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Sandy Hook and the Right to Life




Five years ago I was standing at the altar of a church. I was the Sunday morning guest speaker. The minister had the day off.

I had my sermon prepared of course. It was about Christmas, and the beautiful metaphor of seeing God in the form of a tiny child.

But a few days earlier, Sandy Hook happened.

The whole country was in shock. There’s no way to process a room full of first graders being cut to ribbons by military-style assault weapon fire. Nothing about it makes any sense. Thinking about Sandy Hook feels like staring into an abyss.

I looked out at the congregation – that moment of silence before the sermon begins. I saw the hurt on everybody’s face. The room felt as cold as a grave. The abyss was staring back into us. I had to do something.

I took out my phone and read aloud the names of all twenty-six victims. Filling the silence of that room with their holy names was the only prayer I could muster. The candle flames stood still and strong like the sentinels of a tomb. You just keep breathing. You just go on. You have to. You sit there and feel the warmth of your own body, of the bodies around you. You feel the grace of this fleeting, miraculous thing called life. You mumble under your breath, “Thank you.”

Now it’s five years later, and not one meaningful action has been taken. The right to bear arms trumps the right to life every time.

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson (borrowing from John Locke) wrote that the purpose of government is to protect and defend our individual, God-given rights, and “that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The state doesn’t grant rights – they’re inherent. The state’s only role is to ensure the protection of individual rights. When congress cannot or will not pass sensible, nuanced, meaningful legislation to protect the right of first graders to not be slaughtered by military-style assault weapons, something’s broken. We are broken. A fundamental promise of this nation remains unfulfilled. And the grave of every gun-violence victim is another spotlight on this deep and profound collective failure.

Remember Sandy Hook. And all the others. Take a moment to feel the pain. Look at the faces of the Sandy Hook victims. Don’t look away. Our suffering will eventually transform us. Not today. Not tomorrow. But one day we will be transformed, and we will rise up to fulfill America’s promise – to ensure our fundamental God-given right to be alive. Until then, light a candle for the lives of those sacrificed on the altar of our indifference.

Peter Bolland is the philosophy and humanities department chair at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California where he teaches world religions, Asian philosophy, world mythology, and ethics. Bolland is also a columnist for both Unity Magazine and the San Diego Troubadour. An award winning singer-songwriter and poet, Bolland draws on the world’s wisdom traditions as a frequent lecturer and performer throughout the San Diego region.

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