Another school shooting. More than 400 people shot in over 200 school shootings since Sandy Hook (New York Times, February 15, 2018). Last Friday night (Feb. 16) during services at my synagogue, our cantor spoke to the insanity that is gun violence in this country. He spoke of what we seem to think of as “the new normal” – children and adults shot down in random acts of gun violence. In many, many districts around the country, students and teachers have “shooter” drills as part of the “normal” routine. I know my kindergarten grandsons have had them (fortunately they’re not called “shooters”).
Why are we still just offering “thoughts and prayers”? Certainly, sympathy for the victims is called for, but without action, the words are worse than useless.
Quoting Jeffrey Salkin’s article “And Now, Parkland” from Salkin’s blog Martini Judiasm, the cantor made the following points.
“As a culture, we are insane. I have… questions for those politicians who have been reticent and reluctant and cowardly – and who have categorically refused to apply a tourniquet to the bleeding.
…What does it mean to be pro-life?
An unproven hunch: most politicians who are pro-gun are also pro-life. Those pro-life, pro-gun politicians care about fetal tissue. They care about a pregnancy at four months.
There is virtue in that. You care about the tissue of potential life at four months in the womb. Might we ask you to care about the tissue of a human being outside the womb — at four years, or at fourteen years old, or at forty years.
…What do you mean when you say: ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have suffered this terrible loss’?
‘Thoughts and prayers’ is Hallmark, hollow, and helpless. Let’s just cluck our tongues. Let’s talk about how it is too soon to talk about changes in our laws. Until the next inevitable shooting — when they will offer their thoughts and prayers.”
Salkin continues, “I invite you, my readers:
• To be part of the process that will change this country’s culture for the better.
• To be part of the process of dismantling our nation’s love affair with guns.
• To challenge the literal, fundamentalist reading of the Second Amendment – by people who still think that we need militias, ‘well organized’ or not.”
Finally, on the subject of ‘thoughts and prayers’ – in the Reform prayer book, Mishkan T’filah, two prayers illustrate the kind of prayer that is sometimes necessary.
• “Pray as if everything depended on God; act as if everything depended on you.” Piety is fine, but action is necessary.
• “Disturb us, Adonai, ruffle us from our complacency; Make us dissatisfied. Dissatisfied with the peace of ignorance, the quietude which arises from a shunning of the horror, the defeat, the bitterness and the poverty, physical and spiritual, of humans.”
The late writer and social activist, Elie Wiesel, tells this story.
A righteous man came to the wicked Sodom and pleaded with the people to change their ways. No one listened. Finally, he sat in the middle of the city, and simply screamed.
Someone asked him, ‘Do you think that will change anyone?’
‘No,’ said the righteous man. ‘But at least, they will not change me.’
I once loved to tell this story. No longer. It is not enough to sit in the middle of the town square and scream. It is not enough to hope that the world will not change us. The time for impotent screaming is long past. It is now time to change our culture, and to heal our nation’s wounds. For, this week, the war came home to us in Broward County, Florida.
In the words of the Psalmist: “How long? How long?”
Yes, how long?