Yesterday a gunman opened fire in Ottawa and killed a soldier at a war memorial. It is a stark reminder of the kind of world we live in every time a life is taken through violence. My prayers are with the victim and his family and for the authorities leading the investigation in trying to understand the shooter’s motives.
Like Ebola and ISIS, the shooting is spreading fear around the world. It is not unnatural to experience fear as a reaction to danger. However, reacting out of fear instead of wisdom is the mistake we must stop making.
What happened in Ottawa is also a reminder for me that while we can’t remove all violence, we can take steps as a country to reduce it. In 2011, the last year complete numbers are available, 32,163 died in America due to gun related deaths. In Canada that same year the number was 781. While gun violence can happen anywhere, as Ottawa shows, it happens much more in the United States than any other developed country.
Why the discrepancy? The full answer is complicated, but one of the driving factors is not.
Michael Brown. Sandy Hook. Trayvon Martin. Aurora. Columbine.
Within the last decade, the narrative of children and teenagers being killed by gun violence has become an all-too-familiar narrative in the American public sphere. In a recent report compiled by The Brady Campaign, statistics revealed that in 2011 alone, 19,403 children were shot and 2,703 children and teenagers lost their lives to guns.
That’s seven of America’s youth under the age of 20 killed every day.
In the book of Matthew, the disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Jesus calls a child to join the group.
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” he answers.
If as Christians, children represent God’s creation in its most pure and innocent form, why is it that as Americans, we continue to let children die preventable deaths from gun violence? Gun control policies are a difficult discourse for the American public. Yet one thing we can all agree on is that children should not be killed.
Of the 2,703 children killed in 2011, 61 percent were homicides, 32 percent were suicides and 5 percent were unintentional shooting. These statistics propel gun-related deaths to the number two leading cause of death for youth in America.
Thousands of people from around the country came to Ferguson, Mo., for a “weekend of resistance.” But for faith leaders it was a weekend of repentance. Twenty of us were arrested in Ferguson yesterday for an act of repentance.
I went to Ferguson as a faith leader but, in particular, as a white faith leader. Because the great disparity between how differently young black lives are treated in our criminal justice system than young white lives is a fundamental injustice that must not only be left to black faith leaders to raise up. Repentance must begin in the white Christian community for tolerating this offense to our black brothers and sisters and, ultimately, this offense to God. Let me be as honest as I can be. If white Christians in America were more Christian than white, black parents could feel safer about their children. It’s time for us white Christians to repent — turn around and go in a new direction.
Repentance is a powerful theme throughout the Bible. But its meaning is often not well understood. Repentance is not about being sorry or just feeling guilty. It is about turning in a new direction. The biblical word for repentance in the original Greek is metanoia, which means you are going in the wrong direction, and it’s time to turn right around.
In the case of Ferguson, repentance means more than merely acknowledging the tragic death of an unarmed 18-year-old African-African man named Michael Brown on Aug. 9 — shot and killed by a white police officer named Darren Wilson. Repentance means more than lamenting the loss of another young black man or being sympathetic to his grieving mother. True repentance means changing the direction of the practices and policies that led to his death and so many others.
It is frightening to consider that within the context of violence against women, little has progressed since the time of the Old Testament. Currently, 1-in-3 U.S. women will experience intimate partner violence throughout her lifetime. Even more frightening is that every month, 46 women are killed by an intimate partner with a gun.
Americans across partisan, personal, and religious lines are divided on the role of the Second Amendment in the public square. Yet no matter ones’ stance on gun control procedures, one fact transcends opinion: women are at a higher risk for intimate partner gun violence than men.
From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun — more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. The rate at which domestic violence turns to murder is a harsh reality — and when a domestic abuser has a gun, a victim is 12 times more likely to die than when the abuser doesn’t.
The empty shoes came in all shapes and sizes — cowboy boots and sneakers, children’s sparkly shoes and women’s dress shoes. They filled step after step going up toward the entrance of the Wisconsin State Capitol.
The shoes — 467 pair of them — represented the death toll from guns in just one state: Wisconsin.
"I want you to look at these empty shoes," Jeri Bonavia, told the crowd gathered on the Capitol steps on Monday. "I want you to bear witness. All across our state, families are aching with emptiness."
Bonavia is the executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, which is using this display of empty shoes in five cities around the state this week.
In the nationwide scheme of things, Wisconsin has a lower death rate from guns than the nation as a whole. The annual average of 467 from murder, suicide and accidents is just a fraction of the approximately 30,000 gun deaths each year across the U.S.
And yet the row upon row of empty shoes on the steps spoke to the heartache that comes with each death, whatever the toll in whatever state.
1. WATCH: Powerful Ad Shows What A Little Girl Hears When You Tell Her She's Pretty
“A new Verizon commercial cites a sad statistic by the National Science Foundation: 66 percent of 4th grade girls say they like science and math, but only 18 percent of all college engineering majors are female.”
2.Sandy Hook Dad on What You Can Do Right Now to Help Prevent Violence
“'Pick your eyes up from the sidewalk and look at people,' Mr. Barden pleaded, with tears in his eyes. Yes, we should call our representatives; yes, we should make our voices heard where laws are made. But we should also do what we can to foster empathy; to create a world where no one feels invisible and ignored — least of all those who disproportionately fall victim to our collective failure to care enough to act."
3. Facebook VP: Stop Portraying Me as Mother-of-Four Who 'Wanted it All''
"'When I got my post at Facebook it was all about how I was a mother-of-four who had 'won' the position, alongside pictures of my wedding,' she said, noting that the male executive hired at the same time came under no such scrutiny. Reports also said she insisted on working part-time, when in fact she was working a typical five-day week."
4. FIFA Go Home: Inside Brazilians' Struggle to Challenge World Cup
From Mashable: "Their goal isn't so much to change the current World Cup in any specific way; it's more to challenge — and, ideally, impact — the mainstream narrative surrounding the tournament, shifting its focus to the event's human costs and larger political context. To the billions spent on stadiums that won't be used again and the millions living in abject poverty."
5. Ikea to Raise Its Average Minimum Hourly Wage to $10.76
"The happier the co-worker, the happier the customer and the better the overall shopping experience," said Ikea's acting U.S. president, Rob Olson. "We wanted to be less concerned about the competition and more concerned about offering our co-workers a better everyday life."
6. The Decency of a Nation
A new index attempts to measure the 'goodness' of nations — based on the way they treat other nations, science and technology, culture, equality, etc. (Spoiler: guess who doesn't break the top 10.)
7.WATCH: 'Columbusing': When White People Think They Discovered Something They Didn't
"Macklemore Columbused same-sex marriage, just like Gwyneth Paltrow Columbused Eastern medicine."
8.Use of Drones for Killings Risks a War Without End
A bipartisan panel concluded that the use of armed drones "sets a dangerous precedent for lethal operations that other countries might adopt in the future," according to the New York Times.
9. Detroit Activists Call for UN Help as City Shuts Off Water for Thousands
“Detroit has too much of some things – stray dogs, abandoned houses – and not enough of others, such as residents who pay their water bills. The latest sign of Detroit’s decline came from the city’s water department, when it said in March it would begin shutting off water for up to 3,000 homes and businesses a week in an attempt to stop the utility from sliding even further into debt.”
10. PHOTOS: Inside a Detention Center for Migrant Children
The Customs and Border Patrol is overwhelmed by a flood of minors entering the U.S. from Central America.
There are two prevalent ways that we contribute to or allow the sacrifices of our daughters and sons in contemporary U.S. society. One, the numbers of individuals, especially children and youth, who are killed through gun violence each year. Two, veterans and their families who are not receiving the adequate and timely care and support they deserve. Both these forms of sacrifice have become so normalized as part of U.S. culture that it has become easy to overlook them or to call something else.
I grew up in the state of Colorado. It’s known for cowboys, mountains, skiing, smoking pot, the Broncos, but also — mass school shootings. Since the recent shooting at Seattle Pacific University my connection to mass murder and school shootings has become all too familiar.
My younger brother is a freshman at Seattle Pacific University where a 26-year-old with a shotgun recently killed one and injured three others in the latest school shooting. My brother is finishing up his first year of school as a music major before moving to Santa Cruz in the summer to work as Christian summer camp counselor. While untouched by the damage to the shooter, another young man on the same dorm floor as him, Paul Lee, was not so fortunate. He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead (three other wounded victims survived). Though the body count was considerably less than recent events at Santa Barbara, its timing mirrors the increasing normality with which such shootings are now taking place. Sadly, a tragedy such as this merely becomes fodder for political bickering and ideological advancement.
My brother and I grew up with guns in the town of Bailey, Colo. Bailey is a strange mixture of rednecks, conservative Christians, new age folks, commuters, hippies, outdoor enthusiasts, and undeniably proud gun owners. My dad was a hunter and kept a rifle beneath his bed, which was made out of Aspen trees he chopped, stripped, and stained himself. Every October he would take a week off work and go into the mountains with some friends to go hunt.
On June 10, Emilio Hoffman, a 14-year-old student at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., was transformed, from a good-hearted kid with his life ahead of him to a statistic.
Now, he’s a red dot on a graph, one blip in an “American victims of gun violence” total that is already absurdly high, and will no doubt be higher the next time you check it.
Emilio’s crime? He went to school, on a day that another student decided — for reasons none of us can fathom — to bring an AR-15 rifle from home and start shooting people.
What happened to Emilio is not a tragedy. A tragedy is when something happens that no one could have helped: an accident, a natural disaster, a crime that could not have been foreseen or prevented.
“Not one more” was the sentiment and catchphrase of the community in Isla Vista, the town near Santa Barbara where Elliot Rodger shot and killed six people. Christopher Michaels-Martinez, a 20 year-old man, was among the victims and it was his father, Richard, who has passionately enjoined citizens and politicians to enact gun reform.
But it seems inevitable that, when we talk about gun reform, it will always be too little, too late. Yesterday, a gunman opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, a Christian liberal arts college, killing one person and injuring three others. A student named John Meis was working as a building monitor nearby and took advantage of the pause while the shooter reloaded his gun to pepper spray him. Other students and faculty members joined Meis in restraining the shooter until police arrived. The shooter, a 26 year-old man named Aaron Yberra, was armed with a shotgun, a knife, and extra ammunition. He is now in custody.
An interfaith group representing 15 organizations spoke out against gun violence Thursday in the wake of last week’s deadly shooting spree in Santa Barbara.
Religious organizations have lobbied for stricter gun control in the wake of mass shootings, and this latest effort was no exception.
“We are here this morning to stand with the multitude of groups across the United States who are advocating for sensible, common sense laws to limit the effects of gun violence,” said Steve Wiebe, co-chair of the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative. “Our faith traditions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — spur us to peaceful solutions as we recognize the inherent worth of each individual life.”
Elliot Rodger killed six and injured 13 others in Santa Barbara on Friday before dying by an apparently self-inflicted gun wound. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office reported that deputies found three semi-automatic handguns in his car. All three were bought legally.
A year ago this week, news headlines were filled with the story of Hadiya Pendleton. She was a 15-year-old band majorette from Chicago, who would march in the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Parade with her school. Just days after marching in the nation’s capital, Hadiya returned to Chicago’s south side where she was murdered by gunfire in Marsh Park after seeking shelter from a rainstorm. First Lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral, and Hadiya’s parents turned advocates and supporters of commonsense gun laws. The murder of Hadiya Pendleton became a painful representation of the nation’s broken gun laws and the effect that gun violence has had on the millennial generation.
Generation Progress and The Center for American Progress recently released a report: “Young Guns: How Gun Violence is Devastating the Millennial Generation.” According to the report, “American children and teenagers are 4 times more likely to die by gunfire than their counterparts in Canada, 7 times more likely than young people in Israel, and 65 times more likely to be killed with a gun than children and teenagers in the United Kingdom.” These statistics are startling and call for renewed attention to what this study has called a public health crisis.
To mark the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, which left 20 students and six adults dead, a vigil for victims of gun violence was held at Washington National Cathedral last week.
The vigil, sponsored in part by the Newtown Foundation, was a service to remember and honor the more than 30,000 people who lose their lives to gun violence each year. It provided a space for the community to come together in prayers for hope, peace, and love.
After three minutes of silence during the calling bells, a trio of faith leaders, including a rabbi, a Sikh leader, and a Christian minister, offered up calls to prayer. At his turn to speak, Dr. Rajwant Singh affirmed that “whichever way we reach out to God, we can become separated from each other by ignorance, hatred, and violence.” “Each heart is God’s heart, and each body is God’s temple,” Singh continued, “so if you want to honor God, don’t take anyone’s life, or break anyone’s heart.”
After learning about Jesse Lewis, a six-year-old who died in the Sandy Hook shooting a year ago this Dec. 14th, I’m thinking about scratching out the name Jacob in Psalm 146 and writing in Jesse.
Psalm 146, verse 5 says, “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.” I’m wondering if scratching out Jacob and writing in Jesse, at least in these upcoming weeks, might be a way of praying to transform anger and resentment into love and forgiveness.
Jesse was a pretty amazing six-year old who loved adventures, mud, a golden yellow bear, and his big brother. His mom says he was “full of courage and strength,” so much so, that in the midst of the unfolding tragedy Jesse stood still and told his classmates to “Run!” In so doing, he lost his life.
Scarlett Lewis, Jesse’s mom, returned home after the unthinkable tragedy only to find something wonderful Jesse had scratched onto the kitchen chalkboard: "Norturing, helin, love." His mom knew immediately these were Jesse’s last words to her: Nurturing, healing, love. In her book, Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother’s Journey of Hope & Forgiveness, Scarlett tells the story of her journey to forgiveness and hope as a legacy beyond anger and resentment. She begins, of course, with Jesse’s story.
Yesterday, I read about the 2-year old child who shot herself by accident in North Carolina over the weekend. Then I read about the horror of another school shooting in Nevada. Only hours later — shots rang out again on our block in North Philadelphia, for the second time this week. This time a bullet went through the window of one of the houses owned by our non-profit.
I was talking to a friend about my anger over the 300 lives lost in our city this year to gun violence. With the most sincere intentions, my friend said in an attempt to console me: “It’s just the way the world is.”
I’m not willing to give up that easy. It may be the way the world is today, but it doesn’t have to be the way the world is tomorrow.
It didn’t take long to erase the gun.
Greg Bokor’s ArtPrize drawing of an assault rifle at Grand Rapids’ Fountain Street Church was rubbed out Sept. 21 after the public was invited to wield erasers imprinted with sorrow.
Normally festive art lovers obliterated the killing machine with erasers bearing the names of 83 massacred children and adults. They included Jesse Lewis, age 6, one of 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December; Veronica Moser-Sullivan, also 6, youngest of 12 people killed in the 2012 Aurora, Colo. movie-theater slaughter; and the 45 victims of the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech shootings.
Within hours, the public had rendered the AR-15 just a faintly visible image. It was a powerful symbol of what many of us would like to see happen to these weapons of death so easily available to mentally deranged people seeking sick revenge.
Tragically, in real life, it is the children and other victims who have been so easily erased from our consciousness.
Any right-thinking stranger on our shores must read our daily news and think our nation has gone mad. We have cultivated the ability to end lives quickly; and yet we are continually surprised when our fellow citizens use the tools we have devised for exactly the purpose for which we invented them. Come to think of it, I think we’ve gone mad, too.
But our madness is not one that can be cured by laws alone. Laws can help to restrain us, and can help by making it a little less easy for us to find ourselves armed for murder. But we need something more, something that churches are better equipped to offer than legislatures are.
What we need right now is a richer moral imagination. We need better stories to tell ourselves, stories about the kind of people we could be. We need, more than anything, to learn to help one another to do the hard work of choosing not to pull the trigger.