By Fr. Bud Grant
I spent July 4th with the most patriotic book I’ve read since “Johnny Got His Gun.” “#Never Again,” is by siblings David and Lauren Hogg, survivors of the Feb. 14 gun attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. It is a gut-wrenching, scathingly honest, funny, irreverent and inspiring story. Their ideas could address any problem of our age, not only gun violence.
They could have been speaking about climate change, for example, in an opening salvo that cracks like the shot heard ‘round the world. “What happened on Valentine’s Day 2018,” they write, “was neither natural nor an act of God. What happened was man-made — which means that as human beings we have the capacity to do something about it.” What is more American than that?
Maybe it takes young voices to cut through cynicism and fear. They, for example, connect the dots between “Citizens United” (“money = speech”) and the NRA’s influence on politicians who, like those who deny climate change, do not represent the majority of Americans. They expose that the “moneyed,” not the voters (or rather, those who don’t vote), are driving policies that threaten our democracy and our planet.
But this is not an ideological screed or adolescent rant. It feels true when David says, “Stupid as it is, I think it all came down to seeing other people as people.” Survivor pathos informs what otherwise could be trite: “we have to learn to love ourselves for what we are instead of hating ourselves for what we are not … and then we have to love other people the same way. Because if you wait for another day, that day might never come.”
There is nothing trite or naïve in Lauren’s insight about offers of sympathy such as “I’m sorry” or “You’re in my prayers.” “If you ever meet me,” she says, “don’t tell me you’re sorry … because we’re not stupid.” We figured out pretty fast that some people are really just saying, “Okay, I felt sad, I’m a good person, now back to what I was doing.” Dang: “Apologies and Prayers” as a denialist strategy.
These kids endured abhorrent attacks from powerful adults such as Laura Ingraham, Donald Trump Jr., and Wayne LaPierre (CEO of NRA). As a result, “the death threats started rolling in.” People threatened to kill kids traumatized by a mass shooting. Their response? “Sir, I know you’re angry and you’re suffering — we all are — but your anger is just making the situation worse.” That second victimizing did not suppress, discourage or distort their passion: “I don’t want to go through the five stages that end up at acceptance — not now, not ever” (David). With such deft defiance of the “merchants of entropy” who want “chaos, disagreement, discord,” we should be able to address gun control, poverty, racism AND climate change.
What do these sharp and blunt members of what they call “Generation Stress” propose? In a word, patriotism; oh, and Twitter. “Register. Vote.” Because “the whole point is that we’re all connected.” That last bit sounds like the Gospel.
Lauren and David mention God only 12 times, including 10 “OMG” references. Yet, wherever there is an ethos of love, there is God. Gospel insight infuses every page. They don’t lack spiritual intuition, only the religious vocabulary. David once instructed the delivery guy to give the pizzas to bickering student activists “but make sure they hug each other first.” Eucharistic.
Perhaps they are re-inventing the most fragile forces we have; faith, patriotism and themselves. If we want them to experience the joy and challenge of a faith community, we have to change, too. Their other two God references insist that school massacres are not “an act of God.” Where’d they get the idea that they were? From believers. We had better demonstrate how faith in the resurrection of Christ empowers us to resist the “dark forces” that are killing them.
(Father Bud Grant is a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)