"What about our right to bear dreams?" That was the question my 9-year-old niece asked in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School as she tried to understand the NRA's devotion to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. She had shed tears, felt terror and now was trying to make sense of the senseless.
What about children's right to bear dreams? What happens to that right -- and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- when gun violence, poverty, child abuse, lack of health care and mental health care take a daily toll?
Part of the shock of the Sandy Hook slaughter was the setting: it was a community that fully expected its children to have and achieve their dreams. In other communities, dreams were long ago surrendered to daily, living nightmares.
A close friend recounted a conversation between a pastor and three young boys. The pastor was talking with the boys about what they wanted to be when they grew up. The first said he wanted to be a superhero. The second said he wanted to work at McDonald's. The third child picked up a stick and in the dusty ground drew a picture of himself lying on the ground; he said, "I'll be dead before I grow up." What happened to our children's right to bear dreams?
Whether we are parents who previously thought our children were insulated from horror or those who long ago surrendered dreams to grim reality, the massacre on Dec. 14 was a wake-up call and we cannot afford to go back to sleep.
When did we as a nation allow the right to bear arms to supersede children's right to bear dreams? There are more gun dealers in our nation than there are houses of worship. When did the hunger for weapons outstrip our hunger to glimpse God's dream for us as a people?
God's dream for us was captured by the prophet Isaiah:
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord-- and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent -- its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17-25 NRSV)
How did we so utterly fail to be partners realizing in God's glorious new creation? After a calamity like the massacre of children in Sandy Hook Elementary School, after the daily calamity of more than seven gun deaths of children and youths, surely we as people of faith recognize that children's right to bear dreams, and our determination to realize God's dream for us, is more important than the right to bear arms. God's dream as found in Isaiah speaks of economic well-being, but more than 16 million children live in poverty in our rich nation. It is a dream in which infants don't die, but every day 80 babies die before their first birthday. It is a dream in which children will not be born for calamity, yet every day in our nation five children are killed by abuse or neglect, five children or teens commit suicide, and more than seven children or teens die from guns. Isn't it time, finally, to work together to realize God's dream for us?
When the NRA finally made a statement, a week after the shooting, the pronouncement was made as if they still called the shots -- literally and figuratively. Do they think we as a nation can be lulled back to sleep, guns cradled in our arms? Charlton Heston infamously said anyone wanting to take away his gun would have to pry it from his "cold, dead hands." The thing is, it's not mostly movie stars but children whose hands are cold and dead, cut down by the guns to which the NRA demands such unfettered rights. A child or youth is killed by guns every three hours and 15 minutes in our gun-crazy nation. That is a nightmare.
Some years ago, the teens of a small church in a poverty-stricken and violence-riddled community outside Boston planned the Christmas pageant. The volunteer pageant director invited the youths to engage with the story and reimagine its meaning in their lives, in this day. Come Christmas Eve, as the pageant unfolded the congregation craned forward to see what the "wise men" were bearing to lay down before the Christ child. What they carried and set down were replicas of the real weapons that had taken so many young lives of neighbors and classmates. The teens could think of no better gift to offer the Prince of Peace than the laying down of weapons -- something they longed for all in the community to do.
Isaiah prophesied that a little child would lead us. They are trying. Will we follow?