Another tragedy. We are so used to it aren’t we? So numb.
I remember when I was in Ukraine, during the beginning of the revolution, folks were literally up in arms about the loss of six people. Six. Later of course, when the movement would begin to die down, death and violence by the state would rekindle the flames of rebellion and on they would protest and fight.
50 people are dead today at the hands of a “bad guy with a gun”. I read the news right before we began our service today, my last with Gator Wesley. At the time only 20 were thought dead. And the text I chose, the feelings of the exasperation of Elijah (that’s right I skipped to next week’s lectionary text because I didn’t like any of the ones from this week) as he flees Jezebel and asks the Lord to take his life are in some ways the feelings I feel right now.
Can we do nothing about this? Is inaction the only acceptable response? Can we only post our hashtags about praying for Orlando? Is there not more that can be done?
I saw that someone posted, as they always do, that we should wait to make this a political issue. Can’t we at least wait for their mothers to bury them before we turn this into a political issue? Give them the room to grieve over their loss before we pick at the bones of their loved ones to move our agenda forward. I hear this. I feel this. I sympathize with it, but in short the answer is no. Partly because we cannot help but capitalize on the pain and fear of others to inspire folks to make rash decisions, but also in part because we have already waited too long. Our passivity and inability to do anything around preventing such tragedies and atrocities has brought the death of the folks in Orlando, as it has many times in the past.
Today, after church, I was talking with a couple of students who relayed to me their pervasive fear of being shot by a gunman. One shared that she is scared in classrooms with only one door. She always thinks in church that someone could just stroll in and kill us all. The other talked about her fear in movie theaters. We talked about how our generation was raised in this fear in a post-Columbine world. We have memories of school going from a safe and happy place to one where we had shooter and intruder drills. One girl recalled how the entire school went to a local arena to talk about Columbine—to unpack it and talk about what they would do in a similar situation.
Not that Columbine was the first, but certainly the first of its magnitude, and the first in our consciousness as twenty-somethings.
We cannot wait.
The 50 that died today, and the 53 wounded, they deserve action. We need to honor them by taking decisive action in ways that will prevent future horrors. They shouldn’t have had to endure this terror, and our silence, our willingness to let this be the normal, is simply unacceptable.
We cannot wait for mothers to bury children because it allows us just enough time to forget their faces. To forget the mourning and righteous outrage. To forget that as a people we bear some of the responsibility if we continue to not hold our country and our gun owners/dealers to a higher standard simply because we don’t want our toys taken away. The weapons that are guaranteed in our constitution.
I grieve deeply for the loss of lives in Orlando.
My heart breaks for their beloved families and friends left in the wake of such pain.
My prayers go out to those still fighting for their lives.
But there is no time to waste, and no room for waiting. Let us turn our prayers to action—as so many have in other ways as lines at blood banks increase across Florida. Call your senators, call your representatives, don’t let one more moment pass without demanding a meaningful response that is greater than we grieve, we mourn, we pray. These words are beautiful, but mean nothing without the move to action behind them.
I was going to leave it at that, but we all know I’m incapable of such things. Instead today I’ve been haunted by one of my favorite pieces by one of my favorite composers (judge me if you will but this man can write a ballad), An American Elegy by Frank Ticheli. This was written for Columbine in memory of those who lost their lives, and in honor of the survivors. Ticheli said, “It is offered as a tribute to their great strength and courage. . . . I hope the work can also serve as one reminder of how fragile and precious life is and how intimately connected we all are as human beings.” When I was first introduced to the piece, my band director told us all that Columbine didn’t have an Alma Mater when Ticheli was working on the piece, and at about minute 7 you can hear part of the Alma Mater Ticheli penned for them. It’s a work of beauty, and I think we could use a little on this awful day.