Combating gun violence, first with lament

In the face of big problems, solutions aren’t always clear. So it is with gun violence in Chicago.

“This violence needs to stop,” she said. “I don’t even know what to say. This is sad.”

Leaders propose various explanations and strategies for prevention. Yet whatever their claims, no one is certain why there are so many shootings. The questions are polarizing and complex, and the consequences are tragic.

In this city of 2.7 million people, there are a dozen Mennonite congregations. The one in which I am a minister is in a neighborhood where bullets more frequently tear through the air and into bodies. Yet it is also a place where one often encounters rich history, verdant park space and gardens, and caring people.

And so I knew I was only getting part of the picture when I read a Chicago Tribune article about the shooting of three men on May 6 near a Mennonite church in another part of the city where gun violence occurs all too often. I wondered about the reactions of the people I have met from that church. When a shooting happens within a mile or two of our church, we don’t always hear about it or respond to that particular event. However, this was on the church’s block, and their building had police tape in front of it. It was a jarring sight in the photo accompanying the article.

I thought of the dozens of people with gunshot wounds who I’ve met in the trauma center where I worked as a chaplain. Many who survived had sustained long-lasting physical and emotional harm. While the news story gives few details about the three men who were shot — as required by health information protection laws — I imagined what they might be going through in the aftermath of this event.

And I was struck by the response of a woman in the area: “This violence needs to stop,” she said. “I don’t even know what to say. This is sad.”

The reporter described the woman and others who gathered across from the church as angry about the violence in the neighborhood. Such a response of anger and sadness — lament — is where many people of biblical faith have stood in the face of violence and injustice.

It is a response that still holds power for us today. Instead of aligning with politicians and parties, jumping to purported solutions, or fighting over gun control, we need to lament and pray.

Lament allows us to see our human condition, and in doing so opens us to compassion for both victims and perpetrators, and to the need for humility. When we lift our laments to God, we recognize our smallness next to God’s power to ultimately renew the good creation we humans mar by our brokenness.

Taking time for lament does not require rejecting political action, protest or outreach programs. Those are needed, as gun violence affects our entire nation. But let us begin in lament and prayer, and let our other actions grow out of that ground.

For these reasons, I aim to begin with compassion and humility as I work on a story for a coming issue of this publication about some of the responses to the challenge of gun violence in one part of Chicago affected a great deal by it.

Yet I also write knowing that this neighborhood is not a place only of destruction but also of creativity. People do not only lift up laments but also joyful praises to the God, who gives us abundant life and love in a world of complex problems.

Celeste Kennel-Shank is a minister and community gardener in Chicago.