The Manifestation of Christ: Epiphany

Ever wondered what an authentic disciple of Jesus might look like in 2016 following a year of deadly gun violence? Today is Epiphany when Christians celebrate the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles, remembering the Wise Men who presented their gifts to the Prince of Peace.

President Obama, Jan. 5, 2016

President Obama, Jan. 5, 2016









The Psalter Reading for Epiphany: Psalm 72:1,2,7-14 (NRSV)

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.

May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.


In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 6, 2016, The Day of the Epiphany on the Western Christian liturgical calendar.



Seeing different things and common sense

Not only do we see things differently; we see different things. republished Views from the Edge’s “Reframing the Gun Conversation.” The commentary encourged a more thoughtful conversation among rural, urban, and suburban Americans by placing the issue of gun violence within the philosophical context of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (American Declaration of Independence).

Fifty-nine response were mostly respectful, sometimes contentious, frequently like ships crossing in the night. The differences seemed grounded in something else much more foundational than the rural, urban, suburb settings that contribute to our perceptions.

MBTI Chart

MBTI Chart

On later reflection, the comments struck me as a poster child for the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory  (MBTI), which identifies 16 different ways individuals put their worlds together.

Mr. A, for example, could not understand Mr. Y’s preoccupation with statistical information. To Mr. A’s way of putting his world together, Mr. Y’s facts and statistics alleging to prove that gun violence in America is decreasing are an attempt to dismiss any serious discussion of gun violence in America.

For Mr. Y’s way of putting the world together, hard data are the baseline for any reasonable discussion. Phrases describing “a tidal wave of mass shootings” and “an endless parade of mass shootings” misrepsent the facts. In his view, Mr. A is clearly biased from the beginning. There can be no discussion if the premise is biased by emotion.

According to the MBTI profiles of different types of cognition, Mr. A and Mr. Y demonstrate contrasting extremes of perception and decision making, very different ways of putting their worlds together. “ST” types (Mr. Y) “know” by collecting information and analyzing it; “NF” types know” by intuiting a situation and approach an issue based on values.  Sometimes never the twain shall meet.

Despite all their differences, the majority of comments and exchanges made one thing clear. The word ‘gun’ is a trigger word. For gun rights advocates, it triggers a defense in fear that “they’re coming to take away our guns” or an outcry in fear that”they’re going to keep and us their guns no matter what.”

Most interesting was the comment by a gun-owner and Second Amendment rights advocate who seemed to bridge the gap in search for “common sense” solutions to gun violence in America.  We’ll call her Ms. Q. She wrote:

I am one who grew up in a rural area. I own guns. It may surprise some, but not others, that it wasn’t uncommon to find student vehicles (pickups, mostly) with guns openly stored in them. That has probably changed…it’s been a while. But I would venture to guess that guns can still be found in the vehicles of students, just not so openly.

My dad was a member of the NRA. One day, I realized (or maybe Dad mentioned it) that there was a junior membership. Well, being a daddy’s girl, I considered it. I enjoyed hunting, I enjoyed spending time with Dad, I respected what Dad thought and did. So, I read some of the NRA literature. Being somewhat precocious, I realized that the NRA wasn’t about hunting or hanging out with Dad. It was about guns. Guns Guns Guns Guns. Even back then (as I said, it’s been a while), it wasn’t about freedom or happiness, the NRA was about guns. I realized that I didn’t want to join the NRA because my gun ownership wasn’t about guns. I didn’t love guns. I loved being an American kid who had the freedom to be happy doing things like hunting with my dad. There were better organizations that more perfectly captured that feeling for me.

As I’ve aged, I am still a defender of Second Amendment rights. But not the NRA way, which seems to be the dominant position among the loudest gun rights advocates. We need to think practically about the problem. Sure, we law abiding gun owners are doing the right thing. Right? I own 3 guns and have never sold those 3 guns. However, only 1 of those guns was new when I got it. The others were purchased…well…without any safeguard at all. Friends of friends type of deal. Yeah, it’s been a while, but I guarantee you that those types of sales haven’t stopped and they are certainly not subject to background checks. How do you suppose people who commit crimes with guns get them? All of those guns were likely sold legally at some point, but eventually ended up in the wrong hands. How do we stop that?

I agree that certain restrictions will have absolutely no effect. But I also submit that many legitimate gun owners are failing to see how they contribute to the problem. What do you do with a gun you no longer want? How about this: in 2010, about 4 million babies were born in the US…but 5.5 million new guns were manufactured in the US and another nearly 3 million were imported. How many guns does each baby need? Seriously, the pace of gun manufacture has outstripped the growth of the country, which means that there are a significant number of people who are buying multiple new guns and either accumulating them (most gun collectors are harmless) or selling some. Once a gun leaves the hands of the original owner, it is harder and harder to make sure that the next owner is not one of those “inner city criminals.” That is, if you’ve ever sold a gun, you’ve contributed to the problem.

Further, I submit that keeping a gun in such a way that results in harm to someone else, particularly children, is a criminal act. Which suggests that even some law abiding gun owners are actually not law abiding. At the very least, every gun owner should be properly trained in gun use and storage. And, if gun owners oppose that measure, then for the sake of their unfortunate children, laws should be allowed to physically restrict who can use the gun. A dead child isn’t a good way to learn that lesson.

Finally, not everyone is a hero. No, not everyone should have a gun on them to “protect themselves.” Half of all people are of average intelligence or less. Combine that with the fact that common sense isn’t so common, and disaster is waiting to happen. Case in point: the woman who decided to fire upon a SHOPLIFTER leaving a home improvements store while they were driving away in a parking lot that had other people in it. She had not been threatened and none of the stolen items were hers. That woman showed all the intelligence and common sense of a dead slug. Fortunately, her Second Amendment right didn’t kill anyone, but not for lack of trying.

Can we agree that we should consider applying real common sense to the problem?

Thank you, all, but special thanks to Ms. Q for the final question.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 2, 2015

A funny thing happened at the doctor’s office

A funny thing happened yesterday during my annual physical.

The physician was excited to share something she’s very proud of: a policy statement on “Firearm-Related Injury and Death in the United States: A Call to Action from 8 Health Professional Organizations and the American Bar Association“. Click HERE to read the entire text.

It begins with an Abstract that reads, in part, “Deaths and injuries related to firearms constitute a major public health problem in the United States.

The document provides findings and recommendations based on the separate policies of the 7 health professional societies that represent most physicians in the United States – American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, and American Psychiatric Association and the American Bar Association.

She noted how rarely doctors and lawyers join together on public policy positions, let alone an issue as contentious as this one. This was a victory of common sense among doctors and lawyers.She was pleased that her medical society is part of this Call to Action.

“The specific recommendations include universal background checks on gun purchases, elimination of physician ‘gag laws’, restricting the manufacturing and sale of military-style assault weapons and large capacity magazines for civilian use, and research to support strategies for reducing firearm-related injuries and deaths. … The American Bar Association through its Standing Committee on Gun Violence, confirms that none of these recommendations conflicts with the Second Amendment or the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Across the United States, physicians have first-hand experience with the effects of firearm injuries and deaths and the impact of such events on their patients and families. Many physicians and other health professionals recognize that this is not just a criminal violence issue but also a public health problem.”

This year’s annual physical enlightened more than the state of my health. Like clergy, physicians hear stories that confidentiality keeps between sealed lips, but the doctors know the sorrow from the inside out in ways to which most do not have access. Congratulations for speaking out to frame the questions in terms of public health.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 27, 2015

Shabbat Bereishit – The Sound of Your Brothers’ Bloods Cry Out to Me From the Earth

Rabbi Eric Gurvis’s post on Cain and Abel and the debate about guns and mental health came to our attention this morning after posting “Non-Verbal Communication: Cain Looking at Us”.

Source: Shabbat Bereishit – The Sound of Your Brothers’ Bloods Cry Out to Me From the Earth

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.


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?

Gabbie Giffords: “they looked over their shoulders”

“I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done,” Giffords wrote. “… I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. … I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say, ‘You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.'”

The former Congresswoman (AZ) is still recovering from the assassination attempt that left her with serious brain injuries and caused her to vacate her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The quote above is from her Op Ed piece in the New York Times. Click “A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip” to read the entire piece. Here’s a further excerpt:

They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.

They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.

Home of the scared and the land of the tyrannized

This afternoon from 3:00 to 4:00 Protect Minnesota will host a demonstration in the MN Capitol Rotunda in support of state legislation re: gun violence.

As part of its efforts, Protect Minnesota invited individuals to write letters to MN Senate and House Judiciary Committee members. This letter went out this morning.


I am a Christian Pastor. I write you out of deep concern for the unrestrained violence taking place in the name of “the right to liberty” that imperils “the right of life…and the pursuit of happiness”. The three rights proclaimed in The Declaration of Independence are intended to be mutually supportive, not mutually exclusive. The right to liberty was never intended to take the other two rights hostage.

I strongly support legislation and enforcement of laws that place gun ownership in its proper place in our common life. The Second Amendment does NOT grant unlimited rights for anyone to purchase and use a gun anywhere anytime any more than the First Amendment on free speech allows speech that slanders or libels, lies under oath, or yells “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

As Senators and Representatives, you were elected by the people in your districts. Once you took the oath of office, your responsibility changed. You entered the halls of representative democracy where leadership requires you to act by your own consciences, not by public opinion polls in your districts. We are a representative democracy, not a pure democracy). Your responsibility as Senators and Representatives is to LEAD WISELY not only for the sake of your own constituents but for the greater good of the entire State of Minnesota.

We are quickly becoming, if we are not already, an armed camp in which the “neighbor” of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic teachings is regarded as an anachronism. Unless you plug the holes in our background check system by requiring a check for every pistol or assault weapon sale, the rights of life and the pursuit of happiness will be held hostage by unrestrained liberty, and the home of the brave and the land of the free will continue on the way to become the home of the scared and the land of the unrestrained individual tyranny.

Thank you for listening.

Gordon C. Stewart

Sermon on the Sane Man

This sermon was recorded Sunday, Feb. 17. It was delivered to the congregation of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska where we had concluded regretfully that a second scheduled community program on gun violence in America would not serve the purposes of constructive dialogue.

Two texts interact in this sermon. The first is the traditional First Sunday of Lent account of the temptations of Christ in the wilderness. While two later Gospels, Matthew and Luke, tell the story of three temptations in the wilderness, the earlier Gospel of Mark describes the entire wilderness temptation with one curious phrase: “he was with the wild beasts.” The second text (Mark 5:1-20) is the encounter of “Jesus, the Son of the Most High God” with the insane man living alone among the tombs, “possessed” by the “Legion” (a Latin word in a Greek text, the word for a unit of the Roman occupation forces). The story ends with the man who had been possessed/occupied by the Legion “sitting there, clothed and in his right mind” to everyone astonishment.

Commentary: Church cancels gun violence dialogue series – Chaska Herald: Commentaries

Editor’s note: This column, submitted by the Rev. Gordon Stewart and Bill Tisel, clerk of session, on behalf of the Shepherd of the Hill Presb…

via Commentary: Church cancels gun violence dialogue series – Chaska Herald: Commentaries.

Dialogues cancelled

A Public Letter from the Board of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, host of “First Tuesday Dialogues” – Feb. 8, 2013:

“This is 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 featuring Chaska Chief of Police Scott Knight and Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson 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 there 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. By the time the other voices had been quieted, the woman had finished her story of a horrible tragedy. 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 was there 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.

Lots of people have asked about the rocking chair on the front lawn. Why is it there? What does it stand for?

After the Amish school room massacre in Pennsylvania several years ago – very much akin to what happened at Sandy Hook – Minnesota Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” aired a commentary called “My Amish Rocker.” It was about a more peaceful, forgiving, and loving way of life, the amazing picture of the Amish buggies clip-clopping their way past the home of the man who had murdered their children, tipping their hats respectfully to the killer’s family, on the way to the funeral of their own slaughtered children. The story on MPR was about my Amish rocking chair, made for me by Jacob Miller of Millersburg, Ohio and the opportunity it gives me to think again about who I am in a violent world.

The chair on Shepherd of the Hill’s lawn is there to invite the world to a different way of life. It reminds passers-by to slow it down. Stop speeding through life on the way to who-knows-where. Take a seat.  Rock a while. Breathe deeply. Get in touch with the deep things of the human spirit. Be quiet and listen, like the Amish, for the still, small voice which, in the end, is the only Voice at all.