Greetings, Friends –
How are you? I mean, really, how are you? Are you still somewhat numb and confused by the events in Las Vegas last Sunday night? Or angry? Or just dreadfully sad? The news from Las Vegas, the devastation in Puerto Rico, and three dead in a shooting in Lawrence, Kansas – it’s too much to wrap my mind around. I hope that you all have been able to find some time to grieve in whatever way that comforts you in the midst of all the chaos.
St Augustine of Hippo wrote: “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage; Anger at the way things are and Courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” Well, I am angry. I’m angry that these horrible, senseless killings continue to happen. I recall a line credited to Albert Einstein that seems appropriate: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” As a nation, we seem to be insane. We haven’t been able to put an end to mass shootings despite how often we all agree how dreadful they are. This year alone, there have been seven events beginning with the airport shooting in Fort Lauderdale, FL, on January 6, in which 5 people died. In June, we mourned the loss of 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL. And now this… and nothing has been done to protect the lives of our citizens by our legislators. You can see a list of all mass shootings since 1982 here.
I’m angry because we seem to have lost our collective reason. I heard someone on the news discussing their anti-abortion agenda and thought how ironic that we can be so passionate about the lives of the unborn yet we refuse to protect the lives of the already-born through reasonable gun control measures. I’m angry to think that we live in what has been seen as the greatest country on Earth and yet it is one of the most dangerous 1st world countries based on the number of deaths by gun violence according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
We need to use our anger to motivate us to action. We need to have courage. Courage to let our voices be heard in phone calls or letters to those who make the laws. I have a good friend who seems to take pleasure in complaining about the horrendous political situation we have in our country. She’s very passionate about her position and how very wrong the “other side” is. She’s very well-informed so she is up on all the latest concerns and arguments. Frankly, I’m tired of her ranting because she hasn’t once called or written to a legislator to voice her opinion. It’s not enough to talk to our friends about how awful things are, we must do something.
On Tuesday morning, Bishops United against Gun Violence issued a statement:
We share in the grief and horror of people across our country and, indeed, around the world in the wake of last night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. We have spoken with our Bishops United Against Gun Violence colleague and brother in Christ, Bishop Dan Edwards of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, and we have offered him and the people of Nevada our prayers and promises of assistance. We stand in solidarity with the diocese and the people of Nevada as they cope with this massacre.
It has become clichéd at moments such as these to offer thoughts and prayers. But as Christians, we must reflect upon the mass killings that unfold with such regularity in our country. And we must pray: for the victims, for their loved ones, for all who attended to the victims in the immediacy of the shooting, for the first responders who do so much to mitigate the awful effects of these shootings, and for the medical personnel who will labor for many days to save the wounded. We must also enter into the sorrow of those who are most deeply affected by our country’s cripplingly frequent outbursts of lethal gun violence. We must look into our own hearts and examine the ways in which we are culpable or complicit in the gun violence that surrounds us every day.
And then, having looked, we must act. As Christians, we are called to engage in the debates that shape how Americans live and die, especially when they die due to violence or neglect. Yet a probing conversation on issues of gun violence continues to elude us as a nation, and this failure is cause for repentance and for shame. It is entirely reasonable in the wake of mass killings perpetrated by murderers with assault weapons to ask lawmakers to remove such weapons from civilian hands. It is imperative to ask why, as early as this very week, Congress is likely to pass a bill making it easier to buy silencers, a piece of equipment that make it more difficult for law enforcement officials to detect gunfire as shootings are unfolding.
Even as we hold our lawmakers accountable, though, we must acknowledge that a comprehensive solution to gun violence, whether it comes in the form of mass shootings, street violence, domestic violence or suicide, will not simply be a matter of changing laws, but of changing lives. Our country is feasting on anger that fuels rage, alienation and loneliness. From the White House to the halls of Congress to our own towns and perhaps at our own tables, we nurse grudges and resentments rather than cultivating the respect, concern and affection that each of us owes to the other. The leaders who should be speaking to us of reconciliation and the justice that must precede it too often instead stoke flames of division and mistrust. We must, as a nation, embrace prayerful resistance before our worse impulses consume us.
We join with the people of God in fervent prayer that our country will honor those murdered and wounded in Las Vegas by joining in acts of repentance, healing, and public conversation about the gun violence that has ripped us apart, yet again.
You can learn more about Bishops United against Gun Violence on their webpage.
Yes, we must pray – and then we must speak out. Our very lives depend on it. I know that there are many varied opinions about the details of gun control: bans on assault weapons, bans on kits that turn semi-automatics into automatic weapons (bump stocks), background checks at gun shows and private sales, etc. Please share your opinions with the appropriate government officials. If you’re not sure who they are or how to reach them, you can find that information here – If you need more information to form an informed opinion, check out this article in The Atlantic.
We are God’s beloved people called to love all God’s children. Let’s demonstrate that love by taking steps to prevent this sort of tragedy again. Please.
Let us pray –
Gracious and loving God, we are stunned by the violence in Las Vegas and our spirits are heavy with grief. It is beyond our understanding. We pray for those who have lost loved ones, may they feel your peace. For those who have been injured in body and in mind, comfort them; and for those souls now with you, grant them rest.
We remember the slenderness of the thread which separates life from death, and the suddenness with which it can be broken. Embrace all of us with your love; give us hope in our confusion and bring peace to all. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council