If you are an inquisitive and sensitive person, you follow the news about the war in Ukraine very closely. Each day, the heartbreak of what is happening there settles on you and makes you think.
How could so many innocent people be slain in a war they did not ask for? In ways they certainly did not expect, at a time when they should have been looking for a soulful approaching Easter Sunday followed by a delightful spring full of flowering fruit trees and everything else that shakes off the frigid cold and seasonal death of winter to revive as the sun warms the earth.
It should be a grand, happy time of celebration.
Not this year.
I had a very unusual and troubling experience at church on Sunday, where I was praying for the innocent victims in the war with Russia, for the Russian soldiers who have been brutally killing them, and yes, even for Vladimir Putin, hoping that some kind of sense would come to him here on the holiest day of Orthodox Christianity, the day Christ rose from the dead.
How would you feel if the Russians were in, say, Wilmette, lobbing artillery shells and rockets into Chicago, right down to the Loop and on into the south and west sides, with huge explosions everywhere and people fleeing to the subways just to escape the violence.
Imagine the Russians coming into Chicago, say on the South Side, and murdering dozens of people just to send a crude message about power and how futile it is to resist it. Say you found the bodies of 59 men and women all dumped into the Chicago River, each with a bullet wound in the back of the head.
You would be outraged, I would hope.
You would call for all the help the battered city could find to push back against these vicious soldiers and their machine guns and bombs and rockets. You would cast your gaze to the sky and ask God how this could happen, how a loving God could watch as this level of violence plays out.
You don’t need an invading Russian army to ask that question.
We do it to ourselves every day by turning to gun violence to resolve all kinds of disputes, gang rivalries, revenge killings, or just plain senseless violence or suicides. I know that because I was asked to pray at St. Lukes in Evanston for 59 dead people described as “Those in our area who have recently died by gun violence.”
The church publishes a list, updated weekly, of who has been slain by gun violence. That is a very good thing to do because it doesn’t let the subject slide off into one of those mental corridors where bad news gets sent to be forgotten or ignored. That’s right, this process keeps the dead and how they died alive. That is important.
How could this have happened in what is supposed to be a safe place, a secure nation? One might say the same thing about the victims in Ukraine, those old men, old women, soldiers, young mothers and fathers, little children, medium children and older children, all ruthlessly slain as the war plays out.
Just look at the pictures. Neighborhoods ablaze, little country homes blasted apart, big housing complexes with the telling stain of flames, blackened and ruined by this abysmal war. Just look at the pictures from Chicago, all quite similar, detectives standing around an area marked by little signs that identify spent bullets or ejected shells.
The victims here and the victims there are united by a single, universal experience: They are dead by gunshot wounds. Some people rationalize that by saying “Well, they were gang members” or, “They lived by the sword and that’s how they died.” This implies somehow that they deserved it, that they asked for it.
I don’t believe that and you shouldn’t either. No matter the circumstance, it becomes uniformly awful when it involves firearms. I know there are people who reject that, but they are simply wrong. We have too many guns in too many hands eager to use them as tools of power, of retribution, of hate, even of protection. One might think killing someone who is trying to steal your flat screen TV in a burglary is justified, but I would ask just how important that particular $400 or so device is worth?
Violence would dictate that it is worth a life. But when it is unleashed, it is as wrong as it could be, in the cities and villages of Ukraine and on the streets of Chicago, too.
We are wiling to send billions upon billions of dollars in lethal weapons and support for the government of Ukraine. I think that is good, a blessed thing to do to protect people who are facing such ruthless violence.
Why aren’t we will to spend that here?