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Preaching to the Preacher - A Lesson on Racism and Mass Shootings
Lent and Violence
For Lent this year at Old West Church, we focused on Racism and White Privilege. As part of this series, we began a yearlong installation comprised of twine and strips of cloth. The twine stretches between the columns of our sanctuary. Each strip is tied individually onto the twine, on each written the city, state and date of a mass shooting in the United States beginning on January 1, 2016.
Each Sunday, before the service, I add the newest strips of cloth to the twine. While the result is striking, I refuse to call it art. How can death be art? How can the violence surging across our nation be artistic? While striking, I struggle to call it art. Though, I had a teacher who once defined art as anything that makes you feel. And this installation makes me feel sick.
On explaining this installation to different people outside of our community, I often get the reaction: “well what about gang violence?” What about it? The question really irks me. I don’t differentiate. A mass shooting is a mass shooting. Don’t you get it?
Preachers Get Preached To (A Lot)
Recently I explained my frustration to one of the cornerstone members of the congregation I serve. He interrupts my saga (before I even finished bemoaning how frustrated I was, how these people “just don’t get it”) at the point of their question about gang violence: “Well, that’s just racist.”
“What do they think – that because the bodies piling up are those of gang members that those bodies doesn’t matter? And I am sure this is paired with the assumption that the majority of gang members are black and brown? That’s racist.”
Wow, just wow.
I wanted to stand up and applaud. Let’s be clear - I have found that being a preacher is less about teaching and preaching to others and more about being very aware that you know absolutely nothing and everyone else you meet along the way is teaching you, pastoring you.
So here was my parishioner, calling out the racist notions surrounding what is a mass shooting. Preach on, preacher! Preach on!
What is a Mass Shooting?
The definition is unclear but we are going with any shooting where there is more than one victim of violence due to guns. There don’t have to be any fatalities or even a certain number of fatalities.
Violence is Violence.
Violence is Violence.
And violence flies against the peace and compassion of the good news. That is what we are making a statement about. Not the color of skin or the racist policies ingrained on every level of our nation, including the police, government, housing and job opportunities, prison industrial complex or education system.
We aren’t commenting on that.
We are commenting on the pervasive and destructive illness sweeping our nation – the illness of gun idolatry that is taking lives, particularly black and brown lives, of our nation at an unprecedented rate.
That is why I say, Black Lives Matter.
That is why, to this day, the words of Langston Hughes still ring true:
“The old and rich will live on awhile,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.
Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together…
Listen, kids who die—
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies’ll be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,
Or the rivers where you’re drowned like Leibknecht
But the day will come—
You are sure yourselves that it is coming—
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.”
Listen, kids who die. We will remember. We will work to tear down the racist systems that put you in the ground. And we ask your forgiveness. For it has taken us too long. We pray forgiveness and recognize that we are undeserving of it.
Listen, kids who die – we will fight and we will remember. For there can be no justice, no peace, until all idols of white supremacy are cast down and destroyed.
Sara is the pastor at Old West Church, UMC, located in Boston, MA. She got her ministerial degrees from Emory University and the University of Cambridge. Originally from South Georgia, Sara has a heart for social justice, particularly gender and racial justice. One day, she hopes to start a ministry to rehabilitate victims of human trafficking. You can contact Sara at: firstname.lastname@example.org