On Sunday morning, I preached a sermon on 2 Corinthians 4, in which I struggled to find a modern metaphor for clay jars, Paul’s metaphor for the wild inappropriateness of our weak, fragile broken bodies as vessels for the gospel.
On Monday, July 4, 2016, America celebrated its independence day.
On Tuesday, two police officers fatally shot Alton B. Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
On Wednesday evening, a police officer fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.
Last night, five police officers were killed by snipers during an otherwise peaceful protest held in downtown Dallas.
This morning, practically paralyzed by the events of this week, grief stricken and broken hearted, I wrote this lament to our gun-spangled America.
I woke up this morning, and like so many wondered naively, will things be different? Will things be different on a morning where birds chirp, where it seems possible to be hopeful, the heavy, oppressive heat yet to descend upon us?
Who are you, this shadowy America, and what have you done with the free and the brave?
How heavy your burden of history and violence and oppression, how heavy the present fear and death you inflict upon black men and black women, America.
How heavy that fear descends upon law enforcement, for even their guns will not free them from this madness!
And it seems we have no choice–to put down our guns is surrender, but to leave them raised is death. We have all become perpetrators. We have all become victims.
And so I scoffed bitterly, I want no part in your gun-spangled America, in the weapons you wave that display not freedom or strength but cowardice and fear!
These guns, these guns are illusions, nay, allusions to protect, to intimidate the very fight out of war, yet with each gunshot we’ve slowly come to the realization that America is at war with itself. That what seems unfathomable because of our modernity, our civilization, has come not in spite but because of it. We fail to accept our common mortality, our common humanity, and so we wage war upon our brothers and sisters in a paradoxical desire to protect our own.
But we live with death at work within us (2 Cor 4:12), so painfully and palpably now, we are bearers of not only the body of the death of Jesus martyred by the state (2 Cor 4:10), but 566 people killed by the U.S. police in 2016, 53 American officers killed in the line of duty in 2016, and now overall 7088 gun related deaths in the U.S. in 2016.
Scripture tells us that we carry that death so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh (2 Cor 4:11), but with death among us and America’s shadows, I worry that the resurrection is only for another world. We find hope in resurrection because it’s a respite from our self-inflicted madness; our world crowds out light and peace and resurrection–our gun-spangled America–and I want no part in that.
And yet, I must wake to this world, because my own blood-stained hands have helped form it.
I must be one to put down my gun–not just a literal gun–but my very real fears and prejudices and selfishness and insults and division that I had once thought might keep me safe. I must be one to carry death inside, but to also live with defiance when life itself has been marred. I must be one to show my face, to preach the kingdom of God in this inconvenient moment and in this wounded nation. I must be one to cry out for the fragility and the brokenness of our human condition, but also the deep meaning in lives lost, to cleave to something beyond the madness–so that gun-spangled madness won’t be what life in America is all about.
Who are we, shadowy America, and what have we done with the free and the brave?
Who are we, both perpetrators and victims of madness?
Who are we, children of God?