Saturday, September 21, 2013

Guns are a safety issue for some, but not always against real potential attackers

In response to what is approaching an epidemic of mass shootings in our country, I made a fairly simple statement on Twitter (my Tweets get posted to my FB page) statement about how we must get past our love/worship of guns in order to pass some sane legislation to make it more difficult for unstable people to get weapons.
Universal background checks, waiting periods, penalites for people who go around the process, and no military grade weapons (automatic) sold on the open market at all...These steps (already in place in some measure in some places) surely would make it a little more difficult for unstable people to become domestic terrorists and would allow the hunters of the world and those who feel they need hand guns or shotguns for protection to not feel violated by their government...I wouldn't ask for anything more (I personally would be comfortable with much stricter gun control, but could be satisfied with this more moderate approach).

In response to my concern about the many lives lost to recent mass gun attacks, a relative became very defensive, insulting, angry, etc. I realized that in his regional and economic circumstances, the world can seem unsafe, and conservative (almost fundamentalist) religion and firearms (which he has never used other that to shoot inanimate targets...he doens't even hunt) are what he makes him feel a bit more secure in a changing and complex world.

After some back and forth (I admit that at first I got caught up in the tit for tat exchange), I finally offered what I hoped was a conciliatory statement (bascially calling for a "cease fire," as it were). I offer it as a means of preventing heated exchanges that are unlikely to lead to change and can harm relationships.

Here is what I said:

"One's own Facebook page is for expressing one's own opinion...your sharing your values on your page is your right and so far (I believe) I have never attacked your beliefs on your FB page (and I hope I never do). Disagreement is fine, but blowing up on someone's FB page isn't likely to change their views or leave anyone feeling good about the exchange.
 
On the other hand, personal story telling is important, and if you need to share your experience, your page or mine is a safe place to do that, just know that my world is a little to the left of yours and responses may not be compatibe with your worldview.

 
I'm still not certain how wanting safeguards against violence is threatening to your way of life (I don't believe you would want to shoot up a mall or a park, and would probably through yourself in harm's way to stop someone who did), so the personalizaiton [of the issue] still puzzles me; but in the end, we elect our representatives, we contact our representatives, and society moves one direction or another (usually back and forth over time).


Arguing with me won't further your cause(s), but sharing your views on your page, to your reps, in letters to the editor, etc. might help shape some public opinion one way or the other, and at very least will let you feel "heard." I just don't think other people's FB pages are the place for that (unless invited to do so). It too easily becomes argumentative with hurt feelings to follow.

I will continue to share my values in my venues. Everyone does. That's the place for them. If you agree with them, you can "like" them or "share" them, if not, ignore them. Now, if i\I come for you on your page, I've crossed a line and you can respond with both barrels (to use a metaphor consistent with the conversation). Otherwise, we can just assume that we disagree about certain social issues.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Story (such as it is) of Satan

Q&A with Durrell Watkins (from Sunshine Cathedral's weekly newsletter)

Question: God is perfect. The angels are perfect. Satan was perfect. If heaven was perfect along with Satan how did Satan sin? Why did God allow sin to be known in heaven?
Answer: The first time we see “the satan” (i.e., the accuser) is in the Book of Job. In that story, “the satan” has full access to the heavenly council and is apparently simply doing his (or her) job as an accuser (sort of a prosecutor). It isn’t until much later (and probably as a result of Persian influence) “the satan” becomes “Satan”…the cosmic boogie man who is the cause of all mischief, suffering, and evil.
In the first century, it was commonly believed that difficulties and diseases were caused by evil spirits, and so “Satan” not only came to be thought of as the personification of evil, but as a leader or driving force of supernatural evil entities. Satan as a sort of Lord or Potentate of an afterlife prison called “Hell” is an even later development most vividly depicted in the literature and art of the middle ages and the Renaissance (e.g., Michelangelo’s Last Judgment and Dante’s Divine Comedy).
The story of Satan misbehaving in heaven and getting cast out isn’t really told in any one place in scripture. To form that story, one has to piece together unconnected texts: Luke10.18 (quoting Isaiah14.12, with some license…Isaiah is calling a political ruler “Lucifer”/Morning Star, the planet Venus), 2 Peter 2.4 (referring to angels being chained in “Tartarus”…a term borrowed from Greek mythology), Jude 6 (speaking of angels who did not keep to their proper domain, probably referring to the story in Genesis 6 where angels were said to have seduced humans), and Revelation 12.7-12 (a battle between angels and a dragon, the dragon probably representing Roman imperial power). By taking these disconnected texts and combining them together (and assuming that Lucifer, Satan, and the dragon are all the same character), the story of Satan as a fallen angel emerged. It is a story that developed over time, and one that I do not take literally.

Now, “Satan” is a convenient way of blaming the appearance of evil in our world on “someone.” But let’s also look at the rest of the Satan myth… “in the end” we are told, Satan is finally defeated by the forces of righteousness. What the story illustrates is that evil is not ultimately real. Evil is the absence of or the opposition to Good; but God, the Good, is omnipresent and so for God to be omnipresent means that there is nothing “real” that can ultimately oppose God/Good. A Course in Miracles states, “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists; herein lies the peace of God.” Nothing can ultimately threaten or oppose what is truly Good. The appearance of evil must eventually give way to the Truth, just as darkness must be expelled the moment a candle is lit. Satan, as a literary figure representing evil, is only a temporary appearance, or illusion, which ultimately  must be banished by the light of Truth, which is that God is omnipresent and God is All Good. Good is what is true, what is real, and what must ultimately be experienced. 
(originally printed in Sunshine Cathedral's The Sun Burst in June 2010)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Should Christians Support Military Strikes on Syria?

This week's question for the Q&A in the Sun Burst (Sunshine Cathedral's weekly newsletter) came from someone at the church Labor Day picnic. It doesn't answer people's political views or their emotional needs, but it does frame the issue in the context of an avowed non-violent tradition:

Q&A with Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Question: As Christians, should we support attacking Syria?

Answer: The answer to questions of military intervention are always complex and defy simple answers. I can tell you that early Christians were pacifists and I can remind you of the angelic prayer from the Nativity story, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward all people.”

There is also an ancient Jewish tale of God reprimanding the people of Israel when they were celebrating the drowning of Egyptian forces. God, according to the tale, reminded them that the Egyptians were children of God also and God was very sad that they had perished.

And, of course, we know that peaceful revolutionaries such as Gandhi and Dr King changed the world with non-violent resistance.

From political or national security perspectives, there are probably arguments for and against military action. Ethicists might weigh in with their own understandings. From a theological viewpoint, or at least from my theological viewpoint, I always prefer peaceful solutions, or at least attempts at peaceful solutions to major conflicts. I always hope military action will be a last resort.

If a dictator has committed genocide against his own people, then it would be obscene to remain silent in the face of such atrocity. However, there may be ways of showing disapproval of such action and of standing in solidarity with the oppressed short of drone strikes that will also cost human lives. I also wonder why we find one act of atrocity to be worthy of military action and another to not require such action. We seem oddly selective about our moral outrage in these situations.

My opinion, or yours for that matter, will unlikely change the course of events. But I hope as a faith community we never are comfortable with rushing to violence. And, come what may, we should continue praying as we do every Sunday, “May peace prevail on earth.”

Various Thoughts & Prayers Re: Possible Strikes on Syria

"Jesus’ call to be peacemakers takes us in a different direction than missile strikes. I believe the just cause being laid out against Assad is indeed a moral case, and I trust both President Barack Obama and Secretary John Kerry’s intentions around that cause. But I believe that the military strikes now being proposed are not the best moral response to this moral crisis — and they could ultimately undermine both our moral case and the moral intentions." Jim Wallis

Even some of the most conservative religious voices oppose military intervention at this point: "Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance, pointed out the negative effect military strikes would have on Christians in the Middle East. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a letter to Obama that strikes would be 'counterproductive' and 'exacerbate an already deadly situation.' And the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore echoed the concerns, saying, there are just-cause principles missing 'both to justify action morally and to justify it prudentially.'"

“War brings on war! Violence brings on violence."
Pope Francis, who supports a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war, calling upon people of faith around the world to pray and fast for peace this Saturday, Sept. 7.

Prayer for Peace in the world:
"Great God...save us from ourselves, save us from the vengeance in our hearts and the acid in our souls.  Save us from our desire to hurt as we have been hurt, to punish as we have been punished, to terrorize as we have been terrorized.  Give us the strength it takes to...trust rather than to fear, to try again and again to make peace even when peace eludes us.
We ask,...
O God, for the grace to be our best selves. We ask for the vision to be builders of the human community rather than its destroyers. We ask for the humility as a people to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples. We ask for the love it takes to bequeath to the children of the world to come more than the failures of our own making. We ask for the heart it takes to care for all the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq, of Palestine and Israel [and of Syria] as well as for ourselves...
[M]ay we be merciful and patient and gracious and trusting with these others whom you also love.
This we ask through Jesus, the one without vengeance in his heart. This we ask forever and ever. Amen" - Sister Joan Chittister, OSB
 
"Let nothing disturb thee, nothing affright thee; all things are passing, God never changeth! Patient endurance attaineth to all things; who God possesseth in nothing is wanting; alone God sufficeth." Northumbria Community blessing
 
Prayer for Peace (adapted): 
"Eternal Hope, in whose perfect kin-dom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Light, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of...Peace, as members of one global family. Amen."
 
Under the heading of there is nothing new under the sun:
"[In 1914] Paul Jones was ... made Bishop of the Missionary District of Utah. He was an outspoken pacifist, and when World War I began in 1914, he spoke against it. As the war progressed, and when the United States entered the war in 1917, many Americans were vehement in holding that pursuing the war was a moral duty, and opposition to the war was immoral.In the spring of 1918... Bishop Jones resigned as Bishop of Utah. He continued to speak out within the Church as an advocate of peace and the Christian renunciation of war, until his death on 4 September 1941." James Kiefer
 
"If all our options are bad, why pick the one that involves missiles?" Rachel Maddow
 
Q&A with Dr Durrell Watkins
Question: As Christians, should we support attacking Syria?
Answer: The answer to questions of military intervention are always complex and defy simple answers. I can tell you that early Christians were pacifists and I can remind you of the angelic prayer from the Nativity story, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward all people.”
 
There is also an ancient Jewish tale of God reprimanding the people of Israel when they were celebrating the drowning of Egyptian forces. God, according to the tale, reminded them that the Egyptians were children of God also and God was very sad that they had perished.
And, of course, we know that peaceful revolutionaries such as Gandhi and Dr King changed the world with non-violent resistance.
From political or national security perspectives, there are probably arguments for and against military action. Ethicists might weigh in with their own understandings. From a theological viewpoint, or at least from my theological viewpoint, I always prefer peaceful solutions, or at least attempts at peaceful solutions to major conflicts. I always hope military action will be a last resort.
If a dictator has committed genocide against his own people, then it would be obscene to remain silent in the face of such atrocity. However, there may be ways of showing disapproval of such action and of standing in solidarity with the oppressed short of drone strikes that will also cost human lives. I also wonder why we find one act of atrocity to be worthy of military action and another to not require such action. We seem oddly selective about our moral outrage in these situations.
My opinion, or yours for that matter, will unlikely change the course of events. But I hope as a faith community we never are comfortable with rushing to violence. And, come what may, we should continue praying as we do every Sunday, “May peace prevail on earth.”
(from Sept. 8th, 2013 edition of The Sun Burst, Sunshine Cathedral's weekly newsletter)
 
"As humanitarians confronting the horror of the Syrian civil war, we must consider how we can best protect civilians, end the violence, and uphold the international prohibition on using chemical weapons. But we shouldn't make matters worse on the ground just to answer war crimes with a limited and largely symbolic show of force." Credo Action
 
11 Reasons Why We Shoud Not Attack Syria