Bruce Cockburn is probably my favourite songwriter. I like to say that he’s my favourite psalmist too, because his somgs are like little prayers that capture the full range of human experience from drop-down-on-your-knees awe, to deep and desperate despair. Yesterday I found myself, as I do in times of reflection, going to Bruce Cockburn’s catalogue for some quiet mirroring.
When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
You’ve got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.
What is so striking about yesterdays massacre is that it was a direct act of hate against people who were asserting a bold statement of love. That to me is the worst kind of violence – nihilistic, pessimistic, narcissistic and cynical to the extreme.
There are very few things I don’t understand about American culture and society. Americans are nearly identical to Canadians in almost every way that matters. The differences between us are often less than the differences between Americans from different regions or political stripes. But one thing most Canadians fail to understand is the American attachment to guns. It is simply a different way of thinking about society, rights and responsibilities.
A society that is armed to the teeth, that has leaders and presidential candidates fanning the flames of fear, xenophobia, racism and contempt and that extols the individual’s power while knowing full well that the deck is stacked against most people transcending the class they are born in, is a recipe for these ongoing outbursts of anger and violence targeted in whatever way. The fact that every mass killer in the United States, has acquired weapons legally is mind boggling. The fact that some mass killers even self-identify with terrorist groups makes the gun ownership system in the US essentially a pipeline for supporting, enabling and abetting acts of terrorism. In every other country in the world, if self-declared terrorists had access to weapons to carry out their agendas, the state would move to restrict that access. Not in the United States. The heavily lobbied response to each of these killings is to work even harder to allow for everyone, including the next terrorist to have access to the tools of their trade. This is a thing that is hard for us to understand. And I know for most of my American friends and colleagues it’s hard to understand as well. But we have to keep kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.
It has taken me a lifetime to learn to love our neighbour to the south. But I do. And yet, I have friends now who, when they find out I’m going to US, now say “stay safe.” I tell them that it’s really not a dangerous country, and they nod affirmatively but the look of concern doesn’t leave their faces. I’m not going to lie though. Going to open carry states makes me think twice. Mass shootings, racialized violence and blistering rhetoric are often present in my consciousness. I’m trying to love you America, but it’s dangerous times.