I knew in my head and heart I had to write a Newsletter on that Tuesday, May 24, when a single teenage gunman murdered 19 school children and two of their teachers at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. That was almost 2 weeks ago, and each day, though through many private tears, I’ve pondered what words to use, without much success. And so it’s time anyway.
There is the dust-hollow “thoughts and prayers” - which is not my style anyway. There are the side-tracking words of the politicians and others who have their own power to protect due to position and inheritance. Sorry fellows, there’s a singular lack of humanity in your PYA responses. And I understand the NRA, who gathered right after the Uvalde shooting, and only a short distance away, seem hell-bent (my editorial words) now to provide more guns to young people.
That’s it! - the answer to any problem of guns is to have more guns. And since I don’t know of any domestic purpose for the AR-15 other than to kill people, it’s necessary that we have more guns to continue to kill people. It does make a kind of satanic sense, doesn’t it. It may not be that far away until we see their iconic shadow across the Cross of Christ. And conservative Christianity is now so well established in our culture that the iconic marriage of God and Gun is ripe for retail.
Place this preceding paragraph atop many politicians words these days, and the logical transparency becomes obvious (that is to me).
Live by the sword, die by the sword
There’s a curious corner in the Biblical narrative of Jesus that I’ve never yet heard referenced in a sermon, though it is a common parable. (A Google search comes up with 1.8 billion results). And I have no doubt there’s truth in it. I know it was truth for my pacifist parents.
Yet many of my friends own and conceal-carry guns. Most have taken gun safety courses, and many have made sure their children (especially, it seems, daughters) have been well-schooled in firearm safety. Growing up I wasn’t allowed to own a gun, except for a cap gun. I never felt a need to disobey my parents on this. I trusted (and still do) their judgement.
The phrase ‘live by the sword die by the sword’ comes from the night Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. On this night there was a large crowd led by Judas armed with swords and clubs ready to arrest Jesus. As they stepped forward to arrest him, one of his followers drew his sword. Here is what happened next.
“With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’” – Matthew 26:51-52
A particularly American problem - Why?
This continues to puzzle me. And although I’ve heard a number of ‘explanations’ none seem to speak any deep truth to me. (Yes, it is a power thing.) It does make a deep psychological sense to me that when the parents arm themselves, it’s often the children that perish. And why the attraction to “assault” weapons? Over the years I’ve often heard the reports of ER physicians describing the particularly terrible damage to a human body, especially children, of their high powered ammunition.
And it seems, in the long (even short) run, nobody chooses to listen. Even less than two weeks ago, the lament was raised, “so soon nobody will remember.” And who does remember? The children do, who witness the death of their classmates, and also many of their parents. But it seems there’s still not yet enough to form an effective sea change when it comes to the question of gun control.
There is another “American” parallel. Around two hundred years ago, at the ‘birth’ of capitalism as the genius of American finance, it was forecast that Capitalism was the world’s wisest form of national economics, but that “it will take about two hundred years before our institutions will turn its use to the service of human greed.”
I believe there’s a connection - the freedom (and desire) to make money for myself, and the freedom (and desire) to gather (and use) guns to protect myself and what is mine.
Each represents a toxic center of our culture, and one that if we ever become able to counter it, will still take a number of generations. Yes, we’ve made progress. And yet, it’s become worse. And our children are watching - and afraid.
I think of the many teachers who would and do put themselves in harm’s way to protect their students. We saw this at Robb Elementary in Uvalda. I’d venture that some years ago, if that question were asked of elementary teachers, the response would probably be something like “why would you ever ask that question.” But today, in an epidemic of school shootings, I’m sure it’s on the mind of every elementary school teacher, and the answer would be a heroic yes. Right after the Uvalda massacre, the governor of Texas praised the men with guns, but made no mention of the school personnel who protected the children, and especially of the two teachers who died protecting them. Go figure.
I’m surprised and not surprised how difficult this was to write. And I still feel I’ve been somewhat haphazard in my presentation. The anguish of more innocent children sacrificed to a single-purpose assault rifle easily purchased by a troubled kid - and that nobody in charge may yet effectively change anything, has torn at me through these days.
My title, “One nation under guns” comes from a poem published by the poet Amanda Gorman, just hours after the Uvalda shooting.
There is so much work to do.
I’ve lost the name of that Scotsman, and have never found any referencing data. Perhaps someone can clarify this in a follow-note.
One characteristic of American Christianity, especially current Evangelical Christianity is what I consider the idolization of the“self.” Theologically it’s an issue of the First Commandment. A handmaid to this is the emergence of some “pop psychology,” or even more accurately, narcissistic or psychopathic psychology. Politically it’s the power psychology of the autocrat. Including “Cult” territory.
The AR-15 isn’t just a gun, it’s a God! And it’s magazine is a temple for it’s henchmen acolytes.
On the Sunday after “Columbine” (4/20/99), and during the years I was serving part-time Priest-in-Charge at an Episcopal Parish nearby, I spoke especially to the children of the congregation, asking and offering what we could do to make it better or safer for them. And a number of the adults made promises and pledges. I offered that every time I did a service, I would include a prayer for the children, including “may we protect them from all abuse and harm.” Beginning that April 25th, over 20 years ago, I have never failed to include that prayer in the closing prayers of the service.
In the same vein, I wrote a “Prayer for the Healing of the Waters” which I’ve also prayed at the end of each service (since October 2010). From time to time people would ask me for a copy of that prayer. However, nobody has ever asked for a copy of the “Prayer for the Children.”
Is it more important that we pray for our waters than for our children? I still hesitate to acknowledge the obvious. But for our culture at large, children still have rarely been important.
For more information, Google “One nation under guns.”
My 2 cents
Whether the Government took God out of our schools or said the classroom is not a place for prayer, it is the same thing.
Why are the kids suffering from all this mental health disease? 50 years ago all kids had moms AND dads and we went to church every Sunday. What is going on in these public school classrooms? The educators have their hands tied. They are not allowed to console a crying child by giving them a hug (no hugging allowed). They have access to the kids for seven hours a day, five days a week. Let’s get back to basic learning instead of teaching first graders about sex education, etc. 50 years ago households had guns; however, not too many instances of mass shootings in schools. I BELIEVE there is no reason for assault rifles in America.
I’ve sat down to write it all out several times and get either angry or just fade away out a window of thought. “...when the parents arm themselves, it’s often the children that perish” is so strikingly true for me.
Thank you, Bill.
Bill, thank you for writing this piece on such a difficult topic. You have put words to the feelings and frustrations that have been rumbling around in my mind.