We make guns into garden tools by taking their barrels and steel parts and introducing them to a forge that burns at about 2000 degrees. Its in this heat range that steel glows at a bright orange, just right for shaping it and not too hot that it begins to spark and burn away. The steal now is malleable, vulnerable to 30-90 seconds on the anvil as its transformed into something new. Its not so much that we find ourselves in an era of gun violence as it is being in a place of gun violence. There are far and away more guns per capita in the US compared to other countries. Beyond that, a gun can be acquired virtually anywhere. Anyone in a moment of passion/emotion can follow through with nary an obstacle.
The national gun narrative has had little time to rest between Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs. So here we are, stuck between the stagnant dialogue of all or nothing in the gun debate. Left in the middle are victims and survivors of gun violence. Thoughts and prayers are falling on ears that don’t have time for them unless you are present with the victims and survivors. We must act in the places we occupy to address the unending gun violence. Are you on a city council or county board of commissioners? Act. Work in a trade? Act. have a family? Act. Are you a pastor or faith leader? Act. Dialogue. Tell stories about why you believe what you do.
Faith communities are once again considering arming ushers and greeters to be security guards in the wake of Sutherland Sprigns, TX. The Gun Free Zone debate is raging. There is no question that life is valued. The question is how do you show that your neighbor’s life is valuable? Do you protect it by arming yourself? This is the argument against gun free zones. Fight bullets with bullets. Don’t let them in the front door. From a Jesus lens, this doesn’t work. For those who say otherwise the onus is on you to prove it. I’ll give you some context to work from. Jesus levels the field by telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:39), to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44-49), and asks us to consider who is our mother (Matt 12:48)? Our brother? Jesus asks us to love our enemies as our brothers and friends who love us. Jesus asks us to consider our enemy to BE our family. Or, there is no end to who can be our neighbor or family, even our enemy, because we never know when that enemy is our brother or neighbor.
These teachings require us to be vulnerable. To soften our edges. We have more in common with the metal being turned into plowshares than we know. Jesus is asking us to be consumed by a refining fire. Iron sharpens iron. When we refuse the fire our hearts harden like Pharaoh. It becomes harder and harder for us to change. It takes a life altering event, like losing your first born son, to consider a change of heart.
It seems this is the path we as a nation refuse to stray from. Little action happens until action happens to us. When Jesus teaches us that our neighbors and sisters and enemies are all worthy of our love, none more than the other, it also means we are someone else’s neighbor or enemy or mother. It means we are just as likely to lose a loved as we are to be the one who takes life. This is often lost on us. We don’t want to see ourselves as the shooter. We must be honest and recognize the triggers in our hearts.
Faith communities, especially ones that follow Jesus, have a powerful opportunity to show an alternative to gun violence. We should be proud of gun free zones. So be it if you call me a soft target. This is what Jesus calls us to be. It doesn’t mean we are soft and passive, it means we are willing to absorb each other’
s pain-neighbor and enemy. Jesus shows us this from the cross. Jesus says it on the sermon on the mount. Jesus might even say, “Blessed are the soft targets, for they will find refuge in the kingdom of God.” The church needs to glow bright orange. Prayer is good and holy, but it needs to compel transformative action. For only then do we begin to see the Holy Spirit at work in our midst, between our soft edges, plowing furrows in the field, anxiously awaiting the seeds to grow the kingdom – on earth as it is in heaven. After all, Jesus sought out the soft targets, not to protect them with a sword, but to show them a different way to live.
***RAWtools supports Restorative Justice and similar conflict mediation practices which are victim based. This post does not condone victims remaining in abusive situations. To read enemy love as such takes the post, and Jesus, out of context.
It was my first time visiting Washington, D.C. RAWtools had been there 3 years ago at the National Cathedral with the Children’s Defense Fund, but my son was about to be born so I gladly missed that one. This time we were invited by my friend Shane Claiborne to be a part of a Death Penalty abolition event in partnership with Abolitionist Action Committee. On Monday January 16th we accompanied an evening program hearing from “Voices of Experience” with various connections to the death penalty. Family members of those on death row as well as family members of victims whose offender was on death row. Derrickl Jamison – a death row exoneree who spent 20 years wrongfully on death row – was finally released after DNA proved his innocence. But not before he saw 50 people walk to the death chamber and not come back. Men he’d seen come in at 18 years old.
On January 17th many in attendance and others joined for an action at the supreme court. 18 would end up risking and being arrested for peaceful protest, they held a sign on the step of the supreme court that read, “STOP EXECUTIONS.” (READ THEIR STORIES HERE) Those not risking arrest (about 100) stood on the sidewalk with signs for each year since the death penalty was reinstated with the names of those executed that year. I held the year I was born.
My dad, Fred, and I watching as the police begin to arrest those protesting on the steps of the supreme court
Why the connection to the death penalty? One reason is the 40th anniversary of the execution by firing squad of Gary Gillmore, something he volunteered for. We made a garden tool from a gun similar to that used in Gillmore’s execution. The tool was given to Randy Gardner, whose brother was executed in 2010, also by firing squad.
Randy Gardner, wearing his brother’s prison jump suit, is arrested while protesting the death penalty.
I also thought about Sharletta Evans a lot on this trip. Her 3 year old son was killed in a drive by shooting by 3 teens under 16 years old. In 2012, the average time spent on death row, between sentencing and execution, was just under 16 years. 17 years after her son died, Sharletta sat face to face with the man who killed her son and would later sit with the man who was the driver – as part of a Restorative Justice conference she volunteered for. Sharletta now advocates for the parole of the man who pulled the trigger that killed her son. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, a virtual death sentence for a teen. Had he been an adult, the death penalty would have been on the table. I can’t help but think of what could have been a missed opportunity that changed Sharletta and the shooter’s life. Forgiveness is possible in what seems the worst of situations. Restorative Justice may not be for everyone, but it is victim based, and if a victim wants to talk to their offender, it helps if they are alive (surrogates are often used in situations too sensitive for face to face dialogue). I’d also be remiss not to mention the change in the offender as a peaceful contributor to the community inside the prison.
RAWtools was happy to support this action as the death penalty is a failure of our (moral) imagination. Not just at the state and federal level, but in the church as well. A common phrase and prayer uttered over the 2 days was, “Remember the victims, but not with more killing.” If we show that killing is wrong, by killing, we justify its use as well as justify our imagination to allow it to be a tool of justice beyond the state level and into our communities in the form of “Stand Your Ground” laws as well as actions outside the law. The death penalty is most common in the bible belt. The death penalty is being used at its lowest rate in a long time. More and more states are repealing it. By repealing the death penalty, the nation would take one step closer to a plowshare and one step further from the sword.
Sam Shepard takes a turn hitting a gun barrel. You know Sam’s dad as played by Harrison Ford in “The Fugitive” movie.
While taking in some of the memorials in DC, I couldn’t ignore an empire, memorialized on the national mall. It was MLK day so we started at his memorial. There were no columns or a roof surrounding the Rev. Dr. King. His was hope come forth from despair, vulnerable to the elements and facing the capitol building at the other end of the Mall. Next was the holocaust museum, a story we know too well. It has a special exhibit, “Some were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust.” It told stories of those faced with the tough decision to comply by force, or run, ……or die. From digging graves for Jews, to engineering the train to concentration camps, there were many levels of assistance the Nazis needed from the countries they invaded. There were also many that complied, while saving as many as they could at their own risk.
MLK Memorial. On its side it states, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
Before we left town we visited the National Museum of the Native Indian. On the 4th floor was the exhibit, “Nation to Nation: Treaties between the United States and American Indian Nations. As you walk through you feel like you are in another holocaust museum. Its a story of how the US ignored treaty after treaty and consistently removed natives from their land.
The second leg of our trip took us to Penn State as part of their MLK week events with various student organizations, including 3rd Way Collective-whom we have worked with in the past. We had an afternoon gun to garden tool demonstration that was followed by a talk from Dr. Drew Hart on systemic racism that flows in our institutionalized churches.
Set up at Penn State
Dr. Hart closed with phrase he’s coined, “counter intuitive solidarity.” He tells us about a tangible way forward. White people came to the US and started a country by stealing it from the natives and building it with the bodies of African slaves. We are not far from the civil rights era. We can talk to people that felt it. And more importantly, privileged people need to pursue solidarity with those not like us. At times it will feel counter intuitive to a life built on privilege. It will feel counter productive to talk to fellow white people, in a white community, about race. But as Drew says, “That’s where all the action is!” I love a story he tells in his book “Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.” Drew is having lunch with a white friend who all of a sudden thinks of a metaphor to navigate the space of race. He places his cup between them and explains that they both see the cup, but they can’t see each other’s side, so they need each other to share their perspective. Drew then explains that as a minority, he already knows what the other side looks like. He’s had to navigate white space his entire life. He was the only black male on his dorm floor in college – he lived the other side of the cup. A white person can go through life and know nothing about African American culture, but minorities have to learn another culture in order to survive. This doesn’t make a white majority inherently bad or evil, but it does make it easy for a system to be established that does not foster relationship between people groups. If you want to learn more about this, study how long money travels in white communities in your city vs. how long it travels in the minority communities in your city.
After the prophets Micah and Isaiah tell of beating swords into plowshares, they talk about nations not lifting up swords against nation. Today, we could translate “nation” into any categorical group of people that centers on race, class, gender, religion, political issues, or other descriptors that begin to separate. To beat our swords into plowshares is to stop exploiting our differences and to start celebrating them. Its to know that in the body of Christ, our hands will look, feel, and act differently than our feet. We will only move away from a sword when we decide to melt it, opening our imagination to invest in alternatives to the sword that are not limited to a plowshare, but do contribute to the fruit of the spirit. Things like restorative justice, community gardens, neighborhood economics, community resilience centers that help with trauma, block captains that build relationships with police departments, mixed income communities, and homeless shelters like the Community for Creative Nonviolence in Washington D.C. that offer space to activists coming to town to speak good news to an empire.
Community for Creative Nonviolence
Many in our group that protested the death penalty stayed in this shelter. As Shane Claiborne calls it, “A beautiful melding of worlds.” You spend the day in the throws of empire and spend the night among the homeless. It kills your ego-self. My white self became a minority in a place where I saw only people of color.
The shelters, community gardens, and our neighborhoods are begging for us to put our swords down. Until we do, we’ll continue to use swords to exploit people groups, whole tribes and nations of people we see as “other.” (The death penaltyis disproportionately used against minorities). Plowshares are empowering and life giving, swords are overpowering and death dealing. We are born into systems not of our making. We get to choose the tools we use to navigate life. We have a choice.
Are guns saturating the American life? How would we measure this? Would we use data that says there are as many guns as there are people? That’s true, but it’s also true that a minority of gun owners own half of those. From the article in Fortune,
“Half of those guns belong to just 3% of the adult population. These super-owners have anywhere between eight and 140 guns each, with the group average being 17, according to the study.”
You could argue only 3% of our population is saturated by guns. This also means the market for guns is has plenty of room to expand. But then I would begin to tell you stories. Stories from my journey with RAWtools. Stories that have no connection to RAWtools that I see in everyday life. Stories of victims who will have to constantly prepare each day for the triggers that bring up their experience with gun violence – gun violence that speaks from a variety of issues across class, race, gender, sexuality, domestic abuse, etc. I am confident we have no idea the power that guns have over our life. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
On my way to a coffee shop to write this, I heard a commercial for a local gun shop offering a special on all of their Ruger brand guns, from popular carry guns to the popular AR-556. The radio ad used the election as a warning to a possible rise in the cost of guns and ammunition. It also asked the question, “How do you conquer fear?” Their answer, “Arm yourself.”
A few weeks ago I went to a grocery store to get the essentials, milk and cereal. Outside were two tweens, one maybe young enough for elementary school and the other not old enough for high school (or barely). They were pretending with an orange cap gun. I did this when I was a kid, too. These kids were playing. Soon after RAWtools was launched, my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our first child. My son just turned three last week. He begs to work on the anvil turning a gun into a garden tool when he is able to be at a RAWtools event. He’s had a black and blue toenail from dropping a hammer while imitating me at an anvil. His life is in many ways surrounded by my work with RAWtools. And yet, he still found a way to imagine turning his hand into the shape of a gun. Kids want to be like everyone around them. From parents to playmates, caregivers to commercials, kids will emulate their surroundings in some form or another. I’m not naïve enough to think I will keep my son from all exposure to guns. But I am diligent and hopeful that our parenting example will place more value on other things for his imagination to spend its time.
RAWtools was in Toledo this past weekend for a Guns to Gardens event. These demonstration events are similar with their own identity relative to the community they are held. We partnered with Toledo Mennonite Church, University Church, Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, and Toledo Twisted Iron, along with other partners. The University church has an 8-acre plot where they grow food with a mission that no child at the elementary school nearby goes hungry. It was a beautiful setting to turn a gun into a tool to be used in a garden that will feed the community, especially children. The event was to end with the planting of a hazelnut tree.
Media outlets were present. One arrived later than the others. The news anchor told us that on his way to our event he was pulled to another story. A 7 year old found a gun and accidentally shot and killed a 3 year old. This is one of the stories that suggests our communities are saturated by guns. It goes beyond ownership. Can we quantify how often a child sees a gun each day and the ripple effect it has on their life? Can we quantify the value that each child places on the image of that gun? How do we know how much time their imagination spends on the image of that gun compared to an image of Legos, Hotwheels, homework, Calliou, or faith-based discipleship?
There are studies that research kid’s exposure to violence in a day, but do we have any idea how far the ripples of the image of a gun travel when a kid’s imagination is introduced to the reality of a gun in front of them? For that matter, when an adult’s imagination meets the reality of a gun in their hand? A gun is different in my hand and my hand is different with a gun in it. Suddenly my imagination has a tool to makes its images tangible. And then a trigger is pulled and our five senses are forged with our image of a gun. The smell of hot metal, the sound of a contained explosion, the visual of the bullet hitting its target. The imagination ripple grows.
Now we have new triggers. Triggers that ignite memories in our hearts and minds of loved ones lost. Neighborhoods, communities, and whole cities become defined by triggers. Chicago is referenced for everyday violence and Colorado is referenced for mass shootings. The ripples of gun violence reach across our relational networks. So does our imagination.
Turning guns into garden tools, the process itself, is relatively simple. But transforming our imaginations? In Toledo one newsperson went from the scene of tragedy, then witnessed kids planting a tree with a shovel made from a gun. The fruit of that tree will impact the community for years to come. As Scott Delaney, caretaker of the University Church garden, said “Add cocoa and we have Nutella to spread on bread for kids to eat.” Now our imagination is forged with our senses and our nose begs to taste the fruit of the hazelnut tree. The ripple effect goes both ways.
I urge you to imagine something different. I urge churches to look more like manna than mammon. Turning swords to plows opens opportunities for our imagination to see kids finding shovels and planting seeds and being covered in dirt. If we aren’t training for war, we are plotting for peace. We are planting seeds with our kids – in the ground and in their minds. I want my son to play with shovels. I want my son to learn the patience of gardening. Maybe it will help him navigate a messy culture of violence. He already loves getting dirty. In fact, his imagination begs him for the opportunity.
When we beat our swords into plowshares, we make a commitment to resources that are of no use for war: garden tools, necklaces, victim-offender dialogue, economies of grace. We plot for peace. We imagine, design, and plan for a time when we will not fear one another. As Shane Claiborne often says at our events together, “What if God is waiting on us?” Jesus didn’t walk around Galilee telling everyone to wait for the eschaton.
RAWtools plans to be actively plotting for peace. This plotting is thick with pain. Pain endured by countless victims and survivors of violence. But it is also thick with resilience. Laurie Works lost her 2 sisters, Stephanie and Rachel, in 2007 in the New Life Church shooting. Later she lived in an apartment next to a man who would randomly shoot off his gun at night, and he was later in a shootout with police. A close friend was in the theater at the Aurora Theater shooting. Last year a man walked through her neighborhood on Halloween with an AR-15 and killed 3. Soon after, Laurie found herself bringing food and coffee to first responders after the Planned Parenthood shooting. All of this in Colorado Springs.
We asked Laurie to share at a recent fundraising dinner, “Plotting For Peace.” She shared her story as 200+ folks cried with her. And she shared how since she was about 10, she wanted to help people going through trauma. Now, 16 years later, she is starting The Colorado Springs Resilience Center. The CSRC will offer holistic resources for resilience to all trauma survivors, from domestic survivors, to sexual assault, to gun violence, and others. The CSRC echos the Aurora Strong Resilience Center, formed in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting. The CSRC will also be a center for information, education and awareness of the principles of resilience to Colorado Springs.
Healing from trauma is a lifelong endeavor. It requires resilience. It begs for new routines, habits, practices, and awareness. Every trauma survivor is unique and their triggers are unique. There is no magic pill to fix this. Each has their own path and they need a community to help them. Laurie is dedicated to provide safe space to help folks build this community. Laurie and friends helped organize a silent walk honoring gun violence victims on April 17. The walk traveled the path the shooter took the previous Halloween, reclaiming the neighborhood as safe space. It’s time we reclaim our neighborhoods for the future. A time when we are no longer afraid. Micah and Isaiah imagined a time for beating swords into plows, let’s use those plows to prepare an earth that is crying for healing and rest, a “spring in the desert.” Through the month of April, 51% of your donation to RAWtools will benefit The Colorado Springs Resilience Center. This is an extension of the funds raised at the Plotting for Peace dinner in which we raised over $9,000 gross (51% will benefit the CSRC).
You can read more of Laurie’s experience on her blog at LaurieWorks.com
Below is a poem that Laurie wrote to her sisters’ killer:
The world knows you as the man who murdered my sisters
I know you as someone across the gulf of the same canyon
both of us were just trying to figure out how to get across
We are like two sides of the same coin
some people call you the bad penny
just because it landed tails up
they say it’s bad luck.
We could have had the same parents
we were homeschooled, using the same books
from the same publishers
we both learned that evolution was a lie
that the earth was created 6,000 years ago
maybe that’s why we both had such a hard time progressing
100 miles apart, we did the same training
they told us God loved us
I heard voices and gave prophecies
they said you heard voices too
but those voices were the different ones
same coin other side
we both had demons haunting us
mine just were clothed in angel’s skin
at least you knew yours clearly
it took our lives colliding for me to fully see mine.
We collided in one moment
somehow that moment always felt like it would happen
I wonder if you must have felt that too
you sprayed bullets trying to build a bridge of mettle
I have been trying to build a bridge of mettle ever since
trying to finish the job you started without using violence as tool
on the day the voices we heard collided
I want you to know I saw them too
the demons you were so acquainted with
i’ve been living with them for almost 8 years now
maybe they don’t erupt the same
See I never turned my violence outward
always loaded my gun and turned it on myself
This year, I’m learning
that just because a coin isn’t lucky doesn’t mean it’s a bad penny
that some bridges aren’t built out of mettle
Your name means gift of God
If I’m the side of the coin that’s heads up
it’s because you were my heads up
There never was a canyon between me and anyone else
there was only the canyon inside myself
that can only be crossed if I’m brave enough to fall
to hit bottom and find myself in the dark
to have the bravery to find you there, too
Mettle isn’t about bullets and bridges
it’s about meeting the darkness and naming it holy
So instead of a bridge I’m building an altar
To both the sides of this same coin
to believing in my own darkness as fiercely as I believe in your light
to the complexity of being human
because of you I’ve finally accepted
that I’ll never be alone
that there is nothing wrong with me
there’s nothing wrong with you
there’s nothing wrong with us
you thought you were so different
you’re not so different after all
neither am I.
I recently went to a one man play at The MAT theatre in Colorado Springs called “Stick Guns.” Actor/Co-Director Jim Jackson grew up in Canon City, a city southwest of Colorado Springs that is home to several prisons and a retirement home-that Jim’s 10 year old character, Jimmy, jokes may as well be a prison. The audience joins Jimmy on his cops and robbers, war games, and paper route. He emulates his movie war heroes by sneaking one of his mom’s cigarettes to smoke before his paper route-and for the length of that cigarette, Jimmy is a hero, too. Besides, all the other guys at the newspaper warehouse smoke.
Says Jackson about his semiautobiographical play, “It kind of grows out of a culture that says, Hey, if you don’t have power this is how you get it. ‘Our heroes all have guns, if you have a just cause then maybe you should get one too.”
As Jimmy grows up his stick gun becomes a BB gun. Jimmy and his friends go out to shoot birds, but only the crows (they steal from farmers), magpies (they resemble crows), and woodpeckers (they ruined Jimmy’s grandfather’s barn). His attitude begins to change when he mistakenly shoots a robin, something his grandfather said never to do.
Jimmy talks about the parents that don’t let their kids play with sticks because they use them as guns, but then Jimmy says they just use plastic guitars, tennis rackets, and other toys.
As RAWtools grows we are building a network of people across the country that can help us disable guns and turn them into garden tools, feathers, flowers, bells, and other art that breeds creative dialogue toward a nonviolent world. (You can do that here)
One of those people is Larry. Larry is a blacksmith and welder who helps us at many of our events on the east coast. He has helped with other sword to plowshare projects in the past and has collected a hodgepodge of chopped up gun parts. They are stored in the back of his crawl space where it’s a bit tricky to get to. This is where his grandkids come in handy. When they come over and he has a project in the near future, he sends a grandkid on a bear crawl to retrieve a chopped up gun.
What examples are we setting for our kids and grandchildren to emulate? What trajectory are their imaginations aimed? Not only do kids see our example, they imagine themselves in our example. As children grow they innovate and imagine beyond our example. Our children’s imagination is rooted in the example we have given them to grow from.
From a fist-to a rock-to a knife-to a sword-to a gun-to a bigger gun and a bomb – All from an imagination built on what preceded it. The question is, which imagination do you want to foster – One that turns any toy into a gun; or maybe one that turns weapons into life giving tools?
I have a two year old son. He surprises me every day with what he is able to recall or emulate from something he saw me do recently. It’s not just what I say, but how I say it (or sing it). He knows logos and the names they are associated with (he knows branding!?!?!). He repeats phrases with the same inflection and emotion I used. They’re not just watching us, they are acting into their evolution. Or maybe a revolution?
I have a hope of what my great-grandchild’s world might look like, I pray that our lives offer our children an example that is postured toward a plowshare and not a sword..or a rock…or a fist…..
A few months ago I sat in a room with more than a dozen women in a Restorative Justice Mediator training through Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Council. High School Teachers, Professors, college students, social workers, coaches, and community leaders – these women were eager and excited to learn how to bring victims, offenders, and their communities together to repair harm. I was the only male. Lynn Lee taught the class and said this happens often and its not unusual to have all female classes.
Here is a little about the three women who led the training:
Lynn Lee has been working in restorative justice since 2001 as a volunteer community member, victim advocate, facilitator and coordinator for restorative justice programs in Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs. Lynn is Chair of the Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Council and Co-chair of the Manitou Springs Restorative Justice Project. She is a practitioner member of the State Coordinating Council for Restorative Justice and has facilitated over 500 restorative justice conferences.
Robin Spaulding has been working in restorative justice since 2009 and was the lead planner of the Restorative Justice Symposiums in 2009, 2010 & 2013 and is currently working on the 2015 RJ Symposium. She also planned the 2012 state-wide RJ Summit in Denver. She is a restorative justice facilitator and trainer as well as professional mediator for the BBB, Small Claims Court and in private practice. She is on the PPRJC board as secretary and helped create the Mediators without Borders graduate course.
Karen Lee has been facilitating and teaching RJ since 2006 for the Manitou Springs Court, Colorado Springs Municipal Court, and local middle and high schools. She has recently co-facilitated a “high risk” RJ conference in the Department of Youth Corrections. Ms. Lee is also on the board of the Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Council
This is not to say that men aren’t involved in RJ. Lynn Lee’s husband Pete Lee, it a state legislator who authored a bill to get RJ into Colorado’s criminal Justice system. Take 15 minutes to get a feel for the impact of Restorative Justice:
Throughout the training I couldn’t help but think about a book in a seminary class, A Woman’s Placeby Carolyn Osiek, Margaret Y. MacDonald, and with Janet H. Tulloch. It illustrates how women played a prominent behind the scenes role in the operations and growth of the early church. As in the early church wasn’t possible without women pulling strings and sending messages and offering their homes to the patriarchs of the the early church. Its ironic, because all of the emails I get about RJ happenings in Colorado are from women. I was taught by women. The upcoming RJ Symposium in Colorado Springs is coordinated by women.
In Walter Brueggemann’s work on narrative in the Old Testament, one of the first steps in interrupting the world narrative is often performed by a woman. Look no further than Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Moms Demand Action, and a host of other advocacy groups started and organized by women.
Or look at the story of Sharletta Evans. In December of 1995, she went to pick up her grandniece because of a drive by shooting the previous day. While inside the house, her sons were in the car. Casson was 3 years old and sleeping-his older brother Calvin was 6 and two cousins, 17 and 22, stayed in the car with them. A car drove by and started shooting again, killing Casson. The shooter, Raymond Johnson-then 14, was sentenced to life in prison without parole. On Mothers Day in 2013, Sharletta wrote this in repsonse to Raymond’s request that she serve as his mother, “I cannot replace his family, but my answer was and is yes, I will be his mother in whatever capacity I can. I have requested permission to revisit him for his accountability and because of our mutual commitment.” More than that, Evans actively works to let Raymond be eligible for parole after a recent change in the law. Raymond Johnson and Ms. Evans went through Restorative Justice mediation, led by Lynn Lee. Sharletta will be speaking at our next PeaceMaker event in Denver on May 24 at St. Andrew United Methodist.
And the story of Terri Roberts. Her son was the shooter in the Amish school shooting. This tragedy tore her family’s world apart, not to mention her past and current bout with cancer. She spoke at our recent PeaceMaker event in State College, PA. The Roberts family experienced grace from the Amish community most of us may never know. (David Works, a victim of gun violence and RJ participant, said it well, “It’s a good story, I just wish it wasn’t mine) Roberts shared at the PeaceMaker event that, less than 24 hours after the shooting, the Amish were in her home, rubbing the shoulders of her husband saying “Roberts, we forgive you. Roberts, we love you.” Now Terri speaks of how no one, no matter our offense, wants to be defined by our worst action. Roberts regularly meets with one of the survivors of the shooting, reading books with her and helping care for her.
Its the stories of Sharletta Eveans and her son Casson; Terri Roberts and her son Charles; and the many stories that Lynn Lee and other Restorative Justice mediators facilitate; that will move our communities to a place that will tip the scales to encourage nonviolence as a legitimate response to trauma.
A day after Easter and the celebration of the resurrection, may we learn to listen to the women of our community. It started with Mary Magdalene (and her restorative experience), it will continue so long as we make space for women to “bring their pain to speech,” as Brueggemann says.
The recent movie Noah (2014) pits Tubal-Cain as the antagonist, organizing an army to take the Ark. Genesis 4:22 states he was “the forger of all implements of bronze and iron.” Josephus regarded Tubal-Cain as, “[exceeding] all men in strength, and was [an] expert and famous in martial performances, … and first of all invented the art of working brass.”
What would it look like if we used the skills of Tubal-Cain, a metal smith, and fashioned them with the moral imagination of the Christ? Instead of making implements of war we make implements of agriculture. Instead of swords we make plowshares and echo the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Micah and train for war no more. But what are practical steps to make this happen? How do we build on the artistic expression of similar examples like Esther Augsberger and her plowshare installation formerly at the WashingtonD.C. police headquarters? Much like the spirit of Isaiah and Micah, Esther and other artists are urging us to DO SOMETHING about gun violence. RAWtools is not waiting for the next mass shooting or stray bullet from a gang initiation to answer this call.
After we started RAWtools, several gun laws were passed here in Colorado. These laws dealt primarily with background checks and magazine capacities. While a step in the right direction, the church has a call to do more than stand behind and cheer on the State. Churches and community organizations can work to be places where guns are disabled and traded for nonviolent educational resources. This is the ground RAWtools is preparing to cultivate and will organize a national network to do so.
Police departments are already scrapping confiscated weapons. Why not recycle this deficit into a surplus and tangible benefit for our communities? What if weapons of war instead supported Restorative Justice Mediator training? What if we could provide temporary work for the homeless? What if we tracked the tools made from each gun and tallied the pounds of food we grew, the flowers we spread, and forged peaceful narratives across our communities? This is possible. It has already begun. Here are the words of a gardener for whom one of our tools graced his garden this past summer;
“The RAWtools hand-pick I have been using to work my garden plot was once [as a gun] an instrument of death. Now, it has been transformed into an instrument of community relationship, spiritual growth, and patience. In my hands, the tool helps reconcile garden problems rather than exacerbate sinful problems. Sharing my experience with RAWtools and gardening with friends and family has opened up meaningful dialogue. Sharing strawberries from my plot with my apartment community has strengthened ties. Carrots from my plot went into the salad of a man suffering stage 4 cancer. In the words of a neighbor: ‘This strawberry of peace might be the best thing I’ve ever tasted!’ There is leadership in restraint and there is food in my garden. This is a reality the gun never offered.
In a blacksmith glossary you will find words like Wainwright, Wheelwright, and Cartwright. A Wright is defined as a worker or maker, one who works with metal and wood. It is time we become Peacewrights. From artistic expression to practical application, it is time for a cultural shift in our moral imaginations. It is time to reinvent the Tubal-Cain that dominates our culture and our senses.
It’s Lent. So you have already seen the lists and posts of what your friends and family are trying to give up for this season – or add in some cases. Whatever it may be this is a time where we try to be more Christ-like and less me-like. It’s when we take time to notice the little everyday habits and things that consume us. We know when we let this happen it paints over our “created in the image of God”-ness. Scrubbing at vandalism is hard work, so what we choose to scrub during lent should be hard. Often times I think we let our self off the hook for Lent.
We have the right to bear arms. As Christians (and many other faith groups), we have the opportunity to say we don’t need to. It’s easy to fall under the illusion that we need to have legislated freedom to protect ourselves, and even more, to practice our faith. And we shouldn’t wait for legislation to tell us to have low capacity magazines. We shouldn’t have magazines with any capacity.
Let’s give up our “practice of self-protection” and start focusing on things like “forgiveness readiness,” as Ron Sider calls it. Following Christ is much more relational than it is preventative. When we have a gun in our home for self defense, it’s exactly what it sounds like. It means we have put our self in such a place we’re willing to prepare our self to take another’s self. Our self and our soul. Lent urges us to look deeper than the self to our soul. Instead of preparing to shoot our neighbor, let’s prepare to love and forgive our neighbor – as we would have them love and forgive our soul. If Lent is about taking out the roadblocks to soul care, then I have an option, and it’s not on any lists that I know of.
As a symbol of soul care, I want to call on the body of believers to let go of their guns and to call their communities to do the same. And don’t sell them. Let’s make a tool of creation out of it. So – if you give up your gun and donate it toRAWtools, we’ll send a garden tool made from it back to you. Now don’t just go and mail it to us. If you are interested in doing this, email me and we’ll make sure we do it safely: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you don’t know already, our mission at RAWtools is to repurpose weapons into hand tools to be used in the creation of something new, preventing the weapon’s use for violence and creating a cycle of peace. Be a part of creating a new narrative. We’ll track the tool(s) made from your gun. We’ll tell the story of where the gun came from and how many pounds of food you are growing with your new tool, or pictures of the beautiful gardens you are tending. Maybe we can make more than one tool from your gun. Then you’ll get to see others across the country growing food and planting flowers with your gun. You’ll be able to track all of this on our website, rawtools.org.
It’s almost spring and Lent just started. Let’s give up our guns for the creation of something new. We’ll be harvesting more than vegetables in the fall.
Its been just under a year since RAWtools officially started. One can expect controversy when stepping into the conversation on guns. While our background is rooted in the Anabaptist tradition, we certainly do not limit our vision to the Anabaptist envelope. In fact, most of our events have taken place with other denominations and faith groups. It has been a wonderful experience to work with such a diverse and gifted group of people.
RAWtools has also received much criticism from a diverse and gifted group of people. I do not say that tongue in cheek. We need to recognize the diversity of the people that are involved in the complex issues that surround gun violence and related topics, and be respectful to each other, no matter how far off the wagon we think the other is. I say this because you should know RAWtools will be responding to some of these conversations and it will be from that Anabaptist perspective.
Since we turn guns into garden tools, with the intent that they create food, flower, or the like; we often get responses similar to, “Why not sell the gun and use that money to feed the poor (instead of grow food for people)?” This was especially true when a Colorado Springs man gave us his AK47, all his extra magazines, and his ammunition. One could value that donation at nearly $1,000. Or a “nice pair of skis and boots,” as the donor said.
We don’t sell the gun because we are making a faith statement. We don’t want to reintroduce it to the market, anyway. We can make at least 5-6 tools from the metal of that gun. Those tools will be sold/auctioned to help us make more tools and faith statements.
So is the value of the faith statement worth more than the value of the gun? We believe it to be so. In the Gospel of Luke there is a story in chapter 7, verses 36-50, that talks about Jesus being anointed with expensive ointment. In the story, Simon objects to this waste of ointment, that its value could have been put to better use. Jesus then forgives the woman of her sins because of her act of faith, effectively saying that her statement of faith was far more valuable than the ointment ever could have been. If you have ever experienced forgiveness, as the grantor and/or the grantee, you know its value is priceless. So not only was the statement valuable to Jesus, Jesus returned grace with grace, and forgave her of her sins.
We’re of the mindset that our world could use a little more grace than it does guns. Others believe the same thing, like the man who bought a tool at auction, made from the AK-47 mentioned above, for $650, as a gift for his son-who is about to have his own children. That family practices peace, and passes it on. That $650 went to Mennonite Central Committee, who will also pass the peace.
The Gun control debate has many voices. Some want more guns – bigger and better guns. Some want more laws, of bigger and grander scope. You can probably guess how we feel about more guns. And we’re based in Colorado. We know a little bit about what’s happening in the legislative sector of this conversation. It has its own tag in the blogosphere.
So we are offering our faith statement, from a perspective rooted in the Anabaptist faith, in the midst of legislative action as well as a demand for more guns, hoping and praying, that we can all just anoint each other with abundant grace, and eat our veggies.
RAWtools officially started in February of 2013. Before that there were exploratory meetings. Before that was Sandy Hook and Adam Lanza (2012), before that was Aurora and James Holmes (2012), before that was Northern Illinois University and Steven Kazmierczak (2008), before that was Virginia Tech and Seung-Hui Cho (2007), before that was the Nickel Mines Amish School House and Charles Roberts (2006), and before that was Columbine and Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris (1999). In the midst of the “headliners” above are 10,000 gun related homicides per year throughout our country, each day the numerical equivalent of a Sandy Hook shooting. Outside the local communities directly affected, we rarely hear their names, either victims or offenders. And it’s important that we remember the offenders and their families as well if at least to recognize the pain in their lives and families, too. We can learn a lot from the response of the Amish community, who forgave the shooter and embraced his family.
Deeply significant for the inspiration behind RAWtools is the biblical passage in Isaiah 2:4 which states, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (ESV).” It’s easy to see where we get our current focus of turning guns into garden tools. Though often overlooked in this verse is how it ends, “neither shall they learn war anymore.” What would it look like for a community to no longer learn war? It might very well look something like the Nickel Mines Amish community. We hope the tools that we create out of guns points our communities toward nonviolent alternatives.
To this end we intend to track every tool we make to the weapon it was made from. If you donate a weapon, we want you to be able to see the new story it has been given. If you purchase a tool to help support RAWtools, we want you to post pictures and stories about how you are using it. At The Justice Conference in Philadelphia this past February, a young father approached us and explained how he would love to use one of our tools to cultivate and care for his garden, at the same time teaching his young son about where that tool came from and how their family will take purposeful and intentional steps to be an example of nonviolence. We hope and pray that our tools, and not gun violence, provide these teachable moments.
One aspect of genealogies found in the biblical text point to where someone came from or was born out of. Biblical writers took great pains to place characters in the context of their genealogical lineage. In Jesus’ case, the Gospel writers also hint at where the narrative of Jesus is going. Jesus marked a change. Among many changes, he showed us how not to learn of war, to turn the other cheek, an example of how to reverse and subvert the realities of this world (Christ-himself from a lineage of sinners). Part of the RAWtools mission is to create new cycles of peace. While RAWtools was begat in a time where our news feeds are littered with gun violence, we hope our communities can instead habituate themselves to respond to tragedy in ways that are full of grace and forgiveness, creating new narratives by which our communities can thrive.
So how does this happen? We can start with laying down our guns. We can embrace practices such as Restorative Justice (victim, offender, and community) and programs such as STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience). There are many sides to gun violence (prevention to recovery). It will take a comprehensive effort to address the issue. We need more creative and comprehensive efforts. RAWtools is one voice in this timely and eschatological chorus for peace. The ability to make, to create, to beget, is inherent. What will we beget of our inherited gun culture? Maybe it’s a return to the garden.