My niece was posting a mild rant on Facebook. “I’m tired of all the talk about guns,” she typed. I responded that I understood her frustration. “Yes, I get it, ” I wrote. “Your Dad has been abducted at gunpoint, your cousin shot in the back on a school playground, and I, too, was robbed at the point of a sawed-off shotgun. I’m tired of my family being aimed at.”

I’m not merely tired of the gun-oriented headlines, nor just frustrated. The shootings and resulting debates over handguns in the wrong hands and assault rifles in any non-military hands — it’s terribly sad…and frightening…and shameful…that we have created from our gun culture a religion, a faith fed by nothing less than idolatry. We worship guns.

In what is referred to as the “First Song of Isaiah,” the prophet sings, “Surely it is God who saves me; I will trust the Lord and not be afraid; for the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and He will be my savior.” Not weapons. Not guns. God.

If I had trusted in a gun that one night back in Richmond, I wouldn’t be alive to write this. The past 20 years of my life would probably not have taken place. For everyone who thinks that just having a gun will “save” or “protect,” here is my witness to the contrary.

I had just finished teaching a night class at our graduate school. My assistant and I walked into the dark school parking lot. I told her that the security light was still out, and that someone should be taking care of that. I glanced behind us and saw two men following us into the lot. As a precaution, I told Billie to move quickly to her car, and I got into mine, and locked the doors. And before I could start my car, I saw movement right there at the driver’s side window. A sawed-off shotgun aimed at my head. “Get out, and give me your wallet,” the ski-masked bandit demanded.

His partner went right to Billie’s car and took her purse. I got out, handed over my wallet, and knowing full well it had no cash in it, I dug into my pocket and said to the gun-wielding robber, “There’s nothing in the wallet, so take this.” I handed him some bills, to be sure he didn’t get angry over an empty billfold. He couldn’t see it in the dark, but the wad of cash was a total of maybe six ones. Probably felt like more to him, though.

I remember two specific thoughts that occurred as this was taking place. First, I wondered what it was going to feel like if he shot me in the stomach. How much pain would I feel before losing consciousness, or life. The other thought was…I wanted to run away, hard and fast, to get away from these guys. But I couldn’t, wouldn’t leave Billie. Having done what they wanted to do, they turned and fled, shouting to us as they ran, “Don’t come after us or we’ll kill you.” Or, something to that effect. Billie and I looked at one another for a moment and then walked right next door to the home of the school’s President, so we could call the police, I could call my wife, and we could cancel credit cards.

About a week later, after the security light had been repaired, I happened to be at a car repair shop. You know, when things like this happen, you tend to tell the story to people, a kind of coping mechanism maybe, or perhaps as a way to complain that the routine nature of that crime didn’t interest the police very much.

The mechanic told me that the ski-mask clad robbers wouldn’t have gotten away with anything from him. “I keep a loaded gun in my car,” he explained. “I would have blown ’em away.” That foolish bravado got me thinking though.

Let’s say I had a gun in my car. And let’s say I kept it loaded, and warned the children in my house to stay away from it. And let’s say that it was really handy, like under my seat. A shotgun barrel suddenly appears at my window. Let’s see. Instead of rolling down the window to see what I was supposed to do next to satisfy the gunman, I reach under my front seat. Do you really think the gunman would wait until he saw my handgun appear, or would he have shot me after my first threatening move?

Or, maybe he’d have waited patiently to see the barrel of my gun; then he would have fired. Either way, this little essay would be written by a ghost, and not by someone who gave up six dollars and cancelled three credit cards, and who lived some twenty years more as a fairly good Dad, a church leader, and all around nice guy.

[Of course, the other scenario that might have played out if I had kept that gun under my front seat — maybe I did surprise the robber, got my shot off first, and killed the young man…only to discover that his shotgun was just a big piece of metal pipe, a sort of finger-in-the-pocket trick to get my wallet. Then, you see, I’d have had on my conscience for the past twenty years the killing of another human being who had resorted to a desperately foolish act to feed a drug habit.]

Here’s something I’ve wondered since that night in Richmond. Since we were never called on for any trial or even a line-up, I suppose that means that those two guys got away with their crime wave that night, that week, that year. Whether or not they actually used the shotgun, or got shot by my auto mechanic, I do not know. I suspect that eventually their evil or stupidity landed them in consequences that ended (one way or another) their criminal lives. I do know that I was haunted by that episode for some time to come after that. For example, here I am recounting the story all these years later. But it is enough for me to continue to trust God, yes, blindly, or faithfully, however you want to see it.

I will side with Isaiah still. Surely…certainly…it is God who saves me. I will trust the Lord and not be afraid.

I will not worship in the church of the NRA, with its idolatrous adoration of firearms. I will not follow its gospel of “rights,” or bow to its priestly leadership. The NRA? It is nothing but a lobby, a powerful, big-bucks lobby for gun manufacturers. As it spouts its evangelism about the Second Amendment rights, it is only masquerading as a patriotic platitude; its most authentic role is to simply sell a product, increase the fear that sells even more products, sell the accompanying iconic trinkets and divine ammo, and cynically mock those who would trade their trust in assault weapons for the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Its congregation of sheep-led-astray thinks it’s all about gun rights. No, it is about corporate profit$.

I will continue to trust Isaiah, believing with all my heart that surely…certainly… the Lord is my stronghold, my sure defense, and God, and God alone, will be my Savior. Always has been. Surely will be. And is now.

As for next week’s text? It was Jesus who taught, warned, “All who take the sword, will perish by the sword…”