Jan 28, 2013

A Prophetic Response to Gun Violence

A Prophetic Response to Gun Violence
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor
in brotherhood with Pastor Michael McBride
for more Gun Violence Resources, click here.

In this moment, my friends, what does God want of us? What are we called to do, in the face of great devastation, some of which receives our nation’s attention, most of which doesn’t? How can we, in our efforts to extend God’s Healing to our sisters and brothers, address Gun Violence, a terrible tear in the fabric of our nation?

What is a Prophet? How does she hear the Divine Weeping and call God’s children to awareness and action?

Hear the call of Isaiah, who reminded us that God wants, more than anything else, for us to

"…unlock the fetters of wickedness, untie the cords of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to break off every yoke. ...to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into our homes; When you see the naked, clothe him, and do not ignore your own brother. (Isaiah 58:6-7)"

The great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel lived this lesson well. He reminded us that human beings, living Images of God, to have faith. But the faith of a prophet, Heschel taught,

…does not mean… to dwell in the shadows of old ideas… [or] to live off an inherited estate of doctrines and dogmas. In the realm of the spirit, only [one] who is a pioneer is able to be an heir. (Heschel, Man is Not Alone, p. 164)

The prophets are the ones who demanded justice in the world, starting with Abraham’s challenge to God “Shall not the judge of all the earth do justice? (Gen. 18:25)”

We must “feel fiercely” (Heschel, Prophets, p. 5) like the Prophets of old. And, like the prophets, as today’s prophetic witnesses, we must see no divide between the political and the spiritual, for a world without fierce feeling is a world without spirit, and a religious tradition with nothing to say to the world is no longer engaged in bringing God’s world to a more blessed day.

It is possible to lose hope. This world gives little encouragement to hope. And that is why we do what we do, why we answer our call with all the ferocity we can muster. We will not “stand idly by while the blood of our neighbors” (Lev. 19:15) continues to be spilled.

Say it with me a tragic litany: Newtown. Aurora. Columbine. Tuscon. Virginia Tech.

But now acknowledge with me also: These massacres received national attention. But the three high school students shot this past Thursday in Albany, CA did not. Nor did Nor did the seven people killed and six wounded in gun violence this past Saturday in Chicago, including a 34-year-old man whose mother had already lost three other children to shootings.

A prophet does not feel for SOME of these. A Prophet feels every death as her own. A Prophet writhes with God’s Pain, their soul contorting in ways that make breathing laborious.

I repeat: It is possible to lose hope. But we are not allowed. Hope is our call. Extending hope, enabling peace, offering prophetic witness to the awful events of our day and communicating, over and over and over and over and over that God’s world deserves better than fear and greed. God’s world depends upon the work our hands, to be friends and partners together, to engage with our elected officials and law enforcement, to notice the violence that doesn’t get reported, to breathe in and breathe out and breathe in and breathe out. Because if we don’t, less of God’s Work gets done.

I say that there are those in our country to whom Jeremiah would say today: “On your shirt is found the life-blood of guiltless poor. Yet inspite of all these things, you say ‘I am innocent.’” (Jer. 2:14, quoted by Heschel)

If we are to avoid complicity in the growing violence of our country, we must remain every vigilant as witness to “the callousness of man” and not allow our heart to do what it wishes, which would be to “obliterate the memories, to calm the nerves, and to silence our conscience.” (Heschel, The Reasons for My Involvement in the Peace Movement)

The Prophets call us: Do Not Be Calm. Do Not Forget. Do Not Be Silent.

Friends, given the pressure on us, on everyone, I invite you right now to take a deep breath. Allow your body to experience a little more air. Breathe it in. Remember your power, God’s Spirit, of which we are each but fragments.

There is great fear on the part of some that any response as a rejection of the Second Amendment of our Constitution. Fear. There are those whose very work is the proliferation of weapons of war on the streets of our cities and across our great nation with one over-riding concern: profit. Greed.

And this heady cocktail of Fear and Greed and makes our work as religious leaders difficult. But we know that sacred work is not easy work. We do not answer to Fear and Greed. And we are not going to respond with hate to fear and greed – that is the way to make the fear and greed every stronger. We’re going to outlast them.

There are those who have said this week that any response to Gun Violence reduces the U.S. Constitution into a blank slate for anyone's graffiti. Lies. It is our shared belief in the possibility of this country, our commitment to a democracy of free women and men of every orientation and color in the rainbow that gives us the courage to bend the historical arc of this country once again toward justice.

We, faith leaders who call God with an infinite variety of Holy Names, are called in this moment to do sacred work and to weather the intense fear and greed in a moment of national fragility. We will face the deaths our country continues to endure at the hands of unfettered Gun Violence, at the hands of those who follow the profit margins and ignore those marginalized by society.

Heschel taught us, in the name of the Prophets, that “the heart of human dignity is the ability to be responsible.” (Required: A Moral Ombudsman, United Synagogue Review, Fall 1971)

We call upon each other and all who will listen to be strong and resolute. We will walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) and we will refuse to ignore the suffering of God’s children.

For while, as Heschel said, in a moral world, “some may be guilty, but all are responsible.” (The Prophets)

And so we pray together, women and men of faith, recognizing that which we have in common

May our great nation be safe place, where every person may lie down with no one terrifying them. (Lev. 26:6)

May people of every faith - and of no faith - work together to make the necessary changes to heal our nation from the scourge of Gun Violence.

My fellow clergy, women and men who serve God by serving all People, may the passion of the Prophets infuse our work, our words, our deeds, our thoughts – every fiber of our souls - so that when we do speak, we can cry more freely with God’s Holy Tears and feel strengthened through that fierce feeling.

May the Source of Life whose Spirit awaits realization in every human breath fill us with hope and sustained determination us as we seek an end to all this death in our land.

Amen.

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