taking the words of Jesus seriously

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on May 4, 2023 on the Chasing Justice blog, A Psalm of Lament for Gun Violence in America

A Psalm of Lament for Gun Violence in America

I still remember that week in April. Our hearts were reeling. Day after day, we would wake up to the news of another innocent child, young adult, or family being shot for making simple everyday mistakes, or no mistakes at all.

On April 13, Ralph Yarl, 16 years old, accidentally rang the doorbell of the wrong house while trying to pick up his siblings from a friend’s house. A man shot him twice through the front door without warning.

Two days later, Kaylin Gillis, 20, was riding in a car that turned into the wrong driveway while looking for a friend’s house. A man shot at the car from his front porch, killing her.

Three days after that, Payton Washington, 18, got into the wrong car in a parking lot, thinking it was her own. After she immediately left, the man got out of his car, followed Payton, and shot her.

That same day, six-year-old Kinsley White’s basketball rolled into a neighbor’s front yard, leading to a series of brief exchanges that ended in the neighbor going into his house, getting a gun, and senselessly shooting the girl and her parents.

This is America.

When the news broke of Kinsley and her parents being shot, poet Drew Jackson captured my feelings perfectly. Jackson, who regularly writes poems in response to current events and had offered poems in response to the previous three shootings, offered only this as his poem for Kinsley:

I can’t
take it

Langston Hughes expressed a similar sentiment nearly a century ago in his poem about the cruel exploitation of hundreds of thousands of people in the Johannesburg Mines, asking:

What kind of poem

Would you 

Make out of that?

There are times when our grief and disbelief run out of words—an important, even holy, response to tragedy. This was me, and many of us, the week after these shootings: speechless with sorrow.

One of the gifts of the Psalms and other poems is that they give us words when we have none to give—when we struggle to know how to pray. Personally, I found myself returning to a lament I had penned about gun violence nearly two years ago, relying on its words to give shape and voice to my fresh mourning and anger.

But it so happened that, during that same week, one of my seminary professors, Dr. David Taylor, asked my classmates and me to write psalms of lament—a timely gift of an assignment. It graciously invited me into the prayerful process of finding fresh words to cry out to God about the senseless tragedies of the preceding weeks.

I offer my psalm of lament here for any of you who, like me in the wake of these shootings, find yourself in search of words to express your anguish and anger, your grief and frustration—words that call on God to act, propel us to faithful action, and remind us to hope.


A Psalm of Lament for Gun Violence in America

for Ralph Yarl, Kaylin Gillis, Payton Washington, and Kinsley White

 The wrong house.

   The wrong driveway.

   The wrong car.

A six-year-old’s basketball

   gone astray into

   the wrong front yard.

These people were all shot 

   just for showing up—

   just another week in America.


How long, O Lord, must we wake

   up in a country with more guns than people,

   more mass shootings than days?

Rise up, Prince of Peace!

   Put a stop to people profaning your name

   at the altar of God and Guns.

Rise up, King of Kings!

   Pierce the hearts of our politicians

   with compassion, or else with judgment.


Then our children will be able to run free again

   in the world that you have promised—

   where guns are melted into garden tools,

and neighbors pause their planting

   to return a young girl’s basketball

   with a smile.


This poem was originally published by Chasing Justice and is reprinted with their generous permission.

About The Author

Michael Stalcup is a Thai American poet living in Bangkok, Thailand. His poetry has been published in Sojourners Magazine, Commonweal Magazine, Ekstasis Magazine, PAX, and elsewhere. He co-leads Spirit & Scribe, a workshop integrating spiritual formation and writing craft. Read more of his poetry at michaelstalcup.com.

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