Author Archives: Steve

America’s Gun Future on This Side of the Slippery Slope

Every time there’s a major mass shooting, especially in a school (I said “major” to differentiate from all the “minor” mass shootings we don’t even notice anymore), there is a lot of hand-wringing. “We’ve got to do something to stop this!” people say.

Well, let’s be honest. Nothing’s going to happen. We’re on the side of the slippery slope which heads only toward more and more guns, fewer regulations, and a whole lot more gun deaths. It’s not going to stop. So just quit your bellyaching. This is the country We the Majority of the People have chosen to be. Basically, we value gun ownership more than we value human life. I know that’s a hard statement, but it’s true, at least in the political realm. The political will to place lives over guns just does not exist. Every proposed regulatory tweak dies.

I thought bump stocks was the no-brainer for which action would be taken. Bump stocks serve NO purpose other than to turn legal weapons into full-auto killing machines. I was SURE Congress would take action. I really was. But the NRA doesn’t want ANY kind of regulations about guns. And so, bump stocks remain legal. Expect them to show up in a future school shooting. The Florida shooter fired 150 rounds. With a bump stock, he could have fired 1500+ rounds in the same amount of time.

If we don’t have the fortitude to outlaw bump stocks, which should be a hands-down clear thing, then don’t expect ANY kind of action to rein in gun violence. Cry all you want, but it’s just not gonna happen. I’m a gun owner, and I’m not in favor of banning guns, but there are other things we can do (and which other countries are doing successfully). But with the NRA in charge, NOTHING WILL BE DONE. But go ahead and have your rant with each mass shooting, if it makes you feel better.

So here’s what lies ahead for America. The NRA talks about the slippery slope toward a time when the government will confiscate all guns. Well, that’s not gonna happen. We’re on the OTHER side of the slippery slope, with gun regulations become more relaxed everywhere you look. As we continue down this slope, here’s what will happen in the years ahead.

— We’ll soon have nationwide concealed carry based on the lowest common denominator–meaning, like Indiana, no requirements for obtaining a CC license.

— The party of “states rights” will overrule whatever restrictions your state or town has in place. States with strong guns laws–California, Illinois, New York–will be forced into the same leniency of Wyoming or Florida, because it’ll be FEDERAL law now.

— Open carry will become common-meaning, people with holstered pistols or AR-15s slung over their shoulders will be a common sight at your local Target. And then comes constitutional carry–you don’t even need any kind of license to buy or own or carry a gun.

— All regulations involving silencers will go away. They’ll become common, and will show up in mass shootings.

— Restrictions on full-auto weapons will not be renewed, opening whole new markets for the gun manufacturers (who will profusely reward the NRA). Full-auto weapons will become the preferred gun for mass shootings, greatly increasing the death toll.

— With more guns available and fewer restrictions, there will be MORE mass shootings, especially at vulnerable places–schools, churches, shopping centers, nursing homes. Anything that involves a large gathering of people will become a target–concerts, parades, athletic events, etc. More suicides and accidental deaths, too.

— The death toll from guns will continue increasing. Finland is the European country with the highest rate of gun deaths-3 for every 100,000 people. In the USA, it’s 10 for every 100,000 people. Don’t expect it to stay at 10.

As gun violence escalates, we’ll hear the same talking points we hear with every mass shooting. That the only way to stop it is for more people to have guns. That we don’t need more laws, we just need to enforce the laws already on the books. That it’s all about mental illness. Yada yada yada. And with every election, we’ll hear that the government is ready to pounce and take away all of our guns…even though the government is owned by the NRA. It’s your constitutional right to keep drinking that Kool-Aid.

So, more mass shootings, fewer and eventually no regulations, guns everywhere–that is America’s future. I’ll give it 20 years. That’s the clear slippery slope we’re on, and I see nothing to stop it.

I DARE you to convince me otherwise.

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Memories of the Blizzard of ’78, Now 40 Years Ago

40 years ago today, I boarded an airplane in Fresno, Calif., with $15 in my wallet and no credit cards. I had spent my junior-year J-Term with my family in Pixley, Calif., and worked at Pixley Foodmart, which was my summer job throughout college. Now it was time to return to Huntington College.

I didn’t know anything was wrong until I arrived in Denver. My flight to Chicago had been cancelled…as had just about every other flight to the East. They tried rerouting me through various airports, including Atlanta, but nothing worked. Every airport in the Midwest and East was shut down with the Blizzard of ’78.

In baggage claim there in Denver, I noticed a woman with her adult-age son, who was mentally challenged and kind of starting to freak out over the chaos in the terminal. She was trying to comfort him while looking for their bags, and not doing either well. I offered to help. She looked in my face for a few seconds and then said, “You’re a Christian, aren’t you?” It was amazing.

They were returning from a visit in California to their farm in Illinois. I took care of their bags, got us vouchers for hotel rooms, took them to breakfast the next morning (more vouchers), accompanied them back to the airport, secured flights for them, and saw them depart for Chicago. Never saw them again, but we had some wonderful discussions about faith. Her son, despite his disabilities, had a childlike and totally enviable faith in Christ. He inspired and humbled me. I’ll never forget him.

The airline had no idea where my luggage was. Nevertheless, I made it to Chicago later that day, and in the early morning hours, took a near-empty 747 to Detroit–ascend to altitude, and immediately descend. I spent that entire day in Detroit, sleeping on the floor and eating hardly anything. That evening, three days after leaving California, a plane took me to Fort Wayne, flying low the entire way. It was a beautiful flight. Snow covered everything.

When I reached Fort Wayne, my luggage was waiting for me. I wondered if I would ever see my bags again. How in the world did they arrive before I did?

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Empathy for Animals vs. Human Suffering

I can’t say enough good about “Following Francis,” by Susan Pitchford. This is a person following hard after God, and writing about it with freshness and wit. I’m halfway through, and savoring every short chapter.

This morning I read about a trip she took to Ghana to visit prisons from the slave trade. As you can imagine, she described some horrifying things. Then, going back to her hotel, her taxi passed a goat that had been struck, lying in blood and kicking its legs in pain. That’s when her tears began.

She wrote, “I used to feel guilty about my response to animal suffering, because it seems out of proportion: at an irrational, gut level not calibrated to my values, it gets to me in a way that human suffering doesn’t.”

Yes! That’s exactly how I am! And I’ve felt guilty about it, too. I’ve felt vulnerable to people accusing, “If you only cared as much about an aborted baby/a trafficked child/a leper as you do about an abused dog or lion.”

I’m deeply disturbed by human suffering, but something about animals really gets to me. Perhaps they, too are the “least of these”–powerless, dependent, disregarded. Perhaps a heart response to suffering, no matter what kind, should be regarded as a gift from God.

As Pitchford writes, “Whenever we witness the suffering of another in an attitude of radical openness–of compassion, not turning away, but allowing ourselves to feel something of that suffering–we enter into Christ’s own heart. Just as when we suffer for him, we share something of his cross.”

I still don’t know what exactly to make of my empathy for animals, but as I continue pondering it, it’s nice to know there’s at least one other person out there who is a kindred spirit.

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When Evil Prevails in America

Jose and Cindy Garcia at a January 15 farewell party before he was deported to Mexico.

Martin Luther King: “We have to repent in this generation, not merely for the hateful words and actions of bad people, but for the appalling silence of good people.”

When I was ten years old, I lived in Harrisburg, Pa. It’s a nice place. But I was thinking. What if my government suddenly forced me to give up my job, to give up my home, to give up my wife and cats, to give up my church, and unceremoniously deposited me in Harrisburg. With no job. No place to live. No nearby relatives. Just dumped me there and I had to fend for myself.

That’s basically what happened to Jorge Garcia of Detroit, who has been dumped in the foreign country which he left at age 10, which for him was thirty years ago. It’s yet another outrage from the Trump Administration’s unbending, no-exceptions-allowed policies. Yet another American family ripped apart by an uncaring government (though a whole lot of my Facebook friends will applaude his deportation).

Garcia was deported on Martin Luther King Day. King once wrote: “The Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not…the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than justice.” That nails what is happening here. Give me law and order, make me feel safe, protect my interests, coddle my fears and paranoia…even if it tramples on justice.

Jorge Garcia was brought to the US illegally at age 10. He has lived here 30 years, and has lived, by all accounts, a commendale life–working as a landscaper, paying taxes, no problems with the law. He married an American citizen 15 years ago, and they have two children who are American citizens, ages 12 and 15. The Trump administration killed an Obama administration policy which protected from deportation the parents of American citizens.

He has tried to get legal, but efforts have been unsuccessful. He has checked in with ICE for 13 years, so when a new president took office, they knew where to find him. He won’t be allowed to re-enter the US–for any reason, I understand–for at least ten years. If his family wants to see him, they’ll need to go to Mexico.

When Garcia’s 12-year-old son was asked how he felt, he said, “Sad, angry,” and then bowed his head and began crying. For ICE, just another day at work. For that boy, a life-altering trauma.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”–Edmund Burke.

It’s outrageous–it’s EVIL–to tear apart families like this. Previous administrations made compassionate allowances, but those days are gone. I won’t be quiet about this.

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My Russian Fan Club

I seem to be quite the rage in Russia. Looking through my Junk mail (which I do once or twice a year), I discovered a number of emails from the last few days reading like this:

“You seem like my type and I would like to know you more! Write me if you are interested, here is my email ________, and, if you want, I will send some of my photos. Hugs, Anastasia.”

All have .ru email addresses and use the exact same wording. A related email tells me, “You are hot, smart, and sexy.” I can’t argue with that.

I’ve received the same email from Liza, Sasha, Victoria, Daria, Sofia, Ekaterina, Maria, Polina, Dasha, Olga, Ksenia, Alina, Katya, Anya, Alexandra, and Lena. I don’t know whether they are a fan club or stalkers, but I appreciate the attention.

The only rational explanation I can think of is that all of these women are babushkas in their 80s, and recently retired as prison guards in the Siberian gulag. I will not be requesting photos. (Really, Pam, I won’t.)

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I’ll Do This if You Do That

Husband: “Here’s my offer. I’ll stop beating the kids, if you’ll let me buy a new flatscreen TV for my man cave.”

Wife: “How are those two things even related? Besides, you promised–over and over and OVER–that your friend Morty would buy the TV for you.”

Husband: “I asked Morty, and he said no. So what can I do? We need to buy it ourselves.”

Wife: “So, if I write the check, you’ll stop beating the kids?”

Husband: “For now, I’ll stop. Believe me. It’s a win win.”

This is kind of how I view the President’s offer–that he’ll make a deal on DACA only if Congress makes the American people fund the border wall, which he always insisted Mexico would pay for.

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All Humans can Show Bad Judgment. Even…Jesus?

Was Jesus capable of exercising bad judgment? According to most Christian teaching, no. Bad judgment sounds too close to sin. We explain away everything Jesus said and did, even when it grates on us in some way. We focus on his “divine” side. We portray Jesus wandering blissfully through Israel, pious and smiling and always saying and doing the exact right thing.

In the words of Philip Yancy, we view Jesus “from above.” But when we view Jesus “from below,” legitimate (in my view) questions arise.

Like the one story from Jesus at age 12 (which I read yesterday), when he stayed behind in Jerusalem and inflicted a three-day panic on his parents as they frantically searched the city for him. Imagine Mary praying, “God, we have lost your Son. Please help us find him.” And it took three days, during which Mary and Joseph no doubt considered every possibility, including the very bad ones.

They finally locate Jesus in the Temple. Perhaps they had already looked there–maybe even started there. Jesus surely didn’t spend three days straight at the Temple, but spent part of the time elsewhere. Mary rightfully scolded her 12-year-old boy: “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

Jesus replied, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” That explanation always seems sufficient in modern sermons. But I’m guessing it didn’t satisfy Mary. Perhaps she immediately responded, “I don’t care! Don’t you ever do this to us again!” But when Mary (let’s assume) told the story to Luke, she left out that part.

Was Jesus oblivious to his mother’s concern? Or did he realize he had done something (dare I say it?) wrong? Did he apologize? There’s not story of him repeating that behavior in subsequent years.

Jesus was 12, and he was human. Was he not capable of bad judgment, even in the midst of righteous intentions?

In the next chapter, Jesus is teaching in his hometown of Nazareth. Initially, people respond positively. Then he takes it too far, crossing a line into heresy, and he alienated people who had no doubt played important roles in his life. For what purpose? Was this just the human side exercising poor judgment? A case of saying more than (he should have known) they were ready to accept?

There are other examples where, looking at Jesus “from below,” we could conclude Jesus didn’t ALWAYS know the exact right thing to do and say. For me, it doesn’t make him any less God. But it goes against the view of Jesus we normally teach and portray.

Just musing.

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That Highly Inefficient Roman Census

Reading about the census in Luke 2, it seems highly inefficient, having people travel to their ancestral home.

For Joseph, that meant going to Bethlehem, known as the City of David. But why stop at David? Joseph was also a descendent of Boaz, and Joseph, and Isaac. How did he know the lineage cut-off point? Did he get a letter in the mail? Was there a Census Bureau website he could consult? Was the rule, “Wherever your descendents lived at the time of David, that’s where you go”?

And why should the Romans care about everyone’s ancestral home? Wouldn’t they be more interested in, “How many people currently live in Nazareth? How many currently live in Capernaum?”

If we did the US census that way, imagine the confusion, with people traveling all across the country. I would go to either Lake Odessa or Lowell in Michigan…or maybe Kadoka, South Dakota. Maybe I would arrive in Lake Odessa and be told, “A-L is in Lowell. Only M-Z is in Lake Odessa.” Or maybe they would say, “No, Dennies have to go to South Dakota.” That would be a bummer.

What about immigrants who had no ancestral home in Israel? Where did they go to register? I’m sure the Romans wanted to tax them like everyone else.

How did people prove they had registered? Did they get a paper of some kind? It’s not like a Roman soldier could call up the office in Bethlehem and ask, “Did a Joseph from Nazareth register there?”

These are my questions for today.

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When Kids Find a Gun in the House

I’m continually disturbed by how many young children find a loaded gun in their home, “play” with it (that’s always the word used), and end up shooting themselves–often fatally. For several years, I’ve been reading gunviolencearchive.org, which daily compiles stories of unintentional shootings and accidental discharges. Every time, there are stories about children shooting themselves.

  • A 4-year-old girl shot herself with her father’s gun hidden in a couch.
  • A 2-year-old, going to the kitchen in the night, shot himself with a gun in a kitchen cabinet.
  • A 9-year-old found a gun in a car, and killed himself with a bullet to the chest.
  • Two children are “playing” with a gun, and one gets shot.
  • A girl, 5, found her Dad’s .45 handgun in a backpack in the bedroom and shot herself in the head.
  • A boy, 5, shot himself in the hand with a gun found in an unsecured safe.
  • A boy, 3, shot himself in the head with a gun left out in the bedroom.
  • During a 3-day period in Memphis, three children accidentally shot themselves–boys 8 and 4, both of whom died, and a girl, 4. (Memphis leads the nation in accidental shootings of children.)
  • A 10-year-old shot and killed his brother, 8, with a Glock found in their home. He thought it was a fake gun.
  • A 4-year-old boy died after shooting himself with a gun found at a babysitter’s house.

In one gun class Pam and I took, the instructor said kids always have some instinct to look down the barrel of a gun. Shudder.

Usually, accidental shootings happens at home. Sometimes they are visiting a relative and find a hidden gun. Sometimes it’s not your kid, but somebody else staying overnight who finds the loaded gun that your own kid has been taught to leave alone. Sometimes, it’s a gun kept in the car; the mom runs into the store, and the child finds the gun in the console or under the seat. There are a zillion scenarios.

Growing up, us cousins would hang out in my grandpa’s utility room, where a shotgun, a .22 rifle, and a handgun hung on the wall. We NEVER touched them. Dad told me recently that, as a young father, he worried about that, knowing the guns were loaded. But really, we left them alone. (If any of my cousins want to confess to something, feel free.) But kids can be curious.

In some states, it is illegal to leave a firearm where an unsupervised minor can access it. In many of the stories I read on gunviolencearchive, it’s chalked up as a terrible accident. But in many other stories, the parent is arrested.

No matter how well you train your own kids regarding weapons in your own home, you can’t speak for what will happen when your kid goes to somebody else’s home with other people’s kids, or when other people’s kids come to your own home. I’ve read articles about how today’s parents sometimes, before allowing their kid to visit another home, ask about the presence of firearms there. It’s not a matter of being anti-gun. It’s smart parenting.

All across the country, the clear trend is to loosen gun laws. I’m not a fan of that, especially with so many child shootings occurring.

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Book Review: “Jesus: a Pilgrimage,” by James Martin

jamesmartin580
Today, I FINALLY finished one of the best Christian books I’ve ever read: “Jesus: a Pilgrimage,” by Jesuit priest James Martin. At it’s most basic, it’s a travel guide: Martin and a fellow priest visit Holy Land sites from Jesus’ life, and Martin writes about them. Most chapters have three parts: he tells the biblical story that happened there, he relates his own visit, and he shares insights about the story. He also includes the actual Scriptural text at the end of each chapter. Seems simple. But he delivers such wonderfully rich stuff. The trip isn’t about tourism and taking selfies. It’s a true spiritual pilgrimage.
 
Maybe it’s especially interesting to me because he’s a Jesuit priest. He’s sharing things from angles outside of my own religious tradition. If an evangelical minister did the same thing, I’d probably hear the same stuff I’ve heard in a zillion sermons since childhood. But it was made more interesting (to me) because I learned so much about the Jesuit lifestyle and the many intentional spiritual practices built into being a Jesuit. I learned to greatly admire that lifestyle and how they pursue God.
 
Martin is quite traditional in his view of Scripture, no different from me. Many chapters dealt with miracles performed by Jesus. He often mentioned ways scholars, even evangelical ones, have dismissed the miracle with a natural explanation. But Martin will have none of it. It’s a miracle, and he’s not budging.
 
Martin says in the intro, “Humanity and divinity are both part of Jesus’ story. Omit one or the other, scissor out the uncomfortable parts, and it’s not Jesus we’re talking about any longer. It’s our own creation.” His trip was to better understand the real Jesus by visiting what he calls “The Fifth Gospel,” the Holy Land itself where Jesus lived and walked.
 
He writes, “I would like to invite you to meet the Jesus you already may know, but in a new way. Of, if you don’t know much about Jesus, I would like to introduce him to you. Overall, I would like to introduce you to the Jesus I know, and love, the person at the center of my life. Getting to know Jesus, like getting to know anyone, has been a pilgrimmage. Part of that pilgrimage was a trip to Israel, one that changed my life.”
 
It’s a long book, 500 pages with 25 chapters. I read it slowly, savoring it over a period of two years. I’m glad I did.
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