“Beating Swords into Plowshares” or “Yes, I Want To Take Your Guns”

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I should be honest.  I don’t want all of your guns taken away.  You can keep your hunting rifles and shot guns; guns you use for sport.

And I know that puts me at odds with some people, even people within my own congregation.

But I want to take away your handguns.  And I want to take away your assault rifles.  And I want to take away your high capacity clips*.  And I want to take away your ability to sell your guns to anyone you want.

I do; I have to be honest, I do.  And there are reasons.

The number one reason is because I’m about to have a baby. And in 2012 we had over 500 homicides in Chicago.  In the past month alone we’ve had half a dozen shootings in my neighborhood, most before 10pm.

I walk to Starbucks before 10pm.  I walk to the gym before 10pm.  I walk to the 7-11 before 10pm.  And when we have a baby, we’ll walk with the baby.

And I want your guns gone because I want my baby to live, along with everyone else who wants an ice cream fix at 9pm.

And I know there are gun safety classes.  And I know there are locks for gun cases, and safe handling procedures.

I get that.  But I also get that we could offer tank-driving courses…it doesn’t mean I’d like for just anyone to be able to buy a tank.

And I understand that we’re having a discussion about rights, and about ownership, and about the freedom to do what one pleases.

But my baby has a right to live.  So does yours. They have a right to walk down the street.  And I’m not worried about you shooting my baby; that doesn’t worry me.  I’m worried about that other person shooting my baby.  With your gun.

That worries me.

And I have to be honest, I’m not sure how a Christian can interpret Isaiah 2:4 without questioning ownership of weapons that can cause death on a massive scale, which I think we can recognize as war:

God shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

The prophet is talking about nation rising up against nation; I see that.  But when you live in Uptown…

…or Kenwood…

…or Albany Park…

…or Inglewood…

…or any place you find dividing lines…

…people choose their nation.  War happens.

And they defend their nation.  Sometimes with your gun.

Or when we have people who have an imbalance in their brain, or who have unending despair to the point of delusion, or who become paranoid to the point of insanity, or who are just plain assholes with nothing to lose, they become a nation of one against the world.

And they defend their nation.  Sometimes with your gun.

And despite what the arguments might claim, I cannot conceive of how more guns make us safer.  I want teachers to teach, not to shoot.  I want playground attendants to watch the monkey bars, not scope out targets.

I want tools to fit the situation.  Teachers teach.  Playground attendants monitor the playground.  They fit the situation. A handgun is a tool for only one situation: killing a person.

They’re designed to do that.

And I’m well aware that a hunting rifle can kill, as can a shotgun.  I’m also well aware (because I’ve hunted) of the amount of time it takes to reload, to use, their bulk…

Not the weapon of choice for someone with ill intent.

As a father, as a pastor, as a Christian who takes Isaiah 2:4 seriously, I don’t want to let you keep your gun.  I’m sorry.  I really do sympathize.  Freedom is important, we must be a free people.

But my baby must be free to live.

And I know this problem is bigger than you having a gun.  It’s about mental health support, and about poverty, and about wellness.

It’s about the fact that we teach violence.  As Isaiah says, “we shall study war no more…” except funding for cancer research by the government versus military spending was roughly 5 billion to 144 billion in 2008.

So please, stop saying we’re a Christian nation.  When this statistic changes we can talk about that claim…

We teach violence with our pocketbooks.  We call it defense, but it is violence.  And I’m not saying we don’t need to defend ourselves; what I am saying is that we should call a thing what it is.

Defense spending is paying money to learn war.

And in learning war, we teach war.

And then we wonder why people shoot other people.

And I’m a reluctant Christian at times because I often hear people make the case that somehow the freedom to buy and sell firearms is connected to the freedom that God desires for the nations.

Read Isaiah 2:4.

Yes, yes, I know there are other scriptural examples of God supposedly encouraging nation to rise up against nation.  But the prophets are the conscience of the people, and despite what historic redactors might want you to read, Isaiah speaks a word of honesty.

We must beat our handguns into something else; we must beat much of our defense spending into something else.

And I know you’re reluctant to do it.  But I’m asking you to do it for my child, and your child.  I don’t care if he/she has the right to own a handgun, but I want them to have the right to live, to go to school, to walk down the street without being shot.

We can start unlearning war.  And perhaps a good way to do that is by making the tools for war unavailable to just anyone.

After all, tools should fit the situation…

*Apparently “clips” are different from “magazines” according to responders (see below).  Needless to say, I’ve only hunted with shotguns, and haven’t had to use these items.

“Trayvon Martin and Liturgy” or “We Have Tools To Counteract This…”

I live in Chicago, not Sanford.

And yet, I find myself in Sanford a lot lately.  Not physically, of course.  Just mentally.

I find myself there because, well, the streets of Chicago can be scary, too.  There are times when I’m walking around my neighborhood and I’m looking for the suspicious character…and find myself being the suspicious character in some neighborhoods.

But luckily, I have a tool that counteracts the fear of suspicious characters.  I’m not talking about a gun, a baton, a taser, or some other self-defense tool or technique.

I don’t have those.

I have “The Peace.”

“The Peace” is what I share every Sunday morning at my church, where I go around to shake the hands of people I know, and people I don’t know.  And as I do it, I say, “The peace of God be with you!”  It’s a peace that I extend with my hand.  It’s a peace that I, sometimes, extend with a kiss.

It’s a peace that I extend to everyone.  Everyone there.

And I do it, week after week, first and foremost, to teach myself.  To teach myself how to be the peace, to live in the peace of God, that peace that I’m extending.

Secondarily, I do it to receive the peace of the other person.  To allow myself to be vulnerable to them, to receive their blessing, that we hold to be the tangible blessing of God.

My hope is that in living in this rhythm of intentionally greeting people I don’t know on a weekly basis, I might be shaped and formed into a person who doesn’t fear the stranger, the “other” in front of me.

Some weeks I feel it “takes” better than others.  But I go back, week after week, believing that the process is teaching me a spiritual muscle memory that will pay off.

And why?

Because otherwise we end up worshiping idols.  Like the idol of security.  Security that comes with packing a firearm with you.  And as a good friend said recently, “The idol of false security always demands blood.”

And that’s what we saw in Sanford: the idol of false security taking its blood payment.

But for those of us who profess to be Christian, we have a different model, a different norm that we practice week after week in the liturgy.  The Peace can teach us, if we pay attention, that vulnerability leads to relationship, that openness leads to community.

The Peace can teach us how to act with courage, and not to seek out false security.  Courage, as I see it, is holding the appropriate amount of fear, but stepping forward nonetheless.

If Christians profess the faith of a Christ who is calling the universe toward unity (read Ephesians 1 if you’re wondering what that mystery might look like), then why are we so silent on this issue?  Why are we not lifting up the tools that we have, that we use, that we practice to counteract this issue?!

I think we are inactive, and largely silent, because we fail to take The Peace seriously.  We don’t reflect on the liturgy anymore; it’s simply the bridge between the sermon and communion.

That, or worse, it’s a time to greet our friends. Exclusively.

But what if that time, in every community, could be a time when we actively counteract the violence around us?  Where we reach out to the other not with a sword (or gun), but with an open hand?

Of course it appears as if other things muddy these particular waters.  Racial tensions are very present (and very real).  Policies and laws that glorify the individual rather than the community provide for troubling legal escapes.  But the fact remains that the church has a wealth of knowledge in the communal practice of our liturgical gathering to speak about this issue, and even those that muddy the waters!

Where is that voice?

This is one of the reasons that I’m a reluctant Christian.  We’ve become so numb to our own worship practices that we can’t see them as tools for daily living.  We might as well get in line at at our local chain coffee shop, put in our ipods (and, isn’t it funny that all of those products begin with “i”…we’ve stripped the community out of everything), and never greet those around us.

What does it mean to participate in a meal where all are invited forward and none leave without something?  What does it mean to bathe a person in the waters of grace and tell them, definitively, that we affirm their existence as a child of God?  What does it mean to weekly greet people we do not know, to welcome them into our personal space without asking them for something?  What does it mean to sing corporately songs of longing, songs of peace, songs of lament, shunning our ipods, iphones, i-gadgets for just a while?

You’d think such practices, if internalized, could be life changing.

Or, in this case, life-saving.

We have tools for this.  We’ve just forgotten how to use them.