by: Michelle Bullock
In early February, the Church celebrated “The Feast of the Presentation.” This is a day when we remember baby Jesus being brought to the temple by his family to be dedicated to God.
When was brought to the temple, he met two older people: a man named Simeon and a woman named Anna, a prophet and a prophetess. Both had been waiting for a savior for a very long time. Both recognized Jesus as that savior right away. You can imagine Simeon and Anna asking to hold Jesus…and Mary, cautiously giving them the baby, saying, “be careful.” Simeon goes on to bless Jesus and say things about the baby that amaze even Mary and Joseph—the same Mary and Joseph who had seen angels and who had already trusted God so much. When Anna comes to the family, she too, takes Jesus and talks about how wonderful he is and will be to anyone who will listen. (This story may be found in Luke 2:22-40.)
Schools and families have the same kind of cautious, trusting relationship. Those of us lucky enough to work in schools get to take these new, still being formed people, and tell them who they are and all that they can be. Parents bring children to school each day, trusting us to carefully hold and teach their precious children. For us, that is a privilege that we don’t take lightly, but like Simeon and Anna, it is a joy. Like Simeon and Anna, we get to help children and families see hidden potential and we recognize children for who they are becoming—people growing stronger and wiser daily, and who will hopefully go on from our institutions to make a positive difference in our world. Children are amazing.
Now, enter February 14, 2018. Valentine’s Day. Ash Wednesday. A day full of love, chocolate, sacrifice and considering how to be a follower of Jesus as Lent began. And, apparently, the day a former student decided to walk into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and snuff out the lights of 17 students and teachers. Here are their names, pictures and stories. I still haven’t made it all the way through the list, because, Jesus, it is too much.
These days, those of us who work in schools worry that we might encounter a day when some of the children in our care might not make it to that future, because someone with a gun might come in and snuff out their light. We worry that to honor the trust and care given to us by parents might mean that we one day have to take a bullet for their child. And we wonder if we will have the quickness or courage to do so. And we worry that if we don’t, that we’ll never be able to live with ourselves.
Every day, those of us who work in schools prepare to be the next school shooting statistic, but hope and pray we will never become one.
When I was a kid, we had fire and tornado drills. At my school, we add lock-down drills to prepare for an active shooter. After the drill, we make a list of things to fix—rooms that can’t hear the drill, doors that didn’t lock right, kids that were in the bathroom, classes that didn’t hide well enough, and reflect on the best way to huddle seventeen five year olds into a dark corner with a book without scaring them? I work at a very wealthy school that has the best of everything and who stays on top of this stuff, but I didn’t hear the alert when the last lockdown started, so I sent two kindergarteners buddies to the bathroom in the middle of the drill, only to have them brought back by our attendance officer (the best woman who has ever lived because she’d do the same in a real scenario). Can you imagine what it feels like to wonder what would have happened if a real shooter had been in the building and I had let someone’s babies out in the hallway alone? How would I live with myself? I’m their chaplain. I’m supposed to protect them.
These are the what-if situations schools have to wrestle with, especially right after a shooting, when the what-ifs are fresh and our anxiety is heightened. The day after the shooting in Parkland, I spent the day wondering with administrators, teachers and staff about what we would do and how we can better protect ourselves. As I checked email in my empty classroom, I wondered which bookshelves I could flip over the fastest to make a shield. I wondered if I would be willing and fast enough to use my own body as a shield. And I know this thought has run through the mind of almost every teacher. Could we lay our lives down for other people’s babies, even if it means leaving our own babies and families behind?
My daughter and I go to the same school every day. She’s a student. I’m everyone’s chaplain. My classroom is a floor below hers. What if a shooter were to open fire on her floor and I’m below, in my classroom, protecting other people’s children while knowing that my own child might be slaughtered? Oh, Jesus. No. What would I do? Could I stay planted, protecting the children placed in my care while listening to the floor above? Would I run to her? Could I run to her? Which choice wouldn’t haunt me for the rest of my life? It’s an impossible choice. Oh sweet Jesus, please, no.
On the days after shootings, we wonder if we should talk to the children about the things happening in the world, or if those conversations are best left at home. We wonder how to help children know they will be safe if they tell us about something or someone who is suspicious. We wonder how we can equip children to be the kind of people who would never do such a heinous thing. We wonder how we can keep children from bullying the troubled and lonely children (this teacher’s work is beautiful). We worry that certain kids might one day snap. And then we who are called to care for and see the very best in your children think, oh Lord, to imagine that little soul with a gun in hand is such a horrible thought.
In the days when school shootings are too many to name or count, what are we supposed to do?
Here’s the thing. I’m a person of faith. I believe in the radical, transformational love of Jesus. So, yes, I do believe in prayer and I’m not going to throw prayer out the window on all of this. I also believe, however, that part of the power of prayer is that it can lead to action. Prayer can drive us to partnership with God and one another to bring justice and reform, and to protect our children. The prophets of the Old and New Testaments didn’t just send “thoughts and prayers,” but they demanded change and they were loud voices speaking truth that was often unwanted to unjust religious and political leaders and to unjust societies. I do not think that we can pray away shootings, but I do believe we can pray for truthful and right actions to be made known and then to actually, bravely and loudly act.
So, here I am, wanting, like Anna and Simeon, to see these children grow up to make our world better. Listening, I hope, like Anna and Simeon for the direction of God. Praying for and demanding a stop to school shootings. Praying for and demanding gun control. Praying for and demanding, like the prophets of old, for the sleeping giant that is the church to WAKE UP and to stop praying with our thumbs in our ears. We have to listen to where the Spirit is telling us to take action, and then GO and ACT.
Will you join me in being a prophetic voice? What’s our plan? Let’s go.
The Brady Campaign, which aims to cut gun deaths in half by 2025.
And, something easy you can do to protect your own kids (from ASK):
In America, one out of three homes with children has a gun, many kept unlocked or loaded. Every year thousands of kids are killed and injured as a result.
Parents ask all sorts of questions before their children visit other homes. The Asking Saves Kids (ASK) Campaign encourages parents to add one more question to this conversation: “Is there an unlocked gun in your house?” It’s a simple question, but it has the power to save a child’s life.
The ASK Campaign was created in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Across the country, it has successfully inspired an estimated 19 million households to ask if there are guns where their children play. Join these parents and pledge to ASK this life-saving question at www.askingsaveskids.org/pledge. You can also learn about more ways to get involved in ASK, and how you can spread the ASK message in your community.