Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Guns: One More Time!

I am posting today an online submission I made to my Senator on April 16th, 2007. I will be resending it, with an update, to all my elected officials. I pray I do not have to do this again in 5 years:

Dear Senator Cardin,
As a 1988 graduate of Virginia Tech, I am overwhelmed and grieved beyond words by today's tragedy.  How many more of these must we experience before we have meaningful gun control legislation?  Please do everything in your power to make sure this never, never happens again.

Thank you for your attention to this most serious matter and may peace prevail.

Below is a refresher courtesy of bbcnews.com:

April 2007: A gunman shoots dead at least 20 people at the campus of Virginia Tech university in Virginia.

October 2006: A 32-year-old gunman shoots dead at least five girls at an Amish school in Pennsylvania, before killing himself

September 2006: Gunman in Colorado shoots and fatally wounds a teenage schoolgirl, then kills himself; two days later a teenager kills the headteacher of a school in Cazenovia, Wisconsin

November 2005: Student in Tennessee shoots dead an assistant principal and wounds two other administrators

March 2005: Minnesota schoolboy kills nine, then shoots himself

May 2004: Four people injured in shooting at a school in Maryland

April 2003: Teenager shoots dead head-teacher at a Pennsylvania school, then kills himself

March 2001: Pupil opens fire at a school in California, killing two students

February 2000: Six-year-old girl shot dead by classmate in Michigan

November 1999: Thirteen-year-old girl shot dead by a classmate in New Mexico

May 1999: Student injures six pupils in shoot-out in Georgia

April 1999: Two teenagers shoot dead 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves at Columbine School in Colorado

June 1998: Two adults hurt in shooting by teenage student at high school in Virginia

May 1998: Fifteen-year-old boy shoots himself in the head after taking a girl hostage

May 1998: Fifteen-year-old shoots dead two students in school cafeteria in Oregon

April 1998: Fourteen-year-old shoots dead a teacher and wounds two students in Pennsylvania

March 1998: Two boys, 11 and 13, kill four girls and a teacher in Arkansas

December 1997: Fourteen-year-old boy kills three students in Kentucky

October 1997: Sixteen-year-old boy stabs mother, then shoots dead two students at school in Mississippi, injuring several others

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Y2K, Guns, God, and Love: Part II

Part II: God and Love (Part I is here)

The following words are inscribed in the stonework behind the pulpit at The Universalist National Memorial Church in Washington DC : “God is love and he who dwells in love dwells in God and God in him.” I attended that church in the late 1990s and it was the first time I really paid attention to that New Testament verse.

And I pondered it, back then: God is love and he who dwells in love dwells in God and God in him

I like that.

I don’t believe in God. At least, not in the God I grew up with. That God died for me some time before stumbling upon the Universalist National Memorial Church and its inscription from 1 John. That God was the causality of a difficult marriage and early divorce and perhaps my own intellectual pride and the convenience of seeing God as a crutch and excuse for choices in my life and what I saw as an excuse for others living hypocritically. If God was the Crusades and Inquisition and Slavery and Bigotry, I didn’t want him anyway. And I was moving towards a mystical sense of a god. God that was Nature or Mother Earth or The Force, like in Star Wars. And then I found myself at the Universalist National Memorial Church turning those words around and around: 

He who dwells in love dwells in God. He who dwells in love dwells in God. 

And God in him.

Fast forward a dozen years and my beloved, my wife, and mother of my boys dies. Killed crossing the street by some sorry soul who made a bad left turn into the crosswalk. In the anguish and despair that followed, something rose in me. A feeling of something. Not only did I still love Amy, I felt her love for me. I felt it strongly then and feel it still. It was, and remains, as real a feeling as the feeling of gravity right now pulling me into my chair. Somehow that love force between us remains. 

I’ve been pondering this for over two years. I thought about the attractive force between two humans that we call love and that once created, continues on and on, even after one person dies. According to Newton, gravity is related to the mass of two bodies and the distance between them. You need both bodies for gravity. If the Sun were to suddenly vanish, gravity between the Sun and Earth would also vanish. Einstein described gravity differently: a perturbation in space-time. But still requiring the existence of the body in question. Love, as I have experienced it, did not end when the object of that love disappeared. It remained. It remained real as ever and more enduring that the force of gravity.

And now I have fallen in love again. Yet the love I feel for Amy remains and is separate from that I feel with Lori. And I have two boys whom I love. Greatly. There was a time when they didn’t exist and I didn’t love them. Then my oldest was born and I immediately fell in love with him. Three years later my younger son was born and I fell in love with him too! This capacity of love seems boundless. I did not have to conserve love so that I can share it equally between these two young creatures. Each love was separate and full. With each new family member, or friend, or colleague, some new measure of love is created. It is truly magical to think about the expansiveness of this force! A force more enduring even than gravity. 

He who dwells in love dwells in god.  He who dwells in love dwells in god. 

And God in him.

And God in him.

And I can create love. I create love. I am a creator of love. And you create love too. We create Love. Together. Everyday.

We can create love. So then we create God. And God in us. You and me. Together. Everyday. And God will remain after we are gone. As Love. Not like gravity which will go away. But forever.

Love is endless.

God is endless.

But love isn’t everywhere. Not yet. And it was missing in Connecticut on Friday. Which means God was missing. But not in the way Mike Huckabee suggests. 

I’m sure Mr Huckabee, like most of us, Christian or not, is familiar with Jesus’s answer when asked what is the greatest commandment of all. He replies in Matthew: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ . . . And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

And if we plug in the “God is Love” equation from 1 John into the above, a wonderful thing happens: We are commanded to “love Love with all our hearts and souls.” I like that. A lot. Love Love. Love, the verb, and Love, the object. To love Love. Perfect. Because sometimes we fear Love. Or, we ignore Love. Or we deny Love. But to love Love? That must be the greatest of all the commandments.

But then there is the 'Love your neighbor as yourself” commandment. That's more complicated, actually. Which, I believe, is why what happened on Friday happened. We may never have a complete understanding of what was going on in the troubled mind of Adam Lanza. It’s easy and convenient to assign blame to an individual. It's easy to just say, 'someone capable of unspeakable evil shot-up an elementary school. Someone sick and broken and only able to love himself such that he took his own life, stole the lives of others.' But, in fact, he did follow that commandment. He loved others as himself. Horribly so. Sadly, his damaged love did not uphold life but destroyed life. And with it the capacity for those young humans to fully create their own Love. But do any of us truly act alone? The debate is an old one, but certainly our culture and environment play a roll. 

The gun control and mental health debate is re-engaged. Perhaps this time, for real. Perhaps this time we will debate it motivated by love and compassion. But recent history leaves me concerned. The lack of love and compassion in the debates surrounding debt ceilings and fiscal cliffs are depressing. And since our elected officials are a reflection of the electorate, we seem to have replaced love and compassion with something else. It manifests in Congress, on talk shows, and in our social media. We have decided it is better to be right that happy. Fear and ignorance seem to motivate us to action more than love and compassion. So when Mr. Huckabee described the absence of God, he was right. And the farther we walk away from compassion for our fellow human being the farther from love and God we become. 

But we can change that. This morning at our church the undercurrent of sadness and grief was palpable and occasionally pushed through the surface. It also happened that today was a child dedication. In our church the new little people are brought forward to be named and blessed and welcomed. The counterpoint of new life and tragic death moved me to tears, both sad and empty tears, and happy and hopeful tears. 

With that, those happy and hopeful tears, I’d like to call us to stand up and say enough. Enough of a guiding philosophy whose highest moral purpose is to operate in our own cold self-interest at the expense of others. There is little accommodation for expansive love in such a philosophy, yet it drives much of what we do today in our culture, in our economy, in our politics. It’s time to make new choices. It’s not just mental health care and gun control policy that could use a massive infusion of compassion. It's time to design all our policies and programs around a philosophy of loving kindness rather than a hyper-individualism and distrust of help for others. I’m sure there is enough profit for all even as we set aside some to care for the least of us. 

The fear and hate and ignorance that have become our national debates on practically every issue need to end. It’s time to replace that fear and hate and ignorance with god.

By which, I mean, Love. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Y2K, Guns, God, and Love

Part I: Y2K and Guns
(See Part II here)

As a recovering IT professional, I have memories of the late 1990’s when everyone was panicking about Y2K. All these bad things were supposed to happen: planes falling from the sky and nuclear power plants going off line. You wouldn’t be able to get money from ATM machines so you better hoard cash and canned goods. The project I was working on, a fairly important health system, had some Y2K “bugs.” We knew about them, started working on them a year or so ahead of time, fixed them, and tested them. Then January 1st happened and, well, it all worked. Not just for our project, but for everyone. There were a few glitches here and there, but mostly it was a “non-event.“ And then the media started to get on the IT industry’s case about the fact that we were a bunch of “Chicken Littles.” Why were we panicking so much? Even today, when I casually mention Y2K to friends outside the IT industry many will shake their head about the whole “Y2K hoax.”

Except it wasn’t a hoax. And we (IT folks mostly) weren’t panicking. Not exactly. We were working hard. Very hard. And we were worried about getting done in time, certainly. But we were fixing the problem. And turns out, we did a pretty good job of analyzing the problem years before, saw it coming, planned for it, got the resources to fix it, and fixed it.  It actually worked!

And there are some lessons we can draw from that, for us here, on this empty day, as the facts of the truly horrific shootings in Connecticut trickle in. But before getting to those lessons, today, I am going to make a prediction: If we do nothing, I know with certainty this will happen again.  I am predicting another mass shooting just like the IT industry predicted Y2K.

But unlike Y2K, I don’t know when or where the next mass shooting will occur. It may happen later today or not until next year. That is part of the future that is regrettably unknowable. I’m not a criminologist or a sociologist or “expertologist.” But I am pretty smart, I know a little about human behavior and this country. I can look at the historical data and look our out policies and our ability to control evil acts and know, with certainty, in the United States, some day a bunch of innocent lives, and even young children, will be destroyed by a sad individual with a legally obtained assault weapon or semi-automatic hand gun.

With a random act, like what happened in Connecticut, it was just that, random. Well, perhaps random is an imprecise term. Rather, it was not predictable as to time and place. Y2K? We new exactly when and where it would happen.  It was precisely predictable.

Which finally leads me to my point – we don’t do so well with probability.  We really don’t know how to evaluate risks and properly assign actions to manage those risks. For big things like crime, and global warming, that fit in the realm of probability, we get so caught up in emotional biases and prejudices that we are actually unable to solve problems even after new data contradicts what we thought we knew. In fact we are often unable to prevent big problems at all. It is only after some predictable catastrophe actually occurs that we take action. Turns out, we are very reactive creatures (see also: 9/11, Katrina, the Housing Bubble, and 2012 Romney Campaign).

In 2004 we let the Assault Weapon Ban expire. At the time no one could say, “ya know, since the Columbine killings in 1999, mass killings have been kind a low, as low as the early 80s, but starting in 2004 we will see a pretty significant increase starting with a massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007, followed by a whole string a unfortunate killings culminating in 2012 and a frightening body count including a bunch of little kids in Connecticut. And mostly these were done with legally obtained semiautomatic assault weapons and handguns.” (See this Mother Jone's article about mass killings.)

I wonder what we would have done in 2004 if we knew what yesterday looked like back then. If we had the same kind of knowledge and awareness we had with he Y2K bug? But we didn’t know. Not exactly. But we did know something would happen. And it will continue. It just will.  So it is for us to decide: Is the protection of a human created right to own a gun as or more sacred than the innocent lives that will be sacrificed for the right? How much longer can we really hang on to an amendment that was written in the context of fearing European Monarchical Tyranny? Written by men who lived in an agrarian nation of under 3 million people, not an urban nation of over 310 million.  Written by men with no concept of mental illness like we have in 2012. Written when you had to load a gun from the barrel side by pouring in black powder, packing it with wadding, and then dropping a lead ball in.

I’m not interested in parsing the poorly written 2nd amendment and whether the right is an individual right or a collective right or if the “well regulated militia clause” is an independent clause or modifying clause to the “right of the individual” clause. Those are all bullshit intellectual exercises requiring the Chicago Manual of Style and an intimate relationship with the placement of commas. Compare that to the non-theoretical reality of our modern world: A world where most anyone can purchase a military style rifle and where individuals with mental illness wander about because of our inferior patchwork of health care.

So let’s make a choice and be honest with ourselves. It’s a simple one. We can choose, as a society, that we are comfortable with the loss of some innocent lives in mass killing events. We can choose that the loss of life that comes with gun ownership, like the gun ownership we have today, is sad, but a necessary part of a freedom that we believe is superior. For us to all be able to purchase military-style assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns is so important a right that we will allow anyone who wants to, to buy one.  Even though that means, well, each year, some of us will sacrifice our lives to perpetuate that right.

That is the choice we have made, so far, as a nation. And we can decide it again. And each time we choose not to change our gun laws, that is the choice we make.  It’s simple really.  But I hope we make a different choice. One that acknowledges the archaic nature of the 2nd amendment and its lack of relevance in 2012 America. I’m not interested in banning all guns. If you want to go hunt squirrels or shoot targets for sport, I’m fine with that. If you want a gun to protect yourself and keep it safely locked in you home. Okay, fine. But why do you really need a Sig Sauer .223-Caliber Semi-Automatic Rifle?

It’s time for a change. And you know what? We’ve gutted so much of the rest of the Bill of Rights, why we hang on so desperately to those archaic gun rights says something about who we are as a people.

And that is a good segue to part two of this essay for tomorrow where I’ll get into what Mike Huckabee said that we've “systematically removed God” from the public schools. And guess what? I agree! Surprised? Here is a hint: Read 1 John 4 (7-21) .