Why I marched: CROSSwalk 2013

Originally posted on Bobby Smith’s Blog The Power and the Glory

On Friday, March 22, my two oldest daughters and I drove into Chicago to attend CROSSwalk – an ecumenical, multi-faith event where we allowed a march across the city to be a living prayer that the epidemic of gun violence, and all its causes, may end. We marched and prayed with Muslims, Jews, Christians, people of other faith traditions and no faith at all.

Before leaving the hospital where I work, I was asked “why” I was going to Chicago to march for an end to gun violence. After all, “we” don’t live “there.” This essay is my attempt to answer the question.

I went to march with CROSSwalk because I needed to allow my witness to be more than words from my pulpit. I went to march because my oldest daughter wants to live in Chicago and I don’t want her to be shot.

While it is true that my daughters and I went to Chicago because the life of every child matters, that every person deserves to live in safety and with a sense of security, I went to Chicago because the soul wrenching violence and all its underlying pathologies that plague my favorite American city also exist in LaSalle County, Illinois, where I live; Centralia, Illinois where I grew up; Green Lake County, Wisconsin where I spent eight of my most formative years and places around the globe that I will never visit.

Eight hundred and six children and teens have been murdered in Chicago since 2008. Millions of guns are sold each year without required background checks. As I write this, the Chicago Tribune has stories of at least five city residents being shot overnight. These statistics don’t lie. We are living through a massacre.

This violence that leads to children bleeding in our streets exists; it is real. It is evil and I needed to walk with others willing to say enough, no more. I needed to be with others willing to be a living witness to the mercy of a loving God. The loving God that Christians find in the Jesus we proclaim.

I went to march and unintentionally was reawakened to the role violence and guns have played in my life and by extension the lives of those I love and the vocation I embrace. I had not intended to remember or tell my girls that after one too many beatings my mom left my dad while he pointed a gun at her.

I live and work in a community that teeters on many edges — the economy for most remains shaky; the access to mind bending, heart stopping drugs is too easy; the poverty rate in one local grade school system exceeds 80%; we border a major interstate exchange that is known to ferry drugs and humans being trafficked; my hospital emergency room has visits from gang bangers; men that abuse women come in promising to finish the beating they have started. I’ve had my life threatened. This community sets on the edge of being “almost urban” and not really rural. And I am a priest who works in healthcare system leadership and currently serves small, geographically dispersed Episcopal congregations spanning five communities, three rural counties and a sixty mile radius. My work and community have me witness daily the beauty that exists in creation while having to acknowledge that the evil of violence is too ever present.

I marched with CROSSwalk because I live and minister in the world. I marched because I live and minister with people who live in the world and the world needs healing. Healing that I believe comes through a man named Jesus that marched, as Moses marched and as the Prophet Muhammad marched — they marched because the world of their time, like the world of this time, needs healing.

We began the march at St. James Commons, adjacent to the Episcopal cathedral. We gathered in the heart of the city at Daley Plaza, moved on to Old St. Patrick’s Church and ended at Stroger “Cook County” Hospital. At each stop we listened to the words of prophets, heard testimony from fathers, mothers, brothers, family and friends who have had their world ripped apart by gun violence. We sang. We sang hymns like There is a Balm in Gilead; we called for the healing of our sin sick world. We proclaimed the words of Amos seeking justice that rolls down like waters and righteous like an ever-flowing stream.

I went to Chicago on the Friday before my faith tradition begins our Holy Week because I know that the Christian experience is formed in pain, confusion, persecution, suffering and death. But it is founded on Easter; it proclaims resurrection. We are a people, we can all be a community, that does not have to die. We do not have to accept the pain and death peddled in our streets. We can be a resurrected people. There is a balm. We can heal this world and be healed.

Margaret Meade said, “Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago says it exists to: Grow the Church, Form the Faithful and Change the World.

I marched in the footsteps of Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Gandhi, Dr. King and nameless millions because I believe in the power of a few committed people. I believe the world can be changed. I believe in one that was followed by twelve.

It is one hundred and two miles from my home to St. James Cathedral. The day I write these words, a gallon of gas in Peru, Illinois costs $3.59. My family roadster SUV gets a combined city and highway average of fifteen miles per gallon. Our trip to pray and march cost about $50.00 in gas and $35.00 to park. I marched because the lives of the children lost, the parents taken, the families destroyed is worth the time and gas money. It is worth my being present. It is worth my showing up.

I marched because it was one thing I could do.

Let justice roll down!

Bobby Smith is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Chicago. He currently serves as associate rector for the LaSalle County Episcopal Ministry with congregations in LaSalle, Ottawa, Streator and Farm Ridge, Illinois. He also serves as a leader of a community hospital in the Illinois Valley where he works to improve the quality, access and affordability of healthcare.

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