“This is for the kids who die, Black and white, for kids will die certainly. The old and rich will live on awhile, As always, eating blood and gold, Letting kids die.” (Langston Hughes)
“A Voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled because they are no more.” (Matthew 2)
Yesterday 19 little children and two of their teachers were slaughtered in Texas while they were trying to learn how to add and subtract and use new words, as they contemplated the peanut butter sandwiches in their lunchboxes and the summer break only a few days away. The one who shot them celebrated his 18th birthday a few days earlier by buying two assault rifles, weapons of war, and posting on Instagram “Kids be scared.” He, a sick and demented child himself.
This is where it’s easy to take our normal tack, writing it all off as the work of a mentally deranged individual, responding with love and prayers and dropping the whole event like an email into our massacre file so that it can be forgotten, until the next one tomorrow, or if we’re lucky, next week.
But ours is a culture of death not unlike that ancient one Jesus was born into. The part of the Christmas story we don’t often read, and for good reason: “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem…” And the people were left to take up the ancient words of Rachel, who cried as she was dying, giving birth to Benjamin (Son of my sorrow).
Thankfully, we say, we are different than evil old Herod. We are civilized, we do not have rulers who do such horrible things, and we are people who deeply treasure and value life. But today the Spirit confronts us with a one word question: Really? Really?
To just what level is it that we treasure life? Though we don’t order the slaughter of innocents, don’t we collectively allow for it, don’t we continually put up with it? Is this the first time we’ve encountered kids who die needlessly? This ongoing pattern of mass shootings with access to weapons of war, has it caused us collectively to say enough, and to take action, desperate action to stop it? If we do nothing, it seems that we are a great big collective Herod after all.
I’m angry and heart-sick this morning, not meaning to residence my spirit in politics but in the Kingdom of God, which is focused on life, and joy, and peace and flourishing, all bound up in the love of neighbor. My rights are to be relinquished if it is better for your welfare. While we can argue till the sun goes down about the second amendment to our collective constitution, there is no argument for citizens having access to weapons of war, more easy to access than cigarettes. This is a gross mis-understanding of the right to bear arms, when we are arming ourselves not to fight the redcoats but to wager how many black people we can kill, or how many Christians or Jews we can kill, or how many children we can kill.
And from a Christian perspective, we would be most ready to figure out a way forward with laws that restrict access to such weapons, as well as a thorough process before one can be a gun owner at all. It’s clear this is what is best for our neighbor. Certainly for the innocents being slaughtered.
For now, we we must grieve with parents submitting DNA samples so that their unrecognizable first grader’s death can be confirmed. We wail with sorrow for teachers shielding the little ones and being murdered. We sorrow for the family of the gunman, and for those first responders who must go inside and see a sight of such destruction.
I learned from my daughter Hannah that the word “Politic” means “the things of the city”, the Polis. Whatever your opinion about laws or approaches, we as people of faith must deeply care and act for the good of the things of the city. We who follow after one we call the Prince of Peace, we must lead the way forward to some other way forward in our own culture of death.
For the kids who die, our hearts are broken.