28 May After Uvalde and Buffalo and so many others, what can we say? And what now?
In the wake of the most recent mass-shootings – one in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and one in Buffalo, New York – words are inadequate. Inadequate to describe the anguish that those most directly affected (the families, the close friends, the immediate communities) are feeling. That we, as a nation, have been here so many times before makes the words feel all the more inadequate. Perhaps, even hollow.
This does not mean that we should refrain from expressing ourselves. For, surely, those most directly affected need to hear that we care. That we see them. That their unspeakable losses matter – not just to them, but to the rest of us. And – even as we acknowledge that we can never presume to know the full depth and dimensions of their grief – that we grieve, as well. Both with them. And by them. And for them. And for our nation.
In times of profound loss, and within the rending wake of shock and grief, words are often (and, perhaps, always) inadequate. Inadequate to truly capture what’s happening and being felt. And inadequate in the sense that they can neither undo what has happened any more than they can wipe away the legacy of tears that will continue to well – for lifetimes – because of what has happened.
Nevertheless… we need to communicate. With words that may feel admittedly, painfully, even wholly inadequate. With prayers and groanings too deep for words (Roman 8:26). With sacred silence.
And, if we truly care, then eventually… with action.
As there has been after every other mass-shooting, there will be words. Many words. But will there be action? Action enough to ensure that we do not revisit this grave terrain again? Or, at the very least, action enough to ensure we reduce the abhorrent frequency of acts of mass violence?
And, let us not forget, that while mass-shootings may increase the scope of those mourning, rivet our attention, and inevitably amplify both our emotional response and our sense of overwhelm, they do not increase the profundity of the loss. In God’s eyes, is the loss of but one person to violence any less profound? And, even if it never commands headlines, is the sorrow felt by those mourning for a single victim of violence any less acrid, searing, or sacred?
As there has been after every mass-shooting in our country, there will be debate. Debate about the causes. Debate about how to respond. And that debate is not necessarily bad. In fact, it can be good. If it propels us to tease out the true causal factors (of which there can often be more than one) and to rank the primary factors over more peripheral ones (so that we can try to address what’s most impactful), then debate can be productive. And not merely a pretense, but purposeful.
But we must not let our response stop at debate. We cannot allow our response to be so safely stunted at the “still just talking about it” stage. Words may feel inadequate amidst profound loss because words can fail to speak our true feelings. But that is on the words, so to speak. Not on us. If, however, in the wake of loss of life by violence, we allow ourselves to stop at merely words, then that failure would not be on the words. It would be on us. And that would speak far louder than any words we might muster. That would be both truly inadequate. And truly tragic.
Whether single, multiple, or mass shootings, deaths by gun in our nation will not be an easy fix. This we know. This we’ve seen. And, when we read even the preliminary reports about these two most recent mass-shooters (in Buffalo and Uvalde), it’s clear that the solution to deaths by gun in the United States of America will be not singular, but multiplex. Not just collective and communal, but individual, too. All this is true.
But what is ALSO true… and even more deeply and enduringly and transcendently true… is that God did not give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled (2 Timothy 1:7). A spirit that, at its essence and in its truest expressions, is born of love and seeks to manifest love. A spirit that is ceaselessly inspired by the One and True Holy Spirit of our Creator, the Maker of all that is seen and unseen, the Font of all grace, the Source of all healing, and the Ultimate Destination of all peoples.
This… this… is the shimmering truth that we both receive and perceive in Christ, who is God’s very Word made flesh among us. A Word that can save us… from our inequities, from our hateful choices, from our mindsets of scarcity, from our exclusions, from our violence and our pain, from our transgressions and micro-aggressions, from our failures of imagination or courage (or both)… and from our lesser selves.
A Word that, unlike any other word ever spoken or prayed or intended, is more – so much more! – than adequate to the tragedies and trials we face.
Joining you in prayers for God’s Peace,
The Rev. Jeff Braun is the Senior Pastor of Winnetka Congregational Church, a progressive, LGBTQ-inclusive, justice-oriented and family-friendly church on the north side of Chicago. His calling is to share God’s word of love as spoken through Jesus, to make sure that everyone knows they have a seat at the table and to help us all recognize our oneness in God and with all God’s children.