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Finding the power to confront terror in school

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Column by Ben Sheroan, editor

By Ben Sheroan

What concerns occupy the mind of an elementary school student?

I remember worrying about spelling tests, losing lunch money and heading home again with the knees ripped out of my pants after a tumble on the blacktop playground.

I never recall worrying about a gunman shooting up the classroom. Yet I do recall complex and confusing thoughts about aged men in black cloaks busting into the building to take our teacher away.

These peculiar images surfaced as the result of a  teacher’s defiant statement. Mrs. Jacobs taught fourth grade at Vine Grove Elementary School. In the 1967-68 school year, I occupied one of the desks in her classroom.

Morning announcements closed each day with the Pledge of Allegiance. In Mrs. Jacobs’ class, we remained standing and would recite the Bible verses known as The Lord’s Prayer.

“Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. ...”

This occurred every day. Elementary school was the first place that I encountered The Lord’s Prayer.

Mrs. Jacobs was nearing retirement age and had no qualms about speaking her mind. U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 1962 and 1963 prohibiting state-sponsored prayer and Bible readings were of no concern to her.

I remember on multiple occasions, she would proclaim: “If the Supreme Court justices want me to stop, let them come in here and pull me out of the school.”

My juvenile mind trying to process the deep political implications behind her statement developed the mental image of nine gray-haired old men dressed in dark judicial robes storming the room.

“ ... Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. ...”

It’s hard to grasp the evil that descended upon Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It’s even harder to fathom the thoughts that must cross the tender, young minds in grade schools today.

It’s been five generations since the nation’s foremost judicial minds told society to shove God out of the schoolhouses.

Instead, we now have armed police officers patrolling the grounds at some schools. Calls for metal detectors, security cameras, routine lockdowns and other techniques borrowed from prison environments will be next.

Just days after the horrendous massacre, I visited two elementary lunchrooms to watch the bright, smiling faces of youngsters singing traditional Christmas songs. My grandchildren were among the performers.

They sang about the Grinch, about two front teeth and about Momma kissing Santa Claus. Don’t tell the high court, but I also heard “Silent Night.”

“For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”

No easy answers exist for the terror caused by school shootings. Some news stories create issues that exceed my ability to grasp them. Some fears go beyond my willingness to confront them.

But there is one thing I can do: Pray more.

It’s time to trust in a benevolent, loving God. It’s time to take this massive burden and place it before the all-powerful creator of the universe. It’s time to rely upon his son sent to serve as the savior of this evil world.

Just because there’s no Mrs. Jacobs helping kids appreciate the power of prayer and the sanctity of human life inside the building, doesn’t mean that I can’t stand outside and invoke a prayer on behalf of all those precious children.

It’s time to pray daily for every school and every classroom. That’s what I’m going to do.

When it’s impossible to figure out how to respond, it’s time to fall to my knees.

Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com.