The world is not a safe place

Gun violence makes the world feel  unsafe. Gun violence in a house of worship, even more so.

But the world is not a safe place. 

That seems obvious. But we cling to this ideal of peace, love and happiness. All you need is Love. Give peace a chance. We are the world. Let there be peace on earth.

I can sorta-kinda cope with violence in random public places, on public transportation, in shopping malls. Workplace shootings are rampant. Sadly, I have an expectation that it just might happen in some corner of my little world. It boggles my mind that I have to be vigilant for my personal safety in a public place, but this is the world we live in now.

I’ll be honest… I don’t get it. My mind can’t process this kind of hate. I see what evil has done. And I am numb.

Shootings in the public square are bad enough, but what about the attacks in churches? It seems ages ago since the attack in Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. How do we ever process the seemingly random violence of a shooter, assasinating the very folk who welcomed the stranger into their midst? Then to discover that, according to investigators, he plotted this for weeks?

Then I think about the violence at other places of worship. What about the mass shootings at a Sikh temple in 2012 in Oak Creek, Wisconsin? Or the six  people shot in a mosque in Quebec?

The churches in California, Tennessee, and now, Texas?

I don’t have answers for this kind of blind hate and prejudice. Lord knows I have enough unkind thoughts for some specific politicians today… but then I realize…

I am no better than the perpetrator of a mass killing if I let hate fester in my heart. 

Let me be clear: Am I looking for justice for the Charleston 9? Absolutely! But responding with violence? May it never be!

The stories will trickle in over the next weeks from the Sutherland Springs tragedy. We will read about families and shocked townspeople. We will get the pablum of “thoughts and prayers.” And we will hear the horrible theology of God needing another angel (ugh!!) and a diversion to a diatribe about mental illness instead of finally addressing gun control.

It has happened yet again.

The rhetoric swirls yet again.

And the world will continue to be unsafe.

And I will continue to wonder why any private citizen should own an assault rifle.

Another?

Psalm1021

Another?
Another shooting?

Whatever the reason…
Whoever has done this…
I do not understand.
I feel helpless…
The loss of lives, the stunned survivors…

I cannot make excuses or place blame.
(But, God, how I want to!)
My anger rises at the impotent lawmakers,
The greed of the gun lobbyists…

My heart can only cry out,
“Another?”

How many votives will I light?
How long will it take to light them?
And then… to watch them flicker out,
one by one by one…
life by life by life…

My heart can only cry out,
“Another?”

Make. It. Stop.

This was written on the one year anniversary of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. (See the original post…)

It is, sadly, appropriate for today. Three long years after Newtown, things haven’t changed much.

Lord, have mercy.

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“O God,
Make it stop!”

Cry the daughters and mothers
As their sons and brothers
Lie in the street
Blood on their feet

“Not my baby!
Not my child!
Not mine, not mine!”

And someone says
“We have the right to bear arms!”

And there is
Silence.

All turn and stare as the cold hard words
Clip their hopes
Once more…

“O God,
Make it stop!”

Cry the brothers and fathers
As their mothers and daughters
Are crumpled in bed
Shot in the head

“Not my baby!
Not my lover!
Not mine, not mine!”

And someone says
“We must stand our ground!”

And there is
Weeping.

As they walk away,
as they give up hope
No peace, no promise
No more
No way…

O God,
Make it stop
May there be
a night without gunshots

A day without a brokenhearted family’s tears.

Make it stop
May it be
Bring your peace
Help us, Lord…
Amen

Elegy for a Broken World

 

It is just an echo
of the Creator’s Masterpiece.
Her former glory now hints
of brilliance and beauty.

Impressions of the Divine’s handiwork
are there…
You must keep looking.
This world is still
in the hands of the Almighty.
The gun violence
the racism
the sexism
the self-interested corporations
are just a symptom
of this broken world.

Weep.
Pray.
Reflect.
Repent.
Remember.
Act.

Take the steps that are necessary
to send Light
streaming into minds and hearts,
to broadcast the wailing,
to comfort the mourning,
to offer hope to the forever-changed.

Be their voice.
Say their names.
Call out the questions
to the entitled and smug who champion
“the right to bear arms”
and who have more blood on their hands.

Be the David against Goliath.
Speak Truth.
Preach Justice.
Offer Mercy.
Be Christ’s hands and feet. 
But most of all…
Be Love.

Lessons from Ferguson

The news from Ferguson, Missouri touches a nerve. More than ever, I am aware of the ways in which my family of origin has shaped my human experience. I am blessed and privileged. To say anything less, or to make assumptions that I “understand” is both presumptuous and (dare I say it?) sinful.

As a chaplain, I have had several encounters in the hospital ER that remind me how fragile human life really is. Car accidents. Heart attacks. Drug overdose. Suicide attempts. Gun violence. Those are the extreme, headline-grabbing type of incidents.

Then there are the more commonplace that occur due to lack of access or engagement with the health system, or perhaps denial on the part of the patient. Raging infections. Impacted bowels. Cancer in advanced stages. Psychiatric illness. Neglect and abuse.

Each encounter backlit a problem that is systemic in our culture. Each incident caused a sudden weaving of a stranger’s life into my own. Over and over I heard the phrase, “Why is this happening to me?” I noted an unjust indictment against God: “If God is a loving God, why….?”

I can’t answer for God. Truthfully, there are days I do not really understand how God is working in the world. I walk on with faith and hope that the God I worship does care, does see each life as having value and does an overarching plan for the Universe.

Solidarity march for Michael Brown in response to the Ferguson grand jury decision from Flickr via Wylio© 2014 Fibonacci Blue, Flickr | via Wylio

When I read about the uproar in Ferguson, I am frustrated. I am angry. I feel powerless (and I am among the faces and races that have the socioeconomic power). Most of all, I grieve. I know that I do not really understand “what it feels like.” I remember that I have not experienced the pain, the prejudice, the anger, the wall of silence.

I remember sitting with a family member once, the matriarch of the family, waiting with her as the police detective interviewed her and then accompanying her to see her young son’s body. He had been shot in the heart at close range and was dead on arrival to the Trauma Center.

Her pain was visceral. Her family’s loss was palpable. The detective, the admissions clerk, the charge nurse all responded with efficiency, and I think they were sad that it happened. But the never-ending workload caused them to briskly move to their next tasks. It must have felt like no one cared. She turned the full force of her anger on me… and I had to agree with her that things were not going to be “OK.” In fact, I told her, they never would be.

Acknowledging her pain and my privilege didn’t fix things. But it did give us the space to move on, together, with a deeper awareness on my part that I understood far too little.

This lesson from Ferguson doesn’t sink in easily. It isn’t comfortable. It drives conversation into depths that define one’s understanding of the abuse of power, lines of communication and the reality of racial prejudice. If we are going to learn anything trom Ferguson, Missouri, it is simply this:

We must walk through this together. And with God’s help.

That night in the ER, the grieving mother and I began that journey. We sat together, letting the tears come and go. Softly and with wavering voices, we sang a hymn. It has become my anthem to accompany sorrow, fear and the big Unknown.

I do not understand fully but that does not stop me from listening, from grieving, and from praying for change. Not One More Life lost to gun violence.

 

Precious Lord, take my hand.

Lead me on, let me stand,

I am tired, I am weak, I am worn…

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on through the night…

Precious Lord, take my hand,

Lead me home…

© Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey

Antietam

This was written after taking a walking tour of Antietam in February. It is a sobering, thought-provoking place and it took me a while to process it…

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We walked along the fences
the ones that bordered the fields of Antietam
where pride and power and rights and sin
killed 23,000 in a day.

The way is rough
The fences line the roads they marched
The fields they defended
The farms that were overrun
The church that became a hospital.

The story shocks and hurts my heart
And yet, so does the front page
Bearing news of wars and armed conflict,
school shootings and gang violence.

We have not changed so very much,
for all of our technology.
Now as then, the fenceposts tell a story,
for violence leaves an uncertain shadow,
hurting a country and a culture and a world.

We are not unlike those who heard Jesus say…

“When you hear of wars
and reports of wars,
don’t be alarmed…” (Mark 13:7a)

I hold an unsteady hope in my heart,
longing for justice,
praying for courage,
and asking God for Peace.


Maranatha

Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath

This weekend is Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath. It is a time to raise awareness of the rising tide of gun violence in our country (and around the world), and how it intersects our lives. You can read more about it here…

A few months ago I wrote a poem/prayer after I had been the chaplain to a number of families who lost sons, daughters, parents or friends to gun violence. It was the refrain of one woman, “Make it STOP!” that became the impetus for writing that piece.

I can’t impress on you enough the heartache that these folks feel. I have felt their tears soaking into my shirt. I have held them as tears and sobs of grief overwhelm them. I have prayed earnestly for God’s help to bring words of comfort (when I had none) and words of healing (when I knew it would be a long, difficult process.)

From my perspective as a chaplain, When there is Gun Violence, there are many who are injured. They aren’t always hit with a bullet…

  • There’s the parent who is worried about what neighborhood they should live in because they hear gunshots at night.
  • There’s the EMT who waits with dread for the calls to come in… knowing it’s a weekend and the fights and altercations will increase… and will CPR be enough this time?
  • There’s the trauma team who wearily puts on gowns, gloves and masks, and waits for the gurney to arrive. Again. And again.
  • There’s the nurse who works doggedly throughout her shift, hoping that the medications and treatments and machines will be enough, and feeling like it’s an uphill battle, every night.
  • There’s the police officer who has to give the news to the family that they can’t view the deceased’s body. They will have to wait for the funeral home, because the body is considered part of the crime scene.
  • There’s a child raised without a parent or a grandparent, or even a classmate. And they are afraid it could happen to someone else they know.

Maybe you need a picture. Words or emotions don’t touch you. Check out the graphic at Slate which shows the impact of over 12,000 deaths between the shootings at Sandy Hook, CT and December 31, 2013. 12,042 deaths, to be exact. In a little over one year.

Create a memorial. Something like Silent March.

You could even make a thousand paper cranes as a peace project, like Sadako.

Maybe this isn’t something you care about. Maybe the scope of this problem doesn’t seem to affect your world. I invite you to read. Pray. Read. Think. Consider. And then act. Your life is precious. And so is mine. Let’s find a way for all of us to live a little longer…