Friday, August 28, 2015

Lack of Shared Humanity?

Following the recent shooting of two journalists in Virginia, I wrote the following on my Facebook:

Not the time? "The host of the NRA radio show reacted to the fatal
shooting of two journalists in Virginia County by attacking gun activists
for using the tragedy to call for stronger gun laws, claiming they 
'politicized' it and demonstrated a lack of shared humanity."
(Media Matters)

I am speechless.  But not for long. One can assume that this is the 
position of NRA leadership. O, they will lay low for a few days. 
This is their MO. Let emotions settle. Then will come the justifications
for needing more guns. This time the call to arm the journalists. 
Equipment: cameras, AR-15, microphones, Glock 9mm and....

Lack of shared humanity? O, yes, let's comfort the gun manufacturers,
the gutless politicians, the sellers of death, the NRA leadership. Surely
we must weep over their misfortunate publicity.

It is time to enact gun safety laws that will protect more people, 
perhaps your daughter or son, spouse and friends, the stranger and
yourself.

Yes, let us affirm the dignity of a "shared humanity" and say as one: 
"Enough." 

I also wrote on Facebook:

We have spent too much time fretting over the government wanting
to take our guns away and insisting on our right to own guns.
Show me the data that proves the big bad government is coming to take
guns away. The truth is the politicians, fueled by gun nuts
are so afraid of offending the gun nuts that they do nothing
to pass gun safety laws. Don't worry about the government
as they are chickens in pants and dresses.  Worry instead about
the gun in your home and the 300 million in public circulation.
That ought to give us serious pause.  We are hemorrhaging in
guns and the 34,000 deaths a year are the result.
Sleep well.

And another post:

Consider this all you gun lovers.  Nearly 2/3 of all gun
deaths are suicide by gun.  By my calculation those 2/3 would
still be alive if they had chosen their "right" to NOT buy
a gun. So much for how much guns "protect" us.
Indeed they enable us to kill each other and ourselves
with sad regularity. Hello!

The organization Everytown for Gun Safety recently published a chart titled "Gun Murders Per 100,000 Residents" which compared the murder rates of several countries. Yup, the United States is #1 again! Per 100,000: U.S.A., 3.7; Italy (#2) 0.68; Luxembourg (#3) 0.59; Finland 0.57; Canada 0.50; Norway (#14) 0.04. 

When will we affirm the sanctity of life? When will we take action beyond "My thoughts and prayers are with you." When will we respond with actions to Jesus' injunctions of "Enough", "No more of this", "They who live by the sword shall die by the sword" and "Blessed are the peacemakers"? 

"How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?" Bob Dylan

Peace!

Ron Letnes

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fear and Rights: a Lethal Mix

FEAR and insistence upon the freedom to exercise one's perceived RIGHTS are the lethal mix that prevent significant action in gun violence prevention. 

It matters little that a gun in the home increases the chance of being killed by 72%, is responsible for the vast majority of children being killed by guns, is 22 times more likely to be used in a suicide or homicide or accident than to be used in self defense, triples the risk of homicide, increases likelihood of suicide by five times, means an abused woman is six times more likely to be murdered.

It matters little that more guns equals more unnatural deaths (CBS News), that more guns in homes increases the chance of homicide by two times and suicide by three times according to the AMERICAN JOURNAL OF EPIDEMIOLOGY.

It matters little that victims of property crimes use guns in self defense 1/10 of 1% of the time according to the Violence Policy Center.

It matters little that in 2013 there were 33,636 people who died from gun violence, that states with higher rates of gun ownership have greater rates of gun suicide, that a gun buy-back program in Australia took 1/5 of the guns off the streets and wound up reducing firearm suicide by 74%, that when Israeli Defense Forces stopped letting soldiers bring their guns home over the weekend, suicides declined 40%, that 90% of people who have survived suicide do not end up dying by suicide, that the Center for Disease Control says that 85% of suicide attempts by gun resulted in death, compared to 6.7% via cutting and 6.5% by poisoning. The above from VOX and the article "America's Biggest Gun Problem is the One We Never Talk About" by Dylan Matthews and Estelle Caswell.

It matters little that the Public Policy Polling survey between June 19-20, 2015, reported that 82% of Americans support preventing domestic abusers from buying guns, that 80% of gun owners think this is a good idea, that 87% of women support the idea, as well as 92% of Hispanics and 89% of African Americans. This poll is used to support the Dingell-Dold Bill (HR-3130 and S-1520). Debbie Dingel is a Democrat from Michigan and Bob Dold a Republican from Illinois.

What does matter is that I have the right to protect myself from threat, the right to be shielded by a narrow reading of the Second Amendment, the right to allow fear to trigger violent-deadly response against anyone or anything that threatens the well-being of me or my family or my team or my group or my gang or whatever I value with few if any restraints. 

FEAR and RIGHTS trample on any notion of gun violence prevention such as universal background checks, safe storage, denial of right to purchase if family or police deem a person at risk for committing violence, requiring trigger locks on all guns, requiring a gun safety course for all gun purchasers, registration of all guns (we register automobiles which kill 40,000 a year), requiring permits for conceal and carry, banning sale of assault weapons and large ammunition magazines.

Trumpeting FEAR and RIGHTS have trumped LOVE. Fear and rights have turned us into ourselves and voided love for the other.  Fear and rights focus our being on ME.  We choose to cocoon ourselves behind a wall of weapons which isolate and insulate us from connection. The tragic outcome is more violence, more death, more grief. Battlefields are littered with the the millions of dead who marched to the drums and bugles of FEAR and RIGHTS. Streets, homes, schools, public squares, worship centers and places of business are the new battlefields.

I am moved by the words within the Declaration of Independence which state we are all entitled to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  I am moved by the words in the Preamble of our Constitution that the words contained exist for the purpose of insuring "domestic tranquility." 

I have learned from Jesus that perfect love casts out fear. That it is time to say "Enough!" and "No more of this!" That God's response to Cain's question after he killed his brother, Abel, "Am I my brother's keeper?" is an unqualified "Yes you are!"

Peace! 


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Curiosity and Questioning
Gun Violence Prevention

Recently, a writer-philosopher responded to a question about the greatest gift a person can bring to life's table. His response was CURIOSITY. I can run a long way with his answer. Yet, being a Christian and a Lutheran, thereby in love with the Word of God, I opened my NRSV Concordance and looked under curiosity.  Alas, there was only one reference and that was in the Apocrypha, 2 Esdras 9:13: "...to be curious about how the ungodly will be punished...." Not very helpful!

When in question look to Jesus!  There it was in Luke 23:8-90: "When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer." Herod was curious so he questioned him.

How curious are we about finding solutions to gun violent prevention? Do we even ask questions in search of answers? I am convinced until we do get curious and ask questions about solutions, the carnage of 34,000 gun deaths a year will only increase.

Linda and I attended a conference which focused on NEW APPROACHES TO REDUCING GUN VIOLENCE IN MINNESOTA. The presenters were from Duke University, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Minnesota, the Minneapolis Chief of Police, and the Executive Director of The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. The sponsor of the event was THE EDUCATIONAL FUND TO STOP GUN VIOLENCE.

Their CURIOSITY led them to ask QUESTIONS about how to reduce gun violence. They were curious and questioning because in the previous 204 days there had been 204 mass shootings (not all leading to deaths), 34 people are murdered each day, about 20,000 people commit suicide each year and there are about 300 million guns in private hands in the USA. More guns equal more gun deaths.  They were committed to asking questions and being curious about protecting life.

They concluded that being proactive rather than reactive was part of the solution. Being proactive means recognizing the RISK FACTORS which lead people to use guns, and then ordering Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVRO) upon those individuals who are at risk for gun violence. A GVRO provides the opportunity for family, friends and intimate partners to intervene and temporarily disarm a loved one who is in crisis.  By intervening to remove guns already possessed and to prevent new gun purchases, a safer circumstance was created for their family to seek treatment or engage other resources to address the underlying causes of the dangerous behaviors.

The RISK FACTORS are: 1) Domestic violence convictions and accusations; 2) Violent misdemeanor convictions (assault, road rage); 3) Multiple DUI and drug/alcohol convictions.  In these situations, a judge could issue a GVRO for those exhibiting the RISK FACTORS and who are a danger to their families. The respondent has a right to a hearing.  After the crisis has passed, the GVRO is lifted.

Why is the GVRO needed?  Because presently there is no mechanism to restrict firearm access on a case-by-case basis when no crime has been committed or an individual does not meet the criteria for an involuntary civil commitment for mental health treatment. California has adopted the GVRO strategy. The outcome: a 29% reduction in gun violence and a 25% decrease in homicides.

The GVRO is worth a try.  It seems CURIOSITY leading to QUESTIONING has saved lives. Where are the Herods?

Peace!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Alternative to the Dominant Culture

Walter Brueggemann wrote: ""[The prophet's task is] to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture." In my understanding this means Jesus preached, taught, and acted counter to the dominant culture. Following Jesus means figuring out a "Jesus Way" in our actions.

Placing this action in the context of gun violence prevention, a Jesus Way is to pray upon, reflect upon and act upon Jesus' two clear comments on weapons. 

The first is Jesus telling his disciples what to take with them when they are "sent out": "And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.... They said, 'Lord, look, here are two swords.' He replied, 'It is enough.'" (Luke 22:35-38) The second is Jesus in Gethsemane: "Then one of [the disciples] struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, 'No more of this!' And he touched his ear and healed him." (Luke 22:50-51)

At the very least, Jesus is placing limits on the use of weapons in the first example. Discipleship is not by the sword. The second example has Jesus criticizing the use of the sword and siding with the victim. The Jesus Way is enhanced by healing and nonviolence. Jesus will embrace violence upon himself and not do onto others. Likewise is discipleship.

Jesus' actions are counter to the weapons habits of the dominant culture. Christians, followers of Jesus, are freed and called to act opposite of societies gun culture by insisting upon limits and or elimination of dependence upon guns as solutions. The Christian way is an alternative way. 

I composed a song to lift up this alternative way. It is called "It is Time".

CH: It is time, it is time, it is time to say enough
It is time to say no more
It is time, it is time, it is time to get tough
It is time, it is time to restore

Too many children, too many innocents feel the sting of lead.
Too many workers, too many students lay in the ground cold dead. (CH)

Second Amendment, twisted abused, I've got my rights to put you in my sight.
Regulations, blindly refused, because I've got my rights. (CH)

Purchasing weapons like candy in a store, background checks for some.
But if you're hazy or ethically shady, private sale and mum. (CH)

I've got my right to stand my ground, make my day, protect my life.
I've got my freedom to shoot a few rounds, justifying strife. (CH)

Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, are not they a right?
Freedom to love, free to be my best, free from hate and fright. (CH)

Safety for ALL, freedom for ALL, joyous life for ALL.
Friends with each other, sisters and brothers, gentle like a feather. (CH)

Peace!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lutheran College Integrity

The Concordia College-Moorhead, Minnesota Mission Statement reads: "To influence the affairs of the world by sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life." It is purposeful, faithful and focused. I like it. Linda and I are Concordia graduates.

Mission statements are cherished as well as challenged. Mission statements contain the core of a college's integrity and are rightly cherished.  Events of life challenge the integrity of mission statements. Life events put flesh on the words. Administration, staff, students and graduates are challenged to engage how the mission statement guides and empowers each to respond to lifes realities, which in themselves challenge the integrity of the mission statement.

The issues of climate change and fossil fuels challenge the Concordia family to faithfully live out the Concordia Mission Statement. A friend and classmate, Rollie James and I are concerned that Concordia stay strong and faithful in addressing climate change and fossil fuel issues. We have composed a letter to Concordia leadership expressing our affection and urging them to fulfill its calling as a college of the ELCA academic ministry of Christ. 

Rollie and I are inviting all who have attended Concordia to prayerfully consider signing the letter. If you want to have your name included, send me an email at: ronletnes@hotmail.com.  The deadline is August 1. If you are a graduate feel welcome to include your graduation date. Thank you.


THE LETTER

Dr. William J. Craft, President
Dr. Michelle Lelwica, Chair-Department of Religion
Dr. Michelle D. Marko, Co-Director-Environmental Studies
Dr. Hilda P. Kester, Co-Director-Environmental Studies
Pastor Tim Megorden, Campus Ministry
John R. Tunheim, Chair-Board of Regents
Concordia College
Moorhead, Minnesota 56562

Dear Concordia Leadership:

Grace, mercy, and peace in the strong name of Jesus!

We are those who have attended Concordia. We write out of gratitude for the significant contribution Concordia has made in the shaping of our sense of mission, providing life purpose and stirring faith-filled affection for God's world. We value Concordia's profound mission: "To influence the affairs of the world by sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life." So simple yet so encompassing.

We also write out of concern for God's gift of creation, a concern buttressed by the ELCA Social Statement "Caring for Creation" which exclaims: "We see the despoiling of the environment as nothing less than the degradation of God's gracious gift of creation." Pope Francis has expressed similar concern in his latest encyclical, "Praise Be To You: Laudato Si": "This sister [creation] now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods that God has endowed her." Pope Francis has also emphasized the need for political action and policy changes. Dr. James Hanson, sometimes called the world's premier climatologist, has thanked the pope for recognizing the need for an international and transparent carbon fee. The consistent alarms surrounding climate change and fossil fuels signal the necessity of critical commitment to analysis and action at the highest level.

Institutions of higher education similar to Concordia are well positioned and indeed called by Christ and the Church to preach, teach, give witness and empower a reflective and active creation stewardship.

Towards this end, we view with alarm the pressure brought upon some centers of higher education to compromise their highest disciplines in order to satisfy expectations of some wealthy climate change deniers, fossil-fuel corporate donors, those who would denigrate peer-reviewed science and be critical of change prophets. Institutions may be tempted to sell the integrity of their mission for profit and pottage.  These trade-offs can be costly to creation stewardship, academic honesty and Christian witness.

Therefore, we urge Concordia to maintain and advance its commitment to solid science, environmental stewardship, progressive theological environmental justice and academic freedom. The earth groans in expectation of active environmental justice.

Our affection for Concordia is strong! We believe in Concordia's Mission. We are grateful for your leadership and we trust it to continue its faith-filled vision.

We would appreciate responses to this letter and information on climate actions taken by Concordia.  You may address responses too: Rev. Dr. Ron Letnes, 2917 124th Cr. NE, Blaine, Minnesota 55449.

Thank you for your attention.

Soli Deo Gloria!






Thursday, June 25, 2015

Church, Race, and Guns

The shooter, Dylann Roof, killer of nine, including four ministers, at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, was many things: an ELCA member, baptized and probably confirmed in the ELCA, regular church attendee, and a summer camper at a church camp. And a White supremacist. Dylann's father, Franklin, goes to church twice a week. And there is more. Two of the pastoral victims were graduates of an ELCA seminary. 

What intrigues me is how the church is a central focus in this tragedy.  I am driven to my knees that as an ELCA pastor, I am led to ask questions about the place of the church, the teachings of the church, the practices of the church, my ELCA! And of the Black Church. Places of worship, learning, counseling, nurturing, community gathering, suddenly becoming central casting characters in a racist tragedy.

Yet, this scenario is unfortunately not new. The church has historically been the cauldron of violence. In the 1960's, more than 200 Black and multi-racial churches were torched. Similarly, in the 1960's, over 300 Black churches were bombed. In the fall of 1870, the KKK burned nearly every Black church in Tuskegee, Alabama to the ground. In 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, 4 young girls were killed in a church bombing.

Why? Racism for sure. But more deeply, according to W.E.B. Dubois, churches were the "First social institution fully controlled by Black men in America." Pastor Belin, an African American pastor, said, "You attack the center, whatever you think is going to hit at the heart. The Black church has been the heart." The church was a center for growing Black strength which was threatening to the White power structure.

Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center says: "[The Black church] is a symbol of Black communion.  If you want to harm Black folks, it's an obvious easy target." The Black church was a vulnerable "soft target." There were no guard towers, land mines, or barbed wire protections. The church is about relationships, fellowship, sharing of means, learning, and listening to the Word, together. Come on in!

In the NEW YORK TIMES, Campbell Robertson and Rachel Swarns write: ""During segregation, churches became places where Black men and women found leadership opportunities denied them by White society." The Black church was about empowerment and human development, unsettling dynamics to White Supremacists. 

Yet unfortunately, the impact of church on violence is sadly legion. Church can create guilt. Church can create a relationship of us and them, insider and outsider. Church can create a justification of the righteous against the unrighteous. Church can be a volatile mix. Into this mix, guns can be the means of a distorted cleansing and blasphemous capital punishment.

Yet, the church must be the church. By its nature, the church is a vulnerable people. The church welcomes all people, opens itself to all, peaches and teaches to all.  The church is not a place for guns, nor a place to preach and teach hatred. The church is the place where peace and love are practiced, forgiveness is generous, where justice is planned and carried out in the world, where the nonviolence of Jesus is announced, taught, and practiced, where all kneel to receive the grace of God in the Body and Blood of Jesus. In church, guns do not have the last word, even as the gun cracks, the bullets strike, and the powder fills the room. The church is the place of eternal rising. The Emanuel AME Bible study has reclaimed the place of shooting: "This territory belongs to God." "Death is swallowed up in victory!"

Peace!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

I'm Stickin'
James Carville, former advisor to President Clinton, wrote a book titled I'm Stickin'. He explained why he was staying with certain political positions and party. Call it a political apologetic! There have been times when I have had questions about whether to "stick" with the ELCA. I remember proclaiming that I was an ELCAer by confession, but a Mennonite at heart. I liked the Mennonite positions on peacemaking and nonviolence; whereas I felt the ELCA was rather "mushy" about both.

Since that time, I have remained with the ELCA.  I'm stickin'!  Why? 

Because, as I have made a major commitment to nonviolence and anti-violence action in the arena of gun violence prevention, the ELCA has stood-up and spoken-up about positions to address anti-violence actions that lend Biblical, confessional, and ecclesiological support for actions addressing gun violence prevention. The ELCA has stood strong. What has been said:

1.  Jesus has said "No more of this" and "Enough" and "Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword." when addressing swords and weapons. Nonviolence anyone?

2.  Paul writes of the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians, all of which are nonviolent: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.

3. One might ask: "What about the Old Testament?" Two responses: 1) We must look at the OT through the lens of the NT and Jesus, and in so doing we see an evolving arc of growing nonviolence; 2) Ask: If the OT was so correct about the way of following God, why was Jesus Christ necessary? I suggest Jesus was necessary because people had lost their way in knowing what it means to follow God, to live lives pleasing to God as created in God's Image, to live as human beings as God intended. God had to come in human form to remind us what it means to be a human being. To be a human being means to live nonviolently.

4.  Statements of the ELCA. When it comes to gun violence prevention, the ELCA has made some bold and courageous statements: In 1989 at the Church wide Assembly, a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons was urged as a study proposal meant to move the ELCA to consider an outright ban or regulation. In 1993, again at Church wide, support for the Brady Bill was passed, as was the urging of congregations, synods and agencies to support a broad array of gun control measures.

The 1994 Church Council called on members of the congregations to consider how they might be more involved in countering the reality of and fear of violence in their communities. Gun control was again urged. The 1995 Social Statement "For Peace in God's World" calls upon people to become peacemakers. The 2013 Church wide Assembly called upon members to contact their elected officials and advocate for passage of legislation that promotes universal background checks, prevents gun trafficking, and requires the reporting of lost or stolen guns. A 2013 Pastoral Letter endorsed by the ELCA Bishops urged the church to address gun violence.

Biblical, confessional and ecclesiological groundwork have been formed to encourage and empower people to address gun violence prevention. This is good enough for me! Now the call and the challenge to synods and congregations to trust the Biblical, confessional, and ecclesiological witnesses. With God on our side, who can be against us? [We] can do all things in Christ who strengthens us!

I'm stickin'! 

Peace!

Ron Letnes