20160602_202333.jpg“I can’t wear this,” I told the lady dressed in orange as she handed me an orange pin with the word survivor printed on it. Last night I attended a Moms Demand Action rally for National Gun Violence Awareness Day and when I walked through the door a lady asked me if I or any of my loved ones have been affected by gun violence. I told her yes as the names of Nick Cole and Marty Farias ran through my mind followed by the image of my best friend’s hand which is now missing two fingers and another close friend who was shot in the stomach but survived. Those guys are survivors of gun violence. Those guys took bullets. Sure I’ve been shot at, but the bullet never found its mark on me.

The very kind lady told me the buttons were for anyone who had lost someone to gun violence, so I took one even though it felt uncomfortable and wrong for me to claim to be a survivor of gun violence. The more I thought about it though, and as I listened to others tell the stories of how gun violence has impacted them I remembered the time I was shot at in a moving vehicle. I remember the times I had guns pulled on me. I remembered the times I was around when guns were pulled out. I remembered the time I sat on my mother’s porch with her gun in my hand, waiting for the drug dealer who supposedly wanted me dead to pull up.

Any one of those incidents could have ended with me in the same situation as my two friends who survived being shot or worse, I could be in the same situation as Marty and Nick. So yes, I am a survivor of gun violence. I eventually did place the pin on my shirt not just in recognition of my own survival, but also in remembrance and solidarity for my friends.

I heard the story of a woman who lost her sister to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I met a mother who lost her son at the barrel of a gun. I listened to a pastor tell us that in his neighborhood a gun is easier to acquire than fresh produce. We ate and we hugged and we laughed and we all just sat with each other and enjoyed being in the company of others who have known the horrors of gun violence. It was simple and it was small and it was beautiful.

Then this morning I read a Dallas Morning News story that gun rights activists had planned a counter protest. I was pretty shocked. How can you protest someone’s grief? How can you protest a group of people at a BBQ joint sharing their stories with one another? How can you protest a mother who has lost a son?!

At first I was glad these gun-toting protestors were rained out. It was such an enjoyable, peaceful evening that I would not have wanted to deal with that sort of craziness. However, much like the button, as I thought more about it, I wish they had been there. I wish these people could look into the eyes of mothers who had lost their children and hear their stories.

Stories pull us out of dualism.

Stories enable us to move from opposite sides of a line and truly see one another, truly hear one another.

Do you see me?

Can you hear me?

Do you see the pain in this mother’s eyes? Do you see what violence has done to our world? To our nation? To our community?

Yesterday we remembered our pain together. Many in the group want laws changed. I no longer care about that as much. I want hearts changed. I want my fellow man to recognize that those who live by the sword STILL die by the sword and a nation that lives by the gun will die by the gun and we are indeed dying.

Our nation has stuck the barrel of a metaphorical pistol down our own throat and we have our finger on the trigger. If we do not wake up and realize that every time we end a life we are taking our own life we will eventually pull the trigger and take our own societal life and we may not even realize it.

Choose life my friends.

Lay down your arms. Do not wait on a law. Lay down your arms. I beg you. On behalf of the dead children littered across our blood soaked land. Lay down your arms.

A better world IS possible. What sort of sacrifice are we willing to make to create a better world? Will we sacrifice our comfort? Will we sacrifice our perception of safety?

Would we sacrifice our lives?

The nonviolent way of enemy love is the only way forward to a more healthy society. This is the message of Jesus. This is the message of Gandhi. This is the message of Dr. King. This is the message of the kingdom of God.

Our land, which was taken at the barrel of a gun, is soaked in the blood of both friends and foes who have died from a bullet piercing their skin.

I wear a bullet around my neck. It is called a love bullet and it is a company in the UK which takes items traditionally used for violence and makes art out of them for an expression of love over violence.

Thomas Merton once said that a Christian is committed to the belief that love and mercy are the most powerful forces on earth.

I am committed to this idea.

Can we commit to this idea?

Can we create a better world for our children?

I sure hope so. Because I have two small boys who I hope are never impacted by violence the way I have been.

Choose peace friends.

Choose life.

Choose the light of the world.