Gun violence has been escalating and is beyond out of control. Along with it is the rhetoric, pundits, law makers, and scores of angry, scared and oppressed people are looking for someone to blame. Beyond it all, most of us want something to change, to get better, but the situation seems to be getting worse. There is no doubt that gun violence is multi-faceted and each area of responsibility refuses to take responsibility for their contribution to the problem. I want to change that starting now.
I used to preach sermons at our church in Denver with a Colt 1911 Defender on my right hip. It was loaded with hydroshock bullets and the hammer was fully cocked with one in the chamber. On my left ankle was a hammerless Smith and Wesson .38 with a CrimsonTrace laser also with hollow point bullets. Our elder board and security team and countless members of our congregation were equally armed. There was never a time, during work, travel, or fun that I didn’t have a firearm.
I cherished my 2nd Amendment right and truly believed I was embodying the ethos of love. What is more loving than strapping an uncomfortable boat anchor to your hip everyday and every moment in case a bad guy comes around. It was my right and duty as a well trained citizen to be there, ready to act, if something went down. I saw it as a service to society. That was what love would do…as I understood it then.
My view on gun violence as a pastor was not unique. Like many views of the clergy, they dovetail nicely with the political landscape and embody so much emotion that it obscures any chance of an objective conversation about the subject. It was my love of scripture that allowed a bigger, wider, and more inclusive ethos of love to finally pierce through the exoskeleton of my heart.
I could no longer reconcile Jesus’s words “Do not resist the one who is evil.” (Matthew 5:39) with the malware script that was written on my heart. The purpose of one’s faith is to transform the mind by allowing us to override the impulse to retaliate, yet I concealed a very deadly weapon not to mention the intent, not to harm, but to kill any threat. What would Jesus’ ministry have looked like if he carried a concealed weapon and killed anyone who threatened his life or that of his beloved disciples? That question kind of settled it for me. I was off track.
I know we live in an increasingly violent and threatening world. The impulse to protect and retaliate is driving gun sales at alarming rates. Once we buy into that line of reasoning, its very difficult to extract ourselves from the communities that validate us and reinforce the propaganda. Though there is some truth to the lifestyle and our right to self-protection, there is yet a bigger reality that we must find which is far beyond the bounds of protecting what is ours. Any theology worth anything reveals that nothing is ours, all is borrowed, given to us as a loan, and for the purpose of sharing.
Pastors decry the violence as they should. But too often we can’t, won’t or don’t take people to the place where the real problem of gun violence exists. Instead, we propagate the blame game. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This is true but not all that is true. If there were no guns, people would murder in other ways. But there are guns. Easily accessed guns. And part of the blame absolutely goes toward our gun laws, gun makers, gun licensing, gun training and the list goes on. Yes gun violence is higher is cities and states that ban guns because only criminals and governments will possess the weapons of power. Weapons to act upon the ethos to retaliate. Neither of these binaries is really the problem, argue all you want, it helps us get nowhere.
The domain of change is within the human heart and mind. This is the domain, not of psychology, not of government, not the education system, not of the penal system, nor manufacturers of guns or violent video games. The domain of the heart is the purview of the pastor and spiritual leader. The reason the heart isn’t changing is because we suck as pastors, priests and Imams. We’ve failed the souls of our cities. The religions we have offered are sterile, institutional traditions that have failed to transform our heart in the face of a fallen, disintegrated and confused world. The world desperately needs transformation and we gave them religious transaction. The impotent gospel given to the masses today is barely related to the powerful Good News Jesus preached. Epic fail.
It’s the spiritual teacher that lacks the wisdom or ability to model a non-violent life who is partly to blame. It’s the preacher who doesn’t understand loves ability to transform all things that is to blame. It’s the priest or Imam who is a coward and will not speak against violence for fear of losing their position, status, or who fears retaliation from their own institution that is to blame. In the end, it is the untransformed heart that is to blame for gun violence and that falls squarely on the leaders and teachers in communities of faith.
For those pastors and leaders who have taught correctly and lived it and still do, keep doing it. However, you must realize that your message is mostly impotent. It’s a wonderful message trapped in a decaying and irrelevant delivery system that most of the culture has rejected. While your message is about transforming love, it’s trapped into spheres of influence that have no reach or bandwidth and thus the message is lost in our modern, disconnected world. So long as you rely on the tired infrastructure of the church, synagog, or mosque model, you will share in the blame for not reaching a dying world with the remedy of love that you possess.
Locking my guns away has certainly alienated me from communities where the ethos to kill “righteously” is upheld. Despite the rhetoric, I’m not a willing victim, I’m not putting my family at risk, and I’m not going to die a thousand deaths if I could have stopped a horror but didn’t because I lacked fire power. I’m now in a place where I can forgive reality for being what it is. I’m not going to stop violence with more violence-that’s insanity. I cannot preach an evolution of consciousness by inner transformation while I promote a pre-rational consciousness of retaliation and fear armed to the teeth. Like Jesus I must model the freedom and experience of a life transformed by love to all who will listen. For me that meant committing to a higher way of thinking and then living there. It meant putting my guns away and leaving the institutions that imprisoned me into their kindergarten ethos of revenge and fear.
I now serve (minister) to all people, all faiths, all denominations, all ages and stages of life in the highly transportable online world. I take responsibility for gun violence and within my sphere of influence I ask all who will, to move into a bigger place. I invite all who will read or hear this to join the growing online family of those who are not afraid and are not blaming anyone but ourselves for gun violence and every other point of pain in our world. Each moment is the next chance to live out the love that has been breathed into us. We must open our hands, not clench our fists.
May all of those who are transformed by love become the light in our dark world and may we all follow the example of the Christ, the beacon who draws us all into safe harbor and a new consciousness. At a time like this, we don’t need a new constitution, nor the old one. The only law we need is the law of love and it must be inscribed upon our heart so that we no longer see others as enemy’s. Losing our enemy, through love means that guns and any kind of violence will become obsolete. I’d rather strive toward that than live in fear. I hope you will too.