Every year as the calendar turns from May to June, I think of David, a long-ago neighbor of mine. David was old enough to be my father, and his actions on the last day of May more than four decades ago have loomed over my life ever since.
It was a Wednesday afternoon. Why else would I have been standing outside in my “church clothes?” Wednesday evening meant going to Prayer Meeting at our little Baptist church – always – and I was doing my best to, “not get dirty, young man” while waiting to leave.
I heard a scream, and turning my eyes to David’s home, I saw his wife bolting from the house, David not far behind her. Her screams were followed by a series of quick, sharp, pops. David and his wife lay lifeless on the ground. He had taken both of their lives.
I only have flashbulb memories of the rest of that evening: My mother frantically dragging me into the house…Police asking me questions…The arrival of my uncle who was a local pastor…Peeking through the curtains, eating a red popsicle, as the ambulances departed into the dark.
That was my first encounter with gun violence. Tragically, it was not my last. With decades of pastoral and chaplaincy experience now, I have lost count of the times that such tragedies have invaded the lives of those around me. And I venture that hardly a person reading these words hasn’t been impacted in someway by the same.
Even as I write this column, “breaking news” notifications are popping up in the right hand corner of my computer screen to tell me of another school shooting. But it’s not breaking news; it’s old news. It’s news that hasn’t changed for a long, long time. For decades gun deaths in this country dropped steadily, only to reverse in the last twenty years, and are now approaching historical highs.
I won’t barrage you with relevant statistics, charts, and academic studies – these are readily available. Besides, we know in our bones that we have a problem. “Gun culture” has infected us to such extremes that we are listless in seeking systematic, common sense solutions to this self-inflicted sickness, and we seem willing to continue to sacrifice thousands of innocents on the blue-steel altars of hair triggers and black powder.
And make no mistake: It is sacrifice. It is a form of awful worship, a ruthless idolatry that demands the “shedding of blood for the remission of sin.” Whose sin? Ours. All of ours. Because a society that will not protect itself from itself has lost its moral center.
The solution, to use a word long out of fashion, is to repent. That is, live and act differently by means of a spiritual awakening. Because things will never change. But people just might. Such change will not be the result of “thoughts and prayers.” It will be the sustained witness to a better, more peaceful, way of life.