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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Carefully taught…

I’m sitting here, listening to the quiet noises of my grandchildren as they take their naps…and it seems so far removed from the events of this weekend. And yet…

There are a couple of pictures I’ve seen as a result of this weekend that have really touched me because of what they say about us. Neither is from this weekend–the first from 1992 and the second from an earlier rally in July 2017. But I think they say a lot about us and the challenges we face.

Many years ago I learned/realized that Rodgers and Hammerstein always put a “teaching song” in their musicals. Never in a way that distracted from the story, but always–somewhere–a song that challenged current thinking. I fell in love with the musical South Pacific…and ached with Lieutenant Cable as he struggled with his love for Liat, a young Tonkinese woman…as well as Nellie’s struggle with accepting Emile DeBecque’s children by a Polynesian mother. The musical–premiered in 1949–had to have been a challenge for those who saw it. After all, we had just come out of a war waged against racism/hatred/genocide, and yet we were still struggling with our own home-grown racism. I wonder what it would have been like to have heard these words for the first time in that context?

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

 

The other picture that touched me is one from an earlier KKK rally in Charlottesville (in July).  I wonder what was going through the mind of the policeman standing there, quietly protecting the rights of the individuals protesting behind him–people who, if they had their way, would either gladly force him to leave the USA or kill him. He stood there quietly, listening to hate, and yet protecting those who hated him and what he stands for.

I also watched a video documentary made by HBO on the weekend. A link to it is below. Elle Reeve embedded for some of the time with one of the white supremacist leaders–I can’t imagine how she must have felt by the time the weekend was over. It’s not a long documentary–nor does it sugar coat that some of the counter protestors were also violent. But to listen to the language–the words used towards those who disagreed with the white supremacy beliefs and perspectives…it’s chilling. These people do not represent the America I believe in. But where did they get it from? Where were they taught it?

Children are not born hating others. They have to be carefully taught. But if they can be taught to hate, they can also be taught to love…and that is the task that lies before us. It will not be easy…and we will find ourselves disagreeing at times. But unless we can learn the power of love, we face a bleak future.

Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.–Mohandas Gandhi

We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.–William Gladstone (1809-1898)

Love is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend.–Martin Luther King, Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.–Martin Luther King, Jr.

The way of peace is the way of love. Love is the greatest power on earth. It conquers all things.–Peace Pilgrim

The basis of world peace is the teaching which runs through almost all the great religions of the world. “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”–Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Parenting…the never-ending journey

I’ve been thinking the last few days about what I thought I knew about parenting (before I became one) and what I’ve learned in the many years since.

I think what I was most surprised about is that parenting is a never-ending journey. I figured that once my kid(s) reached maturity (somewhere around 22 or so), they would be on their own–either married or leading a successful single life–and then I could just sit back, wait for grandkids (that I could spoil), and relax. Doesn’t happen that way!

When the kids are little, your parenting involves helping them learn…and part of that includes helping them learn how not to get into trouble or get hurt (hopefully). It’s a challenging time, but it’s also fun watching them try to make sense of this world around them.

Then they become teenagers–and everything changes! You still want to help them stay out of trouble, but sometimes they have to learn things the hard way. So you keep your fingers crossed…pray a lot…and hope that they’ll actually survive to adulthood. It’s far more stressful than when they’re little because they tend not to be as willing to listen to the wisdom you would so much like to share….and while you can see that some of their choices will be things they’ll regret later in life, they don’t.

Eventually they reach maturity. They’ve gotten through college or other training…have found someone to love and are entering the adult world. Finally–you can relax! Not so fast…now your worries include whether they’ll find a job that will pay enough for them to pay their bills (and whether it will be a fulfilling one). You worry about their budgeting (or lack thereof)…their decisions about renting/buying…whether they will stay close or move a distance away… But you can’t do anything about all of that…you just have to let them go–but you still worry about and for them.

Then grandkids come. They’re a delight! But then the journey takes new directions. Sometimes–especially if you do a lot of the babysitting–you want to do things differently from the way their parents do, but you realize that they’re not your kids and you need to support the parents. Okay…you can deal with that.

As the grandkids grow, they also sometimes struggle with making wise choices–and you struggle as well. Your heart sometimes aches when you see them making decisions that they will regret down the road. But your role is different now. Sometimes the grandkids are more willing to listen to advice from you than from their parents…sometimes you are simply a safe place for them.

But the journey never ends. Once you have a child, you begin a never-ending journey. Yes, sometimes you would like to get off the train…to not be concerned about the kids/grandkids/great grandkids and their decisions and choices. But unless you completely cut ties, that’s not going to happen–and cutting those ties so completely carries with it its own worries and challenges.

Every stage of parenting has challenges…but it also has joys…never-ending

It’s not only children who grow. Parents do, too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself. —Joyce Maynard

The attitude you have as a parent is what your kids will learn from more than what you tell them. They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are. —Jim Henson

Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you. —Robert Fulghum

 

“I want to be an adult!”

The graduation season has just ended, and there’s a comment (sometimes implied, but sometimes stated) that I’ve heard from a lot of graduates and those who are close to graduation.

“I want to be an adult!”

Just what does that mean? Probably not what those who are saying that phrase think that it means!

Often it seems to mean that somebody just simply doesn’t want anyone else to be telling them what to do. Or they want to be able to do what they want without worrying about consequences….or they want to be out on their own…

But being an adult is much more than that.

One of the big things about being an adult is taking responsibility for yourself–and the consequences of your decisions. When you are child, your parents are able to protect you from those consequences sometimes, although good parents don’t shield you from all of them. But when you are an adult, you are responsible…for both good choices and less than good ones, along with the responsibilities coming from them.

It means figuring out how to pay for many of the things that were provided for you when you were at home…food, shelter, clothing, utilities, health care, car expenses…

That requires a job. And finding a good job–and by that, I mean a job with a future–means getting some training, whether that’s through college, an internship, an apprenticeship…

It also means making wise choices about how to deal with your sexuality. For some, that means coming to terms with sexual identity and/or gender identity. For most, it means figuring out wise decisions about when/whether to have sex–and the potential consequences of that! An unexpected child can throw a significant monkey wrench into your plans…as can sexually transmitted diseases.

It means listening to that little voice inside that suggests when something may not be wise…or when the “friend” may not be the best person to hang out with.

Not everything has to be learned the hard way. There are older adults who are willing to mentor you–if you will let them. Sometimes they want you to learn from their mistakes so you don’t have to go through what they did. Sometimes they are simply people who care for you.

Don’t be in a hurry…listen…try…fail–and learn from your failures…fall–and get up again…and trust. Trust that there are people who want only the best for (and from) you. Trust that there are people who love you. Trust that there are people who will walk with you.

  • Image result for Act Like an Adult Quotes

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.

 

What is happening to my country?

Every morning for the past week I have awakened with this question…”What is happening to my country?!”

It has not been perfect, and yes, there have been issues that I believe need to be corrected. But suddenly I feel like I’ve been transported to another, extremely unfamiliar place–one that has the same language, places, forms of government that I have come to know, but that somehow is off kilter.

And I am just sick.

I spImage result for coventry cathedral crossent some of my younger years in a country that had been devastated by the second world war. One of the places we visited–and that had a powerful impact on me–was Coventry Cathedral, a beautiful building that had been bombed out. But at the front of the ruined building was an altar with a cross…and a prayer: “Father, forgive.”

Forgive our inhumanity to each other…our fear of “the other”…our desire for dominance…there were so many things to pray forgiveness for.

And as a world, we swore we would never let anything like that happen again.

But we did. In Bosnia-Herzegovina…Rwanda…Cambodia…

And again we said, we would never let it happen. We had learned our lessons.

But we haven’t…and I’m fearful that we’re taking the same road…again.

How did those countries get to that point? There are ten steps on the road to genocide. They’re not inevitable; the process can be stopped…but the further a society goes down the road, the more difficult it is. Here are the steps:

  1. Classification – separating people into “us and them” by various categories (ethnicity, race, religion)
  2. Symbolization – giving names or other symbols to the classifications
  3. Discrimination – using law, custom, and political power to deny the rights of other groups
  4. Dehumanization – equating members of a specific group with animals, verman, insects, diseases…using hate language against the group
  5. Organization
  6. Polarization – driving the groups apart, again by using hate language
  7. Preparation – often done using euphemisms to talk about what is being done
  8. Persecution
  9. Extermination
  10. Denial

As I watch the news, I’m afraid we’re heading down that road…and I’m scared. Not so much for myself, but for friends…and for my children and grandchildren. What kind of world are we creating for them?