Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Reign of Fear-The Triumph of Christ!

In his sermon on 15 January 1933, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached
on Matthew 8:23-27, saying:

"...the Bible, the gospel, Christ, the church, the faith-
all are one great battle cry against fear in the lives
of human beings....Learn to recognize and understand
the hour of the storm, when you are perishing. This is the 
time when God is incredibly close to you....God wants to
be our only support."

Fifteen days later, Adolf Hitler assumed ultimate power.

Fear has risen in America and throughout the world. The causes? ISIL (Daesh), Mexicans, Syrians, Al Qaeda, African Americans, Muslims, anyone non-White, unemployment, trade deals that ship jobs overseas, the Federal Government, President Obama,  lead-filled water, police,  Black people wearing "hoodies",  and....

What are our responses? Buying guns: semi-automatics and automatics, pistols for our night stands. We live in gated communities. We demand our government spend more on the military even though we spend more than most countries in the world combined. We limit voting rights to insure that only White people can vote. We incarcerate an increasing number of people for non-violent crimes. We want to build walls to keep the poor out. We protect police actions in spite of evidence to the contrary that some are too trigger happy and cause the unjust deaths of many each year. 

We fight to not allow gay marriage. We discriminate against Muslims, calling them names and isolating them from regular social events. We damage their mosques. In Black America we burn down their churches. We create urban ghettos. We entertain ourselves with television, movie and musical violence which offers scapegoats and emotional release. We find ways to exclude those different from  Christian Whites. Narcissism is fear's black bloom. Four letter words flow as carrion crows freely fly.

Too often our theology focuses primarily on personal edification, forgiveness of sins and easy love. It is feel good, success focused and protective. Too often our church walls are fortresses for the right people, like Medieval castles surrounded by moats. Amos' words fall on deaf ears: "I take no delight in the noise of your solemn assemblies."

Thankfully, however, Bonhoeffer has it right! The Holy Bible is God's victory over fear: "Fear not for I bring you news of great joy! For to you this day is born...." Psalm 91:5 says "You will not fear the terror of the night." Christ said to one whose daughter was dead, "Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved." "There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear" says 1 John 4:18.  Giving encouragement to early Christians, the writer of Revelation writes: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer" (2:10). In Holy Baptism we are held by God, cleansed by God, graced by God, forgiven by God, welcomed into God's fellowship of faith.  No fear. welcome in!  In the Lord's Supper, ALL are welcome!  Come, receive the forgiveness of sin!  Be in fellowship! In Church we eat and drink together.  We study together.  We worship together.  We retreat together.  We serve together.  We live and work for others together.  We are not alone.  In Church we have conversations about all of life.  We debate, we pray, we argue, we seek the truth, we decide for life. We are justified by grace through faith. "...for we walk by faith, not by sight."(2 Cor. 5:7). "...you are all children of God through faith." (Gal. 3:26)

Christ has triumphed!
A bulwark never failing!
The Church's one foundation....
Have no fear, little flock!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Jarring Truth

And [Jesus] said, "No prophet is accepted in
the prophet's home town."
....When they heard this, all in the synagogue
were filled with rage.  They got up, drove him 
out of the town, and led him to the brow
of the hill on which their town was built,
so that they might throw him off the cliff.
But he passed through the midst of them
and went on his way.
Luke 4:24, 28-30

Prophets of love often speak the JARRING TRUTH to their "homeys." Why? Because love "jars" the status quo. Love plows new rows, opens unexpected paths and surprises us with the unexpected. 

So it is with gun violence prevention. We hear of prophetic actions which can water the flowers of peace, but which may cause discomfort, a reorientation of thinking, risk unpopularity, affect profits, and advance disfavored laws that will equate love with safety. What are these prophetic actions?

FIRST: Insist on universal background checks for licensed dealers and private sellers, including
                        sellers who are passing guns to family members.
SECOND: Require ALL gun sellers to be licensed.
THIRD: Register ALL guns, keeping serial numbers, make and model and buyers' names on file.
                       This would allow for tracing of weapons used in crimes.
FOURTH: Require ALL gun purchasers to enroll and pass a gun safety course.
FIFTH: Prohibit sales of assault rifles.  Make them available at gun clubs.
SIXTH: Develop and market smart gun technology.
SEVENTH: Prohibit straw purchasing of weapons. A person who passes a background check
                         cannot then pass the gun on to someone who has not passed a BGCheck.
EIGHTH: Prohibit inter-state trafficking.
NINTH: Hold gun dealers accountable for the illegal sale of guns. Fine them, shut them down,
                          or send them to prison.
TENTH: Prevent those on the Terrorist Watch List from purchasing guns.
ELEVEN: Hold gun manufacturers accountable for failure to develop safe guns and for
                          illegal marketing.
TWELVE: Require that guns in home be locked up and bullets kept in a separate locked site.
THIRTEEN: Prohibit the significantly mentally ill from purchasing and owning guns.
FOURTEEN: Allow for temporary restraining orders to be filled by family or professional
                          counselors to prevent a stressed person from purchasing a weapon until
                          the time of crisis has passed. 
FIFTEEN: Disallow open-carry in public places including schools, courthouses and commercial

For many, passage of the above laws will be a "jarring" awakening, repulsed and rejected. Many will insist that their Constitutional rights are being violated. But they will create a safer gun environment.  Furthermore, hunters, sport shooters, those who want to protect home and family can still own guns. The only people affected will be the criminal, the terrorist, the significantly mentally ill, and the temporarily over-stressed person.

Who will speak the prophetic word and move to pass these safety laws? Who will insist on greater safety from guns? Who will provide gun owners with a greater level of acceptance by demanding safety laws? 

Who are the prophets? Who will risk being thrown off the cliff? Who will speak JARRING TRUTH?Is it I?


Ron Letnes

Monday, January 11, 2016

Leadership for Our Time
Psalm 72:1-4, 12-13

Prayer for Guidance and Support for the King
Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king's son.
May [he/she] judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May [he/she] defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor....
For [he/she] delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
[He/She] has pity on the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence [he/she] redeems their life,
and precious is their blood in [their] sight.

Who are the RIGHTEOUS leaders for our time? RIGHTEOUSNESS can be defined as right action, fair action, life-giving, benevolence, compassion and justice.

I am committed to addressing gun violence prevention (GVP) in the nonviolent Spirit of Jesus Christ. Righteous leadership is crucial to create safety for all.

In the United States are the Constitution and other Founding Documents which guide us towards RIGHTEOUS actions on behalf of ALL. the Declaration of Independence speaks of ALL citizens having the rigtht to LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.  The Constitution speaks of ESTABLISHING JUSTICE, INSURING DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY...PROMOTING THE GENERAL WELFARE.... 

I see a correlation between the prayer of the Psalmist and phrases within our Founding Documents when it comes to helpful guidance in addressing GVP. The focus of the Psalmist and the Founding Documents is RIGHTEOUSNESS for the sake of ALL THE PEOPLE. The Psalmist focused on the People of God and the Founding Documents on the citizens of the United States. ALL! Including the most needy, the poor, oppressed, those who have no helper and vulnerable. The Psalmist wanted to ensure these were INCLUDED in the grand design of the Kingdom. Similarly, the Founding Documents sought to include ALL in the national design. 

I heard the uniting of the Psalmist and the Founding Documents expressed by President Obama last week as he spoke of executive actions he would take to address gun violence. He demonstrated RIGHTEOUS LEADERSHIP in this time consistent with the Psalmist and Founding Documents:

1. Hiring 200 new ATF agents to do background checks and inspections.
2. Increase mental health treatment resources by $500 million, as well as reporting to be
              included in background check system.
3. Stir research on smart gun technology.
4. Tighten up background checks of you want to do gun business.
5. FBI is to overhaul background check system to insure 24/7 availability.
6. FBI to hire 230 more examiners.
7. Tighten-up arms shipping to notify ATF if guns are lost or stolen.
8. Require background checks on people trying to acquire the most dangerous guns through
             trusts, corporations and other legal entities.
9. Renew domestic violence outreach to prevent domestic violence perpetrators from
            purchasing weapons.

These actions are positive steps forward.  They will save lives. They are also limited. Stronger actions are possible only with state and national legislative action. But they are RIGHTEOUS because they seek to protect the vulnerable, the poor, the oppressed, the most needy. They also protect the rights of those who should legitimately possess firearms. These actions demonstrate RIGHTEOUS LEADERSHIP for our time.


Ron Letnes

Monday, December 21, 2015

What words can drive us forward, into the future, engaging the new year? I share three:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light....
For the yoke of their burden...you have broken....
For a child has been born FOR US....
His authority shall grow continually,
 and there shall be endless peace....
He will establish and uphold it with justice
and Righteousness....
Isaiah 9:2-7 (portions)

"If we want to participate in this Advent and Christmas event,
we cannot simply sit there like spectators in a theater 
and enjoy all the family pictures. Rather, we must
join in the action that is taking place and be drawn into
this reversal of all things ourselves. 
Here we too must act on the stage, 
for here the spectator is always a person acting in the drama.
We cannot remove ourselves from the action."

"Good news to some will almost inevitably be bad
news to others....When Jesus came...it was to proclaim
the end of things as they are and the breaking in of things
that are to be: the status quo is not to be criticized, 
it is to be destroyed."
Peter Gomes

I share these words in the context of gun violence prevention. It is easy to be despairing when engaging this cause. The list of names and places are all too familiar moments of tragedy. It is a sad commonplace: "O, no! Another one! Enough!" So hammers the litany. Nothing seems to make a difference in lessening gun violence, or so it seems. Congress is fearful of losing their seats and funding for re-election, so they share "thoughts and prayers" instead of committing to legislative action, clinging to a doctored and historically dishonest interpretation of the Second Amendment, paying fealty to the NRA leadership while being deaf to the vast NRA member majority. 

There is hope if we seize it, if we allow it to move us forward in the Spirit of the above words drawn from the deep well of faith active in love. If we act!

Facts prove, statistics support that UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS save lives. States with UBChecks have 46% fewer women being shot to death by an intimate partner and have 48% fewer suicides. FBI data shows that in states that require UBChecks for all handgun sales, blocking criminals from buying guns or owning guns in unlicensed sales online or at gun shows, there are 48% fewer police officers killed. 

It is heartening that many polls including polls of NRA rank and file members, asking people's feelings about UBChecks, indicate a 70%-80% support for this common sense law. Why? Because most people believe it is smarter and safer to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers, those who should be watched due to stress, and the mentally ill. Most people believe gun safety is a public health issue that demands common sense laws. Most people realize that with UBChecks the hunter can still hunt, the home protector can still protect, the sportsman can still shoot. But the others cannot. A UBC law can be passed. It is possible. This is a way forward!

Forward action is also possible by passing a law preventing those 800,000 people on the Terrorist Watch List from purchasing guns. Since 2004, over 2000 people on the TWL have purchased guns. ISIL and Al Qaeda have told people that it is easy to buy a gun in the USA! Do it! Jihad! Allah Akbar! Martyr yourself! Men, remember you will have the pleasure of 70 virgins as your reward! 
Yet, there is hope that action will be taken to prevent this irresponsible purchasing. 

The Church is ideally placed to insist upon action. We have a Biblical witness, church statements, theological urgings from wise leaders and the blood of the many to guide and empower action. We have a bold way forward. It is time! We can do it!  Enough!

This is what Advent is about: anticipating hope and deliverance as real. This is what Christmas is about: God coming in Christ to transform the status quo, change hearts and minds from violence to peacemaking, and insist upon justice for all. In Christ we are given the way forward.

Let's do it! It is WE who bring hope to life! It is WE who are the voices, hands and legs to go FORWARD. It is WE who provide the ACTION. It is WE who DESTROY THE STATUS QUO.

It is WE!




Saturday, November 21, 2015

Well-Being of the City

Seek the well-being of the city to which I have sent you;
pray for it to the Lord,
for in seeking its well-being you shall find your own.
Jeremiah 29:7

Linda and I participated in a solidarity march following the Paris massacre. It was sponsored by Alliance Francois, the local French-American community. Outside their building hangs two flags, one American and the other French. On the march down Hennepin Avenue to The Basilica of Saint Mary and at the gathering, one heard the French National Anthem and shouts of Je Suis Paris (I Am Paris). Inside the basilica we celebrated the "Solemn Vespers for Peace and Justice." The text from Jeremiah was the foundation.

The occasion was precipitated by the violence done by guns. Yes, we can and should address the issue of terrorism by studying the "whys" and origins of Daesh, Al Quaeda, Boko Haram and many other terrorist groups. As in America we should and are engaging reasons for our own terrorist reality. As of this date there have been approximately 250 mass shootings this year alone. Each year in the United States we suffer over 12,000 homicides of which many are mass shootings. I call this American Terrorism. There would be no AT without guns. So, in the conversation about what to do about our reality, it is also necessary to talk about gun violence prevention.

Let us begin by addressing the issue of how to keep guns out of the hands of potential terrorists. One of the most urgent needs is to prevent those on the FBI's Terrorist Watch List from purchasing guns. Common sense, right? Presently, the FBI is watching about 420,000 people, of which 2,043 are on the TWL. However, and as an affront to common sense, the NRA and other gun rights groups are opposing a bill introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein of California which would begin to address this gap in our security. 

Senator Feinstein's bill was introduced in February 2015. It prevents Federally licensed gun dealers from selling firearms to those on the TWL. The legislation would not, however, prevent private sellers or online sale of weapons to them. Call this the gun show loop hole. Says Jennifer Baker, spokeswoman of the NRA, the NRA opposes this bill, "pointing to past instances where innocent people were added to the TWL either in error or as the result of tenuous ties to others involved in suspicious activities" (Huffingtonpost). She says:

It is appalling that the anti-gun politicians are
exploiting the Paris terrorist attacks to push
their gun control agenda and distract from
President Obama's failed foreign policy.

I call this obfuscation and distraction. The immediate issue is the safety of the American people. One needs to suspend belief to believe that we are protecting our people by allowing those on the TWL to purchase guns! As to some who believe it makes sense for the House of Representatives to vote to put a "pause" on accepting Syrian refugees who are fleeing for their lives, wouldn't it be prudent to also act to keep guns out of the possession of possible terrorists? This is a no brainer! Yet, our elected leaders and leaders of the leaders refuse to bring the bill to a vote. 

I would guess that nearly all of our elected leaders are or profess to be members of Christian churches. Perhaps they have heard the verse from Jeremiah in a sermon or at least read as one of the prescribed texts. I think the text provides the Biblical foundation for faithful action within the scope of our Constitution to pass this law for the protection of our citizens and members of our congregations. I would urge all people to write your elected leaders and urge them to support the passage of this bill "for the sake of the well-being of the city."


Ron Letnes

Friday, November 6, 2015

Republican Party Epitaph

I remember wearing my "I Like Ike" button. It was a new fangled type that had both the words and the picture of a smiling Ike if you tilted the button. Pretty neat! The 1960's changed my party affiliation. Not that the Democrats made all the right decisions (Vietnam tarnished illusions), but there was an imperfect balance of values that tilted towards justice and a passion for peace in the Democratic Party. 

I say tilted because this action describes the honesty of balance in decision-making. No decision is pure. Honesty births nuance and honors complexity. Only bigoted legalists trumpet moral absolutes. This is why Christians find their perfection only in Christ, not in themselves. Even then we are humbled by our moment by moment sinfulness and are driven to our knees in confession, only to receive absolution by the grace and mercy of God.

So it was that I turned away from the Republican Party. Today, the scale of justice and peace tilt ever more away from the party. Our nation, our Constitution need both Republicans and Democrats to provide balance. Now, all that can be written about the Republican Party is their epitaph. Consider these nails in the coffin:

1. Elimination of abortion rights for women
2. Efforts to shut down Planned Parenthood which provide reasonably priced contraception
             and reproductive care for women
3. Elimination of Obamacare which provides affordable health care for millions
4. Increasing age qualification for Social Security and wanting to privatize its finances
5. Increasing military spending even though we spend more than nearly all nations combined
6. Elimination of labor unions, collective bargaining and encouraging right to work legislation which  
             lowers wages and lessens pension possibilities
7. Restrictions on voting rights making it more difficult for the poor and minorities to vote
8. Promoting unlimited anonymous campaign contributions which gives unrivaled
             power and influence to the very wealthy and corporate elite
9. Opposition to LGBT rights
10.  Roadblock to comprehensive immigration reform until the borders are tight and a wall
             is constructed
11. Meager support at best for increased minimum wage
12. Opposition to Consumer Protection Agency, wanting to give power to a partisan committee 
             controlled by Republicans which will limit its ability to protect consumers
13. Opposition to Dodd-Frank Bill which regulates banks and Wall Street
14. Cutting back on food programs and welfare for the needy
15. Support for off-shore and foreign tax havens for the wealthy
16. Blind support for the National Rifle Association
17. Opposition to Black Lives Matter and blind support for police
18. Eagerness to once again support large scale troop commitment in the Middle East
19. Blind support for Israel at the expense of justice for Palestinians
20. Attacks upon fact-based science and acknowledgement of the reality of climate change
21. Narrow and blind interpretation of the Second Amendment which leads to increased
               proliferation of gun availability and stifling of gun safety legislation
22. Refusal to fund the study of gun violence 
23. Obsession with cutting taxes at the expense of funding education and providing 
               poverty programs
24. Obsession with saying "No!" to job creation programs and funding of infrastructure
25. Cutting back of Medicaid availability
26. Unquestioned bias towards the very wealthy and corporate elite leading to unprecedented
               income inequality

And on and on! Again, I make these observations on the basis of "balance and tilt". There are Republicans who would disagree with these positions and Democrats who would agree with some of them. I look at the balance. 

The balance, the tilt points towards a Republican Party Epitaph. And further, with the increased metastasizing of these cancerous positions, the Epitaph of America. Democracy is being decimated.
An arrogant hubris rises amidst the ruins. The next monument on the Washington Mall is of a fat middle finger pointing towards a polluted sky.

As a Christian, I am alarmed at the injustice and violence of this imbalance. Isaiah's call to be "repairers of the breach", Micah's call to "Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God", and Mary's Magnificat in Luke: "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and he sent the rich away empty....", and Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you." provide a transformative counterpoint to the Republican Party Epitaph.

It is the time to hear John the Baptist: "You brood of vipers....Bear fruits worthy of repentance!" Through repentance there is renewal. God's grace frees us to repent! Republicans, Democrats, People of God. And then: 

Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
Luke 3:5-6


Friday, October 9, 2015

My Gun Story

I grew up in small town Climax, Minnesota. I loved playing guns. I had six shooters, cavalry holsters with a six shooter cap gun, an army "burp" gun, a plastic Thompson sub machine gun. The creme-de-la-creme was a rubber gun constructed of laths and clothes pins. The idea was to cut up an old car tire to create 1/2 inch wide strips which you attached to the front of the laths, stretch them back to the rear handle, fit an end of the rubber into the clothes pin (trigger) and go shoot someone!  You could make a machine gun lath rubber gun by cutting notches into the laths and running a string down the barrel, putting several rubbers along the laths and activate the machine gun by pulling up the string. Fun!

I loved John Wayne movies!  I watched "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" and "Fort Apache." Television brought "Bonanza", "The Rifleman", "Rin Tin Tin" and "Paladin" into our home and my heart.  

Then came the B-B gun. I still remember the tears I shed after killing my first sparrow. However, the next weekend I shot 11 more.  Then, I was done. I went hunting a couple of times with my step-dad but never got a shot off. I took a gun safety course, learning to shoot a .22. I recall him hunting rabbits with it. He was a good shot.

My love affair with guns started to change when my step-dad purchased a Winchester 30-30 and went deer hunting. He came home with a deer strapped to the fender of his car and said he was done.  No more. He sold his 30-30. He felt the deer was too beautiful of an animal to kill. Perhaps he had some recurring PTSD from his service in Europe in WWII.

Then came the 1960s. My love affair with guns ended. The assassinations, Civil Rights struggles and the Vietnam War led me to say "Enough!" Guns meant death. No more fun. Guns were not innocent games anymore. I gave away my .22. The only gun I have today is an 80 year old rusty shotgun owned by my dad, broken stock, a memento in the museum of my memory. I became a committed pacifist, committed to nonviolence.

While serving congregations I taught and preached about nonviolence. I upset people with my anti-gun screed. I wrote anti-war resolutions for district conventions. Linda and I participated in several anti-war marches. We marched in Washington, DC on the 20th Anniversary of MLK, Jr's "March on Washington." 

I designed "The Gun Game" while executive director at Sky Ranch in Colorado. Each week we played this variation on "capture the flag." It was a three-phased game. Phase I was everyone playing the standard capture the flag for about 20 minutes. Phase II involved everyone being given a squirt gun (pistols, super soakers). The idea was to play the game, and when you were shot with water you had to adjust accordingly. That is, if you were shot in the arm or leg you couldn't use that appendage. If you were shot in the head or torso you were out of the game and sat down. Phase III had one side getting all of the squirt guns. Naturally, this phase was short-lived!

We processed the game following the three phases. All enjoyed the first phase!  Great fun! The second and third phases brought responses like: "It wasn't fun anymore." "We became angry." I asked, "What would it be like if you came to camp and were given a loaded Uzzie or pistol upon arrival?" The responses were: "It wouldn't be camp anymore." And "We'd kill each other." I then asked, "Would Jesus carry an AK-47?" Overwhelmingly the response was shouted "No!" Youth saw the truth.

Now, I am on the Protect Minnesota Board of Directors. Our purpose is to work for gun violence prevention. I have led conversations in our church and taken action at synod assemblies. I am organizing a synodical committee to address gun violence prevention in churches, believing that the People of God, the Church, are the moral conscience of our communities, state and nation. A friend and I have developed a course called ENGAGE which is a guided conversation on many gun violence prevention facets: Biblical, Church statements, Second Amendment, NRA, and specific possible actions.

Frankly, finding an audience in the church has been a difficult slog. I am frequently disappointed at the lack of interest, lack of will, and lack of clergy courage to address the issue. This in spite of unprecedented mass shootings and 34,000 deaths a year. It is incomprehensible to me how the Church  can be so hesitant to reject this scourge and seek solutions. 

What keeps me going? Statements from our ELCA, Holy Scripture, Jesus and Paul's ethics, love of Linda, family and people, and the truth. "Enough!"  "No more of this!" "Blessed are the peacemakers!"

What's your story?