February 16, 2018
A collective grief ...
Note: This is straight from my heart. It's not meant to offend or console. It's just your pastor revealing her heartache and struggle, without agenda or apology. It just is what it is. This is what I am thinking and feeling at 5pm on Thursday, February 15, 2018. I invite you to write out what you are thinking and feeling too...or call or text or e-mail Pastor Morgan or Mary or myself. I hurt for all of you that are hurting...re-living traumas from Columbine and the Aurora Movie Theatre shooting and the deaths of recent police officers and first responders..and other violent events that have touched your lives.
"The Ash Wednesday mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is the ninth-deadliest American mass shooting in modern history. It is the largest in a school since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn, that killed 27. It is the 25th mass shooting — defined as four or more injured or killed at one location, not counting the shooter — so far in 2018, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit research group not affiliated with any advocacy organization founded in 2013. The AR-15 style rifle used in Wednesday’s attack — a civilian model of the military’s M-16 — is the same weapon employed in mass shootings at last fall’s Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, the 2016 Pulse night club shooting in Orlando, Fla., last November at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and at Sandy Hook." (paragraph source: Baptist News Global)
...An Invitational Lent
All I could think about Wednesday evening as I drove home from Calvary's Ash Wednesday service, with ash still under my finger nails as I gripped the steering wheel, were these two invitations from Jesus:
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:14)
I am weary.
We are all beyond weary, I know.
Of the slaughtering of innocent children and teens and adults.
I am trying to learn from the humility and gentleness of Jesus, but right now all I feel is sickening anger and deep, deep sadness. I am trying to imagine a gentle and humble Jesus, bending down to welcome children in his arms, telling the adults to let the kids come to him because he values them, he loves them, he wants them to live and thrive...and not only that...he sees them as the inhabitants of the kingdom of heaven. Children. They are the ones who teach us what the kingdom of God is all about.
And we are killing them. Our cities, states, and country have failed to work non-stop trying everything in our power until we come up with a solution so that our children and youth do not die from bullet wounds. We did this when ebola came to the United States. Everyone was working non-stop to prevent it from spreading. Why do we not do this for mass shootings? For tragedies related to mental health and guns?
I feel ownership in these deaths as much as I feel helplessness. I may feel helpless, but the truth is, I know I am not. None of us are. We can help come up with solutions. We can advocate for common sense gun laws. (I have never understood, and still cannot wrap my head around the fact that in many states in the U.S. you can legally purchase a gun before you can legally drink alcohol.) We can advocate for mental health resources and awareness and compassion and understanding. And we must confess and accept our ownership in this pain and violence that keeps tearing hearts and lives apart. Until we do, I fear nothing will change.
I do not understand how second amendment rights are threatened with common sense gun laws and screenings.
I do not understand why we can't work passionately and tirelessly in the areas of mental health care while also passing laws to ban weapons that can kill lots of people really quickly.
I do not understand why we cannot talk about, and deal with, the epidemic of gun violence in our country while also simultaneously sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims whose lives are now gone.
I do not understand why this has anything to do with Republicans or Democrats. Don't we all send our children to the same schools? Go to the same movie theaters and concerts? Worship in the same churches? How can an epidemic of violence that touches us all equally - no matter our faith or political party affiliation - be so divisive?
I do not understand why we care more about the second amendment rights of people age 18+ than we do the rights of those under 18 to grow up and have "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
I do not understand. And I've really tried. I just can't wrap my head and heart around it.
I know I preached a sermon last week about how "understanding" isn't everything. About how we have to have faith even when we don't have all the answers. That walking forward in faith, even in the midst of deep struggle, is the only way we'll ever come to understanding. And I still believe that. So I will move forward in faith. But my faith has to make a difference in the world. Not just in my life, but in the lives of every single beloved child of God.
I have written to my representatives. I have gone to meetings for CFCU-CO (Colorado Faith Communities United to End Gun Violence). (Important distinction: this is not about taking away people's right to own a gun, this is about ending gun violence...there is a big difference). I have lamented and grieved with so many of you over text messages and e-mails and phone calls every time there is a mass shooting. But I know it's not enough. Because we still aren't there yet. All policies aside, just from a pastoral and congregational care standpoint alone - how can we as Christians not try anything and everything we can to stop this madness? Of course there is no quick fix. Of course whatever actions are taken might not "work." But what we are doing (or not even trying to do) right now is not working either. And the grief is so deep. I lost a close friend in college to gun violence. Many of you have also lost friends or family to gun violence. And so many of you live with gun violence as part of your daily realities as you go through shooter safety drills in your kids' schools. The trauma we are allowing ourselves to experience will never leave us. It's in our psyches and bones.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
And may we have mercy too. Mercy on those who keep dying. Mercy that moves us to action. Mercy that makes it clear that this is not okay...that what is now our "normal" in the United States, is in fact, not normal. (Yemen is the only country in the world that has more mass shootings per capita than we do.)
Thanks for reading my own thoughts and feelings and struggle. I know I am your pastor, but I don't have all the answers. And there are things that are so hard to understand that I can't always come up with the right words to say - either for a call to action or for words of comforting pastoral care. Because of that, I'm grateful for faith leaders who can articulate what I sometimes can't at times like this. Like Rabbi Joe Black of Denver's Temple Emanuel. I've read his prayer multiple times already - and will keep returning to it. I welcome your prayers, responses, calls to action, etc. This is a collective grief that calls for a collective action.
For everything that I don't know and do not understand...there is a hope that I do know to be true and that we must all proclaim: from death and darkness, resurrection and new life can come. But it won't come without us doing something.
The Spirit of the Living God does not work like a magician with a wand. The Spirit of the Living God empowers us to be the hands and feet and voice of Christ in the world today. We are the ones who must be saying: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:14)
~ Pastor Anne