I discovered, while sorting advertising inserts at work, that this weekend of August 13-14 was "NRA Weekend" at Cabela's. Get a free NRA hoodie if you buy enough at our store, the Cabela's ads promised.
It is with a heavy heart that I read that the North Side of Milwaukee has been terrorized by repeated fatal shootings this same weekend, and that a street demonstration turned violent. A heavy heart, but no real surprise. Since January 2011 the government of the state of Wisconsin has declared war on our poor urban communities: that is the awful truth of the matter.
I have been to Milwaukee's North Side, and know the wide expanse of Villard Avenue. This is a hardworking, bustling neighborhood full of churches and mosques. Although I didn't see or hear it firsthand, this violence is too personal to me to ignore. And I'm not taking to my blog to accuse either police or residents of being disrespectful of each other: both have a right to be angry.
The prophet Jeremiah spoke of the people of Judah "burning their sons and daughters in the fire" at "the high place of Topheth" (in the valley of Gehenna). "The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Topheth until there is no more room ... I will bring to an end the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of the bride and bridegroom in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for the land shall become a waste." [Jeremiah 7:31-34]
That's right: eventually these poor, oppressed communities will stop having weddings and barbecues, because it is literally too unsafe to gather for any purpose in public. There is nothing they or the Milwaukee police can do to stop the flow of guns from Waukesha County or other virtually unregulated places into their streets. And our governor will offer hollow words of meaningless sympathy (if he bothers to say anything at all): "deceptive words," as Jeremiah understood them. Offerings to the false gods of "Second Amendment freedom" and "the American way of life" will continue unabated.
Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, "We are safe!"--only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the LORD. [Jeremiah 7:8-11]
It appears that Jesus was a keen reader of this scripture, if we can judge from two gospel passages (Matthew 21:13 and Luke 19:46).
I live within sight of Wisconsin's State Capitol building, and I now see it as the ultimate whited sepulchre, where mosaic figures of Justice and Law gaze impassively down upon a pack of venal legislators determined to maximize the profits of the firearms industry at any human cost. Many of these men are even parading themselves as "champions of life" for their opposition to legal abortion and contraception. (I have scoured the prophetic books of the Bible for any condemnation of women who choose to terminate their own pregnancies, and not come up with anything.)
I wonder what would happen if the funerals were postponed: if all those killed in gun violence in Wisconsin were taken in trucks and piled into the Capitol, making the marble halls a Valley of Slaughter, a putrid sea of brown, black, and white bodies. I hope this is not necessary to turn our society back toward justice, but God only knows.