This morning at 10:00 a.m. people gathered for the March For Our Lives rally in downtown Wichita. According to one news site there were over 1000 people. I believe it. I acknowledge that not everyone believes that sensible gun control can be accomplished or should be. I believe that one can honor the second amendment AND put restrictions on certain types of guns and ammunition. I have written about that in this blog post. And detailed the several blog posts I have done on senseless violence here.
When the shooting happened on Valentine’s Day at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School I was overwhelmed with sadness, grief and a sense of powerlessness. I wrote about that grief and pain as well. I am so weary of the craziness that seems to allow this kind of violence to happen again and again.
Today, however, felt different. The half a mile walk from our home to the gathering place at Park Elementary was brisk and chilly. I said to my husband, “I hope there are many young people there this morning, instead of just us old fogeys!” As we walked a couple blocks I noticed that there were many cars that were already parked. By the time we arrived at the school we could see literally hundreds of people: young parents with children in strollers, middle school and high school students, young adults, middle aged adults and older adults. Scanning the crowd seeing all ages and races literally made my heart sing.
The rally began with young people leading us, high school students encouraging chants and then giving directions. When there were cars parked in a private parking lot, these students took care of it efficiently and effectively.
Once we arrived at the Old Courthouse downtown, every speaker, save one, was a student, half of them too young to vote.
Each speaker noted that they are tired of being afraid. They do not want to go to school and have to worry if they are the next one to text their loved ones goodbye. In one way or another, each one said, “we may be young, but we are not going away.” In fact, they were clear that even if they could not yet vote, they had voices and they had passion and determination to change the world into one where children, youth and young adults will not be afraid.
As they spoke, I thought about that Jeremiah passage (1:4-8)
4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
6Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ 7But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’
Now if you know anything about Jeremiah’s story you know it was not an easy task. He was persecuted, hated and there were many attempts to shut him up. Even in the midst of turmoil and violence, Jeremiah lived out his calling and shared both judgement and grace.
I find it somewhat interesting that this march happens the day before Western Christianity celebrates Palm/Passion Sunday. In another place, far away, Jesus rode into Jerusalem proclaiming a different kind of world, a different kind of kingdom. His love and grace in the face of hatred and violence is model that has been used since then to change the world. I grant, the world is still a violent hate-filled place, but following Jesus for me means continuing to stand up against all the powers of evil in this world. In fact, Holy Week is an invitation to do just that.
I have already read and heard the voices that are trying minimize these young people’s efforts and their pain. “Car accidents kill more young people,” or “suicides” and while that may be true, I can not imagine having to live in a world where I would have to be trained as young as kindergarten to avoid a shooter. Our children have grown up since Columbine in a world I never imagined. This is not normal, nor should it be made normal.
I can no longer pretend that this is not hurting and damaging our children’s very souls. The survivors of these acts of violence will live with consequences of my inactions, of our inactions for the rest of their lives. More guns are not the answer and arming teachers doesn’t solve the problem either.
I believe sensible gun control provides part of what we need. Yes, I know that “criminals” will always be able to get guns. That doesn’t mean we have to make it easy. Obviously metal detectors help, but in the end, I think we need to be far more proactive. Limiting access to assault style weapons and the magazines that allow them to fire more rounds quickly is a start. The only purpose for these kinds of weapons is to kill human beings, which is why they should be limited to the military.
I also believe that the many violent video games with active shooters are part of the problem. I know they are “games” but the very fact we have thousands of people who have fun killing others on a screen is problematic. I have even caught myself wondering about the television shows I watch. I love when the good guys take out the bad guys, often using guns. Whether it is one of the superhero shows or a police show, the violence is pervasive through the entire hour. Maybe I have become immune to violence and think it solves the problem.
I am so proud of these students who have chosen to make their voices heard even as people disagree with them. I am so proud that they organized marches (which is not easy thing to do) with the help of adults in order to get their message out. I am hopeful for their sake, that they can bring about change, that they can work for peace, for justice and for a better world. They have begun the lifelong journey of working for what they believe.
During this Holy Week, Jesus faces down evil without violence. When he was being arrested, in the gospel of Matthew, one of those with him pulled out a sword and sliced off the ear of a slave of the high priest and Jesus said: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26: 52)
Violence breeds violence, I know that. So I intend during this next week to pay attention to the violent tendencies of my heart. I intend to look to my thoughts and my spirit to see where I am hateful, where I am less than what Jesus calls me to be. I will pray for these students who are beginning to walk that long road to work toward change. I will pray for my city, my state and my nation as we wrestle with what it means to care for our children and to keep them safe. This Holy week walk invites me to remember how quickly I can go from parades to passion, from Hosanna to Crucify. May my heart and soul and spirit this week be one of grace, of peace and of faith in in the One who brings new life and resurrection through the power of the cross.