Memorial on Valentine’s Day


This afternoon I will take part in a memorial service at the Florida State Capitol for the 17 students slain at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School one year ago.  Here, more or less, is what I plan to say:

There was at time when February 14 meant fun, intrigue, and romance, especially a among the young.  For thousands of Americans, and particularly for the survivors of the shooting last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School, the meaning of the this day has been forever changed.

Jaclyn Corin, now a senior at MSD High, wrote in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times,

There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not reminded of the shooting. When I hear the sound of sirens or fireworks, I’m taken back to that horrific afternoon. For me, Valentine’s Day will now forever be a reminder of loss.

We gather tonight to remember the 17 lives stolen from their loved ones one year ago, the 17 people who bear physical scars from that day, and the hundreds more whose scars, though invisible, are no less real.

Experts in trauma tell us that “the body keeps the score.”  For the rest of their lives, the people affected by that bloody Valentine’s Day will be haunted by the violence inflicted by a single person armed with a weapon meant to be used on the battlefield, not in the hallways of a public school.

The memories of most Americans tend to be short.  By now, if you were not directly connected with the victims of that massacre, you might already have moved on, as did so many after a similar massacre of little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School just before the Christmas of 2012.

Indeed, if it were not for the determined activism of the students of MSD High, we might not even be gathered here on this grim anniversary.

Standing on the steps of the Old Capitol last year, those students pointed their fingers as us, the generations that preceded them, and cried “Shame.”  And they were so right do to so.  Too many of us had given up hope of any success in bringing some measure of sanity to the gun madness that has infected our culture.

Those young people “called BS” upon their parents and grandparents.  They pulled the curtain away from the unholy of holies and exposed the gods our culture worships –the gods of violence, guns, and hate.  They showed us that we had bent the knee to these idols, and sacrificed our own children on their altars.

As we pray tonight for healing and wholeness for those deep, invisible wounds borne by the victims of last Valentine’s Day, let us also repent of the idolatry that set the stage for that terrible loss.  Let us turn in a new direction and work ever harder to change not only the laws, but also the culture, that spawned the shooting at MSD High.

Let us forever banish the pernicious slogan that put “God” and “Guns” on a par with one another, for the two never did, and never will, belong together.

And, as we seek healing, from the God of love and grace, let us also repent.  Embraced by that God, let us also seek the moral courage to do what is right for our children and our children’s children.

Straight Shooting on Gun Control

students_safety_secondNext week the Tallahassee Democrat and the Village Square will host a discussion on school safety and gun control.  I have been asked to be on the panel.  Why, I am not sure.  It’s certainly not because I am a neutral party.  Most of my adult life I have been in favor of gun control.  As a Christian I regard the proliferation of guns in our culture a moral evil.  As a citizen I resent the bullying  and fear tactics employed by the gun lobby.

It’s a truism that “God, Guns, and Country” are closely associated with a certain strain of Christianity.  While I respect Christian brothers and sisters who disagree, I find it very hard to conceive of Jesus endorsing the NRA’s position.  The song “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” was a hit back in 1942 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but these days that sentiment makes me cringe.  “WWJP” (What Would Jesus Pack)?  The answer is not found in the text of the Second Amendment.

Even though I have strong convictions about this issue, I hope that the discussion does not end up generating more heat than light.  One of the goals of the Village Square is to provide a model of thoughtful, reasonable discussion of controversial matters.  I’m open to perspectives different from mine and am willing to be persuaded.  I don’t want the discussion to disintegrate into ad hominem attacks and slogan slinging.

Maybe the planners thought a guy wearing a clerical collar would be a calming influence.  If so, they obviously don’t know me well.  Nevertheless, I will strive to treat my interlocutors as I would like to be treated.  I’m sure Jesus would approve of that.

I received an e-mail from a grandmother in Pensacola who is passionate about this issue.  She wants elected officials to:

1) ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines of more than 10 rounds,
2) require background checks for all gun purchasers,
3) report the sale of large quantities of ammunition to the ATF,
4) limit the scope of concealed weapons laws at the state level.

I don’t see anything on that agenda about banning all guns.  I do see what look to me like common sense approaches to a serious problem.  Actions like this will not eliminate the gunlust that plagues our culture, but they might be steps in the right direction.

At any rate, the discussion on February 28 at 6:00 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church ought to be interesting.  I just hope all the salvos will be rhetorical.