Abundant Grace

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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.

A Genealogy of RAWtools

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.