Though you are now seven years old, I still like to crack your bedroom door and watch you sleep, safe and sound. Our world can be nightmarish.
Earlier this afternoon, I asked you about the drill in your elementary school. Your eyes grew wide, “The lockdown?” I nodded. You explained that the teacher shuts the door, turns off the lights, and students hide in closets. “My job is to be quiet,” you added, “as quiet as possible.”
I asked if you knew why this drill was conducted.
“In case there is a bad guy in the school.” Then you said, “It’s possible, Dad. It’s possible…”
That word hung in the room, sending shivers down my spine and tears to my eyes. That very morning, there had been a school shooting in California.
When my emotions are high, it helps to ground myself in facts. A Harvard professor calculated that the likelihood of a student of being killed by a gun in school is 1 in 614 million.
But you, my sweet son, are in the first grade. How can there even be a possibility? In acknowledging this tragic reality, the question is what are we going to do about it?
A fact on the ground is that our country is awash in guns. It is also true that a person becomes violent for complex reasons. So, while I do believe we need legislative efforts toward gun control, I think the best defense is a good offense—adults who make a positive difference in the lives of the young and growing. This is the sacred calling of education.
This responsibility does not lie solely with teachers.
Both your mom and I give money and volunteer with Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement that organizes for gun control legislation. We also march for our public-school teachers to receive better pay, more continuing education, and more time off. Teachers deserve our financial support for they often pass along priceless lessons.
As you know, I am a pastor. I try to influence our congregation to join me in these efforts. Occasionally, I get pushback that I am being too political. But gun safety and public education are not just “issues.” You and your classmates are our children. If all we can offer are our thoughts and prayers, then we are the worst kind of hypocrites. And no one should look to us for leadership.
This evening after supper, you and I had another conversation—you don’t want to go to church. Lately, you have protested every Saturday night. I bet every pastor’s kid goes through this stage, but I’d figured you wait to rebel until you were at least ten years old. No such luck.
Like you were representing yourself in court, you mount evidence for your case: there are too many people, the music is too loud, the service is too long, the preacher is too boring…ouch!
Tonight, you tried a new approach—a theological rationale. You told me that you didn’t need to go to church because you already knew everything there was to know about God.
“Dad, God is everywhere and God is love.”
Maybe you will grow up to be a lawyer…or a preacher. Maybe one day you will not only put the church and its hypocrisy on trial, but also the very concept of a loving deity. Many people wonder how can we believe in a Coherent Mercy in light of underserved suffering?
I confess that the older I get, the less I know about tragedies. My heart goes out to those families in California. My money and time are invested in organizations that I hope will prevent future shootings. I act and I hope…
Yes, I hope. Hope is why I go to church. I find hope in the idea that I am not alone. I find hope among other people who are likewise trusting where they cannot know, actively giving their fear to the light. Hope that all people of good faith can overcome our partisan differences and act according to our better lights to illuminate problems and shine out a safer world for our children.
In a moment, I’ll turn out my desk light where I write. I’ll try to rest tonight; then pursue just reforms and peacemaking tomorrow.
But, in a moment, I’ll once again check on you in your bed. I’ll stand there as I always do: silent, riven, and hopeful.