I was honoured to offer this opening prayer and call at lunch with God Before Guns and the Rev. Sharon Risher at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church, Cleveland Heights, today.
What do guns have to do with any of this?
That was the question that came up after an institutional anti-racism training day. One of the hypothetical scenarios that we were given to discuss amongst ourselves included a passing reference to guns and our investment in them. At least one person wondered why such a divisive and distracting issue as guns and gun violence would be shoe-horned into a discussion of racism. What did one have to do with the other?
Well. Here we are.
The Reverend Sharon Risher knows all too well what one thing has to do with the other. Racism and gun violence were intimately and blatantly intertwined in Charleston and too many more places whose names are familiar for all the wrong reasons.
We have outsourced to gun violence the aspects of American life that most divide us. By means of fear-mongering and profit-hungering we have allowed guns to divide us to death, because guns are a most efficient means to ending an argument.
But we are here armed with our faith. Before her own family’s trauma overtook her and diverted her work even as far as Cleveland, Sharon Risher was a trauma chaplain, bringing the words of life into valley of the shadow of death. She aleady knew that call to the hard and counter-cultural work of faith: faith, any faith, demands that we wrestle with ridiculous notions such as mercy and forgiveness, because that is what God will do to us.
Preventing gun violence begins with disarming our own hearts and spirits of hate, of unrighteous anger, violence of vengeance, of pride, and the victory that belongs to God alone
Faith demands that we deal in hope: hope not only for the life to come but hope in this life, in this time, in this place. Now is the acceptable day of the Lord to do justice, love mercy, walk with humility and with God. Faith demands that we come together in hope and in love to begin the hard work of healing not only from the wounds of gun violence and grief, but to heal the open wounds that bleed gun violence; to proclaim and to preach a better way to love our neighbours than to arm ourselves against them.
Faith demands that we teach our children the way of love over the way of lock-down drills.
I am convinced that God is with us in this work. Just as nothing can divide us from the love of God – not heights, nor depths, nor angels, nor evil, nor life, nor death – so nothing will defeat the will of God to restore all creation, and all of God’s created beings, to the peace for which God created us.
And so, in that Spirit, let us pray:
Creator of all, we give you thanks for the time to come together in faith, in hope, and in love, to share our determination to live out the love you have shown us. We come to be nourished by your gifts of food, service, good company, hard experience, faithful prayer. We pray for our speaker, your daughter Sharon. Give us the grace of gratitude to all who have helped us come together today, all who have a hand in feeding and nurturing our bodies and souls; all who offer comfort; all who offer forgiveness. Give us courage to use these gifts not only for our own solace, but for the good and the safety and the healing of your people, made in your image, and to the glory of your Names. Amen.