Dear Friends in Christ,
The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert, or the wilderness, and Jesus spent 40 days there. The 40 days of Lent are for us a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter, which we can think of as our own time of wandering in the wilderness. A wilderness is a hostile place, even a fear-filled place, a place to experience trials and challenges, a place where we can be tempted to do something or to deny something. Sometimes, we can choose to go to the wilderness, but at other times it is a place where we find ourselves.
As Lent began this year, news of another mass school shooting with 17 deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida began to break. And suddenly, as a country, we found ourselves in the wilderness together, in a place where the future feels dangerous and the path ahead unknown, when all hope seems to have vanished. Our nation’s children now routinely have lockdown drills, and they are traumatized and do not feel safe, and that includes students in our community. As I write this, today, there was an early morning fire alarm at Bear River High School that together with some unfounded rumors caused a great deal of panic with many students going home early.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students have been turning their grief and anger into action and speaking up loud and clear that something must change. In the face of tragedy, is offering just our thoughts and prayers enough? As Henri Nouwen said,
Prayer and action can never be seen as contradictory or mutually exclusive. Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation.
Deep faith requires action. How can churches become sanctuaries for the deep grief the nation is feeling? We began a discussion today in our Church Council meeting about how we might be able to create a safe space for a community conversation about gun violence.
As United Methodists, our Book of Resolutions calls congregations “to make preventing gun violence a regular part of our conversations and prayer times.” In my sermon on February 20, I shared with you a 48-page document and study put out by the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church that reflects on Gun Violence and the teachings of the prophet Micah about beating swords into plowshares. You can find it online and there is a printed copy in the office.
On Saturday March 24, there will be a national March for our Lives event called for by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students. A recent graduate from Woodcreek High School, Roseville, Emily Stone, aged 17, is the organizer of the Sacramento march. The intent of the march is to draw more attention to the need to review and improve gun legislation and prevent the normalization of these tragedies. I will be marching to the north steps of the Sacramento Capitol to stand in solidarity with the students, and I invite you to march with me.
— Pastor Joan