Yesterday at church I led the Prayers of the People.
I stood wearing a white robe draped with a green chasuble, a maniple draped over my left arm. “For peace in Pittsburgh, and for what other places shall we pray?” I asked, inviting people to add their prayers.
We prayed for Pittsburgh by name because of the unspeakable shooting that occurred in a synagogue there this weekend.
Other weeks, we have inserted different cities, depending on where the latest violence occurred. Orlando. Parkland. Oakland. Chicago. Las Vegas. Ferguson.
Every time we say prayers of the people, the leader lifts up a maniple (a broad piece of long fabric held in the left hand), as if capturing the people’s prayers and lifting them closer to the ears of God.
Alphonsus Liguori, a 17th century Catholic writer, wrote, “It is well known that the maniple is for the purpose of wiping away the tears that flowed from the eyes of the priest…”
I get it.
I was on the verge of tears during the service yesterday, and as I walked home after the service, I let the tears flow. I couldn’t hold them any more.
My heart continues to be heavy and sad today as we say the names of those who senselessly lost their lives when they were gunned down by a white supremacist in their house of worship.
We also need to say the names of people who have perpetrated and perpetuated the climate of anger, hate, selfishness, violence, racism and rampant gun ownership.
And millions of conservatives who call themselves “Christ-followers” while virulently defending their right to bear arms.
No matter how you slice, dice, skew or spin it, America’s gun problem is out of control. There have been 47,220 gun incidents in this country in 2018 (not including more than 20,000 suicides committed with a gun.) Nearly 12,000 Americans have died from gun violence in 2018 — which is quadruple the number of Americans we lost on 9/11.
While the president tries to convince us to be afraid of people from the Middle East and Somalia and Honduras and Mexico, the truth is that the biggest threat against America is us.
White American men have perpetrated more violence in America than any foreign-born terrorists ever have.
What really, really bothers me is the number of Christians who look at these stats and still insist that they have the right to bear arms.
They parrot asinine sayings like “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” And “We just need better mental health services,” while at the very same time cutting insurance benefits and mental health services.
If you claim to follow Jesus, you have to reckon with the fact that Jesus didn’t give you the right to bear arms.
Jesus didn’t write the Second Amendment.
Jesus didn’t endorse the NRA.
Jesus said the opposite. Jesus said to turn the other cheek. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ Jesus told Peter to put his sword away. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, to bless those who persecute us, to practice radical love in a radicalized and violent world.
As we approach elections this year, we have to remember that yes, we are to be responsible citizens and use our right to vote to promote the common good.
And we also have to remember that when there’s a discrepancy between our country’s constitution and the Gospel, the Gospel wins.
Every. Single. Time.
Until Christians stop insisting on their right to bear arms and begin to insist instead on the radical love of Jesus that has the power to bring peace to a violent world, we’ll say new names. We’ll pray for new cities. We’ll continue to weep tears and whisper prayers and hold up a threadbare maniple to God’s weary, heart-broken ears.