Forgive me as I play fumbling matchmaker for Biblical metaphors of sand and stone, water and weather. I wish to sketch straighter lines between rocks and theological hard places. But the time to speak and be heard is short. And elemental realities keep piling up around me.
We go slouching towards Jerusalem and into Holy Week after a relentless string of unholy weeks. Week after week with the image of God marred in the littlest and least among us; of distinctly American sins expressing themselves.
Something about my familiarity with nine keeps me shaking, circles Nashville on the map of my heart.
Last week, the profane made its presence felt in the shooting deaths of seven people in Nashville, three of them my son’s age. Nine years old. Nine rounds toward 10; nine wants to bend into bigger, better things, into more responsibilities and a fledgling vision of what the future brings. But nine still speaks in something like soprano; burrows effortlessly into its parents’ arms; covets shelter from the storm.
Losing any child, whatever their age, is a devastation. But something about my familiarity with nine keeps me shaking, circles Nashville on the map of my heart.
In the moments just after these moments, well-coiffed leaders pray like the people Jesus warned us about. Bowing their heads with the severity of Shakespearean actors; beating their breasts until the thump echoes. Cracking an eyelid, they feign surprise to catch cameras rolling nearby.
Into lapel mics and reporters’ iPhones, they conjure vague, unexplored divine wisdom that baptizes their definition of liberty. But as the writer David Dark is quick to remind us, generalities kill. Be specific, and you open a door into the good life.
Which words of Jesus will we follow in the face of mass shootings? Get specific. Perhaps we start within Matthew 18, where he bids the children come, calling them to rest easy, tucked into the folds of his kingdom.
Which words of Jesus will we follow in the face of mass shootings? Get specific. Perhaps we start within Matthew 18, where he bids the children come, calling them to rest easy, tucked into the folds of his kingdom. Discontent, not ready to stop talking, Jesus says anyone who places undue burden upon children deserves to be “fitted for a millstone,” as The Waiting sang in the late ‘90s.
Different translations render these words in different ways: “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin” or “... to fall away.” Sitting with the text in all its implications, surely we see Jesus’ caution running deep and wide—not just to those who cause a child to sin, but also those who would visit sin upon them.
In his lyrical Message, Eugene Peterson honors the richness of Jesus’ words:
But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. ... Hard times are inevitable, but you don’t have to make it worse—and it’s doomsday to you if you do.
God, how we make things worse with our indifference and willful inaction. Worse for the children of Nashville and Denver, Dallas and Arlington, Amarillo, Baltimore, and Des Moines. We lay heavy burdens upon any child within hearing of Covenant School, which is every child.
So many people claim God for their side, then avoid loving their youngest neighbors as themselves.
A storm blows against this American house, rain and howling wind battering battering battering the siding. Hail denting the roof. So many people claim God for their side, then avoid loving their youngest neighbors as themselves. In doing so, they fail to build upon the rock of Jesus’ words.
Foolishly, they live beachside, watching hundreds upon hundreds of guns wash up on shore. They pray behind picture windows, watching America’s children wade out past the breakers, waves of trauma and elegy after elegy crashing down upon them.
One midnight, the Jesus who modeled sheltering love for children faced the impending murder of God’s truest innocent—himself. And he told the once and future St. Peter that even sword-wielding good guys will die in the manner they lived. This is the same Jesus. These are the real and specific words he offered.
To ignore them is to underline each fear of Mary Oliver’s, who defined empire as “an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of / the heart.” The poet, wringing her hands, believed history would judge the heart of her age as “small, and hard, and full of meanness.”
Oh God, what will history think of us? How will today’s nine-year-olds grow up to damn us? When we perish, will they prove you can take some things with you when you go? Leaving our millstones around necks dressed in funeral best, to accompany us from one life to the next.
No doubt some readers have thrown one or both hands in the air by now, asking what exactly I want them to do. I want you to be serious. I want you to read Taylor Schumann’s When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough. And Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin’s Beating Guns. Or take 30 seconds to Google solutions. This conversation isn’t new. I want us to stop wasting time while the storm seethes and tears our house apart.
Soon I will return to my regularly-scheduled sentences about wonder, curiosity, poetry. But how often does all God’s church think at once about shed blood and staring down death and raising new life? And what is this conversation, but a matter of the imagination?
The wisdom of God looks like foolishness, yet we lack imagination for what the world can be, for how it can be reclaimed. All God asks is imagination enough to stop tripping on our old logic and conversation-enders and to take him at his word. To shed our millstones, then chase those words into a better world, toward no more unholy weeks.