Tonight I offer
prayers for the whys
prayers for the not agains
prayers for the dying
prayers for the dead
prayers for the angry
prayers for the scared
prayers for the healers
prayers for the investigators
prayers for the grieving
prayers for the bystanders
prayers for the perpetuators of hate
prayers for the unhelpful rhetoric
prayers for the politicians
prayers for news outlets
prayers for our faith communities
prayers for the gun lovers
prayers for the gun lobbyists
prayers for the peacemakers
prayers for change
prayers for hope…
Today during our Hospice team meeting, we stopped at the 10 o’clock hour to honor the lives lost in Parkland, Florida just two weeks ago. Just two weeks…
I re-lit our memorial candles to read the 17 names. After two or three names, I could not go on. So I passed the paper to a co-worker… and to another… and then we stood in silence. And tears.
At my regular team meeting, I read the names of recent deaths, and we have a moment to honor them. Sometimes I get a lump in my throat and feel a little sad. The stories and lives of our patients affect us deeply. We know we are in a sacred work.
But this… this was so very difficult. So very, very different.
This was random.
This was evil.
This was violent.
This was full of pain.
This was senseless.
Right before I blew out the candles, I said to my teammates, “May their lights continue to shine.”
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.
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
You must keep looking.
This world is still
in the hands of the Almighty.
The gun violence
the self-interested corporations
are just a symptom
of this broken world.
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.
Be Christ’s hands and feet.
But most of all…
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.
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.