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