Climate Change: Changing the Way we Think

Video

“We are nature; nature is us. We are NOT the exception to nature.” Rev. Gordon Stewart looks at basic religious assumptions of Western culture and the need to reinterpret the stories that got us here. He looks at the stories of creation, Cain and Abel, and the Wise Men who “departed by another way” as holding clues to the change in consciousness that is required in our time.

My bias: Scenes along the way.

The gun lobby won in the U.S. Senate because Senators either fear 1) they will be defeated by pro-Second Amendment constituents, 2) they will lose a major source of campaign financing, or 3) they genuinely stand with the NRA and gun-manufacturers.

“You’re biased.”

I am. Every one of us is biased. Our experiences shape how we feel and how we think about these matters. My limited experience with guns influences how and what I see in the national discussion of gun control. I share these real life “scenes” In the interest of furthering honest discussion.

Scene 1

I am in Junior High School in Broomall, PA, a small town west of Philadelphia where my father is a pastor. The upstairs phone is in my bedroom. The phone rings in the middle of the night. I answer the phone. A police officer is asking for my father. Dad comes to the phone. “Reverend Stewart, we have a situation here. We need your help. Mrs. Smith (not her real name) is holed up at her home on Darby Lane. Her son called us. She’s threatening to kill him and herself. She has a gun. Can you help us?”

My father gets dressed, goes to the home. Mrs. Smith lets him in. He sits down with her. She finally agrees to give the gun to my father, her pastor.

Scene 2

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas. Initial reports point to the Grassy Knoll. The Warren Commission concludes all the shots came from a single rifle from a window in the Book Depository Building.

Scene 3

I am a graduate student at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL. A senior project on allegations of police violence on Chicago’s North Side involves spending the night with a police officer in a police squad ride-along.

A little after 3:00 A.M. a Plymouth Valiant makes an illegal turn on a major street. The officer decides to warn the driver. “I’m just going to make sure he knows that he made an illegal turn. There’s no traffic. I won’t give him a ticket. Just want to be sure he knows not to do it next time.”

As the squad car makes the right turn to follow the Valiant, the Valiant takes off. An APB comes over the police radio. There’s been a break-in at a store three blocks from our location. “He’s hot!” says the Officer. He draws his pistol.

The Valiant leads us down a number of side streets and narrow alleys, making hair-pin turns on two wheels. Making the hard right turn, the Officer’s revolver flies out of his hand onto the floor on the passenger’s side in front of me.

”Get the gun! Get the gun! Just hold it until I tell you.”

I’m holding a deadly weapon in a life or death high speed chase. The chase ends with six squad cars blocking an alley. They throw the driver – a father with a baby at home one block away from home – onto the hood of the car – and make the arrest. We return to the police station.

Scene 4

Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis. I am Assistant Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Decatur, Illinois where I am responsible for “Teen Town” a program for youth from the public housing projects.

The kids learn that Dr. King has been shot. The room is hot. We quickly gather up 12 tape recorders, divide the kids into 12 groups, and tell each group that this is their time to talk. Their time to speak about what they’re feeling. What they say needs to be heard. We, the adult leaders, will see that city and school officials hear what they have to say. The evening ends peacefully.

Scene 5Bobby Kennedy, Presidential candidate, brother of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, is assassinated.

Scene 6

A despondent professor at the college and member of the college church I serve goes into his basement, calls his 15 year-old son downstairs, puts a pistol in his own mouth and pulls the trigger.

It falls to me to minister to the son and his wife. I do the memorial service and spend endless hours with a traumatized family. All I can do is stand with them. The horror will never leave the son’s memory. The college and congregation are also in shock.

Scene 7

Five years later a woman calls the church office. Her boyfriend is at home by himself. He has a gun. She has left because she’s afraid he would kill her and himself. Would I go to the house?

I go to the house. I know him well. He trusts me. He lets me in. As my father did when I was a teenager, I stay calm. I listen as he paces the room, waving the pistol, ranting and raving and crying about how meaningless life is and about how he’ll never get his life in order.

After an hour, he calms down. He gives me the gun and asks me to take it away.

I have no idea what to do with it. I gave it to Karl, a church member and friend who has a gun collection. I tell Karl I can’t tell him where it comes from. “Just get rid of it.”

Scene 8

On a Monday morning, a 70 year old ex-Marine calls the church office. He’s a big man. What other men might call “a man’s man,” a World War II Marine, 6’2”. 250 lbs, part of the invasion of Saipan in the South Pacific when he was 17.

“My wife’s out of town. Can you come over tonight for a drink?”

I’ve never been to their home. I’m guessing he wants to talk about his marriage.

He takes my coat. We sit down. He pours us each a Scotch.

“You know, your first couple of years here I didn’t come to church much. I didn’t like your preaching. I’m not one of these peace guys. But something made me keep coming back. I started to listen and I kept coming, and all this peace stuff and Jesus stuff started to get to me. It’s been a long time now. That’s why I called you.

“I hate the Japs! I know I’m not supposed to call ‘em ‘Japs’. I hate them! But I can’t hate them anymore.”

He gets up and walks over to the mantel above the huge stone fireplace.

“My wife has no idea what’s in this box. I’ve never told her. I can’t tell her. I don’t want it anymore. I’m asking you to take it. I can’t live with it anymore.”

He takes the box from the mantel, places it on the ottoman in front of me, and opens the locked box with a key. He is shaking now and crying.

“This poor bastard! I killed this [expletive] with my bear hands!”

His whole body shakes as, one by one, he removes the contents from the box:

• the soldier’s helmet;
• a lock of hair;
• two eye teeth;
• his ID, and…
• the soldier’s pistol.

“All these years of hate. And this poor bastard was just doing the same thing I was. He was just doing his duty to his country. How will God ever forgive me? I just want this stuff out of my house. I want it out of my life! How will God ever forgive me? I can’t hate any more. I can’t.”

We stand in the middle of his living room. I hold him like a baby: a grown man – a “man’s man” – sobbing and shaking with guilt, sorrow, and grief.

I take the box and the contents home. I give the gun to Karl. I have no memory of what I did with the box or the artifacts of what remained of the Japanese soldier. Memory is like that. It was too personal. It was too hot.

Scene 9

It’s a Tuesday night in 2013. I am hosting a community dialogue on “Gun Violence in America.” I am the Moderator of the program. 138 people crowd the Chapel. Normal attendance at the Dialogues is 35 to 50. Tonight the overwhelming majority are gun owners, many of whom have come in response to partisan emails from Second Amendment gun-rights advocates.

I welcome everyone, invite people to introduce themselves to each other, and introduce the evening’s two speakers. Chaska Police Chief Scott Knight is an outspoken advocate for increased gun control legislation. Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson takes a more conservative position, arguing instead for enforcement of existing laws. The Chief and the Sheriff engage in respectful exchange. The program then turns, as it always does, to the floor for comments and questions.

I recognize the first of many hands, a woman from the back of the Chapel. She reads from a prepared script. She is angry about government. At one point she says that government has no business telling her whether or not she can have a gun. The Second Amendment guarantees that right to every American citizen.

I do what I have always done over the seven years we’ve been holding these Dialogues: I ask a follow-up question meant to stimulate deeper thought and discussion: “Let me ask a follow-up question to be clear about what you’re saying. Are you saying that anybody should be able to buy a gun anywhere, anytime?”

“I didn’t say that!” She was angry. The room was hot.

I knew then that this would not be a dialogue. The best we could hope for was a series of monologues.

After a series of statements, a participant sites a Facebook posting which had declared that “the second best thing that could happen to Obama would be for him to be impeached.”

The speaker continues, “And we all know what the best thing would be…assassination.”

There is a visceral outcry objecting to painting Second Amendment rights advocates as racists and potential assassins.

Later a woman stands to ask how many people in the room have lost a loved one to gun violence. Three hands go up. Before she can continue, there are shouts from the back of the room. “That has nothing to do with the Second Amendment.” The shouts continue. I address the shouting, reminding the shouters of the rule that one person speaks at a time without interruption. By the time order is restored, the woman has finished the story I could not hear. Her father committed suicide with a gun. The woman is weeping. She sits down.

Ten minutes later a man speaks from the front. He makes the case that the American economy is going to collapse because the federal treasury is dependent on derivatives. He will need his gun, he says, when there’s not enough food and the girl from next door comes over to get the food he’s stored up for just this eventuality. He puts the Chief of Police on the spot. “So, if an order comes down (from the President) to take away our guns, will you obey the order?”

In the social time following the event, four women tell me they were afraid physically. They don’t think they will come back for the second program. The woman who has shouted down says, “I don’t think I can back.” Two first-time attendees to Dialogues seek me out to say they didn’t expect this. “I can get this at home watching television. I expected something more enlightening, not just more of the same,” says one of them.

The gun rights advocates express pleasure with the evening and are looking forward to the announced second program in the series featuring a debate between an NRA representative a pro gun control advocate. There is no indication of dissatisfaction with the evening. “We’ll be back. Thank for doing this.”

One of the visitors identifies himself as a Republican Second Amendment advocate who came because of an email. He thanks me for the evening and for the even-handed moderating.

“But I have to say I’m really disappointed. I’m sad. How can anyone not have compassion for that poor woman who tried to tell her story about her father’s suicide? I don’t understand the response. No matter where you stand your heart has to go out to her, no matter where you stand.”

Scene 10

The church board meets to review the program and to prepare for the next one. We are concerned that the First Tuesday Dialogues’ purpose of “examining critical public issues locally and globally” will be no better served by the second program than it had been at the first. We also know that the night’s capacity crowd will increase for the next program. A hundred gun-rights advocates who were attending a hearing at the legislature in the state capitol the night of the first event will be free to attend the second program. There is no room to accommodate a larger crowd, and the purpose of meaningful conversation diminishes with larger numbers.

We cancel the next program and publish a letter in the local newspaper explaining our decision.

In response to the cancellation, Letters to the Editor and on-line comments declare that the Moderator was biased and that the real reason for cancelling the program is that the Moderator was surprised and disappointed by how many Second Amendment gun-rights advocates attended.

Conclusion

We’re all biased by our personal histories (the Scenes in our lives). No one is objective. Perhaps the place to start is speaking out loud the experiences that prejudice every one of us.
Can the members of a community, a city, a state, a nation, a community of nations, engage in meaningful conversation about their mutual safety and security? Can we begin by sharing our experiences? Might the open expression of our various personal experiences be the narrow door that leads to the other side of suspicion and violence? Or will the NRA and the gun manufacturers call the shots?

Interview with Chief Albert Naquin tomorrow

Isle de Jean Charles Band

Isle de Jean Charles Band

Tomorrow morning Chief Albert Naquin of the Isle de Jean Charles Band, coastal Louisiana, will spend several hours at our home here in Chaska.

The Chief is one his way to Duluth with Kris Peterson, a mutual friend and environmental activist pastor and researcher with the University of New Orleans Center for Hazard Assessment, Response, and Technology. Kris and her husband, Dick Krajeski, were guest speakers at First Tuesday Dialogues, a community program of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, following the explosion of Deep Water Horizon.

Return here for a post later tomorrow on the interview with Chief Naquin re: the current state of affairs on Isle de Jean Charles three years after Deep Water Horizon.

Gun Violence in America

gun violence in AmericaFirst Tuesday Dialogues: examining critical public issues locally and globally* will host three Tuesday evenings of public discussion of the causes and remedies of gun violence in America. Each program will begin at 7:00 PM and end at 8:30 PM.

The series begins with City of Chaska Chief of Police Scott Knight  providing fact information and a law enforcement perspective. Chief Knight just returned from meetings in Washington, D.C. on the epidemic of gun violence  in the wake of the tragedy at Newtown, CT.)

The series then turns to a face-to-face debate between proponents and opponents of increased gun control legislation, and concludes with a broader overview of the problem of violence, guns, self-protection, and law, led by a professor of ethics.

Tuesday, Feb. 5, 7:00 PM: Scott Knight, Chief of Police: “The Epidemic of Gun Violence in America”.

Tuesday, February 19, 7:00 PM: A respectful conversation between a proponent (Protect Minnesota) and opponent (NRA) of greater gun control.

Tuesday, March 5, 7:00 PM:  A professor of ethics lead a discussion of the various Ethical Perspectives by which people of faith and good conscience approach the conundrum of violence, liberty, and the role of law in society.

* First Tuesday Dialogues is a community program of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, ”a place for the mind and heart”, offered free of charge on behalf of the public good.  All are welcome.

The Line

In the Company of Hysterical Women from New Zealand published “Live below the Line: Day One” this morning as we in Minnesota, USA are launching a press release to announce  the screening of a film on the new face of poverty in America. Click HERE to read In the Company of Hysterical Women’s post.

Here is today’s press release for “The LINE: Poverty in America. It’s not what you think”:

CHASKA, Minn., Sept. 24, 2012 – The new face of poverty in America is the subject of a new documentary film called The Line. The public is invited to a free screening of the movie at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minn. on Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. CST in conjunction with the premiere in Washington D.C. and sites all over the United States.

Logo for “The Line”

The Line is a groundbreaking documentary from Sojourners, a national Christian, non-partisan organization committed to faith in action for social justice, and Emmy Award-winning producer Linda Midgett. It features real people, their struggles, and their inspiring and creative responses to the challenges they face. The goal of the film is to break through traditional political divides, foster honest dialogue, and refocus our society on the common good.

Shepherd of the Hill Pastor Gordon C. Stewart will host a discussion immediately following the 40-minute film as part of First Tuesday Dialogues, a community forum held at the church from October through May each year that examines critical public issues locally and globally.

“Poverty is a faith issue. When I learned about the film I thought we should show that here. It fits our First Tuesday Dialogues program mission,” said Pastor Stewart. “What is more critical than poverty? The middle class has been slipping for a long time now. The problems are structural. Hand outs – traditional Christian charity – don’t address the deeper problem.”

Working through Sojourners magazine, Sojourners’ website sojo.net, public speaking events, media outreach, educational resources, books, advocacy, and trainings, Sojourners is an internationally influential voice at the intersection of faith, politics, and culture.

Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church is located at 145 Engler Blvd. in Chaska, Minn. 55318.  www.shepherdofthehillchurch.com

The World through a Poet’s Eyes

Join with Plato Oct. 23: “Poetry is closer to vital truth than history” … or a political campaign.

An evening with Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen 

MN Poet Laureat Joyce Sutphen

Joyce Sutphen’s first collection of poems, Straight Out of View, won the Barnard New Women Poets Prize; Coming Back to the Body was a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award, and Naming the Stars won a Minnesota Book Award in Poetry. In 2005, Red Dragonfly Press published Fourteen Sonnets in a letterpress edition. She is one of the co-editors of To Sing Along the Way, an award-winning anthology of Minnesota women poets. She is also a Renaissance scholar and has published essays on Shakespeare’s Sonnets. She grew up on a farm in Stearns County, Minnesota, and she teaches literature and creative writing at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Her latest collection, First Words, is a “memoir in poems,” and was published in 2010.  She is the second Minnesota Poet Laureate, succeeding Robert Bly. Joyce will read and discuss her own poetry and works of other poets:

  • Wislawa Syzmborska,
  • W.S. Merwin,
  • Charles Simic,
  • Mary Oliver, and
  • Nazim Hizkmet.

“Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history” – Plato. Take a break from the campaign season to look through the eyes of a poet.

Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012    7:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, 145 Engler Blvd., Chaska, MN 55318.

*First Tuesday Dialogues: examining critical public issues locally and globally” is a community program for the common good, re-creating the public square in the southwest Twin Cities metro area. 

www.shepherdofthehillchurch.com

“A place for the Mind and Heart”

Health Care in America: The Affordable Care Act

You’re invited to an evening with Bob Stevens, CEO of Ridgeview Medical Center, and other health care professionals and providers for a close look at The Affordable Care Act.

Robert Stevens, CEO, Ridgeview Medical Center

What is it? What is it not?

What does it do? What doesn’t it do?

Facts, information, and discussion about health care in America.

Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012

7:00 – 8:30 p.m.

Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, 145 Engler Boulevard, Chaska, MN.

A First Tuesday Dialogues program “examining critical public issues locally and globally.” Offered free to the general public in the service of the common good.

What do YOU think?

Sit and reflect awhile

Amish Rocking chair

This post requests YOUR views on a hot topic.

“The GOOD Society: Religion and Politics” drew a crowd last night in Chaska.  The panel was a Quaker, a Christian, and a Baha’i. Those who came were Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Unitarian-Universalist, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, agnostic, atheist searching together. Add your voice to the discussion.

QUESTIONS FOR YOUR COMMENT:

What is your vision of the GOOD society, the kind of world you believe in?  Here are several answers from last night to whet your appetite.

The kingdom of God realized (Jesus’ prayer, “Thy kingdom come on earth…as it is in heaven”).

What would that look like? What would be different if it was realized?

What are the qualities of that society? A ‘kingdom’ is a society.

The kin-dom of God, the idea of the kingdom without the ‘g’ – the society of universal kinship. “There is only nation: the human family.”

Agree or disagree and why?

The Unites States is a secular republic, not a religious republic. The founders were clear that America was not to be a theocracy. The “wall of separation” between church and state guarantees the free expression of religion.  It also protects the state (government) against any one religion being on the throne, as in Iran, and as had once been the case in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

What is the role of religion in the shaping of public life and in politics? By “politics” we do not mean “dirty politics” or “partisan politics’; we mean politics as the work of the polis (the people) in determining the values and laws that hold a religiously free society together. For example:

The Minnesota referendum on Marriage illustrates the problem.

What is “marriage”? Who defines it? Is it a religious concept or a civil concept?

Should a constitution be amended to define marriage?

Should the “wall of separation” leave the definition of and celebration of                  “marriage” (however defined) to the church, synagogue, mosque, etc., and instead provide for “civil unions” (legal contracts between two people irrespective of gender)?

All of us have religious/humanist and political traditions that informs us. One of those for me is the “Principles of Church Order” adopted in 1789 at the founding of the Presbyterian Church in the United States meeting in Philadelphia.  The Rev. John Witherspoon, one of the  signers of the Declaration of Independence and President of Princeton University, was also a key player in the Principles of Church Order intended to guide the church’s internal life and its relation to “the civil power”. Three of the eight principles, it seems to me, inform the current discussion.

On Church and State:

“God alone is Lord of the conscience…. Therefore we consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion, as universal and unalienable. We do not even wish to see any religious constitution aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and security, and at the same time, be equal and common to all others.

In short, we live in a secular democratic republic in which “the civil power” does not aid any religion, but protects the free exercise of all religions equally, without privileging one over another.

On the shared search for truth and goodness: That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior’s rule, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ And that no opinion can either be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it of no consequence what a person’s opinions are.  On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty.  Otherwise, it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.

In short: ideas do matter. The search for what I’m calling “the good society” is based on a shared commitment to the search for truth, not just opinion. Some degree of objectivity or what philosopher Gabriel Marcell called “inter-subjectivity”, not just my own subjectivity. My opinion might be that the moon is made of green cheese or that Earth, not the sun, is the center of our solar system. Ideas and opinions have social consequences.  And in all things, the truth exists for the sake of “goodness” – human and environmental wellbeing.

On the exercise of mutual forbearance: That, while under the conviction of the above principle we think it necessary to make effective provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith, we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which people of good character and principles may differ.  And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.

In summary:  In a secular democratic republic, 1) no religion gets to “capture the flag” of the United States of America.  We honor individual conscience as the corrective light that reforms the prevailing ideas of truth and goodness. 2) We seek truth rather than sinking into the swamp of “I’m sorry, that’s the way I feel, and it’s none of your business, and yours is none of mine.” The acceptance of pluralism is not surrender to the swamp of anarchy or the refusal to look at the evidence of science or to engage in the common search for solutions to social problems.  3) Where we differ and disagree, however intensely, we will exercise mutual respect and patience while we work it out together.

Enough for this morning.  Chime in. Let others know what you’re thinking.

Thanks for visiting.