On April 20th, there was a campus-wide walk out meant for students to show solidarity with the families and victims who have fallen to gun violence. There was well over a hundred people present. With the way it was set up, you’d walk up to the mass of students, and in the front them you’d find a table with posters. Each poster had a photo printed of a person or group of people who were lost to gun violence. My poster had the photos of the victims, mainly children, of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
As I made my way up to the table, I slowly pulled the poster close and looked over each child’s face. It didn’t feel real. The children looked so happy. My mind wouldn’t let me imagine this same child shot dead by a rampant shooter. It was still early when I showed up. So I carried the poster along as I looked around for people I recognized. It wasn’t long until I found a group of friends. We greeted each other with an uncomfortable smirk. One that recognized the event we were attending in the first place. In a matter of minutes, more and more students gathered themselves. I nodded hello again, and again, and…
It felt wrong. An unsettling feeling came over me. I turned the face of the poster towards me, taking in the haunting image once more. The event began. Toby opened with a few words explaining the context of the walkout. Then Jamie Claire, followed. With grieving tears, she asked “What are you all smiling about?” She was referring to how people were greeting each other before the event. She exposed us for our numbness; reprimanding our ability to be in the midst of dead loved ones and smile to our friends as if it were nothing. My heart sank. Who have I become? Why does this horror not phase me?
Afterwards, Sarah Fe sang the song “We shall overcome.” I became angry. I wanted to sing along. But I couldn’t. Will we really overcome this? I asked myself. How will our complacency or numb hearts ever bring us to a place where we can overcome this evil? The words of that song fell flat in my spirit. It’s not enough to say that we will overcome. Using the term “will” makes it easy to consider oppression something that is solely a future endeavor. It can lead many to mourn for a day but return to the complacency that views change as a goal only for the future.
In that moment, I told myself, no. We must overcome. It should no longer be this tentative goal that may or may not happen. But enough is enough. After that event, I returned to my room and cried to God for forgiveness. Oppression is so evident in all our lives. It’s a constant companion that impacts some people more than others. We are all in this. And yet, I’ve grown so comfortable.
While talking with God, He gave me this phrase: “We sit at the table of Injustice and eat of its privileges.” To sit at someone’s table suggests that you were comfortable enough to enter their house. Perhaps they even invited you inside. In Jesus’ time, it was custom to sit with people you would want to be associated with. So if you ate with a rich man, people would deem you a person of high class. But if you ate with the poor, well, you’d be acquainted with the poor. This is what lead the Pharisees to question why Jesus was eating with the “sinners” in Mark 2. Jesus was judged for sitting with people considered immoral. They were ultimately questioning his character for sitting with such people.
But to sit with Injustice. What does that mean? When that phrase came to my mind, I felt as if a veil was removed from eyes. To me, we don’t sit with injustice because we necessarily see the evil it embodies. But rather we see the false comfort it promises. We hear the soothing voice that convinces us that it is better to sit and remain silent. Sit and not disturb. It is easy to sit at the table of Injustice because it offers us the illusion of safety and well-being. But even the choice we have to sit at the table speaks to the power certain people have over others. The fact that we can choose to remain silent blinds us from the people who are oppressed without a choice. Little do we think of the privileges we eat at the expense of others. At the expense of the poor, the minority, the disabled, the vulnerable.
I say all this in light of the event that awakened these ideas in the first place. In terms of the issue of gun violence, I urge us all to confront this problem. Too many vulnerable humans are being killed behind the barrel of a gun.
Now I understand that when it comes to issues like this, it can feel overwhelming for someone who wants to confront it. Luckily, there are organizations out there already doing the work. This includes Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence. This nonprofit organization is centralized in Chestnut Hill and has branched out all over Pennsylvania. They are known for setting up memorials of people who were killed by an illegal hand gun in the local region. They set up a memorial on the lawn across from Boyer. This chilling tribute carried the names of 113 victims of gun violence right in our local area. There are numerous ways to support this organization. While one way can be through financial donation you can also volunteer to help research the different gun shops handing out guns illegally. If you’d like to learn more about this organization, you can find their Facebook page at Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence.
With all that said, it wasn’t until I attended this Walk-out that my heart was convicted by the effects of gun violence. For too long I had been numb to these tragedies. This event is what pushed me to reflect on my own hardness of heart. Often we can make ourselves so comfortable with the injustice that surrounds us. But let us not depend on the next tragedy for our hearts to be moved.
Isabel Gonzalez is a junior at Messiah College and is double majoring in biblical religious studies and English. While being at Messiah, Isabel discovered her passion for social justice in her First Year Seminar class which focused on sharing the stories of marginalized groups in America. Becoming aware of systematic oppression and injustice made her want to pursue public theology, which stresses the importance of contemporary justice through the biblical perspective. Through her passion for Biblical studies and social justice, Isabel decided to incorporate English to improve her ability to articulate her ideas. She decided to join the Fellows Program because it pushed her to use her knowledge from the humanities into practice. Through this program she participates in collaborative projects and service opportunities that help her apply her ideas of social justice into the real world.
Featured image by Elvert Barnes, used with permission under a creative commons license.
Above in text image by mathiaswasik, used with permission under a creative commons license.