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People pray for the victims of The Covenant School shooting during a community vigil in Mt. Juliet, Tenn.
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Looking for helpers, catalyzing hope

A Christian response to the mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn.

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‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

That oft-repeated advice was solid when the late Fred Rogers first heard it and when he shared it decades later with children watching his much-loved television show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

And it’s still useful today for parents trying to explain scary things in the news — things like the murder of children who were supposed to be safe at school in Nashville. Or Uvalde. Or Columbine, Newtown or Parkland. Or Dallas, Denver or Des Moines (click the links if those don’t ring a bell).

Memorial crosses bearing the names of those killed in the shooting sit in front the Robb Elementary School welcome sign.

Memorial crosses bearing the names of those killed in the 2022 Uvalde, Texas, shooting sit in front the Robb Elementary School welcome sign.

Three of the six victims at The Covenant School, a Presbyterian elementary school in Tennessee’s capital city, were 9 years old — still young enough to hunt Easter eggs.

As parents, as grandparents, we recoil in visceral repulsion at such news. We are shaken to our souls at the horror we refuse to imagine but that haunts our dreams. What manner of evil has wrought such horrific bloodshed among third-graders, their teachers and custodian?

This time, last time, next time, it was Evil armed with a legally purchased AR-style firearm and a carefully crafted plan of death and destruction.

Related: After mass shooting, Church of Christ will host classes for Covenant School

Who would fault us for reflexively looking for the helpers? For desperately seeking hope?

After the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting left 11 dead, Ian Bogost wrote in the Atlantic that Mister Rogers’ advice was never intended to comfort adults. Adults should find more proactive strategies than just looking for helpers.

Being a helper. Being a hero. Those are good things. They are a good start.

Nashville has had both in abundance in the wake of the Covenant tragedy. People from nearby churches and neighborhoods have risen up to bring comfort.

Some have been famous, like country music star Carrie Underwood and a host of Nashville’s music glitterati who planned a benefit concert for the school.

Others aren’t famous at all.

Vanderbilt and Lipscomb universities’ baseball teams circled up for prayer, an initiative led by Lipscomb pitcher Logan Van Treeck, just a kid from Nebraska who came to Nashville to play baseball.

Detective Sgt. Jeff Mathes, a graduate of Harding University in Searcy, Ark., wasn’t famous when he found himself stepping over a victim as he and fellow officers entered the school where 152 rounds fired by the shooter left the smell of gunpowder thick in the air.

“They just wanted to save kids,” Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at a press conference after the shooting. And they did.

They walked through those steel gray doors with purpose — and no doubt with hope — seeking the shooter. They walked out heroes who will carry with them the sights, sounds and smells of those halls for the rest of their lives.

The Brentwood Hills Church of Christ is preparing its building for Covenant’s 200 children to have a safe place to attend classes for the rest of this school year. At least they hope it will be safe.

Walt Leaver, minister at Brentwood Hills, had planned months ago a sermon series titled “Hope is here. His name is Jesus” to begin on Palm Sunday and continue through Pentecost.

Posters with the theme caught the attention of Covenant staff when they toured the building to make a plan for moving their operations there.

The Brentwood Hills Church of Christ in Nashville, Tenn., meets for worship.

The Brentwood Hills Church of Christ in Nashville, Tenn., will host Covenant School’s 200 children for the rest of the spring semester.

Leaver’s text comes primarily from 1 Peter, where the apostle writes of a living hope that can never perish, spoil or fade.

That kind of hope can be hard to find, but Leaver says it’s the primary motivation of people who seek out church as a place of refuge.

Related: ‘Whether guns kill people or people kill people, something must change’

Leaver has been preaching at Brentwood Hills, just about three miles from Covenant, for 26 years. He doesn’t need my help to plan his sermons. But if I had a pulpit this Sunday, I’d say hope doesn’t stand still. Hope seeks. Hope listens. Hope acts with purpose.

As parents and grandparents, we will continue to tell our little ones to look for the helpers. But as the adults who must figure out how to stop Evil with an AR-style firearm from ripping through the body of another child, we must mobilize our hope.

Common-sense solutions are out there, and Christians should take the lead in making them realities instead of just fodder for debate.

“Common-sense solutions are out there, and Christians should take the lead in making them realities instead of just fodder for debate. … We must be peacemakers.”

We must model civility in difficult conversations. Advocate for common-sense limits like background checks and red flag laws. Support anti-bullying policies and mental health treatment access for all.

We must be peacemakers.

Finding places for genuine conversation between opposing sides should be a natural extension of peacemaking. Beating swords into plowshares doesn’t mean gathering up weapons used for hunting or self-defense. But it does suggest that firearms that mimic weapons of war should be left on the battlefield.

All those efforts must be sheltered in prayer. As Christians, we profess that prayer is powerful — the most important thing we can do. If we believe that, our prayer life must be more than a wish list we lay at the throne. If we lack the courage to catalyze our hope, we will never be taken seriously by the grieving and wounded.

Hope isn’t just about recovering from tragedy. Living hope should lead us to find a better way.

CHERYL MANN BACON is a Christian Chronicle contributing editor who served for 20 years as chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Abilene Christian University. Contact [email protected].

Filed under: Covenant School mass shootings Nashville National News Opinion Perspective School shootings Top Stories

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