Insurrection and Faith (Part 2)

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Flashback and Portent — The Epidemic of Gun Violence

Flashing back to February 1, 2013 feels like a flash forward to America in 2021. An evening in a small church in Chaska, Minnesota on gun violence gave hints of what was coming in eight years later. It was a glimpse into the apocalyptic mind and heart that led to the insurrection of January 6.

February 1, 2013 Opening of First Tuesday Dialogues’ series on gun violence

The parking lot was full. Until that night, First Tuesday Dialogues’ attendance had ranged between 35-75 people. Attendance that night was 138.

The threat of disruption and violence did not materialize. Everyone entered respectfully. But there was a storm cloud hovering over the room. I wondered when the thunder and lightning would come.

I welcomed the crowd, laid out Dialogues’ simple practices and ground rules — respectful listening and speaking with no interruption, no cheering, no booing, no clapping.

The evening began with a half-hour exchange between the city’s Chief of Police and the Carver County Sheriff expressing different views on the increase of massacres like the one at Sandy Hill in Newtown.

The tone was set for a respectful conversation.

The Invisible Guest named John

A Q&A with the chief and sheriff was allotted 20 minutes. A woman in the last row was the first to raise a hand. She was handed the microphone and began by expressing anger that we were having such a discussion. The Second Amendment was the Second Amendment. No government was going to take away her guns. She then began reading from a John Birch Society manuscript. Lots of people clapped and shouted their approval.

A woman a across the aisle was in tears. I gave her the microphone. She stood to ask a question. “Has anyone here lost a loved one to gun violence?”

Four or five hands went up, but before she could tell her story, the first speaker shouted at her, “That has nothing to do with the Second Amendment!” Shouts again rang out. I reminded everyone of the Dialogues’ expectations. If you are holding the microphone, the floor is yours. When you are not holding the microphone, you listen. No rebuttals. No clapping. No shouting. No us versus them.

The woman who’d been crying answered her own question. “I have,” she said, and told the wrenching story story from her childhood. Her story was chilling. The wounds were still fresh. The room was quiet.

The Coming Apocalypse

Two voices later voices foreshadowed America eight years later. The first spoke with passion. Obama and the feds were coming to take his guns. The government is going down. The economy will collapse. The dollar won’t have any value. Grocery store shelves would be empty. Those who are not prepared would have no food to feed their families. We need to get ready for the chaos that’s coming.

The man who next held the microphone agreed. The economy is built on sand. It will collapse. It will be “every man for himself.” If you don’t have a secure bunker full of food to last you a year, you’re in trouble. If you don’t have a secure bunker, build one. Now! When your neighbor comes asking for food, too bad. Have your guns ready.

Like the person who had turned the Q&A into a time for monologues, this speaker had a manuscript from which he quoted. His apocalyptic tone and message felt like the street corner preacher’s citing The Revelation to Saint John, the last book of the Christian Bible, shouting about the end of the world, but this apocalypse was different. Real god-fearing patriots don’t rant on street corners. They don’t preach, and they don’t kneel. They rise up to expose and overthrow the communists, socialists and other collectivists who control of the world. Real patriots stand and fight He was reading from the John Birch Society manual.

The evening ended peacefully. There was no physical violence. Gun rights advocates were thankful and looking forward to the next event. Others participants expressed fear of violence or discomfort with the rudeness. They would not be back for the next event in the series.

A Dilemma

If Dialogue’s programs success were measured by attendance, the first evening had exceeded expectations. If drawing people of opposing views were the measure, the evening had been a success. Although there had been raw moments that tested the Dialogues norms, the expressions of opinion had been honest. Nothing was left on the table or kept under the table.

During the days that followed, we learned that an estimated 180 people had chosen to attend a public hearing on gun control at the state Capitol. There would be hearing to keep them away from the Feb. 19 program focusing on the Second Amendment. Those who had been at the Capitol were reported to be less respectful and more extreme. We should expect the crowd to double on the 19th.

Stay tuned for “Insurrection and Faith (Part 3).

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), 49 short (2-4 pages) social commentaries on public life. Chaska, Minnesota, February 13, 2021

Liddle Elijah and Grandpa

Grandpa, we’re supposed to respect people, right?

IMG_8373

Elijah asks about the president and senator corker

Yes, Elijah, that’s part of growing up.

Yeah, I’m not growed up yet. I’m liddle.

Well, yes, but it’s “grown” up, and you spell ‘little’ with two ‘t’s not two ‘d’s.

That’s not how the president spells it. Who am I supposed to respect more, you or the president?

 

Hmm. When it comes to spelling and not calling people names, I think Grandpa may deserve a little more respect, but that’s just Grandpa’s opinion. But the president called Senator Bob Corker ‘liddle’ and meant it as an insult. Senator Corker is short; he’s little compared to the President. But a person’s physical stature shouldn’t matter to grown-ups. Do you understand?

And what about that IQ thing?  What’s an IQ?

Lots of people are asking that question these days.

Is having a higher IQ like being taller? I’m tall. Dr. Smith said I’m in the top 94 percentile of four-month-olds! What’s a percentile?

It’s a way of measuring, Elijah. It’s complicated. It’s just a statistic. But it gives me comfort that the percentage of people approving of the president seems to have become littler in all 50 states between last January and September.

We like little, right Grandpa?

We do, Elijah. Sometimes we do.

“I look to a day when people will not be judged by [their height], but by the content of their character.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, October 11, 2017.

Sir, don’t forget your wallet!

Kwik Trip’s jobs brochure was sitting on the counter when I stopped by for gas and a fish sandwich ($1.49) this noon.

Kwik trip

The first thing that meets the eyes of a job applicant are Kwik Trip’s CORE VALUES:

HONESTY AND INTEGRITY

We are honest in all our business interactions with our co-workers and business partners and expect the same in return.

RESPECT

We show respect for everyone in what we say and do.

EXCELLENCE

We strive to excel in everything we do. We are committed to producing high quality products and services at a superior value for our customers.

HUMILITY

We are grateful for our success and share our appreciation with our co-workers, but we do not seek public recognition.

Two other values – Innovation and Work Ethic – complete the list.

When I first saw the Kwik Trip marquis several years ago, I objected to the name. I don’t like quick! Everything is quick or, now, “kwik”! I’m slowing down. I prefer slow. But I since learned that the people inside Kwik Trip are much different from the name on the marquis. The people behind the cash registers demonstrate honesty and integrity (“Sir, don’t forget your wallet! Sir . . . !”), respect, commitment to doing their jobs well (excellence), and a humble spirit.

When I finished my sandwich I took the brochure home with the thought of publishing a post here and recommending to the President White a crash course in Kwik Trip Core Values and training. Then I remembered one of the the President’s most outrageous quick insights into his Core Values:

Trump-climatechange-tweet

And, just as quickly, I plunged from a high hope to reality – “Never mind. Some things are hopeless!” And, as the House prepares to vote today on the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, I’m keeping especially close watch on my wallet.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 25, 2017.

 

 

 

Respect for Religious Freedom

“In a time when hard actions and sharp words have been directed at our Muslim neighbors,” (see text below), The Minnesota Council of Churches issued this statement today:

Respect for Religious Freedom and Love of Neighbor: A Call to Offer These Christmas Gifts

As Christian leaders who serve as the board of the Minnesota Council of Churches, we want to speak to our communities of faith and to the larger community of people living in Minnesota.

To begin, we want to address the members of all our communities of faith. We call on people to speak with respect in a tender time when we all feel vulnerable and unsafe after acts of mass violence. “Be not afraid…” is an exhortation in the Bible, again and again. Let that be the deep value in which we rest. Courageously reaching out to our neighbors, learning more about their stories, and supporting our newest neighbors is a gift worth giving in this Advent and Christmas season.

Secondly, we express appreciation for and commend consideration of all candidates in our political process who are respectfully engaging the issues of how we best build up the life of our state and nation and serve the common good. We encourage people in political conversations in family, communities and work contexts to speak with care. Our words matter. Let us commit to refrain from using speech that reflects hatred of others and contributes to the division of our society.

We also ask media outlets to tell the stories of candidates, who in their campaigns, debates and addresses are offering constructive proposals for our shared life together. Your choice of stories matters and can build up or tear down the common good. When we focus only on the negative or inflammatory, we do not have time to hear the larger conversation and participate in discernment about our shared future together.

Most importantly, in a time when hard actions and sharp words have been directed at our Muslim neighbors, we want to speak a word of support and pledge to walk with them and support their freedom to practice their religion.

This country is built on that freedom. We pledge to walk respectfully and to learn from one another. The Islamic community in Minnesota is vibrant and diverse, contributing much to the state – as citizens, teachers, police officers, medical workers, tradespersons, community leaders, mothers and fathers. We stand in solidarity with the Muslim communities of Minnesota and are ready to denounce the vitriol that comes their way. As Christians, we are called to love all our neighbors. Muslims are our neighbors, and we love them.

Finally, we are committed to continuing our long experience of working with diverse faith communities and of welcoming refugees into our midst, without regard for religion or ethnicity. We are committed to building communities of respect. We call for respect, support and helpful curiosity, instead of critique and attack, in the days to come from all people as we seek to build the best Minnesota possible.

We invite the sharing of this statement

MCC Members – Minnesota Jurisdictions of the following:

African Methodist Episcopal Church
American Baptist Churches, USA
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Church of God in Christ
Church of the Brethren
The Episcopal Church in Minnesota
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Mennonite Church
Moravian Church
National Association of Congregational Christian Churches

National Baptist Convention
Pentecostal World Assemblies
Presbyterian Church (USA)
United Church of Christ
United Methodist Church

 

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.

He Always Taught Her to Respect Herself

“He Always Taught Her to Respect Herself”

Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL – April 24, 2012

A college-age daughter does not enjoy

hearing that her dad was quite the

when her age.

She can see him in a boy

that she is with:  so tall and gaunt, a grin,

a joke, a casual touch roué. But now a man

quite married to her mom–could he have been

a thong-collector?  (No, back then they called

them “panties…”)

Now a lawyer, then he studied

seduction,  Casanova, de Sade?

Now he’s a Deacon in the Church– absurd!

Steve Shoemaker standing at historic pulpit of Sheldon Jackson Church, Colorado

“Views from the Edge” note: Steve is not a Deacon and he’s not a lawyer. He’s a retired Presbyterian minister, poet, and activist living on the prairie near the University of Illinois. Steve was Pastor and Director of the McKinley Presbyterian Church and  Foundation at the University of Illinois. He concluded his ministry as Executive Director of the University YMCA  at the University of Illinois, a vigorous campus student center as big in heart and mind as Steve. His voice is heard every Sunday evening as host of “Keepin’ the Faith” an interview show on the University of Illinois’s radio station, WILL AM – Illinois Public Radio.