Ash Wednesday forces us to face our mortality. It reminds us that there is only one God and we are not! It invites us into self-reflection about how we miss the mark as individuals and as a community of faith. The purpose is not to shame us or to make us feel guilty, instead, it is to awaken us, to shake us from our apathy, and to invite us into a deeper relationship with God, self, and neighbor.
Today we witnessed the fruit of our bent to sinning. Another act of senseless violence has visited a school. A place that we think of as safe, life-giving, and alive became a place of violence, life-taking, and death. It is healthy to ask: How long O Lord?! It is healthy to pray, to seek for direction, to ask the difficult questions. It is healthy to recognize that we feel powerless in the face of such tragedy.
It is not healthy to ignore it, to not speak about all the implications, and it is not healthy to wash our hands of it. We must do the difficult work, for me, it centers around one question: How am I complicit in these acts of violence?
Each morning I sit and pray:
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer 1979
Today I am wondering: What have I done that continues to perpetuate gun violence in our country, state, and city? What have I failed to do? What have I left undone?
These questions force me to identify my attachments. These are the attitudes, worldviews, understandings, positions, ethics, and beliefs that might keep me from living into God’s call to be a peace-maker in the world. God’s call to the recognition that violence is never the answer for all it does is breed more violence. What is holding me back from speaking, having conversations, and demand action? What do I fear?
I recognize that these are difficult issues. But with Oscár Romero I also recognize that:
I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally.
As people of faith, we must begin to live into our discipleship more faithfully. We cannot continue to only pray but must act. We must have conversations together, we must stop our obsession with our own personal security and begin to ask how we can be agents for the common good. We must stop scapegoating the mentally ill and allowing our individualist culture to convince us that now is not the time.
What structures in our society make gun violence possible? What is the difference between assault weapons and other types of firearms? Why is talking about guns such an emotionally charged conversation? Are we as followers of Jesus called to support “gun culture? Why? How do we sustain better systems of mutual care in a pluralistic society? What conversations do we need to have in our churches, neighborhoods, and cities?
I have so many questions. I refrain from speaking at times like this because I am afraid, afraid of how many will get upset at me, afraid at any congregant leaving the church, afraid to be labeled anything but one who is attempting to follow Jesus, afraid to add fuel to the snarky fire in social media and in conversations.
On this Ash Wednesday though I realized that my biggest sin as it relates to the violence we experienced today was my silence. I realize that we must speak out, with tenderness, compassion, and listening ears, but also with courage and strength. I must be a pastor/prophet shining a light to our cultural structures that open the door to these heinous acts and to the violent structures around me, including in the church.
Today, I reflect, discern, and act. May God forgive me for empty prayers and for what I purposely leave “undone.”