A personal Pentecost happened on a frigid, blustery day in Cleveland, Ohio. The Community of St. Peter had invited me to give their Lenten day of prayer, stressing that the group’s discussion and input took priority over a long-winded speaker. That was a good start, I thought, still surprised by the burst of energy and joy that day brought. We met in a red barn, an event center behind one of the oldest buildings in the city, once a wayside inn from frontier days of transportation. I came to see how appropriate the red color was as the whole building rocked with animated discussion, warm laughter, song, good food and the happiness of being together in person after a long lockdown apart.
From the personal, to the national, to the church…
With whoosh of wind, the Spirit barrels through the US in the Pentecost I imagine. Just as faith leaders of all traditions once joined to march with M. L. King Jr. and enact Civil Rights legislation, so Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists and agnostics rise together as a concerted public voice for gun safety. They move past “thoughts and prayers” to concrete actions which reduce the skyrocketing death toll. They don’t want their country to be known as the nation where guns are the #1 cause of death for children.
Despite what Nicholas Kristof calls “a scandalous lack of research on gun violence,” his article in the New York Times proposes a clear path forward (“How to Reduce Shootings,” updated May 24, 2022). His common-sense proposals are supported with charts that make the statistics easily understandable.
It helps to use auto safety as a model for gun safety, because it has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven to less than one-seventh of what it was in 1946. Measures such as mandatory seat belts, car seats for children, federal safety standards, lowered speed limits, airbags and mandatory reporting of defects by car makers may have met with initial resistance, but are widely accepted public health strategies now.
The Spirit doesn’t linger long over political divisions. Following that lead, we could focus on areas of common accord instead of despairing that nothing can be done. There are surprisingly many agreements on gun safety:
● 93% of people in gun-owning households favor universal background checks for gun purchases.
● 89% of both those who own guns and those who don’t agree that the mentally ill should not be allowed to purchase them. A similar high percentage in both groups want prevention of sales to those convicted of violent crimes or on no-fly lists.
● 77% of gun-owners and 87% of non-gun owners favor background checks on private and gun show sales. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/06/opinion/how-to-reduce-shootings.html.
In a move unusual for him, President Trump signed a bill to restore federal funding for CDC and NIH research on preventing gun violence. The $25 million allocated for 3 years is a start, but little compared to the $200 million spent over 50 years to prevent car injuries. Right now, there’s only one federally funded study—we need the Spirit’s intervention for more research.
Some of the most poignant Uvalde stories came from relatives of the dead children who are also staunch gun owners. But they saw the irony in an 18-year old who couldn’t buy a beer being able to buy an AR-15. They are more open to gun safety measures than their Republican leaders, more likely to agree when Catholic archbishop Gustavo García-Siller called the NRA convention in Houston “a culture of death in our midst.”
The Spirit always infuses with hope, a conviction that the long arc of human history bends towards good. In the Christian paradigm, new life come from painful crucifixion. From so much death, the God to whom nothing is impossible can bring improbable resurrection.
One small breath of Pentecost wind in the Catholic tradition was Pope Francis’ recent naming of Robert McElroy as a cardinal. For those not familiar with the intricacies of church politics, McElroy of San Diego has stoutly protected refugees and won’t deny Communion to anyone. He harshly criticized the bishops who refuse communion to politicians such as Biden and Pelosi. He represents a minority who decry the weaponizing of Eucharist, its being “deployed as a tool in political warfare.” Among his five degrees are a BA from Harvard, an MA and Ph.D. from Stanford. In the creaky old college of cardinals, the stirrings of life.