Thoughts on MLK Day

Yesterday in church we heard the story of Jesus' miracle at a wedding feast in Cana, the first of several “signs” the Fourth Gospel gives us of the significance of Jesus' ministry as the manifestation of God's light in the midst of the darkness of this world.  This is a story calling us to transformation, as Fr. Chuck pointed out in his sermon for the day.  This thought comes out in the blessing appointed for the day: “May God, by the power that turned water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana, transform your lives and make glad your hearts.”

The incident at the wedding feast shows the reader that the ministry of Jesus is the best wine yet.  The story also carries within it a hint that the full revelation as to why Jesus' ministry is the “best wine” is yet to come.  “My time has not yet come”, says Jesus to his mother after she bids him do something to rescue a party that is about to stall for lack of wine.

When will his time come?  I believe that the time to which Jesus refers comes when the full extent of his love for the world is made known in his willingly becoming a victim of this world's violence and victimization on the cross.  Returning in resurrection, he forgives and loves those who made him a victim.  The cross and the resurrection represent the fullness of the epiphany of God's love for this world.  The deep significance of Jesus' ministry is not that he does amazing things at a party, causing a buzz.  The miracle with the wine points to a deeper significance.  The coming of Jesus is to a world where the party that God intended has stalled.  It has stalled because of human sin.  The world has run out of wine; the wine of God's joy and peace.

I came home from church today longing for the transformation to which Fr. Chuck pointed us; this transformation that is on offer from God through the power of Jesus Christ.  I long for this transformation in myself and in our society, which is so in thrall to violence and the fear of violence.

The unspeakable sadness of Sandy Hook Elementary School's pre-Christmas horror still weighs on us, and has sparked a renewed national conversation and debate about guns and their role in society.  A majority of Americans favor some new policy with regard to certain types of guns designed for military use, while a significant minority is opposed to change.

The divide appears to be deep.  I know people in my family circle who believe there is a conspiracy to confiscate their deer-rifles and pistols.  I don't believe that.  Others in our state proposed “Gun Appreciation Day” on the occasion of the weekend where we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  I thought this a mockery of an occasion where we mark the significance of the life of a man who died by gun violence after showing us a courageous example of non-violent resistance to oppression.  Others propose arming every teacher, and as the parent of a young adult who seeks to become a teacher, I have a personal stake in contemplating the implications of such an idea.

Writing in the January 28 issue of Time Magazine, Amanda Ripley reminds us that the chance of a student being killed in school is “about 1 in 3 million, lower than the odds of being struck by lightning.”  She also cites evidence that in “fixating on hypothetical school-yard gunfights, we are choosing to fight in the riskiest arena.”   She points out that it is in this arena where chances are high that an officer or armed educators will be involved in an accidental shooting.

We are in for a long debate and discussion.  I hope the debate and discussion is substantive and robust, and makes us look at mental health issues and issues of law and justice.  The debate is needed.  Our nation stands out among developed countries for our gun violence statistics; and that is deeply troubling, especially in a nation where so many people profess Christian faith.  The idea that problems are solved and security is ensured at the end of a barrel of a gun is a prevalent myth in our story-telling and our history.  That troubles me.

In my upbringing in rural and small-town Oregon, I grew up around guns and hunting and sport shooting.  These are legitimate uses of guns, and there are legitimate reasons for some to keep a gun for self-defense.   But I have a great concern that we have made violent responses to conflict an idol in our culture.

Christian faith calls us to put aside idols and trust in Jesus.  He is our peace, who in the Passion and the Crucifixion directly confronts our violence, and in the Resurrection comes back in total forgiveness, showing the possibility of a new way of being.  We have a lot to learn from him about peaceful resolution to conflict.

In my view, our trust in the myth that violence is redemptive is one that has led us to the place we are.  The party is stalled.  The wine of joy is running out.  We're drinking the dregs of fear.

Into this stalled party Jesus comes with the best wine.  His life and teaching and death and resurrection hold the power to bring the party alive again; to show us new ways besides violence to seek what is just and right.  I hope we who are Christians will contemplate his Epiphany among us as we participate in the national debate and discussion, and let it influence us more deeply.