I am writing this article on my 43rd birthday, and by the time you read this, I will have initiated the beginning of my 44th year of life here on earth. Birthdays are kind of strange, aren’t they? Our earliest birthdays are celebrations as we mark each passing year with continuing developmental milestones like walking, talking, and potty training. However, many of those early compliments like, “Look how big you’ve gotten!” come to mean something very different as we get older. I’d rather not hear someone compliment me on how big I’ve gotten these days.
Birthdays are kind of a big deal, though, when you think about it. At 10, you hit double digits. At 13, you become a teenager. At 16, you can drive. At 18, you become an adult (supposedly). At 21, you can legally drink alcohol. At 22, you realize your birthdays are just about out of milestones and from here on out you’re pretty much limited to celebrating the start of new decades. With that in mind, 43 is hardly a milestone birthday, but suddenly 50 doesn’t seem too far away.
A few months ago, I began working as the chaplain for Willowbrook Christian Communities. Our campuses are full of the most beautiful people who have lived rich, long lives. Now, 43 doesn’t seem very old at all. I was talking to one of our residents the other day who is 102! Can you imagine living to be 102? I spend my weeks with people who are in their 80s, 90s, and even 100s. The COVID years have been just crushing to our community at Willowbrook, but these resilient, strong souls are a rich blessing to me every day, and they have got me wondering how many birthdays I have left. Could I live to be 102? I had never really thought that was possible before.
Seventeen days ago, Eva Mireles was spending one of the last days of school with the fourth-grade students she had been teaching all year. Eva had one more birthday than I had, but it turned out her previous birthday was her last. On “Footloose and Fancy” day at school, Eva was murdered in cold blood by an 18-year-old young man who had brought a legally purchased war machine (a DDM4 AR-15-style rifle) and countless rounds of ammunition into an elementary school and ripped apart the body of Eva as well as 19 students who called her Mrs. Mireles.
There are 19 children and two teachers who will never celebrate another birthday. Some of them never made it to double digits. None of them got to be teenagers. None of them ever got their drivers license. None of them ever registered to vote. Two teachers didn’t even make it to half the number of birthdays our Willowbrook residents have. Twenty-two lives reduced to could-have-beens and we’ll-never-knows.
I understand the politics of guns is notoriously complex. I understand most gunowners are sensible and not violent. I understand the 2nd Amendment played a foundational role in our nation’s formation. I also understand my children have grown up in a society where weapons like this have been used to murder children and teachers and concert attendees and movie theater patrons across the country. I understand that we have accepted conducting active shooting drills at schools is completely normal.
The generation with whom I work at Willowbrook were shaped by names and places like Pearl Harbor, Normandy, Hamburger Hill, and Saigon, but my children have exchanged those names for Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas, Sutherland Springs, and now Uvalde. It is impossible to quantify the trauma these events are inflicting on our children.
I’m a chaplain, not a politician nor a lawyer. I’m well-versed in the Bible, not the law. I won’t speak to the 2nd Amendment or the right to defend yourself or increased background checks or red flag laws. I will speak to, however, those in our community who wear the name of Christ. It is time to reacquaint yourself with our Scriptures. Jesus was called the Prince of Peace. He told Peter to put down his sword. He proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” He came in the tradition of the prophets who envisioned a day when swords would be beaten into ploughshares. He taught that there was no greater love than someone who lays down his life for someone – not who protects him with his weapons.
This message is not tertiary, and these are not obscure references. While the law may be infinitely complicated on the matter of killing, the Christian Scriptures are not. As Christians, if we find ourselves arguing strongly for more weapons, more guns, and the right to defend ourselves, we are not doing so on the basis of anything Jesus ever taught.