Wednesday, January 30, 2013

God & Guns

On an online clergy discussion list I occasionally participate in, a hospital chaplain confessed his weariness and frustration dealing with the aftermath of gun violence.  In his ministry, he regularly dealt with shooting victims.  Their families.  Their friends.  He felt like he was drowning in a rising tide of pain, anger, grief, revenge, and ultimately death and despair. 

He posed a question (in the middle of a rant at what he perceived to be the silence of the church and the Christian community at large), “What does God and our theology have to say about guns?”  

The answers from the clergy who responded were appalling.  Not just in what they said, I found them to be little more talking points.  Reinstating prayer in schools, violence in video games, teaching abstinence when it comes to sex, warning against a government that is deviously plotting to enslave its citizens after it disarms them, and finally even reaching back to the oldies but goodies hit parade, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”   A lot more often than people with pasta do, no doubt.  

Any theology or serious grappling with what God is calling us to be was completely missing from their answers.  

To be fair, I’m sure they thought the same about my responses to them.  Just more talking points from the other side.  That’s a shame.  I think the original question deserves serious consideration. 

So, here is how God shapes my thinking as a follower of Jesus when it comes to guns.

It comes from the Lord’s Prayer.  The prayer Jesus taught us and the prayer we pray together every Sunday.  What are we really praying for in this prayer?   

In the Lord’s prayer, we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...” 

Now maybe there’s a vision somewhere of God’s kingdom as a place where the heavenly host are armed to the teeth with assault weapons and extended ammo clips.  I once saw a tattoo of a cherub wearing an ammo belt across his chubby little chest.  If this is how you envision God’s Kingdom, the Lord’s prayer is pretty much descriptive of your reality I suppose.  But then, you have other issues to grapple with.

Didn’t Jesus tell Peter to put down his sword (as guns weren’t invented yet, you may substitute freely), when the authorities came to arrest him?  A good guy with a sword may not be the best antidote to a bad guy with a sword (and ironically, a slave bystander is the one who winds up losing an ear in the exchange) as far as Jesus is concerned. 

In fact, Jesus’ last public act in his ministry is healing that slave’s ear.  Ministering and healing those caught in the cross fire of violence, even as he is about to be swept up into it himself.  Isn’t this a repudiation of the our violent world?  A world where we turn to weapons to make us powerful and invincible?

Isn’t that the very fantasy that the mass killers were playing out, in Aurora, Newtown, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and so many other places? 

Armed to the teeth, they acted out their power fantasies and in almost every case, wound up dead by their own hand.  The final victims of their own superior fire power and “invincibility” which turned out to be anything but.

When Jesus was arrested, he didn’t shout to his followers to take up arms as he was being dragged away.   Doesn’t Jesus explicitly say to Pilate, “my kingdom is not from this world. If it were, my followers would be taking up arms and we’d have a battle.”  

Like Jesus, whatever power we have comes from another place. 

Jesus call to arms came earlier that night, as he draped a towel over his arm and washed his disciples feet.  He left them with the command, “Do one another as I have loved you.” 

Isn’t this is what we pray for, in the Lord’s Prayer?  Aren’t these are the marks of the Kingdom ruled by the will of God, that we pray will come about here on earth?  

As people who pray this prayer then, we are called to live as midwives in the birthing of this new kingdom.  This is what Jesus meant by calling us out of the world and sending us back into the world.  We are agents of a new order.  An order that is coming, but not yet. 

This is also what we affirm in praying the Lord’s Prayer.  What we pray is predictive of a future time (“your kingdom come”), not descriptive of the present moment.  We are called out of the world and sent back into the world, not as the world will be, or even could be, but to the world as it is.  To the world where guns exist.  To the world where Peter had a sword (you may again substitute freely) to draw in the first place.

As those called out and sent back, we are sent to model a new way of relating to this world as it is.  Guns exist, and will continue to exist, but not as expressions of our power and invincibility.  Those things come from another, life-giving place for God’s people.  Guns exist as part of a world that is being overshadowed by a new order.  A new order we are charged to bring about.

In light of the new order that is coming, an order that we pray for whenever we gather in worship, guns can, and should be regulated and placed within strict limitations, along with the chaos and havoc guns can create.  The way that God put limits on chaos in creation.  The very things our hospital chaplain dealt with everyday. 

Enacting those limitations would be tangible evidence of what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer.  Not necessarily the fulfillment of God’s will.  But certainly signs of that Heavenly kingdom drawing near, and that’s what God sent us back into the world to do, isn’t it?   

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Granduer Of The Obvious

I went to the Metropolitan Washington DC Together in Mission event on Saturday.  The speaker was Brian McLaren.  I’d read a couple of his books, and sort of knew what to expect.  Solid thinking presented in an accessible way.  A trademark generosity of ideas and spirit that marks his work. 

I don’t want to go into detail now, other than to say I thoroughly enjoyed the day.  McLaren lived up to his reputation.  What I’ve been reflecting on most from hearing him speak is the way the truth hides in plain sight. 

Listening to McLaren was a little like watching the sun come up.  Something that happens every morning, without exception.  A perfectly ordinary event.  So ordinary, most of us don’t bother getting out of bed to see it. We’d much rather sleep.

McLaren had a way of peeling back the ordinariness to reveal the grandeur of the obvious. 

This is, it seems to me, the job of both the pastor and the poet.  To just see what is there to see.  To point out the eternity tucked away in the ordinary comings and goings, the risings and the settings that define the borders of our lives.   God is in these mundane places and events.  

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Gun Violence...Let's Do What We Can

This morning, I heard NJ Gov Chris Christie explain the evolving conservative position on gun control.  It must be part of an overall focus that addresses violence in our culture.  Guns can't be singled out.  This broad stroke approach includes, mental health care, violent video games, and violence in the media. 

Christie said it’s not healthy for kids to be blowing people away in their basement for hours in violent video games, like Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, apparently did.  Christie went on to say that he and his wife do not allow these kinds of violent video games in their house. 

While I applaud the Governor, and agree with him about the violence of American culture, I disagree with his conclusion that you can’t deal with guns except in a larger cultural context.  This entirely misses the point.  You have to start somewhere.  And guns are by far, the most lethal expression of violent culture.  The culture with fewer guns is by definition, less violent.

The only means we have of changing our violent culture is by changing the way the culture manifests itself.  In other words, to address guns IS to begin changing a violent culture.  Moreover, it is the easiest part of the violent culture to begin fixing.  Here’s why it’s important to do what we can do. 

Most people are perfectly capable of distinguishing the fantasy world of violence in a video game with violence in real life.  However, for those who find that distinction harder to make, i.e those with mental and emotional illnesses, it’s even more important for the culture to reinforce the distinction. 

For example, in the fantasy world of a video game, a player can wreak unimaginable harm and destruction, as Gov Christie rightly notes.  Blowing fantasy people away left and right.  But, when the culture mimics a fantasy video game and makes 100 round magazines and semi automatic assault weapons available in real life, the culture in effect colludes in blurring the line between fantasy and reality.   It invites those with mental or emotional illnesses to step across that treacherously thin line, and provides them the tools to do it.

There are no quick fixes to cultural violence.  We can choose to focus on what lies beyond our control, and use that as an excuse to do nothing, or we can change what we have the power to change, and take it one step at a time. 

Governor Christie, let’s roll up our sleeves and change what we can.  Now.