Gun violence

Living by the Sword

by Rev. Mindi

American children are nine times more likely to die in gun accidents than children anywhere else in the developed world.

Firearms were the third leading cause of injury related deaths nationwide in 2010.

The CDC reports that 21,175 suicide deaths are by firearms, just over half of all suicide deaths every year.

This year alone, over 62 shootings have taken place at schools, over twelve thousand killed in gun incidents, and almost 25,000 have been injured in gun incidents in the US.

And the list goes on and on and on. These statistics alone, and report after report after report, ought to make us question the plethora of guns in the United States, the attitudes about gun ownership rights and responsibilities, and the overall risk of life when it comes to gun ownership. I know—some of these are criminals with guns. Yes. However, look at the rates of accidental death and injury, especially to children—and we ought to at least question our attitudes about availability of guns.

On Monday, Jerry Falwell, Jr. made the statement that Christians should be arming themselves to shoot Muslims. He later clarified he meant Muslim extremists, but still. “Christians should arm themselves.”

What?

Why in the world should Christians arm themselves? Isn’t this antithetical to the message of the Gospel? To Jesus, the one who saves? Jesus, the one who gave up his own life?

Carol Howard Merritt writes about the reality of domestic violence and murder when guns are present in the home. We all know the church has a history of hiding abuse and covering up domestic violence, persuading women to stay in abusive situations where they are more likely to end up killed by their partner.

Rebecca Sumner writes about a time when she stopped someone with a gun by using her words. And she isn’t the only one—remember this story? It was in 2013 that Antoinette Tuff talked down a shooter in a Georgia school, in an incident where no one lost their life.

Both Carol and Rebecca mention the phrase, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” in their stories. Here’s my story. I know more than one person—who are generally good people, who have been law-abiding citizens for the most part—have, at times, been so angry they pulled a gun on someone who wasn’t armed. Or threatened to pull a gun on someone who angered them. Or talked about going and shooting up someone who had hurt them. Or even pulled out a gun on someone they loved.

Good guys, all with guns, who, if they had their gun with them in that moment, would have become the bad guy. Because it is so much easier to lash out in a fit of rage with an accessible gun. It is so much easier to do something you could never imagine yourself doing if you have a gun. It is so much easier to kill someone, or yourself, if you have access to a gun. And it is nine times more likely that your child will die in this country than anywhere else. So we need to stop saying “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” because more often than not, the good guy will become a bad guy.

Jesus, when met with violence in his arrest, argued against violence. Jesus’ disciples did not carry weapons, even when their lives were at stake.

 Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Matthew 25:51-52

 

How Long Must We Sing This Song?

By Rev. Mindi

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?[1]

O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?[2]

How long, O Lord? How long will we allow another mass shooting to ravage people’s lives and send loved ones into the grave?

How long, O Lord? How long will we say prayers for the victim’s families? How long will we pray for an end to violence? How long will we fold our hands and bow our heads, and do nothing more to change the world we live in?

How long, O Lord? How long will we sacrifice our children for gun ownership?

How long, O Lord, will we blame the mentally ill, among the most vulnerable, without offering health care, support, and the removal of stigma in our society?

How long, O Lord, will we go on allowing this to happen, pointing fingers, without actually making any changes at all?

How long, O Lord, will we allow this to become normal, regular, and acceptable in our society?

How long,

How long must we sing this song?

How long, how long…

‘Cause tonight, we can be as one, tonight…[3]

How long until we are ready to compromise to make change? Or to give up our need to have deadly power over others? What will it take? What more will it cost?

Seriously, how long will we sing this song, and how long will our prayers be empty?

We used to light candles in my church when there was a shooting, for the victims, so we would not forget. I still remember the twenty-eight candles I lit the Friday of the Newtown shooting. But now, there are just too many candles to light, and they have become meaningless.

We’ve all heard the saying, “pray while moving your feet.” I believe it is time to say, “pray while calling your elected official.” Because our prayer without action is meaningless, as faith without works is also dead.[4]

Pray, and register to vote.

Pray, and vote for change.

Pray, and call your elected officials.

Demand that children’s lives matter more than access to unlimited guns and ammunition and military style firearms.

How long? How many more children will die, before we finally say too many have died by gun violence?

 

[1] Psalm 13:1-2, NRSV

[2] Psalm 80:4, NRSV

[3] “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” U2, 1983

[4] James 2:26

 

Death at the Movies

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:13-15)

Could someone please explain to me when texting during the previews of a movie became a capital offense?  It might be slightly inappropriate, but I would even argue that may not necessarily be true.  As long as a phone is put away before the movie begins, who really cares?  I guarantee you that most of those under 40 don’t really see it as a major problem.  And a lot of us who are 50 plus aren’t too worried about it either.   But the fact that Chad Oulson was texting during the previews to a movie, apparently texting his young daughter’s baby-sister, so infuriated another movie goer, Curtis Reeves, that Reeves shot Oulson to death.   Yes, there was apparently an exchange of words and Oulson may have even thrown some popcorn at Reeves, but again where does any of that come close to being a capital offense with Reeves as judge, jury and executioner.

Gun violence is an epidemic in America.  In the small town in which I live, a father was recently arrested for shooting and killing his son over an argument about a football game.  When I tell people about my trip to Israel and Jordan a few years back, they ask if I was scared to travel in the Middle East.  I answer that question by telling folks that the very day we landed in Jerusalem there was a shooting in the school that is just a quarter mile from the church I serve.  A middle school student shot another student as part of a romantic triangle.  Fortunately, the student did not die – but at least two young lives have been forever affected by this incident.    Any research will quickly show that the number of gun related deaths in America is out of proportion to our western, economic counterparts.        (http://www.americanbar.org/groups/committees/gun_violence/resources/the_u_s_compared_to_other_nations.html)  

For a powerful visual image about the tally of gun deaths in America, I recommend this site: http://guns.periscopic.com/?year=2013.  It illustrates that the 11,419 gun deaths in America in 2013 claimed over 502,000 years of life. 

Look, I know that ever since Cain killed Abel people have been killing each other.  But the number of guns and the easy access to them in America has made that killing so much easier.  You take the gun away from Mr. Reeves and there may have been an argument between him and Mr.  Oulson, but it isn’t nearly as likely that someone would have ended up dead.  One of the saddest parts of this episode is that Mr. Reeves is a retired police captain and Mr. Oulson was a former Navy officer.  Here were two people who had given portions of their life in service to their community and nation, and one ended up dead because he was texting when he wasn’t supposed to and the other guy didn’t like it and had a gun. 

We have to do something as a nation.  Too many lives are ending way too soon.  Too many people who become angry and volatile when things don’t go their way are carrying weapons.  We have to do something.  I think most everyone is probably in agreement that Mr.  Reeves should be held accountable and prosecuted to the full extent of the law and if found guilty serve the appropriate time in jail.  But that doesn’t give Mr. Oulson back his life or his daughter back her daddy.  Again, we need to do something as a nation.  And I think the church has an important role to play in this conversation.

We believe in the church that human life is of inestimable value, for every life is created in the divine and sacred image, and when life is lost, especially violently and needlessly, the heart of God grieves. In the text above, from Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, he states that freedom is a wonderful, but dangerous thing.  When freedom becomes more concerned about self than it is about others, it leads to us consuming each other. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said that freedom and liberty, the hallmarks of America society, has to be balanced with responsibility.  And as people die, school children, movie goers, mall shoppers, America has to act responsibly to create a safer, less violent society.

And now, so you know, I am a gun owner.  I own a 16 gauge double barrel shot gun that was handed down to me by my father.  I have taken both my children to target shoot so they might learn proper technique and safety in regard to firearms.  But this I believe, my right to own a firearm isn’t the first concern for me.  The first concern for me, especially as a person of faith, is what can we do as a nation to create a more civil and respectful society.  What are the root causes that underlie our societal violence?  What can we do to address those issues? 

I am asking questions to which I have my own answers and if I could change it all with one great big wand, I would do it in a minute.  But I can’t.  So people with all different sorts of perspectives have to be part of the conversation.  But it has to happen.  Something has to be done.   Every day, 31 people are dying in America at the end of a gun. Some of them are children in school, some of them are shoppers in malls, and some of them are people who simply went to a movie with their wives and got a text from the baby-sitter.  I guess, for me, the right to life trumps everything else and there are a whole lot of folks who have lost that right here in America.

Prayers for our nation.

Don't give up on the work for justice

By Rev. Mindi

As I write this, late on Saturday night after the verdict has been read for the George Zimmerman trial, I’m overwhelmed with emotion.  Sadness for Trayvon Martin’s parents and friends. Grief that our court system failed, once again. Anger that an unarmed teen was killed, for no reason other than he was perceived as a threat because he was black and was wearing a hood. Frustration that racism is alive and well and even more flustered that so many in the United States don’t believe racism exists.

A boy is dead. And there is nothing that can change that. Not even a guilty verdict could have changed that.

I believe, and hope, that most of us Christians would not want retribution against George Zimmerman. God’s justice is not about retribution but restoration. An acknowledgement that racism is prevalent. An understanding that racial profile is real. A push to change our patterns of suspicion. And work to end unjust laws such as Stand Your Ground that allow for someone to shoot and kill another person who is unarmed, who is only perceived as a threat.

But we can’t give up hope just yet. We can’t just pray for the Martins in our prayers and not do anything as the church. We have a voice. We have power that can be used to speak out for justice.

We can work to change unjust laws. The “Stand Your Ground” laws are designed for people to be able to defend themselves on their own property. When they are expanded beyond that, we end up with people taking matters into their own hands, such as George Zimmerman following and then shooting an unarmed teenager instead of waiting for police, or, in an infamous case near my hometown in Alaska, people who had committed a crime who were running away were shot in the back and the shooter was also found not guilty. We can work to change “Stand Your Ground” laws in restricting how they are applied.

We can work to change our cultural attitudes. In our congregations, we must begin preaching against the violence in our culture, the attitude that says live in fear and carry a gun everywhere, the attitude that says everyone who looks different might be a threat, the attitude that violence is the only answer.  We have to work on teaching nonviolence as the way of Jesus, as integral to our faith as our baptism, our communion, our Bible study, our worship. Nonviolence is the way of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

We have to talk seriously about racism. We are not in a post-racial society, not even with a black president. Black men are still profiled regularly, not only by authorities but by everyday people.  I hear racism even in church circles. We have to speak out and stop the stereotypes, stop the profiling that happens. And we have to talk about the fact that we live in a white privileged society, that white women and men will not be suspected of wrongdoing most of the time. We have to talk about the mass incarceration that is occurring of young black men (and I highly recommend purchasing and reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness). We need to talk about race especially in our Euro-American congregations, even when we don’t want to, because we have to acknowledge and recognize our privilege. When only white faces on TV talk about how justice is served, while our prisons are full of young black men, we have to have this conversation.

We have to continue the work for civil rights for all people. While we work for equality for LGBTQI folks, while we work for inclusion for disabled folks, we also have to continue to work for equality, inclusion and justice for people of all races and cultures. We have to work for immigration reform. And we must not give up or assume the fight is over for civil rights for people of color.

I will dare to say it is evil that wants us to believe we are color blind. It is evil that wants us to believe everyone is on equal footing in this society. It is a systemic evil, rooted in our sins of the past that we have never fully repented of, that continues to make white people afraid of black people, that continues to profile young black men and continues to say violence is an appropriate response, especially against black people. We have to repent of this evil, and we have to change, and we have to talk about this in our churches.

Do not forget Trayvon Martin. And do not hate George Zimmerman. Instead of hate, let us use righteous anger to work towards justice. Let us use anger and frustration with the repetitions of sins of the past to repent and work for justice and true equality, in the nonviolent ways of the Prince of Peace, who stood for justice and nonviolence even at the most violent cross of capital punishment.  But please do not let our justice be only passive conversation. Let it be active change, in each of us, in our congregations, and in our communities. This time, let us not give up.

Liberty University Loosens Guns On Campus Rules To Allow Concealed Carry In Classrooms

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/04/l...

A Prayer upon the Death of Children

By Derek Penwell

I’m angry. And maybe now isn’t the best time to write—especially since I don’t have adequate words to express the potent mixture of grief, sadness, and fury.

Children. Little kids in Kindergarten, for God’s sake.

I’m bracing myself for the tired response from gun rights advocates. It’s inevitable. Guns don’t kill people, people kill … blah, blah, blah. I’ve never found this a terribly persuasive argument—even on my best days. But today isn’t my best day. Today—looking into the eyes of my four year-old, trying desperately not to imagine holding his little body in my arms after a gun shot has taken all that is beautiful and kind and good in this world—I can’t even believe those arguments are persuasive to people who think we’d all be better off if everyone had a gun.

I don’t have any coherent argument at this moment. All I have are the images of tiny sheet-draped bodies … and anger. I have lots of anger.

Anger that we live in a world in which people (Sick? Mean? Struggling? Evil? What kind of people are they?) walk into schools, stare into the face of innocence, and proceed to try to blot it out.
Anger that some folks will continue to maintain in the face of the carnage that society has no overriding interest in regulating weapons designed to kill and maim from a distance, simply by contracting the muscles in a single finger.
Anger that God watches over this fiasco in silence. (I’m not defending God on this one. God’s going to have to defend God’s own self, since, at present, I don’t even know where to begin figuring out where God is in the midst of all this. But about the only thing I have right now is the threadbare hope that somehow God is there in the midst of it all.)

I guess that’s my prayer:

God of all children, please be there in the midst of it all. In the midst of the tears, and adrenaline, and stark horror … please be there. And more than that, help us to find you there … with tears on your cheeks and the blood of your children still on your face. We need to know that you’re there with us, in the thick of it … where the vomit and the gore ruin our khakis, and the smell settles into our pores, threatening to become a permanent part of the way the world smells to us.
Please be there, O God. For those parents and friends who feel abandoned by you, please be there in ways that offer if not comfort, then at least the strength to make it through the next few minutes until the next wave hits. For the teachers and the police and the people who have to clean up this mess, who also feel afraid, and sad, and like they’ve failed, please bear them up to be able to face the horror that lies in front of them, and to be able to transform the memories of what lies behind them into something more than just raw terror and disgust.
And for us. Please be there for the rest of us who struggle to figure out how we’ve come to a point where Kindergartners must fear armed strangers in the womb of our educational system. Help us to find the words to put to our rage and despair, to find the words to comfort those who need be comforted, to find the words to speak justice and peace to a world bent on filling graves with the bodies of children, to find the words necessary not to meet this violence with more violence.
Please be there, O God. Please.

I’m a pastor, and part of my job is to help people find words for the experiences for which there are no words. But I don’t have it in me today. I can’t find them.

All I’ve got is a stupid prayer. I wish it were more. I wish we were better.