Here’s how to help end gun violence with thoughts, prayers, awareness and action

God have mercy on us: there was another mass shooting in the USA yesterday. Five people were killed, including the perpetrator.  An elementary school was one of the targets.

Once again we have failed, as a nation, to protect life and to shield children from the horrors of gun violence.

When the shooting happened yesterday, it had only been 10 days since the previous mass shooting in the tiny church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. It’s barely been six weeks since the massacre in Las Vegas.

As far as mass shootings go, 2017 is the deadliest year in my life of 36 years. This chart is shocking to me.

 

Photo Credit: http://www.economist.com

When I first saw it, I was especially shocked by how the school shootings in Columbine, Colorado, and Sandy Hook, Connecticut, compared to some of the recent shootings. As far as my emotional reactions go, those are probably the most memorable. What is going on in me, in our society, that I am becoming numb to the horror, the headlines–to the numbers of injured and deceased?

We have much to lament. We have much to grieve, to give to our merciful, loving God in prayer; our God who is so eager to help us heal and work with us to create a more peaceful society.

What is a Christian to do, though? How can someone who takes seriously Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence and the Gospel demand to be a peacemaker, get started? How are we to respond in a way that protects all life, that promotes forgiveness and healing? How are we to help all people keep God’s commandment not to kill?

Here are my steps: the plan that is working for me to not stay numb and motionless but instead to keep trying to be a peacemaker in our hurting, frightened world.

It all starts with thoughts and prayers.

Yes; although some may mock our faith and our tendency to turn to God first — and even make games called “Thoughts and prayers” to tease us for it — tracking our thoughts and lifting our hearts to God in prayer is the only way to start.

Let’s listen to the feedback too. If folks tell us that it’s sounds “so profane,” when we say we are offering our “thoughts and prayers,” then we ought to stop communicating with clichés.  Let us turn to God to help us be more creative and compassionate; let’s use our thesaurus for better words. We need to offer our sympathies and kindness, to tell the people of God that we are lamenting, we are mourning, we are sorry.

I find Fr. James Martin’s prayer, “Sad, tired and angry: a prayer in the face of gun violence” especially helpful.

Let us remember though, that prayer is at least half listening to God, to opening our hearts to the Spirit, as Jim McDermott wrote:

But prayer is not just about asking God for stuff, or about me speaking to God. It is more like neighbor kids talking to one another on two cans tied together with string; I talk in one end and hope that God can hear me. But I also listen for what he has to say. God doesn’t just take our dictation. He gets the chance to speak.

Amen, amen. Only God can help us through this mess. Only God can show us the way to peace and provide the strength and grace we need to persevere when we’re overwhelmed. Relying on God and moving forward can be bold. I really like how Sister Susan says it: “prayer is a radical act.”

Education. 

This might include curious, open-minded conversations with those who think differently than you. It can also mean a lot of reading and study, a lot of asking hard questions and pursuing the Truth. (Yes, with a capital T, for Christ.)

Last week, I asked myself a question and came up with a new thought. I often hear people say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” I asked myself if that makes sense, if I agree. And, I realized that, although no object can be in itself evil, if it causes death and destruction then we might have a moral responsibility to remove the temptations, to make such an object less accessible. In the same sort of way that drugs kill, guns also kill. We try to make it difficult for people to have drugs, to protect them from harm. Why won’t we do the same with guns?

Obviously, it’s complicated in the United States because of the Second Amendment. But here comes another thing to learn about, in the way that Elizabeth Bruenig asks in her column, “Do we really understand the Second Amendment anymore?”  I’ll admit that I don’t like guns, so it’s hard for me to empathize with those who enjoy collecting them, who believe that they have a right to own them. I sometimes wonder if the Second Amendment is outdated, if it’s a man-made law misused to protect our greed and let us have more stuff.

The other piece of education is seeing the big picture. I encourage you to do your own social analysis of the USA’s unique gun violence problem and consider how we line up with other nations.

Here are some factual summaries that helped me learn:

How bad is US gun violence? These charts show the scale of the problem

When I studied those charts,  I learned that more people have died from gun violence in the USA than in all the wars we have been involved in throughout our history, combined.

1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days: America’s gun crisis – in one chart

My heart sank and I felt to compelled for the dead and injured when scanned that chart.  And, I realized that I know at least three people who have died by gunfire in the past six years. My heart is broken.

America’s unique gun violence problem, explained in 17 maps and charts

From those charts, I learned that the easy access to guns is part of the cause for such a high number of suicide deaths in the USA.

Then, we move into compassionate, bold action. 

Even if the facts are overwhelming, let’s get to work.

We must protest the violence and advocate for change with all our might. This editorial suggests some excellent local and national groups that we can each get involved in and other ways to “pray with our feet” and act for Gospel-centered change.  Let’s stand up for peace and model forgiveness and teach others how to act in love.

Here’s one way to act: we can be like the folks in RAWtools and melt down guns and weapons, and hire blacksmiths to make them into garden tools instead. What a great way to create life and lasting peace!

Through the grace of God, and our collective praying and acting, may God’s reign of peace prevail and may we live in a world where weapons are needed no more.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks;

One nation shall not raise the sword against another,

nor shall they train for war again.

Isaiah 2:4

Amen! 
Photo Credit: http://visit.un.org/content/knotted-gun-sculpture-un-–-did-you-know

love at the life lines

I am Pro-Life.

I tweeted this to the world a couple of weeks ago: I am #prolife! I want abortion, war, executions, gun violence, discrimination, poverty, hunger and euthanasia to end–honor all dignity!

Also a couple of weeks ago a few of my students participated in the March for Life in Washington, D.C., a peaceful march protesting the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision. I was also aware that mothers were protesting against gun violence at the same time. I wanted to support both movements with one big tweet. Yes I know, I really emphasize non-violent peacemaking and write about opposition to war, torture, violence, poverty and the death penalty in a lot of my blog posts.

The thing is, when it comes to issues of life (and death) I really subscribe to the seamless garment morality. Life is always sacred.; holy; precious gift from God that must always be honored, cherished, and protected from its very beginnings to its natural end. In my walk with Jesus, I continue to feel very clear and confident about those convictions.

Pro-life, in the messy business of Jesus, is not really that simple.

First, life and death matters aren’t always as black and white as we’d like them to be, yet I try radically to state that violence and killing are always wrong. I despise the use of guns, even in self-defense–always to hurt others, always in violence. In many respects I’m a pacifist–willing to radically state I’m opposed to militarization. But then I have to live with unresolved questions: am I okay with the police protecting me by using weapons? Can I accept how butchers slaughter the animals I eat? Do I respect the constitutional right to bear arms? What do Jesus and the Gospel teach me about national defense? Is war always wrong? Being pro-life is not just about expressing an opinion, it is also about grappling with questions.

Secondly, what if it seems like I’m being judgmental when I stand up for my beliefs? Isn’t it God’s job to do the judging and my job to help with the loving? I know there are stories behind every life that must be protected–in the hearing and the protecting we must have compassion and leave the judgement to God. When it comes to standing up against legalized abortion these stories, somewhat like war, get especially complicated. Being pro-life is not just about opposition to killing, it’s also about listening lovingly and providing healthy, just and safe options for all. I’ve worked with women who are very poor and witnessed their struggles in a world with few choices.

Lastly, I feel afraid. I worry that I’m going to offend someone, create more division or simply invite conflict with people who are mean. I don’t like feeling uncomfortable–I love peace and serenity as much as anyone else. I’m not usually afraid of being bold, but I am often afraid of the consequences. Will I be misunderstood? Am I strong enough to love people who are unkind to me? Can I have compassion and be patient when defensiveness explodes out of others? I can become frozen in my fear.

Being pro-life is about recognizing strength in the context of a loving community that holds and encourages us when we tremble. And it’s about being bold.

“Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.”  –1 Peter 3: 13-17

Maybe pro-life is excitement and promotion for what I believe is good more than declaring what I believe is wrong! True, there’s a certain amount of clear-cut morality behind life and death issues and we need to share the truth. Like I tell my students, commandment five is pretty straightforward–Jesus was awesomely clear about the meaning of “thou shall not kill.” History and theology even prove that Jesus’ teachings on non-violence are right on. I love–and follow–Jesus a lot for that.

I guess I’ll keep moving through the mess as I try to live by Jesus’ life-preserving ways, even when it comes to standing up for what is right and wrong. Help me Jesus. Amen!

“I am the way and the truthand the life.” -John 14: 6

"Times Square Church God Sign"
“Times Square Church God Sign”