What was it that hurt us as kids in school when we were young?
It used to be bullying was a nightmare, or someone stole something from your locker or, caused you to drop your school lunchroom tray of food and you were hungry that day.
As ugly as that all was for a student in any grade in school, we were still alive.
The national narrative has changed. And since Valentines Day, 2018, also known as Ash Wednesday in the Christian liturgical year of 2018, the Parkland, Florida, shooting has brought to our attention the question of student safety at school.
This is sadly, far from the first time we have had to ask ourselves this question – since Columbine (now code for school gun violence), we have been asking this question.
Parkland, Florida high school students are asking this question in a very specific way: when will we see more laws enacted to protect us from gun violence? They are powerfully and courageously lifting their voices to mobilize students and adults to speak their truths about gun violence in our communities – especially the public schools where students and adults are supposed to learn, teach, and at a bare minimum, feel safe.
Students have risen up to resurrect the conversation about gun violence and people being killed in schools. They are asking, demanding, that gun control cease to be regulated by the NRA who fund so many political campaigns, and be regulated by prioritizing life over death, guns, and money, through their congressional representatives in government.
No one is attacking the 2nd amendment. No one is suggesting hunters should not hunt when deer season comes around. But access to the kind of weapons that are killing children and adults in schools, churches, movie theaters and concert venues, must be transformed.
I cannot help crying at the spiritual, emotional and physical harm done to children and all those victimized due to gun violence. If you join me in this spiritual pain, join me asking this question of something as basic as the toys we purchase in consumer culture: why toy guns?
To the popular culture and spiritual lens point of this blog, I want to ask:
Why do children need these toys?
This is not your grandfather’s cowboys’ and Indians – which was damaging to the soul in my opinion with its racism acted out like a game by a generation of children in the USA. And remember, too, that you did not walk around as a billboard for the product which means you were wearing the tee-shirt, carrying the backpack or eating the (label branded) granola bar of the branded violence you played as though a way of life. Today, that is the case.
Even if all that were not true, seriously ask yourself why the above “toy”, a “play” automatic weapon, would come anywhere near the children's toy box?
I say, stop it. Do we need to purchase these toys for children to play games of destruction and violence? The children are not learning to plant seeds in a garden, create a meal from a recipe or study for a spelling test with this “toy”. Remember, children learn what they practice and all of it matters.
If we want to see children learn as much about peace in this life as they do about violence, then we need to provide tools of peace, not just news headlines and toys of violence. With love and peaceful intention, here are a few suggestions at your disposal:
Music (any instrument or singing voice) writing (journaling, plays, recipes) , visual arts (draw, paint, sculpt), spoken word (memorize song, story, scripture) , sports (run, jump, reach), dance (tap, ballet and hip-hop), volunteerism (local food shelf, anything at faith community, Humane Society) , church (all of it) and prayer (spiritual disciplines include play).
Ready, set, go. There are no more excuses to allow violence as play to be a part of the normalized play in the world of our children. Kids will fight, wrestle and tumble to work out differences; you will let some of this happen because we all need to learn coping skills and how to resolve differences; sometimes using the body is the only way children can express frustration and anger. However, they soon learn (with your help) that violence toward self or one another is at the very bottom of the list to problem solving. Since we affirm non-violent conflict resolution/transformation, why would we encourage violence as play with toys guns meant for one purpose - death and destruction?
Be the love you seek. Teach the children the same. And please hold all those who have been victimized by gun violence in prayer that we might learn something as a family, community and nation to cease the violence toward one another. This is the messaging I hear from the students from Marjorie Stonemason Douglas High School. If you are reading this, you are a survivor.
I invite all survivors to act with passion, be effective, and learn to gentle our way into the future with the children we love.
(aka Rev. Robin Blair, DMin)