Gratitude, Grief and Guns

The following (below) is the text from a Facebook post I created last month after the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It’s incredible to me that it has been less than a month since that shooting happened, and it isn’t even the most recent horrifying mass shooting to make national news and inspire our collective grief and outrage (with the Borderline nightclub in Thousand Oaks, California following closely on its heels). I’m sharing this post here because it was the most commented-on and widely shared post of mine in recent memory, and I wanted to give it a more permanent home than it has on Facebook.

There’s more, so much more. But here’s what I am able to add for now: In today’s climate, it’s easy to numb ourselves to bad news, easy to throw up our hands and declare ourselves helpless and hopeless. Easy to pick a side based on fear, or our old standby beliefs, or a desperate sense of moral superiority (a real weakness for me personally, that one). It’s easy to select one from among a thousand important issues and let that single issue be our guide for all our community-related decisions, including the decision to stand on the sidelines. Maybe because that single-belief idea gives us something solid we can cling to in what feels increasingly like an unending and blinding storm. Questioning our assumptions, seeing nuance, teasing out all the complications is… well, complicated. I’ve been working on that in my own journey, and I have lots more to say and share. Eventually. Probably.

For now, I will share this post with you and — if you are among the 90% of Americans of all political persuasions who believe in universal background checks for gun purchases — I invite you to visit to send a postcard to your representative. It takes five seconds. (Two if you have autofill enabled in your browser.) This is not a slippery slope or a socialist wave or a simple black and white (or red and blue) issue. It’s like safety labels on food, or speed limits in school zones: a reasonable conversation we must all be willing to enter into, bringing our concerns and our wise minds with us. Like the parents who meet up over coffee to talk about why their kids are fighting on the playground, we don’t have to agree on every point of difference between us to handle what needs to be handled.

I have to believe that we can. It’s that faith that keeps me going; I’m grateful for it, and grateful for you.

Wishing you a warm, safe, and peaceful Thanksgiving…


October 28, 2018

To be honest, I am always a little hesitant to speak publicly as a member or representative of the Jewish community. For one thing, the last time I spoke publicly against anti-Semitism, I was viciously (verbally) attacked and doxxed by another Atlanta author (who still, by the way, has a very public platform supported by one of our great local literary institutions, despite open bigotry and a history of harassing other authors).

But there are less fearful reasons, too: I’m not a rabbi or religious scholar; I don’t even read Hebrew. I came to this faith later in life, by free and loving choice. I have not had to face the lifelong discrimination and generational trauma of a faith tradition that has, nonetheless, welcomed me with open arms. And coffee and rugelach.

But my heart is broken this morning. For the family and community of Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. For my own family. For my community. For my country. I am grateful to the Christian friends who have reached out to me this weekend with your condolences and your love and your shared concern for our safety as a community. I am especially honored to have the solidarity of Christian friends of color who also live with this fear and heartbreak.

Some of you have asked what you can do. Some of you are wondering but struggling to find the courage to ask. I have no answers. I know I will have more to say later. But here are my thoughts today:

If you go to church this morning and do not walk past armed guards, police, electronic locks, and bulletproof glass (as is our reality every week, along with mosques, LBGT churches, and others)… That is something to be grateful about.

If you’ve never dropped your children off at religious school and made sure to say “I love you” in case it’s the last time you ever see them (as I do every Sunday – including today), that’s something to be relieved about.

When you go to church and ask your leaders what they are doing to build bridges with minority communities and organizations of other faiths, and there are several committees or events to join, that’s something to rejoice about.

If you ask what is being done and are met with silence or shrugs or platitudes about what a shame it all is, that’s something to get activated about.

If you are present while people who look, act or believe differently than you are being disparaged, marginalized or put down (even behind closed doors) that’s something to speak up about.

If you’re concerned about respect for freedom and journalism and climate and the economy and science and basic human dignity… those are things we should *all* worry about.

If we disagree (or simply feel lost) about how to protect those things, how to implement economic or social policies, how to grow and cherish our shared resources… those are things we CAN and SHOULD talk about.

If you’re presented with politicians who espouse an “us vs. them” mentality, name-calling, bigotry and implied violence as a way to gain or keep power, that is something to VOTE about.

If those with power and position are twisting your faith and values to feed fear, denigrate the weak and divide you from your neighbors, that is something to RAISE YOUR VOICE about.

If you have a chance to show love and acceptance today, to sit with vulnerability and grief rather than rushing to blame, dismiss, or simply scroll on… that is something to be joyfully human about.


“I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love,
even when there’s no one there.
And I believe in God,
even when he is silent…”

– Found on the wall of a concentration camp in Cologne after the Holocaust. (Author Unknown)

MJ Pullen

M.J. Pullen is a distracted writer and the mom of two boys in Roswell, Georgia, where she is absolutely late for something important right now. Her books include quirky romantic comedies and playful women's fiction. She blogs erratically with writing advice, random observations, and reflections on raising very loud kids and dogs. Join her Distracted Readers newsletter list for updates, free content, giveaways and more.

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