From the Pastor's Desk
When I heard the news of another massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, some of my first thoughts were of my 18-year-old daughter. I wanted to be with her, to see her, to touch her, and hug her, as my heart broke for the parents and students newly baptized by blood into our country's club of gun-violence victims. I can't imagine what it was like for those who were shot at, but as a teenager, my 16-year-old sister was killed in a violent accident and I know the nightmare of sudden loss. I imagine it was worse for my parents to lose a child, but at the time I could not imagine feeling any worse than I did.
My daughter was away at school as I listened to the news from Florida. The last time I had been with her was over the holidays. At that visit, her classmate, Johnny, posted urgently on Facebook, "Please don't let them deport my mom." Johnny and his 16-year-old sister were desperate. Their mother's only crime was to come to this country thirty years ago to escape poverty, the same reason my Irish ancestors came to the states. Our family called the phone numbers Johnny gave us, but his mother was deported anyway. Heartbroken, my daughter wondered what values our country stands for. I'm not sure anymore.
In the Christian tradition, this is the season of Lent. It began on Ash Wednesday, the day that the massacre in Parkland, Florida occurred. During this season, Christians are encouraged to draw closer to God. Some people choose to fast or give up things that distract from their spiritual quest. During this time, we are encouraged to walk closely with Jesus, a young non-white man who had been a refugee; a minority living under the powerful and violent Roman Empire. Imagine journeying with a man like this on a very long walk to the cross. I imagine him smiling and whispering as we walk along. Two thousand years ago, he would have said that Caesar is not God nor was the powerful Roman Empire what the kingdom of God looks like. God has a soft spot for children, the poor, refugees, and folks that people reject; God puts them first. Perhaps his message wouldn't be a lot different today. Can we non-violently walk with him to confront our modern Pilates?
Our country must choose who it will follow. Will we continue to be a violent nation that values assault weapons more than human life? Will we close our hearts to compassion, the life-blood of most religions, and allow families to be torn apart? Will we walk with Jesus and be changed by him or are we following modern Caesars?
Firearm enthusiasts may claim that assault rifles can save lives, but look at the data of the number of mass killings when the assault weapon ban was in place versus since it's been lifted. Challenge yourself to look. Furthermore, the idea of more people carrying weapons for protection does not make sense. Areas that have more guns have more shootings. Challenge yourself to look. Yes, guns are not the only problem. Of course people need to report suspicious behavior, our legal system needs to handle reports well, and mental health needs to be accessible. However, as a mental health professional, I can tell you that the people who shoot up schools may not be cured by therapy. Imagine someone who lacks empathy, is impulsive, self-centered, and a bully. Spoiler alert: There is no pill or talk therapy that will effectively change certain disorders. We should fund research to improve therapies and work with law enforcement, but the sensible, compassionate act with the most impact would be banning weapons of war. Let's get behind the brave teenagers of Parkland and let the children lead us, as Jesus once suggested.