Sermon by: Rev. David Ensign, Interim Director at PPF
Yesterday I preached at Trinity Presbyterian in Harrisonburg, Va., the congregation where the Revs. Jim and Roxana Atwood made their faith community in retirement. For Presbyterians, Jim is the patron saint of gun violence prevention, and a friend from our days together in National Capital Presbytery. I was deeply moved when Roxana invited me to visit Trinity and speak with folks there about Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s gun violence prevention work.
It was sadly ironic to preach there on the morning following another mass shooting – this one in
Club Q, an LGBTQ bar in Colorado Springs. The truth, sadder still, is that just about any Sunday
in America is the morning after a mass shooting. I had planned to mention the one last week
across the Blue Ridge in Charlottesville, noting the proximity both to where we gathered Sunday
morning and, on a personal note, a block or so from where our youngest daughter lived for a
couple of her years at the University of Virginia.
So it goes in America in the age of gundamentalism. That was Jim’s name for our addiction to
guns in the U.S.
Addiction is the wrong word. Idolatry is closer to the truth, for we have placed our faith in
weapons. We believe that weapons will keep us safe. We believe that weapons will secure our
freedom. We believe that weapons will be the means for separating good and evil. We believe.
Help us in our unbelief. Help us in our unbelief in our own capacity to imagine another world.
Help us in our unbelief in anything larger than our own fears. Help us in our unbelief in the
power of community. Help us in our unbelief in love.
Yesterday was the last Sunday before the season of Advent begins. The community at Trinity is
following the narrative lectionary and the texts for the morning came from Isaiah and Luke. The
passage from Luke was the prophecy of Zechariah concerning the birth of his son John. The
Isaiah text promises a time to come when the nations will beat their swords into plowshares.
Both of those prophetic announcements were born from wildly creative and imaginative minds.
If, as PPF’s vision statement proclaims, we are to use “every nonviolent means to disrupt and
transform the culture of domination,” then we must, as that statement concludes, live “into
alternatives to violence with creativity, intelligence, imagination, and love.”
At the end of act I of Rent, one of the leads sings “the opposite of war is not peace; it’s creation!”
The first act of creation has to be imagining a world in which our deep needs are met not by
means of violence, but through community that sustains. To get there does not mean denying the
reality of the world. In the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, such denial sounds, to my
tired ears, a lot like “thoughts and prayers.”
I spent the rest of my weekend in Harrisonburg at nearby Massanetta Springs facilitating a
workshop for about 90 high school students on leadership and improvisation. We played a lot of
improv games and talked about how leadership requires the capacity and commitment to saying
“yes” to the situation you’re given as leader, and then saying “and …” in order to open space for
collaborating on what might be born out of the present situation. Leadership as improv is creative
Yes, we have a crisis of gun violence, and we can yet find a way out of it together.
The only way out of the nightmare of gun violence in America will be through enough creativity
to imagine a world in which we do, at long last, begin to beat swords into plowshares … or guns
into garden tools.