I ask us to wrestle with a painful topic that is front and center in the news across the nation these last few weeks: gun violence. From the heartbreaking supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York inspired by racism, to a church shooting in Orange County, California, single weekends are leaving traditional community gathering spaces feeling destabilized and even unsafe. The elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas is yet another terrible example. It is naive to assume our young people are unaware of gun violence considering how many young lives it claims. How do we address such a relevant topic in a way that is healthy and helpful without being frightening to the point of causing increased trauma.
We can, and should, start by using the season after Pentecost to teach children about the early church and the dangers and struggles the Apostles encountered. Their compassionate care and advocacy for those on the margins and those who experienced violence at the hands of the Roman empire can be a strong model for how youth and congregations can address gun violence by supporting its victims in a way that makes a difference. This more distanced example can also feel both relevant and removed enough to not scare our youngest children with its immediacy.
We can also focus discussions on root causes of violence and present problem-solving approaches that uplift conflict resolution, self-calming skills, empathy and anti-bias, and community support programs that increase opportunity. This proactive approach equips young people of all ages with life skills well beyond conversations about gun violence. Journaling, writing poetry or making art collages, and planting memorial gardens can also allow youth to process complex emotions without words.
Finally, we can honor that timeless strategy we use every week—allowing our young people to guide the conversation and admitting we don't have all the answers. Introducing complex topics using references to local or national news stories they might have heard about and asking for their questions supports our children and gives them safe spaces they may not have in school or at home. Faith exists in the real world, and what better place is there to encourage children to explore those intersections than with the caring guidance of their faith formation facilitators?