There was a fascinating piece on yesterday’s NPR program, Weekend Edition, about a man named Pedro Reyes who is working on a huge collection of guns. In fact, he has access to thousands in the city of Culiacan, Mexico, where he lives. But this is not the man you might imagine. He is an artist, using weapons collected by the city in an effort to reduce gun violence to sculpt musical instruments. Imagine playing a flute made from the barrel of a long gun, or a steel guitar collaged together out of handguns. Imagine, if you can, repurposing metal made for killing, putting your lips, your hands, your heart into it and instead producing music.
“There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish…those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined; and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
The story about transforming weapons of destruction into instruments of art and music came at the end of yet one more week in which we heard about students shooting other students, schools which should be havens of hopeful learning teaching instead the ominous lessons of mortality.
Just a few hours after the segment about Mr Reyes aired, the news reporters were telling us about another shooting in a shopping mall in Baltimore. Three more people died.
“There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. For those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
“Reyes believes art should address social issues like gun violence, even when they’re difficult and controversial,” said the NPR presenter. I think that our theology should do no less.
It is our job, together as Christian disciples, called by Jesus to leave our tangled nets and consider how to catch our neighbours up into his kingdom; it is our job to consider how we might shine a light on those who are in anguish, who sit in the region and shadow of death. It is our job to consider which ways of working things out we are called to leave behind, and what is the nature of the work into which we are being called by Jesus instead.
I don’t know Mr Reyes’ religious beliefs or affiliations; they were not discussed in the interview. But I do believe that he is on the side of creation, life, light, over the gloom and shadow of death.
Last spring, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church had this to say on the subject:
As bishops of The Episcopal Church we embody a wide variety of experiences and perspectives with respect to firearms. Many among us are hunters and sport-shooters, former members of the military and law-enforcement officers. We respect and honor that we are not of one mind regarding matters related to gun legislation. Yet we are convinced that there needs to be a new conversation in the United States that challenges gun violence. Because of the wide variety of contexts in which we live and our commitment to reasoned and respectful discourse that holds together significant differences in creative tension, we believe that The Episcopal Church can and must lead in this effort. … We call all Episcopalians to pray and work for the end of gun violence.
Just in the past ten days in this country, there were two school campus shootings, one shopping mall with multiple casualties, a man shot to death by a retired police officer for texting in a movie theatre, and those are just the incidents I remember reading about off the top of my head. Closer to home, since last Sunday night a five year old died and her mother was shot in the head because their car looked like that of someone the gunman’s girlfriend had argued with. A couple died at MetroHealthHospital after a double shooting in the parking lot. A man was shot to death in the early hours of yesterday morning breaking up a fight outside a Cleveland bar.
We are the people living in anguish and gloom. Of the children I knew in Sunday School over the past ten years, four have been in schools when one of their fellow students wielded a gun with the intent to end a life. Two of them were there when lives were lost. Most of them have heard threats of gun violence in their schools. All of them, all of our children have received instruction in what to do if an active shooter comes into their school to hurt or kill them; it’s become like running a fire drill or a tornado practice. We are the ones living in the region and shadow of death.
Whatever your views on gun ownership, licensing or control, it is not hard to see that we have a real and abiding problem with gun violence. It is all around us, and it is time we shone a light on the subject.
Because we are the ones called to pray and work for the lifting of the gloom that envelops too many; the relief of the anguish of bereaved mothers, sons, and lovers; we are called to shine a light into the dark corners of our own souls and sweep out the webs, the networks of vengeance and violence that we harbour there. We are called to bring our creativity, our liveliness, our hope to transform our region from one under the shadow of death to one that shines with new light; the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. We may not always see it shining so brightly, but the light itself will not fail; the shadows of death cannot overcome it. It is, as Teresa of Avila explained, “as if a person were to enter a place where the sun is shining but be hardly able to open his eyes because of the mud in them.”
It is time for us to wash the mud from our eyes and see the light. It is time for us to leave our tangled and tainted nets, the violence that ensnares us, and follow Jesus, for the good of all the people we know and those that we only read about in the papers; for the good of our children, who grow up learning to expect an outbreak of violence at any moment in time.
Only when we have washed that mud from our eyes, only when we have seen the light and answered the call to leave our nets and follow Jesus will we be able to proclaim with a clear conscience,
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
Amen. Let there be light.
 http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2014/01/cleveland_police_id_man_accuse.html; http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2014/01/woman_involved_in_double_shoot.html#incart_river ; http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2014/01/man_killed_outside_cleveland_m.html#incart_river_metro
 Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, quoted in Gail Ramshaw, Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 259