Gun Violence and the Power of Death

The first week of December  I sent out these two tweets bellow, which then brought out a good conversation on Facebook. You can click through to see those conversations.

Gun control doesn’t make us less violent, Just protects us from a certain violence & gives the means of violence mainly or only to the State

Posted by Larry Kamphausen on Thursday, December 3, 2015

355 mass shootings isn’t only about guns: We need to face that we are violent. We depend upon violence to feel safe. Our Hypocrisy abounds.

Posted by Larry Kamphausen on Thursday, December 3, 2015


355 mass shootings in a year, though that number depends on how one defines a mass shooting. Even so, the statistics on gun violence are overwhelming.  The numbers of dead and wounded and families and friends affected. And all for what appears to be a defense of accessible guns based on a particular interpretation of the 2nd amendment of the Constitution.  To the point that is preventable incidences, preventable deaths and preventable injury.

We keep going back to the argument about gun control each time one of these shootings makes the headlines

Gun control is the answer: it gives a sense of what can directly be done to prevent such deaths in the future.

I see and make a connection between the violence of the mass shootings and police violence especially against black bodies and drone strikes.

My comments were an attempt to link up the violence of a mass shooting to other violence in our society and culture: the violence of policing, our military presence and actions around the globe, the violence in our entertainment, and the violence of the coercive nature of the state.  These sorts of violence are considered legitimate and necessary (with the exception of mimed violence of our entertainment, though we do seem to consider it legitimate.).  The violence of the state is for our protection and safety, except when it isn’t, and for whom it isn’t, thus the #Blacklivesmatter movement.

There is of course the desire to end suffering and with gun violence the obvious target is guns, and for many that impinges on a right they believe they have.  And so the back and forth, people are called to give up that right (or it is denied as a right at all) for the sake of safety and ending unnecessary suffering.

Yet, this doesn’t get at the root of the problem.  Eddie Izzard had a bit about the NRA’s slogan Guns don’t kill people but people do (something like that) to which he responds true, but having a gun sure helps.   He goes on to imagine a monkey with a gun randomly shooting up Charlton Heston’s home.

As we debate guns we focus on one side or the other, the guns or the people, but not the underlying violence that these mass shootings show us.  We are living upon a sea of violence and we are surprised when waves of that violence rise up and claim some of us.

President Obama has been talking about needing to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.  This presupposes that some should have them.  I’d like to see more citizens question the need for weapons, and thus the need for violence.  We should question why we deem some violence legitimate and other violence illegitimate.  After all the ultimate power of any violence is death, or at least the threat of death.  Even if in violence , I’m only injured, that injury shows that the one who has injured me also has the power of death, and is willing to use that power. Coercive power, has little weight if there wasn’t also behind it the threat of death.

Granted this line of thinking won’t stop dead in its tracks the mass shootings and gun violence in our streets, nor the unjust use of that violence by police   Yet, anything we do to attend to those things will be only to push back the violence a futile attempt to control the power of death, believing we can use the power of death to our advantage and to keep death at bay.   I believe what we are seeing is the consequence of that strategy, a strategy that human beings rarely question.  After all we still attempt to use war to bring peace, and then wonder why we continually have war.   We say keep us safe and death at bay, by threatening harm and death on those who deserve it, and then wonder at those who defy this threat,even embrace it, and then death overtakes us suddenly and without warning.

I wrestle with this: the logic of legitimate violence and the coercive power of the state does present a certain amount of safety, and can regulate this violence (to a degree).  Yet, it means some still will need to die for our safety.  Someone will be sacrificed to this system of violence and death held in reserve.  After all there are military weapons for sale because the State needs those weapons to act as a state, both to police its own citizenry and to wage war upon other states and “terrorists.”.  Sure we prefer the language of defense and safety, because it is always the other who wages war, we only defend ourselves, we never lash out.  Rarely will we admit that war and violence is ever our responsibility or initiative, but is caused by the other’s action. Yet, it is rare that violence is done without reason (even if we who, have the power to so judge, deem that reason invalid and illegitimate).  Whoever uses violence has a rational for that violence and a belief in its necessity.  This is what we need to face, and no amount of gun control will keep death at bay, and keep us free from violence, as long as we retain the right to our own legitimate violence, as individuals or as the state.

God Money/Wealth/Mammon: NPTS Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture

North Park Seminary’s Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture this year (September 30th – October 1st) dealt with the “Money and Possessions” in Scripture and Christian Tradition.  It was a challenging time.  Part of the challenge was because, as Hugh William pointed out in his paper, the Scriptures don’t  provide a singular perspective on wealth (money) and Possessions.  Though, perhaps surprisingly common threads are traceable through the textile of the Scriptures.   The being wealthy and having possessions isn’t necessarily condemned, however  the Wealthy are often condemned as those who have often unintentionally gained their wealth and comfort through oppression of others.  Also, consistent is the sense that those of means are to use those means to care for the poor and marginalized, and are not to gain their wealth in exploitative and oppressive ways.  God blesses with wealth and calls the poor blessed.  Generosity and justice are the marks of God’s people.   Money, Mammon, wealth is a power easily can become that which we serve and worship, at times without our realizing it.  Around our possessions, wealth and money we can find ourselves in a place of self-deception believing we can control our wealth possessions, not noticing that our possessions are actually a power that controls us and whom we serve.

To ask about what Scripture and Tradition say about wealth and possessions reinforced for me they ways in which, even for the middle class and poor in this country,  seeking to save money through inexpensive consumer items might be a part of a system of dishonest wealth, ie. wealth dependent upon oppressive and exploitative means. Do we know, do we make ourselves aware of, the conditions under which an item is made and finds its way to us?  Also, those exploited and those who consume the inexpensive consumer products are at times the same people.  Are we aware of the ways in which those with less in this country benefit from the cheap labor in other  countries.   Wealth, exploitation, oppression become a messy question when we begin not only to look at what Scripture says but what those Scriptures mean for us in our context.  And as one begins to probe it is perhaps not so easy to disentangle oneself from the reality that much of our wealth in the US and the West is based on less than just treatment of others, and the exploitation of labor.  This is complicated by the reality that even if one isn’t relatively speaking very wealthy, one to some degree benefits from certain exploitative practices.  But it would seem from scripture that it is less important how much one has, but what one does with it and how one has what one has.

As one who seeks to be knowledgeable of how people are treated in the production and delivery of my goods and services I have to admit that there is much I don’t know.  Living in a New Monastic community I am realizing, thanks to the symposium, that at best I limit my involvement in our system that creates wealth through unjust and “dishonest” means: I have been and continue to be a beneficiary of exploitative processes.  In part because I have bought that debt is the way to prosperity.  I have been tempted and at times in my life bought that “making money” is what is needed to have a living.    I’m coming to see that we have handed over (perhaps it was always in the hands of these powers, I don’t know) our livelihoods and our futures to those whose only purpose is the making of and managing of money.   Unfortunately it seems that we have believed we could control Mammon, and are currently in a situation of being fed up with the god money, but are unwilling to admit that we as a culture and society already bowed down to that God.  Repentance and the sign of repentance in seeking other ways to live without financiers, and speculators and the stock market seems the way forward.  But we are entangled and more entangled than we have yet been willing to acknowledge.   We need to not only attempt to address injustice of the current system but create alternatives that exist within and along side the system of the power of  Mammon.  Ultimately, it is the Kingdom of God that is that alternative.

My “Questions to Occupy America” post in the Priestly Goth Blog is in part a fruit of this symposium.

North Park Theological Seminary Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture

I try to make it each year to NPTS’s Symposium on the Theological interpretation of Scripture though that actually means I on average make it every other year.  This year the theme is “Money and Possessions.”

Last time I was there I live blogged the Symposium in 2009 as well as wrote a couple of reflections.  This year I will try my had at tweeting the symposium. #NPTS$&stuff.

The presenters of papers this year are: Mark Husbands, Hugh Williamson, Gary Hoag, Kelly Johnson, Javier Comboni, Bruce Longnecker, Helen Rhee, Jonathan Bonk. William Willimon is preaching at the Saturday morning worship.

I will also post here my thoughts over the course the next few days.