David and Francine Wheeler had two children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Nate survived the murderous attack late last year; his little brother Ben did not. The Wheelers, speaking at a press conference said, “‘parent’ means a point of origin…We realized we are far from being finished with being the best parents for Ben that we can be. We want to be a point of origin for change to make our children safe.”
The Wheelers go on in that press conference to call all on all parents in the United States, asking, “What is it worth doing to keep your children safe?”
Last month I took part, as the Bishop of the Diocese of California in a SAVE (Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere) Oakland rally at the corner of 92nd Avenue and International Boulevard, a corner where a young woman had been slain by bullets flung by one gang against another, taking an innocent life. A small shrine marked the site where she died. If shrines marked all the murder sites in Oakland in 2012 there would be candles burning and flowers wilting at 104 places. Oakland is safer than only 3% of 300 American cities.
This is not Oakland’s problem; it is our problem. I felt this strongly as I stood with a group of local pastors on that street corner last month. All of the other pastors served congregations there in Oakland. All were African-American. I serve a diocese that encompasses most of the Bay Area, with 27,000 Episcopalians. My office is in San Francisco, at our cathedral, Grace. Sheila and I live in San Francisco as well.
While not great, the crime statistics in San Francisco are markedly different than in Oakland. The violent crime rate in San Francisco is 0.06; in Oakland, 0.26. If you look at other parts of the Diocese of California, the contrast is even greater: the chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime in Oakland is 1 in 59; in Menlo Park, 1 in 661.
Yet here is the point: it is one diocese. Years ago I heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu say this, “Until the struggle in South Africa became the world’s struggle, apartheid would never have come to an end. When the world understood that we must struggle together, this was the beginning of the end of apartheid.”
I quoted Archbishop Tutu to the crowd gathered on the street corner in Oakland. I hear David and Francine Wheeler saying the same thing. A parent means being a point of origin, here, of something new. Perhaps the first thing that may be born is our understanding of solidarity with one another. From that first, primal understanding come may kinds of action: advocacy for better gun laws; work to provide better mental health services; anti-bullying education and bullying prevention; lessons in peace making, and many others. The peace rally folks in Oakland got this point; they are calling the murders in Oakland a “public health problem,” a comprehensive way of speaking about it.
Understood as the birth of solidarity everyone in America can be a parent, a point of origin. I remember leading a Bible study in Middleburg, Virginia soon after the Columbine killings. The killings were very much on people’s minds and hearts, and someone brought them up in the context of part of our study of Genesis. An elderly widow in the study group startled us by saying, “I am responsible for the students at Columbine’s deaths.” In the silence that followed this, she went on, “For years now I have voted against increases in local and state taxes for schools. I have been contributing to the warehousing of students; I see that now. It doesn’t matter that my children are grown up and my family no longer uses the public schools. It wouldn’t even matter if I had never had children — I see that we are bound together in God’s world.”
I join my voice and my actions with David and Francine Wheeler and ask that we all become parents, points of origin to end the violence in Oakland. There are lots of places to start (and our greatest spiritual teachers would say we should first become parents of peace in our own hearts), but a great thing would be for us to stand with these heroic people asking for peace in Oakland.
Photo: The Rev. Mauricio Wilson, St. Paul's, Oakland, and the Rt. Rev Marc Handley Andrus. Courtesty SAVE Oakland.