On Saturday night, I went to bed with the knowledge of two things: another mass shooting just occurred in the United States, and I still needed to write the prayers of the people for worship tomorrow morning. On Sunday morning I woke up hoping that the morning would give me fresh eyes, only to discover that there had been another shooting since the time my head hit the pillow.
I am a second-year seminarian, a writer, and a minister. I love the stories I can tell with carefully crafted sentences. When I have opportunities to preach, I preach from a manuscript, because every word and every sentence is purposefully and intentionally chosen. Yet Sunday morning, I had no words.
In a sobering moment, I flipped through a summer’s worth of worship notes to find that I already had a prayer written after another mass shooting from the beginning of the summer. There is so much I wanted to say, but the words would not come. I used my prayer from the beginning of the summer, writing El Paso and Dayton in place of Virginia Beach, all the while wondering if this would be my new normal.
It is my new normal. As a follower of Jesus and a minister on the path of ordination, I believe it is my duty to pray. Time and again, I ask God to turn our swords into plowshares and to shape us into a people who long for peace. I want to pray big prayers, asking God to show up and rescue us. I believe God does show up. God is present in our prayers, tears, and petitions. Yet God is also asking more of us.
I don’t know how to tell people this, but you can’t worship both guns and Jesus. This thought has been echoing in my head ever since the first news from El Paso was released, and it won’t let up. The late Rachel Held Evans once said that Americans have pled fidelity to the “unholy trinity of patriarchy, white supremacy, and religious nationalism.” We must repent of the ways these unholy allegiances have led us to worship guns and the supposed ideal for which they stand. White Christians especially must repent of the ways we have stood by silently, abetting the suffering of our siblings of color under this unholy trinity.
I won’t stop praying, but my prayers have shifted. I will still pray for peace, but I will also pray for American Christians to worship Jesus instead of guns. I will pray that we choose the Prince of Peace, the one whom Jewish leaders hoped to be a mighty prince but arrived into town on a donkey. Many American Christians have already chosen, but it is not too late. I pray that your faith will move you to action. I pray that the red letters of the gospels will lead you to follow the only One who can promise abundant life.
Will our prayers move us to action? As people of faith, we must move for things that matter. I will pray, but I will also write my government representatives, educate myself on policy issues, and donate to grassroots organizations working to prevent gun violence.
And I’ll keep praying for a day where I don’t have to find words for the latest mass shooting.