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May 01, 2017 | Sandra Montes

A Change Begins With Us – A Reflection of “Unholy Trinity” the Conference

 

Episcopal bishops take the streets of Chicago to raise awareness of racism, poverty and armed violence.

 

Bishops United Against Gun Violence is a group of about 70 Episcopal bishops who have come together to find ways to reduce levels of gun violence and to advocate for legislation that save lives. At the 78th General Convention they held a prayerful procession through the streets of Salt Lake City called “Claiming Common Ground Against Gun Violence”. I participated and became aware of this effort.

I remember hearing the testimonies of people whose lives had been changed and marked by gun violence. I remember, especially, hearing a mother sharing about her daughter dying of gunshot wounds lying next to her as victims of random violence. She said, “I would watch stories on TV about people suffering because of gun violence and didn’t think it was something I wanted to be involved in because I knew it wasn’t going to happen to me,” which is something I have thought before.

Last month, I was invited to sing at the “Unholy Trinity: the Intersection of Racism, Poverty and Gun Violence” Conference in Chicago. During that time, I was struck by the keynote speakers, liturgy, workshops, music, Bible study, and breakout sessions which all pointed to the need for awareness and action.

Kelly Brown Douglas gave a stirring and challenging speech that reminded me I have to be an advocate, I can’t just sit and watch as so many people die and suffer because of our nation’s tragic racist past (which sadly is still a present reality for many). Natalie Moore shared statistics about Chicago and noted that, although it is often seen as the capital of gun violence, it is not and Chicago is scrutinized because of its ties to President Obama. She asked us if anyone had told us to be careful when we told them we were going to Chiraq (a derogatory name for Chicago) and I remembered one of my best friends saying, “Don’t get shot!”

One of my favorite moments came with the Rev. Julian DeShazier who is also hip hop artist, J.Kwest. He invited the assembly, of which only a few of us were people of color, to clap along with one of his songs. After a little laughter and joking about clapping on one and three he said, “Don’t feel the spirit when you clap, feel the beat and clap then!” This reminds me that often, we try to make excuses for not taking action.

We may say, “I feel the Spirit telling me to pray” and neglect to feel the beat – the reality, what is happening around us – that is telling us to act. It is so much easier to not get involved because we fear confrontation or ridicule or losing friends. As we took to the streets of Hyde Park on Friday evening, to publicly say we are Christians and because of that we are united against gun violence, all the speeches, songs, and workshops came together.

I took all that I had learned in the past two days and was armed with a renewed sense of advocacy, a deep feeling of community, and disarming love. We stopped traffic, and people couldn’t help but stop, listen, and take pictures of the 30 bishops, and the rest of the priests and laity holding crosses, chanting, singing, and drums giving us the beat. That beat that we often neglect to listen to, that beat that could be a heart, that beat that could be the Spirit leading us into a life of publicly, boldly, and courageously declaring that there needs to be a change and it must begin with us.

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