From time to time, Ryan will take questions from across the presbytery and try to address them by newsletter! This will be an experiment that we hope will be a monthly offering. As I lead best by asking questions, I appreciate the questions you have asked and are asking! Stay tuned for end of the month opportunities to ask questions, usually the last week of the month.
“What do you think of guns in church?”
While I was raised in Pennsylvania with and around guns and have been trained in their use, I am personally unsettled by the presence of weapons of bloodshed in sacred spaces. I remember talking a loved one down from carrying a knife into a tense situation, and I found myself saying that the only possible outcome of using this tool is violence, and that I would be there to help him find another way if we need to. I wonder if that is the church’s role today—helping us find another way. We’ve seen an instance in my spouse’s home county where blood was shed after a conflict escalated when a young man sat in the “wrong” pew and was subsequently murdered by an armed church member escalating the situation by fumbling for the nearby tools he had at hand, even after an usher and the pastor had peacefully calmed the situation. We know of several instances when guns were accidentally discharged in church: a churchgoer who shot himself and his wife while showing off his gun to others in church, a gun that went off in someone’s pocket between services on Easter Sunday, an armed security guard accidentally discharging a gun where no one was hurt, and an instance where an armed security guard accidentally discharged a gun where people WERE hurt. The conversation of what tools we want in any given situation is a worthwhile one. For the tense, conflict ridden church of Corinth, the tool of encouragement was not force but love: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
I often like to remind churches just how complex this conversation is, and you will need to be prepared for all the different threads that emerge and need attention: weariness from the weight of responsibility of our role as hosts of sacred spaces, confrontations with strong expressions of cultural identities shaped and exacerbated by political propaganda, and managing (our own) visceral, personal grief and cultural trauma around recent gun violence in Buffalo, Laguna Beach, and Texas and all the violence that has happened since. Conflicting understandings of freedom need to be personally and communally examined, and the conversation of legacies of American violence has wider implications in histories of racism and unchecked capitalism that we are also responsible for unpacking together. I challenge congregations serious about the conversation about their positions on weapons capable of producing death in sacred spaces to be able to articulate their theology of security, with prayerful consideration on whether the capacity to respond with violence fits into your theology of who Jesus was and what he stood for (I resist the interpretation that Jesus himself affirmed violence on temple grounds: of the four gospel tellings of Jesus driving out the money changers, only John’s refers to Jesus using a whip, and even that in the context of driving out animals). I highly recommend the work of Jim Atwood, a Presbyterian who died in 2019 who wrote eloquently of how to talk about and understand our culture of gun violence: “American and Its Guns: A Theological Expose” (2012) and “Gundamentalism and Where It is Taking America” (2017). Theology can be a helpful way to frame the conversation, as it focuses on God and God’s vision for community.
I have found churches are most successful in addressing security when they explore together how their space is vulnerable as a whole, and address all of it together as one expansive policy, as comprehensive disaster preparedness. For example, my own church was once deep in conversation about how to protect ourselves from a mass shooter: in the meantime, we had a medical emergency where the EMTs could not find the door that gave wide enough access for a stretcher, and no one from the church knew how to help. We realized we needed a broader assessment about how we are vulnerable in general. Similarly, how might a suggestion on having lockable, windowless doors conflict with your child protection policy? Or sealed entrances with fire regulations? Considering how each of our spaces are vulnerable are all factors that an attentive session would need to address, and each space has different challenges and vulnerabilities. I should share too that while I can appreciate intentions to invite advice from local law enforcement officers, I have often seen inconsistencies with their approaches and recommendations stemming from having their own opinions, which might come as a surprise to diligent elders. Ultimately it is the role of the session to decide what is best practice of carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ in your community. In the meantime, preachers have a role to speak the prophetic word of God into the systems of power and violence perpetuated in the world, just as Jesus did, and we are not exempt from having hard conversations about the world in which we live. Besides, if we do not, elected officials who never once sat before a Committee on Preparation for Ministry are more than happy to use their platforms to theologize about God’s intentions if we will not.
Does, uh, that answer your question?
“How is your family adjusting to St. Louis?”
Danielle and I are doing very well! We are actually still unpacking and organizing as we settle in, but we love Hazelwood and are getting to know our neighbors. Danielle works as a personal trainer at Club Fitness which is keeping her both active and engaged with members of the community. I have already enjoyed one Food Truck night and have my calendar marked for all of the rest of them.
“Were you able to do one of the St. Louis Fish Fry during Lent?????”
YES. Thank you for making sure I knew of this important cultural event. I meticulously researched the most popular fish fries in all of St. Louis and was delighted to see one of the most popular was at St. Ferdinant Catholic Church in Florissant, two miles from my house. I wish I’d ordered more shrimp.
“I notice that the bio you provide for churches doesn’t mention your dog anymore…”
Yes, sadly, we needed to put our beloved American bulldog Cookie to sleep after a long battle with her health at the end of March. We have been carrying the grief heavier than we expected, as we also lost our two other dogs to old age and cancer relatively quickly as well. Losing all three of our first family dogs within 15 months compounds our grief, and I confess it’s been a struggle these last few months, particularly in the evening time when we settle in. However, the joy of starting a new Landino Pack with paw prints in our new yard is motivating us to settle in to our new house quicker so we can have the joy of rescue dogs in our home again soon. I hope to share pictures soon.
“How do you understand diversity?”
Our diversity is such a gift, and it strengthens the community when that diversity is seen, embraced, and blessed. Diversity in a presbytery like ours represents different worlds, experiences, perspectives, and learnings we can exchange and enrich each other. Our racial diversity is important to recognize, as the paths we’ve traveled and the history we’ve lived all inform what we bring into our spaces and how we engage each other. We also need to keep in mind how we are shaped and informed by other aspects of our diversity: age, gender, sexuality, the THEOLOGIES that have shaped us, the regional cultures we come from (ie: rural, urban, suburban, east, south, etc), as well as all the intersections in between. Not only is such a beautiful bounty of diversity a gift for a community like ours, it can also be a challenge: we might need a little extra effort to fully understand how certain words and language resonate with our stories, and it might take a little extra listening to be fully present with the perspectives we share so we aren’t missing each other. The question for me is are we really seeing each other in our fully blessed and embodied selves, and how might we practice that seeing in ways that can enrich us further with the beauty we all share? One way I keep up the practice of consulting diverse perspectives outside my own is through the preaching commentaries I use: Women’s Bible Commentary, the Jewish Annotated New Testament, Preaching Gods Transforming Justice Lectionary Commentary, Feasting on the Word and Feasting on the Gospel—I try to hear about 10-12 different voices speaking into a text before I preach a given sermon. It reminds me of how limited my own perspective is, and how diversity around us is such a gift.
“Can you remind me of when you take your Sabbath?”
As I mentioned at my first introduction with you, Sabbath is very important to me both to have and to mode.. For twelve years of ministry, Mondays have always fit into my rhythm best, but as I adjust to new rhythms with you, I am working on shifting that to Friday in June so I can be available for activities on Monday. It’s a shift I have never been able to work out successfully, but I will try to let you know how it’s going!
“Is your cell phone still the best way to contact you?”
YES. That and email. I can be most quickly reached by my cell 314-409-9002, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. I do text on that number too!
Looking forward to being in touch with you again soon!
Rev. Ryan J. Landino
direct line: 314-409-9002