A high school in Broward County has been attacked. Another mass shooting. More victims. More traumatized children. More devastated families.
There have been almost 30 mass shootings in the U.S. just in the last 45 days. Let that sink in. No other developed nation has such an incomprehensible mass shooting epidemic.
I used to say, "that's not who we are." I acted as if each outrageous mass assault was an appalling exception to who we are as a nation. And, of course, the attackers are few in comparison to the larger population. But I can no longer say it isn't who we are. It continues to happen and we do very little to prevent it from happening again.
Oh, some of us cry, or pray, or yell into the ether that someone should do something. But how many of us demand that our government leaders do something? How many of us use our vote to bring about positive change? How many of us can't be bothered to vote in any case? Our inaction, apathy, or acceptance of this on-going soul sickness of our nation is showing who we are. I don't like it any more than you do. In fact, it breaks my heart to say it. But the evidence is clear: As of this moment, this IS who are. We are a nation that allows our children to be sprayed with bullets.
This time, the tragedy is in my county. This time, the violence is on my local news broadcast. This time, the senseless brutality has struck near me. But, of course, it was naive to ever imagine it wouldn't be my community next.
Aurora showed that this could happen anywhere.
Sandy Hook Elementary School showed that this could happen anywhere.
The Washington Navy yard showed that this could happen anywhere.
San Bernardino showed that this could happen anywhere.
Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston showed that this could happen anywhere.
The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX showed that this could happen anywhere.
The Pulse nightclub in Orlando showed that this could happen anywhere.
Las Vegas showed that this could happen anywhere.
And now, Douglas High School in Broward County.
God forgive me for not expecting it. God forgive me for not shouting from the rooftops many mass shooting ago, "We're infected with an apathy toward violence and it's time to repent."
It's time for prophetic voices to call for us to beat our swords into plough shares.
This is not a political issue where many sides have merit. This is a nation that calls itself good, democratic, and evolved that has allowed mass violence to happen so routinely that multiple deaths no longer stun us or even remain in our thoughts for long beyond the initial news of the event.
Today, on this Ash Wednesday, on this day of repentance, that is, on a day that calls for a change of heart and attitude, I do lift my voice to call my congregation, my community, my family, and my nation to repentance. Bullets are raining down on us like a biblical plague. Children are dying. We talk and sing and preach about peace when there is no peace. Toxic attitudes come to kill, steal and destroy. And it is time for people of faith, and leaders of communities of faith, to speak up and say, "Enough!"
Let us pray for the victims of today's violence. But let us not take too much comfort in our prayers, especially if those prayers are not leading us to speak up and to do what we can to change a culture where mass murder is normalized. Let us pray, and then let us be the answer to our prayers.
Who we are is a country infected with out of control violence and too little righteous indignation about that. But, just maybe, we are also a country that remembers the moral victories of the Civil Rights movement, the Women's Rights movement, the Marriage Equality movement, and maybe, please God let it be so, we are the kinds of people who are determined to work for what is right again, and to not settle for anything less than the healing our country so desperately needs.
For our country and our culture, I pray the words of a hymn which is also my favorite prayer of repentance:
"Dear Mother-Father of us all, forgive our foolish ways. Reclothe us in our rightful minds, in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise." Amen.
In the name of justice-love,
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister, Sunshine Cathedral
Fort Lauderdale, FL