“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:14-18
I know all of us are devastated by the violence and murder of innocents in Uvalde. This past week I have been thinking about the place of prayer in the face of repeated senseless tragedies like these. I often say a simple prayer in the morning when I drop my kids off at school. My routine is to tell my kids that I love them, and as I see them walking away, I ask God to keep them safe. I imagine that most parents pray like this in the mornings.
I know my parents prayed for me and my brothers as they watched us leave for the bus, but my guess is they were thinking about bullies, temptation or drugs as they prayed. When I pray, I am almost always thinking about some kid or crazed adult walking into their school with a gun. I am thinking about my daughter and my son hiding under a table, in a closet or behind a door. I am imagining the panic on their faces, and I wonder about the thoughts going through their minds as they hear screaming and gun fire in the halls.
I also thank God for the police officers sitting in their cars at both of their schools. Seeing them there gives me some comfort. I should add that I don’t just thank God, but I have also personally thanked at least one of the officers for their presence. But I realized this week I owe them more than a simple thanks. Until this week it never occurred to me that the person, they could be defending my children against might be covered in body armor.
I also ask God to help my kids keep their heads, stay calm and make smart decisions if the unthinkable should happen. My wife and I have sat down with them and talked about what would happen if someone started shooting in their school. We discussed what they should and should not do and where they should and should not hide. Despite my prayer I know the odds are high that my children would panic, just as any of us would, in the midst of a situation in which even trained soldiers sometimes lose their nerve.
The fact that all of the above goes through my mind on a weekly basis is just plain crazy. Worse, it is rooted in reality. If someone doesn’t understand this, they are not paying attention. If it can happen in Uvalde, it can happen in Shawnee. As a priest I don’t write or speak often about issues that wander into the realm of politics. My goal is to keep the community together. I am more than willing to shift my practice in this situation because this is personal. I took vows and made promises before God as a husband and a dad before I became a Father.
I am certain of a few things. First, that our national approach, or lack thereof, is not keeping our kids safe. Everyone I have spoken to seems to have accepted the reality that nothing will change, that school shootings will just keep happening, that our leaders are dysfunctional, and the system is broken. The common wisdom is that the politics of this moment make change impossible. I am sure they are correct, but I am more certain that every parent should be able to drop their kids off at school without worrying they are sending them into a literal war zone.
Then Governor of New York Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in a 1932 commencement address, "The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." I agree with President Roosevelt that we have to try something different and keep trying until we figure this out.
I have hesitated to write this because I don’t have a perfect solution. Then I realized that it is not my job to fix this impossible situation. I am a citizen and a voter not an elected representative. My elected representatives pledged sacred oaths before God and the nation to protect and defend the constitution and that they will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.
While not specifically mentioned in the oath, the preservation of basic public safety is implied. History teaches us that without these basic safeguards fear leads people to turn to fascism, communism or other political extremes to solve their problems. My job as a citizen is to demand my representatives do their job. My job is to remind them that they were not elected to satisfy any special interest on the right or the left, but to serve the people they represent.
I have decided to keep praying. I will pray that God will open hearts and change minds and that our leaders and our nation will actually come together and do something tangible to protect our kids. Because I have decided to keep praying, I am also required to back up my plea of faith with action (James 2:14-18). That is why I am writing to my elected representatives. I am asking them to sit down with fellow lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and try to figure something out that will help prevent tragedies in the future like the one in Uvalde. I am asking that they stay in whatever room they choose to meet until they do. My children, the children of my neighbors and the memories of the children of Uvalde are worth their time and effort.
I know my request is naïve. But I would rather be guilty of naivete than be guilty of doing nothing, or worse, believing nothing can change. This cannot be our new reality. I will remind my representatives that they have the power to do something about this and that they took an oath to do so. I close with the words of Winston Churchill who during World War II famously said that Americans always do the right thing, once they exhausted all other options. I think we have reached that point.
See you in Church,
Father Tom +