I will never forget the image of two mothers, one with ashes on her forward, weeping with one another.
The photo was taken by Joel Auerbach of the Associated Press on Feb. 14, Ash Wednesday, after a mass shooting event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
It captures the pain of two mothers mourning after another school shooting has taken place, this time in their children’s school.
Another mother in the background appears to be headed toward them while a father searches his phone for any update on the situation.
It brings to mind Jeremiah 31:15: “This is what the LORD says: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.'”
We know that guns injure and kill a lot people in the U.S.
In 2018 alone, there have already been 30 acts of mass gun violence resulting in 58 deaths and 169 injuries. The numbers are staggering.
According to Gun Violence Archive, since 2013, there have been 6,613 incidents involving guns, resulting in 1,834 deaths and 3,161 injuries; 416 of those deaths/injures have happened to children younger than 17.
If those numbers aren’t enough to get your attention, take a look at “America’s unique gun violence problem, explained in 17 maps and charts” from Vox.com.
Author and ordained minister Skye Jethani posted on his blog several facts about guns in the U.S. (with links to supporting data and reports) after the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in November 2017. The information he shares is startling, and I encourage you to read his column.
We have a deep problem with gun violence in the U.S. Parents should not have to wonder if their kids are going to come home from school on any given day.
Nearly half of all Americans are afraid they are going to be a victim of a mass shooting event.
This basically means almost half of us believe we are more likely to die from a gunshot wound than from old age. Statistically, that is not the case, but the fear is creeping into our minds and our culture.
Fear causes us to do all sorts of things. When we think about fear biblically, we learn quickly that fear, not hatred, not anger, not racism or any other thing, but fear is the opposite of love.
2 Timothy 1:7 tells us “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.” And 1 John 4:7-11 gives a beautiful portrait of the role and purpose of love in our world.
Love comes from God and everyone who loves has been born of God (1 John 4:7). God loved us, so we ought to love one another (1 John 4:11).
God is love (1 John 4:16). There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, and the one who fears has not been made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).
Things must change in our culture. But that change cannot be rooted in fear.
As Yoda teaches in the Star Wars movies, “Fear is the path to the dark side … fear leads to anger … anger leads to hate … hate leads to suffering.”
Anger, hatred, suffering, social media blasts, news pundit rants and a total inability to respond at all, these things are the result of fear. Yet, we are called to respond to such moments in love.
This is not a “pie in the sky” can we all just get along sort of love either. The love from 1 John and 2 Timothy and from Jesus is a love, as Scot McKnight would remind us, that requires a deep, rugged covenant commitment to be “for” one another, “with” one another and “unto” one another.
Yes, we must continue to offer “our hopes and prayers” for victims, but now it is time for us to make a loving, rugged covenant commitment to them also. Love requires action.
I encourage you to mourn with Florida, Las Vegas, San Bernardino and the 6,613 victims since 2013.
But if we really loved them, we would make rugged loving commitments to be for, with and unto our neighbors, to create new spaces built on love and not fear.
This type of love will require us to do the challenging work of changing our gun culture alongside our gun laws.
This type of love will require us to hold our neighbor’s hands without fear and insist on a better way of doing things.
This rugged covenantal love means I will hold up my commitment to love even when my neighbors choose another path.
This love will require us to release our timidity and instead exhibit power and self-discipline.
I’m a Baptist and in good Baptist fashion I cannot tell you which specific actions to take.
There are so many advocacy groups, legislative processes and personal commitments to choose from. But I do know if we continue to do nothing, we are not loving, no matter how many hopes and prayers we offer.
For if God is love, and there is no fear in love, we must stop being afraid and start being for, with and unto our neighbors. That is the only way forward.
Greg Mamula is an ordained American Baptist minister and serves as the associate executive minister of American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He blogs at Shaped By The Story, where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @GregMamula.