Responding to Parkland: Lament and Action

Bishops United Against Gun Violence have issued a statement and a call to lament and to action:

In the wake of this massacre, we believe God is calling us to understand that we must not simply identify the social and political impediments to ending these lethal spasms of violence in our country. We must reflect on and acknowledge our own complicity in the unjust systems that facilitate so many deaths, and, in accordance with the keeping of a holy Lent, repent and make reparations.

I’ve posted repeatedly about gun violence and offered resources to learn more, take action, and pray in response to this national crisis. You can learn more by clicking on the “gun violence” tag.

The resource page at the Wisconsin Council of Churches is a good place to begin.

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Christ is killed every day

Christ is killed every day by the injuries that we cannot bear. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows and our first emotion, our first reaction is relief. Christ who lifts responsibility from us, Christ who suffers for us, Christ who takes away our burden and our misery, who stands between us and the world’s dreadfulness, between us and the squalor of our lives, as he was once thought to stand between us and the wrath of his Father. Christ the substitute, Christ the surrogate, Christ who saves us the trouble of being crucified. God will forgive: that is his job; Christ will suffer: that is his.

… And so Christ is killed every day by the injuries we refuse, by what we will not let ourselves feel and know, by the risks we refuse, the involvement we refuse.

Rowan Williams, Holy Living: The Christian tradition for today (2017)

January 25: The Conversion of St. Paul

O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world; Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Caravaggio, The Conversion of St. Paul

Shitty things done on our behalf

Powerful reminder of our shared culpability and need for confession

The Reverend Marcus G. Halley

Sunday, when you kneel (or stand) for the Confession of Sin, remember these words:

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
– Donald Trump.

I could explore ad nauseum all the ways in which Donald Trump is categorically wrong in his assertion that Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries (all conveniently countries dominated by people of color… but this comment is totally not racist) are “shitholes.” I could write about how American and European colonialism stripped these countries of natural and human resources over hundreds of years. I could enumerate how there are many places in the United States that, due to a capitalist system that prizes profits over actual people or care the environment, could resemble what some would refer to as a shithole. I could write about all the exceptions to this false narrative of American exceptionalism that suggests that countries populated…

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She fed our Bread: St. Augustine of Hippo on Mary

He who sustains the world lay in a manger, a wordless Child, yet the Word of God. Him whom the heavens do not contain the bosom of one woman bore. She ruled our King; she carried Him in whom we exist; she fed our Bread. O manifest weakness and marvelous humility in which all divinity lay hid! By His power He ruled the mother to whom His infancy was subject, and He nourished with truth her whose breasts suckled Him. May He who did not despise our lowly beginnings perfect His work in us, and may He who wished on account of us to become the Son of Man make us the sons of God.

 

from Sermon 184, For the Feast of the Nativity

The Song of Mary

These words have been very much on my mind and in my heart this Advent:

He hath showed strength with his arm; *
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, *
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he hath sent empty away.

the full text (traditional language from the Book of Common Prayer):

My soul doth magnify the Lord, *
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded *
the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth *
all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, *
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him *
throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm; *
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, *
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, *
as he promised to our forefathers,
Abraham and his seed for ever.

Church Shootings and the peace of Christ

This past week, I facilitated a workshop at the Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Council of Churches on the topic of gun violence. Members of the Council’s Peace and Justice Commission had put the workshop together hoping to provide resources for clergy and lay leaders to help them talk with their congregations about the constellations around gun violence: domestic violence, mental illness, toxic masculinity, suicide, etc, Our goal was to begin to educate ourselves and others about ways to talk about gun violence in our congregations that get beyond the current polarized debates and see gun violence as a pastoral issue as well as a public health concern.

We included a few items about how churches might respond to the possibility of an active shooter. In fact, participants in the workshop were most concerned about that issue and we spent a lot of time exploring questions around preparedness for an active shooter and balancing our values of openness and welcome with the need for security.

In the workshop, I provided some information about the rise in shootings at houses of worship as well as results of studies examining past incidents.

There have been a number of articles in recent weeks that take a closer look at the dynamics behind church shootings most are not random. The largest number of shootings are related to robberies. Other significant factors include the shooter’s feeling unwelcome or rejected by the church (17% in one study) and mental illness (11% in that same study, cited by CNN)

A recent CNN piece published after the Texas shooting included results from two recent studies:

Drake counts 147 church shootings from 2006-2016. Looking more broadly at all violence at allhouses of worship, Chinn has tallied more than 250 incidents each in 2015 and 2016. Through August, there had already been 173 this year, according to Chinn.”

 

Among the shooters’ motives cited in those studies:

  • Over 25% robberies
  • 17% shooter felt unwelcome at church, or had been rejected
  • 16% domestic violence
  • 14% personal conflict (not family related)
  • 10% mental illness
  • 9% religious bias

The set of resources we offered is available at the Wisconsin Council of Churches website:  It is a work in progress and will be updated.

Two recent articles by Kate Shellnut at Christianity Today explore important aspects of the issue. On domestic violence: Kate Shellnut, “A Top Reason for Church Shootings: Domestic Abuse” Christianity Today, November 7, 2017

Among the statistics she cites:

And on the relationship between “God and Guns” in the minds of many conservative Christians: Kate Shellnut, “Packing in the Pews: The Connection Between God and Guns” Christianity Today, November 8, 2017

As I said in the interview, balancing openness and welcome with the need for safety is an important issue. More important, however, is that we remain true to our call to follow Jesus Christ and to share the love of Christ with the world. In a nation awash with guns, where violence seems to be the first recourse in any conflict, our faith in God must overcome whatever fear we might have, and our witness to Christ’s love must include being agents of reconciliation and models of other ways of resolving conflict and building community.