Bullying and Cowardice in the Senate

Yesterday’s vote in the U.S. Senate comes down to this: cowardice in the face of gun-lobby bullying.

How did they bully?

A well-funded misinformation campaign by the NRA, gun-manufacturer’s lobby, and FOX alleging – although the bill itself explicitly prohibits it – that the moderate compromise proposal would mean a “national registry” of gun owners and erosion of the Second Amendment. The fact that the bill’s co-sponsors had “A” ratings by the NRA made no difference. What makes a difference is money and profits. And the difference they make is fear.

Why were the Senators cowards?

They put their campaign financing ahead of moral principle. According to President Obama, speaking to the American people yesterday, NOT ONE of the Senators could give him or Vice President Biden a reason for opposing the legislation…other than “politics“. Not one.

90% of Democrats voted in favor. 90% of Republicans voted against it.

Polls show that 90% of the American people SUPPORT universal background checks and limiting the size of magazines.

Democrat Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) broke ranks with their Party by voting against.

Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) broke ranks with their Party to vote in favor.

BREAKING NEWS: Last night former Republican Presidential Candidate Senator John McCain, joined by Senators Collins, Kirk, and Toomey, invited the other caucus members of the Grand Old Party (GOP) – “the party of Abraham Lincoln” – to join them for an evening at Ford’s Theater for a private showing of the film “Lincoln” and discussion of how he and the children and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School died.

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.
———————————-
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?”

————————

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
?

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.

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.

Confronting our inclination to violence

A thoughtful reflection from New Zealand:

Confronting our inclination to violence.

The “Tragedy” of Sandy Hook

macbethIf philosophical parsing of the meaning of Sandy Hook was inappropriate just a few days ago, it is mandatory now.

The slaughter of these dear little ones and their teachers was a moment of terrible and terrifying insanity. When Adam put on his body armor and turned his mother’s guns on his own mother and Sandy Hook, insanity broke out to bring grief that chilled the bones of everyone in America.

Today there are calls for gun control and mental health services, and those calls make perfect sense as practical responses, but they will not fix the problem.

There is a more profound collective insanity that pervades our culture and our nation. It’s a tragedy in the sense of the old Greek and Shakespearean theater: a fatal flaw that is doing us in.

Sandy Hook was the latest symptom of the American tragedy: our worship of safety – arming ourselves to the nines – turns out to the death of us.  The idolatry of safety is the worship of death itself.

A five year old boy in Minneapolis is playing with his two-year-old brother in their parents’ bedroom. He finds a loaded pistol under their father’s pillow, points it at his brother as one would point a toy gun. His brother is dead. The surviving five-year-old and his parents will never be the same – because a father sought to keep his family safe with the pistol under his pillow.

A mother in Newtown has guns in the home she shares with the disturbed son she loves and seeks to protect from a cruel world. Like so many others in America, the guns were purchased either for safety or for sport, but the results are the antitheses of safety or fun.

Whether in our bedroom at home or in the nation’s Capitol, when the insurance of safety rises to the top of the pyramid of values, death ascends as the power that destroys, the fatal flaw in a natural human instinct toward safety and security.

Freedom and safety are basic human needs. They are American values. Each is important. But neither freedom nor safety is God. Neither one is worthy of enshrinement by itself, and the two of them mixed together make for a Molotov cocktail thrown back into our own bedrooms, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Baghdad, and anywhere else that the concern for safety releases the tragic flaw of the Greek theater, Shakespeare, and the American theatre of the absurd.

Pieta - Michaelangelo

Pieta – Michaelangelo