I’ve prayed. I’ve preached. I’ve written (and called) to my state and national representatives. I’ve signed petitions. I’ve shared articles on social media (and have gotten flak from some as well as thumbs up from others). I’ve changed my profile picture. I’ve given workshops. I’ve even compiled a book of terrific essays with my suggested process of how individuals and groups can act for change (Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: Challenging the Epidemic of Gun Violence). I’ve tried to engage others in conversation – not about rights, but about safety. I’ve really tried to act – what more can I do?
I don’t own a gun. I don’t hunt. I never have. I never will. When my children were growing up we were a “Gun Toy Free Zone.” I got flak for that, too, from other parents. The closest I’ve come to using a weapon is shooting an arrow at a target. Yes, I have used my hands and my voice as a weapon. And I’m not proud of that.
Many, including me, are saying “enough.” And many are saying “pray” – as in my prayers are for ….. (fill in the blank). Are the two connected? In this season of Advent, we await the coming of Emmanuel – God with us. But for many, Advent is the season to shop, filling our carts with more stuff – when we have enough while others in our cities and world don’t have enough. What does it mean to prepare a room in our heart for the love that is to come? It is hard when our news feed (no matter how or where we get it) is filled with vitriol, death, blood, fear, and the loss of innocence. Lives lost. Hope snuffed out. For some a promise and future that no longer will be.
In the aftermath of another massacre in the United States for yet unknown reasons – do we really need a reason? – I am numb. And tired. Yes, another mass killing had cameras poised on SWAT armored vehicles, waiting for the action. Some say we have a right to carry a weapon; after all, one of the first acts of Hitler was to take away the people’s weapons. Really? But what should our first act be? To pray? Yes, we pray for victims, for an end to violence, and yes – for the perpetrators. And we must act – individually and corporately. God hears our prayers, but uses us to provide the change that is needed.
I have been tempted to totally withdraw from watching the news and checking my social media feeds. But this came along on Facebook, posted by, Kimberly Knight:
No, my prayers will not stop the killing. No, my prayers will not bring back the innocent. No, my prayers will not relax the gnarled fist of hatred. No, my prayers will not open the greedy hearts of those who profit from death.But, my prayers can gently break the silence of despair. But, my prayers can channel my rage at the machine. But, my prayers can embolden me to be the hands and feet of The Divine. But, my prayers can encourage others of faith to awake, arise and act.I do not pray for God to send us a miracle. I pray for God to remind us how to be the miracle.I am because you are and only together, with a radical belief that a paradigm shift is possible, active hope and faithful resolve to be the change we seek, can we make it stop.
I invite you to join in one form of action – participate (urge your faith community to join) in the National Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath starting one week from today. Join places of worship across the nation, the Washington National Cathedral, the Newtown Foundation and Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, a coalition of more than 50 national denominations and faith-based organizations, to remember those who have lost their lives to gunfire, pray for those whose lives have been forever changed because of the loss of a loved one, and to educate one another on proven strategies to reduce gun violence.
From Thursday – Sunday, December 10-14, 2016, congregations across the nation will participate via prayer, song, vigils and education. December 14th is the actual anniversary of the tragic Newtown shooting. There are many ideas to inform your congregational or personal action plan here. Here are some examples from the National Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath website:
- Sermon & Education: Deliver a Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath sermon, invite reporters to attend, and provide gun violence prevention information/activities to congregants.
- Shoes we can never fill: Provide the visual of empty shoes or clothes on a clothesline outside church and invite media to vigil. See examples of the powerful imagery of shoes here.
- Points of Light: Light thousands of tealight candles depicting the number of people who have been lost to gun violence since Newtown or light candles representing the number of local gun violence victims. (A helpful calculator showing how many gun deaths since Newtown is available here.)
- Vigil & Vocals: Hold a vigil or church service with choir outside member of Congress’s office. While church choir is singing, have names of gun violence victims read. Intersperse lines of psalms with names of gun violence victims.
- Fasting for Action: A communal fast – have a continuous 2,000 hour fast (12 weeks) where people commit to fasting for one day outside elected officials’ office for gun violence victims.
- Acts of Kindness: Perform a specific number of acts of kindness to honor the number lost to gun violence in your community since Newtown.
- “Enough” image is by Roger Hutchison, who contributed a similar image to my book, Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace mentioned above.
- Article by Max Fisher on Vox: “This is the best paragraph I’ve ever read on gun control and mass shootings.“
- “Six Things Americans Should Know About Mass Shootings” by Frederic Lemieux on The Conversation blog.
- I’m proud of my U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal who came out with a statement after the Senate rejected legislation regarding gun violence, as well as my other senator, Chris Murphy who may have started all this “prayer is not enough” talk. Read Chris’ interview here.