I had a post lined up for today, and this isn’t it.
In light of the news, I can’t go about business as usual. There has been another school shooting, and I experienced this one differently.
I learned what had happened at my church’s middle school youth group Wednesday night. I had spent the day away from the news, working through a long to-do list, and I showed up to our Valentine’s Day party with pizza and surrounded by festive decorations. The girls around me were enjoying jolly ranchers and playing volleyball.
Then, one of my former students found me. He had just walked in and kept walking straight to the area where I was sitting. He said, “So you know the school shooting today?” I didn’t.
“There was a school shooting today?!”
“You haven’t heard?! Yes. There was. It’s all over the news. They think he killed around 20 people. My cousins were there. They go to that school. They were there.”
Have you ever had a conversation with someone whose loved ones were present at a deadly school shooting? It will change you.
At this point, I am floored, shaken, heartbroken. His family members lived. They escaped and found their siblings. Their father waited for hours before he could get to them as SWAT teams searched the areas and lead students out slowly and carefully.
He talked me through the layout of the school and a few accounts of his family members and their friends. They are terrifying. They will continue to haunt me. I can’t imagine experiencing it first hand.
As he talks, I find that I’m looking at this brave young man that I positively adore speaking of a trauma that has shaken his family. I recall when I met him. It was the first day of school in my first year of full-time teaching. This sweet kid whose name I had handwritten on various binders and notebooks walks in with his oversized Under Armor backpack and a huge smile. He turns out to be a stinker sometimes but with an undeniably big heart. Over that year, we laugh and joke. He drops by between classes to tell me funny stories or try to steal candy. After learning of a low point in one of my classes where I got visibly upset, he comes in and says, “I heard they made you cry! I’m gonna beat em up!” He isn’t serious, but he wants to communicate that he cares. I laugh and tell him he will do no such thing. If he really wants to make things right, he can be the kid who always treats his teachers with respect. He reluctantly agrees.
I am shaken hearing this news from this person of all people. I care deeply for him. And the people that he cares deeply for could have been taken away from him today in a senseless act of violence in a place where being killed by a gunman should never be a concern.
I know that, as his teacher, I would have taken a bullet for him.
And I also know that, damn it, I should never have to. That thought should never even cross my mind.
When I told him that we would definitely be praying for his family tonight, it felt so dramatically short of what I wanted to offer him.
I wanted to tell him that this would never happen again. That he is undeniably safe in his school. That he will be safe in his future schools. And that the same goes for the people he loves. But I don’t have that kind of power and control. I feel as helpless as the teenager standing before me.
Because I do have one thing he doesn’t that might make the slightest difference if combined with similarly heartbroken people who never want to relive days like today.
My vote is informed by my faith and the person of Jesus. I choose to cast my vote for the oppressed and the powerless. To care for the alien and orphan and widow. For equal opportunity despite gender or socioeconomic status because there is unity and oneness in the Kingdom of God.
I am pro-life. But I find there’s a need to redefine the term.
I want to work for life to prevail in the face of destruction, violence, oppression, and death. The term “pro-life” is seemingly used exclusively in the discussion of abortion. But a truly pro-life stance should support and champion the safety, the health, and the lives of babies, mothers, fathers, refugees, immigrants, minorities, victims, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed.
And as it relates to this piece, being “pro-life” means working to preserve the safety, health, and very lives of our children, teens, teachers, administrators, counselors, and staff that enter schools every single day to learn, teach, care, and grow.
When I say “pro-life”, I mean this:
The right of my students to attend school in safety and come home at the end of the day is more important than your right to own the semi-automatic rifle of your choice.
I am utterly heartbroken by the deaths of 17 people who should absolutely still be living.
I am willing to sacrifice easy access to guns to preserve the safety of children rather than sacrificing the safety of children to preserve our easy access to guns.
We may not be able to create lasting and effective legislature to ensure all people with mental health concerns find the help and treatment they need, though it would be worth our time and energy (and very pro-life!) to work for such things. But it IS possible to create lasting and effective legislature that makes it harder for people who may not pass a background check to buy a semi-automatic rifle.
My vote is one way I will fight for the kids I know and love to attend school in safety. I will research campaign donations from gun lobbies and I will make my choices more informed than I have been before. This is the 18th school shooting of 2018 and we are a mere 45 days in. We don’t have to live like this.
Lawmakers, I vote based on my faith. My faith teaches me to fight for life. I am looking at you to see how you will respond. Your values will come through. If you fight against gun reform despite the data showing that the majority of Americans are in favor of it, I will research who donated to your campaign, and I bet that it won’t surprise me. To those of you who fight against sensible gun reform, I will vote against you in all instances that I can until we see the results we seek.
Our prayers are important. I won’t stop praying. But when we pray, we must move our feet and align our actions with our prayers. Praying for peace is good, but working for peace is better. We can’t forget that time and again our Bible tells of God choosing to partner with regular people like us to bring about the Kingdom. We shouldn’t be praying for things that we aren’t willing to work for. Being faithful needs to become synonymous with working to make our world align with the Kingdom of God, where peace and unity reign and where senseless violence (essentially all violence) has no place.
I’m not going to tell you how to vote, and I am not saying that there is one party that is aligned with the Kingdom of God and one that isn’t. Anyone who tells you that is lying to you. As with most things, I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. I have voted for candidates of both parties, and I’m sure I will continue to do so. But more importantly, this shouldn’t even be a party issue. This is an American issue.
I care too much about this issue to not put my heart and mind and hands to work. I believe this issue is worth elevating and prioritizing. If politicians vote on important matters based on how it will affect their chances for reelection, then I will be upfront and honest about how they might earn my future vote: create sensible gun reform, require thorough background checks, and work to prevent the same military grade weapon that has been used in most of our country’s recent deadly mass shootings (Newtown, Orlando, San Bernardino, Las Vegas, and now Parkland) from being accessible to simply anyone with the money to buy it.
As a teacher who endured a nauseating active shooter training, as someone in ministry with young people that I adore, and as a believer who knows that God stands with and for the powerless, this is an issue that I can’t ignore. I will fight for change and safety and the preservation of life. I am willing to make sacrifices to bring this about, but I am not willing to sacrifice the students and teachers that I love.
I love how Jen Hatmaker put it this morning: “We are so sorry, Parkland. So many of us are crushed with you. You have more than my thoughts and prayers. You have my vote.”
Lord, have mercy on us. Let’s honor Parkland by making real, lasting change.