Adapted from a message delivered in Ridgewood NJ in the summer of 2013
I joined the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America a few years ago. Before that, while the debate over gun control was gaining fervor, I had been concerned but just hanging out in the margins of engagement. The debate seemed to shift to front and center for me at the end of 2012, with the killing of 20 young school children in a town where I had lived: Sandy Hook, CT. It was a school my daughter had attended for a short time and a building where I had attended talent shows, led a Girl Scout Brownie troop, and volunteered in classrooms. It was just two months later that an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, was shot dead in Florida, and a year and a half later that the man who shot Martin was acquitted. That July 2013 travesty, was a spark that propelled into the debate many people who had for years been hanging out in the margins. We were now in it together.
It was three years ago that I took to Twitter to promote Moms Demand Action and cry out for universal background checks and an assault weapons ban. I spoke about AR15 rifles and that unleashed a level of fear and anger I was not familiar with. A high school classmate (we're talking over 30 years ago!) got friends and family to troll my Facebook page and make pro-gun posts. Another pro-gun classmate claimed the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax. Several threatening texts came my way and I quickly blocked the senders. Then another man decided to 'school' me on assault weapons and my silly call for a ban. He tried to persuade me by saying "AR15s are the best selling rifles, come in wide range of calibers,are highly accurate, no recoil, perfect for a lady. My wife has 2." I responded and he didn't like it. He claimed (and flamed), "An AR15 is NOT an assault rifle, it should never have been banned, and if banning it is what you want to do than you are trampling on my 2nd amend. right. I should have known. You are 1 of those idiot liberal communists that is trying to destroy America!". That's where I get my title as an idiot liberal communist.
But this isn't about one verdict, one state, an AR15, or even debating the 'true' meaning and intention behind our constitution's 2nd amendment, and quite frankly it's not about taking away anyone's right to own a gun. At least in part, it's about confessions. I'll start.
I confess to having grown up in a house without guns but with grandparents and aunts & uncles and cousins who had and have guns in their homes. I have family members who hunt and have gun cases in their den and boxes of bullets on the bedroom dresser. I confess that after a terrible car accident at age 19, I was home alone, in a hospital bed and unable to get around without assistance. One afternoon the doorbell rang and within seconds I heard cracking noises as a crowbar was being used to try to pry the door open. I shouted and whoever was trying to break in left. Just a day later, my dear Uncle drove two and a half hours to bring me the cutest little gun I’d ever seen. I was taught how to shoot it and it sat by my bed every day for the following week. I confess that my husband registered as a gun owner in CT years ago when the police strongly suggested that he do so because he was working (and collecting money) in an area where daytime gun crimes were rampant.I confess my truth, my fear and my anger.
I can understand the kinds of fears that might make a person want to own a gun. I also understand that for every time a household gun was used for self-defense, there were 4 unintentional shootings, 7 criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. And I understand that in an average year in the U.S., more than 100,000 people, including 20,000 children or teens, are shot each year in murders, assaults, suicides, accidents, or by the police. More than 31,000 of those shot in a year die, including more than 3000 children and teens. Yes, 8 children and teens, and 72 adults in this country are killed every single day by firearms. We are living with a broken system. When one of my clergy colleagues spoke to her congregation about this subject she said, the moral issue in owning a gun has to do with having deadly force at your disposal. It means that a fight between a person with a gun and one without a gun, is like a showdown between an elephant and an ant. And we have to ask the question, is that moral?".
In trying to make sense about the gun debate it’s important to put aside liberal platitudes and pat answers. It’s important to try and understand what is at the root. The root from which all of the diverse opinions branch forth – the reasonable, the extreme, the ridiculous. I have come to the conclusion that the root is best explained in this bit of poetry from author Ruth J. Gendler, in The Book of Qualities:Fear has a large shadow, but he himself is quite small. He has a vivid imagination. He composes horror music in the middle of the night. His past is a mystery. He warned us not to talk to each other about him, adding that there is nowhere any of us could go where he wouldn't hear us. We were quiet. When we began to talk to each other, he changed. His manners started to seem pompous, and his snarling voice sounded rehearsed.
Two dragons guard Fear's mansion. One is a Chinese ceramic. The other is real. If you make it past the dragons and speak to him close up, it is amazing to see how fragile he is. He will try to tell you stories. Be aware. He is a master of disguises and illusions. Fear almost convinced me that he was a puppet maker and I was a marionette.
Speak out boldly, look him in the eye, startle him. Don’t give up.
The root is fear. One of the reasons the world has become more frightening than ever before for a large number of us is our 24/7 news cycle. Our fears are manipulated by changes in the threat level, advertising, the news, and politicians. Political elections are often a battle between playing on our fears and inspiring us to hope for something better.
Fear of the other; fear written into our laws; fear that fuels racism; fear that fuels hatred that fuels violence. Recognizing the root of the debate and confessing our own relationship with fear is a step in moving forward.
We need to create spaces where we can come to confess and face our fears together. Remember, Fear warned us not to talk to each other about him, adding that there is nowhere any of us could go where he wouldn’t hear us. It’s been said that every human thought, and every human action, is based in either love or fear. There is no other human motivation. As a Humanist, I have faith/trust in the basic goodness of human nature that comes from love. But whenever violence strikes a community, my trust in the goodness of life is shaken and I feel shocked, angry, fearful and vulnerable. I know I'm not alone and I know from my years of professional ministry that we human beings . need help from each other to remember and affirm the trust we do have.
Author Marianne Williamson has asserted that "Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here." Every time I conduct a baby naming or blessing ceremony I am
reminded of the wider community's responsibility to care for all of the children. And that task includes, but goes beyond keeping them safe. Our most important task is to teach them to live. We do this best through our own personal living, through the choices we make as we encounter difficulties. We teach them by the way we speak to one another, and perhaps most importantly, by the way we face our fears.
Let us confess our fears, recognize that the very real risk of living in this world is overwhelming for many people, and let us proclaim together that love is a powerful force. Indeed it is the only force that can help us get past the dragons that guard Fear’s mansion. So speak boldly. Look Fear in the eye. Don’t give up. And remember that you are not alone. There is an idiot liberal Communist journeying beside you!
I had hoped to post once a week, and did for a short time. Unfortunately, my doctorate research and other obligations have taken priority over the blog. BUT, I will return soon! Some postings may be articles I've written for publication, messages I've delivered in congregational settings, or excerpts from papers written in my doctoral classes.