What We Owe The Christmas Angels

We are still grieving. I am still grieving.

It was around noon yesterday when I saw the news alert for this shooting come across my phone. I burst into tears.

Twenty young children, the most innocent and helpless members of our society, cut down by what will most certainly be judged to be a mentally ill person.

Twenty families, many with presents under their Christmas trees, that will go unopened. Hundreds of schoolmates, thousands of family members, who will never ever be the same.

But, it’s even broader than this. Every single parent in America sees this  and recoils. They hug their children (we did). Their thoughts immediately rush to their children’s school, and they imagine the horror of such things in their towns too.

What happens to us is all is: FEAR.

Big, bold fear, with capital letters.

So, these are the thoughts of grief that first fly through my soul. They still rattling inside their today, and even as a write these words, I can feel the emotion welling up.

But, there is something else that wells up in me, just as deeply, and surprisingly strong: ANGER.

Because two thousand years ago, Christmas angels told the world, “FEAR NOT.”

And yet, far too often, we are still a world ruled by our fears. Whether we own guns or don’t own guns, we live in fear. Whether we’ve been involved in a shooting, or just watched them from afar, we live in fear.

But, especially at Christmas, we read Bible stories of how God does not want us to live in fear. God wants us to live in world of hope and peace.

So, because this call to “fear not” has been with us for long, and because these damn shootings keep happening, increasing our fear, what comes out in me is anger.

Righteous, God-inspired anger.

Anger at the continuing scourge of gun violence. Anger that, once again, another mass shooting has happened. Anger that, once again, I am told that “now is not the time to talk about guns.”

Yes. Yes, it is. It is the perfect time. Like any other issue that confronts your life, the time to talk about it is when it happens. That’s what any therapist will tell you. Don’t push it down. Don’t bury it. TALK about it.

There is an old expression, of debatable attribution, that goes:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

So, this morning, I choose to name the insanity, and choose to talk about guns.

Specially, I want to talk to gun owners, and those who are strong defenders of the Second Amendment. Some of you who are gun owners are my friends and family. I love you all dearly. But the time has come to talk about these things.

YOU must be willing to talk about these.
YOU must be willing to search your heart, to open your eyes to the reality of gun violence in our nation.
Change will come from YOU…gun owners…

Until then, we will all continue to be insane, and the innocent will continue to die.

To those of you who own guns, I want to speak to you as a minister, theologically and spiritually, and to tell you the most true thing I know on the subject:

Life is inherently risky. In every moment of life, we encounter innumerable risks to our security and safety. Even if you carry gun on your person, 24-7, every day you will encounter situations where you can still be shot, where your loved ones can be shot, and where there is absolutely nothing you and your gun can do to stop it.

Think about your average day. Consider the number of times you are in the mall, at school, watching a movie, in church…and your guard is down. You deserve to be able to have moments, in public, where your guard is down.

This is the world God wants.

We cannot live with unregulated gun ownership, and without fear. Those two things are incompatible with each other.

Guns cannot keep you safe. Guns cannot keep your family safe. It is not possible to own enough guns, or stock enough ammunition, to keep your family safe in each and every moment of life. It’s a dangerous fiction –perhaps the MOST dangerous– to believe you can.

The goal of ordinary life in America cannot be a fully-armed citizenry, ever vigilant for an attack.

Is that the America you believe will keep us safe? You are wrong. You will fail. That America will fail. Gun attacks, in that kind of America, will only continue and only worsen.

The answer, and our only hope, is in the opposite direction entirely. The answer, and our only hope, is to put our trust in God, not guns. The answer is to listen to the leading of true FAITH.

Not faith in firearms, but faith in God, and trust in each other.

Guns erode trust. Guns are to the violent and mentally ill mind, what crack cocaine is to the addict. The easy access to guns tempt the mentally ill.

These events happen over and over and over again, and we throw up our hands and say, “Well there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Yes there is. Many other nations on earth do not suffer the gun deaths we do in our nation. They do things differently, and they get a different result. They choose to not be insane about guns.

Or, maybe you acknowledge some problem, but you imagine it’s not really that bad. After all, more people die in traffic accidents each year, they say, and we don’t outlaw cars.
That is true.

But did you know that the number of gun death is just about pull even with the number of traffic deaths? The difference is less than ten percent, and if the trend-lines continue they will likely pull even with each other in the next few years.

We put regulations in place to make cars safer and make drivers more responsible. That has reduced, dramatically, the number of car deaths. Meanwhile, the number of gun deaths continue to rise. Unless we choose to do something differently, in two years or less, as many people will die from traffic accidents as from guns.

One of the best pieces I’ve read in the past day is from Ezra Klein of the Washington Post. When confronted with this same insanity over guns, he points out this:

“If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation’s security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it.

Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. “Too soon,” howl supporters of loose gun laws. But as others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn’t “too soon.” It’s much too late.

Yes. It is much too late. And our inability to deal with this issue is clinically insane.
On Facebook, I saw this following:

One guy tries a shoe bomb = Every flyer takes their shoes off.
Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine = no changes at all.

Yep.

Some of you still don’t believe the problem is as bad as it is. That’s part of the problem…you don’t SEE the problem.

So, here are some facts (Many from that same Ezra Klein story):

— Of the 20 worst mass shootings in world history over the past fifty years, eleven have been in the United States alone.

— Of those eleven US shootings, five have happened since 2007.

— Add together all the gun deaths in the 23 wealthiest countries in the world and 80 percent of those deaths are Americans. Of all the children killed by guns in those nations, 87 percent are American kids.

— Since 2005, there is a multiple-victim shooting in America every 5.9 days. (Citation here)

— Israel and Switzerland are wealthy, first-world nations, with a high-level of gun ownership. But! A very low incidents of mass shootings.

— The Harvard Injury Control Research Center found substantial evidence that indicates “more guns means more murders.” This holds true whether you’re looking at different countries or different states.

— The number of guns in this nation is almost at a “one-to-one” ratio.

— States with tighter gun control laws tend to have fewer gun homicides. New York City has some of the strictest gun laws on the nation, and violent crime has been dropping there for twenty years.
(citations here and here)
—————————————-

I don’t want to repeal the Second Amendment. However, if gun owners and defenders continue to reflexively oppose any gun regulation, then maybe I will harden my position.

Maybe it’s only when a large number of American citizens threaten all gun ownership that things will change. If so, so be it. I am ready even for that debate.

I believe what this says:

It is time for a national conversation about guns and gun safety. Yesterday, I signed the pledge at “We are Better Than This.” I encourage you to do the same.

It is also time for a conversation about the mentally ill. This is perhaps just as crucial. We must be change the way we treat the mentally ill in our nation, how we care for them, how we stigmatize them. A part of our collective insanity is in failing to deal with the mentally ill themselves.

This blog is mostly about the issue of guns, but I’d be remiss to not mention mental illness too. To me, they are two sides of the same coin. My passion and anger comes out about guns.

My COMpassion comes out about mental illness. The best words I’ve heard on this subject come from a woman who calls herself “The Anarchist Soccer Mom.” You should read her blog here. (Note I said “should,” not “can.”)

Her son, Michael, suffers from mental illness, and this blog is something of both a confessional and a cry for help. In this section, she talks about taking him to a mental hospital for treatment:

On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”
 
And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.
 
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.
 

According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map). Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

There’s that word again: FEAR.

As we open up our national conversation about guns, we must do the same about mental illness too. I give thanks for the Anarchist Soccer Mom, who is trying her best to get her son help, not shooting lessons. We must help Moms like her; any Mom anywhere struggling with a son with mental illness.

I can disagree with her about whether or not it’s actually “easy” to talk about guns. I think, as I’ve just  said, our nation has something of a sickness about guns…perhaps the sickness of denial…but I can take her point too. Mental illness causes deep fear in folks, and except for training the police to deal with it, we seem to be doing little else.

It’s time to talk about mental illness too.

————————————

One story leaped out at me this morning. Among the twenty dead children yesterday is one who was scheduled to be in the Christmas pageant at the local Catholic Church.

She was scheduled to be a Christmas Angel.

That Christmas Angel deserved better. So did the twenty other angels of yesterday. They did not deserve to die, nor did God fore-ordain their deaths.

God understands that fear is a dominant emotion of our world. So it was that the original Christmas angels tell the shepherd “FEAR NOT.”

Overcoming our fears, finding ways to live together in love with our fellow human beings, is what God calls us to. Our fears can never be overcome with firearms.

Yes, if we adopt sensible gun laws, innocent people will still die. We cannot reduce gun deaths to zero, just like we cannot reduce traffic deaths to zero either.

But we CAN reduce them. We absolutely can. We can make the world much safer, just as we have done with cars.

These things are not preordained and predestined by God. God gives us our intellect, our reason, our logic, to be able to solve challenging issues like this.

We owe that little girl, that Christmas Angel, and all her angel friends…
we owe those killed in the Aurora movie theater…
we owe those killed in the Sikh Temple…
…a world where they can go to a school, a movie, or be in prayer, and not die of gun violence.

Let’s honor their memories and give them that world.

  (As always, if you like this post, then “share it” or “like” it on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too…)

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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