Dear Members and Friends,
There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.
-Miroslav Volf, theology professor at Yale
Our hearts are broken. On Valentine’s Day the worst school shooting in the horrible history of school shootings in the USA was perpetrated and 17 hearts stopped beating. Another 15 hearts were permanently damaged as the victims will spend their lives reliving and recovering from the horror of being shot by an assault rifle. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. My deepest condolences are extended to all who have been touched by this tragedy and who will be grieving for years to come.
The day of the shooting was also Ash Wednesday, when we pause to remember our mortality and our fallibility. It is a day for repentance, a word that has fallen out of favor in recent years as being too negative. But after February 14, 2018, we all need to be aware of our great need for repentance in the USA.
There have been 4 legitimately labeled school shootings in the US already this year. (One is too many.) Since Columbine High School in 1999, which stood as the worst school shooting in history, until February 14, 2018, there have been 208 school shootings. As heartbreaking as school shootings are, they are only tip of the iceberg of gun violence in the USA. In 2018 there has already been 30 mass shootings. There were 346 mass shootings in 2017. In 2018 there has already been 428 children and teens under the age of 18 killed or injured by guns. In all of 2017 there were 3,966. In 2018 there has been a total of 1,859 deaths by guns and in 2017 the total was 15,590.
Those statistics are staggering. Those statistics are the reason we need to repent as a nation. Our government leaders need to repent for doing nothing to better regulate and control access to high-powered killing machines created for use by the military in war, yet available to any citizen in this country, including a 19-year old expelled high school student. The NRA needs to repent for advocating blanket and blind access to such weapons, for God knows what reason. The gun manufacturers need to repent for placing profits above human lives, especially the lives of our precious children.
We also need to repent for not doing more to hold these people accountable and demand they take action. I know I have written far too few letters to my congressional leaders, to the Florida legislature, or to the Governor. I know that gun control has not been a major issue for me when I have decided how I was going to vote in past elections. I know that needs to change. I know that needs to change for all of us.
As Miroslav Volf suggests, it is not just the politicians who are being hypocritical when they offer their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of gun violence, but then do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to try to make it harder for such weapons to be used in the future. It is also us if all we do is pray. It is also us if all we do is rage against the NRA, and the politicians, and the gun industry on Facebook. It is also us if we throw up our hands and give into despair and do nothing.
The USA is a democratic republic. It is a nation of “We the People…” We do have the power of the vote and we do have the right to influence our representatives, who we elected to govern. But if we do not take that right and that power seriously and wield it actively then we are as hypocritical as the politicians who do nothing.
Ash Wednesday began the season of Lent. It is a traditional practice of Lent to “give something up” in order to practice the discipline of self-denial. The idea was to spend more time in prayer, or to have those cravings direct your thoughts more to God. In recent years it has been suggested the practice should be shifted to a form of “taking something on” in order to do something more positive and less negative.
So this is my commitment for Lent. I offer it as a suggestion for you to consider as well. I am going to write a letter a day to one or more of my representatives informing them of my expectation, my desire, and my demand that they take legislative action to restrict access to high-powered assault-type weapons in a meaningful way. I will inform them in each letter that I will be watching their actions, not their words, in the coming months and that this issue will become the primary issue on which I will be deciding my vote for future elections, until meaningful legislative action is enacted. (You can certainly word your letters in whatever way is meaningful for you, but I encourage you to make a similar commitment and begin letting the politicians hear from you regularly so they begin to know how important this issue is to “We the People…”)
I am inviting you to give up some of your time each day to take this action. I am inviting you to make it a prayer-of-action as part of your spiritual discipline for Lent. I am inviting you to allow it to be a continual moment of reflection on how we all need to repent of our acceptance of violence in many forms and of our need to change our lives and our hearts to become more loving, more forgiving, more compassionate, as was Jesus.
To help you begin this discipline here is how to contact your Government Leaders.
- To contact Senator Bill Nelson: www.billnelson.senate.gov/contact-bill
- To contact Senator Marco Rubio: www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact
- To find and contact your Congressional Representative go to www.house.gov/representatives, then enter your zip code in the box in the upper right hand corner of the screen and it will identify your representative. From there you should be able to access their web site with an email form to use.
- To contact Governor Rick Scott: www.flgov.com/contact-gov-scott/email-the-governor/
- To find your Senator and Representative for the Florida Legislature go to: www.leg.state.fl.us, and you will be able to search for them. You may only find a office address and a telephone number but you can call and get their email address to use, or register a concern over the telephone.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida