Today is my second day in Oklahoma City attending a conference run by The Episcopal Church called “Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal National Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence.” Today is only the second of three days, but my head is already overflowing with lots of ideas on how we as the Church might more vocally and effectively respond to the continuing violence that plagues communities of all sorts. Violence is not something that just affects “them.” We are all victims of violence.
I’ve learned about Jorge Fuentes, a 19-year-old random victim of violence in South Boston (facebook.com/bpeaceforjorge) and how his senseless death has rallied people from all across the Boston urban and suburban areas to respond collectively to violence. I’ve learned about The Community of the Cross of Nails (www.crossofnails.org), formed by a relationship of two churches (one British, one German) after World War II. I’ve learned about an organization called Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence (faithsagainstgunviolence.org) and the Gun Violence Sabbath Prevention Weekend (http://marchsabbath.org/) that organization facilitated this past March and is planning again for 2015. I’ve learned about how attitude and perception matter when contemplating how to respond to violence. I’ve learned about how Episcopalians are working with non-Episcopalians and how non-political people are getting engaged with their politicians to lobby for change. I’ve learned about grassroots bottom-up efforts and top-down initiatives led by governments and schools and churches. I have heard the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury speak and “rally the troops” so to speak. I have heard priests and lay people speak. I’ve heard a bishop who is a former police officer give personal witness to the impact of violence in his life. I’ve spoken to young adults who work in their local communities both within and without their churches to promote positive change.
And yet, there is still so much work to do. There are so many complexities to the epidemic of violence. There are so many resources that provide materials. What is one to do? It is so overwhelming, and as a result, too many people remain silent. Our baptismal covenant makes it exceedingly clear: we are to always strive for peach and justice among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. This Easter, when many of us will renew our baptismal covenant, the words of this conference will echo in my heart.
There is one comment that I heard today from a speaker at the conference, the Rev. Dr. Kay Collier McLaughlin, author of Becoming the Transformative Church. In responding to a question, she stated: “Holy conversations are not an event, they are a process and an attitude.” I think this one statement sums up why so much of what people have done in response to violence is insufficient. Many people will attend a vigil, or say a prayer, or read an article and say “what can I do?” but do nothing. It is a process and an attitude change, not one specific event that we do. We must continually work toward reconciliation and change. Without continual reflection, continual conversation, continual prayer and continual hard work to make the change we see needs to happen, there will be no change. Violence will continue. We will all continue to be victims.
Tomorrow, our conference continues with more conversation, and a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. We will visit this site of overwhelming atrocity as a visual reminder of incredible violence committed to innocent people. It is moments like these that we work toward making a thing of our history. It is possible. Through prayer, continual conversation and reflection, and a lot of hard work, it is possible.
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.
Click here to read an article from Episcopal News Service about the conference.
Click here to read an article from The Oklahoman about the conference.