Icon of the Holy Innocents
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church, Atlanta, GA

January 15, 2013 — This post is written with the utmost respect and sympathy to the parents and families of the 20 children and 6 adults who were attacked and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, on Friday morning, December 14, 2012. I am sorry beyond words for this loss.

I offer not answers for us brokenhearted bystanders, but perhaps steps to take in the direction of personal coping and social strength.

The feast day of the Holy Innocents commemorates the massacre of the babies of Bethlehem shortly after the birth of Jesus. It’s honored in the Roman Catholic, Anglican (including Episcopal) and Lutheran Churches on December 28, the West Syrian Christian Churches on December 27 and the Eastern Orthodox churches on December 29.

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men (astrologers, magi), he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

  “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.” — Matthew 2:13-18

Herod was the King of the Jews in a district of the Roman Empire. He was brutal. Killing not only members of his own family, but thousands more, including these babies in or near Bethlehem. Completely irrational. And yet, it occurred.

Historians believe, based on the population of Bethlehem and the surrounding areas at that time, that the number of babies killed was around 20. Did any adults die trying to protect their children? Probably, but it isn’t historically noted.

These babies are considered the first martyrs because they were the first to die for Jesus Christ. They are martyrs in fact, but not in will, as they were so young. St. Augustine of Hippo considered the Holy Innocents, “buds, killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”

Are the 20 children and 6 heroes of Sandy Hook Elementary School modern-day martyrs? Yes, not by will, but in fact. And, in fact, only if we make it so.

“Every once in a while, there’s something that awakens the conscience of the country, and that tragic event did it in a way like nothing I’ve seen in my career. The president and I are determined to take action – We can affect the well-being of millions of Americans and take thousands of people out of harm’s way if we act responsibly.” — Vice President Joe Biden

I owe it the babies of Newtown, (those heroic adults were someones’ babies) to take a stand. Taking a stand is the only way to create sense in such a senseless brutal, horrifying act. Taking a stand now, when I didn’t before, due to feelings of inadequacy and people-pleasing tendencies, gets me off the couch where I sat staring out of the window crying for these babies and their families and our country and how we allowed it to get this bad.

Here is my stand:

It is enough with the guns already. United States civilians need only hunting rifles and handguns which should be licensed and locked up appropriately.

I voted for and support, President Barack Obama. Whatever plan he presents in tightening our country’s gun control regulations, I support 100 percent.

This past month, I’ve read and listened to many opinions. “You can’t police crazy,” was a really good one because it’s true. But we can keep the assault weapons with large ammunition magazines out of the hands of anyone who might take a turn toward crazy and then act on it.

The quote that fills me with regret and a new strength is from director Michael Moore in relation to his pro-gun-control documentary Bowling for Columbine:

I never thought I would have to, a decade later, stand here and say that that film of mine did no good. That to me is personally heartbreaking. Every word in it stands true to this day, which is the saddest thing. — Michael Moore

I had my chance to take a stand 10 years ago, and all those times since then, and I didn’t do it. I didn’t even watch that movie as I thought it would be too disturbing. I turned away and went about my business.

I owe it to all those babies killed by guns to do whatever I can to prevent this terrible act from ever occurring again. If it does, I may end up on the couch looking out the window and crying perhaps for many days, but in my heart, at least I’ll know that I took a stand and said, “Enough.”

Join with me and instead of imagining a future where we’d have to protect ourselves from our own government, or the walking dead, or a space alien invasion; imagine that zombie apocalypses occur only in works of fiction. If we’re going to imagine a future based on science fiction, imagine this:

Ah, Starfleet Academy. I will continue imagining and taking incremental steps every day towards this socially-evolved future created by Gene Roddenberry. Oh, and did you notice? It’ll be located in San Francisco, named for St. Francis of Assisi – a saint for all time. And that brings this post back to God, where it belongs and never truly left.

How did I get off the couch on Saturday, December 15th? Well for one thing, my husband made us an exotic Indian dinner (quite the extraordinary feat) and it smelled really good simmering on the stove.

Later I reread my post about St. Julian of Norwich, the part where she asked God how if sin (and bad stuff) is from God and God is all Goodness, why does He allow it? His answer implies that it will all make sense to us someday:

Sin is inevitable,

but all shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of all things shall be well. — Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love by St. Julian of Norwich

Julian did not understand, but through faith, she accepted. I could accept it, too. But nothing I do seemed to matter any more in the wake of such terrible violence directed towards such innocent life.

The next morning I went to church and in his sermon my priest asked for all of us, “What do we do now?”

In answer, he quoted Fred Rogers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

He summed up, “Look to the helpers. Be a helper.”

A few days ago, I read in New York Times editorial by Rev. Kevin O’Neil, C.S.S.R., “One true thing is this: Faith is lived in family and community, and God is experienced in family and community. We need one another to be God’s presence.”

He doesn’t know why God allowed this tragedy to happen either, but he concluded, “What I do know is that there is an unconditional loving presence which soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift we can all give, particularly to the suffering.” — New York Times – Opinions

I received Anne Lamott’s latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers for Christmas. In it I found what I was looking for – instructions, “We find God in our human lives, and that includes the suffering, — a sweet brown-eyed Jew who will want you to get glasses of water for everyone, including yourself.”

Water and perhaps something just a little more hardy that can be prepared at home and delivered to someone going through a rough time:


4 pounds beef stew – trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces

1 cup all-purpose flour

About ½ cup of olive oil

2 cups diced onions (2 large)

4 cups of Yukon Gold (or your favorite) potatoes cut into bite-sized pieces (about 4 large potatoes)

2 cups sliced or baby carrots (about ½ pound)

3 cups beef broth

½ tablespoon salt (or to taste)

1 teaspoon ground thyme

1 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)

Coat the beef in the flour.

Pour a light coat of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the meat in batches, adding more oil as necessary.

Place in a large sauce pot on stove or in a crock pot (slow cooker). Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot.

If using a crock pot, cover and cook on low heat for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 4 or 5 hours. Do not uncover or stir.

If using a sauce pot on the stove, cook over low heat for 2 ½ to 3 hours. Gently stir frequently.

Serve hot along with a nice loaf of bread. Can also be cooled, frozen in plastic containers, and thawed when needed.

Once I get the crock pot going, I start a batch of bread in the bread machine. It’s difficult to remain in the house during that last hour as the aromas coming out of those machines seem to say, it’s time to eat! But the display still says, 37 more minutes.

This simple recipe can be jazzed up or substituted in any way that appeals. Use it to help follow the instructions in this blessing my friend prays over his congregation at the end of Sunday services:

Remember that life is short,
and we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who
travel with us.
So be swift to love,
and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God,
who made us,
who loves us,
and who travels with us
be with you now and forever.
Amen.  — Based on the words of Henri Frederic Amiel (1821-1881).

Update December 28, 2013

I can’t help but see the naivete that runs through the above post written in January, 2013. I had believed real change would occur after the horror of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT.

But I’m sad to sum up that there have been 28 shootings in U.S. schools in the last year since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. How could that possibly be after our country was shocked into awareness and action? There’s no answer to this except to say that some folks used the fear of this situation to grasp tighter to their guns.

Every time I heard about a school shooting during the last year I “self-medicated” with distraction, denial, and rationalization. I also focused on the good news — 23 Gun Safety Victories Since Sandy Hook.

When the latest school shooting happened on December 13, 2013, I was saddened particularly by the irony of the date and yet again “self-medicated” with denial, rationalization, and the belief that the injured victim would be okay – just like Gabrielle Giffords and Malala Yousafzai.

But she wasn’t okay. Claire Davis died on Saturday, December 21, 2013.

I could no longer block my emotional reaction as I visualized over and over again the random shooting of a 17-year-old-girl sitting with her friends in a high school hallway waiting for first period to start. The horror of that image gave way to tears on Sunday. I cried before church, during church, after church and intermittently throughout the day. I spoke to my teenagers about it, and they assured me that they felt safe at their schools. That made me cry all the harder as I understood that Claire Davis probably felt just as safe at her school. Why aren’t people getting it? Why haven’t we stopped this yet? What do I do now?

The next morning, I called a friend and discussed with her my feelings that it all seemed so hopeless and that there didn’t seem to be anything we could do. She commiserated with me and then told me about a conversation she overheard between her 17-year-old son and a anti-gun control proponent. She said that while her own arguments for gun safety took on the emotions of mama bear protecting her young, her son’s argument was a calm and rational discussion of facts and the countering of the opposing party’s comments until the opposition had nothing left to say.

And that’s where I found it — hope for our future. Hope that with the viewpoints and the activism of the younger generation, we will look back on this period of our violent national history, shudder, and then be glad that it’s all over.

I’ve also joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. This one appeals to me because they post specific actions plans for their members such as contact information of legislators and petitions to sign. They also balance the bad news with news of positive actions and goals achieved. They’ve recently joined forces with Mayors against Illegal Guns, making both groups that much stronger. Obviously, I’m recommending this group, but there are many other groups that might better appeal to your individual sensibilities. Check ’em out and let’s work together to build on the positive steps of 2013 to real change in 2014.

Meanwhile, keep doing the good you were already doing and remember to get yourself a glass of water.

Update: December 29, 2014

Epidemic of Stupidity

I had such high hopes for this season of Advent a.k.a. the Christmas Season; my inner joy had come back to me after it had gone missing for several months. My family, work, and creative life were happily chugging along and then BANG, and BANG, and BANG, BANG, BANG!

How can I truly be happy with all this shooting going on? How can I keep getting up in the morning, shake my head at the news, say a quick pray for the departed and their families, and go about my day as if it doesn’t affect me because I don’t know any of them personally?

I can’t.

Instead, I can cry quietly in the kitchen as the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook School Massacre comes and goes while the incidents of school shootings in the U.S. continue at a sickening pace. I can fall to my knees weeping upon learning the news of the massacre of 132 school children in Peshawar, Pakistan.

And I can get up slowly, do my chores, smile at folks, and search for answers. And then BANG, BANG. I’m knocked down again by the assassination of two NYPD police officers. Why do their deaths bother me so much more than the deaths caused by accidents, gang and domestic violence? It doesn’t, it just hits closer to home. I have police officers and firemen in my family; their safety concerns me every day.

My children attend school. They are exactly where they are supposed to be. Yet, for some sick, sick, devastatingly sick reason, school children are targets.

What the hell?

Well, evil has something to do it, no doubt. But evil doesn’t work without a choice made with the free will God gave us so that our faith in Him would have meaning. And we, the bystanders have the free will to stop this epidemic of stupidity.

Step One: Accept that weeping for these losses is good for your soul. Then follow the example of Jesus upon hearing about the murder of his cousin, John the Baptist:

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowd heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. — Matthew 13:13-14

Jesus grieved. And then, He stepped up his ministry big time as this was the crowd He fed with five loaves and two fish.

Step Two: Understand that while we are not God, God can work through us in baby steps and ripples. Begin at home and spread it out from there.

Step Three: Understand that your children are A LOT smarter than you think. Lock up your guns. You cannot hide your guns or place them somewhere children can’t reach. They will find a way to get their hands on your guns.

Step Four: Ask about guns in the homes where your children go to play. Do not allow them to go in homes where there are unsecured guns.

Step Five: Join a gun sense movement. Or six. Join their boycotts and letter-writing campaigns. Make donations to these groups. Buy their tee-shirts and bumper stickers. Let these items spark gun sense conversations. March with these groups. Attend their meetings and functions. Spread their words. Vote for gun sense laws. Celebrate every whisper of good news for the cause!

Step Six: Remember that you don’t have to run a chapter of one of these groups to make a difference, but you can support those who are so called.

Step Seven: As you are taking these baby steps and beginning to create positive ripples in the eradication of this epidemic of stupidity, ask yourself how far you are willing to go. Most of us would step between a child and traffic without even thinking about it. Would you step between a child and a bullet? Would you really? Even if it wasn’t your child? I’m pretty sure that most of us would do this as an instinctive act. It’s called fierce protection. Go with that.

Fierce protection will give you courage, without anger and judgment, to have uncomfortable social conversations about gun sense that may sink into debates on political, religious, and philosophical differences. You’re tough, you can handle it.

Step Eight: Definitely pray for peace. Then pray especially for the courage and fortitude you need to take your baby steps and ask God to help you feel the ripples coming from fierce protectors across the nation as we step forward together.

Bonus Material:

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
Every Town for Gun Safety
Sandy Hook Promise
Connecticut Against Gun Violence
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

(Originally posted on 1/15/2013 to Saints and Recipes on Blogger. Updates were added on 12/28/2013, and 12/29/2014.)




Update: 4/20/2018 THE COURAGE TO MARCH WITHOUT SNACKS: Spiritual Journey Photo Essay

Update: 12/26/2018 USA TODAY – After Parkland Shooting: A day-to-day fight over guns in America

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