“Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability….At this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” Acts 2
My news feed today overflows with delight over the Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry’s, sermon at the royal wedding, and grief over the latest school shooting, right here in our neighborhood, that left 10 dead and 13 wounded at Santa Fe High School on Friday. Bishop Curry’s words about love, the power of redemptive love, imagining what the world would be like if government and commerce were characterized by love, confront us American adults as we acknowledge the tragedy in Santa Fe.
We have had 19 years since two students shot up Columbine High School in Colorado. Nineteen years to study the problem and take action to reduce the frequency of school shootings. In some schools, teachers have received additional training in mental health first aid, or in the prevention of bullying. A few more background checks are required prior to gun purchases. But they are not universal and do nothing to prevent the use of parents’ guns (the source in Sandy Hook and in Santa Fe), or of legally obtained guns. The expiration of the prohibition of sales of military grade weapons in 2004 has expanded access to those guns in the time since Columbine. In most schools, from elementary to college, students have been schooled in active shooter responses. All in all, it has been a paltry response; little has been done.
Since 1999, we have lost kindergartners and administrators, teachers and seniors days from graduation. Each time we have assured families and educators of our thoughts and prayers. We have talked about legislative solutions like background checks, while others talked about arming teachers. No conversation or action, whether by people in their private and individual capacity or by elected officials, has slowed the bloodshed. Students at Santa Fe High School reported that they were not surprised by the tragedy that engulfed their school; given the frequency of these incidents, they assumed it would happen to them one day.
Any conversation about the school shootings resembles Babel more than Pentecost. Emotion laden speeches decry the violence and announce “Never again!” Yet, those rejecting the idea that the super-availability of guns is a primary cause speak in a language never understood by gun control advocates. And those demanding or pleading for restrictions on guns speak in a foreign tongue members of the NRA dismiss as incomprehensible. Each side speaks loudly. But no one hears and understands.
We need a Pentecost miracle. We need people of courage to step outside their locked and convicted groups and to gather with those who do not yet understand them. We need people of courage to sit down with those with whom they vigorously disagree, and to speak and to listen. We need elected officials committed to sit down and listen until they understand the other side, to stay at the table until a next step can be taken. More than anything, we need the Holy Spirit to blow through this farce of a debate and bring us to conversation and conversion.
19 years is too long to wring our hands while other parents bury their children, and other schools grieve the deaths of dedicated teachers and coaches. 19 years is so long that our children go to school wondering if today will be the day that the violence traumatizes them forever. They expect it. They expect it! Fourteen year-olds expect that a classmate will bring loaded guns to school and shoot their classmates and teachers. Let us listen and soberly take note.
We are failing them. We are failing each other. We cannot let the complexity of the problem – with its threads of mental health issues, bullying, gun culture, the teenaged brain, violence in movies, games, and the media, and so many other realities – excuse our utter failure to work with those with whom we disagree to forge real actions to return peace and safety to our schools.
What would the world be like if we approached this issue in love? If we listened to each other in love? If we committed to work together in love to end the violence in our schools?
Pray for a Pentecost miracle. Come, Holy Spirit, Come.