The woman in the picture wears ashes on her forehead. Her face is red and contorted in pain. She holds a young woman I can only surmise is her daughter. The young woman appears to be in shock. The two wait in horror outside of the school at which the latest shooting has taken place in our country. At least 17 are dead. A 19 year-old former student pulled the fire alarm at the school, and as people began to run, he opened fire with an assault riffle. In school. In America. Again.
My daughter went to school today with ashes on her forehead. She wore a shirt that says "The wise and wild women of the Northeast kingdom". She sang at full volume as she waited for her bus. From school she texted me a photo of a certificate saying she made the honor roll. I texted back that I'm proud of her. She assured me it was "normal" and not that amazing. She is funny, this girl/woman. She is strong and wise and faithful and bright. And she has, since kindergarten known and practiced "lock down" drills like we practiced fire drills.
The woman in the picture wears ashes on her forehead. Her face tells the story of mortality, of horror. I find myself wondering about her narrative. Is the young woman she is holding her daughter? Does she have another child in the school? Are they awaiting word of her daughter's friend's survival? When her pastor spoke those words, rubbed ash on her forehead, did she think that today a man with a semi automatic weapon would open fire in her child's school?
Last night I placed ashes on the foreheads of those gathered in church. I looked into the eyes of friends, family, loved ones and spoke those words about dust . Like my daughter, I am unabashedly unashamed of my Christian faith. AND, I feel compelled by my faith to stand up to any and all who will sweep this latest shooting under the rug with a call for "thoughts and prayers". While prayer is an integral part of our faith response, our faith is an active one. This Lenten season as we remember the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, as we mark his ministry, his persecution and his death, what are we as Christians doing to stop the persecution of others? What are we doing to protect our children?
The expected responses have begun to pour in. "thoughts and prayers", "we need better mental health care", "we need better family values", "guns don't kill people, people kill people", "the media is sensationalizing this..more people die from alcohol related deaths than by gun related deaths." I can't listen anymore, and I can't not speak to the madness.
As an emerging faith leader I am wary, always, of "being political". This past year has been a trying time in which to preach and teach the ideals of our faith without concern of being marked as "taking sides". I am a Jesus following, vegetarian, yoga teaching, reiki practicing nature lover. I could be easily type cast as a "liberal snowflake". I acknowledge that although I will not allow guns in my home, I support the rights of people to own and use them responsibly. But when did this right become more important than our children's safety? When did the lobbying of our lawmakers by the NRA buy their loyalty and our collective apathy? And where are the unified Christian voices screaming "NO!" over the shouts of "crucify Him!" How can we who claim Christianity feel the sting of Lent-of remembering our complicity as Jesus was arrested and tortured and beaten and shamed and killed without feeling that same complicity as we avert our eyes to yet another mass shooting? When will we boldly shout "NO!" over the screams of those who would justify the sale of assault weapons?
My daughter went to school today with ashes on her forehead. She is 14. Musically gifted. Kind. Funny. Sweet. Smart. Since kindergarten, she has participated in lock down drills the way we participated in fire drills. She has been taught to hide in closets, to stay away from windows, to barricade doors. Some more recent research and training suggests that the kids arm themselves with pencils, furniture-things they might throw at the shooter. The drills discuss the concept of running and creating a disturbance vs. being a sitting duck.
The kids in Florida reportedly used a variety of responses. Some questioned the fire alarm as the school had already had a fire drill earlier in the day. Those kids hid. Others followed fire drill protocol anyway. It's likely that none of them were thinking about being dust.
The woman in the picture wears ashes on her forehead. Her face tells the story of mortality, of horror. I cannot avert my eyes, and I will no longer be silent. As a mother, as a peacemaker, as a proponent of health and mental health insurance and care for all, as an activist, as a woman, as an emerging pastor, I am shouting "NO!". This is not a debate about the second amendment. This is not a partisan diatribe. This is standing up for a faith that will not watch more innocent lives taken by senseless and preventable violence. This is a voice that will call my legislators today, and tomorrow, and next week. This is a Christian voice that will pray for all those children and their families, for the shooter and his family, and for each of us who has normalized lock down drills. This is not okay. This is not normal. We as Christians, together with people of all faith traditions and with no faith traditions need to join our voices against the violence. We are dust. Earthen, star dust, pixie dust..and to dust we shall return. I don't want to return having kept quiet to avoid controversy. How about you?