Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Safe Way to be Different Together

President Obama's speech at the Memorial Service in Tucson January 12th is worth watching again and again.

We were in Arizona last Saturday morning when the man with an enormous amount of ammunition took aim at his congresswoman and those who had come to meet her at a Safeway in Tucson. I felt the impact upon that state firsthand. The nation has been immersed in images and questions ever since.

What is a "safe way" for us to gather in the public world?
The congresswoman had read aloud the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution just days before on the floor of the House of Representatives: "..or the right of the people peaceably to assembly..."

Why can't we see that 2nd Amendment rights do not need to provide us more and more incentive and opportunity to kill one another?

Even before we left for Arizona I had prepared pieces for this blog posting noting that as of January 1 all Iowans now have "equal" rights to obtain gain permits, which translates into a loosening of restrictions. In the days before the end of the year 300 more people in Dubuque, Iowa, had filed for a permit. One man said, "I had been wanting a gun for a long time, and given the way things are in the world, now I can have one to protect my family and property." He may feel more secure, but I don't with at least 300 more people in Dubuque walking around with guns. Likewise the number of gun permits being issued and the sale of guns and ammunition is way up across the country since last Saturday. This provides a more safe way?

And the first bill to have come before the Arizona assembly when it reconvened after the shooting was for people to be able to have guns on college campuses. That would make us, teachers and students, more safe?

Why do we continue to back away from seriously dealing with the issue of mental illness, favoring instead a labeling of people who commit crimes when they do not have the treatment they need as "crazies" "deranged"?

All of us....all...need to give lifelong attention to our own and others' mental health. It is not a matter of "us" ("good" people) and "them" ("bad" people.) There has been much conversation (accusation) about why the shooter had not been "turned in." But to whom? Arizona's governor just last year slashed money for mental health. How can we as communities, neighborhoods, schools, cities, states and the nation, create mentally healthy communities for us to live together responsibly and well?

How can we have conversations together in the public public world that, in President Obama's words, heal and do not wound?

The president made clear that he will not ascribe vitriolic speech as the direct motive for the shootings, but the fact that the subject of our uncivil talk, our violence-inducing speech so quickly came up, shows that it is a huge problem and that we all know it. Deborah Tannen's "The Argument Culture" is an insightful book to read on the subject. A Saturday morning Phoenix newspaper (before the shooting) had as a front page headline, "Republicans Try to Shoot Down...." The end of that sentence was "Health Care Bill" but the metaphorical language was ironic given what would occur just hours later.

How do we as a nation learn from one another to act courageously for justice?
We have tragically learned how to mourn together--9/ll, Oklahoma City, Columbine, and so many more. President Obama, ever so gently and therefore powerfully, called us to prayer and beyond prayer to be and to become the nation that Christina Taylor Green imagined we were.

We were in Arizona last Saturday. And this Wednesday, Jan. 12th I was here in Dubuque, worshipping at Wartburg Seminary where I teach, when we commemorated one year since the earth quake in Haiti that killed not 6 but 316,000 people, including Wartburg's own Ben Larson. And these are the days we pray for and need to be committed to the people of the Sudan while Southern Sudanese vote for independence. And there are floods in Brazil and Queensland. And.... And...

Monday will be the 25th anniversary of Martin Lutheran King Jr. Day being a national holiday, a day here in Dubuque, and for all of us everywhere to recommit ourselves to being and acts of conversation and courage and inclusivity and non-violent change. And January 20th will be the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. We need to listen again to his "Ask not what your country can do for you but for what you can do for your country." The bookends of the week of Obama's speech and Kennedy's with King's day in between are powerful calls to us for the church to be extraordinarily contextual, and for us all as a global people to seek and to create safe ways for us to be different together in the public world.