“Any rational people would have enacted substantial gun control laws long ago. The US is not a rational people. Facts avail nothing. Feelings rule and favor guns. I'd say Jesus might say this demon only comes out with prayer and fasting. But that's become perverted into our ritual default in these scenarios and means nothing. We're stuck with this insane gun violence, folks. We are willing to accept these outrages for the feeling of security our guns give us, however wrongheaded that may be. Pray, if you want, vote if you want, but we're not escaping this thing soon or without much more cost. As far as I can tell, this is our reality and I see nothing that says it’s going to be different soon. Ever heard of ‘principalities and powers’?”
I posted the above today on FB. If anything is clear in this situation it is that the most powerful voices in the gun lobby are telling a story that captures the imaginations of many of their hearers. These folks surely hate and regret all the massacres we’ve endured in the US. Many of them are scared and see no alternative to arming themselves for security. Others fiercely reject any governmental effort to abridge their “rights” or intrude any further into their lives. Yet others fancy themselves gunslingers capable of besting gun-toting bad guys in a shootout. America may well have seen its best days and all they can is hold on to as much of that past as they can. This story of fear, suspicion of government, and fantasy is a powerful, if toxic, brew. Though these folks rue the massacres, they accept them for the sake of their own perceived security.
No fact will faze them. Statistics are debatable. News is left-wing and fake. No, it is the story sketched above (we might say, the “gospel”) that has grabbed them by their feelings and convinced them that their course is both rational and necessary. Those who think otherwise are deluded, perhaps even perverted, certainly Un-American.
Those on the other side are equally committed to a story about who and how we Americans should be. They welcome diversity with open arms, decry violence (except perhaps to conservative speakers in the university), also suspect aspects of authority (presidential, police, military) and find these massacres degrading, irrational, and unworthy of us as a people. They do not seem to be overly troubled at being a bit less secure (until it is their plane that is hijacked!), They admit America is undergoing a tempestuous culture change but harbor hope that somehow, someway, we will make it through to a better place. A small number of them fear we have fallen into an oligarchic plutocracy and that frayed remnants of democracy are ebbing away. Many of them folks believe that we can legislate our way to a new better society, though the recent evidences of virulent and resurgent racism has tempered that belief a number of them.
Both sides of this divide, then, operate out of story, a “gospel” that has grasped their hearts and imaginations and enabled them to see the world through a complex filter of all the various elements and experiences that make them who they are.
This is not a bad thing, this living out of a story. Indeed, it seems to be how God wired us to operate. No one is objective. That is, no one or group has an impartial, comprehensive, God’s-eye view of life and world, so as to be able to tell the rest of us how things should be forever and anon. For a long period in the West the church thought the Bible and itself capable of doing so. Then along came the Enlightenment claiming that human reason freed form the shackles of church, superstition, taboo, and tradition could under its own steam bring about a world in line with how things “really” were as discerned by the hard sciences. In our own time, that faith in reason has broken down. We speak in terms of “my truth” or “your truth” or rejoice in simply living life as we “see it” without concerning ourselves with whether anyone else sees it that way or not. Yet such a perspective does not help us much to live together. Just staying out of each other’s business as best we can is not a foundation on which to build a culture that can value and provide belonging and connections that make and keep human life human.
So we live by “fractured stories” as is evident in my sketch of the options we seem to have around gun control. It is almost as if we have replayed the Tower of Babel. Christendom built an incredible edifice and had tremendous influence for a long time. Yet, ironically, the spread of the missionary movement and the collapse of colonialism confused the language of the Christendom church and broke its hold over the West. Then came the Age of Reason which erected an equally impressive edifice and influence over the West only to fall foul of its own limitations and incoherences. And its tower was left unfinished and unbuilt. And now we live among ruins, enmeshed in our own small personal stories unable to find a way a larger “umbrella” to live together under.
There is a moment for the church here. Maybe. But only if we can reconnect with our true story, the biblical gospel. But how to tell that story? Much confusion reigns at this point. I asked myself again today after learning of the massacre, how can I tell the gospel story in a way faithful to the Bible and that connects with the realities of our divided and divisive culture.
It can only begin with a confession, an apology. Like Shane Claiborne’s:
“To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity. Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.”
Our story begins with God, the life of love he shares eternally as always and at the same time, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Human beings, made in God’s image, then, are made for community, togetherness. Not isolated, alone, individualists. Not billiard balls rolling around a table bumping into each other. Rather, more like molecules, the relations between various atoms and their electrical forces. Bound to each other, and only in this boundedness, do they comprise molecules. We too, become the humans we are meant to be in our boundedness to God and one another. Our story begins and ends in togetherness!
This story unfolds into creation. This earth, terra firma, made by God to be his eternal home with his creatures, human and otherwise. Life shared in the fullness of love, the joy of closest fellowship, stewarding creation to its full flourishing. Matter matters, and it matters eternally. As our final and forever home, we care for this planet and the rhythms and systems of its life. Its abundance is sufficient to and owed to all.
Human beings, knit together in creation are bonded together by God’s commission of them to be royal priests in the temple of his creation. Male and female are jointly and equally tasked to exercise dominion by tilling and keeping the garden in which God placed them. Needing each other to be human, we also need each other to be obedient creatures to our Creator.
However, we humans defaulted on our commission and rebelled against our Creator. And in consequence our relation to ourselves, each other, and the creation unraveled to their destruction.
God called Abraham and Sarah, whose family became Israel, to be his people, a great people whom he would bless and protect and through whom he would bless all other peoples. They defaulted as well. All of them but one.
In Jesus of Nazareth God himself came among us and as one of us faithfully lived out his Father’s promise to his people and his world. Through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension God reclaimed his wayward creatures and damaged creation and restored both to his creational design and intent for them.
The church lives out this victory of Jesus, implementing and spreading it everywhere it goes. Humanity and the world are moving toward what they already are in Christ. The church prefigures and performs that future amid the defeated and passing away old world.
At the end we are not awaiting a heavenly, “spiritual” (i.e. immaterial) existence in an immaterial realm (as is commonly believed) but rather a (new) earthly life on God’s creation as God always meant to be. We will “reign” there forever (Rev.22:5) as we were meant to do from the beginning as God’s royal priests.
Our story sets our identity and vocation in light of God’s story with his world. With all the ambiguities, fragments, and incoherences that make up each of our stories, true north is God’s call to and claim upon us as his royal priests. In serving this God we find our true selves even as we give ourselves away for others for Jesus’ sake.
We call others, or better, God through us calls others to reclaim who they really are (royal priests) by resolving who they have become (rebels, sinners) through Christ. While endlessly grateful for his work for us, we honor him rightly by accepting our restoration to our primal dignity and vocation and living henceforth as the people God has called us to be. This is our salvation. Our story. God’s gospel.
I suspect if we could reconfigure the story we tell by these coordinates, internalize it, begin to tell it and live it out in the dialect of those we live with, we might find a way to contest the hold those other stories mentioned earlier have on the imaginations of our country. And renewed imaginations might have a salutary impact on the overall shape and practice of our culture. It will definitely offer our world a clearer witness to the Christian story, its credibility and viability as a way of life in the fragmented, confusing world we inhabit.