Turning guns into gardening tools

Tonight at Rainbow (April 2 from 6-8 pm), we welcome Shane Claiborne, Mike Martin of RAWtools, and friends.  They are on a speaking tour promoting their book, “Beating Guns: Hope for people who are weary of violence.” I thought I’d use this occasion to (re)share the story of how Mike and I first met.

It was a Saturday before Pentecost (2016). All week I had been looking for sermon illustrations—evidence, as Molly T. Marshall writes in her book “Joining the Dance,” that the Spirit of God is at work “reversing twisted forms of love that consume the good…laboring toward the liberation of all oppressed.” It was getting late, and my sermon felt a little spirit-less, so I kept reading and writing. That’s when I saw an article posted on HuffingtonPost by Shane Claiborne titled, Beating Guns in Memory of Trayvon Martin. “We,” Claiborne wrote, “are going to take a 9mm pistol identical to Zimmerman’s, beat it into a plow, auction it off, and donate the money to Trayvon Martin’s family foundation.”

The “we” in this case referred to RAWtools, Inc., an organization I had not heard about until the evening of May 14, 2016. So imagine my surprise when, while scrolling through the RAWtools website for the first time ever, a new message appeared in my Rainbow email inbox with the subject line RAWtools Meeting: Time Sensitive. I almost didn’t open it for fear that it was some sort of scam. But open it I did, and there, to my surprise, was a personal note from RAWtools Director Michael Martin:  Hi Pastor Harder, I have an urgent request. You may be familiar with George Zimmerman auctioning the gun he used to kill Trayvon Martin. Shane Claiborne and RAWtools are creating a response by getting a surrogate gun and auctioning a tool we make from it in support of Trayvon Martin Foundation.

Mike went on to say that they had a gun donor willing to meet them in KC. He thought perhaps we at Rainbow could provide them a public place in order to cut/disable these donated guns.

After some follow-up conversations with Mike and church leadership, we decided to go forward with this plan, taking all the safety precautions we thought to take.

It was a rainy Monday evening when Michael and his traveling mate Mary Sprunger-Froese arrived, along with the gun donor. We met in the church shed and watched as these two 9 mm pistols were disabled. It felt like we were standing on holy ground as we watched the sparks fly; truly a Pentecost moment in my book.


Inside Edition used part of the video we took that day here: https://www.insideedition.com/media/videos/group-turns-guns-garden-tools-40943

Michael said that while making this particular gardening tool (pictured above), someone walked away from the booth in disgust saying, “They are killing our guns!” This is such a sad commentary on what guns have become to so many people in this country.

As Michael and Mary were preparing to leave, one of our Rainbow congregants said that he was proud that Rainbow Mennonite was seen as a potential partner in this kind of peacemaking work. I couldn’t agree more.

My own thank you to Michael read as follows:

While it is difficult today to know how to fulfill Isaiah’s call to “beat swords into plowshares,” we applaud those who are creatively and bravely seeking to transform hatred and violence into a better purpose. We thank Shane Claiborne and RAWtools for providing us an opportunity to be partners in this work.



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