This originally was published as an opinion column in the Feb. 16, 2018 Enid News & Eagle.
By the time this prints, the fervor of media coverage surrounding the latest mass killing will have subsided.
Funerals will be planned. Families will grieve. Survivors will suffer.
A nation will shake its head in a collective “So sad, but what can we do?”
Politicians will slink behind their “thoughts and prayers,” with no intention of doing anything to prevent the next atrocity. And, when more of our children inevitably are massacred, they will waste no time in offering more thoughts and prayers.
Thoughts and prayers are important.
Collaborative, well-reasoned thoughts are needed to improve our society, and keep more of our children out of the crosshairs. And, in a society that’s grown numb to school children being cut down by rifle fire, prayer is entirely appropriate. If you are grounded in faith, I urge you to pray for these families, and for our society.
But to what end do we offer thoughts and prayers?
Do we give serious thought to how we might prevent these killings? To why these events are a peculiarly American tragedy? To what it means for us as a society when we forget mass killings before the bodies are in the ground?
The thinking part of this equation has been done, in mountains of research from institutions the world over (all of which are morbidly amazed by our society’s proclivity for murdering children).
But, no matter the factual basis of those thoughts, they are easily wiped away with a few Fox News sound bytes, a well-placed fear-mongering ad or two by the NRA and a few dollars of blood money donated to cheap prostitute-politicians. And so dies thought.
But what of prayer? A flurry of prayer is bandied about each time a school becomes a slaughterhouse.
We pray for the grieving families, for the victims and the emotionally scarred. If we take the call to Christian prayer seriously, we may even pray for the gunman. That’s all appropriate, necessary and — for those of us of faith — our solemn duty.
But, those prayers are trite, if not an outright affront to the dead and dying, if we do not also pray for the discernment and courage to change the conditions that keep soaking our nation in blood. And that, it seems, is where we are failing.
If we were to kneel, with contrite hearts amid the bodies of our fallen children, and pray to God for ways to end these killings, the answers might lead us down a radically different path.
We might have to make changes to how we purchase, own and maintain the implements we use to kill each other.
We might have to face the reality that our greatest threat isn’t brown-skinned people in the Middle East or crossing the Red River.
We might have to acknowledge our greatest threat comes from within — from a society that has devalued human life and elevated tactical firearms to an easily accessible cultural icon.
In a nation that spends more than half its treasure dealing out death on the other side of the globe, while making firearms more accessible to and defunding treatment for the mentally ill, we might just encounter the need to change our priorities.
Those are hard realities to face, with or without prayer. So, of course, we don’t face them. Rather than kneel in genuine prayer for the conviction to change our situation, we instead throw our hands up, offer some hollow “thoughts and prayers” and quickly forget the carnage.
This kind of spiritual laziness and political cowardice does not befit the history of our nation, or the future of our children.
If our prayers are to mean anything, and if we’re to turn our nation away from these mass killings, we must be willing to embrace policies that place more importance on the lives of God’s children than on political posturing and ideology.
Our latest tragedy occurred on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent — a period to identify and turn from our sins. If prayer means anything to us as a people, we will take this opportunity to change course, and stop sacrificing our children on the altar of greed and guns.