Bless all the Dear Children

Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

Every Christmas Eve we sing “Away in a Manger,” and for the past 30 years I’ve cried whenever we get to stanza 3.  I can’t get through it.  There is nothing more important in our world than the nurture, care, and security of children.

That’s why I’m grieving, I’m sad, I’m angry, and I’m determined.  Like the rest of our country, I am grieving the deaths of 20 first-graders and 7 adults from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, who were gunned down by 20-year-old Adam Lanza.  Lanza’s own mother was the first victim.  I can’t comprehend how such a horrific tragedy could happen in an ordinary town that has always been a safe place for children and families to live.

Millions of people the world over have gathered to pray for the families of the victims, those who survived, and first-responders.  This is the worst mass murder since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and is the latest in a string of multiple killings this year.

Since we are in the season of Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, the Massacre of the Innocents comes to mind.  King Herod ordered all the boy babies under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed in the hope of snuffing out the life of the child Jesus, a competing “King of the Jews.”  Matthew’s quotation of the prophet Jeremiah, referencing the killing of these babies, rings true today, “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

I still remember the Bible story book my mother read to me as a child.  Every Christmas story about Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ birth in a manger, the wise men, and the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt is fresh in my mind.  I remember nothing, however, about the Massacre of the Innocents and am grateful that my mother spared me that gruesome story, which I didn’t need to hear as a little kid.

I’m also blessed that my mother and father were able to give me a safe childhood.  They were excellent parents, and I wish that same kind of secure upbringing for all children in this world.  But I now know there was also a lot of luck involved, for the world can be a scary place, and even the best of parents cannot always protect their children.  That’s why I grieve.  I grieve for the lives that could have been and for those who are suffering through this unthinkable tragedy.  Be near them, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay.

I’m not just grieving, I’m sad.  I’m sad because of the destructive ways in which human beings choose to abuse and hurt other people.  God created each one of us with free will, which means that God will not stand in the way of the decisions we make.  Because we are not robots we can choose evil over good, but we also bear the responsibility for our decision-making.

Sometimes I wish God would just intervene and stop this madness, but that is not God’s way.  God wants us to follow the ways of Jesus, to do good rather than harm.  How God must suffer, then, when we freely choose to hurt and kill one another.

God yearns for us to imitate Christ in our thoughts, words, and actions, but God will never force the heart.  God goes so far as to invite us to be God’s representatives on this earth.  It’s up to us to create a world of peace, mutual understanding, respect, and inclusivity.  I am awestruck by the millions of acts of kindness that take place every day in our world.  They far overshadow the mass killings.

I am also sad for Adam Lanza, for his tortuous life that prompted him to inflict such evil.  I am sad when people with mental illnesses don’t receive the help they need to live with joy and fulfillment, and I’m sad when we label other people and don’t reach out to those on the fringes.  God loved Adam Lanza, too.  Close by them forever, and love them I pray.

I am not just grieving and sad, I am angry.  It’s a righteous indignation that some Christians are using this mass killing as an opportunity to promote a religious/political agenda that has nothing to do with the tragedy and defies God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was asked on Fox Live how God could let this tragedy happen, and he responded, “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools.  Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? …  Maybe we ought to let Him in on the front end, and we wouldn’t have to call Him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.”

Huckabee’s pronouncement mocks the amazing effort and skills of our public school educators and administrators to teach character as well as academics.  It also disregards the reality that government-mandated school prayer is unconstitutional for good reason.  But the greatest travesty is that Huckabee assumes God was not present during the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.  God is always there in the moments of our greatest need.

Equally distressing were the comments made by Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association on his radio program last Friday, “You know, the question is going to come up, where was God? …  God is not going to go where He’s not wanted…  No, we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost…  ‘We don’t want You in our schools’…  We’ve kicked God out of our public school system.  And I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect children, but you gotta invite me back into your world first.  I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted.  I am a gentleman.’”

Such declarations remake God into the image of a small, mean, and vindictive deity who refuses to protect children, and that image has nothing to do with what we know about God in Jesus Christ.  God does not duck out because God is “not wanted” or “offended.”  Rather, we see in our scriptures a God who never causes brokenness and evil and comes to us even when we turn away.  Moreover, in Jesus’ crucifixion we see God’s willingness to suffer the very pain and evil that afflict us.  For God is Emmanuel, “God with us.”

Our Christian beliefs affirm that God was there with the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings.  Jesus was the very first responder last Friday, giving courage and comfort to the children and teachers and cradling those who were shot in God’s eternal arms.  Bless all the dear children in thy tender care.     

I am not just grieving, sad, and angry.  I am determined.  Enough is enough.  We must put an end to our love affair with guns in this country.  Why is it that my daughter’s friends who live in other countries tell her, “We don’t want to live in the United States because everyone has access to guns.  Why is everyone allowed to have a gun?”  At a Taize prayer service on Saturday night, someone mentioned that a friend stationed in Afghanistan posted on Facebook, “Why is it that I am safer in Afghanistan than you are in the United States?”

In many parts of the country the predominant culture is not sports, music, or technology, but guns.  There are an estimated 300 million guns in our country.  Connecticut’s “Gun Valley” is the birthplace of the U.S. firearms industry.  Ironically, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the second largest gun lobby in the U.S. after the National Rifle Association, is located in Newtown, just 3 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

In another odd twist, the Michigan legislature approved Senate Bill 59 last Thursday, the day before the mass shooting.  This bill would allow concealed weapons in formerly off-limit places such as schools, day care centers, stadiums, hospitals, and churches.  The bill is waiting for Governor Rick Snyder’s signature.

Many churches have declared themselves gun-free zones, including the West Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church.  If our churches are indeed sanctuaries, what place do guns have in our buildings?  Are there any sacred and safe places left?  We are called to bring in the kingdom of God not with violence but with shalom, grace, hope, and forgiveness.  And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

Could this be the tipping point?  What are we willing to give up in our country so that all people can live in safety?  I am determined to advocate not only for gun-free churches and schools but for common sense regulations that do not permit ordinary citizens to own assault weapons that can kill dozens of people in a few minutes.

We have just one world, just as 20 sets of parents in Newtown, Connecticut had just one first-grade child.  Do we have the courage and the will to put our children above our guns?  Are we fit for heaven – and for earth?

Blessings,
Laurie

P.S. The next “Leading from the Heart” will be published on December 31.  May the angel’s song be yours as well this Christmas and always.

 

25 thoughts on “Bless all the Dear Children

  1. Laurie,
    Stanza 3 of “Away in a Manger” has been playing over and over in my head. What a fitting framework for your reflection today. Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful, faithful, heartfelt words that are much needed. May God bless us all as we seek to follow the Prince of Peace.
    Blessings,
    Laura

  2. Dear Laurie, Thank you for your concern in the tragedy that happened last Friday and your insight is valuable.
    I must however disagree with you on the fact that you feel legislation against guns will stop this type of killing.
    Responsible gun ownership is a must, but making laws against gun ownership will not keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentaly ill. It appears to me that are always at the bottom of any tradgedy like this.
    Perhaps if some person had a gun at the school they could have saved many lives..
    Our 2nd ammendment protects the right to bear arms.

  3. Pingback: Bless all the Dear Children | Laurie Haller | Lura's Grandchild

  4. Thanks, Laurie, for your thoughtful and faith-ful comments. You’ve given me just what I need to address this tragedy with my congregation. More importantly, you’ve identified the flaw of those who see the hand of a punishing, vindictive God in this tragedy, you’ve pointed to the biblical God who is present to us in all circumstances, and you’ve named the solution that is within our reach if we have but enough courage and collective will.

  5. Thank you, Laurie, for your passionate outrage at what happened on Friday. Over the weekend, two police officers were also killed by gun violence, and another school was able to avoid a similar horror when another student reported the possibility of danger to authorities. This scene is all too common, and will not be stopped by increasing the number of persons who are armed, and the places into which they may take those weapons.

    Following is a sample letter which could be sent to Governor Rick Snyder. Mine will be e-mailed momentarily.
    Dear Governor Snyder:
    In light of the events of the past week, not to mention the past year, please express your compassion for the victims of gun violence in this nation, and especially to the families in Newtown, CT, by vetoing the recently passed legislation (Senate Bill 59) allowing concealed weapons in public places. Firearms serve no useful purpose in schools, day care centers, stadiums, hospitals, and churches, and only present a further danger for the persons who would occupy those places and spaces.
    Sincerely,

  6. “Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was asked on Fox Live how God could let this tragedy happen, and he responded, “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? … Maybe we ought to let Him in on the front end, and we wouldn’t have to call Him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.”
    Huckabee’s pronouncement mocks the amazing effort and skills of our public school educators and administrators to teach character as well as academics. It also disregards the reality that government-mandated school prayer is unconstitutional for good reason. But the greatest travesty is that Huckabee assumes God was not present during the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary. God is always there in the moments of our greatest need.”

    I think Mr. Huckabee makes a very valid point: The less we as a nation make God our focus, the more foothold evil has in the world. It is your opinion that he assumed God was not present and that he mocked our education system..I certainly did not read that into his words.

    • Marian, Thanks so much for your reply. Here is an additional part of Huckabee’s quote, “And I sometimes, when people say, why did God let it happen, God wasn’t armed, he didn’t go to the school… maybe we ought to let him in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.” My sense is that Huckabee is saying that if we had let God into the public schools, God might not have let this tragedy happen. I don’t think God works that way. God does not punish us like that.

  7. I went to Japan on a business trip years ago and rode the slow, city commuter train around Tokyo. Many of the young school children I saw riding the train were alone – and looked comfortable and safe. This is in a culture with virtually no guns. What a difference from our country.

  8. God does not micromanage humanity but I would wish that He would intervene when we or our country suffer greatly. Perhaps He will in the background guide sensible gun laws in this country in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. And, Gov. Snyder, has said this morning that his safety concerns have been heightened (by the Sandy Hook shootings?), whatever that specifically means. If you have not called the Governor, again please do. His number is (517) 373-3400. or (517) 335-7858.

    Lee Hegstrand

  9. I disagree with William Holderman. There is absolutely no need that I am aware of for a person to have access to an assault weapon that can kill 100’s in minutes. Those rifles are for specific safety officers and authorized military personnel. The argument about 2nd Amendment Rights to Bear Arms is a shallow one, at best. Never in my wildest imagination do I believe that our forefathers meant for us to be able to have access to assault rifles with the ability to mow down masses of people.

    We also need to carefully look at our mental health system which desparately needs reform. This problem is a large and complicated issue and I applaud our President for vowing to make needed changes. Thanks, Laurie for another well thought out essay that challenges us to do something beyond talking. Rick Snyder’s email is: rick.snyder@michigan.gov He needs to veto SB59!!!

  10. Laurie,
    Thank you for your thoughts. I also posted against the political exploitation of this tragedy. However, I feel you are unjust in some of your criticiam of those who note the exclusion of God from our public places. It’s not that God isn’t there, or is somehoiw limited by mankind. Rather, we have removed the foundational principles that guided us toward Him. Sadly, I think our churches are much to blame. You see, in our effort to reach out into our modern American culture, we have instead allowed the culture to reach into our churches. We, as a church, stood silent while other groups cried out against our Lord and His Word. We removed the Ten Commandments from schools and public places lest they offend others. (I’ve always wondered which of those ideas they would find offensive.) We’ve let the ACLU and Athiests and Planned Parenthood share their values freely in our schools, but somehow the thought of a “Christmas” concert imperils freedom as we know it. Our society is reaping what it has sown, because those children in a school void of reference to Him grow up into the adults that feel strange and out of place when they have a chance to bring God into their work environment, or even their home environment. We need the Church to step boldly into the void and preach Christ’s love, while also preaching the responsibility that comes with taking up His cross.

    Hope your new assignment is going well. I still read your blog every week!
    Kevin

  11. Hi Laurie,
    Thank you for your spiritually and politically insightful comments. You have said it very well. I have already called Governor Snyder’s office and written to President Obama, as many others have. However, I feel that there is more we need to do. Perhaps we need to get together with others and explore what we can do locally, state-wide, and nationally to move toward reducing violence in our communities and in our culture. If this is a “tipping point,” perhaps we need to join forces to keep the ball moving down the field. Anybody interested?

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. Ed

  12. FRAMING: the art of building a structure from the basement to the top of the roof.
    Framers: The GUN issue has been framed.
    Used: We are being “used” as pawns in this discussion. Gun owners hope to escape any legislation one more time and gun not owners hope meaningful legislation will ban, limit or curtail guns that kill people. Some want prayer in schools.
    Re-framing: Looking for the Light of Leadership to re-frame the conversation by changing the focus from guns to troubled kids, moms and dads!

  13. I will stand corrected.. Assault weapons should be reserved to military and law enforcement. I will however stand by the point.. anti gun laws will not take these weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous. The criminals will find a way to get these guns!
    Thank you Laurie again for your insight. It is a shame that the media is having a field day with all this. My opinion is they should report the news, not exploit it to make ratings. These children will be marred by the publicity, and that is unfortunate. They should be left alone now to grieve and come to peace.

  14. Laurie
    Is this a Reichstag moment for you? If every time there is a tragedy we use it to rationalize giving up our freedoms and attack those that defend them we will get what we deserve. This should be a time for contemplation and consideration of the things that we do to bring an unsafe and uncaring environment to our children. When life is cheap, a choice, is it a wonder that it is taken by such monsters? When young boys especially, are raised by single moms—abandoned by their fathers and selfishly concieved by single women who think that men are irrelevent to the raising of boys to men at the rate of almost 50%–are we supprised that we have so many violent ferral men child in our society. There is evil out there, raising the gun issue when you can not acknowledge what this young man was is pointless. These people need to be identified and dealt with. In Connecticut there was Bill 452 that would “enhance the care and treatment of persons with psychiatric disabilities in both inpatient and outpatient settings” that was aimed at people like this young monster, but it was defeated primarily by the same crowd that wants to now take away our 2nd amendment rights. Your enemies are not the people you cite, please stop the “THEN YOU ARE A RACIST” (from a previous blog) devisive thinking. Many mea culpas from me for the same problem.
    Paul Schloop

    • Thanks for your response, Paul. I agree with the right to bear arms but not with the right for ordinary citizens to purchase miitary style assault weapons. And, like you, I am very concerned with the inability of our country to help those who are severely mentally ill, for whatever reason. We must find a way to provide help for families with mentally children and remove the stigma that only accentuates the alienation that they experience.

  15. THanks Laurie for underscoring the belief that we have that “God is always there for us”. I have tried to respond with a similar comment (“God is present in schools, too”) when FaceBook members have asked the same questions. Thanks for the reinforcement. Blessings for C
    hristmas to you and your family.

  16. Laurie,
    After reading your column this week, I want to hug you and give and get mutual comfort, for we all grieve this tragedy. I’ve read some of the blogs and find that I agree with some and not others. ISN’T IT WONDERFUL THAT WE LIVE IN A COUNTRY THAT ALLOWS US TO DO THAT? For I agree that God was there, but also that we have tried way too hard to keep him out of our schools. And I agree that there are too many guns and killings here, but taking away the guns that protect my family and leaving the criminals with them won’t stop the carnage. As you say, the people who do these things are in need of help and that’s what I think is the answer. As a social worker, I have thought for many years that the breakup of the family is the root of the problem. I haven’t heard a word about this young man’s father. Where is he? If you look at the animal kingdom you will see that it is the leading male who keeps order in the herd and so it is also in the human family. (I’m not saying this from a “holier than thou” place, as I see from my own divorce how much damage can be done to children). So it is that I grieve for the American FAMILY, as much as you grieve for these children.
    Love in Christ,
    Ann

  17. I too identify with many of your emotions in response to this horrific act perpetrated on these children in Sandy Hook. I do question some of your responses or thoughts with regards to many of these shared emotions.
    I want to say a few words about the most controversial things first; namely guns. Gun ownership in the US is a right. There is a reason that the framers of our Constitution made this the second amendment right behind our freedom of speech. The main reason is not what so many propose such as hunting and target shooting, although I believe both of those to be benign endeavors. The reason why the right to bear arms is so important is to protect us from our government. Now, this is something that we don’t take about much, but the colonists access to guns is what allowed them the ability to fight a Revolution. We tend to see the American Revolution in a positive light. The reason why the average citizen should have access to so called assault rifles is in the event that we need to defend ourselves against a tyrannical government. Now, we probably both agree I pray and pray and pray that day never comes.
    Also, last year there were roughly 12,600 deaths in the US from guns. Of those only 323 were from rifles of any sort. I could not find statistics on how many of those 323 were from so called assault rifles, but as you can see assault rifles, even in gun violence are not near the top of the list when it comes to problems.
    I also have questions about how you use the words ‘free will’ and ‘innocent.’ I want to copy in here our Methodist beliefs about both. The following are from our Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church which Wesley gave to the American churches.

    Article VII—Of Original or Birth Sin
    Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.

    Article VIII—Of Free Will
    The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and works, to faith, and calling upon God; wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.

    We seem to shy away from teaching the orthodox Christian faith that we are not only all born with a sinful nature, but that apart from God’s grace we are inclined towards evil continually. Our children are deserving of death as well, because they are born as objects of God’s wrath. Now, that is NOT to make an argument that they deserved to die at the hands of Adam Lanza, but it means that we all will die because that is the full consequence of our sinful nature.
    Also, you stated that we all have ‘free will’ and we can chose evil over good. This is neither an orthodox Christian teaching, nor a Wesleyan teaching. We do not have a moral free will, but rather we are bound to sin and our sin nature. We only do good through God’s grace.
    I make these comments with the same emotions you do. I too want to see more help for those in our nation with mental illness. We need to do ALL we can to end these horrible events. I just don’t know that I concur with all of your solutions as to how we do that.

  18. Thank you so much for your thoughtful essay. I am so relieved to see the Methodist Church focusing on gun violence in our society. It takes a huge amount of guts to go against the powerful interests like the NRA and what at first appears to be “commonly held public opinion,” but it is the only way to go. I am happy I can share this mission with my friends, many of whom are not Methodists and are not, in fact, associated with any church.

  19. I too am a gun owner and hunter, but there simply is no reason to allow these assault and semi-automatic weapons to be legally owned by the average citizen.

    Removing them does not violate the 2nd amendment nor does it prevent me from protecting myself and my family.

    We need to do this.

    We also need to move on making commitment easier with the seriously mentally ill. Sad as it is, we are still so limited in what we can do medically that sometimes we have to make the tragic decision to limit one person’s freedom to protect the life of another.

    Each of us can make a difference in pushing back the darkness of our culture of death. Each of us can choose to say no to violence in the form of entertainment, our actions, and our attitudes.

    Each of us can move forward pushing back the darkness by doing good and kindness.

    The question is, will we just rail against the darkness or light a candle?

  20. Laurie,

    Thank you so much for your most recent Leading from the Heart, as well as all the others. Have a Merry Christmas with your precious family. We are having 19 of our family members here in our Clark Townhouse for Christmas Day. It will be a full house. We are enjoying Clark so much. We always said that we would one day live here. So, here we are. We have such wonderful neighbors.
    For example, Jean Graham, our dear friend, is right across our little street.

    Dick

  21. Our church (the youth are planning to make cards) would like to send cards to the funeral home director, first responders, families and mayor. Where would we be able to get the names and addresses of these people. Thank you! Please send information to: A. J. Winston, Langdale UMC – cerd.info@charter.net

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