I cry a lot these days …

“When you first got here, did you cry a lot?”

A friend asked me that as I prepared to lead yet another wake service the other night, the fourth wake service of five this week, for the three funerals I did just this week.

She wondered if all the funerals we did in the first months after my arrival on the Rosebud Reservation caused me to crumple with grief. 

“Wasn’t that overwhelming?” she asked.

I told her: It’s actually harder now, because I know so many of the people now. When I first arrived, I was burying strangers, people whose stories I did not know.


It seems I know most of the people I bury. If I don’t know them personally, I know their families. 

I cry a lot these days.85F73377-5B85-4CEA-8912-B11B8334D827

I cry for those whom I bury … so many of them, young and old, often in bunches so close together that it seems that all I do is wakes and funerals, and wakes and funerals, and more wakes, and more funerals. 

I cry for all the violence in the world: For the people of Yemen. And Gaza. And South Sudan. And Mexico. And Cameroon. And Haiti. And just about every place around the world where people settle arguments and confront fear with war.

I cry for all the violence in this country. Right now, my tears are for the faithful Jews of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. For Vickie Lee Jones and Maurice Stallard, two innocent African Americans murdered in a Kentucky grocery store simply because they were African American. For police officers gunned down while doing their jobs. For women killed by domestic partners who had no business having access to guns. For our soldiers and Marines killed in combat. 

I cry for our children, especially this latest generation which one 18-year-old has labeled the “Massacre Generation,” because massacres – massacres! – make up the majority of their memories.https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/11/01/i-am-i-belong-massacre-generation/?utm_term=.d09d6608d0a0

I cry for the migrants who so desperately want a better, safer life – and whose journeys end, instead, in death in the desert. Or separated from their children. Or thrown in jail. Or deported without their children.

The tears suddenly fill my eyes, and I have to take a deep breath, and – if I’m preaching – sometimes pinch my fingers together to make a focal point for my body.

I am not depressed.

This is not a medical issue that can be treated with drugs.

But I do have a big heart, a heart that sometimes is too filled with love, too filled with hope, too filled with a desire for goodness and grace and mercy and justice and simple kindness.

Sometimes, my heart breaks.2B091120-8D6E-4D93-9D9A-D5BE93B43CCF

And then the tears come, unbidden.

I believe in the inherent goodness of humanity, that we, who are all created in the image of God, really are good people.

I believe in that goodness because I have seen it, because I see it every single day, when people reach out to help each other, when a friend unbidden reaches out to me and asks, “how are you doing today,” when another friend texts, “You are loved.”

I think that because I know there is goodness in the world, when I see the bad stuff – the shootings, the racism, the hatred, the vitriol, the fear-mongering, the blatant lies, the attempts to make some people lesser than others – my heart cracks and the tears come.

I don’t mind the tears. 

They remind me that I am human.

They remind me of God’s love.

They push me to do better, to be better.

They remind me that I care.

They remind me to never stopcaring.

So, yes, I cry a lot these days.

And then I wipe away the tears.

I remember the quotation from the Talmud, tattooed around my left arm as a prayer: Do not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s griefs. Do justice now. Love kindness now. Walk humbly with your God now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but you are not free to abandon it.

And with the tears wiped, I get back to work, to God’s work, trying as best as I am able to fulfill what Verna Dozier, quoting Howard Thurmans, called the “dream of God”:  “A friendly world of friendly folk, beneath a friendly sky.” 

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Please, I am begging you …

The Hon. Mike Rounds, Senator

502 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510


The Hon. John Thune, Senator

511 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510


The Hon. Kristi L. Noem, Representative

2422 Rayburn Office Building

Washington, DC 20515


Dear Sno gunsenator Rounds, Senator Thune and Congresswoman Noem:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

I write to you today to beg – to beg – that you, as our elected representatives in Congress, take action to help make this country a safer place.

Last week, yet another young man took weapons he had legally obtained, loaded with ammunition he had legally obtained, into a classroom and opened fire, killing eight students and a teacher, and wounding another nine people. The gunman, Christopher Harper-Mercer, then took his own life. Two days prior, we had a school shooting in Harrisburg, South Dakota; thankfully, the principal was only injured, and the young man was stopped before he could shoot anyone else. In the same time frame, the police foiled a plot by four teen-agers who wanted to shoot up a school in Tuolumne, Calif. On Monday of this week, Philadelphia-area colleges and universities were put on high alert because of rumors that another shooting was planned. On Tuesday of this week, police arrested a man who prompted a lock-down at the Community College of Philadelphia. Just today came news that a student in Watertown has been arrested for threatening, on Facebook, yet another school shooting.

As a country, we are facing an epidemic of gun violence. Please, I am begging you to take action to help prevent more tragedies like this. We have had far too many in the last 20+ years, and every single time, we do nothing more than offer prayers and condolences. We weep at the funerals, we cry, “Why, Lord?” … and then We. Do. Nothing. Not. One. Damned. Thing.

I am not writing to ask you to outlaw guns. That is not going to happen, and I do not believe that is necessary to make our country a safer place. While I do not own a gun myself – because I have an issue as a priest owning a gun – many members of my family are gun owners. Several are hunters, and I am a beneficiary, in that I get to eat what they shoot.

What I am asking – begging – you to do is to make it at least as difficult to get a gun as it is for me to get a driver’s license. Pass legislation that would require everyone who wants to own a gun take a class first in order to learn gun safety, as I did to learn to drive. Require everyone to then take a test, as I was required to do to get my driver’s license. Require every gun owner to register their guns, just as I am required to register my vehicles. Require every gun owner to carry liability insurance on each gun, as I am required to do on my vehicles. Require gun manufacturers to do more to make guns safer via “smart-gun” technology, just as auto manufacturers are required to make cars safer. Require every gun manufacturer to report the serial number of every gun, as auto manufacturers are required to do. Require every gun seller to report the sale of every gun, as auto manufacturers are required to do.

Despite what some rather radical people say, gun ownership in this country is not a “God-given” right. It is, however, a Constitutional right. Rather than focusing on the latter half of the Second Amendment, I am begging you to remember its entirety: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Please note the phrase I have underlined: “well-regulated.” How is it possible that in this country, we can regulate the dickens out of nearly everything that endangers people except guns?! How is it possible that in this country, we are willing to let anyone buy a gun, at any time, without a background check to determine whether they are even allowed to have a gun, so long as that sale is made at a gun show? How is it possible that in this country, where we are willing to impose all manner of rules and regulations to keep the people safe from poorly made goods, we are not willing to impose the same manner of rules and regulations for guns? How is it possible that shooters can buy thousands of rounds of ammunition on-line without any questions being asked, and without it being reported? If I were to purchase, on-line or in person, an extraordinary amount of ammonium nitrate, I would be reported immediately. If I were to even attempt to purchase dynamite, on-line or in person, without a proper license, which requires a background check, I would be reported immediately. And yet we allow people to buy ammunition in extraordinary amounts?

What, I demand to know, is the problem with regulating guns?!

Rather than focus exclusively on the Second Amendment, I am begging you to look at the overall purpose of that marvelous document, stated so clearly in its Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Allowing unrestricted access to guns does nothing to establish justice. It does not insure domestic tranquility. Our common defense is provided by our legal authorities and our military; private citizens have nothing to do with common defense, since their focus is on themselves and what they want to do. How can we promote the general welfare when our children – our future – are being gunned down with such regularity? And I can assure you there are no blessings, there is no liberty, and our posterity is threatened when guns are so prevalent, and misused so much.

All of us realize that easily accessible guns means that it is easy to use them. Far too easy. Study after study has shown that having guns easily accessible leads to increased gun usage, particularly in spur-of-the-moment arguments that escalate out of control, and in suicides. So why, I demand to know, do we not require gun owners to lock up their guns? Every other item used to kill people is required to be locked up. And guns aren’t?

Senators and Congresswoman, I serve on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, where we have far too many deaths. In the 20 months I have served here, I have officiated at more than 100 funerals, more than 200 wakes. Unlike most everything else on the Rosebud, death abounds. It haunts the people day and night. I cannot tell you the number of times I have cried over the deaths of the people I serve here.

But the hardest wakes and funeral I have done – the absolutely most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, soul-tearing wakes and funeral I have ever done in my nearly 20 years of ministry – took place just two weeks ago.

On 20 September 2015, I buried a young man here on the Rosebud who used a gun to take his own life. He fell victim to the insidious and highly contagious disease known as suicide. The gun belonged to a relative, who had not locked the gun case, so that it was far too easily accessible. We do not know for sure, but perhaps – just perhaps – if that gun had not been so easy to steal, that beautiful young man would still be with us. Instead, we have laid to rest a 20-year-old who needed more mental-health care than he was allowed by health insurance, who had promised his family he would not fall victim to suicide and yet, because that damned gun was right there, broke that promise, borrowed his brother’s bike, rode out to a nearby gravel road, put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. He was found within minutes, but it was too late. All of us gathered for his wakes and funeral wept. All of us mourned. All of us wondered, “What if …

Senators and Congresswoman, please … do any of you really think it is acceptable to spend as much time as we do training our children – our babies! – to hide and keep quiet in schools in order to protect them? Is it really acceptable to throw up our hands in defeat and say, “There is nowhere safe for you, my child?”

I will not fall victim to the idea that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” No, sirs. No ma’am. I will not accept that canard. Do you realize that there was at least one person, and it is thought more, at Umpqua Community College with a gun? Yet not one “good guy” drew or fired a weapon, because, according to at least that one person, he was afraid he would be shot by SWAT officers. Never mind that most “good guys” are not sufficiently trained to react properly; just look at the case in north Houston in late September where a “good man with a gun” shot the victim in a car-jacking, missing the perpetrators completely.

Instead, I believe that working together, we can make life better for all of us in this nation. We can do what the Israelis do, which is to highly regulate who has a gun, and how they get it, and makes all gun owners spend one day a year undergoing recertification for their gun licenses. We can make it at least as hard to get a gun as it is to get a driver’s license. We can close the loopholes that allow gun-show sales without background checks. We can license and insure gun owners and their guns. We can restrict the types of guns that private owners can buy. We can outlaw ammunition that shreds people to pieces. We can limit the amount of ammunition any one person can buy. We can set up a bipartisan Select Committee on Gun Violence, as Rep. Nancy Pelosi has requested, and within 60 days, we can propose sensible gun laws.

I assure you, if you are brave enough and care enough about the people you represent, you can lead this country to a safer place. Because together, we can do so much more to protect the people.

We can save the lives of thousands of children.

Please. I am begging you. Be the heroes in this debate. Stand up for the children of this land. Pass sensible gun laws.

Your faithful servant and constituent,

The Rev. Dr. Lauren R. Stanley

Priest-in-Charge, Rosebud Episcopal Mission (West)

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