Narratives collided in Philadelphia during MLK week at the University of Pennsylvania. Rev. Charles “Chaz” Howard, chaplain at Penn and founder of Gun Free World invited RAWtools and Shane Claiborne to be a part of their interfaith program on Jan. 20th. RAWtools also participated in Rev. Howard’s sermon at St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in West Philly the previous Sunday. At each event RAWtools’ blacksmith Fred Martin led the transformation of guns into garden tools. A .38 pistol and a .22 rifle were donated for the events by local Philadelphia residents.
Prophets and artists laid the ground work for this to take place. On Sunday at St. Thomas we sang the hymn “Blessed Martin, Pastor, Prophet” in honor of Dr. King, himself a victim on gun violence. Dr. King, perhaps the greatest contemporary prophet, paved roads marked with nonviolent activism that dared to dream and imagine a world of mutual respect between races and religions, neighborhoods and nations. And it was Esther Augsberger who commissioned a large plowshare made from guns from the Washington D.C. area. Many artists have been a part of weapons transformations into art, tools, instruments, and restorative justice mediation talking pieces.
Without these prophets and artists, and others like them, we have no way to see through the darkness. As the prophet Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” And so as these artists and prophets shine light into the darkness, it is up to us to follow the path they have illuminated.
Gun violence takes on many forms and speaks from many conflicts. Suicide accounts for over half of the gun violence and handguns are a major part of urban violence. It is a complex issue, but as you can see in the video, it takes community to intervene and care for each other. Did you know that after a suicide, many times the weapon is returned to the family as required by property law? At RAWtools, we have received a few of these as they have weighed heavy and unused by the family in the time since the loss of their loved one. They are not inanimate, but became something else-something of a negative and often drowning sentiment.
At the MLK interfaith program, Shane Claiborne proclaimed that we do not need to wait for our governments to take action. This surely is in line with the action of Dr. King, whose actions were the seed and motivation for many policy and constitutional change.
As Shane says, “The new world the prophets of old told us about begins with us. It begins with you. We are the ones that we have been waiting on. A movement has begun. We are beating guns into shovels and tanks into tractors. We are going to interrupt the patterns of death, and war and gun violence. So send us your weapons and we’ll send you back a tool for the garden. Or better yet, take a welding lesson from a welder near you. And send us the pictures. It’s time to beat some swords into plows.”
May it be as the song, Blessed Martin says,
“Teacher of Christ-like nonviolence, To the outcast, poor and meek.
Greater weapon ‘gainst oppression, is to turn the other cheek.
Preacher of Christ’s love for neighbor, he won Nobel’s prize for peace.
Peoples, beat your swords to plowshares, Wars ‘twixt nations all shall cease.”