Blessed are the peacemakers

I grew up in small town Climax, Minnesota. I loved playing guns. I had six shooters, cavalry holsters with a six shooter cap gun, an army “burp” gun, a plastic Thompson sub machine gun. The creme-de-la-creme was a rubber gun constructed of laths and clothes pins. The idea was to cut up an old car tire to create 1/2 inch wide strips which you attached to the front of the laths, stretch them back to the rear handle, fit an end of the rubber into the clothes pin (trigger), and go shoot someone!  You could even make a machine gun lath rubber gun by cutting notches into the laths and running a string down the barrel, putting several rubbers along the laths and activate the machine gun by pulling up the string. Fun!

I loved John Wayne movies.  I watched “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and “Fort Apache.” Television brought “Bonanza”, “The Rifleman”, “Rin Tin Tin” and “Paladin” into our home and my heart.

Then came my B-B gun. I still remember the tears I shed after killing my first sparrow. However, the next weekend I shot 11 more.  Then, I was done. I went hunting a couple of times with my step-dad but never got a shot off. I took a gun safety course, learning to shoot a .22. I recall him hunting rabbits with it. He was a good shot.

My love affair with guns started to change when my step-dad purchased a Winchester 30-30 and went deer hunting. He came home with a deer strapped to the fender of his car and said he was done.  No more. He sold his 30-30. He felt the deer was too beautiful of an animal to kill. Perhaps he had some recurring PTSD from his service in Europe in WWII.

Then came the 1960s. My love affair with guns ended. The assassinations, Civil Rights struggles, and the Vietnam War led me to say “Enough!” Guns meant death. No more fun. Guns were not innocent games anymore. I gave away my .22. The only gun I have today is my dad’s 80-year-old rusty shotgun with a broken stock–a memento in the museum of my memory. I became a committed pacifist, committed to nonviolence.

While serving congregations, I taught and preached about nonviolence. Sometimes I upset people with my anti-gun screed. I wrote anti-war resolutions for district conventions. Linda and I participated in several anti-war marches. We marched in Washington, DC on the 20th Anniversary of MLK, Jr’s “March on Washington.”

I designed “The Gun Game” while executive director at Sky Ranch in Colorado. Each week we played this variation on “capture the flag.” It was a three-phased game. Phase I was everyone playing the standard capture the flag for about 20 minutes. Phase II involved issuing everyone a squirt gun (pistols, super soakers). The idea was to play the game, and when you were shot with water you had to adjust accordingly. That is, if you were shot in the arm or leg you couldn’t use that appendage. If you were shot in the head or torso you were out of the game and sat down. Phase III had one side getting all of the squirt guns. Naturally, this phase was short-lived!

We processed the game following the three phases. All enjoyed the first phase. “Great fun,” they said. But the second and third phases brought responses like: “It wasn’t fun anymore.” “We became angry.” I asked, “What would it be like if you came to camp and were given a loaded Uzzie or pistol upon arrival?” The responses were: “It wouldn’t be camp anymore.” And “We’d kill each other.” I then asked, “Would Jesus carry an AK-47?” Overwhelmingly the response was shouted “No!” Youth saw the truth.

Now, I am on the Protect Minnesota Board of Directors. Our purpose is to work for gun violence prevention. I have led conversations in our church and taken action at synod assemblies. And today I am organizing this group–ENGAGE, a synodical committee to address gun violence prevention through churches. The foundation of ENGAGE is the belief that the People of God, the Church, are the moral conscience of our communities, state, and nation. The conversations we are starting in congregations are heartening. Gun owners and non-gun owners are coming together to have peaceful, civil discussions about ways we can work together to prevent further gun violence in our communities.

So, that’s my story. I grew up with guns and experienced a turning point that led me toward pacifism. But, I know every story is unique. I know and respect many hunters, sportsmen and women, and those who own guns for personal protection. What’s your story?