Happy Mother’s Day! This would have been the first Mother’s Day in many years that I did not write a letter to you. Knowing that I am not a big fan of sending flowers and that you and Dad didn’t need any more stuff, I started writing letters on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I didn’t just send a card but tried to express gratitude for how you both shaped and influenced my life and faith. You returned to God’s embrace last November 30, but I’m writing you anyway since you are still a great part of who I am.
On this Mother’s Day 2012 I’ve been thinking a lot about the many ways in which you were a peace-filled person. Or course, you grew up in the Church of the Brethren and became a Mennonite when you married Dad, so you were steeped in pacifism. You truly modeled peace. I don’t ever remember you raising your voice. You always saw the best in others, persuading me and my siblings into positive behavior through love, not punishment. Whenever I read in the Beatitudes that the meek will inherit the earth, you are the first person I think of, Mom.
I’ve been very concerned in recent months about the culture of violence that seems to pervade our country and know that you would not remain silent about this if you were still alive. It was brought into sharp relief on February 26 when 17 year old African-American teenager Trevon Martin was shot to death by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Martin was unarmed and wearing a hoodie, yet Zimmerman said he felt threatened. When advised by a 911 operator to stay in his car, he instead followed Martin, an encounter took place, and Martin was killed.
In addition to having racist overtones, this case has raised the issue of “shoot-first legislation,” which has been enacted in more than 2 dozen states. These laws permit individuals to shoot others if they feel threatened, even if they have the option to simply walk away. What is our world coming to, Mom?
At the same time we’ve experienced a rash of violence in sports. You probably don’t remember the name Metta World Peace, but he is a forward for the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team who changed his name last September from Ron Artest. World Peace, who has a history of violent outbursts during basketball games, was suspended for 86 games in 2004 for a brawl against the Detroit Pistons.
It is natural to assume that the name change indicated Artest’s desire to change his behavior. Unfortunately, Metta World Peace was suspended for 7 games on April 24 because he threw a violent elbow to the head of Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden. Changing one’s name does not always transform one’s attitudes.
Then there was Bountygate. It would have been incomprehensible to you that players and coaches of the New Orleans Saints football team were systematically offered money for deliberately hurting opponents. Players actually put money in a bounty pool and targeted specific players to be taken out of the game by violent hits. Among others, head coach Sean Payton was suspended for an entire year for his role in the “pay for pain” scandal, and the league’s investigation showed that a significant number of players participated in one way or another. Fortunately, the National Football League, which is already concerned about the effect of violent hits and concussions on the long term health of football players, acted decisively.
Meanwhile, more than 1,800 retired football players have joined 68 lawsuits against the NFL, claiming that the NFL did not do enough to warn them about the dangers of head injuries and did not treat them adequately. Studies are just beginning to recognize that multiple head trauma by current and former football prayers can result in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), symptoms of which are neurological problems, depression, and violent outbursts. The recent suicide of former San Diego Charger and Pro Bowler Junior Seau, who was revered for his ability to play through pain, once again raises concerns about our violent national pastime.
Violence permeates every aspect of our culture, Mom. Many of our youth spend hours a day playing video games where people kill each other, which simply reinforces our cultural norm that hurting another person is a legitimate way to solve problems. Why does the entertainment industry glorify violence? Racism also incites violence, and God knows how far we have to go in creating racism-free communities in our country.
Verbal violence is just as harmful. I don’t ever remember you speaking harshly about others or using violent images in your speech, but verbal tirades are commonplace today, especially in politics. I was astonished when Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student, a “slut” and a “prostitute” a few months ago simply because she publicly advocated that employers cover contraception in their health care plans.
Unfortunately, we find this kind of behavior in the church as well. Several weeks ago at our 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, I was grateful when delegates spent an entire evening learning how we have mistreated and disregarded the indigenous people of the United States. Our act of repentance did not erase the pain of violence against our Native American brothers and sisters, but it publicly recognized our collective sin and commitment to change our behavior.
We didn’t fare quite as well in the treatment of our homosexual brothers and sisters who so fervently desire full inclusion in the life of The United Methodist Church. Sorrowfully, not only did they experience the withering verbal violence of demonstrators who came all the way from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, to cast slurs upon homosexuals, but they also experienced extremely hurtful and unnecessary language from some of our own delegates.
Sorry to dump all of this on you, Mom, but there’s one more thing that weighs heavy on my heart right now. The Michigan State Senate is considering a bill that would allow concealed pistols in so-called “gun-free” zones such as churches, schools, and sports stadiums for those who receive extra training. This bill, which also would revise the permit process for permission to carry concealed weapons, was approved last month on a 5-1 vote of the Senate Natural Resources, Environment, and Great Lakes Committee. In addition, two bills, nicknamed by some the “George Zimmerman Armed Vigilante Act” have been introduced in the U.S. Senate (S. 2188 and S. 2213). The legislation would force all states to allow people to carry loaded, hidden handguns.
I am not naïve enough to think that there are no guns in our churches now. In fact, after I preached a sermon years ago that touched on the epidemic of violence in our country, an older woman approached me in the narthex after church. She pulled out a derringer from her purse and said, “I never leave home without it.” I was stunned.
Gun control is a sensitive issue with a segment of our country who believe that every citizen has a right to be armed. The United Methodist Church, in its statement on gun violence, says, “In the name of Christ, who came ‘and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near’ (Ephesians 2:17) and challenged all his disciples to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), we call upon the Church to affirm its faith through vigorous efforts to curb and eliminate gun violence.” We further state that “every United Methodist church is officially declared a weapon-free zone” (“Gun Violence,” #3426 Book of Resolutions).
Mom, you taught me to be a peace-maker, and I remain convinced that we are not a safer country when everyone is packing heat. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and not return violence with violence. My faith dictates that:
- It’s not okay to bring guns to church on Mother’s Day or any other day
- It’s not okay to use verbal images of violence: i.e. “God hit me upside the head”
- It’s not okay to give in to road rage by tailgating someone that you think cut you off
- It’s not okay to yell and scream at others at home, school, work, church or anywhere else
- It’s not okay to exalt our soldiers for their killing prowess and neglect to honor them for their primary role in keeping the peace
- It’s not okay to march in lockstep as a nation so that we no longer recognize systemic violence to be just as sinful as individual violence
When one of those with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave, Jesus told him that those who take up the sword die by the sword. Jesus was consistently non-violent over the course of his ministry and never justified the use of force. In the early church thousands of Christians died as martyrs because they refused to defend themselves. Mom, you modeled for me the kind of love causes no harm but does good; a love that is not violent but gentle; a love that values each human life as precious; a love that does not have to crush others in order to build ourselves up; a love that does not condone evil but speaks out for justice.
I miss you very much, Mom, but I’ll carry on your legacy as best I can on this earth. Happy Mother’s Day. By the way, is heaven a gun-free zone? I assume so, but if for some crazy reason it’s not, I’m sure that you and all the other mothers are working on it.