The recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and the mass murder in San Bernardino are frightening reminders of the unprecedented level of gun violence now assaulting our country. In each of the last few years, more than 30,000 of us have become victims of gun violence, often at the hands of a friend or family member, or at our own hands.
Headlines about terrorism and mass shootings blind us to the fact that there are daily shootings of dozens of people across the country – more than 80 a day. In Maine, there were 158 firearm deaths in 2013, the last year for which there are published statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. That’s nearly double the number in 2003 (82).
The conversation about gun violence has been lost in the debate over technicalities concerning gun control. What we seem to have forgotten is that we – all of us – have a right to live safely in our own homes; to go about our business, to go shopping or have a meal out without being shot. As a nation, and a people, we are failing to keep ourselves safe.
Christians in many traditions have now begun the pre-Christmas season we call Advent. Advent is four weeks devoted to waiting for the coming of Jesus. We await his coming as the child born in a manger in Bethlehem, and we await his coming again to set things right.
In Advent, we reflect on the darkness of the world around us, the darkness caused by poverty, violence, racism, greed, war and disease. We consider what we have done to each other and to the earth, our fragile island home. And we consider our need for God.
We reflect on the truth that we are not sufficient in ourselves, and we wait for the coming of the light — Jesus. The candles we light in this season are tiny flames of hope burning bravely against the darkness.
For many people, the constant news about gun violence emphasizes our need for God: for relief from the violence, to be able to feel safe and to trust the people around us. As the bishop of the Episcopal Church in Maine, I call on all of us to observe a Gun Sabbath on Sunday (www.decembersabbath.org).
It is a day for prayer and reflection. It is a day to remember and pray for all those who have died and for their families. And it is a day to seek the will to make our land a safer place, to refrain from resolving disputes or complaints with a gun.
As a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence (bishopsagainstgunviolence.org), I invite you to learn more about gun violence and common-sense proposals to make our lives safer. It is not true that there is nothing we can do. It is not true that 30,000 deaths a year is the price we must pay for freedom.
Each of these lives is cherished by God. Each of these lives is valuable beyond measure. The loss of all these lives must be redeemed as we work to make our homes, villages, cities and nation safer for everyone.
The baby in the manger, the infant Jesus, shows all of us, no matter what our faith tradition, that God dreams of a different sort of world, a world where the innocence of children is the sign of our unity as a human family and our hope for a world fit for children. The baby Jesus reminds us that people of every tribe and culture nonetheless belong to one family whom God loves.
Human beings are made for love. Collaboration and trust are our natural inclinations. Jesus came to help us claim those gifts and to share them with one another. In this season of expectation and hope, I invite you to all claim the dream of God and to work with one another for peace in our world, our neighborhoods, our homes and our hearts.