Lent Three, Sunday service starts off in self-reflection. We sift through the commandments, all ten — one by one. Scripture may trip us up at number six:
Thou shall not commit murder.
Now, I am pretty sure that none of us, either in the pulpit or in the pews, have committed such a crime. But that does not mean, that our consciences are completely clean on this one.
We confess in community. Sins not just against God, but against neighbor, as well. And in the aftermath of the 8th school tragedy this year, as Christians, we need to do everything we can, so, no parent ever has get that terrible phone call; so that every child knows that every adult is doing everything they can to keep them safe and sound.
While tribal politics may drive us to take sides, this, at its heart, is a faith conversation. Personal and difficult.
I am going to share my personal story, not that you may agree with me and not for me to tell you what to think. But I hope that by sharing mine, I can offer a little encouragement for you to share yours. Maybe we can begin to respectfully connect – and talk about what we think we shouldn’t talk about in church.
I am no Second Amendment Sister. I am a Million Mom Marcher from way back when. No toy guns were allowed at my house. Only water pistols and Super- Soakers. My kids were crack shots — gunning down dandelions and blowing away begonias in the backyard. No BB guns, not even cap guns crossed our threshold. At least until….
The dawn of Nintendo 64. One showed up under the tree on a Christmas morn with Zach’s name on it. I think Santa put it there. If Santa put it there, it was a really big deal. Mom and dad wrapped up books and board games. Santa gave you stuff that knocked your socks off.
So welcome Mario and Wario (his evil twin.) Welcome Kirby and Donkey Kong. Welcome Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Lots of fun and games. Lots of jumping over walls, catching stars, and grabbing gold coins. Lots of keys and magic codes to climb from level to level. Zach played for hours on end while his little brother watched in wonder — hoping against hope to take control of that controller. Just two and half years old, Jacob picked it up and has yet to put it down at the age of thirty.
Jacob mastered Mario. He crushed Kirby. He tackled Tetris. He whooped Wario. And “bang, bang, bang,” — arcade style — he bagged hundreds of ducks. The first “stick that made thunder” had made it into our house.
As Jacob matured so did the ratings on his video games. I never really censored the games he played but I would lean over the screen to see just how much blood and guts were on display. “Is that a peace and love game?” I would invariably ask him. “It’s just mummies, mom. It’s just zombies.” So, I bought him “Civilization”, peaceful and educational. “How’s that going, Jacob?” “Great, mom! Gandhi just conquered Genghis Khan!”
Jacob has grown up to be quite the indie gamer. He founded Gaming in Public. On a Kickstarter project , he raised $20,000 for a a game called “Super Dwarf Madness.” Inspired by Tolkein’s “The Hobbit” – “these dwarves are taking back their kingdom with GUNS.”
Well, it was not exactly about peace and love. But it was not all that far removed from Elmer Fudd and his blunderbuss or Yosemite Sam and his six-shooter. “Sticks that make thunder” cartoon style.
Yosemite Sam was “the roughest, toughest, fastest gun-slinger west of the Pecos!” but he couldn’t hit the side of a barn. And every Saturday morning, Bugs Bunny got away with nary a scratch. It was a kinder and gentler time. Remember Sheriff Andy Taylor? No gun. Remember Deputy Barney Fife? One gun and no bullets except the one in his pocket.
These were the only guns my dad would allow in our house: celluloid guns; cartoon guns; sitcom guns; maybe a water pistol or two; maybe even a cap gun. But never, ever the real thing.
My dad was pro-gun-control long before it was politically correct. You see, my Rockefeller Republican father was Chief of Surgery at Greater Southeast Community Hospital in DC. A general surgeon, he took out gall bladders, repaired hernias, removed tumors. He loved his work. But extracting bullets from young men, my dad told us, he hated having to do. He said that he had lost way too many young men on his operating table. Tragic and traumatic, so young and full of life, never to go home again. Never.
NEVER have a gun in the home, my father taught us. NEVER. Guns in the home were anathema to him. In the heat of passion, it was best to err on the side of safety.
This is a lesson learned that I have taken to heart.
In my 63 years, I had never ever even seen a real gun – much less handled one, until a few years ago, I visited the home of a sharpshooting friend. Law abiding in every way, she only shoots tin cans and paper tigers. Proud of her sport, she took out her collection and introduced me to her “sticks that make thunder”. She taught me the difference between a rifle, a shotgun, a pistol, and a revolver. Patiently she explained cartridges, caliber, clips, millimeters and magazines. And she drove home the importance of safeties – the tiny little lever that keeps a gun from firing.
This tiny little lever between this life and the life to come — is called a safety.
Now there is a stereotype that people like me are not safe. Mall shooters and campus snipers are indeed disturbed and deranged. Of that, there is no doubt. But bipolar-me is no more likely to gun you down than anyone else. Regardless, the media often diagnoses the dangerous, as a soul likely off their meds. But it’s simply not true or at least very rarely true. Self-harm, rather than harming others, is much more likely with folks like me.
I have never had a plan to do away with myself. But I do know what it’s like to not want to wake up anymore. Depression can eat you alive just as surely as cancer can.
“Do you feel safe?”, the nurse at Dominion asked me. “No”, I replied. So, she took away my shoelaces and my belt and my cell phone. Dangerous weapons, I guess. First light every morning and last thing every night, we had to answer the same question: “Do you feel safe? Rate yourself on a scale from zero to ten.” Zero and you can go home. Ten – or anything close to ten – and you get to stay a little longer. To stay your hand from doing yourself in. To stay your hand from doing what cannot be undone.
Especially, if at home, you had a gun. God forbid, if I did. Thank God, I did not.
God has nothing specific to say about guns, of course. And biblically confusing, Yahweh vacillates about wether we should be beating those plowshares into swords or those swords into plowshares. But Jesus – he’s pretty clear on the subject. Clearer than Ghandi. Clearer than Martin Luther King.
“I say to all who can hear me: Love your foes, help those who hate you, praise those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. The one who punches your cheek, offer the other cheek…Love your foes and treat them well…. Be just and lenient as your Father. Be not a judge…Be not an executioner. Pardon and you will be pardoned” Luke 6 (trans. Garry Wills)
This is not faithless passivity. This same Jesus, a very angry Jesus, turns over the Temple’s tables. Not just a place of prayer, ‘the temple was the center of worship and music, the center of politics and society, a place of national celebration and mourning. It was the focal point of a nation and its way of life.” (N.T. Wright)
Angry for all the right reasons, Jesus threatens to tear the place down. Forty-six years it took to build, but Jesus says he will raise it again in just three days.
Not resurrected stones, but literally flesh and bone. Not a resurrected building but a resurrected life.
Since the start of this young year, we have prayed a prayer, that I cobbled together and crafted — from an article by the Jesuit James Martin.
Though my hope is that we never need pray it again, I repeat these words in the hope that God strengthen our resolve. So that we may discern what stones not to leave unturned; to discern which tables need to be turned upside down – to preserve the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
Lord God, we ask you to embrace the souls of all the dead and to comfort and heal the wounded, to console family and friends in the face of such tragic loss; to strengthen the hands and hearts of first responders. In Christian charity, we pray for those who have taken innocent lives. We grieve, Lord God, as Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. We are weary, Lord God, of the blindness to this important issue; weary of those who say nothing can be done. Weary, as when an exhausted Jesus fell asleep in the boat after wrestling with the demons of his day. We are angry, God, angry at the corrupt powers of this world that prioritize profits over people: angry, as was Jesus, when he turned over the tables in the temple. Grant us the courage and strength to work for change to preserve and protect the life of all your children. Lord, turn our sadness into compassion, our weariness into advocacy, our paralysis into acts of love.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.