Monday, December 24, 2012

My Prayer This Christmas

 In response to yesterday's post, friend Susan sent two paragraphs of a prayer by Rabbi Marc Gellman in Melville, New York. I was so moved by the two paragraphs that I searched until I found the entire prayer, posted on December 18, 2012, and am reprinting it below in its entirety, with thanks to Rabbi Gellman

The prayer reminds me of a part of the biblical story often forgotten amid the pageantry and wonder of Christmas Eve services. The Christmas tale is of angels singing, shepherds and magi finding their way to a stable where the baby was born; but it is also a story refugees and of the slaughter of children by a puppet of Rome. That part of the story does not fit with the gaiety of our Christmas celebrations. But this year the terrible events in Newtown and countless other places on earth cannot, and must not, be exorcised from Christmas any more than the wailing of the parents of the murdered Innocents in the first story of Christmas. That's why Rabbi Gellman's words will be my prayer this Christmas. 

- Milo

Carl Sandberg wrote, "A baby is God's opinion that life should go on."

Oh, God, dear God, what is your opinion about the slaughter of 20 babies and their brave teachers? Is it now your opinion that life should not go on? This is one path some have taken out of this darkness.

They say, with Franz Kafka, that "The meaning of life is that it ends." They say, with Thomas Hobbes, that "Each man is the wolf of his neighbor." If you don't want us to travel down that road of nihilistic despair, we pray to you now, help us to believe that the good in us will win! Even when our children and our hope are cut down like trees, help us to believe, with Job, that at the first scent of water we will send out new green leaves again.

At the coming of this winter of sorrow, dear God of all our seasons, help us to believe that spring will come again.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote: 
"What seems to us more important, more painful, and more unendurable is really not what is more important, more painful and more unendurable, but merely that which is closer to home. Everything distant, which for all its moans and muffled cries, its ruined lives and millions of victims, that does not threaten to come rolling up to our threshold today, we consider endurable and of tolerable dimensions."

Oh, God, dear God, help us to mourn not just those children and those teachers taken from this life in the state of Connecticut in the country of America, but also, dear God, open our hearts to the suffering and deaths of other children and other teachers whose deaths have not come rolling up to our thresholds today: the children and teachers of Syria and Congo,and North Korea and every place where children and their teachers are caught in the web of war. Each one of them was made in your image. Each one had the songs of their lives cut short even as they were singing them. We pray to you as Lincoln prayed to you that our hearts might become as large as the world.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: 
"I would like to beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
Oh, God, dear God, help us to have patience with all the social questions raised by this tragedy and to be cautious of those offering neat and immediate answers. For well we know that there is no cure for evil here on planet earth. Help us to help those among us struggle with severe mental illness and who stare every day into the eyes of demons at their doors to their minds. Help us to love them while also protecting ourselves and our children from those who cannot conquer or control their demons.

May we never force the innocent among them to live like pariahs or prisoners of our collective fears. Help us also to learn how to defend ourselves against evil either domestic or foreign without making us victims of our own weapons of defense. Keep us far from those who are often wrong but never in doubt. Grant wisdom to our leaders that they might find a way to protect both our freedom and our future.

A.A. Milne wrote: "'It is hard to be brave,' said Piglet, 'when you're only a Very Small Animal.'"

Oh, God, dear God, help our children to be brave. Our children are very small animals and so many of them are so frightened now. Help them to be brave by believing in what they cannot always see, so that in time they can see what they believe. Help them to be brave by believing that the souls of these children are with God in heaven even though they cannot see heaven yet. Help them to be brave by believing that they do not need to cling to us always in order to be safe.

The most frequent phrase in your Holy Bible is: "Be not afraid." Help us to take those words into our hearts and hearths, so that our children can laugh and sing again.

May the Christians among us still find a way to celebrate the light and hope of Christmas and may those of us who do not celebrate Christmas find light and hope through them.

- Rabbi Marc Gellman

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Guns and Violence - Memories and the Data

Some of my friends are gun owners, and may even be members of the NRA. I was raised in a gun culture. Guns were in our homes and they were kept loaded. How else was my Aunt Mary able to deal with the threat of diamondbacks she was likely to encounter just outside the back door at the ranch? 

My father worked long hours as a pharmacist in the Texas Panhandle, often eight hour shifts at a drug store in one town and another in a town fourteen miles away. But he took time to teach me how to handle guns and how to hunt quail, ducks, and rabbits. By the time I was twelve years old, he had given me a Winchester single-shot 22 and a Mossberg 410 shotgun. Although I kept the guns for fifty years, I kept them as mementos of the special times I had with my dad. I hadn't hunted in forty years. It seemed like I was following my grandfather, who despite being a rancher all his life came to the place where he no longer wanted to pull the trigger on living creatures, not quail, coyotes, or even the dreaded rattlesnakes. By the age of 20, I no longer wanted to hunt either. Decades later in Alaska, I gave guns the away to a friend who taught gun safety. 

I grew up without knowledge of the Second Amendment or any controversy about guns. I also grew up thinking that registration of firearms, and even required training in their use, was as reasonable as car registration and getting a drivers license. My parents may not have thought that, but I'm not sure they would have complained either. In spite of the respect for guns that I had and the training, at age fourteen I also had an instance where through pure carelessness I almost shot a friend. We both laughed at the time, but it was embedded somewhere deep in my psyche, and when I think about it today, I still am terrified about what almost was.

By the time assault weapons were banned by Congress in 1994, I needed no convincing, and though the ban was filled with loopholes like most of gun control legislation that manages to be passed, I thought it a big step backward when Congress and President Bush managed to repeal the ban in 2004. 

I don't know if the flawed ban legislation would have prevented the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, just as I don't know how better funded mental health programs that have been gutted throughout the nation would have helped prevent it. I don't think anyone is in a position to say with certainty how the more nebulous cultural glorification of violence in this country contributed to the massacre. 

But for those who have eyes to see, the correlation between guns and violence in our culture seem indisputable, no matter the obfuscation offered up by the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre

Whether you, the reader, will actually look at the detailed table below is something I don't know. If you are someone who looks at tables and your eyes glaze over, you can skip to the end and see what I think it says, but I hope you will take a minute or two and just look at the table.  

Charles M. Blow's article, "On Guns, America Stands Out," (NYT, Dec. 19, 2012), where I found the table, summarizes:

“This table shows how shamefully we measure up against other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Among the O.E.C.D. countries that the World Bank groups as “high income,” America has the highest gun homicide rate, the highest number of guns per capita and the highest rate of deaths due to assault. In fact, America has more homicides by gun than all of the other high-income O.E.C.D. countries combined.”

 I believe it is way way past time for us to face up to the consequences of our gun culture and  begin adopting measures that most other industrialized countries of the world have had for a long time. I believe that a non-NRA-coerced or funded mindset will recognize that we can no longer afford the "frontier mentality" (which actually didn't serve us well during legitimate frontier days) that allows gun ownership with flimsy restrictions. There was a time when neither car registration nor driver's licenses were required. 

As for the Second Amendment, I think that the majority of those who passed it, believed they were granting the right to bear firearms only in a militia. But if rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 and 2010 are right that the intent of the amendment was for any citizen to have a right to bear arms, then I think the majority of framers were wrong, at least for our time. They were wrong about the rights of women and slaves, both of which had to be dealt with much later. The disregard of rights for this country's native peoples has never been addressed in the Constitution. Is it possible those framers were also wrong about the right to bear arms?

What do you think?

- Milo