Can we talk?

I was challenged in a post on Facebook to begin a respectful dialogue about gun control and safety. I am willing to try just that. But first, a little background about me so you know where I am coming from.

As a young person, I enjoyed target shooting at my grandparents’ farm with a BB gun. But I have never owned a gun—nor wanted to. I do not want a gun in my home.

However, I have friends and family who carry, and I respect their right to do so. Some do it for self-protection, others for hunting. I have eaten some of the meat obtained by hunting, and I enjoy it. So I am not averse to guns being used that way.

I also have family and friends who have served in the military, and I respect their service. I have lost a grandson who was a Marine who died shortly after coming back from Iraq. It was not a gun-related death, but what he experienced in Iraq was—I believe—involved in the depression leading to a poor choice that led to his death.

I also acknowledge that there is a lot about guns that I do not know. Again, because I do not want to own a gun, I’ve not felt the need to learn all the ins and outs.

I’m also aware that regardless of what we do, there are going to be individuals who are going to find ways to get weapons. We’re not going to be able to stop that completely. But that does mean that we shouldn’t try?

So…having said that, I do have some questions that I’d like to pose to try to start a dialogue. These are serious questions—ones I think could be a basis for bipartisan discussion about what I see as common sense changes that could be made. If you are willing, I’d really like to hear your responses.

  1. When is the right time to have a discussion about gun policy? It seems that whenever there is a shooting, there is a cry that that is not the appropriate time…that the focus should be on the victims and their families. I don’t disagree with that—but as time passes, when a discussion is suggested, there always seems to be another reason as to why the time is inappropriate.
  2. What can we do to prevent the mentally ill from purchasing guns? (And a corollary to that—how do we get more help for those who are mentally ill?)
  3. Should we bar gun purchases by people on federal no-fly or watch lists?
  4. Why shouldn’t we require background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows?
  5. We require training and education before a person can drive a car. Shouldn’t we do the same thing before a person can carry a gun?
  6. Why shouldn’t we require a permit (which, I would assume, would involve training) before allowing concealed carry?
  7. If we’re going to try to solve at least some aspects of gun violence, why is the government not permitted to gather information on shootings? Isn’t this a serious health crisis?

There are other questions I have as well—questions that I know I would disagree with family and friends about. But I hope that these six could at least begin a discussion. Far too many children have lost their lives to accidental shootings…far too many families have lost loved ones to mass shootings. I don’t want to wake up to the news of yet another one.

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Welcome the stranger…

Last night I sat in on a wonderful evening of story-telling from members of (and about) my faith tradition. Some of the stories were funny…some were more somber.

My faith tradition was birthed in the United States, but it did not have an easy birth or childhood. We were “different”…we challenged the status quo…and we became refugees. We were driven from place to place, and our founder was ultimately murdered. In many ways, it’s a wonder that we survived.

But the story that caught my attention last night was of one of those times of wandering. We were forcibly driven out of our homes in winter. We lost most of our earthly possessions–and many families did not know where their fathers were…or even if they were still alive. The journey was a difficult one. Sometimes we were able to find shelter–even if it was dirty and smelly; sometimes we were denied even that. Ultimately we found people who cared…people who saw us not as “other” but as human beings in need. We found a city of 1500 who were willing to take in 5000 refugees who had nothing. We found a temporary home while we regrouped so that we could go on.

As I listened to that story, I thought about the parallels with today…with my parents’ generation and my own.

In the 1930s there were people fleeing and looking for a place of shelter. They were people who had lost everything and who were afraid for their lives–and the lives of their children. Some found shelter, but many did not and perished.

Credit Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Today there are many fleeing and looking for safe places for themselves and their children. Some have found shelter–but many are still looking.

Yes, they are “other”…they are different.

But I am part of a country that has grown from the contributions of immigrants and refugees. I am part of a faith tradition that was welcomed as refugees. I am also part of a bigger faith tradition whose story includes both being welcomed as a stranger–and then being challenged to do the same to others. My people were welcomed…and I grew up believing this poem by Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Compassion…to suffer with…

Sometimes there are almost no words to say. But I have to try.

Yesterday I was shocked and appalled at the current administration’s budget. But I was even more appalled to hear the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, describe it as “compassionate.” Compassionate?!?

This proposed budget includes a huge increase in defense spending–with corresponding cuts to (1) climate change research, (2) foreign aid, (3) public broadcasting, (4) national institutes of health, (5) meals on wheels, and (6) after-school programs…among others. The reasons? They don’t believe in the science that has been widely accepted around the world–and, in the case of Meals on Wheels and after-school programs, they don’t see any demonstrable benefits from them.

Really?

First of all, for many of the kids (and families) who depend on the after-school programs, they provide a safe place, food, and a place where they can get help with schoolwork. Those aren’t demonstrable benefits?

And Meals on Wheels provides nutritional meals for folks who may be on the border of having to choose between food and other necessities…folks who may not be able to get out…as well as providing a way for someone to check up on them to ensure they haven’t fallen (or worse). Those aren’t demonstrable benefits?

I said yesterday that I believe that the GOP and I use different dictionaries to find the definition of compassion. The dictionaries I use indicate that the word comes from the mid-14th century, from Latin words that mean “to suffer with.” I do not see much suffering with those who are poor…hungry…in need.

And I am reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 25:

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited….

Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.

 

The indomitable human spirit

I’ve been enjoying watching the 2016 Olympics. Yes, I know there are problems–sometimes very serious ones–that can be found related to the games…from the cost of creating the site to some of the training methods used. But there are also some wonderful stories of the indomitable human spirit. These are some that have impressed me.

  1. The “Final Five”…Not only have each of them been wonderful performers themselves, it’s been clear that they really like and support each other. They have been genuinely delighted when someone on their team has done well–and genuine in their hugs when someone has had a problem with a routine.
  2. Aly Raisman…To watch Aly Raisman come back come back from disappointment four years ago, determined to show that she is one of the best in the world was exciting…and her parents were as much fun to watch as she was! It was easy to sympathize with their concern and nervousness for their daughter, but they way in which they showed it made each of us wonder how we would react in the same situation.
  3. Laurie Hernandez…She just bounces! She looks like she is having so much fun in her routines.
  4. Simone Biles…Who can ignore Simone her?! Her gymnastic ability is incredible–I can’t imagine bouncing as high in the air as she does. But the support of her grandparents (now her parents) through the years is special as well. I can’t imagine the pain of seeing your child lose custody of their children–much less making the decision to adopt them yourselves. But it says a lot about the special relationship they have.
  5. Ellie Downie…Her fall during her floor routine for the all-around qualifying was horrendous! I’m sure that everyone–including her sister–who saw it was scared for her and wondered what the prognosis was. But then to see her come back and insist on doing two vaults so that the team could qualify…and then to see her later do a wonderful repeat of the floor routine was wonderful.
  6. Kohei Uchimura and Oleg Verniaiev…Gymnastic decisions are often close, but the men’s all-around came down to the final performer on the final routine–and a decision of .99 point. Both competitors did wonderful routines and you sometimes wish that there didn’t have to be a winner and everyone else.
  7. 2016 Refugee Team…For the first time the Olympics acknowledged that the world is not a wonderful, peaceful place. Ten athletes are competing under the flag of the Olympics, highlighting the problems of refugees around the world. Just staying alive for some of these refugees makes them gold medal winners, even if they don’t win at the Olympics.
  8. Michael Phelps…Does anything else need to be said? I was delighted to see him come back in a better place than he was after the 2012 Olympics, and to see him delight not only in his own successes but also in the team success.
  9. Joseph Schooling…Each athlete has a hero they look up to. For this young man it was Michael Phelps. I cannot imagine how he felt when he beat Phelps out for a gold in the butterfly.
  10. Katie Ledecky…Does anything else need to be said about her? She absolutely blew everyone else away in the 400-meter freestyle…and she looks like she’s having so much fun as well.
  11. Simone Manuel…This young swimmer tied for gold with the 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak in the 100-meter freestyle, with both of them breaking the world record in the process. She is the first African-American to win an individual event in Olympic swimming–and the background to her win informed me of some of our racist swimming history, history I had not been aware of because it had not impacted me.
  12. Mo Farah…Who? Not a runner I had ever heard anything about, but his run in the 10,000-meter race was incredible to watch. He started at the back of the pack…took a fall on the second lap…and yet came back to win.
  13. Keri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross…I used to enjoy playing volleyball at church camps, but these two women take it to a whole different level! They are so athletic and manage to pull off almost impossible saves!
  14. Ibtihaj Muhammad…When I was in college I took a class in fencing. I haven’t fenced since, but I remember what a challenge the sport is. At a time when so much hatred has been expressed against Muslims, I am pleased to see a Muslim woman representing the United States.
  15. Adilende Cornelissen…I’ve always loved horses. I don’t understand much about the sport of dressage, but I do know that it requires a close connection between the rider and the horse. Cornelissen was the reigning silver medalist, but when her horse became ill, she put his needs to recover over her own desires to win.

I know there are undoubtedly many more–and will be more before the Olympics are over.

Perhaps one of the major values of the Olympic games is to remind us of the importance of the opportunity to do one’s best…the importance of teamwork…the indomitable human spirit.

Lilac Girls

I have a couple of magazines that periodically suggest new and interesting books to read. Based on the brief descriptions,  I usually find myself requesting several of them from the library; sometimes I’m way down in the list, but sometimes I’m able to get them pretty quickly.

Lilac Girls was one of those suggestions. It had been a while since I had put in my request, and I had almost forgotten what it was about. But when I checked it out, I was reminded. The description sounded like it was historical fiction, and since I enjoy well-written historical fiction, I had decided to try it.

It was a fascinating read–and when I read the author notes at the end, I discovered that it was far more history than I expected.

This debut novel is the story of three young women–Caroline Ferriday (an American socialite/former actress), Kasia (Polish teenager), and Herta Oberheuser (German doctor) just before/during/after World War II and how their lives intersect. I had thought that probably the characters were fictional, but Caroline and Herta actually existed, and Kasia (and her sister) were modeled on a pair of sisters who actually existed as well.

At times it’s almost too hard to read, especially when Kasia and her friends and family end up in Ravensbruck and become victims of the “medical experimentation” performed by Oberheuser. But it is also a story of hope, goodness, and forgiveness.

There were several things that struck me, reading it in our current political climate:

  • Being reared in privilege doesn’t necessarily keep one from being involved deeply in philanthropic activities or finding ways to help people in need.
  • When we begin to focus on the things that divide us, it becomes far too easy to see “the other” as somehow less human…and that can lead to unimaginable horrors.
  • Persistence is necessary at times to break down barriers and bring help.
  • Justice is necessary for healing–for individuals, communities, and societies.ently

 

The benefit of the doubt…

I really do believe that most police are hardworking individuals who care about the people they are sworn to protect. I know they have a very difficult job…that often they have to make split-second decisions that are easy to critique in hindsight.

I grew up knowing that the police were my friends…that if I had a problem, they were safe people to go to.

When I first began hearing complaints about racial biases in policing, I thought that surely I was missing something. That couldn’t be so. After all, I had never experienced that.

And then one day I visited with a friend whose sons were about the same age as my son. My son at that age was doing some stupid things in his rebellion, and I sometimes worried about his coming home safely because of the actions he might take. She worried about her sons coming home–period. Not because they were doing stupid things–their behavior was what I wished my son would emulate at that time. But because of the color of their skin.

That was an “aha” moment for me.

I’m ashamed to say that while it was an eye-opener, I didn’t really do anything about that knowledge. After all, it didn’t really affect me.

But time has gone on–and technology has made it easier for us to see incidents we didn’t used to. Sometimes that technology is helpful…sometimes it raises more questions. And technology is only as good as the people who use it. Sometimes recordings aren’t started until an incident has escalated–and we don’t know what happened prior to what we see. So I have worked hard to give people the benefit of the doubt.

But last night I saw video that says to me that we have a serious problem in this country in our relationships with each other. The police apparently received a 911 call about an armed man threatening suicide. When they arrived, they saw two men–one black and one white. The black man did something I’ve never ever had to think about doing in an interaction with the police–he laid down on the pavement with his hands in the air as he tried to explain that he was an unarmed behavioral therapist…that the “armed man” was his autistic client who had run away and who only had a toy truck in his hands. And yet…he was still shot. Why?! What else could he–should he–have done?

I am becoming more and more aware that we all have biases…and we must learn to acknowledge that before we can ever begin to hear each other. That’s not easy, because it means that I have to acknowledge that I am given the benefit of the doubt every day…and others are not. This article is a place to start. It’s not an easy read…but until I am willing to listen to others’ stories, nothing will change.

Will you come near?

God has a wonderfully comic sense of timing!

This has been the week of my denomination’s World Conference–a busy week during which we conduct the business of the church…we share in worship…we talk (a lot!)…we renew old acquaintances and make new ones.

Thursday night there were two powerful sermons by Apostle Mareva Arnaud Tchong and Apostle Robin Linkhart.  Both dealt with the parable of the good Samaritan, and both challenged us in different ways. Mareva asked how we saw ourselves in the story–as the priest…the Levite…the Samaritan…the wounded traveler? Who–in this wounded and broken world–are we?

Robin shared a very personal experience of a time she found herself in the position of possibly being the Samaritan who could help…and she left. She had valid reasons for not helping, but the experience has stayed with her. Her question for us was “Are you willing to come near?”

Friday night was one of the favorite services of the Conference–the international hymn sing. It was exhilarating! After it was over, we shared in visiting (again!) with good friends…and then headed for home. It was still early enough in the evening that we were thrilled about the possibility of getting a really good night’s sleep.

However…

As we pulled out of the parking lot we saw a woman slumped on the curb. It was so tempting to keep going, but we paused and rolled down a window to ask her if she was okay. She wasn’t. She had become severely sunburned during the day and needed to get to a hospital…and not just any hospital, but one downtown…30 minutes away!

Were we willing to come near?

We looked at each other, opened the car door, helped her in, and headed downtown to the emergency room at the hospital, where she said she would be all right and her son would come and get her.

So much for an early night to bed!

But it was a good reminder. If we are indeed followers of this Jesus, that’s not for just when it’s convenient. It’s for whenever we see a need.

Are we willing to come near? Are we willing to come close to the wounded, broken people who need to know that someone cares?