“Mom, why do we have guns?” That’s the question my ten-year-old asked as we ran a few errands Sunday after church, when I had referred to the Orlando shooting in worship and she asked what had happened.
“Well, people used them to hunt so they could have food.” But that wasn’t quite right. Not at all. “People used them to kill each other in war.”
“Why do we have war?”
“Well, people see someone else as their enemy, as someone who wants to take what they have, as someone who is dangerous. Or someone who has something they want.”
“Then why do we have enemies?”
Oh, child of mine, I didn’t ask those sorts of questions when I was ten. The assassinations of the 60’s were not part of my childhood memory, nor was the Viet Nam war. My first political awareness was Nixon’s resignation, and that didn’t involve guns at all. My dad and brothers hunted; we had rifles and shotguns in the house that were always locked up and never loaded. When we were held up at gunpoint at home when I was a teenager, no one thought about getting one of those guns and starting a shoot-out with our assailant.
Maybe the bigger question is why we have enemies. That same Sunday, at the end of worship, two men experiencing homelessness came to the narthex seeking help. That’s been happening a lot lately – there are so many people and not enough public bathrooms or soup kitchens or mental health facilities or shelters. There may not be enough time or kindness, either.
One of our deacons was talking with them very patiently and I interrupted the conversation. I thought wearing the big black robe and the pretty green stole would give me some authority when I told them I was so sorry that we weren’t able to give them cash, but it didn’t. I listened. We prayed. I’ve remembered their names – A.J. and Avery. I’ve prayed for them all week.
Are A.J. and Avery my enemies? Do I wish them harm? No. Did I wish they’d go away so I could get off my feet and get a cookie and cup of coffee? Maybe; how horrible of me. Do they wish they had guns so they could get what they need by force? I doubt it.
It was an unsettled day, Sunday. I was so aware of the tension of being safe because I’m a straight woman and the worry that someone might target our church because we have a rainbow on our sign. I was aware of the tension that I’d had a nice shower in the morning, and put on clean clothes, and had breakfast and would have lunch as I talked with these men who hadn’t seen a shower or a full meal or a sober day in God knows how long. I was aware of the tension in wanting my daughter to delight in the world while having to tell her the realities of the world.
The tension is still there, and my prayer is that nothing reaches the breaking point. My prayer is that out of the tension comes something hopeful or healing, maybe even beautiful, the way a beautiful note is played over the taut violin string.
But maybe that isn’t up to me. But maybe it is.