Do you ever talk to God while your oven preheats? It is as good a time as any, especially if your oven takes a long time to reach 400-degrees Fahrenheit.

This may surprise some people, but I wouldn’t consider myself incredibly religious.

Sure, I hop in my car on Sunday mornings and drive over to a nearby Methodist church that I really like. I enjoy spending time with friends in our beer and fellowship group, and I show up to weekly Bible study with a box of cookies in hand.

On a typical week, that is about the extent of my religious practice. My personal relationship with God has only ever been a faint presence that lurks in the shadows of my mind but is usually forgotten.

Prayer doesn’t come easy for me. I have always struggled to stay focused, and I filter my thoughts as I go, trying to sound the best I possibly can. Prayer has always felt, to me, like putting on a show.

But, on Monday night, with my frozen pizza waiting to be slid in the oven, and “Seinfeld” playing in the background, I started talking to God.

The impetus to this turn of events was the mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee – the 38th in March alone and the 130th in 2023.

The female shooter was armed with “two assault-style rifles and a handgun,” according to ABC News. First responders shot and killed the shooter. Six people were killed – three nine-year-old students and three staff members – and another community is left to grapple with trauma and grief.

Whenever mass shootings occur in schools, I tend to think back to my own high school experience. Like many other people, I remember what it is like to participate in active shooter drills. It was as common as a tornado or earthquake drill.

We would all crouch in the corner of the room, close the blinds, stay quiet and wait for someone to jiggle the doorknob to test if it was locked or not.

Looking back, it astounds me at how unfazed we were at the fact that the potential for gun violence was as real or as likely to occur as a tornado or earthquake.

My frustrations, realizations and inner turmoil came flooding out of me as I paced the kitchen floor and talked to God like I was talking to a friend on FaceTime.

I didn’t bother asking God why this happens or why they don’t intervene. We already know why mass shootings occur.

Instead, I admitted to having tremendous hate in my heart for those who value things (NRA money, guns, power, etc.) over people. All my deepest and darkest thoughts came tumbling out.

God got an earful. I let go of that internal filter that had kept me from attempting prayer in the first place. Prayer became easy for me in that moment once I saw it as an opportunity to have a conversation with an open-minded friend.

I let the expletives fly, too. God can handle the “F” word. I promise you won’t get smited.

While this 20-minute rant felt cathartic and helpful, it is important that I convey to you that I don’t believe that prayer alone can stop gun violence.

“Thoughts and prayers” has become a tainted phrase for me. I don’t take politicians or gun-worshippers seriously when they claim to care about protecting kids and then quickly tweet out a copy-and-paste “thoughts and prayers” statement that is eerily similar to the one they posted a month ago.

What angers me more than anything is the swiftness of action they take when seeking to ban books, drag shows, TikTok, “woke” curriculum, reproductive care, gender-affirming care and so on.

The number-one cause of death for children under 18 is gun violence — more than car accidents and cancer.

Going to a drag brunch will not traumatize or fundamentally harm your child or teenager. But watching classmates and teachers get shot and killed most certainly will. We are already hearing from young adults who have had to live through multiple shootings.

“I don’t ever think you ever get over something so traumatic or so tragic, even if it’s not in your community,” Jaqueline Matthews said in a TikTok video she posted during the Michigan State University shooting that occurred in February of this year.

When she was in sixth grade, Matthews attended a nearby school in Newtown, Connecticut, the day of the Sandy Hook shooting. She was crouched in the corner of her classroom for so long that she sustained a PTSD fracture in her back.

Matthews goes on to say, “The fact that this is the second mass shooting that I have now lived through is incomprehensible.”

One of the things that gives me hope through all of this is knowing that there are so many outspoken activists and advocates doing the hard work of trying to make change happen.

David Hogg, a founder of March for Our Lives and survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, has been a strong advocate for gun-safety measures on and off social media.

After Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn tweeted about the shooting, Hogg swooped in and offered up some much-needed editing to the tweet, highlighting her affiliation with the National Rifle Association.

He is not wrong. Senator Blackburn has received more than $1.3 million from the NRA (this includes the 2020 election cycle). The power of prayer has nothing on the power of money.

And let’s not forget to mention Rep. Andy Ogles, who represents the district where the Covenant School shooting took place.

A photo of Ogles’ family came to light this week proudly showing off their guns in front of their Christmas tree while their youngest holds up a card that reads, “Peace. Joy.” How ironic.

But Ogles shared his “thoughts and prayers” on Twitter, so all is good, right? Wrong.

According to The Washington Post, Generation Z and Millennials will become the largest voting bloc by 2024. This is the generation that participated in active-shooter drills.

This is the generation that has watched their friends and family die from gun violence. This is the generation that has had to watch people die on social media over and over again.

This is the generation that says: “Thoughts and prayers are not enough!”

We have the power to support and elect individuals who believe in gun safety and are not beholden to the desires of the NRA.

The first action we can take is to educate ourselves on gun safety policies, so we know who and what we are voting for in upcoming elections. There are many common-sense actions that can take place to make our country safer for responsible gun owners, police, children and the general public.

I may not be super knowledgeable about the Bible, but I do know that faith without works is dead. We need to channel our anger, frustration and sadness into reasonable action. We can transform our prayers into productivity.

To the Second Amendment advocates out there, before jumping up to say that gun safety policies are an infringement on your Second Amendment rights, ask yourself if you are familiar with what “common sense” gun policies actually are.

I encourage everyone to read through this helpful article from Reader’s Digest that challenges us to go beyond the “hollow call for ‘thoughts and prayers’” and explains what “common sense” laws are and how they would be beneficial to society.

Voting is a powerful tool. Let’s show up and show out in our local, state and national elections when they occur.

A 2023 Gallup survey found that “63% of Americans are dissatisfied with U.S. gun laws.”

So, let’s vote like it.

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