Thursday, December 3, 2015

Advent Midweek 1

This is the outline of the reflection I shared at last night's Advent midweek Vespers service. As one might expect, this outline does not contain exactly the words that were spoken, but it's pretty close.

Before the reflection, Luke 24:28-35 was read.

***

When they came to Emmaus, [Jesus] acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”

They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.

      ~ text from the Common English Bible

***

They talked with one another as they walked along
which we, so often stuck in our cars
don’t seem to do much any more

sure, we talk with our friend who’s in the car with us
but the stranger going along the same road, not so much

of course, whenever I’m on a road trip, traveling down a highway
I often recognize the cars travelling more-or-less the same speed
we pass each other as we go along
leapfrogging when our gasoline or lunch stops don’t coincide

the thing is, though, I don’t know anything about them,
and I don’t have the opportunity to know anything about them
other than their driving habits
that one never signals … that one drives recklessly …
I hope the state troopers are parked just over that hill

it’d be different if we were walking along
for instance, when I’m hiking I have pleasant conversations
with at least 75% of the strangers I meet
sure, I may get annoyed with some people,
but I’d know a little more about them
than only why they bother me
they stop being a set of behaviors, and they become in my eyes a real person

so on the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus
they had a little bit different of an experience than we do when we travel
they were talking with each other as they walked along
and as they did, Clopas and his companion
were surprised by the stranger’s knowledge and understanding of scripture
he was a real person to them,
yet they still did not recognize him

Then, in the intimacy of a shared meal,
they experienced the fullness of the incarnation

the incarnation – a doctrinal articulation of the truth
that God meets us in flesh, face to face


the incarnation – that which we celebrate at Christmas
when God arrives in this world as an infant

the incarnation – when God sits across the table from us

the incarnation – that which we spend Advent anticipating
but it’s not *only* God’s incarnation as an infant which we anticipate

more significantly, we do our best during this season of Advent
to sharpen our pay-attention-skills

so that we can watch for Messiah enfleshed
at any time
in any place
in the person of *any* one of the strangers
that we take the time to meet
as we go on our way

Amen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Gun Laws - Some More Thoughts

We have a problem in our country. Well, we have lots of problems, but the one I want to address is the problem we have with people being killed as a result of gunfire.

In this country, since the Sandy Hook school massacre, there have been by some counting methods over 900 mass shootings. Of course, some will argue that we should use different counting methods, which gives us a number between 140 and 150.

During that same time period, there are by some counts over 32,000 people killed in this country by gunfire.

Those numbers are too big. No matter which numbers you use, those numbers are too big. Too many people are being killed by gunfire in this country - the statistics are comparable to some countries that are experiencing armed conflict (war).

I'm not interested in parsing the numbers. Maybe the ones I found online are off, and maybe you have better data. If we're going to parse numbers, the first questions I'm interested in asking would be, "How many people being killed by gunfire in this country is acceptable?"

Now as soon as we start talking about how many people die by gunfire, the conversation moves to the second amendment to the US Constitution (the assumption being, apparently, that government is planning to take away everyone's firearms). Of course, we'll have disagreements on the interpretation of the second amendment, particularly whether the right to keep and bear arms stands on its own, or whether that right in inextricably linked to the establishment of a well-regulated militia.

Then what happens is that individuals and groups seem to get entrenched in their position, calling for either more restrictions on firearm purchases and ownership or stating vehemently that we already have enough gun laws.

Fine. We disagree with each other. This is not the first time that's happened in anyone's life. Remember kindergarten? Remember learning how to negotiate the use of that one particular toy that two of you wanted? Some of us simply learned how to get the toy we wanted by yelling about it, or by simply taking it. On school playgrounds, those children are crybabies or bullies.

Those of us who learned conflict resolution in healthy ways learned how to listen to each other, and how to talk with each other. Surely by the time we get to be adults, we've discovered how to talk and listen, instead of whining and bullying (though to observe Congress, you might not think so).

So, no matter what the numbers are, I think we would all agree that something needs to change in our country in relation to how many people are killed by gunfire. If you don't think thousands of people being killed every year is problematic, you probably didn't read this far anyway.

I would propose the following:

1) Tighten the gunshow loophole. Set a limit on how many guns an individual is able to sell before they are categorized as a dealer. Maybe the number is 5 guns per month. Maybe it's 20 guns per year. Maybe it's a different number, but let's put a number to it so that the law actually has some teeth.

2) Restrict the sale of assault style and military style weapons. Unless a person is part of an assault team, or is in the military, I don't understand what reasonable use they'd have for that kind of weapon. And since we already restrict what kinds of firearms a person can own (I don't think it's legal for me to own anti-aircraft weaponry), this restriction is simply one of degree, not kind.

3) Restrict the size of ammunition magazines that citizens are permitted to own. If a person is truly and honestly worried about nine rounds not being enough to deter an intruder into their home, they either need better training in the use of firearms, or they have a reason to need police protection.

4) Require licensing, registration, training, and insurance for all gun owners. We do it for automobiles, we should be able to do that for firearms. Obviously some people wouldn't be able to pass the training. Some people don't pass driver's training either.

We don't allow those people to drive because we, as a society, have determined that they're not able to do so safely. If a person can't pass the training, they probably can't safely own a firearm ... and so probably shouldn't.

Obviously the simple fact of passing laws isn't going to force everyone to follow them. However, the reason we pass laws (ideally) is for the betterment of our society. In this case, I'd propose that we pass these laws in order to keep people safe.

Will everyone follow them? Of course not. We have laws on our books regulating the use of child safety seats in automobiles. Does everyone follow them? Of course not. Did the passage of those laws decrease the number of child deaths in car accidents? Yes it did. And for that reason, the laws are worthwhile.

If passing laws regulating firearms decreases the number of people who die from gunfire, then they're worth passing.

***

Some people, and maybe even some of you my seven readers, may disagree with me. That's fine. In fact, that's encouraged. I'm not so bold as to think I have thought through everything I need to consider. And I'm not so arrogant as to think I'm always right.

So please disagree with me. But instead of simply railing against this (or any other) proposal, I invite you to offer your own opinion about what needs to change. Because obviously something does.

$0.02

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mass Shootings, Gun Control, and Politics ... some thoughts

I posted a link on Facebook to a website with mass shooting statistics for 2015. In response, a friend (who I really like, and with whom I disagree on any number of issues) asked a question privately. My friend asked what my perfect solution would be. Here’s my response to my friend’s question, expanded from what I responded on FB messenger.

***

The trouble with this issue (mass shootings that happen in our society) is that it's way more complicated than anyone seems to want to admit, especially politicians and others with a financial stake in any part of it. But here’s what I’d do.

I would probably advocate first (for non-politicians) that people put down electronic devices, get out of their houses and out of the friend groups that *only* reinforce what they already believe. I'd advocate that we interact with our neighbors, that we sit down and eat with people we don't know and with people we don't agree with. 

I'd want to require politicians to have dinner with a member of the other party at least once a month, and prohibit them from talking politics during that time. 

Both of these would help us to recognize that the people who might disagree with us are still people, valuable members of society. 

Further, I'd shorten the presidential and congressional campaign season and set a limit on political fundraising, getting big money out of politics and preventing elected leaders from becoming so beholden to corporations and wealthy individuals. 

Without doing those things, or something else that would achieve the same results (less animosity between individuals of different parties, less money in politics), we won't ever be able to come up with sensible regulations (of guns, of individuals' mental health, of corporations, of militias) for much of anything, and we'll keep yelling at each other instead of listening to each others' pains and struggles and joys and celebrations. 

It's not only about the mass shootings ... they're just a symptom of the dysfunction that is our political reality these days ... and after years of continued prevalence of shootings, nothing had changed - we've just gotten accustomed to people shooting each other, and that's not ok (imho).

However, while it’s not only about the mass shootings, that is the presenting issue … and along with the mass shootings, we must address our nation’s gun regulations.

We already live with gun regulations. For instance, I can legally own a handgun and a rifle and a shotgun. Some convicted felons, however, are prohibited from owning any of those. That’s regulation. And I’m relatively certain that I am prohibited from owning anti-aircraft weaponry. That’s regulation.

So the question for politicians to address is what kind of firearm regulation is appropriate. However, when politicians have received huge contributions from corporations and individuals who have a financial interest (for instance) in selling guns, they’ll have a tendency to vote against stricter regulation. When politicians have received huge contributions from individuals who have experienced personal loss as a result of firearms, they’ll have a tendency toward enacting stricter regulations.

The more money there is in politics, the less elected leaders are able to actually listen to constituents.

Further, and this is critical, when we see people who disagree with us as the ‘other’, we’re easily able to vilify our enemies, seeing them as less than us.

At the same time, if we have spent significant time with people who are different from us, we begin to recognize that they’re not too different from us. We begin to recognize that they’re people, too. We begin to recognize that it’s not ‘us’ and ‘them’ … it’s all ‘us’.

The thing is, I have to believe that politicians really do want the best for our nation, for our society. If I didn’t believe that, I’d simply sink into despair … so I really do believe that they all want the best for all of us.

So, to the guns. If politicians recognize that their opponent is a real person instead of simply an enemy … if politicians recognize that everyone wants the best for our society, and we simply disagree with each other about what that means … if the huge sums of money are removed from the whole political process … then the elected leaders might be able to sit down, actually listen to each other’s thoughts and concerns, and then come up with a reasonable solution.

But right now, it seems like no one actually listens to anyone else. Which is why I believe it’s a much bigger problem than just the guns.

$0.02