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In tragedy, let's choose prayer before politics

Roxane Salonen

On Feb. 14, President Donald Trump offered "prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the Florida shootings," adding, "No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school."

As quickly as one might pull the trigger of a gun, an avalanche of streamlined responses burst into cyberspace: "Thoughts and prayers do nothing."

No praying person would suggest action beyond prayer isn't needed, but is it possible our avoidance of prayer helped lead us to this frenzied, forlorn state?

The debate is currently raging, with gun access especially being vigorously scrutinized. But as arguments fly and students find themselves cornered again, I'm peering through the gun-smoke-filled haze at evidence of great spiritual deprivation.

Our first response to tragedy should always be prayer first, politics second. But more and more lately, we're inclined toward charging straight into politics, leaving our humanity in the dust.

On the day of the shooting, a photo of a father whose daughter had attended the Florida school where a young killer let loose appeared on social media. He held up his cell phone showing his daughter's photo; a desperate attempt to locate his little girl.

They found her, among the bloodied dead, but that didn't stop online hecklers from noticing his Trump T-shirt and pouncing on him for his political affiliations: "He's pro-Trump, which means he supports the guy who is responsible for the death of his child!"

If even the most fragile occasions inspire this kind of reaction, where do we go?

A few days after the Parkland massacre, I caught an early morning Tweet by journalist Becky Griffin, or "Hoodie Rebecca" on Twitter, who said about the shootings: "Woman puts baby up for adoption, he grows up to be a violent young man who will spend the rest of his life in prison for mass murder. Tell me more about how abortions are wrong."

Using the mass murder of 17 to justify her abortion activism didn't go well, based on responses of a variety of people — including adoptees. Seems she misjudged how much this wandering world still clings to humanity.

So again, I say, maybe it's time, instead of shouting and blaming, to try prayer. Because on our own, in our flailing anger, we're just as unwieldy as the bullets that claimed young lives, and sorely accommodating the very awfulness we're wishing away.

Elizabeth Scalia, religion writer, addressed well the inappropriate comments toward the grieving father when sharing on Twitter: "I can't imagine anything that better illustrates how making an idol of our ideologies distorts our humanity. Being for, or against, any politician, or any legislation, should not mean the surrender of our essential humanity. Only zealots require like-thinking of those in grief."

We need action, yes, but first, prayer. And there's never been a better time to bow our heads and humble our hearts.

Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. Email her at