By Rev. John M. Gantt
Interim Conference Minister
Are you, like me, struggling to find something helpful to say? So many have spoken and written. The incredibly outrageous slaughter in Las Vegas needs us to find words and deeds which comfort, which help begin healing, which calm fears, and which are credible rather than platitudes.
Our UCC president John Dorhauer moves us in that direction. Listen to his online message at this link.
There are other resources which you may find helpful at these links:
It Is Up to US to Stop Gun Violence – Rev. Traci Blackmon
Gun Violence – resources at www.ucc.org
A son-in-law who recently moved from London to Paris writes that again he is asked to explain to his new French neighbors as he was asked to explain to his former London neighbors how Americans can allow this insanity to continue.
In our diverse but divided culture, we make the explanation elusive and complex, and usually not very compelling. As I listen and pray with you, a phrase from an old song floats through my head over and over again.
The words were offered musically, poetically, gently but powerfully at the time of another war. They are pertinent still, for this really is war that pops up unexpectedly in places popular with crowds: schools, tourist areas, concert venues, marathon events, streets full of shoppers. It is a war enabled by the proliferation of guns in the hands of citizens who believe they need them for protection against so many others who have guns. Ironically, knowing that so many persons now carry weapons, police and security people fear for their own safety. The cycle of violence against one another takes another spin as they hastily shoot first – especially if you happen to be black or non-white.
Back to the song which occupies my head today. The last phrase is “When will they ever learn, oh, when will they ever learn?”
It is said that Pete Seeger was inspired to write “Where have all the flowers gone…..” by something he read on his way to Oberlin College for a concert. That concert didn’t end with hundreds of people dead and injured. It was sung when our nation was killing thousands on other soil, and exposing thousands of our own to gruesome deaths in overseas places. Concerts and rallies and too many other venues today make us risk being murdered on our own soil.
The haunting question needs better answers. “When will they ever learn….? Oh, when will they ever learn?”
One learning must certainly be that the more we arm ourselves with guns, the more likely we are to have guns used against us.
Another learning that begs for attention is to recognize that today’s assault weapons which are designed for the precise purpose of killing lots of people quickly and at long range have so little in common with the weapons designed for hunting which the Second Amendment says could be used if necessary to protect against government overreach.
A third learning is now more than ever that we dare not let fear and distrust shape our lives and our decision making. For faith communities, the challenge is to move into this darkness with the light of forgiveness, the confidence that the God we worship brings resurrection out of death, and the hope that our commitments to non-violent confrontation and peace-making will sooner rather than later result in a safer nation.
When the tolling of bells ends, when prayer vigils come to the final Amen, when the concert venue in Las Vegas has finally been thoroughly cleaned, when the victims who are dead have been lovingly cared for and the wounded carefully mended, our calling as persons of faith is to counter this indescribable sorrow and sense of helplessness with hope and love as we all begin to heal our spiritual, physical and emotional wounds that will leave a lifetime of scars for individuals and families – and forever blemish the national image of these days.
Talk to others about gun violence, gun control and related themes. Listen respectfully, even to those who disagree with you. Let the dialogue shape your own convictions, but do not give up your own values. Advocate for those values in the way you vote, the way you spend your money, the way you address your legislative representatives, and the way you pray.
Another song voices the challenge this way: “Let there be peace on earth – and let it begin with me.”
That prayerful plea urges us to answer the question of “when will they ever learn….” by learning the ways of peace with justice, the love of God and neighbor, and non-violent responses to the violence around us.