Years ago, you and I had an understanding. We respected each other. Our worldviews were by no means identical, but they had space for appreciating our similarities and differences.
Your principled stands earned you a lot of respect and some accusations of insanity, but I for one had no trouble defending you. I could understand that your views were consistently based upon your principles. Even as I aged and grew further away from your political beliefs, I still found space to respect you as a principled person of integrity.
Since you retired from office a few years ago, I had not thought much about you. Your political action campaign people keep signing me up for your emails, and I unsubscribe, and back and forth we go, but most of the time your emails are caught in my spam filter. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t want to hear from you in any forum, so I didn’t mind that my email blocked you from my life. But one got through today, and it’s the last one. We’re done. You’ve wounded me and I need to tell you why.
In years past you professed to be a faithful Christian and I haven’t heard anything to the contrary since, so I’ll assume we’re still working from the same shared value of Scriptures, even if we come to some different conclusions. So I think this should make sense to you.
See, for the past few months I have been preaching at a church in Canada, a lovely congregation who are kind and humble and generous. But they don’t know me all that well, so I’ve been introducing them to me through various stories that reflect the Scripture texts for the week.
This past Sunday’s lectionary readings included a passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, from chapter eight. It’s a rough and tumble passage about future fruits and heaven and eternity and suffering. But one passage stuck out to me in particular:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, ESV)
I thought it was extremely important to focus on this text, but rather than just be the pious outsider telling them to get over their suffering, I shared with the congregation one moment of grief and suffering from my own story.
One Sunday two years ago, when I preached at church on the Transfiguration, the power of the kingdom of God breaking into the world, only to come home and find out that one of my students, a sweet 15-year old girl, had been shot and killed while waiting to drive to the mall. A wrong-place, wrong-time murder. A now-two-year-old unsolved murder on a street not far from my house.
I realized Sunday that I’m still grieving her death. She sat in the front row of my class, Politician. She had a smile and a kind greeting every day. She had a ripple effect on her friends. Their days were brighter because of her. And they have had to grow through this suffering and grief the past two years in ways that must be unspeakable. My grief is heavy and yet I barely knew her compared to so many others.
And because this came up again Sunday, Mr. Politician, I’m raw again. The tears came back again, like they do every few months. And I’d hoped you would understand.
But then I got your email today, the one that happened to get through the spam filters because I moved around some settings on my server. And your email made it worse. Because you offered me the chance to win a free AR-15 assault rifle for donating to your cause.
A free gun for a man grieving the death of someone at the hands of a gunman. Free guns for a country that grieves the death of people by firearms to the tune of 80-some per day.
It’s hard to feel any sympathy or solidarity with you anymore, Mr. Politician. I’d like to think you’re still principled and such, but it seems like you’ve really missed the point. Normal people throughout this country are touched by gun violence every day, and you’re giving away guns for political cash.
I’m not saying you’re more or less principled than any other politician, Mr. Politician. They all might be less ethical and consistent than you, I don’t really know. But this isn’t about them, it’s about you. And me. And a 15-year old girl killed on the streets of Detroit. And all of the others in all of the other states.
I thought we understood each other. But then you tried to give me a free gun.
So this will be the last time I write to you, Mr. Politician. I can’t help but shake my head and wonder where things went so wrong. I hope someday you realize that cheap political points are less important that the lives and principles you used to care about, or at least used to espouse.