Thursday, February 22, 2018

Reviewing the Second Amendment "Right"

In 1789, the Constitution was amended to include what we refer to the Second Amendment (in the Bill of Rights):

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

One should note the entire amendment. It is not a two-part amendment separating a well-regulated militia from the peoples' right to bear arms. The sentence uses commas, not semi-colons. The point of the amendment is "the security of a free State." The "State" does not refer to those 13 former colonies, but the Nation - i.e. the United States of America.

How do we know? Because the militia went out under the leadership of President George Washington to put down the Whiskey Rebellion - to enforce the Law. This intention was also made evident by the United States when it undertook to preserve the Union during that unpleasantness we sometimes call the Civil War.

The Second Amendment was not included to empower the people and prevent the government from getting too big for its britches. The intent, in fact, was the opposite: to empower the government to put down and survive rebellion(s)!

The Second Amendment was added to the Bill of Rights and intended for the southern Slave States in order to help them suppress any Slave Revolts a la Spartacus. It was rooted in both national and state defense needs - NOT for the needs of individual persons.

The intent of the Amendment has clearly been to preserve order and suppress rebellion - particularly black rebellion.

The NRA, when I was growing up, was an educational organization with an educational focus. Since the 1960s, though, it has changed its focus from education to Deifying Firearms and "supporting and preserving" the 2nd Amendment. One might ask why, and one might note, coincidentally, the changes taking place in the 60s. The civil rights movement scared red-necks and (primarily poor) white people wherever blacks began to be getting "uppity" and demanding rights and respect.

The NRA began to feed off this fear, profited mightily from it, and continues to stoke the fires of fear.

The Second Amendment has never been in danger of being repealed. While machine guns and certain other weapons have been limited (remember the gang wars of the 20s and 30s?), no one has ever worked to eliminate any American's right to own a standard firearm (handgun, hunting rifle, shotgun, or sporting gun).

It is the Excess of firearms and the Easy Access to them that has created a problem unlike any we have faced before as a Nation.

That's the matter we need to address. Not whether or not we should have firearms or what kind. How do we protect our nation from lawlessness that firearms exacerbate?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Thoughts on Guns

"This is a rifle, it's not a gun;
it's made for shooting, it's not for fun."

So runs a line in a movie, the name of which I have long forgotten. If I recall correctly, Richard Widmark is one of the main actors and plays the part of an army (or marine) drill sergeant.

It is one of those weird quirks of mine that, having heard the D.I. instruct a young recruit not to go around calling a rifle a "gun" that I wince whenever there is talk of "gun violence."

But wincing over the term "gun" is nothing compared to the contortion one goes through when under actual attack. I stood on a fire escape at the old Raymond Hotel in downtown Spokane one night in the mid-1970s when a disturbed man inside took a shot at me through the hotel window. I was a cop at the time and was on that fire escape to prevent him from becoming a sniper. He was mentally disturbed, threatening suicide and threatening to shoot anyone who got in his way.

I was fortunate in that the bullet missed it's mark; I got into a better vantage point to ensure he wouldn't do that again. After a stand-off that lasted a few hours, one more round was fired by the hotel's tenant; he died from that self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

The question we face in our day is how to prevent firearm violence. It would seem an impossible task for a nation of 300 million people and a nearly inexhaustible supply of firearms.

No matter what you do, it is argued, criminals will always be able to get their hands on firearms and do harm. That's true. It is equally true that if there are fewer firearms, that criminals will eventually have to resort to using butter knives or box-cutters. To be honest, I would have preferred the man at the Raymond hotel to have thrown a knife at me than to have fired at me with his Saturday night special!

Just because a problem is complex, though, does not mean we should not begin a process of addressing it. Kicking the can down the road does not solve the problem, does not answer any questions, and simply irritates neighbors as they listen to it clang down the road!

Further, the delay in addressing these issues seriously (and without the flag-waving, name-calling, or insult-hurling screams of either gun-nuts or gun-abolitionists) means that another 30,000 people will die each year from gun violence.

While the mass murders get the major publicity, it is the common run-of-the-mill murders and suicide that do the country's heavy-lifting for the funeral industry (and let's not forget the many who are not killed but injured, or the families, friends, and loved ones left behind, and not to mention the collateral damage we may be ignoring or not even considering in our debates).

In the story of Noah's Ark, after the waters had receded and the bodies of the dead were beginning to wash up on shore, God repented of what God had done. God hung up his bow (the primary assault weapon of the day - God's AR-15, if you will) as a reminder to GOD - "I'll not do this ever again!"

Maybe we ought to give serious consideration to the prophet's call, to consider doing the same: Toss our weapons into a foundry, melt them down, and transform them from weapons of death to instruments of life: plows and pruning shears.

As St. Paul says, "Let's put on the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, and shod our feet with the Gospel of Peace."

As people of God, that should be our FIRST order of business.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Creation Matters

Compassion is … a spirituality and a way of walking through life.  It is the way we treat all there is in life – ourselves, our bodies, our imaginations and dreams, our neighbors, our enemies … Compassion is a spirituality as if creation mattered.  It is treating all creation as holy and as divine … which is what it is.  – Matthew Fox

In almost every world religion, and from the lips or writings of almost every major world-class figure in spirituality, one reads what is often referred to as the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

We teach our children from early on not to hit their siblings or neighbor pals because “you wouldn’t want them to hit or bite you, would you?”

With such a small lesson we teach such a large principle: that people are to be treated with dignity and respect.

Over time, of course, we teach them that there are exceptions to the rule.  When a child hits our child, we may well teach them to set aside the golden rule for a moment and “protect yourself”.  It isn’t too far down the slippery slope where we find ourselves rationalizing that it is OK to “don’t get mad” but “get even”.

Spirituality is fine and good, it seems, when everyone is behaving properly, but it doesn’t take much to identify multiple exceptions to the rule.

We have heard it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, and if one tries to take our coat, to offer him our cloak, and if one would compel us to go a mile, go an extra mile!

That is very counter-intuitive advice, and not very practical. 

Was Jesus crazy?  Was he really that out of touch with human nature and the inordinate capacity of some people to take absolutely every advantage one gives them?  Didn’t he know that when you give someone a second chance that they’ll want a third, and that if you draw the line anywhere, they’ll resent you for it and hate you for it – and probably forever?

I don’t believe Jesus was crazy; I think he had something else in mind; he was addressing a world where compassion was in woefully short supply; he had two people under consideration as he spoke: “you” and “the other.”

Our very own humanity is bound up in the humanity of the other person.  Their ill treatment of us or of our property has nothing to do with how we ought to respond or behave, except to respond to the other person as a human being, whom God requires us to treat with dignity and respect; not because they have done so to us, but because that is how we must treat them if we are to retain our own humanity, and keep our own spiritual connection with God healthy, alive, and well.

While there are bad people in the world, they are probably fewer than we would like to admit.  It has been said that every person is the hero in his or her own story.  If that is true (and I believe it is), then we need to understand that the thoughts and actions of others are a function of their own heroic perspective; we tread on dangerous ground when we presume our own thoughts or actions are innocent and heroic, while imputing evil motives to those with whom we may be at odds.

Taking a moment to view the hero in the other person, even when we would most like to punch their lights out, allows us to see where we may have fallen woefully short of our own humanity, and of how we may have contributed to the mess we’re in.  Taking our responsibilities seriously, we may find the time we need to make amends and prevent further violence to those God calls us to love.

Perhaps it is time to ponder anew the golden rule and see if it doesn’t result in a bit more peace and joy in this, our valley.  I’m sure we would all find that nicer to look at than a bunch of smug neighbors stumbling around half-blind and toothless.  At least “eye” would hope so – and that’s the “tooth”.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Gift of a Smile

Even as children, you understand, we set our paper boats on a stream. We watch them go. M.O. Walsh, My Sunshine Away

I was gliding through the mall. I try to get out for a daily walk and when the weather is wet, cold, blustery, or otherwise miserable, I head for the mall and take advantage of the dry, warm, and sterile environment of its covered courts and stroll along to the boring strains of whatever generic music they’re piping throughout the concourse.

The retail space is quite empty these days. As I perambulate along the outer edges of the hallways, I can’t help but notice the same two guards trudging along as they make their rounds. We occasionally make eye contact, but that seldom lasts for more than a fraction of a second. In that fleeting moment they recognize I’m just a walker, nod a quick “hello” if they’ve the energy or are of a mind to, and as swiftly as that, we continue our appointments with health or security.

The mall has various places for people to rest. There are comfortable leather massage chairs people like to sit in, but I’ve yet to see anyone insert any money. They just sit and enjoy a chair that’s more comfortable than the standard mall couch or metal food-court seat as they await a friend or spouse to finish whatever they happen to be doing.

This particular day I found one fellow laid back and snoring away on a pay-chair by the sports team store. By the time I circled back for the second time, one of the yellow-vested security men was standing beside the sleepy slacker and informing him that while he could sit there he really shouldn’t sleep there.

I couldn’t help but wonder which I preferred – the purposeful snoring of a living being, or the digital tones piped over the metallic speakers spread throughout the mall, ensuring no one would ever have to endure the silence of their own thoughts, or the padded sounds of their sneakered footsteps. It was no contest. I preferred the earnest honesty of the snore.

There are also other walkers who, like me, are intent on getting in their “steps” or whatever measurement they are using. As with the guards, we walk, acknowledge one another with the briefest glance (furtively striving to look away – the better alternative for we shy types), and each continuing their way, lost in his own thoughts, adrift in her own bubble.

Each day I pass by the same venders. There are no crowds. There are no shoppers. There’s just us walkers, us mall-crawlers.

The venders situated along the center of the causeways sit in silence, face-down, scrolling through digital morsels proffered from their cell phones.

Could you imagine that anywhere else? In foreign lands, those venders would be crying out, calling for people to come check out their wares, fruits, vegetables, or baked goods. Not here. People sit in stony silence. If they’re on commission, they’re as good as dead. If they’re on salary, it’s got to be the hardest, loneliest buck on the planet to earn.

My one delight in walking at the mall was stopping and enjoying a good cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate at the beverage shop located mid-mall outside Macy’s. Sadly, it closed just after the first of the year.

A part of me died with its closing. I didn’t mourn for my loss, exactly, but just for what its closing represented – the slow but relentless death and decay of the traditional American mall. Yes, one can often buy things cheaper online, but I have yet to see the internet deliver a cup of decent coffee moments after ordering it. I have yet to see an electronic barista pass the time of day with pleasant conversation while working on my espresso or cappuccino.

I pondered this loss and glanced at a couple shuffling along hand in hand. They must have been pushing 90 or so. She leaned on him and the two of them hobbled along. Unlike the other crawlers, this couple was in no hurry. Unlike the others, the couple simply beamed, pleased as punch to be alive, walking, and together.

They looked at me and smiled. It was a gift – freely given. Thank you, God; they set free my own smile in this, our valley.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Prisoner

“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.” Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

This is a horror story so terrible I hope it doesn’t cause panic amongst the newspaper reading public. I say that because it is a true story, none of which is made up, fake, false, or anything like that. If you read it here, you can trust it is the genuine article in which there is no artifice or dissimulation. OK?

You’ve been warned.

I left the house to run some errands the other day and as I got a few blocks away I tapped my hip to discover (to my great horror) that I had left my cell phone at home on the table. In other words, I had ventured forth into the void (sometimes called the “neighborhood”) with no way to communicate, locate myself (via GPS), or find where I was actually going (via the maps app).

My pulse began to race (a condition with which I have very little experience), my skin began to crawl (although it was nice to feel like a newborn baby once again), and my breathing came in great gulps (like as if I was some poor cut-throat trout lying out on a sun-drenched gravel bar awaiting the agonizing rip of a fisherman’s filet-knife).

The blood drained away from the block that sits upon my shoulders and my vision began to blur. Was this the end? Is this how I would make my grand exit – a pile of goo holding onto a steering wheel, frozen in place, uttering those final words that no one would ever hear, “My pho …” (voice trails off – a finis coronat opus)?

After a few seconds, though, the panic in extremis passed. As the rain splashed against the windshield and the wipers continued the rhythm of their swiping, I began to realize that the human race had made it through several millennia without access to cell phones. People had actually traveled across continents and over oceans with little more than a stick in their hands with which to fight off fierce wild beasts or snag a kippered snack for supper.

I eased my grip upon the steering wheel, allowing blood to flow once again, crossing over my knuckles and back into the brain bucket from which it had originally been drained. The world righted itself and I realized everything would be okay.

I reflected on the matter and came to recognize that perhaps I had become too attached to my phone. Where it is supposed to be a tool which serves its owner, it had become the master – the “Lord” Vader – and I had become the student, the Woe-be-gone-Keith-Obie. I had become a prisoner, imprisoned (probably why it’s called a “Cell” phone), but now I was free.

Freedom, of course, is just another word for nothing left to lose, so I continued on my journey, taking care of business (every day), taking care of business (every way), taking care of business (it’s all mine) … oh, sorry. I got carried away in (Bachman Turner) Overdrive …

Anyway, it’s funny how paralyzing fear can be. That momentary lapse into panic (while possibly exaggerated for effect) was very real, but ultimately groundless. The key to breaking that moment of angst was to do some real grounding. Listening to the wipers, watching the splashing of the rain, smelling the soft vapors of the air freshener, and feeling the warm air blowing from the vents restored me to sanity (a major marvel, to be sure).

Whenever I find myself worried about things going on around me, the majority of which are outside my control – like the weather, politics, the rising and falling fortunes of my favorite sports teams, etc. – I find it helpful to put my five senses to work, finding concrete reality in the world around me (versus the noise and static coming from the warp and woof of my imagination).

We have embarked on a whole new year. We’re several weeks into it and it has already lost some of that New Year smell. Still, touching base with those we love and staying grounded one step and one day at a time will work to make it a sane year. Also, don’t text and drive – today’s PSA.

What more could we ask for in this, our valley? Happy Trails!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Personal Assistant

“You’re going to have a hard time in life if you let every little mistake bother you. Life is good. Enjoy it.” M.O. Walsh, My Sunshine Away

Christmas is over. Well, not really. The tree is still up and will be until the 6th of January. The twelve days of Christmas end then. But psychologically and culturally, the feast really ended at sundown Christmas day.

The outside lights are still up, but they don’t seem to twinkle quite as festively as they did in the nights leading up to Christmas. The wreaths continue to hang but seem a bit gray and tired – sort of like those who put them up in the first place. The stockings are droopy, having been dumped and emptied at the sound of Gabriel’s horn on Christmas morn.

Yep. Christmas is over. We didn’t get as much meat off the lamb as we usually would off a turkey, so the leftovers were pretty skimpy. The taters and rolls got scarfed down and about all we had left was the pink fluff we make for our holiday meal. It’s mighty tasty, so I’m always glad to see a double-batch thrown together for the family supper. But still, there wasn’t enough to last us even to the Five Golden Rings day of the season!

However, while the day itself may be done, finished, and caput, some parts of the holiday will live on for a long, long time because this year one of my true loves gave to me – a Personal Assistant!

It is one of those voice activated devices you set up to make life more convenient, which is a good thing, for there is nothing more inconvenient than living. For one thing, there’s eating, breathing, and all sorts of biological minutia in which one has to engage if one is going to be considered alive. That’s mighty inconvenient, as I’ve taken nicely to being a quiet lump on the couch staying out of everyone else’s way.

But now I have a Personal Assistant available at my every beck and call. “Alexa, what’s the weather?”

“The weather outside is a balmy 39 degrees. Rain is expected, so you may wish to take an umbrella with you if you go outside.”

Good heavens; not only do I get a weather report, but she gives it with sass! And, to be honest, I never get tired of being told what to do when I go outside, or how to dress, or what to take with me.

She is connected to my phone; I can ask her to fill out my grocery list so when I go to the store I don’t have to fumble with a paper list – trying to cross items off as we load them into the cart. Now I can just check each item off as I get it and, voila, no punching holes in lists I generally can’t read anyway (with my penmanship, I really should have been a doctor).

One downside to having an electronic PA is that she is limited in some of the more practical things one might desire. For instance, she can’t fetch my slippers or run out to the mail box to grab the mail. She doesn’t pour coffee or bring it when I ask, and she can’t do all the things she could do if we lived in a smart house (like turn on lights, open the garage, or adjust the thermostat for when we leave or return home).

Still, it is kind of nice having someone to talk to when I’m by myself, but she also fosters an eerie sense that one is not really ever alone. Her green light fades in and out as she sniffs the air for sound – yearning for a question or command.

She sometimes interrupts a private conversation, interjecting, “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that,” so we know she’s listening in; eavesdropping. Should we be worried? Is Big Brother or Big Sister listening in?

The answer is, probably, and for many that could be unnerving, but her microphone can be shut off. That reduces any concern I might otherwise have. For me, she’s just the newest member of the family, and that’s OK.

Now, if she’d just learn to fetch my slippers and pour my coffee here in this, our valley, I’d be set for life – a happy lump.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Santa and the Stranger

Twas the night before Christmas … – C.C. Moore

Santa sat in his easy chair sawing logs when he was awakened by the approaching jingle jangle of Oof-Dah, the house elf.

“Santa,” whispered Oof-Dah, “it’s time.”

Santa wiped the crusty sleep from his blood-shot eyes while squinting toward a novelty clock that hung upon the wall. Rudolph’s hands pointed out the hour and minutes whilst his tail swung away in the rhythmic dance of a pendulum. It took Santa’s peepers a few moments to clear away enough eye-slime to see the time.

“Not again,” he groaned, as much to himself as to Oof-Dah.

There once was a time when Santa loved Christmas. For one thing, Christmas wasn’t a day, but a way of life. In fact, not only was Christmas a way of life, it was THE way of life. This was long before Santa was even called Santa; he was Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.

Towns-folk knew him as a nice old man who mostly spent time tending to the business of his church – reading, writing, preparing sermons, hearing confessions, pronouncing absolutions for the penitent of heart. He visited the homes of the sick, anointing them with oil, offering prayers, a gentle touch upon their fevered brows, baptizing those who appeared ready to take their final journey into the loving arms of God.

Nicholas could often be found wandering the port-side piers, talking to sailors, taking in hand letters to loved ones (to be delivered in the event they did not return from their nautical sojourns). Sailors would occasionally hand Nicholas a coin or two, asking him to help those in need. It didn’t seem like much to those crusty salts, but it was something, and they knew they could, in their own meager way, help Nicholas carry out his charitable work.

Nicholas would also visit the prisons, conversing with both guards and prisoners. Many detainees languished in jail, lost and forgotten by their families – disowned, even. They relied on the mercy of this holy man who brought food and water to help meet their most basic needs.

Sometimes Nicholas was their only visitor; he treated both guards and prisoners with the same love and respect he showed to all people. He reminded the guards that despite the differences of their situations, “all are brothers and sisters,” so he admonished them to “treat one another as you would be treated.”

Nicholas died, as all people do, but he was not forgotten. He exemplified in his own life the way he believed Jesus of Nazareth had lived. There were three pillars to his faith: Do justice; be merciful; walk humbly with God. Beyond that, there was nothing more to do than to practice those principles in all one’s affairs.

Santa looked up with a start. He found himself doing that more and more – reminiscing on the old days when things were simpler, the days before he had been transformed from a living, breathing, loving bishop of far-away Myra to a jolly old elf of the frozen northlands – a mythical creation with so-called magical powers, but no real substance.

Ever since Moore captured him in that fanciful poem, Santa had become a prisoner of Commercial Interests. The kind and gentle saint had been Gulagged – interned in a frozen wasteland from which there was no escape.

No escape, unless …

Oof-Dah gave Santa a wink.

Santa looked at his shackled wrists – chained to the belts of Avarice, Inebriation, and Accumulation – and in just a blink of the eye, his fetters fell away.

Oof-Dah smiled. “You’re free, Santa,” was all he said.

Santa sat there gob smacked. “Wha-happened?” he queried, wondering just how on earth he had been suddenly set free from the shackles of a commercialized perdition.

As Santa pondered the imponderable he glanced at the nearby fireplace. Astride a blazing yule log, a solitary figure stood silently and slipped some keys into a robe that was somehow not consumed by the flames. The Mysterion said not a word, but Santa perceived an answer to his unspoken questions in the face of the One who was not a stranger, but a friend. That message?

Do justice, Be Merciful. Walk humbly with God.

“Ho ho ho-kay,” he laughed, and holding tight the hand that freed him, went about dispensing gifts of love, joy, and peace to all in need.

May all who find themselves in Santa's muck-lucks find themselves likewise unshackled by the One who came to set all people free; Merry Christmas from this, our valley!