By Gabe LePage
These past few weeks have been difficult for many who knew Kevin Jiang. His death was a shock. In the aftermath of his death, after the immediate shock, it has been powerful to see how deeply he had affected and encouraged so many in our community at the Yale School of the Environment with his joy, his energy, and his interest in others. Students have been reaching out to each other for support, and many resources have been made available for mental health and emotional support. Sadly, Kevin’s murder was the 6th in New Haven in the short 1 and 1/2 months of 2021, a stark reminder that this shock and pain of loss is felt by members across the New Haven community all too often. Last year, 121 people were wounded by gun violence and 20 people were killed. As we mourn Kevin’s death as a community and as a church, how do we rearrange our world to make it safer for everyone?
In our church bible study, we have been reading the minor prophets, specifically Micah. A prophet’s role in the Old Testament is to represent God to the people and to represent the people to God through word, deed, and prayer. Micah cries out against the excesses of Israel after the reign of Ahab–the idolatry and the injustice against the poor–and alternately proclaims the word of the Lord and prays to the Lord for help. We come to Micah 6:8 that says, “God has shown you, oh man, what is good, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” What do we do in the face of so much violence? Or rather, how should we be?
We discussed in our study how Jesus–the fulfillment of the role of the prophet–brings together justice and mercy by living out the law perfectly while taking on the penalty of our sins and dying on the cross. Jesus suffered our iniquity, conquered death, and rose again. We can only bring together Justice and Mercy in our own lives with some divine help, as Jesus lives and acts within us and among us. As Christians, we are not promised that we can “solve” the problem of gun violence, but we are called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, demonstrating our unique hope in resurrection even in the face of violence. We suffer the grief like anyone, but in the midst of it, we have an eternal hope, and we hope to join Kevin there one day. In that hope, I invite you to stand with our neighbors and work to build a city that is not so beset with violence.
One local New Haven resident and retired Bishop, Rev. James Curry, is living out a prophetic verse found in Micah as well as Joel and Isaiah through a relatively new organization called “Swords into Plowshares.” They organize gun buy backs and employ local men recently released from prison to forge the guns into garden implements to donate to local gardening initiatives. You can find out more about his work here. The goal is to get guns off the streets and proclaim through word and deed an alternative to violence.
Episcopal Bishops in general have been active in decrying gun violence by advocating to liberals and conservatives for legislation that limits access to weapons made specifically for murder and for more accountability and gun control. You can read more about their efforts here: https://bishopsagainstgunviolence.org. They have written letters and staged public demonstrations at the 79th Annual Convention.
Finally, a few New Haven residents have banded together to form support groups for family members of those killed by gun violence. One of these groups, known as Victims of Gun Violence, has partnered with the Urban Resources Initiative to create a Botanical Garden of Healing on Valley St at the base of West Rock. The garden is a place to remember and celebrate the lives of those lost, including a sculpture, a wall of family’s memories, and a brick path with the names of everyone killed since 1970. Mothers and family members of those killed will be working with URI and their churches to maintain the garden through watering, planting the flowers, and caring for the beds. Kevin Jiang’s name will be on that path, beside Ibrahim Sharif–a co-worker of mine from URI who was shot last summer–the 7 who have been killed this year, and the 100s who have lost their lives from gun violence. You can read more about the initiative here and here.
Featured image: A rendering from Svigals + Partners shows an aerial projection of what the New Haven Botanical Garden of Healing Dedicated to Victims of Gun Violence will look like upon completion. https://www.wnpr.org/post/space-heal-families-create-memorial-garden-victims-gun-violence