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I’m Really Tired of Gun-Related Funerals

As yesterday’s story of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School unfolded, image after image went through my head . . .

I thought of my son and his classmates, sitting in their classroom a thousand miles away from Connecticut. Would they hear about this at school, or would they come home laughing and be shocked when they got home?

I thought of his teachers, particularly his kindergarten teacher from years ago, and also the woman in the school’s office, responsible for buzzing people into the building and being the first one to greet everyone who enters. How will she feel, coming to work next Monday, as that buzzer rings on her desk for the first time that day, announcing the first visitor of the day?

I thought of George Tiller, gunned down while serving as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church. I thought of Tiller’s pastors, friends of mine that I recently saw at a clergy conference, and the people of that congregation, who walk through the scene of that shooting every time they come to worship. I wondered how the news of this shooting will affect them as them come to worship this Sunday.

I thought of Jovan Belcher, Kasandra Perkins, and the Kansas City Chiefs and others touched here in KC by that murder-suicide. Already grieving their own losses, they no doubt connect with the families in Connecticut all too well.

I thought of a hunter friend of mine here in KC, who earlier this week was boasting of the delicious squirrel he had for dinner the night before, and one of my good friends from seminary who regaled me recently of his success during his local deer hunting season. How, I wonder, will these events affect them the next time they head out to hunt?

But mostly, I thought of the funerals over which I’ve presided in which guns played a part, whether the death was an accident, suicide, or murder. I thought of the deceased, who were old, young, and all ages in between. I thought of their families — parents and grandparents, siblings and children, aunts and uncles and cousins — who gathered to mourn their loss. I thought of their friends and coworkers who came to the funerals. I thought of their voices raised in song and in prayer, I thought of the tears of pain and the laughter of fond memories, and I thought again and again about the refrain that echoes from funeral to funeral: Why, O Lord?

And I thought of the lament of the Psalmist: “How long, O Lord?”

This morning, the above-the-fold half of front page of the print edition of the KC Star was white text on black background. In addition to a large photo of children being led out of the school, there were three stories. One was a large piece on the shooting, and another was a story about a child being adopted after spending years in the foster system. The third was not a news piece, but a rare front-page opinion piece. Under the headline “We must act now, for the children of Sandy Hook,” columnist Mary Sanchez said this:

The nation has a duty to protect its tiniest, most vulnerable citizens. Our children.

America is failing at this task, and the proof is lying in Connecticut morgues.

Don’t dare forget the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Every last one of the 20 precious souls who died Friday deserves a more pertinent and lasting memorial than the shock of a nation reeling.

They deserve deep, contemplative thought and action. They deserve changes in how we manage the right to own weaponry in America.

If the slaughter of a classroom of children isn’t enough to press for reasonable gun control, then nothing will help America. We might as well hand out NRA memberships with birth certificates.

Sanchez’s piece continued inside the paper, and she doesn’t let up one bit. It’s a powerful statement, made more powerful by the decision of her editors to put it on the front page.

And she’s right.

She closed with this:

Sear this into your memory: Sandy Hook Elementary School. Never just “Sandy Hook,” as if it could be a popular vacation site.

We need to repeat the whole name, emphasis on “elementary” and “school.”

That will help keep the focus where it belongs, on the 20 children who are dead.

Thoughts of these lost lives can and must lead us to a better place.

Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) certainly things so:

McCarthy (D-N.Y.), the foremost gun control advocate in Congress, said she spoke with White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew before Election Day and told him she will exert pressure on the White House to push for gun control legislation.

“I said, ‘Jack, I know the president is going through an election and I’m telling you after the election I’m coming out full force,’” McCarthy told POLITICO Friday. “I was just giving the White House a heads up that the gloves are off on my side and I was going to do everything I possibly could. … If that meant embarrassing everybody, that’s what I would do.”

Note the timing: that was before election day. I don’t think yesterday’s events will do anything but bolster her in her quest. And that’s a good thing.

We enact all kinds of reasonable restrictions on the right to vote, including a requirement that people register if they want to cast a ballot. Will those in Congress and around the country who are so anxious to enact even more such laws around voting be equally anxious to similarly enact reasonable restrictions on the right to bear arms? I’m not going to hold my breath, but I’d sure love to be surprised.

I’m really tired of gun-related funerals.

UPDATE: I’m also really, really tired of certain preachers.


photo h/t to Tony Fischer Photography, used under Creative Commons. The story of this mural, painted in 2007, is told by the Philadelphia Inquirer, and opens like this:

To Michael “MIC” Ta’bon and his friend Lionel Dunbar, the names are a measure of the social health of the city, and painting them on a wall in the Nicetown section of North Philadelphia is a way to make sure they are not forgotten.

The men created a mural on Hunting Park Avenue near 19th Street known simply as “the Wall.” It has no bold colors, no faces, no scenery – just the 406 names and ages of the homicide victims in Philadelphia last year.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.