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Service of Remembrance: Lives Lost to Gun Violence

“Turn up the heat, and the snakes come out.”

When Dr. Michael T. Scott, Sr., Senior Pastor at Galilee Baptist Church began reading his chosen text, Acts 28.1-10, I was not alone in wondering where exactly he could possibly be taking us! But by the time he completed his words of hope and inspiration, the congregation was on its feet, applauding and shouting Amen! I told him later that I would certainly never read that text the same way again!

Before Dr. Scott inspired the almost 200 people in attendance, we were moved by the families who came to offer all of us the gift of their family members taken by gun violence. Many brought photographs that will become part of a permanent memorial to those who have died by gun. Everyone who offered a name processed through the congregation to take their place before the assembled community. All photographs were placed at the altar. We spoke our prayers with one voice promising that we would stand together to honor those who have been taken and to protect the living from gun violence.

After the service all were encouraged to stop by the reception for some refreshments, to sign petitions, and to pick up information about pending legislation that needs all our attention.

This was the 4th year for the service that the Coalition for Common Ground began one year after the mass school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. CCG works in coalition with Moms Demand Action Kalamazoo region, ISAAC and others to help educate and encourage everyone to make gun violence prevention central to how they work for social justice. When we set this year’s date of February 18 last year, we had no idea that another horrific mass shooting would take place in Florida on Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday.

Mass shootings always get our attention. We forget however that every day 96 people are dying by gun in the United States. About 66 of these deaths are suicides.  Every day the equivalent of 2 Las Vegas shootings; 2 Pulse Nightclubs; 7 Parkland, FL shootings; 5 Sandy Hooks; 8 Aurora Colorado movie theater shootings; 12 Kalamazoo mass shootings. But the majority of killing in the United States is rooted in interpersonal violence. No problem will be solved with a gun. We all know that. We must seek personal and societal transformation through public reflection and public action.

But that will not be easy. That is where the snakes come in. The young folks from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas HS in Florida have courageously and eloquently marched out despite their grief to urge Florida lawmakers to do many things that are sensible. They have turned up the heat. And the snakes have come out to attack their motives and disparage their efforts. That’s what happens, because guns are an idol in the US. They are a god. Until we pull the veil from this idol we will have to deal with snakes. But the snakes cannot keep us from reaching out to support and help one another during gun tragedies. That was Dr. Scott’s final word of hope and inspiration. Paul used his wounded hand to bring healing to those who had helped all of his 273 shipwrecked comrades. We are all part of a colossal shipwreck. Gun violence does not happen to just one family at a time. It happens to everyone in the community where that family lives. We are all survivors. Survivors support one another to make a more just community.

Coalition for Common Ground: Reducing Gun Violence Together meets on the 4th Monday each month.  The next meeting is March 26, 5:30 pm, at First Presbyterian Church, room 301.

– Rev. Linda MacDonald, Liaison to Coalition for Common Ground: Reducing Gun Violence Together