Many people have had many things to say in the wake of yet another horrific episode of mass murder and psychological violence; this time in the early hours of Sunday morning, June 12, in a nightclub named Pulse in Orlando, Florida. Cold statistics on a page add up, they say, it is the worst such event in United States history: fifty dead, more than fifty more wounded. (I doubt that, because I’d bet money I cannot afford to lose that to begin with Native Americans were slaughtered in the late 1700s and 1800s in groups far larger than 50 – but that’s another reflection for another day.)
It is a misleading set of figures in another way: there is no way to calculate the grievous and mortal wounds to the psyche and spirit of family members, friends, staff, survivors, responders, and people of the Orlando community and the world. Parents of the innocents of Sandy Hook (Newtown) and other similar events have written open letters to this newly devastated community in an effort to offer some sliver of hope while dealing with the white-hot flashbacks of their own living hell.
This has to change. We’ve rapidly legislated and considerably funded a greater response to the prevention of the transmission of the Zeka virus, than to the prevention of death by automatic and semi-automatic weaponry.
People, lots of them, will tell you that I don’t know much, but here is what I do know:
Hearts and lives are shattered and broken, and the wounds, physical, emotional, spiritual, will continue to ravage many every waking moment, and many sleeping moments, for the rest of their lives.
I know that my sisters and brothers live in fear daily – some are LGBTQ; some are Muslim; ALL are created in the image and likeness of God.
I know that far too many have become numb to the news of such violence and tragedy. I know that the Houses of our Congress sold its collective soul to the devil, with an approving wink from the NRA, when it looked the other way after the massacre of children at Sandy Hook (Newtown) and failed to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines and clips.
I know that that there is no need for ordinary citizenry to possess automatic and semi-automatic weaponry or high capacity clips and magazines. I know that purchasing a firearm and can be done at a legitimate gun shop or sketchy and unregulated gun show as easily, and more frequently, than purchasing a decongestant (pseudoephedrine) from the pharmacy. I know that military and law enforcement personnel have to be qualified (tested) on the possession and use of even their standard issue pistol every year and often multiple times a year, but we require nothing, or next to nothing, of the general population.
I know that pistols were designed for self-defense; rifles and shotguns for self-defense and hunting; and any AR -, AK-, or other automatic or semi-automatic rifle or carbine was designed with the single purpose of killing people, lots of them, as quickly and lethally as possible. I know that I have yet to hear, via a single news or statistical report, that such a weapon has been used to legitimately defend a home from invasion. They have to go.
I know this: “weeping spends the night…” (Ps 30:5) – and this night is too damn long
I know that rage, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, poverty, drugs, evil, and religion are blamed for Orlando, Newtown, and last night’s murder in “your town.” I know that they are the fertilizers of fear. I know that blame is wasted time. Blame does nothing: nothing to help, nothing to comfort, nothing to heal, and nothing to change
I know that change… is… possible, and that certain changes are proven, proven, to have a big effect. Australia and several countries in northern Europe have enacted laws that have done nothing to impair hunting, but effectively reduced/eliminated mass killings.
I know that the only change I can absolutely insure is in me. I cannot change anyone else. Further, my teachers, Rabbi Edwin Friedman and Pastor Peter Steinke, have taught me two things: 1) that when I change the systems of which I am a part will experience change, and 2) systems resist change, so be prepared for them be resist/fight back with all their force.
Here is my change: It was a “Jesus come to me” moment a few days ago in the quiet of my morning routine. I had to face the fact that I’m not usually a single-element litmus test kind of person. I like decisions, and I don’t like putting them off. But, as those who know me best will tell you, I try to examine all the moves on the chess board, and several layers on down as well. Life is intricate, and I like its intricacies. I have to change that now. This is simple.
This is the change. To every candidate for any office with the power to legislate, if you want my vote, you will have to pledge to do all in your power
- to ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons and high capacity clips and magazines
- to ban all sale and transfer of firearms except through licensed dealers
- require universal background checks from a common database
- strive to insure quality, accessible, affordable mental health care for everyone
If you do not commit to do this (or more of this than any other candidate), regardless of your other positions, you will not get my vote.
I’m committing, with God’s help, to make this change in myself. The real-world evidence is that this will make a difference; it will save lives. And I will continue to ask my God to continue to show me other way I am to change.
Now I use this “pulpit” to invite, challenge, and implore you to change. Yes, weeping spends the night; but joy comes in the morning. It comes, in the words of Desmond Tutu, because, “Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.” Yes, “joy comes in the morning” (Ps 30:5), but when the morning comes will actually be determined by us.
Shalom, salaam, peace,
[This post derives, in part, from a challenge to change I made at Shalom, Salaam, Peace: An Ecumenical and Interfaith Service of Prayer and Remembrance held at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul on June 17, and a sermon I preached on at services on June 19.]