Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting Mark Barden, whose 6 year old son Daniel was shot to death in his first grade classroom on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, along with 19 other children and 6 teachers who were slaughtered in their school that day. My heart broke as Mark spoke of his journey to find a way forward through his grief to make a difference in our world.
Mark Barden was joined in yesterday’s meeting (with other Columbus clergy) by Tim Makris, whose son was also at Sandy Hook Elementary School that day. Tim’s fourth grade son Michael survived – because the deranged gunman began shooting to the right at the children in that classroom, and Michael was on the left. Young Michael heard and saw his classmates die. His father Tim told us yesterday that 600 children who were impacted by the shootings (classmates at Sandy Hook Elementary, brothers, sisters, and relatives of the victims) remain in psychotherapy today, as they seek to heal the wounds of that terrible day.
Yesterday these two brave men met with clergy in Columbus to share the stories of the Sandy Hook parents who have formed Sandy Hook Promise,www.sandyhookpromise.org, to support common sense solutions to help reduce gun violence in our communities. Did you know that there have been 79 gun shootings in our schools since the Sandy Hook tragedy?
The Sandy Hook parents came to Columbus yesterday to humbly “listen and learn” as the clergy discussed ways to increase engagement on the important issue of gun violence in our schools and our communities. They also shared the results of months of diligent research into the elements of successful social change in our American history (for example, the Civil Rights Movement, the Marriage Equality today, and even our now common use of “Designated Drivers” in our communities as a way to combat drunk driving, a program developed by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers).
The Sandy Hook parents shared three “learnings” with us about their work. First, they seek to find the “sensible center” on this volatile topic in our society (no, they don’t want guns to be banned! In fact, many of these parents are gun owners themselves). Second, the Sandy Hook parents said we must “stop talking about the gun” as the only issue. Instead, they propose a holistic approach that focuses on non-policy change (like the Designated Driver movement) and more attention to mental health identification, intervention, and wellness programs. Third, the parents found in their research that lasting change comes from our communities themselves (the grassroots of our country), not from top down legislation from Capitol Hill.
So, why am I sharing all of these details with you? Well, first, because this group of grieving parents had more integrity, compassion, and organization than just about any group I have worked with for social change – and I wanted you to know that. Second, this next year, throughout Ohio, the Sandy Hook parents will be working to create Promise Communities. And we look forward to working with our fellow churches to make Columbus a Promise Community, where we will support having community programming and tools available for: (1) mental health “first aid;” (2) social and emotional learning programs for young people; (3) community connection programs (like the “No One Eats Alone” program for school age kids); and (4) firearm safety and access programs.
At the end of yesterday’s program, I presented Mark Barden with a framed photograph of our St John’s Sandy Hook worship service in 2012. Mr Barden was moved to tears when he saw that his son six-year-old son Daniel was one of the iconic figures we lifted up and honored that day in our sanctuary. Mr Barden expressed his deep thanks to our congregation for making a prophetic witness on behalf of his child and the others who perished.
In the shadow of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and the anniversary of 9/11 this week, on Sunday we will face two challenging Scripture texts: Genesis 50:15-21 and Matthew 18:21-35. Both texts are about the need to forgive, and yet, my sermon is entitled “But I Don’t Want to Forgive!” Come hear more about the real life implications of forgiving, forgetting (or not), and finding a way through life’s suffering – even the senseless slaughter of one’s child – toward healing and hope.
In prayer and thanksgiving for the courageous witness of our congregation,