Guns and Jesus

In 1968 my fifth grade class went camping for a couple of days at the end of the school year to mark the transition from elementary school to  middle school. It was on this camping trip that I learned to shoot a rifle. They taught me how to load it, aim and shoot it, and clean it.

In the 1980’s my dad worked in Puerto Rico but frequently travelled to Salt Lake City, sometimes with a lay-over in Chicago, where I lived. On one of these visits he had a duffel bag that he put through the checked baggage at the airport so it could go on to Salt Lake City while he stayed with me for a few days. The duffle bag contained some rifles and guns, used mostly for hunting, that he was transporting back to Utah. A friend of his was going to pick it up at baggage claim. I was shocked, but apparently it was no big deal, then. But, can you imagine anyone doing that today?

Many years ago when Dan’s father died Dan inherited his father’s World War II era gun. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of having a gun in the house when we had young children, so we kept it locked away, until we sold it some years later.

When I was a teenager my mother would often say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” 

All of this has lead me to have a complicated relationship with guns. They kind of scare me and I don’t really like them, but people I love own them and use them. My son, who is a Junior in college studying internet security, confidently maintains that no law that restricts guns ownership will solve the problem of gun violence because illegal guns can be acquired in minutes any where in any town.

Will increased gun restrictions help prevent mass shootings? I don't know, but, when Chicago had a law making automatic and semi-automatic weapons illegal gun violence in the city dropped. 

Still, I think the situation today is far more complicated than just employing new laws and restrictions, though they might help. The problem lies in the very fiber of our society - a failure to respect the life of the living, an inability to employ reasonable conflict resolution, and choosing to solve disputes or enforce ideology or enact racism -  by killing other people. 

The world has always been a violent place, particularly when it comes to religion or race or ethnicity. Our Bible is full of stories of one nation killing another. The Middle Ages brought the Inquisition, with Christians slaughtering Jews and Muslims, all in the name of God. There’s the holocaust and the annihilation of Jews in Germany and Poland. Even today genocide is present in many countries around the world creating a refugee crisis with some 60 million displaced persons. And then there is terrorism, shootings and bombings in the name of God.

Yes, the world has always been a violent place. But I just can’t wrap my head around this recent surge in violence. I find myself waking up in the middle of the night wondering how a mother can, in one minute breast feed her six month old daughter and then, a few minutes later kill fourteen people, injure many more, all the while knowing that she would end up dead, too, and leave that baby an orphan. What in the name of God is happening? What, in the name of God, are we supposed to do?

Malachi lived in similar time of chaos. He was a prophet sent by God to guide the people back to God. As Christians we hear Malachi’s words as pointing toward the coming of the Messiah, to Jesus. 

Malachi teaches us that God’s way is restorative, God’s judgment is about restoration - people are made in God’s image, which therefore ought to shape what one does, how one does it, and why. This is a message I truly believe - that God is love and that every human being has the capacity to reveal the image of God.

And yet, even with the word and example of Malachi and John the Baptist and others who came before and after, it’s still complicated.

Admittedly I don’t always know how to navigate the challenges of the world today, not when the very fabric that makes us civilized human beings - the ability to respect the dignity of every human being - has been torn apart and discarded in the name of God, in the name of profit, in the face of individual rights, or any of the other ways people de-humanize other people.

It’s complicated 
and overwhelming 
and I feel numb 
and exhausted 
from the onslaught of violence
 and the media overload. 

What I really want to do is make Christmas cookies and watch old movies and pretend that 
none of this is going on. 

And, I will do some of that. 

But I also have to do more. 

I can’t just pretend like there isn’t critical stuff going on in the world around me.

I have to do the intense interior work of figuring out how to follow Malachi and John the Baptist and make way for Jesus to be born anew inside of me. 

I’m not sure how do that this year, except it begins with prayer. 

And, I think it requires a community of people willing to join together in prayer and action, seeking ways to reveal Christ in the world. 

And I know it includes different responses to conflict and the things that make us different 
from one another - race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so forth. 

It has something to do with love, loving as God loves,and respecting 
the dignity of every human being.

It has to do with building up relationships and building up community and that takes work, intentional work, prayer, and time and a willingness to get to know one’s neighbor: those who live in the house next door, those in the pews around us, those we encounter in the world, the refugee, the stranger.

It’s up to us, people of faith, to figure out how we can best be  the hands and heart of Christ  in this time and place, tending to a broken world  and the shattered lives within it. 

(A reflection on the readings for Advent 2C: Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 3:1-6)


RevAlli said…
Terri, thank you for wrestling with this. I think it is a very strong sermon. I'm wondering about the stories from your family, your experience. Clearly they suggest how nuanced and complicated this whole question is, but they took me off on a path of how I felt about those stories and a bag of guns going on a plane or a gun locked up in the attic. Is this where you wanted me to go?
Terri said…
Yes, I wanted to show that even in my own family, and in my own life, the issue of guns and how they are viewed and used is complicated and disorienting - and I find it astonishing that my dad could, would, do that. And I often forget that for a time there was a gun in my house. I know that some of my parishioners have concealed gun permits and that the congregation is all over the map with the issue. I don't want to imply that the situation is simple or that simply making stronger laws will solve the problem, its far too complicated. But most of all I think we have lost a big piece of our moral fiber, the devaluing of human life. Or, maybe we never really valued life to begin with? Regardless, God calls us to a different way of being, made in God's image, called to be God's love in the world. But how do we do that, now? Again, there is no simple answer....
RevAlli said…
Then your sermon says just what you are called to say. And it says it in a most powerful way. Preach it with confidence.

It would be interesting to trace the path we as a people and we as a species have followed to this devaluing of human life. I wonder what the tipping point was.

Really liked the way you included the history in your sermon.
Terri said…
I've thought more about your feedback, Alli, and made a few more changes in the stories I tell at the beginning, hoping to contain some of the wandering that the original versions might have endured. While I want to show the challenges I don't want to lose people in the process...thanks for your input!

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