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!

Love Wins, Rabbit Holes, and Swimming The Tiber

by Ross Decker Sr

“I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life!”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Some time ago, when I first met Hugh Hollowell, he warned me that if I ever saw the poor, if I ever really saw the poor and marginalized, it would be like going down Alice’s rabbit hole. Once I did, he warned, I could never come back.

I had the great good fortune of having coffee with  Hugh while he was in town recently. Hugh is the founder and director for a ministry to the homeless, Love Wins. We spent a good hour together which, for me, seemed like five minutes.

Some years ago he was an anonymous voice on Twitter. A Mennonite pastor to a homeless congregation. I really couldn’t grasp how that worked, at first, and I read his tweets with great interest. So, when Hugh tweeted that he was coming to New York for a ministry conference and he needed a place to stay, Liz and I were in. We wanted him to stay with us. We made the offer, he strung us along until he realized no one else would offer and a friendship was born.

We were attending a pretty conservative Evangelical church and we met in a “small group” at the time. Small groups were valued in this church because of their obvious ability to provide pastoral care without the pastor having to care. (Just because I’m cynical it doesn’t mean I’m wrong). Not one of our church friends could believe that we would do such a “crazy” thing. But, we knew Hugh was liked by another person we knew only from Twitter, so what could go wrong? It would be like the Book of Acts, where you let people stay with you based solely on the promise they were preachers.

That short visit a few was an eye opener for us. The church we went to had no program for helping the poor. Andrew Olsen, my future son-in law was helping to run a food and clothing ministry with a pair of brothers and their mother and he pretty much funded a good portion of it by himself.  He invited us to come see it once. That was all it took. We were hooked. There was no church funding, no corporate donations. There was no writing a check to someone so that they could help someone you’d never have to see. It was all done person to person. Everything distributed came from pooling as much money as we could and buying what our new friends needed. It was my first sustained direct contact with the needy and marginalized.

This is what Hugh saw as our rabbit hole. One of the first things Hugh told us was that nothing, for us, would be the same again. He told us that regardless of how we tried, we would be unable to share what we saw with that church and small group. Unless they were also given a similar vision for the poor, they just would not be able to understand. And he was right.

Hugh is an advocate of working with his people in a lateral way. He maintains that when you gave food to the hungry there is a way to give food but keep power. He seeks to eat with the hungry, at the same table. It is important to give up power if you really want to serve. He feels that the American church tends to evangelize from an American perspective. It is only a first step to be saved. The full process includes the evangelized becoming more like the evangelist.

So, we looked for a church that cared about the poor in a way similar to how we did. We wanted to find a church that respected the poor for who they are. We wanted to find a church where being American middle class wasn’t the prime goal. And, we wanted to be in a church where serving the poor wasn’t this year’s trendy thing but was an integral part of who the church was. Hugh phrased it this way: “We don’t feed the poor in order to give them the Gospel. We feed the poor because feeding the poor IS the Gospel.”

We found that church in the Catholic Church. Feeding the poor and doing corporeal acts of mercy are a long time practice in the Roman Catholic Church.  The Catholic church gave me focus and purpose. It gave me the sense that God’s saving mercy didn’t end with me. It was extended to me so that I could extend it to others.

The American Catholic webpage tells this story of St. Lawrence of Rome which resonated with me. It takes place after the arrest of  Pope St. Sixtus II.

“As deacon in Rome, Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the Church, and the distribution of alms to the poor. When Lawrence knew he would be arrested like the pope, he sought out the poor, widows and orphans of Rome and gave them all the money he had on hand, selling even the sacred vessels to increase the sum. When the prefect of Rome heard of this, he imagined that the Christians must have considerable treasure. He sent for Lawrence and said, “You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind. I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services. Now, your doctrine says you must render to Caesar what is his. Bring these treasures—the emperor needs them to maintain his forces. God does not cause money to be counted: He brought none of it into the world with him—only words. Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.”

Lawrence replied that the Church was indeed rich. “I will show you a valuable part. But give me time to set everything in order and make an inventory.” After three days he gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows. When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, “These are the treasure of the Church.”’

Since I’ve gone down the rabbit hole that quote has come alive to me. It’s a good thing it has. Because I can never go back.

You can learn more about the work Hugh does with the homeless by visiting the ministry website at www.lovewinsministries.org