by Laura Brix Newbury
A SMALL FORGE in a church parking lot may seem like an unusual place to heal wounded hearts, but that’s what happened at an event our congregation hosted this past spring. We were fortunate to be one of the stops on a nationwide book tour for Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence by Shane Claiborne and Mike Martin.
We were weary. Between the local headlines that gave a daily murder count in our city and the national news of mass shootings, suicides and accidental deaths, we were beginning to feel like violence and hate might actually be winning.
After a particularly violent weekend in Chicago, we were ready for a glimmer of hope. To help us better understand the challenges we face, Shane and Mike shared information about gun violence trends, as well as the spiritual aspects of fear and violence. Two women from the community-one who had survived a drive-by shooting and one whose brother had been killed by gunfire-gave human faces to the numbers. They shared their moving stories of loss and recovery. Representatives from the group Moms Demand Action provided practical resources for advocating against violence. Music and spoken word presentations gave voice to our emotions and lifted our spirits.
Around the forge, we watched a gun being melted down and hammered into a gardening tool, echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plow shares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4). Everyone there who’d been personally affected by gun violence was invited to name the loved ones they’d lost and take a first swing of the hammer. We were given slips of paper and asked to write down the hostilities in our hearts. These, too, went into the forge.
As evening settled into night, we prayed, sang and rejoiced in a God who heals our wounded hearts. Our ritual of grief, lament and letting go, became a ritual of commitment and hope. Through the transformation of a tool of destruction into a tool that gives life, our feelings of anger and grief were also transformed—into healing and wholeness.
The event was a beautiful experience, but will it change anything? It helps me to remember something Shane and Mike wrote—that when we ask God to move a mountain, God may respond by handing us a shovel. Fortunately, God works through us as a community of believers. Experiences like our time at the forge can inspire and motivate us to put our faith into action.
We also don’t need to wait for someone else to come to town to ignite these feelings of solidarity and hope. Let’s mark our calendars for next year, when Women of the ELCA commemorates Rachel’s Day on the first Sunday in May. Rachel’s Day is a time of grieving, awareness raising and taking a stand against gun violence in our communities.
Visit welca.org and click on “resources” to find a beautiful litany of lament and hope that congregations can use to heal and encourage.
While I learned a lot at the forge, perhaps the most powerful message was that only love can heal a heart filled with hatred and violence. As David told Goliath, “The battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:47). Our battle plan against gun violence must include the power of God’s love.
This article first appeared in the October 2019 issue of Gather. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.