Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I Am a Fool

This is the first time I've publicly told this story. It's a difficult story to relive.

When I was a newby counselor a teenager who was loosely connected with the church through Young Life came to talk to me. His girlfriend had just broken up with him, and he was distraught. After some minutes of conversation I knew we needed to work through a suicide risk assessment:

  • Are you thinking of hurting yourself? "Sometimes. I don't want to hurt anymore."
  • How long/often have you thought of not hurting anymore? "Just since the breakup. And once freshman year when I was getting bullied. Not everyday. Just sometimes. I'm just so mad! Why'd she leave me?"
  • Do you have a plan to hurt yourself? "Not really. My dad has some decorative swords that are really cool, but that might hurt. I'd probably use a gun. It'd be fast."
  • Now my stomach is in knots but I'm trying to stay calm and supportive. Do you have access to a gun? "Sure. We have guns in the house."
I had a bad, bad feeling. I wrote a suicide contract, and he signed it and agreed not to hurt himself or others. He agreed to call me if he started thinking of hurting himself. He agreed to let me call his dad to pick him up. He did not want to go to the hospital and he was adamant against me calling the police. "I'm not going to do anything. I promise. I feel better just talking it out. I'll call you if I start to feel bad again."

I had a quick but serious conversation with his dad. His dad assured me he'd watch him, that he'd call a psychiatrist in the morning, that he had the guns put away.

We talked several times on the phone during the next week. He was doing better, he said. Getting over the girl. "Don't worry. I'm fine."

One week after our last conversation, after a Friday night football game during which he and the girl had an argument, he shot himself.

My boss and I offered crisis counseling to his Young Life group. We supported his dad through the funeral and its aftermath.

And I decided that so long as I had children in my home I would never, ever have a gun.

I have been called an "absolute fool" for supporting research into determining effective ways to reduce gun violence. I have been told to walk around "bad" parts of town and "see what happens". (I am not sure if my Christian brothers and sisters who are gun advocates are trying to wish me harm, but the fact is I used to work as a referral therapist for child protective services, and spent a considerable amount of time in "bad" parts of town, always unarmed.) I have been told to move to other countries where they have gun control and "see how I like it". (I am sure that I would like it fine. Other countries have their own issues, of course, but they also have far less gun violence. But that's not where God has called me to live just now. I try to bloom where I am planted.)

I understand the fear and paranoia behind this pro-gun defensiveness. Fear can easily hijack all rational thought. But the truth is, for every one self-defense shooting there are 22 accidental or suicidal or domestic violence shootings (Kellerman, Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection and Critical Care; US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.) Combat veterans belie the NRA mantra about "good guys" with guns; arguing that without serious discipline and training (see below), good guys would have absolutely no idea what to do in an active shooter situation. Gun violence, rather, is often the result of opportunistic and impulsive rage directed toward someone the shooter knows, and women and children are disproportionately the victims. When children successfully commit suicide, it is most likely via a gun in their home or their friend's home. The greater threat, the greater fear, is having an unsecured gun in one's home.

I also understand the second amendment. I am not "anti-gun". But I believe it is crucial for us as Americans, us as parents, us as world citizens to effectively define and implement the term "well-regulated militia." Well-regulated means disciplined. Disciplined indicates a high level of training, control, accountability and safety. 

Maybe I am an absolute fool. But God uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, and I pray that is the case with me. And isn't it time we move beyond character assassinations and partisan, binary thinking? Isn't it time to dig deep and do the hard work of researching just how to implement well-regulated ways to protect our children?

I don't believe this is the job of the left or the right, of the president or of Congress - they are all too entrenched with gun lobby money. This is the job of moms and dads being just foolish enough to believe that we can change the world for our children. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hoodlums of History

In sixth grade I got a D in social studies. Mostly because I was a brat, copping an attitude to hide my insecurities. “Who cares about what people did 150 years ago in Russia?” Eye roll. Cutting off my nose to spite my face, though, because secretly I found the stories of the serfs and their emancipation fascinating. I think my teacher suspected. She gave me a journal and a book. Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl. She also slipped me newspaper accounts and letters from that same time period. Some from the pro-German point of view, some from the Resistance. I fell for it hook, line and sinker.

By eighth grade I had unwittingly won several history awards. I had also come to the realization that history often depended upon the viewpoint of the historian. And to that point, so did current events. It has long been fascinating to me that many of the heroes we now revere were once upon a time branded as hoodlums, criminals, traitors, even terrorists.

Nelson Mandela was connected with the South African communist party. He was also convicted of terrorism in 1963. At his trial he freely admitted that he planned sabotage against the apartheid government. “I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation.” The Reagan administration followed the lead of the South African government in naming the African National Congress a terrorist group. Eventually the U.S. did pass economic sanctions against the apartheid regime, which played a role in its demise, but as late as 2008 the Nobel Peace Prize winner was on the U.S. terrorism watch list, which required Mandela to get special State Department clearance to visit. “It’s frankly a rather embarrassing matter,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the time.

From 1957 until his assassination Martin Luther King Jr. was under constant surveillance by the FBI. The state treated MLK as a threat to peace, and many newspaper accounts branded him a dangerous agitator and an enemy to the United States. In 1999 the family of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. won a civil trial that found U.S. government agencies guilty of the wrongful death of King. Although adamantly nonviolent, using the definition of terrorism as “the unauthorized use of intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”, it seems clear King’s preaching, resisting and lawbreaking would have earned him the label. “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

After his family was murdered, Geronimo fought against the U.S. army for 28 years, from 1858 to 1886. Often his small band was outnumbered 10 to 1. He and his 24 men ultimately surrendered to an army force of 5,000 soldiers and thousands of civilians. He and the members of his band were convicted as terrorists and sentenced to prison at Fort Marion, Florida. Geronimo was later released and became a national celebrity. His name rings as a clarion cry for freedom fighters even today. “There is one God looking down on us all. We are all the children of one God. The sun, the darkness, the winds are all listening to what we have to say.”

Harriet Tubman stole property worth millions across the United States and inspired others to follow in her path. Although she never advocated violence, she carried a revolver and was not afraid to use it. She also aided abolitionist John Brown and supported his goals of armed resistance. She helped him recruit men for his armed slave revolt in which he attempted to seize a United States arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. Brown was convicted of treason and hanged. Tubman praised him, writing, “He done more in dying than 100 men would in living.”

The legitimate government of the American colonies in the 1770’s was Great Britain. The Patriot movement was treasonous - a capital offense. George Washington led thousands into violence against Great Britain with the purpose of intimidating Great Britain into conceding to American demands. “The time is near at hand which must determine whether Americans are to be free men or slaves.”

Jesus called for an entirely new government - one “not of this world”. Although he spoke of nonviolence (beating swords into plowshares), he also single-handedly wrecked the commercial center of the Jewish temple and announced his plan to destroy the temple before rebuilding it under his command. Roman and Jewish leaders took his threats seriously and had him executed. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Men and women throughout history have been impelled to break the laws of corrupt and discriminatory regimes in pursuit of their natural, God-given right to life, liberty and justice. In every season those dispossessed of power and oppressed of their rights to freedom must determine if they are willing to push against the status quo in their long walk to freedom. And while they may be dismissed as hoodlums, criminals, hate mongers in the moment by their oppressors, the moral arc of the universe bends toward revealing the truth of their heroic fight. On whose side of history will you stand?