I’m not sure what we should call it.
A sick fascination?
An illicit affair?
They all do the job of describing America’s strange fascination with guns. Some of us go willingly and the rest of us go by force, but all of us lay prostrate before this strange altar made of cold steel, flammable powder, drying blood.
Perhaps it’s true that should we take the right to own weapons of mass destruction from the average Jane and Joe, the human penchant for violence will be sourced with some other weapon. This is, I suppose, the state of this world we live in. The fall of humanity, or whatever.
And this is bothersome, but it is not what bothers me.
What bothers me is the hot, firm grip we keep on that cold, hard steel as children die all around us. Like toddlers clutching to the last remnants of daylight, we stomp our feet and clench our fists and scream and yell and refuse to put this part of ourselves — this part that loves our guns — to bed. Meanwhile, the carnage is all around us, spraying our precious walls with the blood of innocents.
I suppose we should not be surprised. American gun culture has permeated our psyches for ages. From the time we kicked the British out of the colonies, we’ve held onto a rebel persona that, as a rebel myself, I admit I still enjoy. This idea that we will be who we are going to be, that no other nation will tame us — this is something that draws in my own rebel heart. I get it. I like it. I confess I’ve always given the middle finger to people who tried to tell me what to do. Even if it was only in my head.
So I appreciate our collective rebel heart. I just didn’t know it came wrapped in a holster.
From the glorification and romanticization of the wild, wild west to games of cops and robbers to shoot ‘em up video games that our kids play today to the toy aisle at Target, guns, or some representation of them, have been a part of even the most tame suburban families for decades.
And of course, there is serious intersectionality at play here in the gun narrative. The games of “Cowboys and Indians” that children used to play heroized cowboys and ignored the decimation of indigenous peoples. The idea of a woman owning a gun has been marketed as both sexy and empowering, objectifying us while teasing us into a false sense of security. A white man with a gun might be a “patriot” but a black man with a gun, dangerous.
I can’t help but think that if all law abiding black men started walking into Walmart with rifles strapped onto their backs in every open carry state in America, we’d have effective gun control in a hot second. But of course, that would be asking black men to sacrifice themselves on this cold, steel altar we’ve created. It would be asking them to add their blood to what’s already drying on our walls. And let’s face it — there’s plenty of their blood on there already.
What’s even more fascinating — the way a crime scene is fascinating — is the American Christian preoccupation with guns. When the most accessible Christian University not only promotes carrying a concealed weapon on campus but even provides classes and a multi-million dollar facility dedicated to their gun club, you have to wonder what their Jesus looks like. Is their Jesus the same one I read about, who puts the ear back on his enemy after Peter cut it off? Do they follow some kind of Rambo Jesus, with ammo strapped across his bulging, sweaty chest?
More importantly, who are we in that story? Are we Peter? Or are we the one who seeks to heal our enemies?
Here is where my hope is: it is in the children who are leading us in protest. Like the women who stayed at the foot of the cross when everyone else ran away, these children look carnage in the eye and call bullshit. They are braver than us. While we give thoughts and prayers on Facebook, they wade through the blood of the altar victims, doing our work for us.
My hope lies with the women. Mothers, specifically. We have always been able to envision a safer world for our children. I believe women — you, me — we will follow these children into battle and create a new image of the empowered woman, and she will not have a gun but an olive branch. I believe this.
And I have hope in the mess and beauty of progressive Christianity. The Jesus movement that I see happening, led by both men and women who acknowledge their own limitations, who are willing to enter hard conversations and who are stepping into action on these issues, flipping the tables of the gun lobby and politics, these people give me hope. This Jesus movement doesn’t get time on Fox News or CNN, but we are here, among the reeds, working in neighborhoods and communities, in politics and business.
We are here, doing the work of cleaning up altars.
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