The National Cathedral Wears Orange.


              It is now four years since the shooting death of a Chicago teenager, Hadiya Pendleton, led to the emergence of a nationwide response to this and all gun tragedies known as Wear Orange. And this year, it appears that the campaign to bear witness to the scourge of gun violence has reached a new, viral level. Many jurisdictions across the country are planning to issue resolutions designating June 7th as National Gun Violence Awareness Day, and more than 650 public events are scheduled to take place over the weekend from June 7th through June9th

              I’m going to use today’s column to talk about one of those public events which will take place at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. But before I get to a discussion about the event itself, I want to say a few words about the Cathedral, which I have always considered to be America’s most hallowed place.

              Now understand that I am not particularly religious so when I use a word like ‘hallowed’ I’m speaking more in  cultural than in religious terms. And the reason I am using that word with reference to the National Cathedral is because I believe that this institution, perhaps more than any institution in the United States, has maintained a commitment to finding solutions to the one issue which still threatens the human community, which is the issue of violence.

              Think about it. We know what to do about global warming. We know what to do about hunger. We know what to do about disease. Now if we choose not to respond to these threats, it’s a function of willpower, not of knowing what we need to do. But this isn’t the case with violence. We don’t know what to do about violence because we don’t know why human beings behave in violent ways. And it doesn’t matter whether the violence takes the form of some kid hitting another kid over the head on the playground, or a B-52 dropping a bomb and wiping an entire city off the map. There is no other living species on this planet which kills simply for the sake of killing – except us.

              Right now the Cathedral actively promotes five initiatives, all of which involve programs that heighten awareness leading to positive, effective change which is always an important response to violence or violent threats. These programs involve helping veterans readjust to civilian life, LGBTQ advocacy, racial issues, religious harmony and of course, gun violence. 

              Regarding gun violence, the Cathedral is going to observe the Wear Orange weekend in its own unique way. On Friday night, June 7th at 8 P.M., the Cathedral is going to be bathed in orange light – a remarkably impressive sight. But then, to add to the majesty and power of this moment, the Cathedral’s Bourdon bell is going to ring 109 times. The Bourdon bell weighs twelve tons, and when it rings (usually just for funerals) the somber tone will envelop you in the deep sense of loss we should all feel when thinking about the 109 lives lost to gun violence every day.

              The picture above doesn’t do the orange lighting of the cathedral justice, and obviously my website doesn’t have sound. So if you want to experience the manner in which the National Cathedral is going to mark the Wear Orange days, you have to come down to Wisconsin Avenue on Friday before 8 P.M.

              I have said again and again that, with all due respect to laws, regulations, blah, blah, blah and blah, the only way we will achieve a real and meaningful preventive response to gun violence will be when we change the culture which promotes and often glorifies guns. The National Cathedral is a religious institution but it also is a repository for our country’s history and culture, given that it is often called the ‘national house of prayer.’

              If you have a chance, go down to the Cathedral on Friday night and help them promote a national culture free from the threat posed by guns.

Come To D.C.’s National Cathedral For Wear Orange Day.

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I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and when I was a kid, my mother used to take me to the National Cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue and while she was inside listening to a concert I would run around on the beautiful grounds. Anyone who has lived in DC for any period of time will sooner or later have some connection to this remarkable edifice, which calls itself “a catalyst for spiritual harmony in our nation, reconciliation among faiths, and compassion in the world.”

2008_05_cathedral6             The Cathedral will certainly embody those words in the event that is being planned for the Third Wear Orange Day, which is coming up on Friday, June 2. And what the Cathedral will do that evening is bathe this remarkable House of Worship’s  West front in orange from 8 P.M. until midnight as a symbol of the Congregation’s support of the Wear Orange day.

This event started as a community response to the shooting death of 15-year old Hadiya Pendleton in Chicago, but has now grown to national and even international proportions. The list of supporters, including media influencers, entertainers, non-profit agencies and organizations, municipalities and others just goes on and on down a website page and more than 150 landmark buildings and sites will be adorned by some kind of orange embellishment to mark this auspicious event.

cathedral             But I want to get back to what the National Cathedral is doing on Friday because it could serve as a symbol about what reducing gun violence should really be about. Back in 2008, as part of the Centennial celebration (the construction actually began in 1897 but cathedrals have a funny way of taking a long time to be built) the Cathedral mounted an outside exhibition by the Swiss lighting artist Gary Hofstetter, of which a picture of one of the exhibition displays accompanies this text. The exhibition was called ‘Lighting to Unite,’ which flowed directly from the Centennial address delivered the year before by Bishop Desmond Tutu entitled, Reconciliation: Hope for a Troubled World.  And in his address, the recipient of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize winner said, “Reconciliation is not an easy option. It cost God the death of his son.”

When I started thinking about writing a column on Wear Orange Day, I had to ask myself what I would be really expressing when I walked around on Friday sporting one of my hunting vests. Because don’t make the mistake of thinking that Mike the Gun Guy is going to traipse around in a little piece of orange plastic that you can pick up at Wal Mart for ten bucks. No, my vest is part of a jacket ensemble made by Laksen of Denmark, and as J. P. Morgan used to say, “If you have to ask what it costs….”

But the point is that if I’m participating in this important event, I want to understand what it really means. And I don’t think this event should only be seen as a way to raise consciousness about what happens to people who get injured with guns. Because the truth is that the only way we will ever see a real decline in gun violence is if we figure out a way to make people understand that everyone involved in a shooting is a victim of violence caused by a gun. And the only way we can do that, the only way we can make our entire society share in the tasks which must be accomplished to reduce gun violence, is to follow what Bishop Tutu said.

Whether you point a gun at yourself or at someone else, gun violence is the most shattering way to deprive us all of the joys and benefits of reconciliation whose everlasting values are embodied in the presence and spirit of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Which is why we should all go to see the Cathedral bathed in an orange glow come Friday night. Go to the Cathedral, stand there in meditation or in prayer, it’s the right thing to do.