“Enough!” a colleague wrote to me earlier today as he asked to join the network of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, in the wake of the assassination of police officers last night in Dallas. "Enough!" was the chant started by a local mayor at a vigil I attended nearly a month ago after the murders in Orlando, Florida. The echo of "enough" went on for several minutes, growing in volume and intensity.
On one level, the cry of "enough" is a statement that people want to do something about gun violence, racism and police brutality. On another level, "enough" is a statement that says we can't take any more tragedy or collective grief. "Enough" makes a point that comes from a queasy stomach or a wounded heart. We want it to stop, because it hurts. It's scary. And the response of "enough," the wish to have it end, is in fact not enough.
The challenge is to make a difference. Which is what my colleague did when he wanted to join a network of religious leaders who have pledged to do what they can to reduce gun violence. It is hard work. It takes a long time. At moments the task to make a difference may feel like spitting into a desert with the hope that plants will grow.
In the wake of Alton Sterling's death in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile's in Minnesota, and the murders in Dallas of police officer Patrick Zamarripa, three as-yet unnamed fellow police officers and transit officer Brent Thompson, I offer some small but important areas where we can make a difference:
Prayer. Prayer is not a bromide. It is a power, especially if we do it together in community. The tragedies we are facing are symptoms of the unraveling of the social fabric. Our communities of faith, which often are experiencing their own unraveling, are more important than ever. They are bulwarks to the proliferation of silos and the illusion that the individual is sovereign. They support, and often restore, a frayed or torn social fabric. We need communities of confidence (which in Latin is the joining of con – with, and fidelis – faith) and hope. To pray for those lost. To pray for those who mourn. To pray for the police officers who risk their lives to keep communities safe. To pray for those millions who feel at risk when they step out their door.
Guns. We need to keep the pressure on about guns. Who gets them. Who can use them. What sort of guns are appropriate to manufacture for a non-military population. The mantra of the gun rights lobby is that guns don't kill people; people kill people. But when one person has a gun, and suspects that someone else has a gun – and fear, hate and racism are thrown in the mix, an awful lot of people end up getting killed. It is tragic. And as I read the Gospel, it is unacceptable. This is not so much a political issue as it is a cultural one. And culture change takes a while. And we need to keep at it.
- Privilege. The temptation is to use the word racism here, but racism – while real and rampant, has become such a loaded term that most people think it doesn't apply to them. And then conversation or reflection stops. In many ways privilege is the flip side of racism. We like to think that our country was built on freedom. To a certain extent, it was – for white men of property. A closer look demonstrates that the foundation of our society is the preservation of privilege. That foundation continues today in many of our political and economic systems, and in the platforms of too many political candidates.
We all need to examine our own privilege, and how our desire to preserve it impedes the freedom of someone else. Millions of people know, only too well and with tragedy upon perfidy, that one can attain privilege through education, salary or achievement, but can lose it all in the blink of an eye or the squeeze of a trigger – because of the color of their skin.
During his ministry, which culminated in his death on a cross, Jesus made an unyielding witness to freedom. Our freedom. It is far deeper and more abiding than privilege. More than ever, we need to line up behind that life-giving witness – and in the faith that it will make a difference.