"Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." Jesus
I am an ordained Baptist minister now serving in the world as retired clergy. I am a wife, mother, grandmother, friend . . . pastor, hospital chaplain, spiritual director, patient mentor, victim advocate, trauma counselor, child forensic interviewer, teacher, writer, watercolor artist, iconographer, calligrapher, chef and blogger.
O God, be gracious to me, For my soul takes refuge in you; And in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge Until destruction passes by.
— Psalm 57:1
Last night we had thunderstorms, loud ones. All of us were awakened from a deep sleep—me, my husband Fred, and Kikí the cat. And all three of us ended up in the bed together, Kikí snuggled between us in the soft covers. Sleeping in our bed is not Kikí’s normal habit, but the storm frightened her, and it was her safe place for the long, long night of the scary thunder!
Most of us tend to take feeling safe for granted. It’s all about knowing we live in a safe home, in a safe neighborhood, with the things we need. Typically, we aren’t stranded outdoors in a storm or wandering about in a scorching desert. For the most part, we are not left outdoors in freezing weather. We are the fortunate ones who have choices, but there are people all over the world who do not have the comforts they need and deserve.
In this season, we think about people who have needs more than we do in other times of the year. We may give more to organizations that help them, or we may reach out ourselves to offer a safe place for them. As we think about gifts and ribbons and bows (and gift cards for our teens), I hope all of us will remember the many people in our communities who truly need our gifts and our caring.
Truth is, we all need safe places almost more than we need anything else—physical safe places as well as emotional safe places. I suspect the little puppy in the photo above found both in the shelter of a goose’s wings. The animal kingdom is truly incredible. While we assume that animals are only focused on the safety and survival of their own kind, this simply isn’t true.
We have all heard stories about interspecies friendships. A dog who makes friends a cat. Or even a dog and a cow who have become friends. Usually the story is about an animal who went out of his/her way to comfort another, even though the two animals might be of different species and have very little in common. I want to share a true story with you.
It’s the story of a goose who sheltered a puppy from the cold during some dangerously low temperatures. The original story of this unlikely couple went something like this: In January of 2019, a polar vortex hit North America. In Montana, an especially frigid place, a passerby spotted a goose cradling a freezing puppy under its wings.
This goose’s motherly instincts immediately kicked in when she saw the puppy. Not wanting the tiny puppy to suffer, she covered the baby with her plumage to shelter it from the bitter cold. She hoped that her efforts would keep the puppy alive. Another source of this story tells us that the goose and the puppy—not at all of the same species—were adopted together. What a truly beautiful thing to witness!
There are plenty of humans that love and respect one another and even go out of their way to help those in need, even those who are not like them. But there is still far too much hatred and intolerance in the world. What might it be like if every person, animal, and every part of God’s creation could count on safe places, shelter from the danger, protection from fear, or a refuge in troubled times?
And how graced we are when we believe the Psalmist’s promise . . .
In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge Until destruction passes by.
During your meditation time, you may listen to the lyrics of this song. Original Songwriter/Composer: Scott Brenner, Cheryl Thomas
Most folk don’t take nearly enough time to notice it. These days way too much ugliness hides the beauty that’s always around us. Even when we don’t pay attention, beauty surprises us with magic and mystery. Beauty is a lot like hope.
The magical appearance of beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. For me, beauty can inspire me by color and movement, by the shimmering stars on a clear night, by the magnificence of a tree’s movement in the breeze, by looking into the eyes of my grandchildren. Beauty is there for us always—to be seen, to be heard, to be sensed deeply in our bodies and in our spirits.
These days, I need more of it—more hope, more beauty. I need more visions of beauty to supersede the ugliness of injustice, division, racism, misogyny, homophobia, political warring, brokenhearted immigrants looking for life, mass shootings, Covid, gun violence, child trafficking, suffering in Ukraine—all the varied chaos around the world.
And then there are the people here and there who bring grace to us all by transforming ugliness into beautyand hope.
As for the beauty revealed in the opening photo, I don’t know who created it or photographed it. I do know that he or she is a person who finds beauty in unlikely places at unexpected times, and translates that beauty into grace to be shared with those who most need it.
Who knows about that image? The striking silhouette of the trees, the birds flying above, the twinkling stars in the sky, and all of that with swirls of color that seem to me like holy movement. Regardless of the source of that photograph, I like to believe that its beauty—all beauty—comes directly from God as grace for me, and for you.
This is the time of year for celebrating trees as they put on their autumn display. Enchanted forests transform into even more magical places in this season. It can be pure glory to watch the vibrancy of fall. So I’m thinking about trees today, but I’m thinking of them with a bit of nostalgia. Several months ago our landlord had my favorite tree cut down to the ground—all the way with nothing left but a stump and an ugly, sawdust-looking mess. I was angry. I still am. The problem was the tree’s roots endangering the foundation of the house.
For me, the peril of the house’s foundation was not a significant concern. My concern was simply losing a “friend.” When we first moved into our house in Macon, I began photographing the tree, almost every day for a year, to capture its fascinating life cycle. I took photos of the leaves and the limbs and the bark, and found the tree’s transitions to be fascinating. In that time, I became attached to my Chinese Tallow tree with its beautiful leaves.
Scroll left to see a brief slideshow of a few of those Chinese Tallow photos.
Just a few months after I lost my tallow tree, a large limb in our enchanting backyard forest succumbed to heavy winds and fell to the ground, just missing our house. Behind our house, by the way, is a small forest. The forest is dense, with very large, tall trees providing a lush canopy, smaller trees providing a shorter canopy, and even smaller shrub-like trees and bushes filling in the rest. Sunlight peeks in through small areas of the thick canopy, but not enough to breach the dense foliage underneath. The forest provided shade for us, cool breezes in that part of our yard, nesting birds and small creatures, pleasant forest noises of rustling leaves and creaking limbs—natural beauty.
So, back to the limb that fell down in our forest. The landlord arrived with a small work crew to remove the limb and clean up. The small crew created big chaos in our little forest. The landlord asked them to go ahead and cut down the entire huge tree that had lost the one limb. Down came that tree. And another, and another, and another, leaving behind scarred, dusty, devastated earth. It hurt my heart. I could not look at it for several hours, as my husband described the desolation of our once-enchanting forest. Eventually, I went with him to the backyard. I could barely look at it. A lump rose up in my throat followed by anger that asked how humans dare to cut down large, living trees that may have been alive for a hundred years or more. Who gives us humans the right to do that?
I know that plenty of things (and people) harm trees. Lethal threats come in many forms: windstorms, ice storms, lightning strikes, wildfires, droughts, floods, a host of constantly evolving diseases, swarms of voracious insects.
Tender young seedlings are easily consumed by grazing mammals. Hostile fungi are a constant menace, waiting to exploit a wound, or a weakness, and begin devouring a tree’s flesh. But there is one predator whose acts are unforgivable. That predator is a human who is intent on cutting down breathing, oxygen-creating, life-giving trees.
Research tells us that the trees known as “mother trees” are a vital defense against many of these threats. When the biggest, oldest trees are cut down in a forest, the survival rate of younger trees is substantially diminished.
For young saplings in a deeply shaded part of the forest, the network of trees is literally a lifeline. Lacking the sunlight to photosynthesize, they survive because big trees pump sugar into their roots through the network.
At the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Suzanne Simard and her grad students are making astonishing new discoveries about the sensitivity and interconnectedness of trees. Her research described the concept of “mother trees,” which she describes as the biggest, oldest trees in the forest with the most fungal connections. She says that the trees are not necessarily female, but she sees them performing a nurturing, supportive, maternal role. With their deep roots, they draw up water and make it available to shallow-rooted seedlings. They help neighboring trees by sending them nutrients, and when the neighbors are struggling, mother trees detect their distress signals and increase the flow of nutrients accordingly.
But you don’t have to take my word for it, especially if what I’m saying sounds unbelievable to you. Instead, I point you to an article published in The Smithsonian Magazinewebsite, where I gleaned the scientific information for this blog post.
Journalist Richard Grant begins his article in The Smithsonian Magazine with an intriguing question: Do Trees Talk to Each Other? The controversial German forester, Peter Wohlleben, says yes, and his ideas are shaking up the scientific world.
Richard Grant writes, “My guide here is a kind of tree whisperer. Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, has a rare understanding of the inner life of trees, and is able to describe it in accessible, evocative language. Wohlleben has devoted his life to the study and care of trees.”
Grant goes on to explain . . .
Now, at the age of 53, Wohlleben has become an unlikely publishing sensation. His book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, written at his wife’s insistence, sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany, and has now hit the best-seller lists in 11 other countries, including the United States and Canada.
— Richard Grant
“Some are calling it the ‘wood-wide web,’” says Wohlleben. “All the trees here, and in every forest that is not too damaged, are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.”
Grant continues . . .
Wohlleben takes me to two massive beech trees growing next to each other. He points up at their skeletal winter crowns, which appear careful not to encroach into each other’s space. “These two are old friends,” he says. “They are very considerate in sharing the sunlight, and their root systems are closely connected. In cases like this, when one dies, the other usually dies soon afterward, because they are dependent on each other.”
– Richard Grant
One can only be mesmerized by this botanical research that gives a “human quality” to trees and makes forests even more enchanting to us.
. . . majestic crowns approaching one another make a glorious canopy, through the feathery arches of which the sunbeams pour, silvering the needles and gilding the stately columns and the ground into a scene of enchantment. —John Muir*
Enchanted forests, trees that talk with one another, connectedness between trees—is it science or fantasy? Scientists are only just beginning to learn the language of trees. They admit that most of the time they don’t know what the trees are saying with pheromones. They don’t know how exactly how the trees communicate within their own bodies. They don’t have nervous systems, but they can still feel what’s going on, and experience something analogous to pain. Another plant scientist, Allen Larocque, says, “When a tree is cut, it sends electrical signals like wounded human tissue.”
Perhaps I should just end with these provocative words by John Muir:
A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.
I have always been drawn to honeybees, mesmerized by them and by the beekeepers who care for them. Once many years ago, I put on the beekeepers garb and that big, fashionable hat with the dark veil of netting. A friend who had several hives was teaching me how to handle the bees. I actually held them in my hands, rather hesitantly, while noticing how gently the beekeeper held them. From this uncomfortably close proximity, I was able to listen to the buzzing sound of the honeybees, buzzing that I did not hear as harsh, but rather hushed. The honeybees greeted him when he approached the hive. When he held them in his hands and they moved up his arms, it looked like a graceful dance of the beekeeper and his constantly moving honeybees totally in sync with one another. How could one not be enchanted by this wonder of creation?
Yesterday while reading a fascinating interview with Tom Blue Wolf, I was reminded of those breathtaking moments I spent with the honeybees. Tom is a descendant of the AniCoosa, which means “peaceful people,” who are also known as the Creek Tribe, which is a part of the Muscogee Nation. He is a Native American spiritual guide, a man in love with nature, and a keeper of honeybees. One of the questions he was asked in the interview was, “What is it like to be in the presence of the bees, to listen to them?” This is how Tom Blue Wolf responded.
Creator is always talking to us. Most of us are about seven echoes away from the true voice of the Creator. Try to get closer, try to get maybe three echoes away. If you get too close, it’s almost too intense for most people. Like a burning bush. Aaaaah!
His response to the follow-up question was just as intriguing . . .
“What do you and the bees do for each other on the spiritual journey?
How is your relationship to them a spiritual one?”
They give life, and we protect it. We keep the harm away from them; we protect them. I have been in love with honeybees all my life . . . We beekeepers are integral to the bees’ world. They know us; they are in our dreams. We tend to them barefoot, they crawl all over us, they kiss us, they tickle us. It’s hard to talk about. So, of course we think it’s spiritual. Absolutely. The bees love us and we love them.
That kind of spiritual relationship between a human being and one of God’s created inhabitants of the earth would place any of us in a sacred space. Tom Blue Wolf described a state of being as “three echoes away from the true voice of the Creator.” It’s the kind of space most of us never enter, and for so many reasons—we don’t have time; we’re busy with our jobs; we have children to care for, laundry to do, and a plethora of responsibilities listed on the to-do list we seldom complete. We simply get too busy to embrace the beauty of nature and draw closer to the Creator.
Tom Blue Wolf would summon us, if he could, to be “three echoes away” from God’s true voice. So he writes about the Creator, the creation and the importance of protecting it, and our role as caretakers. He urges humans to follow the guidelines of Saint Francis, who thought it critical to have a close and enduring relationship with nature.
From the years I spent as a postulant in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, I learned about the many ways Saint Frances was devoted to the best characteristics of what it means to be a human being on the planet: benevolent, loving, kind, gentle, merciful, reverent, respectful. He treated every life form with dignity.
Saint Francis helps us pull ourselves out of the trap of being completely focused on two-legged humans. An example of that shows how most people describe a destructive incident only be the impact it has on humans. They might report, for instance, that a plane crashed and “we lost 180 people.” Or “the fire killed four hundred people.” In contrast, Saint Francis would say, “Not only did we lose four hundred brothers and sisters, but we also lost three thousand acres of Mother Earth’s flesh. We lost sixty-four thousand winged ones. We lost untold amounts of water, and what’s left is toxic and the ones that swim are no longer with us.”
Like Saint Frances, perhaps we should focus more of our attention on the natural world, the magnificent creation given to us by the Creator God we worship. For one thing, attention to the creation and its Creator draws us into holy moments that we desperately need for our spiritual nurture. If we lean into those holy moments, and linger there for a time, the burdens we carry could become lighter. The cares that dishearten us might become uncommonly dim. And we just might find ourselves in a most sacred space—the one that places us “three echoes away” from God’s whisper. And as an added grace, perhaps we will also hear the gentle buzz of honeybees!
I confess that this is an unapologetic promotion of our newly released book . . .
When God Whispered My Name!
Stories of Journey Told by Baptist Women Called to Ministry
Rev. Kathy Manis Findley and Dr. Kay Wilson Shurden, Editors
Let me tell you why I recommend this book, unapologetically.
In its pages, you will find not only my story, but also the poignant stories of eighteen women who were called to ministry, only to face challenges and obstacles along the way. Simply because they are women! These are diverse women, each one unique, and their journeys follow winding paths, uncharted and serendipitous.
You will be mesmerized by these heartfelt stories about how nineteen ministers each heard a Holy Whisper calling her to a life of ministry and compassionate service to others. Get your copy today at these links:
“There is power in a story well told, a sacredness that speaks to shared experiences, and draws us closer to God and to one another. When God Whispered My Name is full of such stories. Equal parts inspiring, sobering, and challenging, the stories of these women bear witness to the Good News that flourishes when one dares say yes to God’s call. This timely volume is sure to offer hope, encouragement, and community to women and men who are wrestling with that same mysterious call from God and those seeking to empower them.”
—Mandy McMichael Associate Director and J. David Slover Assistant Professor of Ministry Guidance Baylor University
If you know about labyrinths, you might get this. People often ask me what a labyrinth is or what it’s for. Truth is, you can’t fully understand a labyrinth by definition, nor by reading about it. You won’t get the significance of a labyrinth by what I write here, no matter how eloquent my writing may be. To know a labyrinth, you have to walk one, or trace the circuits of a finger labyrinth, or trace the path on a sand labyrinth and feel the sand under your fingers.
As a part of spiritual direction, many folk tell me that a labyrinth looks like a maze to them, and they fear they’ll get hopelessly lost, unable to make it out. That sounds a lot like life to me. Isn’t there always fear that we’ll get lost on this journey we call life? After we’ve made a few wrong turns in life, we are often fearful of living it. Afraid our wrong turns will end badly. Afraid we’ll get lost.
The truth of the labyrinth is that it is a clearly marked path that will lead you in—to the center—and then lead you out by the same path. Perhaps that’s why it has been called “the sacred path.”
If you know me or follow my blog, you already know that my life has been made up of many curves, turns, twists, dead ends and crossroads. At times, it has felt unnavigable, a dangerous and unpredictable journey. Yours has probably felt much the same. I have learned a few good lessons along the way, though, lessons that I hope will stick with me.
The one overarching lesson is that I can neither predict, nor control my path. The twists and turns will appear before me, and I will walk through them. The curves will seem treacherous at times, and I will lean into them hoping to stay firmly on the road. I will stop in my tracks at the dead ends and simply turn around and start over. The crossroads? Well, they have their own precariousness, danger. The crossroads demand a decision. The road I choose could make a world of difference, good or bad.
It’s enough to make life frightening! And it does. Life is frightening, especially for those of us who need to control our pathways. Here’s where the labyrinth offers me so much comfort. It is a pre-created path in and then out, and when I follow it’s path, I am reminded of one of the core beliefs of my faith: that God has laid out a path uniquely for me. Whether I follow it or not is another part of my faith. I get to make that decision.
When I walk a labyrinth or even trace its circular pathways with my finger, I am aware of a guiding hand, a Comforter beside me, and the peace of knowing the path was created for me. I feel Spirit winds and hear the holy voices of thousands of years of Wisdom whispering into my ear.
And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
It’s my most common statement these days: ”Have a nice trip!” Saying it to my friends is the polite thing to do, given that I am landlocked in my house. And to my credit, I really mean it when I say it. I really do wish them a nice trip—fun and relaxing and safe and an experience of all things good.
At the same time, my heart is always just a little shattered when someone I know embarks on a summer adventure. It makes me long for times past when my family took amazing vacations to Disney World or Sea World, to the ocean or to the mountains, to Oregon, Seattle, or Vancouver, or Gatlinburg, or Nevada, or San Francisco, New Orleans, Reno, Nashville, Nairobi, Mombasa, Athens, Mexico . . . I can’t even remember all the places. “Those were the days,” I’ve heard it said. And so they were!
Today is a very different reality. Travel is harder, for so many reasons, and being confined to home has a host of repercussions. I have experienced many of those repercussions, physical ones, spiritual ones and emotional ones. Immediately after my kidney transplant in 2019, Covid-19 descended upon us. After that, I accepted my personal reality of taking immunosuppressant medications for the rest of my life to prevent organ rejection. That personal reality meant that, no matter the lifting of mask mandates and the full re-opening of everything, I had no immune system to fight Covid or any other infection. And that means forever!
When everyone around me seems free, and carefree, I feel imprisoned. I admit, it has taken an emotional toll on me. It still does affect my sense of freedom, safety, loneliness, boredom, isolation, creativity—the things that fill your soul. I have tried hard and long for three years to stay active and creative and never to feel bored. But I have reached a kind of stasis, worn out from ”keeping busy” and from pushing myself to be productive, creative and happy.
My husband asked me yesterday if I’m depressed. I almost said, “no” before the truth hit me. I haven’t seen my son and grandchildren for two years. I haven’t seen my Atlanta cousins since November. I haven’t seen most of my friends in months. So, yes, I suppose I am depressed, though I so want to push it away by denying it.
Depression has its own trajectory. Most of the time, I just have to ride it out and wait for better days. In the meantime, to all of you travelers out there: Have a nice trip!
You may have noticed there have been no words coming from this blog in quite a while. No new posts. No graphics. No music. The reason is that inside me, there is nothing, and that has been my situation for several weeks. Part of the reason is that I was very sick for a while, hospitalized actually. In addition, I simply felt empty, without a creative spark that is usually so common for me.
Physically, I have felt unwell for a long time. Emotionally, I have felt the continued sting of isolation because getting Covid could be deadly for my immunocompromised body. Spiritually, I would have to say that the gun violence that has taken the lives of children and teachers in Uvalde has wounded my spirit and left me with so many unanswerable questions about faith and hope.
When all of those things rustle through my mind, it cannot help but reduce me into a silent kind of melancholia that affects my body, mind and spirit. It seems that this time, I can’t move past it. My husband asked me today if I am depressed. I answered, ”yes,” but honestly, I feel more sad than depressed. I don’t understand it this time. I can’t put my finger on the cause no matter how hard I have tried to figure it out.
The myth is that figuring out the root of depression or sadness will help one overcome it. Once you understand your depression and where it comes from, you can get beyond it. Also not necessarily true! Understanding is not a bad thing, but it is also not a cure-all.
These days, I simply cannot understand things—all things me! I recognize my sense of feeling empty, and I still have the ability to use reason and discernment to try to understand my feelings. But the truth is I don’t understand what’s going on in me. The internal web of my physical hurts, my emotional disturbance and my spiritual emptiness defy explanation and understanding. It’s complicated, outside of my ability to understand. So I have craved any flicker of light and life I could find.
I found it today, in a quote shared by a dear friend. This is the quote.
I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity; I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees. ~ Anne Lamott
I can rest in that. I can find peace beyond my understanding. I can lean into the treasure of not being compelled to understand complicated things, even complicated things about myself. By the way, complicated things about myself may well be the most difficult things to understand, sometimes baffling and elusive. So Instead of the constant struggle to understand, I plan to turn my life over, again, to the One who created me to be complicated in the first place.
Thanks be to God for the ”peace that passes all understanding.” Amen.
I don’t like feeling melancholy. The feeling is just too tentative and unspecific. Trying to get free of melancholia is not an easy feat. You can curse it and yank it around trying to break it. You can throw big rocks at it or try to drown it in a bathtub. But it is so uncatchable. You can’t get your hands around it, and if you do, you can’t hold on to it. It just slips away from you before you know it. You cannot control melancholia. Perhaps you cannot even get consolation from it.
Other states of mind are more responsive to being removed or conquered or broken or even thrown out. Sadness, anger, rage—those you can eventually grab and choke out. Melancholia is enduring and constant, and it can hold you hostage for undetermined amounts of time, making a nest in you and dwelling there without your permission. Relentless, hardy, pervasive, persistent!
Understand this: I am not writing about melancholia as a clinical depressive episode and I’m certainly not trying to scientifically classify melancholia in a range of psychiatric disorders. I simply mean to unravel the threads of the state of being of feeling trapped inside melancholia.
I know there are circumstances that brought me here this week, not the least of which is that I have experienced a full week of a severe stomach virus. And then, there is the constant news reporting of horrible cases of gun violence. In fact, ABC News published this troubling statement about gun violence on May 31, 2022: “374 deaths and 782 injuries over the past week.”
I cannot help but weep about the terrible loss of nineteen children, two teachers, one teacher’s husband, and the perpetrator of the murders in #Uvalde, Texas.
I cannot help but be emotionally moved by the gift a Texas man gave the grieving families.Trey Ganem refused to be paid for the 19 hand-painted caskets. (Picture: SoulShine Industries)
Have these circumstances resulted in my feeling melancholy? I’m not sure. Melancholia might not primarily be situational. Rather, it might be embedded in a person’a psyche and brought to the heart by a gloomy, cold morning in winter, or a long-lived rainstorm, or a gloomy, foggy night without a smidgen of light. Perhaps melancholia can come upon a person by a sad movie, by hearing a hauntingly beautiful requiem, by the melodic strains of birdsong, or the somber sounds of a viola.
Melancholia is rather unexplainable for me. When it takes over my psyche from time to time, I feel multiple emotions. Not just a depression-like sadness, but also a lump-in-the-throat nostalgic feeling. I think that’s what’s going on with me right now. Truthfully, I have found the best description of melancholia in the words of Leo Tolstoy.
There is something so enchanting in the smile of melancholy. It is a ray of light in the darkness, a shade between sadness and despair, showing the possibility of consolation.
— Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
It does feel to me like ”a shade between sadness and despair.” Whatever melancholy is, however it comes to me, whatever it feels like and whenever it visits me, I like Tolstoy’s phrase about melancholy ”showing the possibility of consolation.” In my mind, that is the Godsend part of it: that when I feel the emotion “between sadness and despair,” covered in a misty veil of melancholy, God’s holy way is that consolation is always possible. Always!
The Apostle Paul has the last word in the beautiful blessing he wrote to the church in Corinth:
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. 6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.
How would you feel about a phrase like, war against children? Virtually no one would like such a phrase, but isn’t that exactly what happens when someone bursts into a school brandishing an AK-15 assault rifle? When someone uses a weapon to kill children inside a school room, and when a nation refuses to change its culture of weapons and bullets, then we need to own it: America wages and perpetuates war against children!
The total lack of regulation of firearms and ammunition in America is the source of the shooting that held nineteen children and two teachers hostage in a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in the hands of a murderer. The ultimate ”perpetrator” could be called the National Rifle Association (NRA), the group who promotes the idolatry of lethal weapons. Protesters at the site of the NRA’S National Convention this weekend were joined by Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who listed previous school shootings and called on those attending the convention to make sure that gun violence would no longer harm children in this country.
“The time to have stopped Uvalde was right after Sandy Hook,” O’Rourke said. “The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Parkland. The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Santa Fe High School. The time for us to stop the next mass shooting in this country is right now, right here, today with every single one of us.”
Gun violence in schools is not a national scourge in every country. There are examples of gun control our nation could follow if we had the passion and political will to do so. A case in point . . .
About a month after the Parkland school shooting, a letter of condolence addressed to the survivors arrived from survivors and parents who had endured a similar tragedy 22 years before when a local shopkeeper walked into Dunblane Primary School in Scotland and opened fire, killing 16 five and six-year-olds and their teacher.
Writing the letter to Parkland survivors was a act of solidarity. Offering hope for change, they told of their successful campaign for gun reform. They wrote, “Laws were changed, handguns were banned and the level of gun violence in Britain is now one of the lowest in the world.”
Since the 1996 Dunblane massacre, they said, “there have been no more school shootings in the United Kingdom.” Because of a grassroots campaign led by the parents of Dunblane students, leaders in the U.K took decisive legislative action. By the end of 1997, Parliament had banned private ownership of most handguns, enacted a semi-automatic weapons ban, and implemented mandatory registration for shotgun owners.
The signees ended with words of encouragement, “Wherever you march, whenever you protest, however you campaign for a more sensible approach to gun ownership, we will be there with you in spirit.”
Here in “the land of the free,” we have become callous to gun violence. We hear of mass shootings on streets, in churches, synagogues, temples or mosques, and we move on. We are becoming immune to shootings in night clubs, stores, shopping malls, military bases, restaurants, theaters and homes.
Violence inside schools, though, is on a higher, more lethal level. People who grapple with making sense of school shootings strain to come up with “reasons” that such heinous acts of violence could happen. People choose to go into restaurants, clubs and theaters, but children in school classrooms are mandated to be there.
War against children.
Do we dare look at the list of school shootings since 1969? I studied the list today, lamented over it, I guess. There were fourteen school massacres that left 169 dead children.
After every single incident, people cry, “enough is enough.” After every horrific mass murder, lawmakers and power brokers say, “enough is enough.” And then comes the question, “Why?” Why is this violence happening? The following answers for “why”—some goodand some preposterous—emerge from the national dialogue.
mental health problems; delinquent youth out of control; inattentive parents leaving guns accessible to children; weapons and ammunition too easy to get; untrained resource officers. It’s because the adults in the schools don’t have guns. They need guns.
Franklin Graham blamed school shootings on “a nation that has turned its back on God,” and on violent video games, the entertainment industry and on “taking God out of our schools.” James Dobson blamed the shooting at Sandy Hook on God’s wrath over abortion and same-sex marriage.
War against children.
This is a sad season, but it is also a sad time for Christianity. Just days after the tragic slaughter of innocent children and their teachers, the National Rifle Association meets in national conference to celebrate themselves only 300 miles away from Robb Elementary in Uvalde. Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood name it and explain it in a recent article published in A Public Witness.
“Even after Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas, and now Robb Elementary — not to mention the numerous other mass shootings at churches, theaters, concerts, restaurants, grocery stores, homes, and basically any other place in our society — some Christian leaders still try to baptize the death cult that will gather in Texas this weekend.”
Shane Claiborne, co-author of Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence, criticizes pastors who “bless this group that is literally contradicting nearly every word of the Sermon on the Mount.” He continues, ”I’m going to go straight to Jesus and say we cannot serve two masters. And we really are at a crossroads where we’ve got to choose: Are we going to follow Jesus or the NRA? And literally, you couldn’t come up with much more contrasting messages. The gospel of Jesus — turn the other cheek, love our enemies — stands in direct opposition to the rhetoric of the NRA — stand your ground. The gun and the cross give us two very different versions of power.”
His words are true, as are words written by Dr. Obery Hendricks in his recent book, Christians Against Christianity. He writes a fiery epithet about what he describes as “the unholy alliance between right-wing evangelicals and the NRA. Their annual prayer breakfast,” Hendrick’s writes, ”tries to add a veneer of Christian religiosity to the NRA’s deadly agenda.”
In the article in A Public Witness, Kaylor and Underwood describe ”the NRA’s Hell” in scathing commentary. ”As the blood of more slaughtered children cries out from the ground, preparations continue for this weekend’s NRA convention.”
War against children.
There is no lack of commentary following the terror at Robb Elementary School. Stephen Reeves, executive director of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Southwest, also criticized Christian leaders who bless the NRA, saying, “I don’t know how you pray in the name of the Prince of Peace and ask for God’s blessings on the mission of the NRA. No other country sacrifices their children on the altar of the gun.”
Yet, the prophets and the mourners somehow coalesce this weekend, in solidarity with one another regarding weapons of war and slaughter. While a Texas community mourns grievous loss, righteous prophetic critics stand on their behalf to call out sin, complacency, greed, self-interest and idolatry and those who champion the evil of it. ”As our children are killed at the altar of a semiautomatic idol,” Kaylor and Underwood write, ”high priests like Franklin Graham, James Dobson, and Jonathan Falwell help the NRA damn us all to this hell.”
Meanwhile surviving parents, siblings, grandparents and other family members and friends are oblivious to the rhetoric, to the NRA, and to anyone or anything else. Theirs is to mourn, to keep vigil over the memories of the children, and I suppose, to continue asking, ”why.” Why did this happen? Why in our school? Why did it have to take my child?
The “why” questions? Could the answer be because America is waging war against children? The ”why questions” are literally unanswerable, no matter how long we sit before them waiting for answers, for reasons. Some cataclysms have no reasons or explanations, at least none that are worth anything. One needn’t ask ”why” to pure evil, but must instead try to ease beyond ”why” to a more answerable question.
Still, getting beyond “why” brings another question that hovers over us like an ominous cloud: “What can I do about it?”
That is the question that remains. It pierces us. It drives the conversations we have and the prayers we pray.
“What can I do about it?” I can only answer with possibilities to consider. Here are a few.
Make a commitment to stand courageously against violence in the ways you are able.
Become an informed activist, aware enough to help influence the passage of legislation that protects children.
Communicate constantly with members of Congress, by phone, letter, email, text. Go to their webpages and keep on prodding them to do right.
When your activism seems small, know that it helps wage the big war against violence.
Be open to acts of tenderness. Hold a mourner in your arms, when they feel nothing and when their crying will not stop.
Many parents of the Texas children are in in shock, in trauma-induced silence. Without voice, without tears, without any emotion at all. It will be a while before they can make any audible expression of grief.
Other parents are crying uncontrollably. They will cry at the funeral home, in the church, in the graveyard, at the store, in their beds in the night. Their bodies will literally shake as grief pours out from their deepest places. It will be a while before they can stop crying.
Most of us, in fact, cannot stop crying when we see and absorb this war against children or begin to grasp the utter senseless evil of it.
In my work as a victim advocate and trauma counselor, I was present with those who were trapped in silence and with those who could not stop crying. That was the thing I could do, and after the crying, being with them in marches and sit-ins or just for a cup of coffee. In a 2021 article for The Trace, Journalist Ann Givens interviewed me about my victim advocacy and my activism to end violence. She asked me about God, about how God responds to us in a crisis to help us move beyond trauma while we are still facing so much suffering. This was my response:
“God is a God of peace. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but God helps us take the deep, excruciating emotions that come with bad things, and do something with them.”
In the very middle of this war against children, can we take our powerful, intense emotions and do something even more powerful? Can we persevere until the war against children is over and we can see the bright hope of children lying down with a lion and a lamb in places of peace and safety?
May God empower us to say, “Yes, we can!” and fill us to overflowing with a living hope that empowers us to say, ”Yes, we will!”
Rev. Kathy Manis Findley May 26, 2022
Please take a few moments of prayer and meditation to listen to this song, PreciousChild. Precious Child – Words & Music by Karen Taylor Good