|Esmeralda Bravo, sheds tears while holding a photo of her granddaughter, Nevaeh, one of the Robb Elementary School shooting victims, during a prayer vigil in Uvalde, TX, (AP photo)|
Many years ago, I was given some excellent advice: When you are angry with someone or about something, write it all down in a letter. And then, put the letter in an envelope and tuck it away in a drawer for a few days. Then, take the letter out and re-read it. If you still feel the same way, send it. If you need to modify it, do so and sit on that for a few days. If you are uncomfortable with anything you’ve said, rip up the letter and throw it away.
Well, I went through this exercise on Thursday, the Feast of the Ascension of the Christ, two days after the hideous slaughter of 19 elementary school children and two of their teachers. When I went to bed Tuesday night, there were 15 children dead. When I woke up on Wednesday morning, I learned that four more children had died.
And, just like that, my sadness turned to anger – the white-hot, blinding kind of anger that wants to lash out and pin the blame on someone or something. This had to be someone’s fault. Lots of someones fault, I thought. I probably don’t need to share the litany that has been repeated over and over again in various news outlets. It’s tempting, but I won’t.
I knew where to take my complaints and anger and anxiety and fear. I took them straight to Jesus. And, I did what I often do: I wrote him a letter. On Thursday. The Feast of the Ascension. I’m going to share parts of it with you this morning.
Oh, my dear, sweet Jesus. You’ve no doubt heard that it’s happened again. Last week it was 10 people of color in Buffalo, NY. Now, it’s 19 elementary school kids and two of their teachers in Uvalde, Texas. So, I’m coming to you on the day you left us. The Feast of the Ascension. And, I’m mad as hell at you for leaving.
I mean, was that totally necessary? Seriously? Just to fulfill the prophecy of Daniel? Everything theologically neat and tidy? It's just compulsively neat and tidy, in my experience. This was done to "fulfill" That. That was said to "fulfill" this. And "all things are being brought to their perfection". No ragged edges. No incomplete thoughts. Everything tucked in nice and tight, like sheets in a hospital corner on a bed. If you tried, I'd bet you could even bounce a quarter off these theological sheets.
Except, why was it necessary? I mean, why did you have to leave? You could have completed the work just as well – probably better – right from here on earth. I'm really angry because I'm quite sure we wouldn't have half the religious squabbles we have today if you were actually around to say, "Umm . . . no, actually, I didn't say that." And, "Uh . . . you know, you are really playing fast and loose with my words there." And, "Okay, you lazy buggers, let's go. We've got people to feed, houses to build, prisoners to set free from their chains."
I'm quite certain you would never have allowed the lurid murder of George Floyd or the shooting of Travon Martin or Breonna Taylor or India Kager. I have no doubt – absolutely no doubt whatsoever – that there would never have been a Columbine, or a Sandy Hook, or Parkland, much less an Uvalde Massacre of the Innocents if you were still here.
So, yeah. I’m angry that you "ascended into heaven and (is) sitting at the right hand of the Father," apparently, just so human logic would reign supreme - or, at least, make it nice and tidy. How nice for you! Not so for us. Problem is: It. Makes. No. Sense.
Not today. Especially not today. When the shock has started to wear off and the endless cycle has begun: Thoughts and prayers, Facebook debates and Twitter wars, Congressional inaction, and crickets chirping as everyone moves on until the next Mass Shooting.
Today? Today I'm pissed off. And, quite conveniently, it's the Feast of the Ascension so I get to express all my abandonment issues and sense of betrayal and outrage on you. It's YOUR fault. You left. You should have stayed. Then, stuff like this wouldn't happen. See?
I know. I know. You sent your Holy Spirit to counsel and advise and guide us. Well, guess what? That’s not working out so well. It hasn’t for a long time. You may have noticed. Okay, okay. Fair enough. Not a lot of people listened to you while you were here. Still don’t. Or, maybe they did listen and they didn’t like what you said. I mean, you did get crucified for it, after all.
Okay, so, here’s the thing – here’s what I really need help with: Just what am I supposed to do now? I’ve already had several phone calls from parishioners. They want to know what to do. Should they go to their grandson’s graduation in that big auditorium? Did you hear what I told her? I said yes, but make sure you sit next to an exit. In the first three rows.
I learned that from the Active Shooter Training Courses I’ve had in the past, when these kinds of things have happened before. You know I’ve spoken with the Wardens and two members of our congregation who are elected members of the Town Council. One of them is arranging with the Police Department to have an Active Shooter Training Course for the church. We’re just waiting for a date. I did that last week. You know, after Buffalo. I mean, I AM doing stuff. See?
And, that’s another thing I really need help with: Why does this keep happening? I need to know. We need to know. Because if we knew, then we could take measures to prevent it from happening again. I’m not talking about the lame excuses people keep making which is really just a cruel blame game. The end result of that game is that it leads nowhere, accomplishes nothing.
So, I have sat with the scriptures for this week – this Ascension Sunday – to look for some clues from the things you reportedly said before you left us. I’ve been sitting with these words:
"Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."
I’m sitting with the last couple of words: “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Well, that’s been a colossal failure, hasn’t it? We could never be accused of having God’s love in us, much less any evidence of you being in us, despite baptism.
Why is that? Why is it so much easier to hate than to love? Why is it that we are quick to raise a fist when extending an open hand is just as easy? Might it be that we act too soon on anger and fear? Might it be that we jump to conclusions? Rush to judgment? Settle for easy answers?
Sometimes I think we’re afraid to just sit with our feelings. Or, perhaps, it’s difficult to sort through them all. Or, maybe it’s just that it’s really hard to sit with our pain, much less anyone else’s pain. But, that’s exactly what you did, isn’t it? You were there for people. You showed up where they were. You listened to them. You used what you had to comfort and heal and teach them: Dirt. Spit. Humor. Even when you were annoyed or distracted or sad, you still healed the persistent woman, and the daughter of the Roman soldier, and raised Lazarus from the dead.
So, perhaps that’s what I should do? Just be with people? Help them to sort through their feelings and then feel the feelings they are feeling? Instead of rushing through with “thoughts and prayers”? Because, when we don’t feel the feelings, when we don’t sit with each other and dig down deep to find the love and compassion that is there, we run the risk of numbing ourselves by moving on too fast, and then wonder why nothing ever gets done.
So, okay. I’ll start this Sunday, Jesus. I’ll start by reading the names of those who have died and are now with you. And, I’ll ask that, as each name is read, we stop and think of that person, and feel the feelings, and sit with our feelings and feel the feelings of others around us. And then, maybe, in the midst of our deepest feelings, when we feel most weak and most vulnerable, you will come to us as you always do, when we need you most, and inspire us to do the one thing we can do to make a difference. To create change. To help the world be a better place.
Even if that means that I need to search my own heart and seek forgiveness or allow my anger and resentment to be transformed into reconciliation and peace in my own life. What’s the wonderful old song? “Let there be peace in the world, and let it begin with me.” That’s so much easier to sing than to live, isn’t it?
Before you left, your prayer to God was that we would know God better “so that the love with which (God) loved (You) may be in (us), and (You) in (us).” Help me help your people, Jesus. Help me to help them know that prayer is not a platitude but a vehicle for transformation. That even anger is a prayer – the ‘holy rage’ of the prophets that spoke truth to power, your wrath that turned over tables of corruption and greed in the Temple – that can be transformed and used for good. And that our tears and anguish are the prayers most cherished in your heart.
Help me, Jesus. Help me lead your people to see you more clearly, follow you more nearly, love your more dearly, day by day. Because, even though you physically left us and went to heaven, you are still here with us, in each other, and you are known by the love we have for each other.
And so, we begin – first the 10 who were slaughtered in Buffalo, NY.
Roberta A. Drury, 32
Margus D. Morrison, 52
Andre Mackneil, age 53
Aaron Salter, 55
Geraldine Talley, 62
Celestine Chaney, 65
Heyward Patterson, 67
Katherine Massey, 72
Pearl Young, 77
Ruth Whitfield, 86
And now, those children and their teachers who were gunned down in Uvalde, TX
Nevaeh Bravo, 10
Jacklyn Cazares, 9
Makenna Lee Elrod, 10
Jose Flores, 10
Ellihana Garcia, 10
Irma Garcia, 48
Uziyah Garcia, 10
Amerie Jo Garza, 10
Xavier Lopez, 10
Jayce Luevanos, 10
Tess Mata, 10
Miranda Mathis, 11
Eva Mireles, 44
Alithia Ramirez, 10
Annabell Rodriguez, 10
Maite Rodriguez, 10
Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio, 10
Layla Salazar, 11
Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10
Eliahana Cruz Torres, 10
Rojelio Torres, 10
Let us pray: O God our Father, whose beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them: Give us grace to entrust your beloved children of Uvalde and Buffalo to your everlasting care and love, and bring them fully into your heavenly kingdom. Pour out your grace and loving-kindness on all who grieve; surround them with your love; and restore their trust in your goodness. We lift up to you our weary, wounded souls and ask you to send your Holy Spirit to transform the anger and violence that infects our hearts, and make us instruments of your peace and children of the light. In the Name of Christ who is our hope, we pray. Amen. (Adapted from a prayer by Bishop David Reed, Episcopal Bishop of West Texas)