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Minister's Corner - Summer 2023

Guns and Bullets by Rev. Steve Wilson

“We are going to need a lot more than fig leaves to protect us; especially now when it is

becoming obvious the enemy we face is not a chill wind or a fire breathing demon, but that

part of us that operates its own agenda, ruthlessly ignoring the possibility of suffering and

very real pain for the rest.” —Lyall Watson, from Dark Nature

It is June 2nd, Friday afternoon and it is about to pour. I am sitting in my car, having arrived at my destination, but I can’t get out.

Getting out feels disrespectful.

Disrespectful because another American tragedy has just happened.

When I was a child, it would have been an annual moment of despair. In 2023, it's become a weekly sad sigh.

I am listening to a report on the shooting in Fuller Park Chicago where among others a 14- year-old boy was killed. Three bullets in an 8th grader. I obviously don’t know the kid but really, it is sadly just another unacceptable story that had I/we not have come to know that would be followed by another one just like it. A decade or two ago, I might feel like this kind of story might be the last straw. I’m smarter now. More cynical.

I bet you have had a similar experience. Or many.

Sometimes like, well…nearly every week now our news has the feel of the first few scenes in a movie designed to present the context of a society slowly unraveling.

Sitting in my car, seat tipped back, my leg propped up on the dash, comfortable but only physically, I wonder fearfully if we have reached the saturation point where these gun stories don’t elicit in us a demand for change, but a deeper numbness. An acceptance that this is cost of being an American. I know that I feel a little bit that way. Let’s remember, it is in our country where this unique version of indifference and insanity lives.

Only in America can you regularly find so many moments of tragedies filmed by helicopters. Only in America are there so reliably images of reporters wringing their hands followed by video from a tearful vigil where short clips of poignant speeches calling for peace take place.

Only in America are these news stories so sort lived because room must be made for the next tragic news item. It’s frustrating that these stories feel so much like the directions on the back of a shampoo bottle—“lather, rinse, and repeat”.

I think it is disconcerting that no matter how many Columbines, Newtowns, or Orlandos, these stories don’t seem to lead to the natural conclusion that we as a people, likely a species, are not capable of successfully having more and more guns in society and find them not to be used.

Hasn’t the experiment of how well we manage guns been run?

Do people who like guns, not get the consequences of their hobby?

Do the people who advocate for gun rights not get that their hobby produces the same side effects of hardcore drug trafficking or drunk driving?

Sitting in my car, the rain having started I begin to silently run through a list of practical questions and responses that make me feel like the gun folks are winning.

Have we gone far enough that we should put a security guard at every school and public door?

We haven’t gone that far, have we?

Why do we resist that running a free modern society simply demands that more resources and attention go towards mental health?

Sitting in the car, I wonder if there might be a class action lawsuit designed to hold gun producers responsible. Or, a federal tax on bullets, that is pro-rated for how many innocent people are shot by each kind. I am reminded that in general, all our cultural/political problems are problems of limited will, not of creative problems.

When I was in Graduate school I got a chance to study with Jim Wallis, who is the Evangelical but progressive Editor of Sojourners magazine. Yes, there are evangelical Christians, who are also essentially progressives. Wallis told us Divinity School students that it was our sacred task, our job description in fact, as people of faith, “to act as the political conscience of society.” Essentially to be prophets.

I remember Wallis reminding us that in the Bible it reads, “Without a vision, the people perish,” and points out a different translation: “Without prophecy, the people cast off restraint.” Both deep and catchy phrases. I agreed and agree with all of it.

For Jim Wallis the two elements of being a prophet were to first cry out against injustice, and second to cast a new vision before the people. I know that I don’t always, or even usually, live up to that calling, but I do agree that it is true.

It’s not like we as modern Americans are not aware of the injustice of innocents dying. We do-at least for a while- collectively cry out against the injustice of innocent lives lost pretty well.

I believe our unwillingness and inability to act is the result of our nation having a vision of itself as living in a world that frankly doesn’t exist anymore. One in which our country is more frontier than civilization. And even more fearfully that justice is if not found here, it will be found in the next life.

Eventually, and not too soon, we will come to the realization that this latest tragedy will not be the last straw, until we care enough that it is less, not more guns that are the answer.

I am optimistic that it is inevitable that we will get there. The only question is, how long will it take us to get there? And that is dependent on how much those of us who know what is obvious, care.

~ Rev. Steve


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