“All I know…is this must stop…this divisiveness…”
These are the words of Dallas Police Chief David Brown spoken from the heart immediately in the wake of the tragic ambush of police officers in Dallas this past Thursday evening as they protected the right of other citizens to peacefully protest the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile who were themselves killed only days earlier in altercations with police in Louisiana and Minnesota.
I could not agree more. This must stop.
Brown’s words remind me of those spoken by a Palestinian mother in the wake of violence after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995. She said simply, “Enough. Enough blood. Enough tears.”
Though separated by a span of more than twenty years, by thousands of miles, by religion, language, culture, and race, these words give voice to a truth that haunts us all and demands our attention: this divisiveness in our culture and society and world—be it political, racial, economic, or religious in nature—must stop. Period. It is rooted only in fear. It leads only to violence. It is only, in the end, a dead-end for all of us.
So what do you think this string of tragedies in Dallas, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge—let alone the longer string of violence stretching from Orlando to San Bernardino to Aurora to Newton and beyond—has to say to us as people of God? How might our fear, anger, outrage, grief, and distress be calling us by the grace of the Holy Spirit to act faithfully to work for reconciliation and peace in our own communities and in the world?
You have already received from my office information about the “49 Bells Project” initiated by The Reverend Susan Springer at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder. I encourage you all simply to begin there, to take on this practice of tolling the bells of churches across Colorado 49 times every Wednesday at 1:00 pm between now and November 2 as a form of prophetic witness to bring an end to gun violence. More information on the 49 Bells Project >
In monastic tradition, the tolling of the bell at different hours throughout the day is a call to mindfulness—to stop in the midst of activity, to set aside the distraction and preoccupation of daily work, to turn our attention and intention to God, and to be still in order to be mindful (or re-minded) of the divine love that is both the source and the purpose of our lives.
Similarly, the 49 Bells Project is intended to call us out or ourselves not only to remember the forty-nine victims of the Orlando shootings and all who suffer from gun violence in our communities, but to be re-minded of our ongoing obligation and responsibility as people of God to pray and to work without ceasing in our own lives to heal divisions, to end violence, and to honor the God-given dignity of every human being.
“All I know,” says Chief David Brown, “is this must stop…this divisiveness.”
He is so very right.
All I know, dear sisters and brothers, is that the work of being faithful reconcilers and true peace-makers in this broken and sinful world is our God-given calling. It is a high bar indeed. It is both our greatest challenge and the greatest gift we have to offer. It is, not surprisingly, more demanding than we would like, but there is simply no choice.
The work of integrating our faith with the complex, life and death, issues of our world—the practice of prayerfully holding our lives and those of others in the light of God, the discipline of allowing our own pain, loss, and grief to be transformed by divine grace, and then the work of acting compassionately for what is right and just—demands our highest and best self.
Nothing is more worthy. It really is time for all of us to step up our game.
So begin by embracing the 49 Bells Project and then keep going.
How will you begin to pray more deeply and intentionally for peace in your own heart, in the lives of those around you, in your community, in this country, and in this world now and in the days ahead? How is God calling you to change, to grow in your understanding and witness to the gospel of peace in your own life? What action is the Holy Spirit leading you to take to end gun violence, to heal the wounds of racism, and to be an instrument of God’s peace in this day and time? To whom will you speak? To whom can you write? What action will you take that will make a difference and bring peace to our world? How will you embody in your own life a more transcendent vision of human life for others to see?
As I wrote less than thirty days ago in response to the Orlando shootings, our faith as Christians is just not a private matter. Never has been and never will be. As inheritors of the gospel of peace, we have been given a life-giving song of life-giving Love that can and must be sung in a disturbingly tone-deaf and discordant world. We simply cannot shrink back or remain silent.
So, once again, stand tall, take heart, have courage, be the light that pushes back the darkness, and remember that at all times and in all places and in all ways, Love wins.
—Bishop Rob O’Neill