A resounding gong, a clanging cymbal, bullshit: that is what this all-too-familiar national liturgy of grief is when it’s acted out once again without having taken the available steps to avoid repeating this horror.
That meaningless gong and fleeting cymbal are the apostle Paul’s characterization of religious and charitable acts that don’t have love. They are nothing.
Surely the same applies to grieving. And so if as a society we aren’t doing all we can to protect our children, our teenagers, our people, from murderous gun sprees, then we lack love. And then we lack the ability–or the right–to grieve.
If I don’t grab the hand of a sinking man whom I could have reached, then I can’t grieve his drowning. If you don’t feed the hungry woman from your stocked pantry, then you can’t grieve her starvation. If we don’t take tools away from the demented that enable them to multiply their evil, we don’t get to express shock, horror, and sadness when that multiplying evil is unleashed.
It lays bare our lack of love, and without love our words and grief are nothing.
Words like senseless, inexplicable, unimaginable must for now be banned from our grief liturgy about gun violence in this country. For what happened in that elementary school (and on the Chicago streets, etc.) makes sense, can be explained, and is not only imaginable but predictable based on all that has happened before.
The ability to authentically grieve in response to tragedy is earned by a society. How? By engaging for justice, by protecting the vulnerable, by doing all we can, often by paying a cost. That is, by love.
Mr. President and politicians and those with power on this issue, with all due respect, you don’t get to receive this news as just parents. Not this time. Not again. Especially not those who work to keep the armaments open wide. You must receive the news as people who have taken roles that can help turn our national grieving away from hypocrisy.
If we have integrity, let’s confess that we have forfeited the right to grieve as a nation for these young children. The families and community are grieving horribly; our hearts demand that we also grieve with them as individuals (my daughter is a 1st grader). But we have forfeited as a nation the right to lower any flags. We have forfeited the right as a nation to take a moment of silence before NFL games (before young men risk their brains for our entertainment). We don’t deserve the catharsis of national mourning. We haven’t earned national grief under a resounding gong that sounds like church bells ringing ceaselessly for funerals of the innocent.
The biblical book of James says, “Faith, if it has no works, is dead.” The same with our grief for these tragedies, if it has no works.
Let’s not desecrate this tragedy with bullshit national grieving, empty words, impotent tears. Instead let’s protect our children, so that, first and foremost, we avoid many of these future slaughters and, second, so that when tragedy strikes again, for yes it will always strike again, then at least we will have earned the right, as a nation, to weep honestly together.
Kent Annan is author of the book After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World is Shaken. He is co-director of Haiti Partners and also author of Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle. (100% of the author proceeds from both books go to education in Haiti.) You can connect with him on Twitter