If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

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Dear NRA:

Good morning and happy Eastertide. I hope your Easter was meaningful as a conclusion to a horrendous Lent. You might recall that the shootings in Parkland, Florida occurred on Ash Wednesday. Most of us spent the forty days of Lent in somber reflection upon the toll of gun violence in our country. You spent that time … well, differently. Actually, you have been in quite a defensive posture lately, haven’t you? 

We spent Lent lamenting the uselessness of violence, and the tragedy of Jesus’ suffering and execution. You spent Lent celebrating the “God-given right” to own guns, even guns which are good for nothing else but inflicting harm on humans. You spent Lent calling teenagers “crisis actors” and “whiny.” You spent Lent comparing Parkland survivors to Nazis. You spent Lent mocking people who simply want common-sense gun laws.

We observed Easter Sunday with the hope that the despair of violence and suffering has finally been defeated by Jesus. You observed Easter by saying that the answer to violence is more violence.

Frankly, NRA, I have become very tired of your rhetoric and fear-mongering, as has a solid majority of this country. Every time there is a mass shooting, the public voices of the NRA double-down on more guns and less restrictions. 

I recognize that you are a powerful institution, NRA. I see that you have become a very powerful lobbyist in Washington and in capitols across the country. I know that you have lots of money to distribute to politicians to make sure you get your way.

You won’t back down easily, either. There have been some moments recently in which we all thought the tide was turning against you — Columbine, Sandy Hook, the Pulse nightclub, San Bernardino, and now Parkland. Every time, you have bounced back, stronger than before.

I have marched in the streets against you. I have railed on social media against you. I have signed petitions, subscribed to websites, and read hundreds of articles.

And nothing has changed. Somehow you only get stronger.

So I am doing the only thing left to do — I’m joining you.

I’m now a card-carrying member of the NRA.

I sent in my $40 and got a nice looking card to carry in my wallet, as well as a handy pocketknife with the letters “NRA” engraved on the blade. Thanks for the knife, by the way — that was a nice touch.

But I’m warning you — you don’t know who you have let into your ranks. I now have access to the Exhibit Hall at your 147th annual convention which is being held in my hometown of Dallas, Texas next month. I’ve ordered my convention pass. I want to see for myself what kind of show you put on. I want to walk amongst you and bear witness to who you are and what you represent.

I’m also planning to attend your Sunday morning “Prayer Breakfast.” I put that in quotes because I don’t think we share the same definition of prayer. I’ll be praying, for sure. And fasting.

I will be there, NRA, because I’m calling you out. You are a hollow, shrill, and pathetic institution which preys on people’s fears and hates. And the people are tired of it.

Worst of all, you don’t truly represent the people who are part of you. You have become something alien, a frightening monster, a distorted beast. You don’t care about the wellbeing of people, their safety and freedom; instead, you have become captive to an extreme reading of the Second Amendment and have turned it into an idol.

Now that I’m a part of you, I will do everything in my power to stop you from spreading your toxic message, and to persuade you to listen to the men, women, and teenagers who are not trying to pry your guns from your hands but instead pass some plain old common-sense laws about guns. 

Now that I’m a part of you, I will take my responsibility of membership seriously, and call you to accountability. I will show up, listen, and let you know what I think. Believe me, you’ll get an earful. 

See you in May.

 

Wes Magruder

How to Pray About A(nother) School Shooting

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I was blissfully unaware of the school shooting yesterday in Florida for much of the day because I was busy with meetings and preparations for Ash Wednesday. When I saw the “Breaking News” alert on my phone, I tried to ignore it as long as I could.

Not until I got home from the Ash Wednesday service last night could I spend any time processing what happened.

Since I have already announced that our Lenten focus will be going deeper in prayer, let me suggest a couple of important things to know about how to pray in the aftermath of big tragedies such as a school shooting:

 

  1. Because the blame game will shortly begin, it’s always good to pray a Prayer of Confession. The usual suspects will be on TV soon — the NRA gun lobby, a do-nothing Congress, the state of mental health services, those who knew the shooter was a threat but did nothing, etc. But we all shoulder a portion of the blame for this national trait of ours. As Americans, we are complicit in a culture that celebrates violence, shames those with mental disabilities, and does nothing to prevent future school shootings. A Prayer of Confession is the only way to approach God in this matter. 
  2. Pray for victims, survivors, and first responders by name. As names pop up on the screen or in news coverage, use those names in your prayer. This personalizes the situation for you, and has the effect of deepening your empathy and compassion. It’s one thing to pray for “all those affected by” an event, and quite another to pray for Reginald, Barry, and Leigh.
  3. Pray for the shooter. Our natural impulse will be to pray for the shooter’s destruction, or to leave him out of our prayers altogether. He has committed an atrocious and horrific evil. We want to avoid mentioning him, but the Truth-with-a-capital-T is that he is a beloved child of God, as surely as those whose lives he took. He is a human being who deserves dignity and respect, even if he did not extend dignity and respect in kind. Our prayer for this particular shooter ought to be that he finds grace from God such that he is driven to repentance.
  4. Very few words rise to the surface of one’s consciousness when trying to pray about a school shooting; thus, it can be a helpful thing to attempt praying without words. One way to do this is to watch news video footage with the sound muted. Let the images guide you; enter the scene with your imagination, and let the emotions you encounter lead you into prayer, either wordlessly or with words. Remain in silence for as long as you need to.
  5. Finally, pray for guidance to action. On Twitter yesterday, politicians who offered “thoughts and prayers” for the shooting were mocked endlessly, because this has become the standard response to a recurring problem. If prayer doesn’t lead to corresponding action on our part, then one can rightly question whether our prayers were prayed in all sincerity. Ask God what you can do to counter the rash of school shootings in America.