Another mass shooting. This time in a municipal office building in Virginia Beach. The news reported that this was the most casualties in a mass shooting since November. How should one react to the fact that we are a culture that must track such gruesome statistics? The responses came in like clockwork: heartbroken families and friends, thoughts and prayers, elected officials on various sides of the political divide offering condolences, talk of increased gun control laws, or not. At what point do we as citizens, and particularly we people of faith, seriously say: “Enough.”
The answer to the question of how to end this mass carnage is complex. As noted in a 2018 New York Times article: “As convenient as it would be, there is no one-size-fits-all profile of who carries out mass shootings in the United States. About the only thing almost all of them have in common is that they are men.” Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all remedy to such a pervasive and complicated cultural scourge. However, doing nothing cannot be an option for those of us who follow the Prince of Peace and believe in a God who wills abundant life for all people.
Prayers matter, but prayers are not enough. Gun violence is a wicked problem, in every sense of the word. Wicked problems require creative thinking, and, in the words of Ann Pendleton-Jullian and John Seely Brown in “Design Unbound,” we are to be “thinking forward, more than solving for the present; imagining a better state and then working toward it.” Those of us ordained as elders, deacons and ministers are asked this question: “Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?” It is time for all of us who have answered this question in the affirmative to apply these adjectives to the wicked problem of gun violence in our country. There will be no quick fix or easy answer, but surely with the power of the Spirit we can do better.
In that same book, Pendeton-Jullian and Seely Brown share the story of the Venezuelan Youth Orchestras founded by Jose Antonio Abreu. The scope and scale of Abreu’s undertaking boggles the mind: no child is turned away, deaf children are incorporated, programs take place in the garbage dumps of Maracay. Families and communities support the orchestra and its impact echoes beyond the lives of individual children into the world. Adaptation and flexibility define the work. Creativity and imagination infuse the whole.
Abreu says: “To my mind, our social problems all stem form a sense of exclusion. If you look at the world, you see that exclusion in some form or other is to blame for the explosion of social problems everywhere. So we have to fight to bring as many people as we can, everyone, if possible, into our world of music, the world of the orchestra, of singing, of art.” Those of us charged with the ministry of reconciliation could begin by addressing exclusion where we live; doing so would impact many wicked problems for the good.
What if we who follow the Risen Lord, the one who says that faith the size of a mustard seed moves mountains, got together and imagined a better state of life together? One of radical inclusion, where all are cherished? What if we made the vision of the heavenly kingdom our vision for life on earth? What if we thought forward more than we looked backward? What if we let go of all we thought possible and invited God to reveal the new, beautiful, just and good thing we are called to work toward? What if we really and truly collaboratively served the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love? What if we kept in the forefront of our minds that other ordination question: “Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?”
Those of us who seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives cannot ignore our responsibility to be ambassadors for reconciliation by loving our neighbors as together we address the wicked problem of gun violence, the pain from which it springs and the suffering it leaves in its wake.