Last week several of us had a chance to travel to Kalispell, Montana, for the annual assembly of the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference (38 congregations spread over six states). We don't get to see each other very often, so I always find it meaningful to hear the ways other congregations are living out the Gospel. As delegates we had some pretty candid conversations about the differences in our congregations and the commonalities that hold us together. Among the official business, we affirmed our own Brett Tieszen to be the conference Treasurer (replacing our own Harold Nussbuam, who finished his term). Pastor Samuel Moran, of Ministerios Restauracion (the Spanish-speaking Mennonite Church with whom we share our meetinghouse), was also affirmed as the Moderator-Elect. I've asked each of the delegates to write a short paragraph about their experience of the Assembly and we'll pass those on in the next week or two. And you can mark your calendar now for next year's conference in Lebanon, Oregon - June 19-20, 2015.
Last Sunday morning many of us joined Mountain View Mennonite Church for worship (and yes, they have a pretty terrific view of the mountains right outside their sanctuary). Then a number of us headed up to Glacier National Park for an afternoon hike. The picture above was taken at Avalanche Lake. The words of a Manley Hopkins poem kept looping through my head - 'He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him!
Peace to you,
'How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?' - Psalm 13.2
How long do we have to hear 'special reports' and 'news bulletins' on another shooting? This morning it was a shooting at Reynolds High in Troutdale, last week it was at Seattle Pacific University, before that it was in Las Vegas, and before that it was at UC Santa Barbara, and before that it was Newtown and Clackamas and Aurora and Virginia Tech and Columbine. How long? How long does this madness go on?
The reason public policy doesn't change is because of powerful forces who believe that 'the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is good guy with a gun.' And what we've ended up with is a country and a culture awash in guns. There are so many privately-owned guns that there are more than enough for every adult in the US to have one. And guns are the only consumer product exempt from any federal safety standards. Paint-ball guns have to meet safety standards, but not domestically produced firearms. The result is that in every other western industrialized country the number of gun deaths each year doesn't exceed 250. In the US (granted, a bigger country than most), the number of deaths by gun violence averages 30,000 per year. How long?
I do not believe that violence stops violence. It only accelerates the descending spiral of loss and fear and more violence. Instead, I believe in Jesus who refused to respond to hatred and fear and violence with more violence. He taught us to love the ones who hurt us and pray for the ones who want to. He taught us that hatred can't overcome hatred, only love can.
So pray for peace. Pray for the victims and the families and friends, for the students and teachers at Reynolds High School. And pray for the shooter and his family. And for the police and the medical professionals and the counselors and therapists.
And act for peace. Our political system is maddeningly inert; it isn't clear how we can effect change. But we are still called to bear witness to the way of Christ. The Washington Office of Mennonite Central Committee has resources to help end gun violence. And to help us think 'christianly' about the issue, here's a (link) to a sermon I preached in 2013.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.