July 2022. The Ditch Trail led us away from the small parking area through Aspen trees and across the side of the mountain. They say a stand of Aspen is really just one plant, like Redwoods, with one shared root system, and that the largest organism in the world is a stand of Redwoods or Aspen, though I can’t recall which. Only, we didn’t think of the trees as we walked amongst them and alongside Ditch Creek, named for the trail or the trail for it. Osa the dog tramped in and out of Ditch Creek, her white paws turning gray-brown from mud.
The three of us are old friends. We’ve shared our stories, the times good and the times less so, the challenges of ministry to be sure, but the grief of death and the joy of reunion. The fourth member of our troupe was unable to join us this time, but surely the four of us will be together soon.
We’re not old - at least not yet - but time has etched itself into the character of our skin, the graying of our hair. We started ministry knowing so much, but we’re ending ministry, each in his turn, not knowing. It is not about faith that we know so little, but about life, about the human dynamic, about the inability of Christians like ourselves to act - well, Christian. Two of us look askance at the organization of our religion, wondering why institutionalism often trumps faith. One of us wonders at the institutionalization of his marriage, and the fourth wonders at the institutionalism of retirement. Will there be life after church for us?
No, we’re not old, at least not yet, but we’re old enough to recall better days - clearer days, Osa is still running in and out of the creek. One of us looks at his phone; he shouldn’t have. It seems another gunman with a semiautomatic rifle has chosen the Fourth of July as his turn to pluck at people like beer bottles sitting on a fence. Seven killed and hundreds and thousands of lives forever broken. We stop walking, look at each other, and shake our heads. One of us finally says, We don’t have the will to stop it.
The murders dominate our celebration of freedom. Fireworks are cancelled and flags are flying at half. And we - all three of us - share a common silence with deeper thoughts and unanswered prayers. Why would anybody - any society - let the killing continue? We don’t have the will to stop it.
Two dozen schoolchildren. One dozen grocery shoppers. One half-dozen parade watchers. One tenth a bill of right. Save the guns, kill the people. I have my right.
I remember the first time I learned that a parishioner was carrying a pistol in her purse to church. I almost cried; I knew too well the fear that dominated her, that dominates us all. You’ll have to pry the gun from my cold dead hand, they say. Maybe their line is prophetic.
Because my gun is more important than my children. My gun is more important than my neighbor. My gun is a fundamental, God-given right. God-given, did you hear me? I said, God-given.
All the while God has shut the door and is hiding in the closet. Shut the door on your prayers. Because we don’t have the will to stop it.
Anyway, my lifelong friends and I, resume our short hike through the Aspen trees and along a field sloped and green, freckled lightly with the violet of lupine at the end of their season. Silently, silently, each foot, one in front of the other, as we watch Osa dart in and out of Ditch Creek. No longer knowing, but not knowing. Not knowing where God will show-up, and certainly not knowing when we will listen.