The Liturgy of the Gun

In an article appearing on 30 April, the Washington Post reported that “across the country this month, at least four men have opened fire on someone who’d stumbled upon their space, resulting in one death, two injuries and a car pocked with bullet holes.”

  • In Elgin, TX, two cheerleaders misidentified their car in a store parking lot. The owner shot them.
  • In Hebron, NY, a young woman in a car made her way up what she thought was the driveway for her destination. She realized her mistake and turned the car around.  The home owner shot and killed her.
  • In Davie, FL, an Instacart delivery driver knocked at the wrong door. The home owner shot at the driver, hitting the driver’s car.
  • In Kansas City, MO, a boy knocked on a door thinking that he was at the house where his siblings were playing. It was the wrong house.  The home owner shot him.

There are other recent incidents, including the Texas man who shot and killed some his neighbors after they asked him to stop firing his gun in his yard but here I want to focus on the indented items above.  All of them involve simple honest mistakes on the part of those who were shot.  Guns in the United States so often leave a trail of misery and death in their wake that the litany of sorrow numbs me.  However, in my judgment these four incidents sound a variation in that litany.

Perhaps the experts cited in the 30 April story are correct when they attribute these shootings to “the easy availability of guns, misconceptions around stand-your-ground laws, the marketing of firearms for self-defense — and a growing sense among Americans, particularly Republicans, that safety in their backyard is deteriorating.”  However, my attention is drawn not so much to the cause of these four shooting incidents as it is to the effects.

As a theologian who researches the interplay between consumerism and sacramental worship, I have been fascinated by what James K.A. Smith has called “liturgies of mall and market . . . that shape our imaginations and how we orient ourselves to the world.”*  The practice of shopping (or even just being present as other shop) can condition one to perceive the world in a certain way.  This “certain way” might be characterized by the idea that everything is or should be immediately available.  It might include comparing one’s bodily appearance and one’s clothing to the ads plastered everywhere.  It might even include judging one’s associates by the standards of those ads.  In this way, shopping can invite a kind of competitive individualism.  Christian worship, on the other hand, at least ideally involves curtailing individualism.  No. 95 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal directs that “[members of the assembly] are to shun any appearance of individualism or division, keeping before their eyes that they have only one Father in heaven and accordingly are all brothers and sisters to each other.”

I wonder now about the liturgy of the gun, which in the four highlighted cases amounts to “make a mistake – get shot.”  I am not inviting anyone to be the next shooting victim.  Yet what are we (and what am *I*) doing to be a vital part of a “Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 49)?  What are our liturgies doing to form us into believers who will reach out to others and risk the honest mistake?  What are *we* doing to form our liturgies so that these liturgies will help us to respond, in ways large and small, to the liturgy of the gun?

*James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009). 25.  His fuller treatment of these liturgies appears on pp. 96-101.  See also my November 2019 post on The Liturgy of the Mall.

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