Friends in Christ,
Many years ago, I preached in Uvalde, Texas. It is a friendly town on the southern edge of the Texas Hill Country, where live oaks twist toward the sun and the sign outside the First Presbyterian Church reads, “Bienvenidos Amigos! Come as you are; you’ll be loved!” One of my former students, the Reverend Gini Norris-Lane, is currently the pastor there.
On Tuesday, news of another horrific school shooting reached us from Uvalde.
I have made a habit of reaching out to you after these acts of violence. I actually have a file on my desktop entitled, “Mass Shootings.” It contains prayers I have written on these occasions. I hate that I have a file for moments like this. I hate that it keeps growing.
I stumbled and grabbed a pole on Madison Avenue when I first read the latest head-throbbing news. I cannot bear to look at the pictures that are emerging. As a pastor, standing in the presence of other people’s grief is part of the job—the calling. I know what heartache sounds like. I imagine that you do, too. Today, the heavens echo with the bellows of tormented parents who only yesterday were making plans for the last day of school before summer.
I dread the days ahead. I have had my fill of “thoughts and prayers.” Vague expressions of concern by scores of Americans have done absolutely nothing to stop these evil acts. When it comes to mass shootings, Americans are trapped in a pointless circle of finger-pointing, political stammering, and virtue posting, soon followed by faltering resolve.
Don’t I believe in prayer? Yes. Real prayer, like the one uttered by the prophet Habakkuk:
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Prayers like this scare us. They focus us too. They are raw and real and right for a day like today.
Here’s my lament for Uvalde:
Save us, O God, from vacuous promises.
Graft steel to our society’s spine.
Compel us to watch these funerals.
Help us feel the weight of small coffins
carried down the center aisle of limestone churches
where little ones were promised, “You’ll be loved.”
Imprint the image of sobbing mothers and fathers,
sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, grandmas and grandpas
in our so easily distracted heads.
Make us look. And remember.
And then give us strategies and gumption and trust for each other.
Give us everything we need to stop this violence.
Fix resolve in our hearts with your fierce love.
Surely you hold these lambs, these precious lambs, this night.
Do not allow us to forget those who have suffered and died in this terrible season.
Save us and the children who deserve our collective care.
Wishing you the grace and peace of Christ this day and always,
Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston
Senior Pastor, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church