A new year, when so many conversations seem cyclical, reviewing the repetitive silliness in our nation’s capital, the redundant articles and analyses in media, the […]
Kevin Ressler is executive director at Meals on Wheels of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and co-founder of the Lancaster Action Now Coalition. He attends Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster.
I have a Meals on Wheels volunteer, Murphey, who always greets us by saying, “Happy breathing.” Influenced by Buddhist thought, he is always reminding us to appreciate every breath. Yesterday’s Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday massacre allegedly perpetrated by Nikolas Cruz in Florida was enabled by America’s gun idolatry and allowed by our societal political priorities. This tragedy allowed me to understand my friend’s advice: Every breath matters so deeply because some day, at some point, you do not take one more, and that is when the end comes for these mortal bodies.
I have the amazing opportunity to be a father to two daughters. Their breaths are combinations of laughter and chortles, new words and new sounds, excitement and pain. They are nine months old and three years and nine months, although Acacia is likely to tell you she’s already four. Either way she answers is yet another blessed, divine breath never to be had again. And I get to experience this divinity daily.
Laying in bed beside her, waiting for her chattering to slow and her breathing to become labored and constant, I encounter that even her eventual sleep is no sound of silence. It is the even, steady reminder to me that she is there and present, alive and vibrant. She is full of vigor and life even as she is replete with sleep’s stillness.
Last night 17 people, someone’s children, didn’t breathe any more. Because we love guns too much. Because we love political games too much. Because we say it’s too soon to talk about the issue, even though so far this year there have been 28 mass shootings in 45 days, which means if you forget to talk about it the day after, the next day you’ll be banned again by this sanctimonious supposition that someone’s death deserves more mourning than someone else’s life deserves protecting from the same evil of inaction.
I cannot help but wonder: Will we be damned? What condemnation comes as we, the living, see the problem, can even name it, but are more interested in parroting the soundbite tropes and protecting the predefined political territory than to salve the wailing breaths of now childless parents with solutions that may be imperfect and full of compromise? How precious is our purity?
And while this condemnation of our war and violence lust seems particular to everyone in the U.S., I hold a specific disappointment in we Anabaptists, who for 500 years claimed to know better. Yet for at least 50 years we have been much more seduced by increasing social and economic comfort, leading rapidly to a conformity whose protection has overridden the vow we take as adults to be in the world but not of the world, to be allegiant to God’s shalom.
We Anabaptists increasingly seem more interested in proximity to the power that first protects the proselytizing of empire religion than we do following the call of Christ to see our being as sacrifice, and our life’s primary function to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and secondly, “to love your neighbor as yourself. [For] there is no commandment greater than these.”
As we enter Lent may we recognize it is more than a season to cheaply give up luxuries. It is a time to reflect as Christ did during 40 days in the desert to find again the radical, the root, the necessity of our time and nature. Let us come out renewed in commitment. May we be re-centered as that voice against violence, that salve for the war abused, that light to the world in a fog of war and violence. This is what we have been called to. May we find our way back.
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