Guns, Memes, and Bumper Stickers

by Ross Decker Sr

“But you know what’s more insidious than that? Your gun control position doesn’t have anything to do with public safety and it’s certainly not about personal freedom. It’s about you don’t like people who do like guns. You don’t like the people. Think about that the next time you make a joke about the South.”  Ainsley Hayes, The West Wing

And, maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s that the people on both sides of this debate don’t like the guys on the other side. Friends on my Facebook timeline begin to post angry memes immediately after each shooting. It seems to energize them when they get to use a national tragedy to push their point of view. I’m talking about both sides when I say this. Gun supporters have no problem calling gun control people stupid.  And the gun control people never have a problem coming back with snarky insults of their own. I have always been for gun ownership but afraid of guns. I concede that the Constitution guarantees the right to gun ownership. Nonetheless, I’ve never touched one. Years ago, a friend of mine was dating a patrolman in the New York Police Department and once I saw his gun out on the kitchen table. “Go ahead,” he said, it’s not loaded. Pick it up. See how it feels.” I couldn’t do it. That was when I realized that I was afraid of guns. My friend and her cop boyfriend looked at me like I was a nutcase.

I really began to think about this after the horrible Charleston shootings. Gun control was not really an issue on my radar. But then, Dylann Roof walked into a prayer meeting and sat with a group of parishioners. Awhile into the meeting, after seeing how nice these people were, he did the incomprehensible thing and opened fire.

As I write this, the news is reporting another shooting, this one in Louisiana. A man described as a drifter walked into a Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater and began firing. One witness said, “The guy was just kind of at ease, just standing there, just shooting,”

So, it has been a long journey for me. I’ve been saddened and shocked by one mass murder after another. And, it’s moved me from a reluctant defender of the right to bear arms to a man reluctantly hopeful that Congress will soon get around to writing thoughtful, enforceable gun laws.

I can’t help but wonder why it is that people who support gun control think that condescending memes will get second amendment supporters to change their mind. That’s not the tactic that works with me. Presenting a well thought out appeal might get it done. But telling me that I am laughably stupid doesn’t make me receptive to your point of view. And changing minds is what the gun control people want to do, isn’t it? I mean, the goal isn’t just to get off a cleverly insulting lines and click “like” for each other. That doesn’t advance the cause of gun control one bit. The pro-gun control folks  might do better changing the minds of pro-gun people if they didn’t treat them as though they were idiots. That strategy draws a line in the sand and makes people dig their heels in. You may not get guns removed but at least you can feel smugly superior. But I hope that isn’t what they are truly after.

The second amendment defenders can afford to be snarky. They don’t need to change minds. They don’t need to influence others. They have existing law on their side along with a Congress that doesn’t seem the slightest bit motivated to remove gun rights. They can ride the status quo on this one. But, don’t be so snarky that you reduce the loss of human life to a bumper sticker.  If one more person says “guns don’t kill people….”

Guns do kill people. One argument I’ve heard is that blaming guns for killing people is no different than blaming cars for an accident that kills someone when a driver is drunk. But it’s amazingly different. A car is designed to transport people safely. Congress continues to pass laws requiring even more safety measures. Car manufacturers are doing many things, like accident avoidance features, to protect drivers and pedestrians both. So, when a car functions properly, everyone arrives safely. When a gun functions properly, someone dies. So no, it isn’t a reasonable analogy. Here’s a reasonable analogy, though. My smartphone won’t function without my fingerprint. Make guns the same way.

My reason for caring about this is that I am pro-life. In all aspects. I want babies to be born. I want old people like me to die while breathing their last natural breath. I want death row prisoners to live out their days in a cell rather than have their lives taken by the state. And I want children to come home and do their homework rather than be murdered at school.

I’m not a political guy. But this issue should transcend party lines. It’s not a “heart issue.” It’s not a “sin issue.” It’s a campaign finance issue. That’s the law that needs to change. The NRA owns both parties. They spread their money around to everyone. They are in every politician’s pocket and their brooding influence hovers over ever gun control vote. They produce a bumper sticker that says “I’m an NRA member and I vote.” It should say “we’re the NRA and we buy Senators.”

So, let’s show each other a little respect. Let’s agree that whether we want guns or don’t want them, we all want people to live. Something has to be done. Together we can do it. Let’s start a dialog built upon respect. We can make guns safer, We can make laws stricter. And we can certainly repeal an amendment. We’ve done that before.

But in the meantime, if your reasoning can be summed up on a bumper sticker or a meme, you probably need to sit down and think it over some more. And, ask yourself if maybe it isn’t the issue so much as it is that you don’t like the people on the other side.

Thanks for reading this. Whether you liked it or hated it, please feel free to comment. And share! Always share!

Amy Is The 100th Sheep

by Ross Decker Sr

Today is the anniversary of Amy’s death. It wasn’t suicide. But it was her life that caused her death. I’ve written about her before on this blog  because her life haunts me in a way. I didn’t know her, of course, but her tragic life and death clings tom e. she pops into my thoughts pretty often and I can’t help but wish that there was a second chance for her. I want there to be a rewrite that gives us a happy ending. I want her to get straightened out, be happy, win Grammys and entertain the world. Her voice was a singular gift to us all.

This world is intrigued by the “what ifs.” It’s a classic plot point to see one event or one inner demon as defining a life. If only she had fallen in love with a different guy. What if she hadn’t met Blake? Would things be different for her? I wonder. I wonder if the creativity that produced her talent also produced the drive to pursue what would kill her. no matter, it was something she could not control. She could not will it away. That lifestyle, fueled by self-doubt, was the light that drew Amy to the flame.

But, what does it mean for those who knew her? What should they have done to help her? What could they have done? The only answer I can come up with is “everything.”  They should have tried everything.

It is so sad that those who profited from Amy’s talent could not find the time to help her with her demons. She was a profitable throwaway for them. I realize she was resistent to help, she was drawn to that which would kill her. That doesn’t make her less valuable. She is the 100th sheep friends should leave the 99 for.

WHY I WANT THE NEXT PRESIDENT TO BE A WHITE MAN

by Ross Decker Sr

Some time ago, during President Obama’s first term, my brother-in-law wrote a blog post that I vehemently disagreed with. He claimed that white Christians across the nation were angry with Obama’s policies because of one reason. He was a black man. And the thing that riled these Christians the most in my brother-in-law’s eyes was that “there was a black man in the White house.” Now, my brother-in-law, being an enthusiastic man, didn’t say “black man.” He used the “N  word” just like he was Obama podcasting from a garage. He did not use the euphemism. He claimed that white, evangelical protestants were using that word too, in their own homes, in their small groups and in their prayer groups.

I was sure he was wrong. And I told him so. After all, he didn’t know any Christians except for me and my family. And we never used the word. I have never heard any of my friends use that word in a small group or prayer meeting. So, he was wrong. Or so i thought….

At the time he wrote that piece I was only on theTwitter. I hadn’t gotten to The Facebook yet. And Twitter was fairly recent. People were fascinated then just by their ability to send out random thoughts, stream of consciousness style. John Mayer used his Twitter account to hawk Sodastream. Demi Moore used hers to promote Kindle. And Ashton Kutcher used his to shill for everything. But back then, no one was using Twitter for politics or social issues. Then, I made the jump to Facebook.

Facebook seemed to me to be the home ground for causes. People were posting memes about everything they loved. And everything they hated. And one thing they hated a lot was the black man in the White House. My Facebook timeline was flooded with anti-Obama posts. There were posts about blacks getting a free ride from “Obamaphones.” There were memes where Obama and, much worse, his family were photoshopped to have chimpanzee mouths, Obama eating a banana, the president dressed as a witch doctor to show what Obama Care was like. I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t Renig in 2012.”

My Twitter feed has a lot of variety. My Facebook feed is full of Christians. Full of Christian bigots. They all, of course, said that none of it was racist. They were angry and and they were insulted that I thought they were. And, of course, the debate has to end there. When someone says they aren’t racist there is nothing else to be done. There were a few, actually two, who argued on. One said that her experience as an emergency room nurse gave her the opportunity to see blacks as they really were. They came to the ER in taxis, wearing expensive sneakers and the carrying the latest IPhone. They were getting over on society. Another told similar conclusive stories about being behind “Welfare Queens at the supermarket and checking the carts for cigarettes and beer. And Pop Tarts. It really bothered this woman that someone would use their welfare benefits on something as unhealthy as Pop Tarts.

Lately the big thing is the demand to drug test welfare recipients. Cancel their benefits if they fail.  And cut off benefits to anyone exercising their right to peacefully protest, exercising their right to free speech by burning a flag. And their kids? Well, they haven’t thought it out that far.

I went to a week long seminar with my church awhile back. A bunch of us guys were walking from the seminar site to our bed and breakfast. We were all complaining about how grouchy the B&B owner was. All the guys, including me, had an example. But, my friend, Bill Modrich spoke up. “Guys,” he said,”we’ve spent this whole week learning how to solve conflict based on Biblical principles. Now, none of us can deal with this without talking behind this lady’s back?” I pretty much laughed out loud just before I realized that Bill was serious. And it really hit home with me that, despite what I claimed about my religion, I really had a disconnect between the theory and the practice. Bill’s said that if we really believed what we said we did, our actions would be so much different. I’ve gotten much better at narrowing that gap but I still need to work on it daily.

Sometimes I think that many Christians, finding God, find a God whose political and social views are pretty much in line with theirs. To me, that seems a pretty good indicator that what you’ve found isn’t God at all. Or at the very least, not the one who can deliver the life altering changes the Gospel promises. Sometimes it seems that, instead of becoming a new creature in Christ, we have just invited Christ on to our side to ride shotgun through our daily living. It isn’t at all like Abraham Lincoln saw it. When he was asked if he thought God was on the side of the northern army he answered that it was his fervent hope that the north was on God’s side.

So, Christians, we can’t act like this. We didn’t sign up to be mean and nasty. We didn’t sign up to degrade our fellow humans. We signed up to follow a Lord who loves everyone. We signed up to serve a God who created man in his image and gave each one human dignity. That’s one of the basic teachings of Christianity. Humans, all humans, are created in the image of God and have a right to be treated with dignity. More directly, when we try to strip another of their God-given dignity, we actually strip ourselves. Who can read a blatantly racist post without seeing how hateful and needy the poster is. The post reveals to all that he has voluntarily thrown off the mantle of dignity that God wants to cloak him with. He means to degrade the target but he degrades himself.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return it’s the same old place
The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace

Barry McGuire wrote those lyrics from “Eve of Destruction” fifty years ago. I don’t think all that much has changed. I know I am speaking from my own limited perspective but I think most of us, in America at least, are racists, We learned recently that even Atticus Finch is a racist! We see color. We have deep seated fears and mistrust about other people which are based on their color or nationalities. There isn’t much we can do about that. It’s what we think. The real problem is when we act on it, When we use our fears to hurt others, That’s where we can be blamed,

So, Christian racists, I want our next President to be a white man. I want him to be a white man  so I can go back to my naivete. I want a white president so I can believe my words when I tell my brother-in-law he’s screwy. I want to be able to go back to a time when I was blissfully ignorant of what the guy a few pew rows back thinks about his fellow man. I want to go back and play pretend. So the only way I see to solve this, short of picking up our crosses and following Christ, is to go  back to electing white guys.

Lino Rulli, Eating Fish, And Being kind

by Ross Decker Sr

“When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also;” Acts 17:6

I listen to The Catholic Guy on Sirius Radio often. Near the end of this past Lenten season, the host, Lino Rulli, came up with an innovative idea that would make the Lenten experience more powerful in the lives of Catholics as well as making the Catholic witness more relevant to non-Catholics. Lino wondered why, instead of the ancient discipline of not eating meat on Fridays, wouldn’t it make sense for Catholics to perform a Friday corporal work of mercy. Let me tell you, that idea woke me up. Lino’s point was both amazingly simple and eloquently profound. If we were to make a statement with our Lenten penance, let’s not do some disciplinary trick. Let’s do a discipline that could turn the world upside down.

Before I went through the RCIA program and entered the Catholic Church I’d never heard of the Spiritual and Corporeal works of mercy. I’d been a member of an inter-denominational church for twenty two years where I never heard the works of mercy mentioned. That’s actually pretty odd because the Works of Mercy lend themselves quite well to a list. And we were a church of lists. We knew the five steps to a life God blesses, the ten steps to powerful prayer. We knew the six steps to financial freedom. Mostly, in that particular church, we knew the seven steps to resolving youthful conflicts. So many sermons were wrapped around the Bill Gothard acronym, DAROS-FS. Perhaps those letters don’t mean anything to you. If so, be grateful.

From there, I moved to an Evangelical Free Church. The corporeal works of mercy were not mentioned there by the pastor either. But, for that pastor, Glenn Blossom, the corporeal works of mercy were a daily way of life.

What would happen if the Church adopted Lino’s proposal? There are seven Fridays during lent and there are seven corporeal acts of mercy. The more I think about it, the more I think that the Church is missing out on a great opportunity to rock the world.

Imagine if a majority of Catholics fed the hungry on the first Friday of Lent. The church would have a foyer overflowing with canned goods and non-perishable food to share with those who needed it. The food could then be donated to a ministry that feeds the poor. Or, it could be as simple as each parish opening a food pantry for just that week. People would be lined up outside churches and the weekend papers would be full of  stories about Catholics doing good. It’s our heritage, isn’t it? We believe in and act in accordance with a belief in the Preferential Option for the Poor. And, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see that caring for the marginalized on one day is the strongest impetus for doing it again.

The second Friday would be the day we gave drink to the thirsty. My friend Hugh Hollowell works with the poor every day and suggests that we could buy a sleeve of bottled water and keep it in a cooler in our car. Or we could pick up an extra bottle of water on our way in to work so we’d be ready to share with someone who needs it. We may also share the spiritual water of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus says in John 4:14, “but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life.”

What would be the impact on the watching world if on the third Friday of Lent we were to run a clothing drive and bring clothing down to homeless shelters or Crisis Pregnancy centers? We could overflow the clothing bins that are in every strip mall parking lot. We could literally clothe the naked.

The fourth week is a bit tricky. It is the week where we would shelter the homeless. This might take a bit of ingenuity to accomplish. In simpler times it was not that unusual to take strangers into your homes for at least a short time. The Shunammite woman of  the Old Testament built a special room onto her house for Elisha. I know that some people still do a version of that but I don’t imagine it’s practical for most of us today. Large cities have homeless shelters. There may be an option to volunteer there. I’m certain that mopping a floor or two or just sitting with someone whose life has been shattered could do a great deal of good.

Most parishes regularly list the sick of the parish in the bulletin. We’re a family. Families visit each other in times of sickness. We all do that, don’t we?  Well, I don’t. But we could. Sure, it should be something we always do, but it would be a great start if, on the fifth week of Lent we could stop be to visit our sick church family members. I’m sure a covered dish and a half hour visit could brighten someone’s day.

Have you ever done prison visits? That is something I’ve had the opportunity to do. My wife is blessed with a great voice as well as a tender spirit that moves people when she sings. I’ve visited prisons with her where she would sing and someone would share a devotional thought. As Catholics we are to visit those who are incarcerated. The sixth week of Lent could be the time to do that. You could brighten the day of someone who goes long stretches of time without a visit. Your smile would go a long way.

Truthfully, I don’t know how you’d complete the last work. It’s the burying of the dead. I guess you’d need some special cooperation on the part of the person you’d be helping!

I think we could truly make a great impression on people were we to perform regular acts of kindness. It was Tertullian who noted that the early Christians would “support and bury poor people, supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents… and of old persons confined now to the house; But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another.”

If only today, we could give our world a reason to say, “See how they love one another.”

Tea and Cake, Steve Coogan, and Leaving Mass Early

by Ross Decker Sr

I was certain that Independence Day would pass without me writing a piece about it. I would ignore my Facebook timeline where post after post would proclaim pride in being a citizen of a nation that was “still the best country on earth.”

I was going to ignore it until I sat in Mass today and it dawned on me that we would close Mass with a patriotic hymn. Somewhere along the line I began to think that Politics and patriotism were not things that should be in a church. Christianity, even Protestant Christianity, is Catholic. It’s universal. It can’t be different in Zimbabwe than it is in Iowa. Yet we were about to sing a hymn that would sing the praises of a country where we can’t pray in schools, we can’t worship in public buildings, we can abort out children right up until the moment before birth (and we can murder them after birth if the abortion attempt failed). We were going to sing the praises of a nation where the government has tried, and continues to try through court action, to force people of faith to pay for abortifacients. So, I did what I never do, I left early. And, I thought of the movie “Philomena.”

I often use quotes from a favorite movie as a springboard for my point when I write my blog. One movie I enjoy immensely is “Philomena.” I can’t look away when it is on. It addresses a dark era for the Catholic Church. I feel that it does so fairly, though. It concerns itself with a women who had a baby out of wedlock in the Ireland of the middle 20th century. She was sent to live and work at the Catholic laundries of the day. Her son was taken from her and adopted by an American couple. Philomena spent fifty years trying to find her son.She would go visit the nuns and try to find out if there was any new information that could help her find her son. The sisters in the orphanage’s administration sat with her politely, plying her with tea and cake, but told her that they were unable to help her. The movie’s defining moment is when we learn that her son was buried at the orphanage and the nuns knew all that time.

In the climactic scene, when Steve Coogan and Judith Densch arrive at the orphanage to confront the nun who orchestrated it all, Miss Densch’s character, Philomena, speaks to Coogan’s Martin Sixsmith. “You’re not going to make a scene in there are you?” Martin replies, ” I’m just going to ask a few questions.” Then, feeling internal anger rising, he adds,  “And I don’t want any tea. And I don’t want any cake.”

Sometimes it seems to me that our government is offering Christians tea and cake. Once a year, in May,Christian leaders are invited to the White House on the National Day of Prayer. And, on our nation’s birthday, it isn’t unusual to hear political speeches linking America to her Judeo-Christian roots. But for the rest of the year we are expected to practice our religions within the walls of our churches. Or worse, we are legislated against for living out our beliefs in public.

I once went to an Interdenominational Church that preached a gospel that entwined the Gospel and the constitution. For Independence Day they put together a song and dance show where they sang patriotic songs and performed small drama skits about America. They called it, appropriately, “Celebrate! America. Regrettably, one segment was a medley of Armed Forces songs. They asked that all audience members who had served stand when the song for their branch of service was sung “so, that we may salute you.” Now, these men all deserve are thanks. They have all earned our honor and respect. But, the way that it was done, in a sanctuary of a church, alarmingly looked as though they were being told that their military service punched their ticket to heaven.

I know of another Evangelical church that kept an American flag on their platform, to the right of the pulpit. I felt it fair to wonder if that congregation was truly “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God”. That was answered for me when the flag went missing one day. It was off the platform and was no where to be found. The congregation was in a dither. They hadn’t been this alive in some time! One group started a rumor that the new pastor had removed the flag. After all, the church secretary knew for a fact that he subscribed to the New York Times.

I’m okay with this country. Let me not be ambiguous about that. For the most part, I have the freedom to do what I want. I own my house, I have a business that I run with my son, my family lives nearby. So, I’m happy here. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see some of the things we get wrong.

Yes, I’m uncomfortable with politics or patriotism in my church. Because I am looking for that city, the one whose builder and maker is God. I’ll live here until I find it, but I won’t be taking any tea. And I won’t be taking any cake.

“I believe God made the St. Lawrence River, and the Rio Grande River, and the China Sea and the English Channel, but I don’t believe God made America, or Canada, or Mexico, or England, or China. Man did that. . . . It is doubtful that there has ever been a nation established for bad reasons. Nations are always established to escape tyranny, to combat evil, to find freedom, to reach heaven. Man has always been able to desire to build a heaven. But it seems he has never been able to admit that he didn’t pull it off. So he keeps insisting that he did pull it off. And that is really what patriotism is all about. It is the insistence that what we have done is sacred. It is that transference of allegiance from what God did in creating the whole wide world to what we have done with (or to) a little sliver of it. Patriotism is immoral. Flying a national flag—any national flag—in a church house is a symbol of idolatry. Singing ‘God Bless America’ in a Christian service is blasphemy. Patriotism is immoral because it is a violation of the First Commandment.” – Will D. Campbell