We must stop “sending thoughts and prayers” or “praying for peace." They mean nothing until they are married and tightly bound with action. Action in changing what we say, how we think, how we feel, and how we treat others.
Because after each of these mass shootings we send the same prayers BUT WE ARE STILL HERE.
I hope that each life that has been affected by this mass murder will come to experience an abundance of love, strength, comfort, and peace in the immediate present and in the days ahead as they recover in the hospital, make funeral arrangements, explain to sons and daughters that their caregiver is no longer here, reconcile things that weren't said, guilt over disagreements, or find closure to an old life or way of living as they adapt to what is ahead in the future.
Religion isn't the only response to the tragedy. In many ways we use religious epitaphs because we don't know what else to say, we don't have a reasonable explanation, it's ingrained in us culturally to say something "nice" or because we'd rather avoid the uncertainty that arrives with tapping into our feelings so it's easier to say some words that we know will make us appear to be nice. And though we may find psychological comfort, unity among people we know and don't know, and connectedness to the divine so that we can have the strength to face the upcoming challenges as a result of this tragedy, where is our action that aligns with the faith of our prayers?
We must do the work to understand the construction of masculinity and it needs to assert violence to carry out its most vile of intentions in order for dominance and respect to happen.
We must think about the ways that we raise our sons, nephews, cousins, and young boys in the agency of their bodies, minds, thoughts, and decisions. All of which have implications for the world around them.
We must tell our boys that it is "ok" to talk about what bothers them, vexes their spirit, irritates their emotions, and denies them clarity of thought.
We must examine the ways in which men are socialized to not express their feelings, talk about their inner trauma, or be seen as vulnerable or "not ok".
We must work to dismantle our male privilege and the ways that we silently consent or remain complicit to patriarchy and the outcome of toxic masculinity on ourselves, our families, our communities, and the world around us.
We must address the system of white supremacy and hold it accountable for the hundreds of years of violence enacted to masses of people to assert its power.
We must think about the American military and its role in propagating the use of violence to colonize land and culture in the name of democracy, protection, and patriotism all under the guise of heroism.
We must ask why in "the deadliest mass shooting in American history" is a headline we keep using.
We must ask why in humanizing a violent domestic terrorist we fail to examine the system of white supremacy and violent patriarchy that got him here.
We must ask why there is no critique on the pathology of white violence and how it's gone from 1492 without accountability.
We must come to the table with answers about why Black and Brown bodies will face further action to criminalize, police, legislate, and control our bodies so that we aren't a risk to public safety but never do that for white men who statistically are a risk to all of us.
We must work to destigmatize mental health so that we esteem it equally important as outward physical health and wellbeing.
We must examine why our elected officials, still after numerous tragedies that have affected their own peers (Rep. Gabby Giffords), kindergarteners (Sandy Hook Elementary), college students (Virginia Tech College), moviegoers (Aurora, CO), and worshippers during prayer service (Charleston, SC) continue to support the use of semi-automatic weapons, accept money from corporations that manufacture, produce, and have a vested interest in such harmful weapons.
We must ask our elected leaders why they are willing to continue to allow you to access a gun while you are mentally ill but are the same ones who don't want you to have universal/government subsidized healthcare.
We must ask why we keep electing officials with platforms that we don't support, affirm, or don't seek the best public good.
While the people we sent to Washington have work to do, we as a culture do, too.
We change the culture by changing the world around us. We impact our sphere of influence by how we think, speak, behave, and act. But the first sphere is us.