Archive for the 'Mass Shootings' Category

Damn Christians Part II

“Because I’m a [damn] Christian.”—Will Campbell

Orlando clubI’d scarcely clicked “Publish” on my last post “Needed-Damn Christians”—when I realized I needed to say more. I’d told the story of the late Will Campbell and his unique ministry to folks on all sides of political and religious divides. I described his presence at the long-delayed murder trial of Ku Klux Klan leader Sam Bowers. Bowers had allegedly ordered the killing of a number of civil rights activists, most notably Vernon Dahmer—in the mid-1960’s! In 1998, thirty-twoyears after the fact, Bowers stood trial again in Mississippi, this time with new evidence and a realistic chance of being convicted. Campbell spent some of the time at the trial sitting with Dahmer’s large family on one side of the courtroom–and about the same amount sitting with Sam Bowers, who sat all alone on the other side. When a reporter asked why he did this, Campbell growled, “Because I’m a damn Christian.”  I concluded that our fragmented society needs more “damn Christians” who will share the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:20) modeled by Jesus and pursued by Campbell, Martin Luther King, and countless others. I said, “I believe the church’s place relative to the red and blue faultline running through American society is standing tall with our feet planted firmly on both sides… with neighbors who are easy to love and with those we struggle to love.”

But I hadn’t said much about how we arrive at that conviction, or what equips us for that uncomfortable and challenging stance. Then the Pulse Nightclub shooting happened early Sunday morning. It brought folks together. It also re-opened some old wounds and re-started some old arguments:

  • Omar Mateen’s anti-gay feelings clearly informed his choice of target. Those feelings still live in many hearts and minds.
  • He was an admirer or supporter of Isis. That’s enough to reanimate both rational concern over terror and misinformed or simply mean-spirited anti-Muslim prejudice. The ongoing investigation seeks to determine the exact nature and strength of that connection in this incident.
  • His primary weapon was an assault rifle like the ones banned from sale in this country until 2004. We’re having that yelling match again.

Thirty or so hours after the shooting, before all the dead are identified and their loved ones notified, the noise around these divisive issues grows ever louder. Politicians speak out, seeking every advantage. Activists on both sides strain to shout down the opposition. But if we’re simply yelling past each other, once again we’ll generate plenty of heat but precious little light.

What if some “damn Christians” dare to love our neighbors more than our ideology? Something could change. If we behave differently, the future would play out differently. Don’t misunderstand me. I have very strong convictions about these issues. But beyond the issues are our relationships with our neighbors. “If it is possible,” Paul urges us, “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18 NRSV)

So I offer here a framework within which we who follow Jesus might find ways to “live peaceably” with “all sorts and conditions of persons” while still maintaining the integrity of our convictions.

  1. We see and honor the image of God in every person.

“God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.” (Genesis 1:27 CEB)

Every human being bears the divine image. No exceptions. No exclusions. No weasel words. No fudge factor. Sharing this divine DNA makes all seven billion of us family–for better or worse! That includes all those folks who post their ridiculous nonsense online (and who feel the same way about our brilliant, witty, profound posts); folks from places whose names we can’t possibly twist our tongues around; folks with whom we fit perfectly and folks with whom we clash catastrophically; folks who energize us and folks who drain us; folks with whom we feel welcome and folks who just give us the creeps. All of us, in all our glory and uniqueness, created alike bearing the divine image. All means all. “Damn Christians” practice the spiritual discipline of looking for the divine image, no matter how hidden, marred, or disfigured, in every human being.

  1. We recognize every person as someone for whom Christ died.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his…one and only Son…so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” John 3:16 MSG

Still no exclusionary clause. “…whole and lasting life” is God’s will for each of us and all our divine kin on this planet. Not exactly the message we get from our “I’ve got mine and I’ll take yours if I want it” culture. Claiming God’s gift doesn’t require a dazzling resume or a twenty-page application. It requires only “believing”–trusting with our whole being– that the way of life we see in Jesus leads away from destruction toward more and better life than we’d dared to imagine.

Easy to say, but very hard to accept. Abundant negative evidence exists, much provided by so-called “Christians” in the form of both actions and deadly silence. Our not-yet-believing neighbors want to be told less and shown more. “Believing” takes what God always knew it would take—incarnational evidence.

Orlando hug

  1. We will embody Christ for others through everything we do and are.

 “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what…When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!” Philippians 2:5-7 MSG

 That’s all it takes. Just turn my back on this 21st-century  privileged, entitled, “I want it all” culture. Climb down the ladder I’ve worked so hard climbing up. Invest myself in folks from whom I thought I’d managed to insulate and isolate myself. Give up my self-important illusions and just be my created-in-the-divine-image self. All that takes is someone who …didn’t think so much of himself…” “didn’t …cling to…status…” “…set aside…privileges…took on the status of a slave, became human.” It takes some “damn Christian” foolish enough to follow Jesus to places and people most folks say aren’t worth the effort; foolish enough to believe “God loved the world…” means the whole creation and everyone who’s ever been or ever would be a part of it. Some damn Christian like Miss Velma Westbury. According to Will Campbell, Miss Velma often said, ‘”If you just love the folks what’s easy to love,that really ain’t no love at all…If you love one, you have to love’em all.”

“Of course,” Campbell points out, “some folks said Miss Velma was crazy.”

Real Live Hope

In early October I wrote a “Response to Roseburg” shortly after the shootings at Umpqua Community College. Politicians of “all sorts and conditions” sent “thoughts and prayers” to those touched by that horrific act—but did nothing new to change things. Both religious and non-religious folks proclaimed the hypocrisy of “thoughts and prayers” that didn’t lead to transformative action. I shared a colleague’s prayer: “Help us listen to your voice in addressing the violence which permeates our culture, and give us the strength and will to do what you ask of us, to bring hope and healing.” I also called for us who follow Jesus torediscover the peacemaking tradition in Christianity….” 

Two months later San Bernardino happened. My frustrated, grieving, angry response was “How Long, O Lord? An Advent Lament.”  I asked brothers and sisters in Christ, How long will we who follow Jesus mirror our society’s attitudes regarding war, violence, and the use of force rather than embodying a countercultural alternative of strong, assertive, nonviolent love in the spirit of Jesus?… how long will Christians living in the USA choose to be Americans first and Christians second?” Popular religion works hard to erase that boundary. I believe authentic faith in Christ sharpens it instead of erasing it.

I’m hardly the only one thinking about how people of faith respond to gun violence.  One such group recently talked, prayed, and struggled their way to an “Advent Declaration on Gun Violence”. Its Preamble says in part, “A spirit of fear, enmity, racial prejudice, distrust, and violence is tragically normal in our [American] way of life. We believe this is contrary to the gospel, and so we say ‘Enough of this. No more.’…There is an urgent need for followers of the Prince of Peace to challenge the easy use of guns in our society.”  

This declaration sets the bar pretty high—but no higher than it’s always been for us who follow Jesus. Signers of  “An Advent Declaration” affirm that:

  • “We advocate for greater restraint and stricter controls on the private use of guns.”
  • “We accept the way of the cross.”
  • “We take up the armor of the Spirit.”
  • “We seek the justice that makes for peace.”
  • “We pursue love for enemies.”
  • “We are confident that the goodness of God defeats evil and injustice.”

The closing paragraph states: “Relying on God’s grace, we commit to lead our faith communities in acts that do good toward enemies, for this is the strongest witness to God’s love and defeat of evil, the most compelling contributor to the transformation of our enemies, the best way to de-escalate violence, and the path to build communities of peace where all can flourish as beloved children of God.

I’ve signed this Declaration. I urge you to read it, ponder it, pray about it, discuss it with others. Don’t sign it unless you intend to act on it! Sign it if your journey with Christ leads you in this direction. It’s not a litmus test for “real Christians”. I don’t pretend that electronically signing a document will change the world. Nor do I imagine that the current 157 signers are enough to accomplish that change—though Jesus started with just Twelve! Let this Declaration refocus your discipleship. Let it lead you into asking new questions, into asking old questions in a new way, and into entertaining new answers to old questions. Let it lead you into conversation with folks with whom you disagree strongly (judging by the intensity and volume of previous engagements!) Let this document lead you to listen deeply and prayerfully to your neighbor, even if he/she doesn’t immediately respond in kind. Eventually that will happen. Let this declaration lead you to serve others inside and outside the church. Let it lead us where we never imagined we might go to do what we never imagined God could do through us. Let the community that forms around this Declaration become a sign of Hope for all who still cry out, “In God’s Name–How Long?”

christmas change

HOPE is the itch I’m trying to scratch. During this Advent season I haven’t heard clearly the outrageous impossible Hope that comes to us in Christ. I haven’t heard how Advent not only looks backward to Jesus’ birth but also forward to Christ’s coming at the end of history to heal the world’s brokenness. I haven’t heard how this Child will turn our upside-down world right-side-up. I haven’t heard how God invites, empowers, and expects every follower of Jesus to help build this New Creation.

I haven’t heard God’s wild, wonderful promises through the prophets: “… swords into iron plows… spears into pruning tools…they will no longer learn how to make war. (Isaiah 2:4 CEB ). “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isa. 11:6 NRSV). I haven’t heard that majestic litany of Jesus’ other names: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NRSV)  I haven’t heard the en-couraging news that “God is here, right here, on his way to put things right and redress all wrongs.” (Isaiah 35:4 MSG). Nor have I heard the astounding eschatological promise that “Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped; lame men and women will leap like deer, the voiceless break into song.” (Isaiah 35:5-6 MSG)

If I’m feeling a hope deficit, what about neighbors going through struggles we can scarcely imagine or comprehend–fire, flood, disease, environmental or economic disasters; refugees who can never go home again; the friends and loved ones of the 12,000+ people who have died in gun incidents in this country in 2015; so many more. How long, Lord?

How do we know “God is here, right here, on his way to put things right…”“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14 MSG) Love wrapped in flesh like ours embodies Hope in the midst of despair and brokenness. “…followers of the Prince of Peace…challenge the easy use of guns in our society…We obey Jesus’ simple strategies of love: refusing to hate in return, unilaterally forgiving those who harm us, doing good to people who oppose us, and continually praying for God to bless all people, even those who treat us as enemies.” A community of people exhibiting such strange and wonderful behavior transforms outrageous impossibility into God’s truth happening through God’s people—you and me!– here and now! :“… swords into iron plows… spears into pruning tools…; they will no longer learn how to make war.”  “God is here… to put things right and redress all wrongs.”

Help us listen to your voice in addressing the violence which permeates our culture, and give us the strength and will to do what you ask of us, to bring hope and healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen”

“How Long, O Lord??” An Advent Lament

US gun crime in 2015 (Figures up to 3 December)

353 Mass shootings        62shootings at schools

12,223people killed in gun incidents       24,722people injured in gun incidents

Source: Shooting tracker, Gun Violence Archive

  • How long will we tolerate nearly-daily mass shootings in our nation and fail to take meaningful action to stop them?
  • How long will we watch processions of victims being transported to the hospital or the morgue—and accept such tragic scenes as the “new normal”?
  • How long will we watch grieving families weep and mourn their loved ones—while praying that our community isn’t next—but do little or nothing to make a difference?

“ If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!”  Isaiah 64:1 CEB

  • How long will politicians let their fear of the NRA keep them from enacting sensible regulations regarding gun ownership?
  • How long will we fail to require licensing and insurance for gun ownership and users similar to that required for other lethal equipment such as motor vehicles?
  • How long will we entertain the ridiculous claim that assault rifles and similar weapons of war are normal household appliances, toys, or sporting equipment?
  • How long will we believe the lethal fiction that we’re safer with more guns in more people’s hands in more crowded public places?

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  • How long will we allow the condemnation of all Muslims for the actions of a few hyper-extremists?
  • How long will we allow misguided policies and divisive rhetoric to become recruiting tools for future terrorists?
  • How long will we tolerate the cycle of mass shootings followed by universal hand-ringing followed by failure to take meaningful action?
  • How long will we talk past one another instead of with one  another and demonize those with whom we disagree?
  • How long will the words of Scripture proclaim our continuing collective insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results): “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly.”? Proverbs 26:11 NRSV
  • How long will we continue to slash mental-health funding that can provide life-changing treatment for disturbed people who might otherwise become “active shooters”?
  • How long will people of faith trust everything and everyone that promises safety and security more than we trust the One who is “…Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”? (Isaiah 9:6 NRSV)
  • How long will our spiritual leaders remain fearfully silent or at best timidly indifferent regarding guns and the glorification of violence in our culture? (HINT—Christmas Day is too long!
  • How long will we offer “thoughts and prayers” for victims of violence divorced from any commitment to transformative action toward preventing future tragedies?
  • How long will we whine that “God Isn’t Fixing This” when the real issue is our choice (passive or active) not to collaborate with God in healing brokenness and building a new world?

God Isn't Fixing This

  • How long will we who follow Jesus mirror our society’s attitudes regarding war, violence, and the use of force rather than embodying a countercultural alternative of strong, assertive, nonviolent love in the spirit of Jesus? In other words, how long will Christians living in the USA choose to be Americans first and Christians second? Fuller Theological Seminary professor Kutter Callaway writes about renouncing his Second Amendment rights. I hereby renounce mine. It’s time for followers of Jesus to rediscover  and reclaim our peace-making tradition found in the early church, the Mennonites, Quakers, and Church of the Brethren,and more recently Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, the Sojourners movement, and others. More along this line soon.
  • How long will we talk and sing about Incarnation (God’s love embodied in Jesus) while failing to become God’s instruments through whom Redeeming Love becomes physically present to all neighbors within our reach?

“The Word became flesh and blood, “and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” John 1:14 MSG


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