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Last updated June 10.

June 10, 2013 issue

Combating gun violence, first with lament

By Celeste Kennel-Shank

In the face of big problems, solutions aren’t always clear. So it is with gun violence in Chicago.



Leaders propose various explanations and strategies for prevention. Yet whatever their claims, no one is certain why there are so many shootings. The questions are polarizing and complex, and the consequences are tragic.

In this city of 2.7 million people, there are a dozen Mennonite congregations. The one in which I am a minister is in a neighborhood where bullets more frequently tear through the air and into bodies. Yet it is also a place where one often encounters rich history, verdant park space and gardens, and caring people.

And so I knew I was only getting part of the picture when I read a Chicago Tribune article about the shooting of three men on May 6 near a Mennonite church in another part of the city where gun violence occurs all too often. I wondered about the reactions of the people I have met from that church. When a shooting happens within a mile or two of our church, we don’t always hear about it or respond to that particular event. However, this was on the church’s block, and their building had police tape in front of it. It was a jarring sight in the photo accompanying the article.

I thought of the dozens of people with gunshot wounds who I’ve met in the trauma center where I worked as a chaplain. Many who survived had sustained long-lasting physical and emotional harm. While the news story gives few details about the three men who were shot — as required by health information protection laws — I imagined what they might be going through in the aftermath of this event.

And I was struck by the response of a woman in the area: “This violence needs to stop,” she said. “I don’t even know what to say. This is sad.”

The reporter described the woman and others who gathered across from the church as angry about the violence in the neighborhood. Such a response of anger and sadness — lament — is where many people of biblical faith have stood in the face of violence and injustice.

It is a response that still holds power for us today. Instead of aligning with politicians and parties, jumping to purported solutions, or fighting over gun control, we need to lament and pray.

Lament allows us to see our human condition, and in doing so opens us to compassion for both victims and perpetrators, and to the need for humility. When we lift our laments to God, we recognize our smallness next to God’s power to ultimately renew the good creation we humans mar by our brokenness.

Taking time for lament does not require rejecting political action, protest or outreach programs. Those are needed, as gun violence affects our entire nation. But let us begin in lament and prayer, and let our other actions grow out of that ground.

For these reasons, I aim to begin with compassion and humility as I work on a story for a coming issue of this publication about some of the responses to the challenge of gun violence in one part of Chicago affected a great deal by it.

Yet I also write knowing that this neighborhood is not a place only of destruction but also of creativity. People do not only lift up laments but also joyful praises to the God, who gives us abundant life and love in a world of complex problems.

Celeste Kennel-Shank is a minister and community gardener in Chicago.


  • I was brought up in the Mennonite Church on the west side of Chicago, and graduated from an elementary school which is located about 1/4 of a mile from Bethel Mennonite Church, I attended Marshall High School for two years and then attended Hesston College (Academy) until my graduation in 1955. I graduated from Goshen College in 1959. I've lamented and prayed my entire life against poverty, racial injustice, second class citizenship, Right-wing Christians, and missionary tactics by unknowing missionaries. When a young white missionary woman paints a picture of blurred proportion as an insight to the daily violence Black Americans suffer through, especially in a city like Chicago is sad, so very sad. On Thursday (06-13-13) my grandson was shot 3 times, with one bullet tearing through his abdomen, one bullet going through his hand, and the third bullet hitting him in the face (breaking his jaw, dental issues, throat and tongue injuries). The doctors completed multiple surgeries with more to follow when the swelling subsides. I'm thankful to a benevolent God who because of prayers from family, friends, his parents and the fervent prayers of righteous men and women my baby boy still clings to life. The complicated social problem of gun violence is not unique to cities like Chicago, because we've seen it at Sandy Hook, a Colorado school and theater, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the Boston marathon bombing and shootings, and other places in America. The difference is that Chicago is Black people, no 48 hour vigils and media attention, no congressional hearings, no billions of dollars pouring in from private and government entities...just a headline and a suffering people. The same group that lamented and prayed through slavery, inhumane treatment of reconstruction, lynching, riots, arsonist, WW1,the Depression,Jim Crow, WW2, segregation, the Korean War and other wars.
    It's time to keep praying, but lamenting some more is unacceptable, it's time for action as a united Christian front or United States of America military intervention, or both until this carnage is ended. Louis Campbell

    - Louis Campbell (jun 19 at 1:48 a.m.)

  • Ah, my poor, dear friend Louis, I'm thinking of you and praying for your grandson. And agreeing with you, but words fail me, or should I say, the words I'd like to say would quickly be removed by MWR censors. There won't be any other comments because your words hit home, they cut to the bone, they're terrifyingly true. We know the answer; we lack the will. Suggesting we "lament" is an insult, fraught with incomprehension and insensitivity.

    - Debra Bender (jun 19 at 12:56 p.m.)

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