What are you hearing about gun violence?

Gun

How many different messages have you heard about violence since the Las Vegas massacre? In particular, what have you heard from the pulpit about our latest mass murder?

Did the leader of your faith community talk about the deep darkness in our society? Or, did they say nothing? Did you hear prophetic words about how we need to heal and change? Or were the words limited to a generic prayer and nothing more?

There is something terribly wrong in our society. If our religious leaders won’t find words to address it beyond superficial sentiment, then they – and we — are contributing to the sickness. We need to hold them accountable.

We have a divided, violent, gun-soaked society. We can’t seem to disagree without being disagreeable. Our streets and offices and churches and nightclubs and public squares get spattered with more blood every day. More graves are dug every day.

We must talk about all of this. And the pulpit must be an important part of it.

The conversation isn’t just about guns, although that’s certainly a huge part of it. We need to look at the bigger picture of how we’ve made violence our norm, how we endorse and encourage it in so many ways.

We must talk about all this

Our children shoot imaginary people in video games, treating killing as entertainment. We normalize violence through our television shows, our movies, our monuments. We sell guns as the solution – we need more “good people” with greater firepower and better aim.

Forget about God’s everlasting presence; in guns we trust.

We applaud warriors and dismiss peacemakers as out-of-touch dreamers. We conclude that the one with the most bullets and bombs gets their way, so we spend mountains of money making more of them.

We’ve reached the point where we can’t send a loved one to school, to church, to work, to a mall, to a nightclub, to a concert without concern that they could get gunned down by a deranged person with weapons.

Even many “religious” people advocate for “holy” war to eradicate perceived enemies, even though war is always the ultimate blasphemy.

How did we get so lost? How do we find our way?

We need prophets like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who forced us to confront the ways we glorify guns and violence and thus create a “morally inclement climate” in our culture. He challenged the many religious leaders who refused to speak up.

For too long, a lot of religious leaders have shied away from prophetically challenging their communities. Some have done it, and we applaud them. But many others look the other way when it comes to our culture of violence. Why is that?

They’ll speak out on other issues. They’ll campaign to protect life in some forms. They’ll lobby for religious rights. But they won’t give the same attention to the lives extinguished and the rights erased by one pull of the trigger.

Healing wounds, not wielding weapons

While the pulpit is a good starting point, we all need to be promoting this conversation. We need to say in as many places and as many ways as we can: This must change. We must put away our weapons, stop glamorizing violence, and give up our infatuation with conflict.

If we don’t say it, then our faith is nothing more than noise.

Jesus lived in times that were soaked in violence, weapons and conflict. Romans killed for domination and pleasure. Crucifixion was commonplace. The religiously observant also advocated violence – death by stoning for breaking certain rules.

Jesus told everyone to drop their stones, put away their swords, resist the temptation to treat anyone as an enemy. Those who live in his spirit use their hands to heal wounds, not to wield weapons. We need to hear that message again and again, even though it’s widely unpopular in our violence-addicted culture.

Are you hearing that message in your faith community? If not, this is a good time to ask why not. And to spread the message yourself in every way you can.

Where are the monuments to peacemakers?

Mr. Rogers

The conversation about how we handle war monuments has been wonderfully diverse, interesting, and informative. It’s also raised a different type of question.

Why do we have so many monuments to war in the first place?

Where are the monuments to the peacemakers and the community builders who have shown us the way and pulled us together? Why do we have so many statues of generals in such prominent places, and so few remembering the many healers, teachers, and leaders among us?

Why are we so enamored of war?

I drove through a small town in southern Ohio this spring and was struck by their downtown square. The town is a quaint place. Old storefronts dot the square. In the center is a cannon — a war monument and a plaque with the names of residents who have died in wars.

And that’s all.

Enamored of war

I was left wondering: Why isn’t there a statue of the person who founded the town? Or something dedicated to the person who started the first school so children could learn about their world?

Perhaps the town could erect a statue of the town’s first doctor, the one who made house calls for sick children in the middle of the night and who delivered many of the early settlers into the world. Or maybe a reminder of a wise and compassionate leader who got the town through a time of division and showed everyone that there are ways to settle differences other than conflict.

It would be nice to see more tributes to those who remind us that we can get along if we really try. Sure, there are a few reminders of peacemakers in various places, but they’re far outnumbered by those dedicated to fighting. We’re far more interested in monuments to those who have waged and have been killed in wars.

Why is that?

This isn’t confined to small towns, of course. Great cities have even bigger and more expensive monuments to wars. Streets are named for leaders of war. Those who fought in wars are honored in various ways. There are parades for warriors, but not for peacemakers.

What about those who work to save lives by preventing conflict and war?

More than the opposite of war

There’s a statue of Mr. Rogers along the river in downtown Pittsburgh, right across from where Fort Pitt stood. I’m struck by the proximity — one place recalls war, the other remembers a spokesman for peace and love.

“Peace means far more than the opposite of war,” Fred Rogers once said.

And he’s right. Peace is a willingness to do the hard work to change attitudes and show people that we can get along.

A starting point is recognizing the truth that war is never noble or courageous. Noble and courageous acts occur during war, but war itself is always the ultimate human failure and must never be portrayed as anything else. War is the expression of our worst impulses — killing and maiming one another while destroying the many good things we’ve built together.

Put peacemakers on pedastals

War monuments ought to reflect that innate truth. We must never glorify war. Monuments must never romanticize it or make it seem like a desirable solution — it never is.

We must never put war on a pedestal.

So long as we worship war, we’ll never have peace. Peace can never come at the end of a sword or a cannon or a rifle or a rocket launcher. That kind of “peace” is illusory and temporary.

And perhaps part of changing that cycle is paying attention to what we honor with our monuments, the ones that define us and direct us.

We should make more of an effort to honor the people who work for peace and build communities. If we’re going to erect statues, let them honor those who bring us inspiration, healing, and wisdom. Let’s recognize those who show us how to wage peace in everyday ways.

Let’s put them on our pedestals instead.

More courageous than war

Lottery

During the early ‘70s, there was a must-see show for anyone with a son of legal age. The Vietnam war draft lottery was conducted on television.

By the time I approached draft age, the war had reached its tipping point but more soldiers were still needed. So men in suits would load capsules containing the days of the year into a large, clear drum. They’d spin it and pull out a date. If your birthday was the next one chosen, you were next in line to be inducted.

That’s how the draft order was determined: A bingo version of Russian roulette. And the privileged were given opt-out provisions, including college deferments and assignments to branches of the military away from combat.

The poor were sent to fight on behalf of the privileged. Those who had the least were forced to make the biggest sacrifice.

My dad was a wounded Korean war veteran and would watch the draft show with me. He stunned me one time by saying, totally out of the blue, that he’d support me if I chose to protest the war. He had no stomach for what dishonest politicians were doing with the war, how so many human lives were being wasted on both sides.

Also, he didn’t want his son to experience the horrors that he’d experienced, the ones that left him fighting his own demons for the rest of his life.

We forget about that part – the unthinkable, unspeakable things that happen during war and leave everyone associated with it wounded in some ways. Things so awful that those who survive them never speak of them. The cost that is never fully paid.

Never courageous or heroic

We honor the victims of our many wars, but we should never honor war itself. Courageous and heroic things happen during war, but war itself is never courageous or heroic. And that’s an important distinction we need to remember.

War is always the ultimate human failure — politically, religiously, morally, culturally, collectively, individually. It’s the final step in a long sequence of fearful attitudes, ugly words and selfish choices. War doesn’t just happen — we bring it on through our many choices over time.

And when our many selfish and inhumane decisions have intensified the fear and hatred, we head off to war thinking that killing will solve everything. But it never does. One war begets the next.

Ultimately, war is a repudiation of our shared humanity, a rejection of our greatest gift. The creator gives us life and the responsibility to nurture it – all of life, all of the time. War is our way of telling the creator: We refuse.

War is always a choice, never an inevitability.

So is peace. It’s always an option, but it never just happens. We have to co-create it.

Always a choice

It starts with actually listening to those whom we consider an enemy. Getting to know them. Giving them the same respect and value that we give ourselves. Recognizing our shared humanity.

Waging peace means finding creative ways to bridge our differences. It means putting our hubris and our selfishness aside and instead paying attention to how our attitudes and our words and our choices affect others – other people, other cultures, other nations.

Waging peace means saying emphatically and repeatedly: We can do better than this. We must do better. The horror of war must never be considered an inevitable outcome — it never is.

So while we honor and support those like my father who sacrificed so much in the horrific conditions of war, we must also honor and support those who are trying to wage peace.

Waging peace takes a lot of courage and a lot of sacrifice. But it’s the peacemakers who are called blessed, not the war makers. Making peace is the most noble and heroic and blessed thing that we can do.

Far more heroic than war.

A peace as real as you and me

peace-in-person-picture

Peace was big when I was growing up in the ‘60s. People exchanged two-finger peace signs and wore peace jewelry. They told each other “peace out.” They held peace-ins. They sang about peace and chanted for people to give it a chance. There were songs and poems about what the world would be like if we all lived peacefully.

What did people want? Peace. When did they want it? Now.

Decades later, it all seems rather dated, kind of like bell-bottoms and psychedelic art. Today, the people who want peace seem to be far outnumbered by those who prefer confrontation and conflict. Fear is fanned and hatred is stirred. Peace can feel like an illusion or a hallucination.

But it’s not. Peace is as real in the world as you and me.

It’s true that the world isn’t living as one, as John Lennon imagined. Not yet, anyway. And not ever, most likely. As long as humans are around, there’s going to be discord and disagreement. There’s going to be war and bloodshed.

And there’s going to be a lot of peace, too. Just look around. Recognize the daily acts of kindness, the way people reach out to each other. There is peace in the world, just not enough of it.

It’s the International Day of Peace today, which is a good time to remind ourselves that peace on earth is already a reality and still a dream. Peace comes into our families and our communities and our lives only to the extent that we’re willing to value it and expand it.

With that in mind, let’s consider three important points that some of our greatest peacemakers have tried to teach us:

— Working for peace doesn’t mean avoiding tension. Rather, it’s about immersing ourselves in a creative tension that transforms the world. In a peaceful world, people still argue and disagree, but they do it respectfully. They don’t let emotions like anger and fear decide how they will act. They don’t purposely hurt each other. To be a peacemaker means to embrace tension and use it constructively and lovingly. It means engaging others in a way that will ultimately bring us closer together instead of dividing us further.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, “I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

— Peace is fundamentally linked with justice. Injustice is at the root of our problems as humans. When people aren’t being treated as equally beloved children of God and are denied equal opportunities for the things we all want, then division and anger grow. If we want peace, we have to want justice.

Again, as the Rev. King put it, “It must be remembered that genuine peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.”

Or, in the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “There is no peace because there is no justice. … God’s Shalom, peace, involves inevitably righteousness, justice, wholeness, fullness of life, participation in decision-making, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, sharing and reconciliation. … When there is injustice, invariably peace becomes a casualty.”

— We can’t just wish or pray for peace, we have to create it. Peacemakers aren’t starry-eyed dreamers, but clear-eyed realists. They see the toll that war and violence and injustice take on the world. They don’t ignore it or accept it as inevitable – they know better than that. Instead, they try to transform it with the power of love.

It takes a lot of faith and hope and courage. It takes the kind of spirit that the Rev. King described in his acceptance speech at Oslo, Norway, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964:

“I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life which surrounds him.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

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

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.

“I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.

“I still believe that we shall overcome. This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of tomorrow.”

More courageous than war

Lottery

During the early ‘70s, there was a must-see show for anyone with a son of legal age. The Vietnam war draft lottery was conducted on television, providing surreal moments.

By the time I approached draft age, the war had reached its tipping point but more soldiers were still needed. So men in suits would load capsules containing the days of the year into a large, clear drum. They’d spin it and pull out a date. If your birthday was the next one chosen, you were next in line to be inducted.

That’s how the draft order was determined. A bingo version of Russian roulette. And the privileged were given opt-out provisions, including college deferments and assignments to branches of the military away from combat.

My dad was a wounded Korean war veteran and would watch the draft show with me. He stunned me one time by saying, totally out of the blue, that he’d support me if I chose to protest the war. He had no stomach for what the politicians were doing with the war, how many lives were being wasted.

Also, he didn’t want his son to experience the horrors that he’d experienced, the ones that left him fighting his own demons for the rest of his life.

We forget about that part – the unthinkable, unspeakable things that happen during war and leave everyone associated with it wounded in some ways. Things so awful that those who survive them never speak of them.

We honor the victims of our many wars, but we should never honor war itself. Courageous and heroic things happen during war, but war itself is never courageous or heroic. And that’s an important distinction.

War is always the ultimate human failure — politically, religiously, morally, culturally, collectively, individually. It’s the final step in a long sequence of fearful attitudes, ugly words and selfish choices.

We head off to war when we think that anyone who is different from us must be dangerous to us. When we talk about building bigger walls and more bombs because those people can’t be trusted.

Ultimately, war is a repudiation of our shared humanity, a rejection of our greatest gift. The creator gives us life and the responsibility to nurture it – all of life, all of the time. War is our way of telling the creator: We refuse.

War is always a choice, never an inevitability.

So is peace. It’s always an option, but it never just happens. We have to co-create it.

It starts with actually listening to those whom we consider an enemy. Getting to know them. Giving them the same respect and value that we give ourselves.

Waging peace means finding creative ways to bridge our differences. It involves paying attention to how our attitudes and our words and our choices affect others – other people, other cultures, other nations.

Waging peace means saying emphatically and repeatedly: We can do better than this. We must do better. The horror of war must never be considered an inevitable outcome.

Waging peace takes a lot of courage and a lot of sacrifice. It’s the most noble and heroic thing that we can do.

Far more heroic than war.