Moving into this season of preparation, for the beautiful winter season, for the coming of our Christ child, we have been exploring a series on fostering an intimate relationship with the Light. Advent is the season of preparing for the Light. But last night as I made the final turn toward preparing to speak at my Quaker Meeting, I experienced a rising message. The Light asked me to bring something different. It was late in the evening and, with a sigh, I sat down to re-write this message. Dan gave me a kiss on top of my head and reminded me to rest; I outlasted my daughter Samantha who is visiting with us this morning…she reminded me to rest. But in preparing this message I had opened my heart to listen to the Holy and to accept the guidance that comes. Thomas Kelly taught us how to center our lives and discover the Inward Light. He wrote that “Guidance of life by the Light within is not so exhausted as is too frequently supposed, in special leadings towards particular tasks.” (Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, 1941, p19) My awareness of the inward Light has prompted this message. As Kelly promises “when we worship in the Light, we become new…there are specific instructions from the Light within…paradoxically, this instruction proceeds from two opposing directions at once. We are torn loose from earthly attachments and ambitions [or carefully prepared messages], and we are quickened to a divine but painful concern for the world.” ( Kelly, p19)
Thursday morning, 3 mornings ago, a child, Brendon Clegg, died by gunshot in the stairwell on the second floor of the middle school, a block away from our home in Richmond. His mother called 911 to alert police and the school that her son was imminent danger and a threat. Police were at the school in a matter of minutes, and they chased him into the school. The school which had locked down, following what are now routine procedures, ensured the safety of the students, teachers, and staff there. We are all relieved that no one else was injured.
The news has traveled across the country, this was the 89th school shooting incident in 2018. According to a CDC report released yesterday nearly 40,000 people died by guns last year- in one year. Of these, 23,854, over half, died by suicide using a gun. The immediate narrative from leaders is that we are ensuring our children are safe- we have lock down routines, we have highly trained law enforcement who, as Greg Pence said, “monitor the situation to keep our children safe.” Media coverage has been swift, energetic and full of the human drama we have come to expect from the media…distraught parents and grandparents were featured saying they were frightened and so glad the children are ok. These families gathered swiftly in crowds not seen before at the school (parental involvement we know is at an all-time low in our schools). We know there is immense pressure on the teachers and staff in our schools. They are among the ones who face the front lines as our social glue unravels at ever increasing speed.
Few words have been said about this child, little has been said about his loss, his mother’s loss. This child was known to friends of ours. Just a few years ago he was a “nice kid”. Perhaps he was different, but he was a child.
On social media and in conversations in the places where the locals gather there are whispers of the culture of bullying that is pervasive in the schools, the community and our society at large. Some have called for change. Gun control tops the list of controversial topics of conversation; thoughtful people might even include a comment about the need for improved mental health services. But few people speak to the culture of violence that has overtaken us. No one has mentioned that we might want to examine the context within which this tragedy has unfolded. Perhaps this story will show up in a piece of writing or film, but for now, the silence is deafening.
This tragedy played out next to a jewel of a park, the grass is green at this park today, the funny, red-headed pileated wood pecker calls and pounds on old ash trees. There are soft woodchips that surround the yellow, orange and blue slides and play area. There are spaces to play, to hold a barbeque, to sit amongst groves of evergreen trees. The preschool next door (which also had gone on lock down) has whimsical figure cutouts on the front lawn. Thomas Kelly’s house, empty now and up for sale, is directly across the street from the little park and adjacent to the stately middle school. This simple white clapboard home sits empty, although someone has left lighted candles in the upper room windows. Dan and I went to an open house last month to walk through this home. Small rooms look out to trees and to the little park. The house is now a silent witness to the unfolding of our larger society through the lens of this little Hoosier city. In the house is a little study with built-in bookshelves, now empty, and it prompts me to wonder if perhaps this was the place where Kelly wrote these words:
“Out in front of us is the drama of men and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and prayer. But within the silences of the souls of men an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others. And on the outcome of this inner drama rests, ultimately the outer pageant of history….the drama of the lost sheep wandering in the wilderness, restless and lonely, feebly searching, while over the hills comes the wiser Shepherd. His is a shepherd’s heart, and he is restless until He holds His sheep in His arms. It is the drama of the Eternal drawing the prodigal home unto himself, where there is bread enough to spare.” (Kelly, p25)
I ask you, do we have bread enough to spare for this child and for his mother and family? Will we ask our communities, the leaders in our schools, in mental health, law enforcement, our city, and state leaders if we can name the root cause of this mass madness? Do we have the moral courage to name the way forward? And when we hear or see bullying, to witness against it? Let’s call for an examination of the real roots of violence in our country. This needs to happen at the national level, but let’s talk about this in real and meaningful ways beginning here, in our Meetings, our churches, and communities. The issues are complex, ranging from mental illness to hate to despair.
The first step is to enter into communion, as Friends, and listen to what Spirit may ask of us.