OSLO, 1964

Martin Luther King, Jr. accepts the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” isaiah 11:6

BUILDING 429

In my little world there’s an inside voice that tells me, “yes Larry, you are on the right track,” or, ” no Larry, you are screwing up”.  It’s a good personal barometer of fair or foul weather lying ahead.  Get out the sunglasses or put on the hip boots.

I take lots of things in life pretty seriously, sometimes too seriously.  Often I take myself too seriously.  I can be too thin-skinned for my own good and in the past I have spent days brooding over unkind remarks which honestly had no bearing on me as a person.  I guess I often allow ego to run my life.  I can be judgemental and I can be overbearing.

I usually believe that I have a fairly decent handle on the world and world affairs.  I see myself as a sane, rational human being.  On my better days the future has a rosey glow and I feel like I will live forever….well, almost forever.  On less optimistic days I truly have no desire to live a long, long life.  Why bother?  Who really cares?

But rarely do I find myself shaken to the core with a realization that simply has never occurred to me before.  I don’t know where it came from, I don’t remember thinking that peculiar thought before.  It’s discomfitting and it’s challenging.

That’s what has happened today.  I share opinions about the world, society, people, spirituality, sobriety, serenity, politics, etc., etc.  And I know that mine is just a small voice participating in a raucous conversation.  We share thoughts, we agree, we disagree and we go on with the day’s agenda.

However, never have I considered that there are people in this country, in this world who do not want to live in a society of non-violence.  We know some can’t, that some are caught up in political turmoil and social injustice.  But, I always thought that given their druthers, they would choose peace.  Apparently, that’s not true.

It’s obvious by responses on Facebook where conciliatory Congressmen are booed and ridiculed.  It’s equally obvious from reading letters to the editor in my newspaper.  We see it on our screens everyday.  Lord forgive me for being so blind and for living in a world of make-believe.  I should be old enough by now to know better.  Some folks simply love violence and actually thrive on it.  That is the utopia they seek.

So by now you might be asking, “Larry, where are you going with this?”

I’m a tired man with high blood pressure, aches and pains, cholesterol issues, emphysema and bunions on my toes.  I don’t have the financial resources to buy an island in the South Pacific where my cat and I can live in a peaceful disconnect from the world.  Hell, I barely have enough to feed my cat.  We are both getting older and, I don’t know about Max, but I am weary of the world’s agenda.

There’s a contemporary Christian song by BUILDING 429 which says:

“Sometimes it feels like I’m watching from the outside
Sometimes it feels like I’m breathing but am I alive
I will keep searching for answers that aren’t here to find

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong”

That sums it up for me.  This is not where I belong.  The guns, the violence, the hatred, the racism, the bigotry, homophobia, Islamophobia………

“So when the walls come falling down on me
And when I’m lost in the current of a raging sea
I have this blessed assurance holding me.”

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WMDs

In any alternative dialog the Las Vegas tragedy could have been headlined as “Madman employs weapons of mass destruction to murder 59 concert-goers.”

Bush used the threat of WMDs to involve us in a war in 2003 which saw nearly a half million Iraqi citizens murdered in addition to thousands of American military personnel.  Our overwhelming use of firepower did not bring resolution to the people of Iraq, our persecution and consequent prosecution of Hussein did not stop the advance of international terrorism, and our military presence in principalities controlled by centuries-old tribal disputes has not deterred madmen from doing the things which madmen are known to do.  They murder.

The American breed of madmen is encouraged by the epidemic of violence which has blackened the souls of thousands of grieving countrymen.  The American breed of madmen is assisted in his/her diabolical schemes of murderous rampage by undeterred access to weaponry designed to be used only by soldiers fighting in combat situations.  And the American breed of madmen is supported by a senseless interpretation of rights under the 2nd amendment.  This underlying creed has facilitated the unfettered growth of the NRA (National Rifle Association) into an organization which became “an avatar of white anxiety” that viewed President Obama as someone who “wanted to deprive gun-toting Americans of their constitutional right to bear arms.”NRA

“The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end,” Trump thundered before cheering throngs at the NRA’s annual meeting in April. “You have a true friend and champion in the White House.”

Under Mr. Obama’s Presidency, annual gun production skyrocketed 239 percent and the NRA membership hit a record five million.  It poured over $30 million into Trump’s campaign and millions more to stack Congress with gun-friendly lawmakers.  All but one of the NRA backed candidates won.  NRA millions

We Americans live in a war zone.  The terrorists we truly need to fear do not face the east five times daily to pray, they are not sequestered under the leadership of a man named Kim in North Korea.  The terrorist organization in our midst is a well-funded , politically involved, 5 million-strong, violence-promoting corps of quasi-militants who gather under the auspices of the NRA.  We need to wake up. This is not the NRA which decades ago protected the rights of sportsmen to own shotguns and rifles for hunting.  This organization promotes the accumulation of WMDs under the guise of 2nd amendment rights.  It is government approved terrorism.

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God, guns, guts

As a young man growing up in rural Pennsylvania one of the anticipations of the autumn aside from harvest, football, and hay rides was hunting.  It was a time of brotherly camaraderie, enjoying the fall colors in the woods, sipping hot cider on frosty mornings.  We hunted squirrel, rabbit, pheasants, turkey, and deer.  Every kill was taken home, dressed and put into a stew or into the freezer for future use.  Never was the bounty of the land wasted or taken for granted.  Wild game was another crop which the farmer harvested, gave thanks for, and used wisely.

As a young man growing up in rural Pennsylvania we all had at least one shotgun and rifle.  I had a 20 gauge and a 35 caliber, learned to use them safely, and appreciated the trust bestowed in me to hunt with other sportsmen.  I knew of no one who possessed or carried a pistol, revolver or any other small arms except for the local constable.  Absolutely no one in my community had a need for a military style weapon, especially law enforcement.

As a young man growing up in rural Pennsylvania we held a respect for one another that would preclude any actions of violence against our brothers and sisters.  It was not taught, it was not learned.  It was a part of who we were on the day we were born.  We called ourselves pacifists, but even more, we practiced nonviolence.  Pacifism is an attitude or mindset.  Nonviolence is an active pursuit.

Sadly, life in America today isn’t rural Pennsylvania 60 years ago.  Our viewing screens are plastered with the violence we level upon one another; Columbine, NYC, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Dallas, Charleston, and now Las Vegas.  Its an epidemic of violence fueled by fringe ideology with one common denominator: access to high powered, military style weaponry.

Many of those who claim a right to guns are no longer sport hunters who harvest the bounty of the land.  They have become instead proponents of the 2 nd Amendment accumulating enough arms to start a world war in their own backyards and they are supported by the power of the NRA, an association which began as a voice for the rights of hunters.

The perpetrators of the acts of violence which we see on our screens and in the newspapers are usually declared as mentally deranged.  Matters not.  The supporters of NRA claim that their right to possess military style weapons supersedes the rights of fellow Americans and their families to live safely in peaceful neighborhoods, communities, and cities.

In Florida, the state laws favor the gun owner who claims a right to carry at all times.  The illusion is that they want the ability to protect themselves in case of a deranged shooter engaging in a confrontation.  Hey, folks, it’s the OK Corral in your local WalMart, aisle 6.

“Who’s the good guy, who’s the bad guy….I dunno, just get the hell out of the crossfire.”

They say it’s for protection.  Guess what?  I feel safer hiking through the nearby woods with the alligators, the water moccasins, the bears, and the occasional homeless guy than I do shopping at my local grocery store.  That’s the depth of moral deprivation into which our society has slid.

Next time you see or hear “God, guns, and guts” think about it.  Give the association of those three words in the same sentence some serious thought.  As the proud proponents of gun rights often proclaim:

“They’ll have to pry my gun out of my dead hands.”  Well, then so be it.  It’s your choice. But, don’t kill me or my loved ones  in the process.

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prison for profit

“Our current criminal “justice” system has more to do with making a profit (through unpaid labor and filling quotas) and oppression of the marginalized than restoring individuals to wholeness and health. Though the United States holds only 5% of the world’s population, it houses 21% of the world’s prisoners. African-Americans and Hispanics are imprisoned at much higher rates, in spite of similar rates of drug use and crime as whites. [1] [1] African Americans and Hispanics comprise 32% of the US population, but comprise 56% of all incarcerated people (2015). See NAACP’s “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet” for more information” naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet.

Fr. Richard Rohr in his daily commentary on September 22nd, social wounds , speaks to the horrific cost to American society attributable to our system of law enforcement and punishment.  Not only are vast amounts of financial assets spent to incarcerate, an even great tragic loss is the waste of America’s greatest asset, its young people.

Based in Albuquerque, NM, the Franciscan admonishes a justice system which “has more to do with making a profit and oppression of the marginalized than restoring individuals to wholeness and health.”  He continues with statistics that support the beliefs of black skinned and brown skinned people that they are unfairly targeted and more harshly punished than white peers.

In my lifetime I have seen prisons transition from government-funded facilities to private for-profit entities which stand to reap a greater profit with an increased prison population.  The charge has been levied for several years that this is yet another device of a white controlled society to practice the brand of discrimination and racism which has existed since the abolishment of slavery.

Outside of the racial injustice issue, another great moral question of this privatizing of prisons is the incentive for unscrupulous judges to extract financial gain from the cases upon which they rule.  In my home state of Pennsylvania, such a travesty was exposed.

A Pennsylvania judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison in connection to a bribery scandal that roiled the state’s juvenile justice system. Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was convicted of taking $1 million in bribes from developers of juvenile detention centers. The judge then presided over cases that would send juveniles to those same centers. The case came to be known as kids for cash .”

The judge is spending a lot of time in prison; however, the toll to young people cannot be reversed even as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed about 4000 convictions issued by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008.

Jeff Pollins’ stepson was convicted by Ciavarella.

“These kids are still affected by it. It’s like post traumatic stress disorder,” Pollins told the Times Leader. “Our life is ruined. It’s never going to be the same… I’d like to see that happen to him,” he said.

This overt display of greed targeting the least capable of our society able to defend themselves, i.e., youth and  minorities, is not limited to a judge in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.  It is a rampaging outgrowth of a society which not only condones violence against each other, but increasingly promotes violence in professional sports venues, in entertainment, and in cinema.

The POTUS encourages violence at his ego rallies, in his exhortations to the police to not be “so gentle”, in his stance on DACA, in his descriptions of female conquests, and in his approach to extremely delicate interactions with North Korea.  Unfortunately, and sadly, the voice of violence is what his support base is demanding and expecting.

“[This is] the urgency of the great choice we face as a species: will we choose to continue to affirm a culture of systemic violence—or will we build a culture of active, creative, and liberating nonviolence so that we can not only survive but thrive?”  John Dear, The Nonviolent Life (Pace e Bene Press: 2013), x. Note that Pace e Bene and John Dear are leading a Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions, September 16-24. Learn more at paceebene.org/programs/campaign-nonviolence/.

As always, we do have a choice.  We can commit to live non-violently or we can become part of the “fire and fury” described by Trump in his tweet several weeks ago.

namaste rainbow

there will be a day

“Living nonviolence requires daily meditation, contemplation, study, concentration, and mindfulness. Just as mindlessness leads to violence, steady mindfulness and conscious awareness of our true identities lead to nonviolence and peace. The deeper we go into mindful nonviolence, the more we live the truth of our identity as sisters and brothers of one another, and sons and daughters of the God of peace. The social, economic, and political implications of this practice are astounding: if we are sons and daughters of a loving Creator, then every human being is our sister and brother, and we can never hurt anyone on earth ever again, much less be silent in the face of war, starvation, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons, systemic injustice, and environmental destruction.” cac.org

John Dear, The Nonviolent Life (Pace e Bene Press: 2013), 15-17. Note that Pace e Bene and John Dear are leading a Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions, September 16-24. Learn more at paceebene.org/programs/campaign-nonviolence/ .