[CW: Gun violence.]
That’s all I have left before my son leaves the pastel-painted halls of the children’s center that is attached to my work and enters public school. For many reasons, I have looked forward to this. I think he will enjoy it, our neighborhood school seems quirky and warm, and I have missed the life rhythm of semesters, to name a few. But for one reason, I dread this inevitable milestone. And that demon’s name is mass shootings.
My baby had been barely earthside for a month when a gunman opened fire at a movie theater a few hours away from our home. Four years since, I have yet to sit through a feature film with my husband without fighting a panic attack. “Know your exits,” he says, always, to try and calm my breathing. I cry angry tears as the funny credits roll, confused as to how this is still the culture in which we live. But this is our reality.
I chatted about my theater anxiety recently with a friend whose son is a bit older than mine. He’s been in big-boy school for a year now. She said, as we talked, that she had shared with a coworker how she cringes when she thinks about her child coming home for the first time and sharing that his class has been running drills in case of gunshots. “He likely already has,” her colleague said with conviction. “They frame it as a quiet game of hide-and-seek at that age.” As she relayed this tragic truth to me, I grew nauseated. Hating the world that necessitates such measures, I raged for an alternative. But this is our reality.
Six months ago, when my family and I moved into our new-to-us home, we hired someone with a high-powered carpet cleaner to get rid of what the previous owner’s cat left behind—enough dander to haunt our sinuses forever. A professional-looking, middle-aged man spent hours cleaning away the allergens. Before leaving, a bookshelf filled with theological resources caught his eye. “How do you feel about the state of our world?” he asked my husband, Luke, and me. After living in the Bible Belt for many years, I know a question like that can mean many things.
“We have hope,” my husband Luke calmly replied, moving toward the door to usher him out. Not understanding Luke’s subtle cue, the man continued. For an hour and a half he spoke about what scripture says about America’s immorality, how he would rather his babies be dead than have to live through what is coming, and how God had told him that it would be good to begin stockpiling food and AR15s. For weeks after this conversation, I had nightmares about dangerous theology married to easy access to weapons of war (not to mention our culture’s infamous mental health stigma). And I felt, to say the least, very, very scared as I ached for an alternative. But this is our reality.
And . . . I desperately need it not to be. We desperately need it not to be. We need for Atlanta to have not happened, for Boulder to have not happened, for the tragically numb and horrifically unsurprising uptick of shots-fired into U.S. crowds this last week to have not happened.
I desperately need our children not to be plagued by one more year of sickening possibilities and the fear that insulates them.
I desperately need our parents not to have to normalize one more report of drills (at best) and casualties (at worst).
I desperately need to not see one more headline of names of those whose lives were sacrificed at the altar of senseless violence and too-little, too-late laws.
I desperately need for those claiming “pro-life” to include the lives of the students of Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School, the moviegoers of the Lafayette Grand Theater, the image-bearers at Pulse nightclub, and the babies and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
I desperately need for not one more presidential term, one more year, one more month, one more sermon, one more day to go by without the country and the church—filled with good, smart, and compassionate people—getting more creative about gun control.
I desperately need for this litany to never be used by another community, another soul, ever again.
So I write it as a rebuke, a holy protest of stubborn hope for the world that I need to be ours. With it, I say to this mountain, “Go throw yourself into the sea.” That it might.
Since it must.
ONE: God, what can we say?
We are heartbroken and afraid.
We feel exposed and unheard.
We battle against rulers, against authorities, against the powers and principalities that wish to turn our swords into automated assault rifles rather than gardening tools.
All: This is not your kingdom come. This is hell.
One: We ring out our souls at the thought of having to speak aloud another name of someone lost to gun violence. But we will not allow them to soon be forgotten—these names that God knew as they formed in the womb, these names of those whose hairs were counted.
All: *Voice the names of those lost recently or in the past.*
One: Come, Lord Jesus, we need you. Help us be parable-tellers, relationship-builders, truth-translators in a realm where polarized political arguments keep us from having eyes to see and ear to hear the trauma that our children face.
All: Veil-tearer, rip wide the cloth that keeps us from moving forward.
One: Hear our plea . . .
All: Never again.
One: Hear our weeping . . .
All: Never again.
One: Hear our anger . . .
All: Never again! Never again! Never again!
One: Lord, we rebuke the systems that we have built that allow for such atrocities. Systems constructed by toxic masculinity, white supremacy, xenophobia, homophobia, dangerous nationalism that convinces some that they have the right to self-preserve at all costs, and dangerous theology that convinces some that they have a right and an obligation to do your bidding as the Judge.
All: We confess that we have added to this mountain. That it did not form by itself or overnight.
One: Forgive me.
All: Forgive us.
One: Free me.
All: Free us.
One: Now we tell it to move!
All: Move! Throw yourself into the sea!
One: In the name of the Christ who turned death around, who made his enemies his family,
All: We say never again.
One: Never again, God. We beg that you will lead your people, called by your name, to humble ourselves and pray. To seek your face regarding gun violence, to turn from our wicked ways. That you may hear from heaven and heal our land. That we may never again fear another mass shooting.
All: Never, ever again. Amen.
This piece is an adapted excerpt from Rally: Communal Prayers for Lovers of Jesus and Justice (Fresh Air Books, 2020).