Building cathedrals: Our gun control debate

Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury England

I’ve been frustrated by the conversation following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida this week.

National leaders offer thoughts and prayers, irritating others like Neil deGrasse Tyson who tweeted that thoughts and prayers do not stop bullets. Some advocate for gun legislation, while others say that no regulation will not stop mass murders from occurring. Some want to talk about untreated mental illness (I really wish they would find a more precise term) and taking threats seriously. Others see patterns of domestic violence and stalking in those who commit these heinous acts.

Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury England

Salisbury Cathedral, like most cathedrals, took decades and many hands to complete. Photo by Joe Iovino.

Each time someone offers a solution there is a pundit ready to say, “But that won’t solve the problem.”

The pundits are right. No one of these efforts will solve the problem on its own, but each may be a step in the right direction. I wonder what might happen if we were to stop pitting these ideas against one another, and see them as pieces of a whole. Several ideas that don’t solve the entire problem on their own, might make a difference when put together.

Bring a brick not a cathedral

I recently learned an adage of improv that is applicable to many aspects of life: bring a brick, not a cathedral. On the improv stage, that simply means that you are not responsible to bring the entire scene to life on your own. The actors work together by making contributions and finding ways to assemble them (more here). If you bring too much, or insist on steering the scene in your direction, you will certainly mess it up.

In the school shooting debate, lots of people want to bring cathedrals. Ideas are pitted against one another, as if we can’t pray and work for gun regulation. Certainly, we can work to treat those who might harm themselves or others and make sure they cannot purchase a weapon.

This happens at work and in our churches too. We end up defending our ideas against others, rather than listening to their contributions. When we recognize that our thoughts are bricks and not cathedrals, something might actually get done.

To help us understand our role in the Kingdom of God, N. T. Wright uses the image of masons shaping stones that will be part of a cathedral. Click to buy from

Building the Kingdom of God

When I first heard the brick/cathedral adage of improv, my thoughts wandered to an illustration N. T. Wright uses in Surprised by Hope. He likens our role in the Kingdom of God to that of masons shaping their stones.

The architect already drew up the plans and passed on instructions to the team of masons as to which stones need carving in what way… When they’ve finished with their stones and their statues, they hand them over without necessarily knowing very much about where in the eventual building their work will find its home… They are not, themselves building the cathedral but they are building for the cathedral, and when the cathedral is complete their work will be enhanced, ennobled, will mean much more than it could have meant as they were chiseling it and shaping it down in the stonemason’s yard. (209-10).

When we think that we—or those on our side—have the cathedral, we hinder construction. As people of faith, we know that is not our job. It is God’s (Romans 12 & 1 Corinthians 12). As citizens of a democracy we should believe the same. We are governed “by the people” (plural).

I don’t know how to break this partisan divide in our nation, our church, or my life—but here is my brick.

Read more of my improv posts

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