Gospel of Mark, Guns, Lent

Places of honor (Mark 12:38-44)

Today we went to the State Capitol to be part of March for Our Lives. There were some youth speakers, many of them white. There were a number of adult speakers, who provided some diversity – a local Black poet, a Muslim woman in a hijab who works with victims, a Latinx professor who called attention to the history of gun violence protests and the important work of young People of Color that have been ignored by many. One of our Senators sent a representative, and a teacher spoke, and the president of the teachers’ union. LGBTQ+ people were represented by a school board member (and maybe by some of the youth, but that was not made explicit). There were many teachers in the crowd, a smattering of pussy hats, and among those I saw, some Black Lives Matter t-shirts.

Today’s rally here in Pennsylvania didn’t include the governor or any congressmen. We had a mayor from a small town who made gun violence a cause years ago, standing alongside high school juniors and a pair of 8th grade girls who led us in chants. “What do we need?” Change. “When do we need it?” Now.

One pastor spoke, a colleague in the UCC. I thought about what I might have said in his place. What an opportunity! There weren’t a lot of overtly religious signs among the mostly-white crowd. I have the same sense of a lost narrative that I had during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2014. There is a counter-cultural message available in the gospel, and it is unknown to many. The church’s cultural affiliation with the halls of power and the places of honor tell a story of secular approval that cloaks the real story.

Standing outside the Capitol with no official role to play at the rally, it was easy to imagine Jesus and his disciples at the Temple, off to the side, watching people come and go. Just as I watched a woman pass daffodils out to rally participants, he watched the widow putting her two coins in the offering. I wondered who had ordered the flowers, and how many they got, and what kind of sacrifice it might have been to order many dozens, or whether someone donated the flowers on their slender stalks. Jesus offered a word of warning to those who would take the generous gift of the widow.

This week a story appeared in a major paper about the leader of a network of churches who has been accused of misconduct. It struck me as I read a bit about him that one of the dangers for the church and church leaders when we over-identify with the culture is that our standards can become skewed. Are we forming disciples, or are we attracting numbers? Do we identify with Jesus’ servant-leadership, or do we become enamored of our own press? Can we stand to the side, or will we wrangle for the places of honor?

Lord, help me to know my right place. Amen.

A portion of the crowd at the March for Our Lives, via Prisma

I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Family History, Guns, Sabbatical, Suicide

A Fork and Knife (On Guns)

My father had a collection of duck decoys so numerous you might have reasonably assumed he hunted. And he did. Once. Oh, he didn’t have a gun. But my mother’s Cousin Jimmy coaxed him along to the duck blind once. Once. Daddy bought the right kind of jacket, and after he died in 1997, I found it hanging in the upstairs back closet with the hunting license still in the pocket, dated in the early 1950s, when he and my mother were newlyweds.

I was a grown-up before I thought of the decoys as tools. To me they were just pretty. We like ducks, I thought. (They’re all living at my brother’s house now, or I would include a picture.)

During the time we lived in Northern Virginia, we would go to church on Sundays at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, and often we would stop after church to visit one of Daddy’s law school classmates, known fondly to us as Uncle Willie. We would go into his rather fabulous den, decorated with animal heads and shiny firearms and lie on the rug and read the funny papers while the grown-ups drank a fabulous Bloody Mary, usually with the little celery leaves still on the stalk. The walls also featured prints of people on horses wearing scarlet jackets and jumping horses over fences. I knew about hunting from “Mary Poppins.” I felt sorry for the fox. Uncle Willie’s house seemed entirely exotic. It bore no resemblance to my reality.

Going Out at Epsom, Sir Alfred James Munnings (1878-1959) -- My dad bought the print in England, while serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII.
Going Out at Epsom,
Sir Alfred James Munnings (1878-1959)

My father liked to go to the races. The prints at our house included this one. (#1 Son now has custody.) Daddy bought the print in England, while serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Of course he learned how to fire a weapon in basic training, but his job was behind the lines, installing radar systems in airplanes. And I’ll never know now whether it was his Methodist “Mumma” or his knowledge of the ways his friends were killed and maimed in the war, or his own fairly peaceful temperament, or even his lack of ease with technology of all sorts that made him not a gun person.

But he was not a gun person.

People use the resources available to them and for the most part embody the values and practices learned unconsciously in the homes where they are raised. Yes, some people are “raised right” and go in another direction, and yes, some people are raised terribly and turn out, by the grace of God, beautifully. But most of us spend a lifetime either unconsciously living out what we learned in childhood or trying hard to overturn the patterns of many generations.

If you grow up in a house with guns, you will think of them as a tool people use.

A person raised in a house where books and music and writing are the tools employed might write a scathing letter or a heart-wrenching poem or a grief-struck ballad or a piece of painful electronic music to  express anger at bullies. If guns aren’t as common in your life as a fork and knife, you’re less likely to consider them a tool for personal use when you’re beset by social rejection. I’ve been plenty hurt and plenty mad (or angry, as my father always told me to say instead), but I DID NOT GROW UP WITH GUNS and therefore no matter how oppressed I felt as a bullied grade school student or an unpopular teenager or an unhappy young wife or a depressed new mother, I never thought of harming myself or others with a gun.

Read that sentence above again: “I never thought of harming myself or others with a gun.” To be clear, I never thought of harming others, but I certainly thought of harming myself in one of those periods in particular. By the grace of God, I asked for help and got some.

When I thought of harming myself, I considered doing it with a tool in common use in my life. I’m writing this weeks after Newtown and a day after a young man walked into a classroom in California to shoot at kids who bullied him. There’s no question we need services for people who are troubled and support for parents raising kids with mental illness. But we also need guns to be categorized as something a little less ordinary, acceptable and available, as expected in everyday existence as a knife and fork.