“World history would be different if humanity did more sitting on its rear.” — Bertolt Brecht, Drums in the Night (1922).
Dialogues Series cancelled
The Epidemic of Gun Violence in America three-part series ended where it began. The first event was also the last.
In addition to concerns outlined in “Insurrection and Faith (Part 2), the featured presenters of different positions on the Second Amendment and gun control withdrew. Each refused to appear on the same stage as the other. Each regarded the other as a fanatic.
The Shepherd of the Hill Church board came to a rueful decision to cancel the Dialogues series. A public letter accompanied the press release. NOTE: “The church with the rocking chair” refers to the large Amish rocker created for Shepherd of the Hill’s front lawn after the Amish School massacre at Nickel Mines, PA.
Public Letter from the Board of Shepherd of the Hill Church February 8, 2013 "This the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts….” – Zechariah 4:6 (NRSV) In this spirit we at Shepherd of the Hill – the church with the rocking chair – have chosen to cancel the First Tuesday Dialogues previously announced for Feb. 19 and March 5 on Gun Violence in America. The First Tuesday Dialogues serve a single purpose: examination of critical public issues locally and globally with respectful listening and speaking in the search for common ground and the common good. The program expresses our own Christian tradition (Presbyterian) whose Preliminary Principles of Church Order (adopted in 1789) call us to honor individual conscience and direct us toward kindness and mutual patience. The First Principle -“God alone is Lord of the conscience…“- upholds “the still, small voice” in the midst of social earthquakes, winds and fires. It requires us to listen. Ours is a tradition that honors dissent. The voice of one may be where the truth lies. The Dialogues are meant to give space for that voice on critical public issues. The Fifth Principle declares that “There are forms and truths with respect to which people of good character and conscience may differ, and, in all these matters, it is the duty of individuals and of societies to exercise mutual forbearance.” It is our tradition’s answer to Rodney King’s haunting question: Can’t we all just get along? These historical principles are not only our historical tradition. They represent a daily interpretation of Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbors in the present moment. One can only love God, whom no man or woman has seen, wrote the Apostle Paul, if we love the neighbor we do see. How we treat the neighbor is how we treat God. The success of Shepherd of the Hill’s community programs depends upon a wider acceptance of these principles of respectful listening and exchange among individuals in dialogue. They also assume a group small enough to engage each other more personally and thoughtfully. If numbers were the only measure of success, last Tuesday’s Dialogues event on gun violence … was a huge success. 138 people attended. The Chapel was filled. I thought perhaps it was Easter! But it wasn’t Easter. There was tension in the room. The established habit of the Dialogues program – one person speaks at a time without interruption or rebuttal, no clapping, and respectful listening – gave way to a sense of one team versus another. When a woman dared to stand to ask how many people in the room had lost a loved one to gun violence and proceeded to tell her story of personal tragedy, she was not met with compassion. She was met with shouts that her story was irrelevant. … She deserved better. We all deserve better than to be shouted down, no matter what our experiences or views are. One first-time visitor who had come to oppose gun control shared his puzzlement over the treatment of the woman. “How could anyone not have compassion for her pain?” he asked. “Everyone should be moved to compassion by her story of personal tragedy, no matter what we think about the Second Amendment.” America always jeopardizes its promise as a place of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when might and power rule. To the extent that we fear that we are unsafe, it will be because we have chosen to ignore the wise word to Zerubbabel to live not by might, nor by power, but by God’s spirit reflected in the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The Gathering Storm: eight years later
Marjorie Taylor Greene brings QAnon to Congress and threatens the life of her colleagues. A mob storms the the U.S. Capitol, injuring and killing Capitol Police; Representatives and Senators are whisked away to a secure place. The Speaker of the House and the Vice President are moments and a few yards away from being assassinated.
The POTUS who had ridden the wave of the Birther Movement to the White House in 2016; had legitimized armed White supremacists in Charlottesville and tweeted “Liberate Michigan!” while armed White militia occupied of the Michigan State Capitol and threatened to execute the Governor; had stayed silent following the murder of George Floyd and cleared Lafayette Park of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest for a photo op with a Bible before declaring himself the law-and-order president; had stayed silent following the school massacre at Parkland; had declared the new coronavirus a hoax; and had told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” for a stolen election, and lit the match that nearly destroyed the foundations of the American Republic. The POTUS is impeached a second time, acquitted by a Senate vote of 57 guilty to 43 innocent, nine short of the two-thirds necessary for conviction.
Our language going forward
L.K. Hanson’s cartoon brings this historic moment into focus. How do we reduce the temperature of our language? Can we talk? If so, when, where, and how? Braver Angels offers an opportunity to soften the rhetoric and find the lost common ground we thought we shared. Click the link to learn about Braver Angels and consider joining them.
Gordon C. Stewart, author of “Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness” (2017, Wipf and Stock), Chaska, Minnesota, February 16, 2021.