A Ninth Grader's Open Letter to Preachers after the Florida Shootings

Photo by  Jeff Sheldon  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash

My Fellow Preachers,

This post is written by my son, Abram Cressman.

Abram is a high school ninth grader, coming up on fifteen years old. Last Friday, on Feb. 16th, we had a long conversation as he processed the shootings at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

He said some things I felt were important for all preachers to hear, so I invited him to write to you directly. His unedited letter is below.

  Every single week day, I wake up early, eat breakfast, get on the bus and ride to school. Most days my father wakes up early for work, and everyday as I leave the house I tell him I love him. He tells me he loves me too. It’s a simple exchange, but important. It always has been, but in recent years it’s importance has dramatically increased.
    As I’m sure you’re all very aware, on February 14, 2019, just four days ago as I’m writing this, 17 innocent lives were snuffed out by one man. Those 17 people were at school. Learning, teaching, just going about their day. They had done nothing to bring this upon themselves. That morning they had woken up early, eaten breakfast, gotten on the bus or car, maybe walked to school. They never expected that they weren’t coming home. Every single one thought they were going to come home, do homework or grade papers, maybe watch some TV. They still had hopes that day. They still had dreams that day. They still had families, friends, relationships that day. And now all of that is gone because one man walked in with one gun.
    And I’m just like them.
    I go to school everyday, just like them. I get homework everyday, just like them. I have goals I work towards everyday, just like them. I have friends I talk to everyday, just like them. And when I walk into that school everyday, I might not walk out. I’m just like them.
    When this story hit the news, and your Facebook or Twitter feeds lit up with the story, I’m sure many of you saw countless posts of people sending “thoughts and prayers” to the families of the victims. To their girlfriends or boyfriends, to their classmates, teachers, and everyone in between. That night they got down on their knees and prayed for the families to heal. For the victims to be sent up to “God's holy light” and join Him in heavenly glory. And that’s it. They spent maybe fifteen minutes, thirty, hoping for things to be alright. Nothing else. They didn’t write to their local representatives pleading with them to enact more laws on gun control or mental illness or whatever issue they think caused this atrocity. They didn’t do anything. As if those “thoughts and prayers” would stop the bullets next time. Bring those 17 dead people back. Make everything alright. And that is unacceptable.
    I have to say, I’ve never been one much for religion. There’s so much darkness and hate in the world. How could there possibly be some divine entity watching over it all, letting it all happen? Never stepping in to say, “Hey everyone, I’m here. Maybe you shouldn’t do that stuff?” Sitting up on their throne, gazing down at our screwed up world, claiming to be a force of all-powerful good yet letting all this evil continue. I’m sure some of your congregation might be feeling the same way as I am. Are their thoughts and prayers doing anything? Is my God hearing me? Why won’t he stop this evil?
    Which brings us here. The Call to Action, I suppose. In this time of darkness, when those who are faithful look deep into themselves and question if their thoughts and prayers matter, I bring to you this quote, and I encourage you to share it with your congregation. Unfortunately I don’t know who said it and can’t give them proper credit, but I hope their words will inspire others to do something. “Pray like God is always listening, but act as if you are the only one who can do something about it.” Thoughts and prayers mean nothing if not followed by action. If you, like so many others, sit down for half an hour and pray to God to help these people, then get up and do nothing, trusting in your God to take care of it for you, you are not helping. If you really believe that God will do something, then make sure he knows you’re doing something too.
    So when Sunday comes and you get up in front of all those faithful people, just sending prayers to God, tell them this. That their prayers won’t help if they don’t. That if they want God to put in work, they had better do something too. God is all well and good, but he isn’t a person. He can’t send letters to his local government representatives. He can’t donate money to trauma centers both in Florida and around the world. He can’t walk down to his courthouse and talk face to face with his mayor, expressing his concerns about what’s been happening. But they can. They have the power to save so many others in the future. If they want change, tell them to be that change.
    Everyday that I go to school, I risk not coming back. From here there’s not a whole lot I can do about that. So I’m reaching out to you. Every single one of you has an avenue to anywhere from one hundred to one thousand people, and with your help we can make this world a better place. A place where children know when they go school, they will come home. A place where the phrase “just another school shooting” isn’t an acceptable term. A place where we know our actions payed off.
    So I beg you to address your congregation. Let them know that they can be the change they want to see in the world. Let them know that God can’t do everything on his own. You can make them care. And that may just be the most powerful tool in the world.

-by Abram Cressman, 2/18/18

I doubt that Abram is alone in his frustration, fear, and feelings of vulnerability that children must wait on adults to make them safe, and his deep skepticism that there will be integrity between the Church's prayers and follow-through.

How will we address Abram and others like him in our sermons? 

How will we preach in and out of the pulpit so that our actions are congruent with our words?

How will we build Shalom in a way that young people see and trust in God's resurrecting work?

When I did my due diligence to make sure Abram understood that this post would be on the internet and available forever, and whether he wanted to be anonymous or named as the author, without realizing it, he drew himself up to his full height. He looked down at me and said with conviction, "The farther it goes, the better. Yes, I want my name on it."

He encourages you to share his letter with attribution. So do I.