if…then…: part 2 – hazarding some answers

I ended yesterday’s blog post (October 9, 2017: if…then…): I wonder, why can we not, will we not, do we not fashion legislation geared toward the prevention of more acts of gun violence or, at the least, compel strictest compliance with gun laws already on the books?

In my continuing wonderment, I hazard some answers or rather, in the fairness of honesty – for the subject of gun control, though my concern, is beyond my realm of expertise – some guesses to my question.

It would be easy, too easy, therefore, I think, unfair and dishonest, to attribute or blame “it” (our American unwillingness to do anything more vigorously legislative concerning gun control) on the National Rifle Association and the greater gun lobby. Yes, with the support of millions upon millions of dollars and millions of gun-rights advocates, the NRA can and does influence elections and, therefore, legislation or no legislation.

Yet that’s only a part of it, for, it seems to me, the immobility of our inability to do anything is, must be a complex matter rooted (again, hazarding a guess) in our national psyche. And this rootedness in the soil of the American soul (again, hazarding a guess) has to do with the power of the symbol of the gun.

Now, I’m not opposed to individual, private gun ownership. However, I neither have owned nor desire to own a gun. So, in an effort to understand, dreaming my way into a mindset other than mine own…

If I was or wanted to be a gun owner, then I wonder might that be an expression of my desire and need to take individual hold in hand (literally! physically!) of:

  • my 2nd Amendment rights and freedoms, especially in reaction and resistance to what I perceive (indeed, fear) as the external intrusion and erosion of those rights and freedoms by the government? Perhaps, and even deeper,
  • my sense of security in an era of unparalleled (read: uncertain, power-shifting, and status quo-threatening) social and cultural change? Perhaps, and still deeper,
  • my self-confidence in the glaring light and encroaching shadow of my ever-increasing awareness that I control little to nothing of the circumstance and chance of this world I inhabit and thus, the life I live (where even my free choices are in response to uncontrollable circumstance and chance)? Perhaps, and

If any (or all) of my guesses and more than I possibly can guess – all powerful, abiding, perhaps unconscious and, thus, unspoken reasons, verily, forces – are true, then I don’t wonder (or, at least, I wonder less) why we can’t, won’t, don’t fashion legislation geared toward the prevention of more acts of gun violence or, at the least, compel strictest compliance with gun laws already on the books.

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if…then…

Subtitle: hypothetical (conditional) conclusions

Sub-Subtitle – A Prefatory Disclaimer: I don’t have all (any of?) the facts and this is outside of my field of expertise (though not outside my range of intense interest), thus, doubtless, there are vast holes in my argument; nevertheless, I wonder…

If airliner and automobile crashes lead to legislation and regulations to make airliner and automobile travel safer, and

If airliner crashes, by dint of the number of casualties, can be considered akin to mass shootings as automobile crashes can be considered akin to single (or less than four, thus, not mass) fatality incidences of gun violence, and

If (and if it can be proven that), in most cases, airliner and automobile crashes are caused by environmental (weather-and/or-road-related) factors or mechanical failure or pilot/driver error, and

If, in many (most? all?) cases, mass-and-single-fatality gun violence is the result of human premeditation,

Then, I wonder, why can we not, will we not, do we not fashion legislation geared toward the prevention of more acts of gun violence or, at the least, compel strictest compliance with gun laws already on the books?

which one?

Epiphany 1-22-17a sermon, based on Matthew 21.23-32, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, October 1, 2017

Never answer a question with a question, so the olden adage advises, lest one be accused of refusing to engage in honest dialogue or, as bad, seeking to conceal one’s ignorance. Clearly, Jesus was no proponent of this school of thought.

Jesus triumphally entered Jerusalem,[1] then brazenly cleansed the temple of money changers and sellers of animals,[2] thus, disrupting the sacred economy of the institution of ritual sacrifice, and now, self-authorized, has taken up residence in the temple, teaching, preaching. The chief priests and elders charged with maintaining order, demand, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

The Pharisees Question Jesus, James Tissot (1886-1894)

The accusatory tone of these religious leaders is a strong indication that it’s hardly likely they will accept anything Jesus says. Nevertheless, given, again, their role as overseers of the life of worship of their people, God’s people, theirs is a fair question. What does Jesus do? He answers their question with a question to which they plead the fifth, refusing to answer. Jesus doesn’t answer their question, but rather responds with a parable about two sons whose father asks to labor in the vineyard. One says, “No”, but then goes. The other says, “Yes,” but then doesn’t go.

Parable of the Two Sons, James Tissot (1836-1902)

“Which of the two,” Jesus pointedly asks not only those chief priests and elders, but also us, “did the will of his father?”

The one who appears to be, who presents herself, himself to be a follower of Jesus who outwardly does the right things, but whose mind and heart, soul and spirit are far from doing, being the love and justice of the kingdom of God or the one who by all appearances fails, falls from grace time and time again, but finally responds favorably to the call of Jesus, “Follow me”, acting fairly, living faithfully; even if it comes at the proverbial “eleventh hour” of the last breath of life in this world!

Which one are you? Which one am I? Jesus calls you and me to answer and not with a question.

On another, deeper level, I believe the answer to Jesus’ question is neither the one who said, “No”, but did go nor the one who said, “Yes”, but didn’t go, but rather Jesus himself. He was…is the son who when sent to proclaim in word and deed God’s will of self-sacrificial, unconditional love, came among us teaching and preaching, holding out his hands especially to the least, last, and lost, then stretching out his arms, loving us all, from the least to the greatest, to death, his own, that we might be redeemed from sin and death. Jesus is the son we are to imitate.

When Jesus asks us, as he does today and every day, “Which son did the will of his father?”, by the grace of God, let us answer, “You, Jesus, are the one and you, Jesus, are the one we follow that we, your sisters and brothers, God’s daughters and sons, might do, be fulfillments of God’s will.

 

Illustrations:

The Pharisees Question Jesus (Les pharisiens questionnent Jésus) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902)

Parable of the Two Sons, James Tissot

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 21.1-11

[2] Matthew 21.12-13

the push and pull of mystery

I awoke this morning in a melancholy mood thinking about the cares that beset any human under the sun, the daily reminders of our limitations, the not (never?) having enough time, energy, or money (or any two or all three), in the face of our desires and needs, to complete, compete, or compensate.

Then I pushed beyond my personal, largely small cares, thinking about greater current woes of the world. Among them:

  • The horrific destruction of hearth and health and hope wrought by the winds and waves of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the tectonic tumult of earthquakes; turning verdant lands barren, bringing darkness, save for still-shining stars, to what seem endless nights, cancelling the coming day for the final closing of the eyes of the dying, and
  • The dread specter of rising, billowing nuclear clouds, and
  • The social, cultural unrest of an America stirred by the symbols of flags, anthems, and statues, and actions, whether to stand and salute or lock arms and kneel.

Then pulling back from these painful thoughts, as I oft do, I meditated on mystery – not a riddle to be resolved by human reason, but rather the reality of all things beyond human power to control, perhaps even human ability to understand and, thus, to amend.

mystery - Hubble telescope

My meditations provoked, as they always do, questions. Among them:

  • Why do, must people suffer?
  • Why, after centuries of observing and studying the futility of war to resolve disputes, do we, as peoples and nations, continue to lust for combat and long for conquest; the latter, given the superior and spreading nuclear capacity to destroy both enemy and self, being a fool’s goal?
  • Why, despite our best ambitions toward equality, do we continue to separate ourselves along lines, some invisible, yet all seemingly inerasable, of race and class, culture and clan, party and perspective; resulting in our apparent inability and unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of another point of view?
  • Why, long recognizing the incontestable truth that we occupy one planet (notwithstanding the dreams of lunar and Martian colonization) and that we form a global community of inseparable, interlocking interests, do we remain blinded by our prejudices, refusing to see the common humanity that we all irrefutably share?

Underneath these realities, as I behold them, lies unfathomable mystery. Understanding so little, I cannot answer my questions. One thing I do know. I cannot end suffering, war, inequality, prejudice, and a legion of human ills. However, as a person of faith, I can and do pledge to repent, daily, praying the Holy Spirit to make me more conscious of my:

  • time, energy, and money and how to use what I do have to serve, to share with my sisters and brothers of greater need;
  • anger, oft rooted in my sense of an affront to my personal honor and how to channel its virulent energy toward efforts to make peace with others and myself;
  • individuality of self and my commonality with all, so that in acknowledging the former I never disavow the latter;
  • biases and how to peer more deeply into the eyes of “the other” and mine own to behold our common God-given image.

I am not sure how this does, can, or will work. For I perceive it as mystery. By faith, I shall trust God, the greatest Mystery, to bring it to pass.

the cussedness of life – biting off a chewable piece

In the spring of 1966, I, soon turning 14 and, in that coming fall, entering high school, was invited to apply for admission to the St. Louis Country Day School (CDS), a prestigious private institution. Though my father and my mother, an elementary school teacher, were staunch supporters of public education, the opportunity CDS presented was too good to pass.

(I was accepted, but the scholarship didn’t cover the gap between the annual cost and what my parents could afford. To public secondary school I went. On occasion, I still wonder had I attended CDS where I might have gone and what I might be doing.)

I remember the rigorous entrance exam, covering general knowledge and ending with an essay. The subject. The Cussedness of Life. Cussedness was defined as “something disagreeable, perversely contrary and unhelpful.” The parenthetical illustration: Why is it that when the barber massages your scalp, he scratches every part except the one that itches? Not that I’d ever had a scalp massage, but I got the point. Yet the example struck me as something merely annoying, too mild to match my sense of the angst couched in the definition of cussedness.

In my essay, I wrote about the then efforts of the St. Louis municipal government to upgrade fire suppression measures citywide, including the installation of new hydrants. The problem as I saw it, the plan did not encompass great swaths of the inner city where generally the building stock was numerous and set in proximity. Any conflagration, however small, in short order could decimate an entire neighborhood. I asked, how could such an oversight (or was it?) occur?

In a world populated by humans and, thus, the self-interested ideations and actions of individuals (be they persons, communities, or nations), the cussedness of life stubbornly remains. Whatever the era, concerning the presence of things “disagreeable, perversely contrary and unhelpful”, that 19th century epigram, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, holds true.

Any of us even half attentive to the world around us could cite examples of cussedness. I asked my wife Pontheolla, who, without blinking, named a series of “cussed things”, some global, others local, and personal (that one, I confess, pertaining to me!). And in this her last reference, offered less as a criticism and more as an observation, I had an insight, feeling to me as the scratch to a disturbing itch that all forms of cussedness provoke…

Usually things that are “disagreeable, perversely contrary and unhelpful” are large and overwhelming. The kinds of concerns beyond individual, even group capacity to address, much less ameliorate. The sorts of issues that oft leave folk bemoaning their powerlessness in the face of proverbial irresistible forces and immovable objects.

Still, big things are made up of small parts. Even a monumental matter (on a personal human scale, my nature, which, as is true for all of us, is multi-faceted) has elements that can be taken up and tackled (as Pontheolla observed about an abiding aspect of my personality that continues to vex her, and, truth be told, me, too). In this present case, as in all circumstances, a question arises. Will I do something about it? For even a big cussed thing, whether in the world around me or within me, has a small piece that I might bite off and chew.