It is now four years since the shooting death of a Chicago teenager, Hadiya Pendleton, led to the emergence of a nationwide response to this and all gun tragedies known as Wear Orange. And this year, it appears that the campaign to bear witness to the scourge of gun violence has reached a new, viral level. Many jurisdictions across the country are planning to issue resolutions designating June 7th as National Gun Violence Awareness Day, and more than 650 public events are scheduled to take place over the weekend from June 7th through June9th.
I’m going to use today’s column to talk about one of those public events which will take place at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. But before I get to a discussion about the event itself, I want to say a few words about the Cathedral, which I have always considered to be America’s most hallowed place.
Now understand that I am not particularly religious so when I use a word like ‘hallowed’ I’m speaking more in cultural than in religious terms. And the reason I am using that word with reference to the National Cathedral is because I believe that this institution, perhaps more than any institution in the United States, has maintained a commitment to finding solutions to the one issue which still threatens the human community, which is the issue of violence.
Think about it. We know what to do about global warming. We know what to do about hunger. We know what to do about disease. Now if we choose not to respond to these threats, it’s a function of willpower, not of knowing what we need to do. But this isn’t the case with violence. We don’t know what to do about violence because we don’t know why human beings behave in violent ways. And it doesn’t matter whether the violence takes the form of some kid hitting another kid over the head on the playground, or a B-52 dropping a bomb and wiping an entire city off the map. There is no other living species on this planet which kills simply for the sake of killing – except us.
Right now the Cathedral actively promotes five initiatives, all of which involve programs that heighten awareness leading to positive, effective change which is always an important response to violence or violent threats. These programs involve helping veterans readjust to civilian life, LGBTQ advocacy, racial issues, religious harmony and of course, gun violence.
Regarding gun violence, the Cathedral is going to observe the Wear Orange weekend in its own unique way. On Friday night, June 7th at 8 P.M., the Cathedral is going to be bathed in orange light – a remarkably impressive sight. But then, to add to the majesty and power of this moment, the Cathedral’s Bourdon bell is going to ring 109 times. The Bourdon bell weighs twelve tons, and when it rings (usually just for funerals) the somber tone will envelop you in the deep sense of loss we should all feel when thinking about the 109 lives lost to gun violence every day.
The picture above doesn’t do the orange lighting of the cathedral justice, and obviously my website doesn’t have sound. So if you want to experience the manner in which the National Cathedral is going to mark the Wear Orange days, you have to come down to Wisconsin Avenue on Friday before 8 P.M.
I have said again and again that, with all due respect to laws, regulations, blah, blah, blah and blah, the only way we will achieve a real and meaningful preventive response to gun violence will be when we change the culture which promotes and often glorifies guns. The National Cathedral is a religious institution but it also is a repository for our country’s history and culture, given that it is often called the ‘national house of prayer.’
If you have a chance, go down to the Cathedral on Friday night and help them promote a national culture free from the threat posed by guns.