Sandy Hook

Twitter and Tragedy: A Revamped American Religious Experience

On my first Patriots’ Day in Boston, I was enjoying lunch with several colleagues when someone rushed into the restaurant: There had been an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Moments later, caravans of ambulances and police cars raced, and the reports of casualties rolled in.

In the hours and days that followed, social media became for me, and many others, a sacred space to share our prayers and words of disbelief.

A Mother’s Day for Peace in our Cities

Image: Julia Ward Howe, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Julia Ward Howe, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Julia Ward Howe, best known for writing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in 1862, began working to heal the wounds of the Civil War once the war ended. By 1870 Howe had become convinced that working for peace was just as important as her efforts working for equality as an abolitionist and suffragette. In that year she penned her "Mother's Day Proclamation," exhorting women to:

“Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies.

Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice.’"

Church Leaders Tackle the Stigma of Mental Illness

'Girl at the end of a tunnel,' A.R. Monko / Shutterstock.com

'Girl at the end of a tunnel,' A.R. Monko / Shutterstock.com

The Rev. Frank Page, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was getting ready to work in the yard in the fall of 2009 when the phone rang. His daughter was on the line.

Daddy, I love you, she said. Tell Mama and the girls I love them, too.

Then she was gone.

Melissa Page Strange, 32, took her own life just after hanging up the phone with her dad.

“I do not want you to imagine what that is like,” he said.

For years, Page did not share the painful details of Melissa’s death, fearing that some Christians might speak ill of her if they knew. Mental illness and suicide were taboo topics for many churches, seen as a kind of spiritual failure.

But that may be starting to change.

President Obama, Mourner in Chief

Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

President Obama bows his head at the West memorial service held at Baylor University April 25. Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

Five men who know what it means to be president of the United States shared a stage in University Park, Texas. Then the incumbent among them flew to Waco, to mourn 11 first-responders, killed in a fertilizer plant explosion in the small town of West, Texas.

All presidents try to rewrite history to burnish their brief place in it. And in his new presidential library, George W. Bush will have his turn.

Barack Obama’s legacy is still a work in progress, though even sympathetic commentators are seeing him now, in his fifth year, as too slow to act, too cerebral to brawl, and too little respected by his political enemies.

In one role, however, Obama has excelled: “Mourner in Chief” — not one of his constitutional duties but oddly important.

Black Pastors: Gun Violence Isn’t Just a Problem for White Suburbs

RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

African-American Church Gun Control Coalition in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON — Black clergy have launched a new coalition to fight gun violence, saying they are undeterred by the recent failure of legislation on Capitol Hill and all too aware of the problem of gun violence.

At meetings held Tuesday in Washington and Los Angeles, supporters of the African-American Church Gun Control Coalition called gun violence “both a sin and a public health crisis” and committed to a three-year action plan of advocacy, education and legislative responses.

“As people of God and as faithful members we have the obligation to stir the world’s conscience and to call on our nation’s decision makers to do what is just and right,” said the Rev. Carroll Baltimore, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, which convened the coalition.

Newtown's Teddy Bears: How Many is Too Many?

Photo by Susan Kim

Photo by Susan Kim

When a distressed child hugs a teddy bear, there is a moment of innocent comfort that not only soothes the child but the grownups around her, too.

No wonder, then, in the wake of the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the donation of choice for many people was a teddy bear. The bears — huge, tiny, handmade, store-bought, rainbow-colored, traditional brown — began arriving within 24 hours of the tragedy. They came from churches, children's groups, Facebook campaigns, car dealerships, and individuals across the globe.

Undeniably, for some of the children in Newtown — and adults, for that matter — a new stuffed animal was just the right gift at the right time.

In Guns We Trust

Sojourners' bumper sticker

Sojourners' bumper sticker

When the really hard stuff happens, when we witness the true face of evil, Americans have a predictable habit. Even as cameras feed the latest bubble-shattering violence into our family rooms, we start looking for someone or something — anything — other than the actual perpetrators to stone. We panic for a scapegoat.

We hunt tirelessly for the person (a parent, an educator, a cop) who didn't catch the warning signs, who failed to read a memo — anyone on whose shoulders we can cast our collective fear — then rush as many measures into place as possible, no matter the cost in treasure or freedoms, to regain an illusion of safety and impenetrability.

One iteration of that really hard stuff happened at Sandy Hook. The backstory is eerily familiar. A young man, left to stew in our culture's juices, fleshes out the nightmare in his broken soul, and deals out tragedy in living color as if the holy innocents of Newtown were mere pixels on a screen, points in a twisted "shooter." Now, just four months later, it's a swept-away moment of terror and sadness that everyone just wants to forget because it's unthinkable to think on it any longer.

Virginia Tech, Aurora, and Newtown each stopped the nation in its tracks but we eventually moved on, and before anyone might guess, well over 3,000 more have died by gun violence in America since December.

Where Idolatry Rages, Prophets Speak Out

Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Rev. Sam Sailor of of Hartford, Conn., speaks at the vigil on April 11. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Guns are dangerous idols. While mass shootings are happening at an alarming rate and an epidemic of gun violence plagues our nation’s cities, our society’s fanatical devotion to weapons prevents us from enacting solutions to curb the violence. The cost of worshipping these false idols continues to rise, as firearms kill more than 80 people a day

Since the Dec. 14 shooting in Newton, Conn., nearly 3,500 people have died because of a gun. Some of them were suicides. Some were gang-related gun deaths. Many use these facts to insinuate that the deaths somehow aren't equally tragic. But as Christians we know that all of them were children of God created in the Divine image.

While the idolatry rages on, prophets are beginning to speak out.

Is There No Cure for These?

Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

3,300 crosses & religious symbols staked on the National Mall. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Last week, the Senate began a floor debate on gun control that brought to mind an earlier “floor debate” several months ago in Chaska, Minn.

Ever since our Community Dialogue on “Gun Violence in America,” I’ve searched for answers to what happened.

A crowd of 138 people came out on a Tuesday night to chime in following the tragedy at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn.

As the night wore on, it became clear that there would be no real dialogue, no moderated discussion. No give-and-take. A series of monologues, without interruption and with a time limit, was the best we could expect.

Fear, anger, hostility, and suspicion were in the room. The room was hot.

The months following have been a personal search for understanding of what happened that night, and how we in America move forward together on such a divisive issue.

More Than 3,300 Gun Deaths Since Newtown; Faith Leaders Say 'Enough'

Heather Wilson / PICO National Network

Crosses & religious symbols on National Mall represent 3,300+ gun deaths since Newtown. Heather Wilson / PICO National Network

Today, on the National Mall, I stood with fellow faith leaders, including clergy from Newtown, to remember lives lost at Sandy Hook elementary school and the 3,364 gun deaths that have happened since.

We stood in front of a field of crosses, Stars of David, and other grave markers, and it broke my heart to think that each one stood for a life ended too soon. It doesn’t have to be this way. Commonsense steps to reduce gun violence are within our reach. Just today the Senate voted to begin the debate. But there is much work to do. Lawmakers need to hear from you.  

This is one of the clearest examples of a stark democratic choice: the old politics of guns or the morality of the common good. The clergy are here today for the common good.

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