Words, not Bullets

Response to Leah Libresco’s opinion piece out at WaPo: I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise.


The answer to what?

The gun control issue is about more than gun-related deaths. It is about the relationship between police and the public. It is about the psychology of our public spaces. It is about respect for democratic process and the methods used to create social change.

For far too long we have allowed the NRA, which contributes $54 million a year to sympathetic political organizations, to create a carte blanche remit for the gun industry to poison our political dialog with advertising that promotes hostility, suspicion and fear – all with the goal of building a deeply-rooted need to possess ever-more-powerful tools of violence.

This is the real problem. An assault weapons ban is merely the low-hanging fruit that all politicians should be willing to embrace as a means of defining what is acceptable in political dialog. No one should feel a need to own a military-style weapon. That so many of them are sold is a testament to the control that the gun industry has over our culture.

Fire From on High

Were the bullets like the angry fists that pummeled your growing body?

Was the scurrying below meaningless, like the gambling that you used to hide your pain?

…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.

[NIV Gen. 2:17]

Is that the only escape from the sorrows of this world? An escape into death?

Was that the truth you wished to communicate before you took your own life?

Oh, dear brother, why were you immune to the Lord’s promises? Did no one tell you?

I will give you a new heart and a new spirit. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

[NIV Ezek. 36:26]

For now you have fallen prey to the illusion of death. The savior reached out to you with a healing embrace, but instead of receiving that gift, you chose to bear arms.

Hurricanes to Hell

I first heard the claims from a Mormon colleague at work. The constellation Virgo was overlapped with some planets creating a configuration of twelve lights in the sky. On Monday night at Bible study the parallels with Revelation 12 (in which the Sacred Mother descends with twelve stars in her tiara) were elaborated further: one of the lights was Jupiter, which exited the constellation on September 23rd, the basis for claims that the seven-year trial of tribulation was now under way. Only one element was missing: the simultaneous descent of the dragon. The claim was that NASA had somehow “blocked out” that part of the sky, hiding one-third of the stars (the dragon’s tail?).

I kept on stating firmly “The stars in Revelation are angels,” but the speaker wouldn’t listen, doggedly pursuing the story, repeating “But there’s more.”

Given this propensity to seek material evidence of God’s forthcoming intervention, I find it wondrous that nobody has linked the first letters of Harvey, Irma and Maria to spell out “HIM.” Santa Maria is also Christ’s virgin mother. Powered by the sun and arriving in hurricane form, she struck Puerto Rico at night – I’d assume hiding a full moon.

For those that followed the video series out at Love Returns, we know that we’re well past Revelation 12, close to the seventh bowl in Revelation 16. I won’t support that claim here, however, for there’s something revealed more directly by the tragedy in Puerto Rico.

Samuel was the first to warn God’s people concerning the limitations of government, and the Resurrection itself must be taken as repudiating all earthly powers.

Puerto Rico is a potent support for the argument that government is destined to betray our hopes. As a center for drug manufacturing, the island had a successful economy until about 2005, when Congress ended tax credits that benefited pharmaceutical companies that manufactured there. Shipping goods from an island nearly 1000 miles from the mainland is expensive, and the factories soon closed, kick-starting Puerto Rico’s descent into poverty.

Maria devastated an island already on the verge of collapse.

Why did Congress end the tax credits? A hurricane is a dramatic event, focusing our awareness of tragedy, but many communities in rural America are facing similar circumstances. Corporate American has off-shored their jobs, and constricting government payrolls are knocking the legs out from under small town economies. Into that misery the pharmaceutical industry is pouring a torrent of opioids.

The anger of rural America delivered the White House into the hands of a petty tyrant. In tweets to his sycophantic chorus, Trump attacked the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, stating that her incompetence was the reason that FEMA hadn’t been able to deliver aid to 3.5 million American citizens facing slow death from thirst, hunger and disease.

Trump’s cruelty was triggered by the words of Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, recorded earlier in the day criticizing the Administration’s characterization of the relief efforts as “wonderful.” Mincing no words, she pointed out that people were dying, and that if an effective response was not mounted immediately, the federal government would find itself presiding over a genocide. Clearly suffering from trauma, Cruz characterized Trump’s attitude as that of one consigning citizens to “die like animals.”

But of course.

It is not government that delivers us dignity. Government is not worthy of our faith. It is only in God that we find the strength to suffer in dignity. Facing death, it is only to the faithful that certainty is given that we possess a spirit intended to receive infinite love.

So, please, Mayor Cruz: don’t pray to government. Pray to Him, for it is the lack of Him that has brought us to this impasse. The physical and social forces that brutalize the poor are huge, and far beyond the capacity of governments to overcome. Security, dignity and grace are found only in God.

What’s Your Medium?

Facebook, created by Mark Zuckerberg and other lonely undergrads as a distributed system to rate and stalk girls, is anti-social media. That may seem harsh, but while some use it to organize charitable events, that must be set against Facebook’s unregulated distribution of propaganda (such as Russia used to help Trump gain the White House) and monetization of every site and post through targeted advertising.

The Holy Spirit, the original world-wide-web, joins people in bonds of love. That is social media.

Allocate your time accordingly.

Working for God

Before I went on vacation, the company owner told me that I was responsible for my own anxiety.

I thought about that while I was on the road on Wednesday. I have several reasons to feel anxiety at work, but late that night, as I struggled to find the peace of sleep, I realized that they were all attempts by others to poison public perception of my conduct.

Putting those anxieties aside, then, what I was left with was this: standing in the door of my colleague’s office, telling him that I despite three books, a web site and three blogs, I have failed to build any interest in the truths that have been entrusted to me. That, and the images of the destruction wrought be hurricanes Harvey and Irma, with the fear that many would believe that God had forgotten them.

And I saw myself going to the camps of the displaced with boxloads of my Love Returns t-shirts for the children. The message was simple: the waters of death and destruction had risen against you to drown your faith, but the waters that Jesus offers are the waters of life. You are not forgotten – you are beloved.

The sermon on the boat in Galilee also came to mind: not from the perspective of Peter, but from the perspective of the fishes that hid from the nets all night until Jesus commanded Peter to let them down again. The vision was of children hiding under blankets in the corner when their parents came to look for them. When the children don’t show, the teacher sends the parents outside. The children remain under the blankets until the teacher goes to the door to tell their parents to “Try again.” Then the little class rushes forward to happily embrace their parents.

With these visions, all the negative thoughts vanished.

But I woke at 5 AM. Entering the town that the retreat I was attending was located at, I drove up Interstate 80 for ninety minutes, past Rocklin and almost to Truckee. Following the directions, I found myself at the supposed destination in the middle of an empty stretch of road. Checking my e-mail notices from the retreat, I learned that it was actually outside Sonora, almost four hours away.

Having left early, I was still going to make the first Thursday session, but I felt foolish and ashamed. I pushed that aside and focused on my good fortune: I was still going to be there early. As I approached Rocklin, I began wondering whether there wasn’t a reason this happened. As I entered Rocklin, I decided to search for some Christian music on the radio, and found AirOne. After a few songs played, a notice came on: AirOne was looking for two big data analysts to work in Rocklin.

Those that have been following this blog will remember that I had been taking courses in this field through eDx last year before I started the video series at Love Returns.

No prize to those that predict that I’ll apply. It’s the only way to clear up my deepest anxieties.

Poverty Loves

Just down-wind from the sewage treatment plant in Port Hueneme, the last fence on the road marks a demolished factory. The concrete pads still roll back from the entrance, and a long brick wall runs perhaps a tenth of a mile, as though trying to hold back the dunes and the sea.

The city council members bitch about the need to force the vagrants out of town, but the owner of the property pays for a chemical toilet and allows the homeless to stay. The leaders of my Monday Bible study group have been coming there for nine months now. With my video blog at Love Returns completed, I’ve joined them the last two Saturday mornings. Camp residents can receive Christian teaching and encouragement, lunch, and as much clothing and food as they can carry.

My role is pretty passive – standing watch to ensure no arguments break out. I’ve not seen evidence of such behavior, but yesterday even less so: Pastor Sammie’s church brought out a service team, and we outnumbered the camp attendees by at least two-to-one. My concern was actually that the wall of men standing at the edge of the pad would be a barrier to the less assertive.

I do my work quietly, offering to the beaten-down couple “Have some food and take some strength of heart as well.” Offering to guard a bicycle and new bedding while the owner was occupied.

But the real heart of the camp was revealed to me at the end of the service. An older woman was carrying an eight-pack of muffins away with her, and I asked if she didn’t need anything else. She said that she was cooking that night, and sure might. She had started with six, and two more heard and asked to come, and then they invited friends and she was expecting as many as sixteen.

“God bless you for your service.”

That struck her. She said that she was good with God, but he was challenging her. There were times, when the guns and violence got out of hand, that she spoke to him with words that weren’t so respectful. She didn’t know if that was allowed.

“That’s just fine. He needs to know what you need.”

She was one of the original camp members, having brought almost her entire neighborhood there. Her fiancé had been a boxer back on the East Coast, and then got mixed up doing work for a couple of crime families. She had seen him change his heart, taking pride in cooking and caring for others. But the doctors had loaded him up on psych meds. That morning, it was almost like he was on heroin, he was so dopey. She was going to call his lawyer and the doctors, because she had been in the industry for forty years, and knew what the proper doses and combinations were, and what they were giving him made no sense. They said that he was a violent man, and needed to be kept sedated, but she knew differently.

Sammie called the prayer circle, and we stood just outside the edge. I rubbed her back gently, asking her heart to soften. With the closing complete, I asked if I could pray for her.

I took her hands and invoked the Father. When clarity had filled the air between us, I prayed that the doctors would have the courage to see her man as she did, and allow him to continue to shine his redeemed light into the camp. I prayed that others would honor her charity and wisdom, and work together to solve their common problems, rather than taking for themselves.

When I finished, she held on, and exclaimed that her angels had been working overtime, and God had sent her me. There was no doubt that I had seen into her life, or that those that troubled her mind would be confronted with her hope. She had faith that the Father had spoken through me.

And as she left, I looked up and realized that the rest of the gathering had been frozen by the power of the love that we had honored between us.

Circumstantial Racism, Universal Exploitation

Ta Nehisi Coates rails against White racism in his analysis of Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the Oval Office. That racism is characterized as a universal Caucasian affliction, evident even in the policies of the Clinton White House. Coates cites welfare reform and mandatory sentencing as reasons that Hillary Clinton did not command black loyalty as did President Obama. That these policies are color-conscious only in the pattern of their enforcement reveals Coates’ own racism.

In his analysis of the root causes of white supremacist logic, Coates hits closer to the truth. In the face of economic exploitation (whether as white indentured servants or black slaves, whether living in company towns or struggling to survive as share croppers), the pride of the impoverished whites was preserved by their social superiority to blacks, Hispanics and Asians. Any policies intended to even those disparities opened a yawning pit of debasement under the feet of the white electorate.

It is this fact that Republicans have used to solidify their control of that constituency. The stark evidence is seen in the exclusivity of the staff in Speaker Paul Ryan’s office. Not a colored face among them.

So Coates takes a step backwards, and argues that the true root of racism is capitalism. This is an error, as the seat of slavery in America was in the agrarian South. With this fact, we should recognize ‘capitalism’ as a stand-in for ‘exploitation.’

Exploitation is a universal phenomenon that manifests as deforestation, water pollution and global warming. It is consumption of resources without consideration of costs to our neighbors or descendants. It is a phenomenon seen in every hierarchical culture on earth, not excluding any race, ethnicity, religion, or economic framework – and in fact driving internecine conflict that belies any attribution to those causes.

Given that universality, Coates’ calls for retribution against those that celebrate those causes (such as those co-ethnic to slave-holders in America) are counter-productive until we can demonstrate a political and economic framework that mitigates against exploitation. Without it, we are simply adherents to the ancient policy characterized satirically by:

The beatings will continue until morale improves.