Anyone else remember painting by the numbers? No artistry needed! Just match up the number on the little pot of paint with the number on the preprinted board. Voila! A masterpiece! If only life were so simple. So clear. So easy to line up.
Yet we live by numbers, don't we? Numbers tell us when the car needs an oil change. Numbers represent how much money we have to spend on groceries. Numbers tell us what day it is and what hour it is and if we have an appointment in ten minutes or in two weeks. Numbers tell us if our blood pressure is too high or our pulse too low. Numbers inform us of how many guests to prepare for and whether to double or triple the casserole recipe. Numbers can comfort: I've got three people I know I can call on no matter what. And numbers can alarm: there have been more than 600 mass shootings in our country so far this year.
That's as of yesterday. It could climb by the time you read these words. Nearly 40,000 people have died by gun violence. It's staggering. It's sobering. It's profoundly sad. In a split second, a life that could have gone on for several more decades ceases to be. And the reality is, no one is replicated. The numbers tell us a person is no more. The numbers tell us something needs to change.
Former megachurch pastor Rob Bell has an amazing page in one of his books. Just one page, front and back. The front of the page bears a title of "Bored." He is talking about three powerful afflictions of the human spirit: boredom, cynicism, and despair. On the back of the page he writes, "While boredom can be fairly subtle and cynicism can appear quite intelligent and even funny, despair is like a dull thud in the heart. Despair reflects a pervasive dread that it's all pointless and that we are, in the end, simply wasting our time." So very wise is he. Especially as he continues, "Boredom, cynicism, and despair are spiritual diseases because they disconnect us from the most primal truth about ourselves - that we are here." The title of the book, by the way, is How To Be Here.
Paying attention and acting out of conviction often go hand in hand. What do the numbers tell us? Something needs to change. How will anything change? If those of us with convictions act out of them. Like Pedro Reyes. This man from Mexico City made news in 2015 and not for a mass shooting. For collecting 1,527 guns in Culiacan, Mexico - the city with the highest number of gun deaths in the nation at that time - and melting them. After melting them, he fashioned shovels. After fashioning shovels, he distributed them. And with the shovels trees were planted. 1,527 of them. For every potential instrument of death, a vessel of life. Making a difference. Not through legislation but through demonstration. Because we never know when our number might be up.