heard and can expect to hear yet again the worn out words such as, “Now is not the time for substantive debate or legislation on issues of gun control or mental health.” But let’s call this for what it is – hiding behind the cover of grief and shock to find excuse for not taking any substantive action.
Another common refrain is, “This is a mental health issue, not a gun issue.” Perhaps there is truth in that remark, however it is hard to swallow that response when we as a society have done very little to address the crisis of mental health so predominant today.
A most recent response, coming even yesterday from our President in a White House forum with victim families, was to suggest that we “very seriously” consider arming school officials (i.e. teachers and administrators charged with the education of our children). As the spouse of a long time educator, who has had a first hand window into this very challenging occupation, where education professionals are already being asked to multi-task between the various hats of teacher, counselor, arbitrator, parent, comforter, coach, behavior analyst, community leader, and a host of other things; seriously? Now you would suggest that these under-paid, over-worked, too often criticized public servants, who are already operating in a test-crazy, results driven environment, be trained in firearms usage and understand force as a first response! You think we have a teaching shortage today?
So, in the absence of effective leadership from the highest offices in the land (my opinion), how are Christ following people to respond? In truth there is about as much division between and within faith communities as in the general public. We too are apt to react rather than reflect. We (and perhaps I’m guilty of this here) like to pontificate verses pray. Or, in many cases, we keep silent – silent for fear that we may offend one of another opinion who may occupy the seat nearby in worship, or be a member of our small group.
Biases, long cemented in our upbringing, education and life experience have deep-seated sway when it comes to a willingness, or ability, to engage in public discussion – even for people of faith. We are too quick to label those of another viewpoint as “other” or “opponent” rather than to take the time to understand how and why that viewpoint has come to be the one they own. The current culture has only reinforced these retreats into the safety of ideological bunkers.
But it would appear to me, once again and perhaps not surprisingly, that despite the difficulty of the work, its falls to those who follow Christ to set an example and offer an alternative way forward. How might we do this?
We can be those people and places, who in the example of Jesus, mourn with those who mourn. We can be those who listen and model a different and more patient and thoughtful posture to dialogue and debate. We can refrain from the reactive examples of culture with its cable news shouting matches and desire to reduce complex and systemic problems into “gotcha” posts and tweets. We can pray – together, for changed hearts, for repentance where it is due (maybe even in us), for a revival and awakening of faith in what has become a post-Christian environment. We can refuse to be baited into non-helpful labeling and demonizing of others. We can practice careful stewardship of our mouth, our social media sites and activity, and our other platforms of public intersection. We can encourage and applaud those who are called into public service to be and act as statesmen and women – not office holders beholden to a lobby or worried about the next election. We can get off the sidelines of inactivity and criticism and join the process of change. We can support, pray for and encourage these young people who are demanding change – as well as be there to pick them up and dust them off as they run into walls of obstruction. We can seek God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, stand for justice and righteousness, keeping our eyes and our ears on the true north of our faith in Christ Jesus. We can model a different way, a better way, a Christ centered way.
Will we solve the current slide of our society into chaos and disorder? Not easily or quickly, and perhaps not at all. But, this is life-worth-living work. It is work that our identification with Jesus – he who preached the sermon on the mount – calls us toward. We must pick up this work. For, if not us, who? If not now, when?