Never Again?




























The Moral Universe – Self-Interest Well Understood


Okay, I do have to write about Alexis de Tocqueville again, so bear with me. You can blame him for being so wise in addressing issues that are universal and timeless and also for being so prophetic.
Have you ever practically flown out of your chair upon hearing a concept described that you had thought about for a long time but never knew there was a name for?

This happened to me while listening to the second set of CDs in the “Tocqueville and the American Experiment” Great Courses series.

“Self-interest well understood” is the term that Tocqueville gave to participation in political associations, meaning that when people are involved in serving others, they are also serving themselves. He does relate it fairly narrowly to the importance of participation in democracy and cites all kinds of ramifications in not doing so.

But the term hit me so hard because it is something I’ve given much thought to and had discussions about with my sister. It is a concept I started to define in my own mind in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election, when we’d had almost four years of Tea Party campaigning and scare tactics. Since I had come to know people who self-defined as members of the Tea Party, I was trying to understand where they were coming from but finding it difficult to discern anything in their comments but fear and selfishness. The bulk of their objections to the Obama administration started with the words “My” or “I.” “My taxes,” “my health insurance,” “my guns,” etc.

I never heard concern expressed for others who aren’t members of the Tea Party. I heard nothing that expressed a zeitgeist that included one’s neighbors, the country as a whole, or the rest of the world.
As we talked on the telephone while awaiting the results of the 20I2 election, I said to my sister that I never remembered voting for someone because of what I thought that person could do for me personally, but what that person could do for the greater society, whether on a state or national or international level. Since I first voted for George McGovern in 1974, it just never occurred to me that my personal concerns had anything to do with my vote, but that my vote was meant to consider a broader constituency.

My sister felt the same way; I don’t know where we got this from, though we tend to credit our mother with much of the way we look at the world. erhaps growing up in the 1960s also had something to do with it. We protested the Vietnam war not because we personally were going to lose or gain by it, but because we thought it was an unfair, imperial action that was costing too much in terms of both American and Vietnamese lives.

We also grew up during the hottest part of the Cold War and were taught to be afraid, to be very afraid, of atom bombs raining down on us with just the meager protection of a schoolroom desk. That might have formed in us a selfish outlook and overarching concern for our personal safety; instead it taught us that atom bombs are bad for Planet Earth and every living thing on it.

We watched the evening news from an early age and saw black people being fire-hosed and set upon by police dogs and somewhere in our brains we formed the idea that, though those hoses and dogs were not set upon us, it was a bad thing for the country that anyone should be treated this way. We did take it personally when Martin Luther King Jr. and, shortly after, Bobby Kennedy were assassinated because we felt that the country needed them so desperately.

Ultimately, somehow and from whatever inspiration, we grew up feeling that what was good for the larger community was good for us. We had learned self-interest well understood. As adults now in our 60s, we are even more concerned about the reign of terror (I can’t really speak for Sally, but that’s how I have come to see it) unleashed by the hateful war waged against the Obama administration. It has not only paralyzed Congress from acting in any positive way, but it has also seemed to give bigots the audacity to act out their prejudices again as in the days of Jim Crow. Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, John Crawford and others have had to pay the ultimate price for the Tea Party’s fomenting of us vs. them.

I shall have much more to say about the NRA in a future blog, but what else but fear and selfishness allows people to think that their right to have military-grade weapons handy trumps innocent people’s right not to be killed by passing bullets and/or psychotics whose voices in their heads tell them to go to an elementary school and kill as many children as possible? It is the ultimate in self-interest not only not well understood, but ignored and trampled on.

It defies belief, but I have to hope it doesn’t defy the hope that if the Beloved Community that John Lewis wrote about really comes together and walks toward this problem, it can be solved. Too many futures have been shattered; we must see that other futures come to fruition.

Message Given at Christ Episcopal-Trinity Lutheran Church on Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath, 3/16/14


“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my God and my Redeemer.”

Every year, as soon as a new flu virus is identified, a vaccine is produced within weeks, if not days. There are people who probably work 24/7 to accomplish this, and it is praiseworthy that this is so and that public and private concerns work together so efficiently. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and no one wants to see another world-wide epidemic such as that of Spanish flu in 1918.

Yet another epidemic has been spreading for years  that is killing our children at the rate of almost 3,000 a year, and neither our politicians, our public health institutions, nor our citizenry has done anything significant to stop it.

Churches of all denominations around the country are marking today as Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath. The National Episcopal Church has held events since Friday in Washington; our own Bishop Doug Fisher and Jack McKelvey are members of Bishops Against Gun Violence.

When asked to speak to you on this subject, the only appropriate Scripture I could think of was, “Jesus wept.”

In one year on average, more than 18,000 American children & teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, accidents, or by police intervention. Eighteen thousand!

Every day our children are put in harm’s way just by going to school or the playground; by sitting on the front stoop on a summer evening, killed in a drive-by shooting gone awry; by playing with their parents’ guns and accidentally killing a sibling or themselves; by playing with rifles actually made for children; by having easy access to a gun and believing that the future holds nothing for them.

Is it worse to be a parent of a child who is killed by a gunshot, or to be the parent of a child who has pulled the trigger? What if you were both?

Jesus wept.

As Christians, when confronted with any situation we cannot reason out for ourselves, we are called to ask, “What is the will of God in this?” Or one may put it, “What would Jesus do?” We know from the Ten Commandments that God does not want us to kill one another. We know from John 10:10 that Jesus came to give us life, and life abundantly. We know from Romans 12:9 that in order to practice love, we must hate evil. We cannot just avoid evil; we must take a stand against evil.

The word “evil” has several definitions. That which is morally reprehensible. That which offends. Cosmic evil. And that which brings sorrow, distress or calamity. It is in this last sense that I speak about the evil of gun violence. What stand are we taking against it? Luke 11:13 says, “Even you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children.” What gifts are we giving to children when we allow gun violence to run rampant in our country? How many children will never have the gift of growing up as a child of God, will never experience the fullness of a life well lived, will never give to the world his or her particular talents? How many future Martin Luther Kings or Gandhis or Jonas Salks or Mark Twains or Eleanor Roosevelts or Elizabeth Warrens never realize their potential because of gun violence How many people like you and me, simple laborers in the Vineyard, never know the joy of community and working together for the common good because of gun violence?

Peter’s first letter, 2:16, says “As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.” Is it not the issue of our freedom as US citizens that is one of the issues that those who work against rational gun laws use frequently to justify their beliefs? Yet God tells us we should not use our freedom to perpetuate evil.

After the Newtown shootings, Episcopal priest Gary Commins chose to preach about gun violence on December 30, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. He compared our society and all the politicians and the NRA members who resist rational gun laws and all the people who abet gun violence by doing nothing, to little Herods. “The media always wants to know the mental state of the murderer,” he said. “But the more pertinent question is: what is our mental state? Why do we, as a nation, continue to be accomplices in the murders of children? Do we suffer from a collective hallucination? Or are we a nation of Herods? Do we prefer to cling to money, power and guns instead of making our children safe?”

While we are quick to point out violence in other cultures, we allow violence to flourish in our own. 3,000 people died on 9/11, a horrible, horrible tragedy, and we went to war because of it. Yet every year 31,537 people die in the United States in gun violence. Where is our outrage? Who has declared war on gun violence? Have we?

Again, from Gary Commins’ sermon: “….”but where is God? We yearn for a God who will defeat our enemies and keep us safe. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said he could pray for legions of angels to protect him, but he doesn’t. We want a God like that, a God who will always protect us. We want a mighty God we can blame, but we can’t blame God for the society we have made. . . The question is not: God, why have you forsaken us? It’s: why have we forsaken you.

“To me God is in the words of Wendell Berry. Before the US invaded Iraq, Berry asked: how many children do I want to have killed so that I can maintain my freedom? How many children should die so that I can maintain my comforts and my lifestyle? None. Zero. None. Those are the questions we need to ask: how many children should die so that someone can own a gun? How many children should die so that corporations can make billions of dollars. How many children should die so that politicians can retain power another two or four or six years? To the Herods of this world, money and power and comfort take priority over the lives of children.”

The National Episcopal Church as well as other mainline churches and the Brady Campaign are asking that three actions be taken:

  1. Ban all assault weapons. The assault weapons ban that elapsed in 2004 must be reinstated.
  2. Require universal background checks.
  3. Make gun trafficking a federal crime.

Let us all take time today to pray about how we can take a stand against this epidemic. We can, individually or as a church, join the Brady Campaign or Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. We can put up a sign outside our church saying that no more children should die from gun violence. We can use a coffee hour once a month to write our legislators and pressure politicians in states that refuse to restrict gun sales. We can go to Washington and bear witness in front of the Capitol. We can go online and find out about boycotts of companies that support the NRA’s intransigence. Individually and as a church community there is so much we can do, if we have the will to do it.

Let us not be the ones who have forsaken God by failing to protect the lives of His, and our, children. Let us truly be Christians, Christ followers, and help Jesus in the work of bringing life, and life abundantly, to all God’s children.