This Sunday, Church in the Cliff is proud to participate in the Gun Violence Sabbath Weekend, in partnership with the Washington National Cathedral and Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. In preparation, I’ve been looking at a lot of statistics. It’s upsetting. I remember the day of Sandy Hook. I was in California for Lisa’s company holiday party. We were in a hotel right on the beach, waves literally washing up underneath our balcony, the soft sound rocking us to sleep at night. The morning of Sandy Hook, I had gotten up early to read in preparation for the next semester of seminary. I was taking a class on evil, suffering, and death, and the first assignment was to read “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor” from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. Included in the first of those chapters, Ivan, in conversation with Alyosha, philosophizes on the nature of evil:
I finished my reading and turned on the TV to see that twenty children had been shot to death along with six adults and the shooter, Adam Lanza, who killed himself. It turned out he had also killed his mother in her sleep with the gun that she had bought for him.
Lent is a time of preparation, as we have said. It is a preparation for death that leads to new life. In the liturgical calendar, we rehearse the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, so that we are prepared for all that life has to offer. Coping with small losses, even (or perhaps especially) symbolic losses, creates a deep reservoir from which we draw when the big stuff hits. But nothing can prepare us for this.
At least this will serve as a trumpet blast, I thought, the call that wakes us up to the epidemic in our land. Certainly, this tragedy can be redeemed. We’ll pass new laws. Restrict clip sizes. Require background checks on every gun sale, so we at least know where they all are. Maybe people will voluntarily give up their guns, refuse to be a part of this cycle of violence and death, say enough is enough. Maybe we’ll finally beat our swords into plowshares after all. Two years later, there has not been one significant change in state or federal policy regarding guns. In fact, the only thing that has been done is to arm teachers and school administrators in some states, putting more guns in our schools. Every morning, millions of parents send their kids to militarized zones to learn. The result: forty-four school shootings since Sandy Hook; twenty-three mass shootings in the year following Sandy Hook, including four within a stone’s throw of Dallas. It seems that the sins of parents are indeed visited on the children.
Our lectionary text this week is Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John, chapter 3. In it, he promises Nicodemus that he could see the realm of God if he will only be born again, born from above. This new life seems nonsensical to Nicodemus. We often imagine in our modern world that God speaks only of God’s things: heaven, the spiritual, and the great hereafter. But Jesus testifies to earthly things. If we cannot believe those things, we have no right and no way to know the things of heaven. If there is new life on the other side of a tragedy like Sandy Hook, we must believe that Ivan is wrong, that the reasoning from heaven is one of hope. At this point, it seems nonsensical to believe that there is a life not dominated by the threat of violence. However, we must believe God’s great witness to the things of this earth: that we are here to thrive and love and mourn and change.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about earthly things: tragedy and the possibility of new life. Note that we will be taking up a special collection to be donated to a non-profit working to end violence.
Grace and Peace,