Saturday, December 29, 2012

the self-defense argument for guns examined

This really isn't much of an examination. There have been many great articles on the irrational American obsession with weapon ownership. I've read several at (expected), the Economist (the non-American perspective which is WTF?) and at the American Conservative (totally unexpected).  The argument that armed citizens stop crime is pretty weak. Trained and armed police are more effective, but even they can cause collateral damage, see the NYC story. More guns in our country seems to have a pretty close correlation with more gun deaths in our country. If you need more depression in your life, make sure you follow the twitter feed @gundeaths, which tracks all reported gun deaths in the USA. It tends to fill up my twitter feed every single day. But many of my fellow americans, read the comments on facebook or on news websites, and the NRA just keep hollering that citizens need to be armed to protect themselves. Previously, I suggested people get dogs instead. I do realize not everyone can keep a dog. So maybe I can find a compromise with the NRA. Why don't they advocate that everyone have access to a Taser instead? Their lethality is limited. One can't commit suicide with them. One can't commit mass murder with them. They do work at a distance. They are only good for defense.

But I don't think the NRA really cares about protection. They support an industry. The industry is also supported by several magazines (no pun intended) that were awfully disturbing to view on the library racks yesterday. The covers are advertising instruments of death. Why don't we have guillotine magazine as well? That industry does not make money off of Tasers. Perhaps they could, if the 2nd amendment were understood as "well regulated" meaning not capable of killing unless in the hands of soldiers and police. Maybe the government could offer an exchange program, handguns for tasers. I much rather prefer those successful trade-ins of guns for groceries. But there seems to be a deep rooted affection for guns. Some Christians call this modern American idolatry, even modern worship of the ancient Middle Eastern idol, Molech. That cult required the sacrifice of children for protection. Eerie.

I'm a follower of Jesus myself. Here is what he said about those who treat us violently in his sermon on the mount.
38"You have heard that the law of Moses says, 'If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it.' 39But I say, don't resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too. 40If you are ordered to court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42Give to those who ask, and don't turn away from those who want to borrow. 43"You have heard that the law of Moses says, 'Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy. 44But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too. 46If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. Matthew 5
The way I read it, I need to hold onto my stuff loosely. It's not worth protecting. But the lives of others are worth protecting. Here is a great summary of what some pacifists have done, with remarkable bravery, without weapons in war. Jesus lived out his words and let himself be captured and killed. Martin Luther King Jr. lived out Jesus' words and got rid of his firearms when his home and family were threatened. Those words can change the world. And they have. If only they would be trusted by Americans. Europe has found that restricting access to firearms, and making bullets very expensive, results in less gum crime, even by the criminals. The police don't even have to carry side arms. The experiment has been conducted and found successful. What are americans waiting for?
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, December 28, 2012

book response: Letters from a skeptic by Greg Boyd (2010)

I picked this up for my Kindle when it was free for a day. It's only two bucks and change now, and this book is worth so much more. It is so much better to read apologetics from a correspondence between an honest skeptic and a humble apologist. This is narrative instead of academic. Boyd knows a great deal, he studied theology at Princeton and Yale, but he is not ashamed to admit what he doesn't know, his own struggles with doubt, his own mistakes in faith, or the limits of what can be claimed on behalf of Jesus and the Bible. Boyd is not a fundamentalist which enables him to write about Jesus much more winsomely and not as a hard dogmatist. He acknowledges the diversity within Christendom, and explains why he makes the choices within it without condemning those who have chosen otherwise. He also talks about the fringe groups and what makes them fringy. In fact, he started his Christian journey in one of them, oneness pentecostalism. He wants his skeptical dad to know that he will defend Jesus, but not the church as institution.
But the “religion” of Christianity, the “institution” of the church, is not itself Christian. Only people, not institutions, can be Christian. Thus, I want to sharply distinguish between the Christianity I’m defending and the “Christian church”: The two need not have anything more than a name in common. I wouldn’t dream of trying to defend all that’s been done under the label “Christianity.” Like you, I am enraged by a great deal of it. p.26

He makes an admirable attempt at understanding the problem of evil. He comes down on the side of it's the risk that came with God choosing to give us freedom in order that we might love freely. "If we have the potential to oppress or slay millions, it’s because we also have the potential to liberate and love millions." p. 34 But why did God take such a risk? Because God is love. "Love is really the only reason worth creating! It’s not freedom for the sake of freedom that God values—it’s love. Freedom is simply the only possible means to this end." p.34 He also says that the natural evil is the fault of spiritual forces who are committed to destruction.
I would never for a moment pretend to understand exactly how these demonic forces screw around with nature—the Bible is completely silent on this score. But it is my deepest conviction that all evil which can’t be accounted for by appealing to the necessary limitations of the world or the evil wills of people is due to the will of such beings as these. In the end, we are all more or less casualties of war. p. 46
One can never arrive at this conclusion without an acceptance of a spiritual, non-physical world, something easily understandable to most non-westerners. The good news is that evil will be completely vanquished in the future. The deposit on it's guaranteed end started at Christmas 2000 years ago.
Only the gospel dares to proclaim that God enters smack-dab into the middle of the hell we create. Only the gospel dares to proclaim that God was born a baby in a bloody, crap-filled stable, that He lived a life befriending the prostitutes and lepers no one else would befriend, and that He suffered, firsthand, the hellish depth of all that is nightmarish in human existence. Only the gospel portrait of God makes sense of the contradictory fact that the world is at once so beautiful and so ugly. p. 77
I love that last sentence. Most importantly, Boyd keeps pointing to Jesus. He saves us, not his book, or his church. "Salvation is a matter of being related to Christ, not the Bible. In fact, believing the Bible to be inspired is, for me, simply a consequence (not the basis) of confessing Christ to be the Lord of my life." p. 114 That Jesus' resurrection is unique, does not mean it is necessarily false, but something new. "Jesus is, if you will, the first butterfly to come out of the cocoon. It seems implausible to us now only because we are yet entrapped inside our cocoons. But caterpillars are meant to fly!" p. 132 This is our hope. His resurrection proved he is worth listening to and believing in. "The bottom line is this: The evidence for the resurrection and the deity of Christ stands or falls together, and there is simply no legitimate rational basis to the notion that the conclusion this evidence points to is inherently impossible." p.140

The resurrection is not enough for many people. Some of my friends, like Boyd's father, would appreciate personal text messages, perhaps in clouds in the sky, to firm things up for them. This is the issue of the hiddenness of God. Boyd points out that God did that over and over again in the First Testament, and Jesus did it over and over again in the Second Testament, and still people refused to believe, or if they did, transform their lives.
So God settles on a “middle-of-the-road” program. He is present enough so that those who want to experience Him can experience Him, but absent enough so that those who don’t want to experience Him aren’t forced to—and they’re actually in a sense justified in their complaint over God’s absence! God is obvious enough so that those who want to see Him can see Him, but hidden enough so that those who don’t want to see Him can avoid Him—and be in a sense justified in their complaint about His secrecy. Love requires both evidence and hiddenness. p.151
God is open to those who are open and closed to those who are closed. Boyd continually challenges his father to risk being open.

I don't want to ruin the ending, but it is beautiful. After nearly two and a half years of correspondence, Boyd's father consents to be loved by Jesus, then his body starts to fall apart. It's almost a certainty that when one decides to trust Jesus, the feces hits the fan in their lives. For some, it ruins their faith, but it doesn't for all, and it didn't for his father. He remained a grateful and content man through three ever more debilitating strokes until he passed away.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Top 10 UmBlog posts of 2012

This truly surprises me.

  1. an explanation of ferrocement house construction
  2. my book review of Terror by Night by Terry Caffey
  3. my book review of Rowling's newest book A Casual Vacancy
  4. building arched roofs without modern materials
  5. grain bin homes for Haitians
  6. a book review of the excellent Jesus: A Theography
  7. my hare-brained proposal about combining rammed earth with straw bales
  8. my excitement over a bike with a drive shaft, the Runabout
  9. my thoughts on this crazy article at Slate
  10. my proposal to drop the word "marriage" as a legal word
Only one of these topics is directly involved with my stated purpose of this blog. I'm glad people are reading my book reviews, since I like reading books. I'm glad people are interested in crazy house ideas. They've also become popular on my Pinterest page. I found more houses than I can blog about and put them there. The same is true of bicycles. I have several of them pinned as well. I also don't link to as many blog posts either. I do that on Twitter mostly. I don't do much on Facebook anymore. My tweets and blogs and pins automatically show up there. Some discussions do happen on my wall. I just wish they would happen here instead. All my links also show up on my google + page, but I only have two or three people who respond there, but like 300 random friends. It's like my old myspace page.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

book response: Manhunt The 12 day chase for Lincoln's killer by Swanson (2007)

One of my favorite things to do on holiday vacations is to read. Napping is the other, and they go together like hand and glove. Despite my napping, this book, which I had to borrow from the library after reading James Swanson's newest book, went too fast. Swanson writes history at a quick pace, it's only 12 days after all in this story, but adds so much color to the characters and their times. He incorporates the quirks, the dress, the songs, the headlines, the personal letters, diaries, sights, smells, and sounds into an immersive environment for the reader. In an afterword, incorporated into the Kindle edition, there is an author interview, where we find out Swanson, who shares Lincoln's birthday, grew up fascinated with Lincoln history, and was buying memorabilia when he was a teenager. He himself is fully immersed in Lincoln, but is able to write well enough to bring us, his readers along for the swim.

John Wilkes Booth was a white supremacist, a secessionist, a brilliant and exceedingly handsome actor, and an egomaniac. While he lay in hiding in a pine copse for a week, his primary concern was his headlines. The assassin was an actor first and could not stop himself from checking the nation's response to an act on his largest stage. He was sorely disappointed that the papers reviled him and turned Abraham Lincoln into a martyred saint. For more about that process see Swanson's subsequent book.

I'm impressed with Swanson's restraint in painting the characters. He adores Lincoln, and calls him the greatest US president, yet he doesn't caricature Booth. He was a deeply flawed man, and Swanson let's those flaws speak for themselves. But he also includes the acts of love Booth's family extended to him post-mortem and shares their conflicted thoughts and feelings from their surviving writings about Booth.

Before reading this book, my understanding of Booth's flight and demise was really fuzzy. I really appreciate the clarity Swanson brought to me.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, December 22, 2012

i'm pretty sure cars are different from guns

In the ongoing internet debates in America about gun control, gun ownership advocates frequently like to compare gun owners to car owners. The common factor being that cars are just as capable as killing people as guns are. However, assault rifles and high capacity magazines and pistols are designed exclusively to kill humans. Cars are designed to protect humans, airbags and such. Other than the Ford Pinto, I don't know of any car designed exclusively for killing humans. In fact, car manufacturers do respond to complaints of deaths and injuries and will bend under pressure to improve their product. Gun manufacturers, however, despite technology to improve the safety of their products, do not. Even if James Bond makes it cool, by preventing  his own gun from being used against him in this summer's movie. In driving school, drivers are taught to avoid humans. At shooting ranges, life-size silhouettes of humans are optional targets, as well as faces of people. Not everyone uses these things, but there is a market for them. In my current environment, it is difficult to get by without a car. I do bicycle to work as often as I can, even in the winter, but I'm not car free, unlike some who live in more densely populated areas with good public transportation. I have friends in NYC who have never earned a driver's license, because they do not need a car. I do not need a gun. I do not want a gun in my house. This past summer, a father shot and killed someone he suspected was a burglar, who turned out to be his own son. Guns are unnecessarily dangerous outside the hands of those trained to use them in stressful situations, police and soldiers.

I'm a Christian. Worse, I'm of the evangelical, born-again stripe. For all it's warts though, I really like Jesus. I trust him. On his famous sermon on the mount he says, if someone wants to take my shirt, to give him my jacket as well. If someone strikes me on the cheek, I'm not to retaliate but offer the other one as well. He says I'm not to seek revenge, but leave that to God. I do believe in protecting my wife and children. I will use my puny fists of fury to do that. But I'll also support my police force, and the taxes necessary to enable them to do their jobs well. I will also support gun ownership restrictions. It works really well in other countries, even the godless ones of Europe and the south Pacific.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, December 20, 2012

book response: Bloody Crimes by James Swanson (2010)

I borrowed from my local library the digital version James Swanson's book Bloody Crimes: The chase for Jefferson Davis and the death pageant for Lincoln's corpse, and I was so sad last night that I finished it. Swanson writes good history about a topic, the American Civil War, that I have read plenty about over the last dozen years. This was so good I already checked out his previous book, Manhunt: The twelve day chase to catch Lincoln's killer.

Swanson certainly admires Lincoln, he was certainly admirable, but he does not hide Lincoln's warts. He is not a fan of Jeff Davis, but he does not hide his admirable qualities either. The following paragraph is a good example of Swanson's presentation.
Lincoln, who was not an abolitionist, agreed with Jefferson Davis that the Constitution protected slavery. Thus, the federal government had no power to interfere with it wherever it existed. And like Davis, Lincoln—at least the Lincoln of the 1840s and 1850s—accepted white racial superiority. But Lincoln parted ways with Davis and the South over the morality of slavery and the right to introduce it into new states and territories. Lincoln believed that slavery was a moral crime—“If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” He argued that even if blacks were not “equal” to whites, they should enjoy the equal right to liberty and the fruit of their labor. Lincoln insisted that the founders had allowed slavery with the uncomfortable understanding that it was an unholy compromise necessary to create the new nation, and that the founders had envisioned, at some future time, slavery’s natural and ultimate extinction. Lincoln also opposed the expansion of slavery into new territories and states, fearing that its spread would give it a second wind, thus perverting the intentions of the founders and the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence. Davis and his fellow Southerners rejected that ideology, insisting that slavery was not a necessary evil but something good that benefited both masters and slaves. The “peculiar institution,” they argued, civilized, westernized, and Christianized a primitive, heathen African people. Southern leaders resented the accusation that slavery was a moral evil and not a positive good, and they interpreted the rising antislavery movement in the North as part of a conspiracy to outnumber the slave states with new free states to strip the South of its political power in Congress, especially in the Senate. Page 53

I know some American christians today still agree with parts of Davis's argument. The sourthern politicos observation at the end of the paragraph was true. The North sought to prevent the admission of new slave states, and defeat slavery through a slow political process. The south chose secession, perceiving they could not persuade the nation as a whole.

The book's compare and contrast format between the two presidents is followed throughout the book. As Lincoln's funeral train traveled north and west to it's final stop in Springfield, Ill. Jeff Davis was heading South and East fleeing from Union soldiers. But Lincoln did not seek vengeance, but unity. Booth's assassination prevented a leader, merciful to a fault, from reuniting a country with gentleness.
On this day, General Weitzel, who was now in command of the former Confederate capital, asked Lincoln what policies he should adopt in dealing with the conquered rebels. Thomas Graves overheard the conversation, and Lincoln’s answer became an American legend. “President Lincoln replied that he did not want to give any orders on that subject, but, as he expressed it, ‘If I were in your place I’d let ’em up easy, let ’em up easy.’ ” This was one of the most remarkable statements ever spoken by a commander in chief. During his time in Richmond, Lincoln did not order the arrests of any rebel leaders who remained there, nor did he order their property seized. And he uttered no words of vengeance or punishment. Even while he sat in Jefferson Davis’s own home, he did not disparage or defame the Confederate president. Nor did he order an urgent manhunt for Davis and the cabinet officers who had evacuated the city less than two days before. It was a moment of singular greatness. It was Abraham Lincoln at his best. Page 63
In fact, Lincoln made clear to his generals that he preferred Davis be allowed to flee the country. He did not want a show trial. He did not want a martyr in the hanging of Davis for treachery. He wanted the states to be united again.

As one observer quoted by Swanson said “The talk now is…that the military authorities are conniving the escape of Mr. Davis…The general belief is that Grant and the military men, even Sherman, are not anxious for the ugly job of hanging such a man as our president, and are quite willing to let him give them the slip, and get out of the country if he can. The military men, who do the hard and cruel things in war, seem to be more merciful in peace than the politicians who stay at home and do the talking.” Page 289

Swanson adds,The danger came from the armies of Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston. To Lincoln, the fleeing Davis was of little tactical or strategic importance. For other reasons, Lincoln did not want to capture Davis at all. To help heal the rift between North and South, Lincoln wanted no treason trials or prison sentences, and certainly no public hangings. He cued his cabinet and several of his generals on his desires. Between April 2 and April 14, Lincoln issued no orders to hunt down Davis. Instead, Lincoln had issued him an unwritten, unofficial free pass to escape. Page 296

Instead, Booth made Lincoln a martyr on Good Friday, 1865. For all it's evil, it also served as a cathartic focal point for all in the North who lost so many family members to the war. Swanson shares this important observation made by those in the moment, as Lincoln's funeral train rolled from city to city.
Somewhere between Washington and Springfield, the train became a universal symbol of the cost of the Civil War. It came to represent a mournful homecoming for all the lost men. In the heartbroken and collective judgment of the American people, an army of the dead—and not just its commander in chief—rode aboard that train. Page 213
Jefferson Davis was captured and languished in prison for two years. At first, the government thought he could be implicated in Lincoln's assassination. But the courts were fair, and the witnesses' stories fell apart on the stand in Union courts. Eventually, President Johnson let Davis out on parole. He eventually settled near Biloxi, Miss. and wrote. Towards the end of his life, over 20 years after war, he gave speeches at dedications and confederate veteran gatherings. Those speeches were also cathartic for southerners. They had lost, but he had never given up for what he believed was right, in their eyes. He enjoyed a huge surge in popularity. Swanson tells us that history has shown greater favor to Lincoln though. There are great books and movies about him; great memorials. Towns are named after him. Yet Davis's White House in Richmond has fallen on hard times. His story is not celebrated by the culture at large. He was wrong. Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, was right. I was struck over and over again with his capacity for mercy. He truly wanted malice toward none. At his funeral in Springfield...
Simpson read Lincoln’s second inaugural speech at tomb-side. Invoking the president’s mantra of “Malice toward none,” Simpson proposed forgiveness for the “deluded masses” of the Southern people: “We will take them to our hearts.” And we must, said Simpson, continue Lincoln’s work: “Standing, as we do today, by his coffin and his sepulcher, let us resolve to carry forward the work which he so nobly begun.” Page 283
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Charity vs. security: one dumb Xian's perspective

As an ambassador of Jesus, driving around my assigned territory of Connecticut yesterday, ;-), I heard an interesting piece on NPR yesterday about the incredible impact that wise giving can make in the world. I've talked about wise giving recently. The British group, Giving What We Can, founded by an Oxford ethics professor, Toby Ord, strips away all the  feel good aspects of charity and looks at what charities save the most lives per dollar. As an ambassador of a kingdom whose founder's basic premise for all our interactions is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and not someone who's primary concern is the 2nd amendment of the USA, I'm really interested in how I can help more of my neighbors with the stipend granted me.

Other kind-hearted and well meaning ambassadors feel that possessing personal firearms, that they could use against those who would visit evil upon us, like at an elementary school Newtown, CT, 26 killed, or on a family in Cheshire, CT, three killed. What if evil visits my home? What if I'm unable to stop wicked murders because I do not have a weapon, on hand, loaded, and ready, in constant watchfulness of evil, because I chose not to spend a few hundred dollars on a firearm? What if I spent those few hundred dollars on a charity that provides anti-malarial nets to families in Africa?

Malaria kills a million human beings a year.
70% of them are under 5 years old.
It's the main killer of pregnant women.
Each net costs $4.

For $200, I could protect the lives of 50 men, women and children. Or I could buy a firearm, and maybe never, ever use it. I can choose between doing actual or potential good. Of course, I could do both, but the "potential benefit" plan doesn't seem to hold water with the kingdom I represent.

Jesus tells a story.

11 While he had their attention, and because they were getting close to Jerusalem by this time and expectation was building that God's kingdom would appear any minute, he told this story: 12 "There was once a man descended from a royal house who needed to make a long trip back to headquarters to get authorization for his rule and then return. 13 But first he called ten servants together, gave them each a sum of money, and instructed them, 'Operate with this until I return.' 14 "But the citizens there hated him. So they sent a commission with a signed petition to oppose his rule: 'We don't want this man to rule us.' 15 "When he came back bringing the authorization of his rule, he called those ten servants to whom he had given the money to find out how they had done. 16 "The first said, 'Master, I doubled your money.' 17 "He said, 'Good servant! Great work! Because you've been trustworthy in this small job, I'm making you governor of ten towns.' 18 "The second said, 'Master, I made a fifty percent profit on your money.' 19 "He said, 'I'm putting you in charge of five towns.' 20 "The next servant said, 'Master, here's your money safe and sound. I kept it hidden in the cellar. 21 To tell you the truth, I was a little afraid. I know you have high standards and hate sloppiness, and don't suffer fools gladly.' 22 "He said, 'You're right that I don't suffer fools gladly - and you've acted the fool! 23 Why didn't you at least invest the money in securities so I would have gotten a little interest on it?' 24 "Then he said to those standing there, 'Take the money from him and give it to the servant who doubled my stake.' 25 "They said, 'But Master, he already has double . . .' 26 "He said, 'That's what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag. 27 "'As for these enemies of mine who petitioned against my rule, clear them out of here. I don't want to see their faces around here again.'" Luke 19 (The Message)

In my understanding of this story, Jesus wants his people to risk their heavenly stipends right now. If, dear reader, you are a fellow ambassador and want to keep your investments in the family, so to speak, there is a new top 10 list of Christian charities out this week. I already support a couple of them myself and am happy to endorse them.

In sum, I think I can make investments now, that pay dividends right away by saving lives right away, by changing family trajectories right away, by removing cultural obstacles right away, that an investment in a gun cannot. I am not choosing personal security. I think it's a mirage anyway. I choose charity. There are concrete results everyday with that route, and a promise for when I am called back to the kingdom I'm called to represent.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

a dumb xian ponders american gun rights

I'm not speaking of anyone pejoratively in the title, because I am the dumb Christian. I've seen many insensitive Christians on my Facebook feed make sure the world knows where they stand on the 2nd amendment in light of the Newtown massacre. Insensitivity is not stupidity, though. I'm wondering though, as a citizen of another kingdom, an ambassador of Jesus, how I am to represent Him in these times, in this country I was born in, the USA. I keep thinking of Jesus' statement in Matthew, which I tweeted yesterday, because it seems to throw a monkey wrench in the 2nd amendment argument. When Jesus is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, at night, by a cohort of soldiers, one of his closest friends, Peter, whips out his sword and manages to clip the side of a servant boy's head, taking off the poor boy's ear. Jesus miraculously reattaches his ear and tells Pete, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword." Matt 26:52.

I think that about sums up what I see in my country. In the cause of "self-defense" personal arsenals have to keep escalating. Personal assault rifles? Really? High capacity magazine pistols? Really? It's as if americans believe the world of entertainment, is the world they need to prepare for, in case the Russians invade, in case the walking dead take over. Maybe it is time to hire more peace officers to be a presence at schools and public spaces. I wrestled with this topic a few years ago when a deranged shooter shot up a YWAM campus and New Life church in Colorado in 2007. He was eventually stopped at the church by a volunteer security guard, an ex-policewoman. She did not kill him, but her bullets stopped him. He killed himself before his guns could be taken away. I am not a pacifist, but I wondered if retired police dogs might be an acceptable option for pacifists in hindering an active shooter. Whatever means, trained security, police, dogs, aren't all of these are better than letting everyone arm themselves as they see fit? Without training? Without gun security (trigger locks, gun lockers, fingerprint recognition)?

As it is now, 40% of americans own personal firearms, yet that extremely high percentage has not been enough to stop these maniacs. Current gun law and enforcement haven't stopped them either. The government cannot compel me to own a firearm, but it can make it much, much more difficult to own weapons of mass destruction. I can't buy myself a bazooka. Why should I be able to own a Bushmaster? I can't own a fully automatic machine gun, why should I be able to own a semi-automatic with a magazine that holds 20 bullets?

I am friends with hunters. Their weapons are not useful for mass killing. If one really needs a pistol in belief that it will protect them, how many home invaders does one expect to encounter? Is any magazine that holds more than 6 bullets realistic. Is any caliber over .22 necessary to convince an invader to leave? Is death preferable to injury, if both result in cessation of attack?

It seems that in most cases, guns in the hands of civilians end up hurting those like the slave boy in the garden of Gethsemane. I think guns, in the hands of trained police or security, do bring an end to wicked events, but they are usually turned at those using guns they legally purchased or stole from those who legally purchased them.

If you want protection at home, get a dog. They are much better companions than a piece of steel under your pillow. I'm not sure this is what Jesus would advocate, but I think any idea that doesn't involve killing others is probably closer to his Kingdom's way than guns.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Advent Christianity in tragedy

In times of great tragedy, most of us seek answers to the "why?" of the situation. It seems that some of the people of my religious persuasion like to explain it by the cessation of religious instruction in the public schools. The argument seems to be, Since Johnny wasn't taught the Ten Commandments in school, nor forced to hear or recite the Lord's Prayer every morning, he is more likely to shoot up his mother and her elementary school classroom. In effect, blaming the victims. I wish that would stop. I can't imagine losing so much and having someone come alongside me and blame the refusal of the government to pick a religion for official sponsorship. That's like hugging a cold stone. I imagine any human being who is able to put an arm around me and weep with me would be more than adequate. Their religious, or political, views would not interfere in that time of deep pain.

I led a Bible study last night with high school students through the 2nd chapter of Matthew. It's the only Gospel Advent story with a tragedy, the slaughter of the innocents. King Herod, in his paranoia, orders the execution of any boy under 2 years old in Bethlehem. (There are many paintings about this story, but I like Navez's, from 1824, because his focus is on the mothers, the ones who are left with the emotional devastation of this evil.) Matthew's story tells the facts. He does not offer a religious explanation. Instead he looks back to a similar tragedy in the history of the Jewish people, when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and slaughtered the population 600 years before. Jeremiah writes Thus says the LORD: "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more." Jer 31:15 But God also says, in v. 17, There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country. In Jeremiah's circumstance, those children did return, 70 years later. The Advent season is about hope. The first Advent, advent means the coming or arrival of something very important, was the birth of a new king, the one Herod felt so threatened by. Tragedy and sorrow followed this king all his life. Eventually, he was murdered under the guise of political theater. But he proved that he was different, that his message is worth hearing, that his promises are trustworthy, by coming back from the dead. He promises that he will return and will set things right. In Bible study last night we talked about how we are in a new season of Advent. We, too, are waiting for the return of the king. Our hope is in a king who can reunite families who have been separated by tragedy. Our hope is in a king who can and will defeat death.

And if our king can defeat death, I'm confident that the lack of religious instruction or coherent gun control laws will not stand in his way either. On Friday, he was executed, and Saturday was a dark period of readjustment. But on Sunday, everything changed. We live in a perpetual Saturday, with days like yesterday, that are more like Friday, so we mourn with each other. That's not all we do. We also encourage each other that Sunday is coming. We are going on 2000 years of Advent. Generations have come and gone. Nevertheless, his promises are enable us to hold on, to move past despair, to provide hope.

Matthew continues, 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: "He shall be called a Nazarene." As The Voice Bible translation describes in a note, "Nazarene means, “tender, green, or living branch.” Jesus is the living Branch, the branch of David that extends the reach of the tree of Israel eventually to foreigners and outsiders." This points me to the hope Isaiah described, before Jeremiah's time,
1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Isa. 53. 
In the time of hopelessness and drought, a green shoot appears. My hope is that one day he will come and make all things right.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, December 07, 2012

Fiscal cliff politics

Most of the news I encounter lately is about this budget deal, nicknamed the Fiscal Cliff, bearing down on Americans. It's a sledgehammer approach to reducing spending and increasing taxes. Wikipedia has a decent summary. The good part of this deal is that important programs for the needy, Social Security and Medicare, will not be cut at all. The bad part of this deal is the projected delay from the current recession. The in-between parts will be higher taxes for everyone and reduced spending on defense and non-defense items which will result in job losses at military contractors, in government offices, and programs that seek to improve our level of civilization in general. I call it the in-between parts because not everyone hates every part of those cuts. All of this could be resolved if the Republican party which controls the House of Representatives, where budget bills must originate, and Democrat President Obama can come to an agreement. Here is how I hear their positions boiled down.

Obama- The rich must sacrifice a few more percent in their tax rates to help the country.

GOP- The poor and needy must sacrifice more services to help the country.

Since only 2% of the country is rich enough to be affected by the increased tax rates, I don't understand why so many Americans are supporting the GOP.

I'm wondering how his many American followers reconcile their preferred solution to this problem in light of this story told by Jesus.

35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40 And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' 41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' 44 Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' 45 Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' Matthew 25

Monday, December 03, 2012

be informed before you donate in a crisis

Renaissance Ronin's blog first attracted me because he's building affordable houses around the world out of shipping containers. He's been around the block for awhile and has seen the darker side of humanity take advantage of other's generosity in crises, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. That aid boondoggle is well documented, see this Haitian news blog. Good organizations do exist, they probably don't spend as much money advertising themselves. When it comes to housing, Habitat for Humanity, has done good in Haiti. But a recent blog at Ronin's, How do you help?, also shares how the poor who need to be helped get taken advantage of despite the good intentions of donors and helpers. He's not saying where to invest, I have suggestions for you, but he wants us informed.

You have to start at the grass roots community level. If Haiti taught us anything, it was that dealing with multi-level “.coms and .orgs”, tied in closely with government just didn’t work. The focus quickly turned from humanitarian aid, to “profiting from disaster”. Many of you that followed along and watched us testify in front of Congress, witnessed the “horrors of humanitarian aid” firsthand and then… watched as we just “did it ourselves using our own resources”. Many of these groups asked for hefty donations or set up investment trusts to finance these boondoggles, making their managers and companies rich… and their “projects” targets poorer. When you consider making a donation start by determining how much of each dollar of your gift will actually make it to “the fields and families” that you intend it for.

I know he's speaking from experience when he mentions how quickly tools grow wings at aid sites. I'm also sympathetic to the tone deafness he writes about regarding my own countries aid to Native Americans. Ironically, another example of this showed up in my Feedly reader today about Kaw housing that the government tried to provide that none in the tribe wanted to live in, so the tribe used the structures as stables.

All in all, go read Ronin's post before you donate.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

book response: This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust (2008)

I can't stay away from books on the American Civil War. Drew Gilpin Faust's book, This Republic of Suffering was available in the library's digital lending section and seemed worth a shot. At first, I didn't know if I could push on through this book. The extended discussion in the beginning about the Victorian concept of the good death got old. Her examples piled on top of themselves about so many soldiers trying to die in a way that could comfort their families with memories of their devotion in their last moments. But it got better as I persevered. The facts of the war are brutal. (Instead of page numbers, the Kindle gives locations.)
The number of soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865, an estimated 620,000, is approximately equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined. The Civil War’s rate of death, its incidence in comparison with the size of the American population, was six times that of World War II. A similar rate, about 2 percent, in the United States today would mean six million fatalities. Loc. 102-6
But this carnage was less about the battle and more about camp life.
Twice as many Civil War soldiers died of disease as of battle wounds. The war, Union surgeon general William A. Hammond later observed, was fought at the “end of the medical middle ages.” Neither the germ theory nor the nature and necessity of antisepsis was yet understood. Loc. 224-26
The carnage that did come from battle derived energy from racial hatred in the south.
Even black teamsters or servants working for the federals were at risk, and male slaves suspected of fleeing to join the Union army were more than fair game for Confederate rage. A Confederate major described an incident in which black civilians accompanying Union troops were slaughtered. “The battle-field was sickening…no orders, threats or commands could restrain the men from vengeance on the negroes, and they were piled in great heaps about the wagons, in the tangled brushwood, and upon the muddy and trampled road.” All too often, however, orders and commanders encouraged rather than restrained such atrocities. Private Harry Bird reported that Confederates after the Battle of the Crater in 1864 quieted wounded black soldiers begging for water “by a bayonet thrust.” Bird welcomed the subsequent order “to kill them all” it was a command “well and willingly…obeyed.” General Robert E. Lee, only a few hundred yards away, did nothing to intervene. Loc. 885-91
The especially repellent part to me is reading arguments from Confederacy defenders on places like Facebook in light of the recent Lincoln movie. They'll insist it wasn't about slavery. They'll insist on the Christian righteousness of this army, even Faust notes the waves of revival that swept through Confederate camps, but they seem to put out of mind any examples of such wickedness like this. Nor do they seem capable of seeing things from a black American's point of view, such as this contemporary account Faust provides.
Mary Livermore, Union nurse, described a wartime encounter with an African American woman she had known years before during Livermore’s service as a governess on a southern plantation. Aunt Aggy had waited through decades of cruelty to see “white folks’ blood…a-runnin’ on the ground like a riber.” But she had always had faith “it was a-comin. I allers ’spected to see white folks heaped up dead. An’ de Lor’, He’s keept His promise, an’ ’venged His people, jes’ as I knowed He would. I seed ’em dead on de field, Massa Linkum’s sojers an’ de Virginny sojers, all heaped togedder…Oh, de Lor’ He do jes’ right, if you only gib Him time enough to turn Hisself.” Loc. 1013-19
This woman was likely to have been raped by white masters, had her family separated from her by white masters, and deprived physically, emotionally, and intellectually by her white masters, who claimed God's approval on their behavior, and esteemed by some American Christians today. Read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. I don't get it. Nor do I understand the lynching of children by southerners.
More commonly masters exacted retribution upon wives left behind by male slaves who had fled to join the Union army. Slaves suspected of helping the Yankees became particular targets of white southerners’ wrath. A young slave girl in Darlington, South Carolina, was hanged for yelling, “Bless the Lord the Yankees have come!” when Sherman’s troops arrived in town. Across the South slaves and masters battled over the future of the peculiar institution in a warfare, both overt and hidden, that yielded its own unacknowledged list of casualties. Loc. 2229-33
For all the wickedness of the liberal, big government, godless North, the South seemed always able to outdo them in the name of states rights and God's blessing.
In the course of the war 194,743 Union soldiers and 215,865 Confederates were held prisoner, and 30,218 northerners and 25,976 southerners died in captivity. Civil War prisons were indeed, as one inmate observed, “the closest existence to a hell on earth.” Loc. 2133-34
The math shows that a greater percentage of Northerners died in Southern hands that Southerners up North. Was this supposedly blissful Christian nation ignorant of the parable of Good Samaritan?

Faust does a great job referencing the artists who wrestled with comprehending the war in the 19th century; the painters, the illustrators, the poets, and the novelists. I enjoyed learning about a new-to-me Twain book, Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven, about a killed soldier's entrance to heaven.
Stormfield was also startled to discover that the overwhelming proportion of American angels were in fact Indians, not white men, for Indians had been dying in the New World and accumulating in the American section of heaven for centuries.  Loc. 3093-95
The genocide of Native Americans is a crime North and South were guilty of together before the war and after. But that was a slaughter off-stage, so to speak, that didn't affect white households personally. The slaughter of the Civil War was unavoidable to all citizens in every state, and it messed up their theology.
Civil War carnage transformed the mid-nineteenth century’s growing sense of religious doubt into a crisis of belief that propelled many Americans to redefine or even reject their faith in a benevolent and responsive deity. Loc. 3324-25
Faust focuses on the personal crises of faith, but I wonder if it was also reflected in the problem after the war of grave desecration in the south. A Union quartermaster named Whitman was given the duty of finding and cataloging Union cemeteries in southern battle sites.
The experiences of the preceding months, he reported, had produced a “daily deepening in my own mind” of the importance of this federal obligation, as he had witnessed the “total neglect” or “wanton desecration” of Union graves by a southern population whose “hatred of the dead” seemed to exceed their earlier “abhorrence of the living.” Loc. 3601-4
Although there was less opportunity for Confederate corpses to be desecrated, as they only advanced to Gettysburg then back, they were nevertheless also treated poorly by some. Again, the standard is held higher by Confederate Christian apologists for the supposed apogee of Christendom in the south, yet it was they who could not refrain from plowing under graves, and destroying grave markers. The victors, however, felt no priority for the rebel dead, which meant no federal money went to gather those bodies and re-inter those soldiers. This was not how Lincoln would have treated them, but his assassin didn't know that he was killing the South's best ally after the war.
Southern civilians, largely women, mobilized private means to accomplish what federal resources would not. Their efforts to claim and honor the Confederate dead—and the organizations they spawned—became a means of keeping sectionalist identity and energy not just alive but strong. Loc. 3754-56 
The Union weakened itself by not treating the vanquished as those with at least human rights and worth some dignity. Vindictive and bitter southerners were more than willing to reciprocate.
A local Unionist had suggested burying Yankees and Confederates together in the national cemetery established at Marietta, but women of the area were horrified and insisted that the Confederate dead be “protected from a promiscuous mingling with the remains of their enemies.” Loc. 3844-46
Then Reconstruction started and was bungled and heavy handed then abandoned for political gain. However, as tragic as the war was, the end of slavery was a great victory. Our culture improved because of this war.

I'm grateful for Faust's efforts in this book.

There are still cycles of political foolishness today. Just as poor non-slave owning whites fought on behalf of the wealthy slave-owning few, even today, poor whites are rallying to protect the tax cuts of those who could care less for them and advocating the reduction of assistance to those who need it most. God save us.

Enhanced by Zemanta