Night into Day

Isaiah 62:1-5
For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.

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Ever since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, gun violence has been on our minds. We must work and pray that these recurring national nightmares end. We must work to turn night into day.

For America’s sake we will not keep silent, and for the world’s sake we will not rest.

Gun violence is still on our nation’s mind. But it’s not just Sandy Hook or Aurora, Colorado or Virginia Tech. No, it’s also 500 gun deaths in Chicago last year and the year before that and the year before that—many of them children, black children who, evidently, aren’t worthy of national news or presidential commissions.

No, it’s not just Sandy Hook and Chicago. It’s more gun deaths in America than all the American troops killed in every American war combined. It’s not that Americans are more deranged than other people. It’s just that we have way more guns. We are 5% of the world population owning 50% of the world’s guns.

It’s not just Sandy Hook and Chicago. It’s 30,000 gun-related deaths per year, half of them suicides. Many of those, according to mental health professionals, might not have succeeded had a gun not been so easily available.

It’s not just about Sandy Hook or Chicago or suicides. And it’s not just about our citizens stocking up on assault weapons. It’s also about a culture of violence. It’s our Department of Defense stocking inordinate piles of weapons, bombs, and aircraft carriers in greater numbers than the next 10 nations combined!

How can the leaders of this administration stand up and say with a straight face: we can’t trust you citizens with assault weapons. How can they say that? How can they say that when our military has enough weapons to destroy the world several times over? Who else is flying drones over other nations? Who else is killing school children from the air?

We are sustaining a culture of violence.

A little humility and contrition would be in order from this administration—not to mention a long-overdue rebuke of the movie and video game industry. If the second amendment isn’t absolute, neither is the first.

We’re living in a culture of violence stoked by acute and chronic fear.

The day after the Sandy Hook massacre, I was standing in the grocery line when an iconic “little old lady” behind me said to her friend: I’m so glad I got my gun before this happened. I’m afraid I’d never get one now. Which is why guns flew off the shelves. Fear. And more fear. And it’s growing like cancer.

It’s true. Many of our fellow citizens really and truly fear our own government and its agents. Two years ago the FBI arrested a certain heavily armed and well-regulated militia in Michigan that was prepared to murder law enforcement agents in order to provoke insurrection against the government. I’m pretty sure that type of “well-regulated militia” was not the kind of militia our nation’s founders had in mind in the second amendment. And that’s but one of many paramilitary groups armed to the teeth and afoot in our country.

Still, the second amendment is to be cherished—in its entirety.

Ironically, it seems a lot of people who think they are brave citizens have unwittingly become subjects. They have become slaves of fear, cynically manipulated by fear-mongering tyrants, including the propaganda of a certain, once noble organization now thriving on the devil’s lie that guns don’t kill. Clever slogan. But, really, what sane person believes such a thing?! Guns kill. Period.Wake up and smell the blood on a certain schoolhouse floor!

Our nation seems to be in the grip of a deadly fetish. Maybe the church should start talking about “demonic powers” once again, powers that possess institutions and blind good and decent people to simple truth and righteousness! And if that be so, it means we must take prayer more seriously than ever because, as the Apostle Paul put it, we wrestle not with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers in high places, which includes sinister powers swaying elected officials with the root of all evil, the love and lure of money.

Prayer—as Martin Luther King, Jr. believed—is one way to confront a demonic situation. It’s not the only way; but it is a powerful way.

The Beloved in our midst turns water into wine, and can certainly turn fear into trust, bitterness into joy, foolishness into wisdom, and anger into peace. The Beloved longs for our nation to be healed, to be called a delight and no longer desolate and forsaken of our senses and our heart.

You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight.(Isaiah 62:4)

So, yes we should pray. And try everything else we possibly can, including important symbolic gestures.

New laws banning military style weapons and requiring universal background checks can be effective but only up to a point. And a small point at that. Laws are not enough. Laws are necessary but not sufficient. Look at the evidence. Do not ignore the studies. Things are complicated but not impossible.

Mental health screening including medication and reporting can be effective but only up to a point. And a small point at that. Finding a potential mass murderer by psychological screening, as one psychiatrist put it, is like finding a needle in a haystack. And if counselors start disclosing confidential findings to the police, people who most need counsel are less likely to seek it. This too is complicated but not impossible.

And, by the way, many health professionals resent the sudden inclusion of mental illness in the discussion of gun violence as if mentally ill people are dangerous people. It’s just not so. Only 4% of violent acts in this country are committed by mentally ill people. 4%. It’s far more likely that a mentally person will be a victim of violence. Mental health care is necessary but not sufficient. Look at the evidence. Do not ignore the studies.

Long, long before Sandy Hook, our nation could have been providing way more mental health resources for children and youth. Not just for public safety but for simple health and wellbeing. For the price of one aircraft carrier we could put full-time mental health counselors in every school.

I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Our faith tradition has warned us about violence for a long, long time. Cain killed his brother Abel and it’s been murder being human ever since. According to that mythic folk tale, God accepted Abel’s gift of a lamb but rejected Cain’s gift of fruits.

Cain was furious. His rage fermented. And then one day he murdered his brother in cold blood. Why? The Great Ancestors seem to suggest that favoritism and injustice, real or imagined, from whatever source, drives people to anger and unresolved anger drives some people to murder. If only Cain could have attended an anger management seminar!

The folk tale of Cain and Abel isn’t about history. It’s about our existential predicament as human beings in a violent and unjust world. All of us are vulnerable to injury, anger, and revenge. And much depends on circumstances. Many people are born into social, economic and political conditions that exasperate every frustration with life. It’s not fair. But it is reality.

After killing his brother, Cain wandered East of Eden and, we are told, eventually built the first city, a community, where he could be safe from violence lurking out there somewhere.  Or was it inside? Cain was haunted by fears—as we all are in one way or another.

Cain needed a community. And that’s been our quest ever since—a quest to build a city, a beloved community where all can be safe despite their fears—real or imagined. That city—or we might say, that possibility for community—is ever before us.

Someday the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every one shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and none—NONE—none shall be afraid.

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City of God
Let us build the city of God.
May our tears be turned into dancing.
For the Lord our light and our love
has turned the night into day.