“Multiple people dead in mass shooting near San Jose light rail yard.” This is the headline I read in a newsfeed just minutes ago. Another headline on Monday reported that there were 12 mass shootings across the country over this past weekend. (A mass shooting is defined as four or more people killed or wounded in one incident.)
Violence, including but not limited to gun violence, has become a regular, even predictable part of our culture these days and it only seems to be getting worse as we open up from the Covid-19 pandemic. We may not have as many of these type of incidents in Montana/N. Wyoming (yet) but that doesn’t mean that violence doesn’t affect so many of us where we live and work.
It seems that too many people believe that violence, against others or themselves, is the standard solution to whatever problem they are facing in their lives. Violence is the answer, they say, and with few other answers to the contrary shared in the public sphere, it’s considered more and more to be an acceptable answer by too many. In fact, the violence – physical, emotional, psychological, verbal, spiritual -- has gotten so prevalent that we are becoming numb to the horror it causes in the lives of too many people.
So what are we as Christ’s church supposed to do in the face of such violence? How do followers of Christ respond to the different forms of violence plaguing the world we live in? Do we hide from it? Do we fight against it with more violence? Do continue to offer our thoughts and prayers until it happens to us?
Often after these acts of violence, we hear people say, “our thoughts and prayers are with you.” But what should we be thinking and praying before, during, and after these events? Do we bother to pray to God at all or has it become one of those nice things we say but never really follow up on because we think that, since nothing is changing, God doesn’t care or isn’t planning to do anything about it?
As followers of Christ, we believe that God’s message to us in and through Christ is clear. The answer to the problems we face in life is not more violence. The answers to our problems are found in God’s good news to us in and through the cross: new life, resurrection, love, hope, faith, reconciliation, compassion, forgiveness and so many more gifts, all of which are non-violent.
But we also believe that God works through us in this world, that we are to be God’s hands, mouths, and feet, participating with God to create a more peaceful, non-violent place to live. It does us no good to pray to God to fix things if we aren’t willing to participate in God’s solutions.
So yes, first let us pray against the violence in the world. In faith, we know that God weeps and groans with us with sighs too deep for words in the face of such violence. And God responds to our prayers with divine power, the Spirit’s love, and new life in Christ.
Let us pray for the victims of the many shootings and other forms of violence, those who have died and who are still alive fighting for their lives. Let us pray for the far too many families and friends who are grieving the loss of their loved ones’ lives and those who are waiting by the bedside in the hope that their loved one will regain a life beyond their injuries.
Let us pray for all who have been traumatized by or live in fear of violence in body, mind, heart and spirit as well as for those who face violence and its consequences in their homes, communities, jobs, schools, streets, celebrations, and gathering spaces.
Let us pray for our leaders at the local, state, and national level to work with God’s Spirit to create change instead of choosing apathy, greed, grief, anger, or ignorance. May they respond actively and helpfully to seek the best solutions to this epidemic of violence.
Let us pray for ourselves in our own grief, anger, fear, apathy, or unwillingness that we may use the mouths, minds, hearts, spirits, hands and feet God gave us to honestly and lovingly think about, pray for, talk about and enact healthy solutions to our nation’s worship of violence as the solution to our problems.
And then let us live out those prayers, empowered by Spirit and renewed in the new life of our baptisms to continuously find Christ-centered alternatives to the violence that engulfs our nation and attacks our lives.
May God bless and keep us in these days!
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod