As a Chicagoan, it has become my Monday morning ritual to research the counts of those killed and injured by gun violence over the weekend throughout our city. Unfortunately, today, my local focus has broadened to the recent attacks in Orlando. But my ritual doesn’t stop there. This morning, I sent up a new prayer:
For all of the wounded, I offer supplication.
For the families of the deceased, I intercede.
For all of the victims’ lives, and for their dance in the midnight hour, I give thanks.
This is one way that my faith and spirituality enable me to cope with tragedy: It permits me to grieve and to ask questions. It has helped me to hold space for the victims, their families and the communities that will be most intimately impacted by grief. After the weekend’s event, my faith and my heart lead me to grieve with the LGBT community and communities of color who stand in sorrow’s kitchen daily, “licking out all the pots,” in the words of Zora Neale Hurston.
Though grief is an important part of these shocking events, it won’t lead to change. If we are going to see a decline in the enactment of gun violence within the human community, we have more work that we need to do. We must recognize that the impulse to hate lies eerily close to the impulse to kill and that we are susceptible to this slippery slope, as long as difference induces anxiety and hatred. It doesn’t matter how “well-meaning” we are or how “good” our intentions. How “tolerant” we are is irrelevant if we do not love. Ultimately, if we are going to win the fight against hatred and violence, we must be the manifestation of love. Love must become more than an ideal, a logo or an abstraction. Sure, there is a measure of love in expressions of grief and support, such as vigils, memorials and public art. But love also requires work.
I hope that we will commit to doing the necessary work of naming our biases and getting to their root causes and ideologies. We must be willing to do the work of changing our minds and our hearts, which often requires deep introspection, courageous conversation across lines of difference, reading and learning, and perhaps even repentance.
I pray that we can be active in the shaping of safe societies where gun reform is a reality and not a distant dream. One reason why we keep hearing this story is because of the lackadaisical gun laws that hinge upon an antiquated second amendment. Our national policies are in need of urgent attention. If you haven’t gotten involved in the political process beyond the two-party dichotomy and the tragically sad current presidential cycle, it’s about that time. We live here. As Black Lives Matter has taught us over the past few years, we don’t have to be silent when we are subject to unjust and immoral policies and processes. In “My Petition,” Jill Scott sings to our country, “I know my rights. There’ll be no law bridging the freedom of my speech or the right for me to petition for a remedy of grievances.
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Speak up for the slain. Speak up for the most vulnerable. Even something as simple as signing a petition, which calls for a ban on assault weapons. Contact your local and state elected officials, including your congresspeople and governors, and implore them to take brave action against gun violence, police brutality, mass incarceration and any other issue that moves your heart to brokenness and grief. We must use our grief to inspire action.
Rev. Neichelle Guidry is the liaison to worship and arts at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.