Wednesday’s Florida school massacre evoked a immense, and emotional, outpouring on social media. Some posted on Ash Wednesday, others the following day.
The Ash Wednesday mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is the ninth-deadliest American mass shooting in modern history. It is the largest in a school since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn, that killed 27.
It is the 25th mass shooting — defined as four or more injured or killed at one location, not counting the shooter — so far in 2018, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit research group not affiliated with any advocacy organization founded in 2013.
The AR-15 style rifle used in Wednesday’s attack — a civilian model of the military’s M-16 — is the same weapon employed in mass shootings at last fall’s Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, the 2016 Pulse night club shooting in Orlando, Fla., last November at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and at Sandy Hook.
The following is a sampling of response to the shooting from ministers:
Alan Sherouse, pastor, First Baptist Church, Greensboro, N.C.
At our church, a number of our pastors participate in the imposition of ashes. Three stations, two ministers at each, alternating turns so that six thumbs are smudged by the end. It’s a good thing, too, because I want no part of ashing my children.
“Someone else will need to put the ash on the Sherouse kids,” I say with a chuckle and a tear. As a minister, I am often reminded of my own mortality. But my kids? They’re all parts glitter and no parts ash. And I don’t want to be the one to tell them, “Remember you are dust ….” The world will tell them that clearly enough.
And then the full news of Parkland, Fla., leaving the sanctuary and scanning the news with my ashen thumb. “Aren’t you from Parkland?” a friend had asked via text earlier in the day, long before I knew it was the latest hashtagged locale. I assumed his latest Tinder date must be with a Florida gal. “Not Parkland. Lakeland,” but still a Florida guy for most of my life. That means countless friends have personal connections. College friends are mourning for their high school alma mater. A college classmate, friend and fellow Baptist pastor is grieving the death of his adolescent buddy, known to the rest of us as the heroic football coach who stood in front of students against an AR-15. I scroll through these points of connection, and it somehow bring this closer. Then again, personal connections aren’t needed. At one level I am from Parkland. We all are.
Because this is the world. And it’s not some scary place far off beyond my reach. It’s not some place that imposes something on my children from which I’m otherwise shielding them. It’s the place I live. It’s within my control. It’s a place that I am co-creating. God created a garden, but we have created the world as it is. So this is the world as we have made it. As I have made it.
It’s the world I sent my kids into again this morning, complete with all our morning rituals — habits so strong I forget what they mean. First, we roll in to the Kidz Bop soundtrack and the frantic update on the time from the backseat (“4 minutes until the bell!”). A reluctant “I love you, Della,” under the breath of a too-cool big brother. “Daddy, will you hold my bag?” his little sister asks. I don’t mind, you see, as long as she keeps holding my hand all the way to kindergarten. You better believe I’ll carry that bag in first grade, too.
Remember who you are.
Remember who loves you.
Remember to do your best work.
Remember to be a good friend. (That one’s from their mother)
But it occurs to me as I walk away that the schoolyard ritual today was incomplete. It ought to have included that refrain that we are repeating to our children each and every day in our mad world: “Dear ones, remember you are dust.”
Griff Martin, pastor, First Baptist Church Austin, Texas
There are two images I am carrying with me as I lead our Ash Wednesday service.
The first is the White House budget director with ash on his forehead announcing that this military parade — a parade of weapons, strength and power, a parade with the purpose of fear and intimidation — will cost us $30 million.
The second is a mother with ash on her forehead outside the school in Florida where there has been another mass shooting with multiple casualties, with tears running down her face as she embraces her child.
Church, we have not done enough.
We are part of the problem.
We have to fix this.
Fear births fear.
Violence begets violence.
Our quiet prayers only get us so far.
So pray loud and pray with your feet.
“Without God we can’t, without us God won’t.”
— Desmond Tutu
Amy Butler, senior minister, The Riverside Church, New York City
See my rant below. I’m tired, tired of waiting for the world to change. Pastors and faith leaders, no more waiting. Who will attend and who will help me host the next God and Guns training at The Riverside Church in the City of New York?
Since 2016 I have reached out to several people and places in areas where talking about gun violence is less culturally accepted offering to bring in preachers, to transport part or all of the conference, or to come myself to teach a class. Nothing has come of these efforts. This morning I am sick and tired of it all.
If we faith leaders and people of faith won’t commit ourselves to speaking up, why are we even wasting our time in the church? Are we too scared to say that killing each other is in violation of God’s hopes for the world? What is wrong with us?
I’m not going to sit around waiting anymore. I’d like to host a God and Guns training again at The Riverside Church in the City of New York.
In reference to a Donald Trump tweeted prayer: I am done with this meaningless bullshit. To call any of this prayer is an offense to God. Prayers have relevance when they result in meaningful action. Please, spare us the fake concern, especially on this solemn and holy day.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
Maria Swearingen, co-pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Washington
An article from 2012 resurfaces each time we face this. It reminds me why I get so damned tired of the Religious Wrong, in a long and dysfunctional marriage with the NRA, fighting to plant a “Ten Commandments” tombstone in front of every county courthouse they can. Because they seem to pay little attention to the very first one: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Brent Newberry, pastor, First Baptist Church, Worchester, Mass.
For some, today is a celebration of love, relationship, hope.
For others, it’s a reminder of our brokenness, dependence, mortality.
another mass shooting.
And while Valentine’s Day passes, only 364 days to go,
and Ash Wednesday spins its peculiar cycle until next year,
another mass shooting will come and go,
a hundred times before these two days once again imbue us with their ritual reminders of our shared love
If only our mass shootings came once a year,
maybe we’d more easily remember our love