Yesterday, our family joined folks from across our diocese for an event they co-sponsored with Christ Trinity, Sheffield; St. Paul’s Stockbridge; Grace, Great Barrington; and Swords to Plowshares Northeast. The Rt. Rev. Jim Curry, a retired Bishop Suffragan in Connecticut is the chief blacksmith for Swords to Plowshares.
This ministry was inspired by the prophet Isaiah, who proclaimed:
“...they shall beat their swords into ploughshares…” (2:4)
Their organization works with local police departments, taking guns that have been bought back from the community and then turning them into garden tools. What we witnessed yesterday was beautiful, and I will tell you why, but first, I want to share why I think addressing gun violence matters so much.
For me, it’s always been personal. My father was an avid hunter. He was also an alcoholic, whose disease took over his life during the course of my early childhood. When I was four years old, my mom came home from her shift at the naval air station, to find my father passed out in a recliner, with a loaded handgun next to him. He was supposed to be watching me.
When I was six years old, we came home from church to find him intoxicated and angry, to the point he became violent. This was not a new behavior, but it was the first, and only time, I actively watched him physically harm her. She sent me to the neighbor to call the police. They refused to call, for fear the police might find their stash of illegal drugs. But as a six year old, I didn’t understand that. All I remember was feeling a deep sense of injustice that adults would sit by and do nothing while an innocent person was being harmed.
That sense of injustice has never left me, and it has shaped who I am, and why I care so deeply about God’s call for us to love one another, no matter how inconvenient or costly.
Like many of you, I remember exactly where I was, and what I was doing when the news broke, telling us what our neighbors in Newtown, Connecticut were going through on December 14, 2012. In my first few years at former St. James, on the anniversary of Sandy Hook, we would hold a vigil, commemorating the lives lost to gun violence, and encouraging folks to work towards gun reform. It was at one of these events that I first spoke to a high school student, who had been coming to church with her mom some Saturday nights: Meaghan Burns.
Meaghan was a young woman who had a spark of joy, love, and curiosity that lived in her eyes; who loved her family and friends beyond measure. A young woman who was a seeker; open to seeing the spiritual and the way God moved in the world. A young woman who took our confirmation class, and was confirmed by Bishop Doug. A young woman, who served our country as a Navy Corpsman, traveling throughout Europe, and most recently serving as a medic at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia.
On May 4, 2019, Meaghan got out of bed to support her friend Shianne Soles, who was going through a difficult break up. Shianne’s ex-boyfriend, Donavon Moora, had brought back some of Shianne’s personal effects, and Meaghan had accompanied her to the security office on base for the exchange. Afterwards, the two women headed to a convenience store, one mile off base for some chips and water. It was there that Moora shot and killed Meaghan and Shianne, before driving a mile down the road and committing suicide. Meaghan was 23 years old, and she left behind a mother, father, sister, and friends who carry this loss with them everyday.
Yesterday, Meaghan’s mom, Carolyn, spoke at the Swords to Plowshares event. She said many important things, but there is one I want to lift up this morning. When sharing Meaghan’s story, she shared the fact that prior to heading to Portsmouth, Meaghan had been training to serve as a field medic in the Middle East. Having one’s child serving in a war zone is a terrifying prospect for any parent. Meaghan underwent grueling training, and ended up injuring both her knees, and was unable to complete the training.
“I never thought I would be happy, thrilled really that my daughter was hurt. I was so relieved. From there, Meaghan was sent to Portsmouth Virginia to work at a naval hospital. I was so happy. Not only was my daughter staying stateside, she would be on the east coast, just hours away…I was so grateful she would be safe.”
“The irony of it all is that if Meaghan had gone with the Marines and been deployed, she probably would still be alive. It is safer to be on the front lines of the battlefield than in the streets of the United States.”
This was one of the first times Carolyn has used her voice as a prophetic call for change. This is no small thing. It is my sincere hope that our community can continue to pray for Carolyn as she finds ways to tell Meaghan’s story and work for change.
Yesterday, Bishop Jim reminded us of some alarming statistics, and I’ve included a few more from the Pew Research Center from 2020:
Given those numbers, I know in this room there are more unspoken stories. Those of you who witnessed or experienced domestic violence and/or suicide, gun related or otherwise. We have a violence problem in this country in every possible form.
Which is why it is so powerful to see guns voluntarily removed from people’s homes and turned into the police. Then watch Swords to Plowshares take weapons for destruction and turn them into garden tools that are donated to community gardens, agricultural high schools, or as donation incentives to cover the costs of this program. The vegetables that are grown in those gardens are then donated to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, or go towards community meals and food banks.
Swords to Plowshares writes on their website:
“The process allows us to find a creative way to make something inspiring and symbolic out of a weapon of death, something that will symbolize the transformation we believe is possible if Americans step back from the heated gun debate and try to listen to each other.”
At yesterday’s event, Bishop Jim broke out his forge, and participants were encouraged to help hammer a section of a gun down into their final shape of a garden tool. It was inspiring to watch folks from across our diocese, Bishop Doug, and especially, Carolyn, take the hammer to bring about change. In that moment, it was possible to get a tiny glimpse of the future Isaiah speaks of in today’s passage, when he proclaims there will someday be a new heaven, and a new earth.
As we head back into the world today, I want to encourage us to do some more labor intensive reflecting:
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