We’ve asked folks to send us the statements that their bishops, rectors and lay leaders have made in the aftermath of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and will be presenting a few of those today and tomorrow. This one comes from Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of the Diocese of El Camino Real, and though it was written before the National Rifle Association called for installing armed officers in every American school, it does speaks directly to the need to reform that organization.
Into This Mess, Jesus Comes
O God our Disturber,
Whose speech is pregnant with power
And whose word will be fulfilled:
May we know ourselves unsatisfied
With all that distorts your truth,
And make our hearts attentive to your liberating voice,
In Jesus Christ. Amen
Janet Morley (All Desires Known, collect for 2nd Advent)
I wish you a disturbing, haunting Christmas, one prayerful, hopeful and expectant of great change. Come, Lord Jesus, Come!
It is nice to speak of love, joy, angels, babies, shepherds and stars, things of wonder at this time of year. We often do so without looking further than the “once upon a time” character that the story of Jesus’ birth has become. We speak of the incarnation, God becoming one with us, as though it means nothing more than a day with family, gifts and food. This Christmas though, I pray for us to be awash in God’s power to bring change.
The birth of Jesus is a deeply political story. It is a story that began a movement over 2000 years ago that continues today. It cracked open our broken world, heralding the reign of God. It challenged our worldly power structures. We see this challenge in our sacred story of the birth of Jesus which includes Herod’s fear of this new king; of how he might dismantle Herod’s power. Herod’s fear was enough that he felt the need to massacre first born boys in an effort to prevent Jesus from reaching adulthood. We remember the feast of Holy Innocents on December 28th, and this year the reading of Matthew 2:13-18 will be particularly poignant and painful to hear. Our congregations may wish to hold a vigil on this day in order to remember all children who have lost their lives through the violence of others, both past and present.
Sometimes I hear Episcopalians say we should not be political in our congregational life. It is one of those things we should not speak of in polite company. From the Greek, the word simply means, ‘relating to citizens’. We are organized in this way, as citizens of this country or of some other. To not embrace that is like saying, ‘don’t talk about the fact that we are human, have needs, fears, desires, and energy for certain things and not others.’ Yes, conversation can become heated, but where better to have such talk except in a church, where in the end, we are mandated to ‘love one another’?
Others describe being political as exercising one’s use of power. We do this just by getting out of bed in the morning. Rising up and walking to the bathroom, getting coffee, eating. These are uses of power. We all have it and we can do amazing things with it.
Doing nothing is a way to use power too. To remain silent speaks loudly. We make choices everyday about how we wish to use our voice, as citizens, as Christians. We are stewards of our power just as we are stewards of money, resources, intellect and relationship. We must discern from our particular place in life, how they are best used. We must discern where our gifts and passions intersect with the needs of our community. When we were baptized, we bought into a political movement: a way of being and acting in the world that would speak of a God who exercised the power of salvation by being born into the world’s deepest need.
I am as distraught as the rest of our nation about the massacre at Newtown. I am ashamed to be a citizen of a country that does not have tighter gun control laws. I am rendered speechless that political lobbies have the ability to immobilize our esteemed democratic political system into its deadlock of recent years. I am confused when we point fingers at those individuals who are mentally ill and either can’t get help or who avoid it, and we do not look at the spiritual and mental health of our national psyche. I am sorry that it has taken the brutal murders of children to finally bring us to a tipping point of doing something about our current state of affairs. We should have done it long ago. For the loss of any human life is to defy the energy of God’s love, which has brought us into being: as Episcopal Christians, we pledge in our baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of everyone at all times. In remaining silent, we have used our power in ways that do not take this pledge seriously.
But we are here now and we have choices to make about how we will use our personal political power. Along with writing letters to my elected officials, I spent the early hours of this morning contemplating joining the National Rifle Association. I know that sounds crazy. It is an organization that stands for everything I don’t. They are, however, a most powerful lobby and sometimes, in order to be heard and bring about change, one must join into circles one would not ordinarily join. The NRA knows how to use power – both in silence, as they have shut down their Facebook and Twitter accounts in the wake of our national chaos – and in masterful relationship building in Washington so as to stall reasonable laws of gun and ammunition control.
I have decided I can’t go there, joining the NRA, but I do want to say, if you are a member, and you are appalled that the freedom of gun owners now consistently and repeatedly outweighs an average citizen’s ability to safely go to school, a house of worship, the mall or the movies (just the big shootings this year), then please exercise your membership power and suggest that the lobby get to the table of reasonable negotiation.
We have in our American history overcome grievous institutional sins such as slavery, the oppression of women and people of color. I do believe gun control has become a grievous institutional sin and it needs us as citizens, as Christians, to speak into it. It will not change overnight. Racism and sexism persist. But we must begin.
As we watch the procession of funerals this week, as we seek the peace of Christ in our grieving hearts, as we sit down to dinner with loved ones, exchange gifts, sing carols share Eucharist, let us also open ourselves to the power of God, known in the incarnation. May the powers of our troubled world be disturbed and may we Christians, unsatisfied with the current state of affairs, act.
May the peace of Christ dwell in our hearts and together may we work for justice,