Is there no cure for these?

Gordon C. Stewart April 11, 201

Today the Senate begins a floor debate on gun control that brings to mind an earlier “floor debate” several months ago in Chaska, Minnesota.

Ever since the community Dialogue on “Gun Violence in America,” I’ve searched for answers to what happened.

A crowd of 138 people came out on Tuesday night to chime in following the tragedy at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut.

As the night wore on, it became clear that there would be no real dialogue, no moderated discussion. No give-and-take. A series of monologues, without interruption and with a time limit, was the best we could expect.

Fear, anger, hostility and suspicion were in the room. The room was hot.

The months following have been a personal search for understanding of what happened that night, and how we in America move forward together on such a divisive issue.
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Imagine two people going into separate audiologist booths for hearing exams.

John grew up in rural America. Betty grew up in the city.

In their hearing booths Betty and John repeat the word they hear.

“Say the word ‘gun’, says the audiologist.

“Gun.”

Their hearing is good. They say the same word.

—————————–

After the hearing test, John and Mary are taken to different rooms for interviews. A social psychologist wants to know what emotions and thoughts are triggered when they hear the word ‘gun’.

“I’m going to give you a word. After you repeat the word, I want you to give me the other words that come to mind. It’s called “word association”. Don’t think about it. Just say whatever comes to mind.

“Gun”:

    John:

“Safety, protection, coyotes, wolves, cows, cattle, sheet, careful, responsibility, civil right.”

    Betty:

“Run, violence, threat, death, war, robber, gangs, school massacres, NRA, Sandy Hook.”

NRA:

    John:

“Second Amendment, right to bear arms, protector of civil liberties, defender of the Constitution.”

    Betty:

“Right-Wing, powerful, myopic, out-of-touch, vigilantes, white supremacist, radical, dangerous.”

Gun control:

    John:

“Government, anti-democratic, anti-Constitutional, intrusion, loss of freedom, fear, police state, socialism.”

    Betty:

“Safety, safe home, necessity, protection, peace, hope, end of fear.

Kingdom of God:

    John:

“Hmmm… Soul, salvation, heaven?”

    Betty:

“Hmmm… Safe streets, the common good, love?”

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Both are church members. They are practicing Christians. Betty and John pray the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy (Your) Kingdom come; Thy (Your) will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”

Could the common bond of Jesus’ prayer bring the two into the same room in a shared search for understanding and action? Or are the formative cultural experiences so determinative that faith and religion are what Marx said they were – blinders that prevent them from seeing anything but what we’ve already chosen to see?

Perhaps some singing might help – a hymn or two – and reflection on the lyrics, like those of Fred Pratt Green (1969):

O Christ, the healer, we have come
To pray for health, to plead for friends.
How can we fail to be restored,
When reached by love that never ends?

From every ailment flesh endures
Our bodies clamor to be freed;
Yet in our hearts we would confess
That wholeness is our deepest need.

How strong, O Lord, are our desires,
How weak our knowledge of ourselves!
Release in us those healing truths
Unconscious pride resists or shelves.

In conflicts that destroy our health
We recognize the world’s disease;
Our common life declares our ills:
Is there no cure, O Christ, for these
?

Toy Gun Manufacturers – Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger hosted the show. Tom Paxton sang the song he composed. That was way back in 1965.

Today….a cute three-year-old boy dressed in a cowboy hat, cowboy shirt, Sheriff’s badge, and cowboy boots, waves his toy pistol as he proudly marches past the tables and the three rifles of the video shooting-range at Heartbreakers pub on his way out the door into the world.

The toy gun manufacturers will deliver him into the hands of the real gun manufacturers; the toy gun will become a real one in the hand of the real man when his little mind expands.

Gun companies playing hardball

“Six gun companies have announced plans to stop selling any of their products to any government agency in states that severely limit the rights of private gun ownership. Click HERE to read the story.

Can we get along?

NOTE: This personal reflection was written yesterday (Tuesday, Feb. 5) in advance of last night’s public dialogue on “The Epidemic of Gun Violence in America” that drew 138 people. Even arranging the program was fraught with difficulty.

Tonight a series of public dialogues on the causes and remedies of gun violence begins at 7:00 PM at the church I am privileged to serve in Chaska.

How do we have this conversation? Can we talk? Can we all get along?

Every word, every phrase, is a powder keg. All speech is suspect. We listen not with open ears to hear a different point of view. We approach each other with suspicion, reacting defensively or aggressively to any hint that the conversation might be prejudiced against one’s own point of view. Even a title is a land mine.

I love the U.S. Constitution. I also don’t like guns. My only experiences with guns have been negative. The assassinations of President Abraham Lincoln in the Booth Theater and JFK in Dallas; Martin Luther King, Jr. supporting the striking sanitation workers in Memphis; presidential candidate Senator Robert Kennedy. A gun has only one purpose: to shoot something or someone. It has other use. Violence is often committed with one’s own fist. But capacity to hurt or destroy does not define a hand. A foot may kick, but that’s not why we have feet. A baseball bat picked up in a moment of rage is a lethal weapon, but it is not by definition a weapon; its purpose is to hit a baseball within the rules of baseball. A car can become a lethal weapon in the hands of a car bomber, but its purpose is transportation, to get us from here to there and back.

The human capacity for violence is deep and ineradicable. It’s in our DNA. The story of Cain’s slaying of his brother Abel is not about the beginning of human history; it is one of the defining facts of human nature itself. As my tradition puts it in a Prayer of Confession, “We are prone to evil and slothful in good.”

My tendency toward evil is often the conviction that I am right. I need to be reminded that my experience with guns is not the same as it is for those who grew up on a farm or a ranch where guns serve the purpose of killing a wolf or coyote or of putting down an injured horse out of mercy. The experience in rural America is altogether different from the small town outside a major city in which I was raised, and it is different from urban centers by reason of low population density. My ownership of a gun on the farm is not a threat to the person next door in a tenement or in the housing development of the suburb. Guns in rural America serve a different purpose. And, it seems to me, the split and the suspicion regarding guns and violence in America is to a great extent defined by these two very different social experiences, demographics, and cultures.

Having spent the last two weeks trying to organize a series of respectful conversations in the wake of Newtown has taught me how difficult it is to have conversation. Fear of the other is rampant. “I won’t appear on the same program with him. He’s an extremist.” Or, “I don’t think I’ll come. I don’t like trouble.” Or, “You bet I’ll be there. We’re going to pack the house.”

But the gospel of Jesus which is the center of Christian faith calls us to live by the Spirit of the Living God, not by fear or suspicion. Christ himself was the human “other” – the one on whom every side projected its hatred of the other side – and ultimately the representative of the “Wholly Other” who is other to us all.

“Whoever says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother/sister,” is a liar; for whoever does not love his brother/sister whom he has seen,  cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that those who love God should love their brother also.” (First Letter of John 4:20-212).

I also find wisdom in the organizing principles of my religious tradition. The Preliminary Principles of Church Order (adopted in 1789) gives some advice for how to conduct ourselves when we strenuously disagree. They are called “preliminary” because they are the core principles for how we believe we are called to interact as the children of God. We believe

…” that there are truths and forms with respect to which people of good character and principles may differ. In all these it is the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.”

“Preliminary Principles of Church Order (1789 at the organizing of the Presbyterian Church USA).

I’m trying my best to do my duty. Can the Pastor with strong personal views also serve as the Moderator? Can I promote the duty to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other?  Can we talk? Tonight how will we answer Rodney King’s haunting question: “Can’t we all just get along?”  Lord, take my hand and lead us on to toward  the light.

Is gun control pro-life?

An interesting debate on gun control is developing among Roman Catholics that might be called “How shall Christians be pro-life?”

Click “Catholics raise issue of guns amid calls to end abortion” (New York Times), and leave your comment on “Views from the Edge” to promote discussion.

The guns in my own back yard

It’s the eve of Martin King Day. This morning’s Star Tribune tells the story “Murderous ‘monster’ acquires an arsenal” in Carver County, Minnesota. Three cheers to you, Jim Olson, Carver County Sheriff. Thanks to the Star Tribune and other newspapers for keeping us informed.

The Oberender case exposes loopholes in national gun laws and Minnesota’s background checks. Here’s the link to the piece:

http://www.startribune.com/local/west/187610601.html

Today in worship we will look again at the call of Samuel and the call of Jesus’ first disciples who asked Jesus an odd question. “Where are you staying?”  “Come and see,” he said. I wonder: Are there guns where Jesus lives?

The Worship of Death, MPR

“Sandy Hook was a symptom of the American tragedy: our worship of safety — arming ourselves to the nines — turns out to be the death of us.  The idolatry of safety is the worship of death itself.” – guest commentary, GCS, MPR (91.1 FM, Dec. 20, 2012)

Click HERE for the entire commentary on safety and the worship of death aired yesterday on “All Things Considered” (Minnesota Public Radio, MPR, 91.1 FM)  The page you will see includes an audio link to listen.

The MPR site also provides opportunity for readers and listeners to chime in with your point of view to generate further discussion of safety, guns, death, and American culture.

On the day the world comes to an end, thanks so much for choosing to drop by Views from the Edge for a definitive, final word from a completely reliable source of all wisdom and truth. Later this morning I meet with a group of students to discuss the Mayan Calendar hoax and the misreading of the New Testament Book of Revelation  …assuming, of course, that we’re all still here at 9:30 A.M. Central Standard Time :-).

In that same vein – or is it “vain”? – last Sunday’s sermon at Shepherd of the Hill on the tragedy of Sandy Hook in light of the biblical tradition will go up on Views from the Edge. and the church website.

My Grandmother’s Rifle

My 90 year-old Grandmother kept a revolutionary war rifle under her bed in Rockport, Massachusetts. She wanted to be safe. When she showed it to me, I could barely drag it out from under the bed.  How she would have gotten it out and lifted it to point at an intruder was a puzzle, but my Grandmother, like many of us, thought a gun would make her safe.

My Grandmother's revolutionary war rifle.

My Grandmother’s revolutionary war rifle.

Security, weapons, and freedom make strange bed-fellows. Guns will not produce security, and the freedom to buy and use the weapons of war equates pulling a trigger with free speech.

In America the mixing of the right to bear arms, the search for security, and the sanctity of personal freedom without limits are the ingredients of a national security state…and a state of permanent anxiety.

We are not safe in America. The six-year-olds and seven-year-olds of Sandy Hook were not safe. Their teachers were not safe. Their town was not safe. The five-year-old and the two-year-old in Minneapolis who found a pistol under the pillow in their parents’ bedroom were not safe. The two-year old is dead. The five-year-old and his parents will never be the same. Nor will the people of Baghdad, the U.S. Army base at Fort Hood or the folks killed at McDonald’s. We are not safe either at home under Homeland Security or in the places around the world where un-manned drones kill and maim not only those who threaten our safety but innocent children, under that banner of freedom, democracy, and national security.

The U.S. Constitution is a work of genius and wisdom depending on how well it is interpreted by the Courts. The First Amendment the right to free speech. The Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, a right originally intended to maintain the power of the people, collectively, to overthrow another King George or a government that did not serve the well-being of the American people.

Among the “arms” protected by the Second Amendment there was no assault weapon able to shoot 100 times in 60 seconds and then reload or a pistol capable of 30 shots before reloading. What the framers of the Second Amendment had in mind was muskets.

“Load… aim… fire…..  Load… aim… fire.”

The Second Amendment never imagined the likes of the M-16 or its knock-offs or a semi-automatic pistol concealed in one’s purse or trousers. The weapons used against a mother and elementary school children in Newtown and against customers having a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s were the furthest thing from their time-bound imagination.

There were no McDonald’s when the Second Amendment was adopted and there were no semi-automatic weapons sold at gun shows. Today, ABC News reports that, according to the 2011 statistics of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there were 4.17 times as many federally-licensed retail gun dealers and pawn shops(58,794) than McDonald’s (14, 098) in the U.S – more death shops than places to eat a Big Mac.

ABC News also reported that “2012 has been a record-setting year for gun sales. As of November, the FBI recorded 16,808,538 instant background checks for gun purchases for 2012. Even without counting December, which has historically been the busiest month, this beats last year’s record by more than 350,000.”

Argument for strict Constitutional interpretation by Justice Scalia

Argument for strict Constitutional interpretation by Justice Scalia

Strict Constitutionalists like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia know full well that my grandmothers revolutionary war rifle was the “arms” the Second Amendment had in mind. Every citizen in America has the right to have a revolutionary war rifle –  a single shot “load…; aim…; fire… re-load…; aim…; fire…” under the bed… or under the pillow in the parents’ bedroom.

Freedom was never intended to produce a domestic or international killing field. If we Americans have learned anything from 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Columbine, Red Lake, and Sandy Hook, it is that our security is not found in a gun or a drone in every home. Neither was the nation’s security license to monitor the phone calls, emails, texts, bank records, and personal movements of citizens.

I exercise my right to free speech by writing and publishing words as the weapons of persuasion in hopes that they might contribute in some way to a national introspection and action that minimizes the human impulse toward violence and destruction. I have to believe that words are more powerful in the end than the Bushmaster .223 assault rifles and drones that kill at home and abroad – all in the name of keeping us alive and “safe”.

According to strict judicial interpretation of the Second Amendment, everyone in America has a right to own a musket or, perhaps, pull a revolutionary war rifle from under the bed.