There are many powerful rituals available for ministers to engage while leading people of faith. In this post, I want to share two stories about engaging ritual.
This past weekend I took some of my seminary students to the “Beating Guns” tour where Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin led us in a powerful liturgy filled with statistics and singing, rap music and poetry, Scripture, stories, images, and fire. One of the aims of the worship event is to transcend the gun debate in America. One side says, “guns are the problem, and we must reduce the number of weapons,” and the other side says, “humans are the problem, and we just need to change hearts.”
We gathered in the nearly-200-year-old Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Nashville. The church is not only the oldest Episcopal church in the city, it is also the cathedral parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee. The Very Reverend Timothy Kimbrough welcomed us. And he reminded us that the first building of the church, located several blocks away at Sixth and Spring Streets, was built with the labors of enslaved people in the 1830s.
The rise of guns and rise of white supremacy came at the same time. To have this worship ritual at this house of worship was going to do spiritual and theological work on several levels.
Near the start of the service, Pastor Michael showed us an automated weapon, designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible. He held it up in the sanctuary of the cathedral. This weapon was already sawed in half. It was no longer usable as a killing machine. In the 90 minutes it took to complete the service, Pastor Michael and others from the community would turn this weapon from and instrument of death into an implement of life. Each garden tool retains the serial number of the disarmed gun, so that the transformed history can be traced into a new future.
The call of the prophets to turn swords into plowshares echoes through the Hebrew Scriptures.
Micah 4:3-4 (NRSV)
3 [The Lord] shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
4 but they shall all sit under their own vines
and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
Why does this matter now? The statistics about gun violence are staggering. And just the day before this event, the world witnessed yet another mass shooting. In a horrific event where 50 Muslim worshipers were killed in Christchurch, New Zealand. Another three dozen were hospitalized.
Here in the U.S., we have 5% of world’s population and 50% of world’s guns. Claiborne makes his point clear: “We need God to change our hearts but we need to get off our butts to change some laws.”
For me, the real power ritual and the presence of something holy, comes in the transformation that we witnessed in the service, created right before our eyes.
All the guns in this ritual service are donated. Each gun is cut down and re-forged in a portable furnace. In the glowing white-hot heat, we see the literal refashioning of a gun into a garden tool, a trowel or spade.
Last night was cold so we sat inside for most of the liturgy. But at one time point in the service we were invited to take small pieces of paper and write down the hostilities that we wanted to eradicate from our own hearts. Everyone who felt up to it trekked outside into the parking lot where the small forge was set up and several gas flames danced. Everyone was invited to burn their own grudges and hostilities in flames.
Anyone in attendance who had experienced the violence of guns– either through suicide or homicide or other accidents – was invited to be part of the physical transformation of the metal.
They could literally transfer the energy of their grief, pain, trauma, anger, and other emotional residue from their losses, from their bodies into a newly reshaped instrument. They invested and released their lived experience and emotions into the metal that went from instrument of death to implement of life.
I felt the power of the ritual as I witnessed the transformation. Children, mothers, fathers, and siblings took turns pounding the glowing metal. The new life of the plowshare, garden trowel carried in its shape the transferred energies of people who had been harmed by the former instrument of death and destruction.
In this week’s Three Minute Ministry Mentor, I ask you to consider:
How will I engage rituals of my tradition as I lead in ministry?
Pastor Ginger takes a very different, and also powerful, direction when she engages ritual to lead through church conflict. Listen to her story here.
Jewish and Christian scriptures are full of powerful rituals and words for transforming the world and every small corner of it. Yet it is our work as pastors and ministers, people called to lead, is to co-create and embody these rituals.
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Thanks for your support and blessings of Lent for you this holy season.