Another tragedy. Another mass shooting. Another 14 teenagers and 3 faculty/administrators senselessly killed by gun violence in the middle of a school day inside their school.
We know how the pattern usually goes from here:
Mass shooting. – “Thoughts and prayers.” – A push for gun control.
A pushback against the discussion about gun control:
“It’s too soon.” – “This is not a gun issue, it’s a person issue.” – “Let’s blame mental illness.”
Silence on gun control from the top.
Another scandal or top news event takes place, and within days, the victims and loved ones of the horrific shooting are forgotten and the discussion about gun control dissipates… until more lives are taken during the next mass shooting.
However, things seem to be a bit different after last week’s mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It’s been an entire week and yet people across the country are still talking about Parkland and gun control. More people appear to be joining the conversation. The stories of gun owners and Army veterans who are advocating for stricter gun control are going viral. Some gun owners are even destroying their own guns on camera.
And this larger-level conversation seems to be continuing because our Parkland youth survivors (yes, these Parkland youth are OUR youth) are demanding that it continues. They are making sure this country not only doesn’t forget them, but that this country takes action toward ending these kinds of senseless tragedies in the future.
And these young people are not backing down.
They are speaking to the press, urging the country to prioritize their lives and to put their lives before greed. They are calling on Congress to pass legislation that will ensure their safety and limit access to automatic and semi-automatic weapons. They are organizing school walk-outs, die-ins, and marches. And 1000s of other youth across the country are joining them in this work.
These young people – OUR young people – are leading the way forward.
And we have a responsibility to listen to them and to follow their lead. We have a responsibility to turn our thoughts and prayers into action… To pray with our feet.
As David Hogg, youth survivor of the Parkland shooting stated in an interview on CNN: “Ideas are great. But without action, ideas stay ideas and children die… [Policy makers] can say ‘yes we’re going to do all these things,’ ‘thoughts and prayers.’ What we need more than that is action. PLEASE. This is the 18th one this year. That’s unacceptable! We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together, come over your politics, and get something done.”
“Who is the greatest of all?” Jesus said to his disciples. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
For Jesus, the way to greatness is not to BE first, but to put others first. To put the well-being, safety, and basic needs of others – especially of those most vulnerable – in front of our own wants, our own sense of security, and our temptation to “always be right” and to get ahead.
For the disciples living in First Century Palestine, this was completely radical. But just as the disciples began to wrap their minds around this counter-cultural way to greatness Jesus was describing, Jesus does something even more radical.
He picks up a child, places her in the middle of the disciples, embraces her, and says: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.”
This was radical because in First Century Palestine, children were only valued in their future, when they became adults. They were the ones who were expected to remain silent, the least of these, those who were on the margins of society.
Yet, Jesus’ path to greatness in the Kingdom of God he often spoke of is nothing like the path to greatness in the oppressive Roman Empire of his day. Jesus’ path is not about climbing the social latter and befriending and caring for only those who have something to offer us.
Rather, Jesus’ path to greatness is servanthood. It is putting our selves last so that others who’ve been last can be brought into the frontline. It is picking up and embracing those whom the world deems as the last and the least – the strangers, the children and youth, those on the margins of society – and bringing them to the center with our loving embrace.
It is welcoming one such child, and thus in doing so, welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him.
No, the way children and youth are viewed and treated in our country today is not even close to the way they were in First Century Palestine. However, we still have a major problem with devaluing, ignoring, belittling, and silencing our children and youth. (Just look at how several people – including many politicians – have done so in the past week to the Parkland youth survivors who are speaking out!)
Too long have we ignored our youth’s cries, thoughts, ideas, and needs. Too long have we put our own interests and wants in front of what is best for them. Too long have we remained silent because we don’t want to offend anyone or ruffle any feathers while at the same time our children and youth are being killed in their schools, neighborhoods, and homes.
And yet Jesus calls us – commands us – to welcome our children and youth. To SEE them. To listen to them. To love and embrace them. To do whatever we can to protect them and to advocate for and with them.
And yes, to follow their lead.
We can begin this holy work of listening by first listening to student Emma Gonzalez’ full speech at a Fort Lauderdale rally, to the interviews student David Hogg did with fellow students during the school lock down, and to other interviews with Parkland student survivors. Then we can continue to listen to the stories, fears, and thoughts of other youth and children across the country and in our own communities.
We can begin to move our thoughts and prayers into action by following (on social media) and joining the March for Our Lives and Women’s March Youth in upcoming actions. And we can continue to take action by educating ourselves and others on gun control options, speaking out, calling/writing our legislatures, marching, etc.
Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran. Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.
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3 thoughts on “The Pastoral is Political: Parkland, Gun Control, and Following our Youth’s Lead”
This is what I needed to hear from a pastor and is so missing from my clergy. Thank you.