I am making some orange stoles. This was not in my original plan for the week, but it happened almost by accident (as so many gun-related detours do).
A friend and colleague [update: the Revd C Eric Funston tells the story here] posted a call to #WearOrange on June 2nd, to raise awareness of the public health crisis that is gun violence in this country today. Being a clergy person and general church geek, he wanted to find an orange stole to wear on the following Sunday, June 5th.
“I can make that happen,” I thought. Followed swiftly by, “Let’s make this happen!”
So he shared the details to our local clergy Facebook group, along with my promise to make as many orange stoles as people requested, as best I can. I went on out and got some yardage of likely-looking orange cotton fabric, remembering at the last minute to factor into the measurements that I should make myself one, too.
In the meantime, we shared our plans more widely, and invited others to join us. The response that I have seen has been mostly low-key, with a few enthusiastic adopters, and a little caution. I get it, both ways, I do. But I also feel compelled to step into this challenge.
I went to a Faith & Health Collaborative meeting this morning, where the rather wonderful co-founders of the movement, God Before Guns, gave a presentation to inform our further conversation.
They are not anti-gun-ownership, they said, nor anti-2nd-amendment; although they do consider that all of the amendments should come second to God and God’s commandments; hence the name.
I took some notes. In our little county alone, they have found, so far this year there have been at least 47 gun-related deaths, 20 of them people under the age of 30. In our county, the suicide:homicide rate is roughly 1:2, which is the reverse of the national trend. I do not know what to make of that. We are on track to meet or to beat 2014’s numbers (the last year for which data is complete and available), which came to 150 gun deaths for Cuyahoga County, and 1,211 in Ohio as a whole. There are an estimated 310 million guns at large in America today. Since 1968, the year that I was born (coincidentally), roughly 1,516,863 people have died in America of gun violence [I updated the numbers I heard this morning via PolitiFact].
That is over 100,000 more people in my lifetime than have died in American wars since 1774.
That is a lot.
I came back to my church and sat in a lunch meeting with a bunch of other pastors. One couldn’t come, because of a funeral for a young person who died of gun violence this past weekend. That’s one too many.
The word “despair” came up more than once this morning. People of faith should have something to say to that.
I was taught, long ago and far away, that the liturgical colour “green” really means “all of the other colours,” so I am not worried about offending the church calendar by wearing orange. The #WearOrange folks chose the colour that hunters wear to avoid getting accidentally shot after it was adopted by young people on the south side of Chicago to remember their fallen friend, whose death was no accident, but a symptom of a public health crisis that is plaguing that city and our own.
This orange stole is not a statement that I want you to see me. It is a plea and a penance and a proclamation: that we have something to say about this, we people of faith. That we have something to say to the violence of death and destruction. That we have seen, and noticed, and that we are not unchanged, unturned, unmoved, we who are alive.
Updated August 2019: unfortunately, the need for “orange awareness” has only increased since this post was first published. More recent reflections include: