The Common Good

Wisconsin Shooting, A Culture of Violence, and Why Prayer is Not Enough

This morning my newsfeed was filled with news reports from Oak Creek, pictures from vigils in Milwaukee, Madison, and Whitefish Bay, and with prayers and condolences. And then I read this:

The Overpass Light Brigade at the prayer vigil in Milwaukee. Courtesy Steve Jerb
The Overpass Light Brigade at the prayer vigil in Milwaukee. Courtesy Steve Jerbi

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Status: happyhiroshimaday!

Comment 1: I think it is merryhiroshimaday!

Comment 2: Nuclear weapons (mustard gas, ricin, anthrax) don't kill people, people do. Why are we trying to control WMDs?

And while the sarcasm might have been in poor taste it reveals a truth far deeper than a HuffPost report or a #templeshooting. We are addicted to violence. As a nation it is our drug of choice and we are all strung out after years of wars. Like a junkie we do our business in secret — drone strikes as track marks on the arms of Uncle Sam. We see the dealer rolling through the streets with his tricked out tanks and fighter jets with rims. And we say, I want to be just like you, G.I. Joe. I want to be a war hero.

So we push the guns into the hands of young men without any hope. And we push the guns into the hands of those who live in fear of a world changing too fast. And we push the guns into the hands of children saying: be a man, be a hero.

I’m not talking about our culture’s obsession with violence in video games or movies or music. I am talking about the physical violence that weapons bring upon flesh and ultimately blood.

I heard about the shooting at the Sikh temple in the middle of leading worship. It was the same space where two months ago we buried a child killed by gun violence. It was the same space where two weeks ago we prayed for the community of Aurora. And now we were gathered again and like the family of an addict we were left with the pain of a destructive lifestyle.

We wept. We prayed. We sang.

I stood up and said, “We have prayed. And there is power in prayer. Change can happen with prayers. And we pray for brothers and sisters who worship a different God than ours and yet we call them our family. We pray for the shooter because we are taught to pray for our enemies. But prayer is not enough.

"This is the moment, once again, where we commit ourselves to the calling of peace. We do it because God’s deepest desire for us is to have life and have it abundantly. We do it because Jesus knows the physical pain of violence. We do it because we know that blessed are the peacemakers.

"And so it is not enough to just pray. We must act for peace. We must work for peace. And this can happen anywhere. It can happen in the ghettos of Milwaukee. It can happen in Aurora. And it can happen in Oak Creek.

"And so, as the ones who worship the Prince of Peace our work must be tireless. We must bring peace where we go. We bring peace in our hearts and in our homes. When there is nonsense in our neighborhood we speak a word of peace. When a kid is getting bullied in our schools we speak a word of peace. When people cannot even gather for worship without fear we must bring peace.”

A national movement of peace will call into question our policies — our policies about guns and about war, about racism and jingoism. It happens abroad and it happens in our communities. Folks have said to me and posted that this is a time to mourn the dead and comfort the bereaved. We cannot play politics with tragedies. This is not a time to look at gun laws in our country.

I say as we work for peace that it is all on the table. We cannot recover from our addiction while living the same lifestyle. We must look for the time when swords are beaten into plowshares, guns are made into garden tools, where we study war no more.  

Steve Jerbi is pastor of All Peoples Church in Milwaukee, Wis. Listen to Steve's eulogy for Darius at his funeral June 9 HERE and a sermon Steve preached just three days after Darius' death HERE.

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