A Vulnerable God Invites Vulnerable People

cartridges-2166491_960_720One of our first arguments was about gun control. Frank saw the reasoning to own a gun; I just couldn’t wrap my mind around needing protection of that kind. I have trouble imagining taking someone else’s life to save my own.

This week, my daily dose of Henri Nouwen arrived in my inbox. It was an incredibly timely reflection about laying down arms in order to practice communion. He says,

When we gather around the table and eat from the same loaf and drink from the same cup, we are most vulnerable to one another. We cannot have a meal together in peace with guns hanging over our shoulders and pistols attached to our belts. When we break bread together we leave our arms – whether they are physical or mental – at the door and enter into a place of mutual vulnerability and trust.

Bread for the Journey by Henri Nouwen

I think this so perfectly captures my inability to understand arming myself. Nouwen goes on to say, “The beauty of the Eucharist is precisely that it is the place where a vulnerable God invites vulnerable people to come together in a peaceful meal.”

How can we practice peace and vulnerability if we don’t trust our neighbors? I understand my privilege to live in an incredibly safe neighborhood – one where we leave our doors unlocked and garage doors open. If I lived elsewhere, maybe I would feel differently.

At its core, though I think there’s value in trusting first. How can we love our neighbors if we hold a level of distrust toward them? How can we trust that God will care for us if we feel like we need extreme levels of protection to ensure this? How can we live in openness and faith if we cling to our fear?

I know that I fear other things – things that don’t require guns for protection but that do create a foundation of fear and distrust. Conversations about gun control and protection make me reflect on ways in which I act out fear rather than faith; when I rely on a foundation of mistrust rather than love.

I know there are no easy answers. Our neighbors are gun owners and if everyone were as intentional and cautious as they are, I would have no reservations about citizens owning weapons. I know there are lots of ways of interpreting the Second Amendment. I know that there are ideologies and layers that will take years of shifting and unpacking to reach an agreement.

But I do think, in the wake of tragedy like the one we just saw in Las Vegas, we need to examine where we find our trust and how we actively show our love to our neighbors.

(For an enlightening history of the Second Amendment, I’d highly recommend the book The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman.)

How do you balance fear and faith? How does your faith guide your view on gun control and gun rights? Any books you’d recommend on this topic?

BackyardThis post is Day 5 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

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14 thoughts on “A Vulnerable God Invites Vulnerable People

  1. Thought-provoking essay, Annie.

    I think Nouwen (and I like him a lot) got it backwards; there is far more trust required and vulnerability displayed in breaking bread with armed me. To use a Scriptural simile, if the lion was toothless and declawed, his lying down with the lamb would not have the same resonance.

    Would I take a life to save my own? Sure. But I’m looking at this in a different context; my life affects others, and my death at the hands of another would leave a void in barbara’s life that could not be filled, and would leave my dogs in desperate straits.

    Perhaps my assailant had a family too, but it was his choice. I owe it to my people to come home alive, by any means necessary.

    Las Vegas was tragic, but we endure a Las Vegas wastage every day on our roads, from two readily-identifiable causes: drinking and texting. But no one is looking to run background checks on liquor purchases, or require safety interlocks on phone keyboards. People just as real as those in las Vegas die, and their stories are every bit as poignant, but no one really cares, out in the wider world.

    The problem facing our country is not gun control or an erosion of constitutional rights; it’s far deeper, and it’s called alienation.

    We’ve become a country so fragmented by the ability to please ourselves, without having to plug into a physical community, that we consider ourselves virtual citizens of the world…but how many times have you heard the term ‘civic pride’ used recently, except in mocking scorn?

    Just as alienation begets indifference, community begets responsibility and accountability. And that is what we need, now more than ever.

    1. Gosh, I’ve been thinking all day about your comment that more vulnerability is shown when we sit with those who are armed. It’s really shown my own discrepancies on this issue – I like to think I “understand” those who own guns, but I really don’t. I don’t know if I ever will, but I do know I need to listen more and break bread with them more often. Thank you, Andrew, for pushing me.

  2. So much yes here, Annie. I think of the figurative fears I bring to the table not putting them aside for true communion. I need to keep these words close to heart.

    1. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own fears…. (Have you done Enneagram? I just did and my go to negative behavior is fear. Hmmm….) I feel like I need to be more intentional in this area.

  3. I do not think guns are a good idea. Accidents do happen and even if you don’t intend to, you may hurt someone. And there is the scenario where it is stolen and falls into the wrong hands.

    1. I’m with you, Colline. I just don’t get it. But, we know people who do very much find them necessary. I guess it’s learning to truly listen to both sides…. (So hard, in so many areas!)

  4. I sort of shied away from the 2nd Amendment issues in my earlier comment, Annie, but having given it some thought, I will say this:

    I live in an on a mesa upon which crack houses aboud, and which is used by drug traffickers. I’ve been told, “If you don’t like it, move.”That’snot in the cards. We can’t afford it.

    I therefore feel that I have the right to defend my people and my property in the way that I deem appropriate. I’m one of the good guys, and I should have access to automatic weapons and grenade launchers and RPGs. I should not have to surrender my property and my freedom to the cartels, because they want a market for the heroin and cocaine they import, and to the losers who think that the drugs they take make them heirs to…well, everything.

    THIS is life on the border. I will fight, with a kitchen knife, if that’s all I have, for the right to decency.

    I’m tired of being reasonable with those who want what I have fought – through terminal illness and bankruptcy – to usurp. I will light them up with whatever I have at hand.

    And let God sort out what remains.

  5. Nouwen is one of my faves! So much THIS: “Nouwen goes on to say, ‘The beauty of the Eucharist is precisely that it is the place where a vulnerable God invites vulnerable people to come together in a peaceful meal.'”

    1. It is so difficult to practice vulnerability, isn’t it? It’s easy to do it in a safe, fairly like-minded environment. But with people of completely different opinions? Yikes…. Learning that this is where communion is most necessary.

  6. One thing I have learned… Just as with Faith, those who believe that gun ownership is an absolute right take it as seriously as our absolute faith in God. I understand yours and Andrew’s POV. I may not agree completely. This topic wells up in my chest. Angst rises. How does my faith guide me? Proverbs 25:21,22; Matthew 5:39; Romans 12:17. Any good books on the subject? – I too would like to know. I served my country in The U.S. Army. I have respect for these weapons.

    1. I really liked “The Second Amendment.” It’s a history of how we’ve come to view guns as a culture, which I found really helpful. Such a complex issue, though!

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