Saturday, January 12, 2013

good guys with guns

My first year at University, a friend of mine dragged me to a hyper-charismatic (read: ooga-booga) church, where after the service they segued into a time of "prophecy," in which a pre-hipster-hipster with a cool t-shirt and a soul patch played a succession of soothing chords on an electric piano whilst some pimply-faced college student approached me and asked if he could "prophesy over me."

He seemed desperately sincere, so I said yes. 

Pimple-Face placed a palm on my forehead and close his eyes. He may have hummed a little. Then he told me he "saw a vision of a Volkswagen Beetle," and proceeded to describe the various parts of the car, correlating them to different aspects of my life. I remember him waxing eloquent about a pastel, sky-blue color, the engine, the side-panels, and something about the hubcaps.

While I would be the first to argue that there is more in heaven and on earth than are dreampt of in any of our philosophies, I gotta say that Pimple-Face's so-called "prophecies" were just the sort of non-specific gobbledy-gook you'd expect from any old run-of-the-mill, bandana-ed carney with a crystal ball.

The experience stuck with me, though, as an amusing example of an impressionable college student (Pimple-Face) who gets a little too caught up in the fervor of a religious moment. I don't doubt his sincerity, just his prophetic ability (which, Biblically-speaking, means that I should probably hunt him down so we can get stoned together... or something).

It also made an impression on me of the danger of claiming some sort of divine pipeline for the utterances of my own mouth and mind, so it is with tongue firmly in cheek that I tell you that I was recently awakened in the middle of the night by a terrifying vision of the Apocalypse - a vision so horrifying, I could not go back to sleep until I'd scribbled down a few notes.

It was about the guns.

Guns, guns, guns. 

Full disclosure here, right up front: I don't like guns. I don't like the way they look, the way they sound, or the way they hurl lumps of screaming-hot lead into living flesh, ripping and tearing and smashing it for the express purpose of turning it into un-living flesh.

There.

If you're someone who really, really likes guns, you can now feel free to ignore anything else I might say. The internet is not, after all, a place for empathy and engagement with the Other. It's a place for the screaming, know-it-all clustercuss.

I know this.

Which is why, after writing my fluster of notes in the middle of the night, I decided that there wasn't much point in getting on this website and posting my thoughts on the topic.

I decided not to write about my pain at the fact that most of the people I know arguing loudly for a gun in every pot, purse, and pram are also people who loudly claim the name of Jesus Christ, a guy who said that if someone slaps you, you ought to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-40) and let him slap you again - a policy for which early Christians were roundly mocked.

As well they should have been, amiright? Because turning the other cheek doesn't make sense. What makes sense is power, force, and violence - not self-sacrifice and love. 

I am told that the answer to gun violence in schools and theaters is greater gun violence - that the only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Anyone who knows me knows that I am in no way a "total depravity," card-carrying-Calvinist kind of guy, so far be it from me to point out that "there is no one righteous, not even one," (Romans 3:10), and that the distinction of good guys/bad guys is more likely cribbed from Louis L'Amour than it is from the Bible.

Far be it from me to point out that perhaps one of the most absolute central aspects of Jesus' message was that it upended the logic of power, ushering in an upside-down kingdom where the meekest inherit everything and the proud and powerful stumble and fall in the face of the ridiculous miracle of self-sacrificial love. It said that we're all in some ways the bad guys - all desperately in need of grace.

I, too, am a father, so I know what it is to feel fear for my son and to have my blood boil at the injustice and cruelty of the world to which he is born. I, too, would rage-against-the-machine, smashing open the floodgates of my own righteous wrath against anyone who'd dare hurt him. I, too, would pick up an assault rifle and pump endless lead into the body of any maniac who'd take up arms against my fairly-innocent young boy.

I know it's an imperfect world, where good and bad impulses rage for control of every single one of us, so I'm actually glad that there are professionals out there who learn the ways of violence in order to protect the innocent from more violence.

I would never want to point out, therefore, that a necessary evil does not become, somehow, less evil.

Follow that line of thinking too far and suddenly it stops seeming quite as cool to be the guy who blows the head off that bully who's threatening to beat up my kid in the hallway. We need our kids revering our cops and army guys - not sadly, gravely nodding to them in gratitude for the way they sacrifice their childlike innocence so that the rest of us can retain our own.

And speaking of kids, I know you've got your own and that you love them immeasurably, so I wouldn't want to make you question that by saying it makes me nervous that you keep a loaded gun in your house, while simultaneously, actively teaching your children that guns are cool and that they are the good guys and that what good guys do is shoot bad guys.

I mean, why would I bring up the fact that one of my childhood friends was playing around with his gun in just the same mindset and happened to shoot his own sister in the eye? That was just a pellet gun, after all, and she didn't lose the eye; so no harm, no foul. We wouldn't want one bad experience to get in the way of the countless hours of pleasure your kid receives from playing with his guns in the comfort and always-always supervised security of his own home.

It's not like your kids would ever go behind your back and do anything so stupid as to get out your handgun and play with it around my kid.

I'm not interested in being driven by that kind of fear, though, because I get the impression that to follow Jesus is to forgo that right (2 Timothy 1:7). It doesn't matter if the fear is of what I perceive to be your psychotic, Right-wing Allegiance to the Bullet, or your fear that Obama is a Socialist-Muslim-Nazi intent on emasculating whitey and ushering in the First (Black) Reich. Fear is fear. So I won't go there. I most certainly won't write a blog post about it.

I won't write about a gun-saturated culture where my five-year-old son, through no influence of mine, began earlier last year to play a game where he'd put a pretend gun to his beautiful little head and pull the pretend trigger. Because that's normal, see, and it's his God-given, American-Constitution-Protected right.

And what's funnier than suicide... or all forms of gun violence, really?

Guns are funny, and also cool - never forget the cool. Never forget that just because thousands of people die every year because of gun-related violence, that's no reason why it would be considered insensitive or uncool to loudly proclaim on Facebook and elsewhere that the answer to all of this is More Guns. Chances are good, after all, that you're like me and haven't been personally affected by this sort of violence. Chances are - if you're ranting about it on your Facebook page - that you're white, middle-to-upper-middle class, and don't know any Trayvon Martins.

So who gets hurt by your comments? Nobody (insert sarcasm font, here and wherever else seems appropriate).

Why, then, would I waste my time going into it - trying to convince you otherwise? Everybody knows that nobody reads long internet screeds, nor listens to the long-winded opinions of people with whom they disagree.

There's no point in trying to argue against the illogic of your "hammers are violent weapons, too" expostulations, because even if I could get you to legitimately address the strange dearth of mass-hammer-slayings in this country, you'd probably just find something else to argue - some other statistic that proves that America is the safest country in the world, almost entirely because everybody here has access to handguns and assault rifles.

You know as well as I do that it's an all-or-nothing question, and that anybody who calls for greater regulation of weapons-of-violence is actually just trying to take all guns away from everybody. And they're probably a communist. Or a hippie... which is probably worse.

Besides, isn't the real problem here - the reason that kids are shooting kids - that they're taking God out of the schools?

Everybody knows that God is contained and controlled in the verbal, explicit prayers of Modern Evangelicals, and that Jesus was only kidding when he said that when you pray, you should go into your room and do it in secret (Matthew 6:6). Anybody who's anybody in the modern, North American Protestant Evangelical Church knows that the ability to pray loudly on the street corner is the surest sign of a real and living faith, and that the pinnacle of Christian achievement is to be asked to pray on television before millions during the President's inaugural address.

The Bible explicitly teaches, does it not, that the goal of the Christian faith is to fuse Church and State - to make Christianity the implicit and explicit religion of your entire country, and to make your own, modern perception of what is "sinful" be not just wrong in the eyes of God, but also illegal.

That, my friends, is where the truth lies - not in some pansied rhetoric about love and grace and forgiveness and empathy. 

Our struggle is, after all, not against flesh-and-blood, but against the powers and principalities of this world (Ephesians 6:12), which we all know are best represented by the Liberal Media, Barack Obama, and crazy internet blogger-fanatics such as myself.

Look, I get it. Sometimes people do bad things, and it's a lot easier to stop them if you can get folks to buy into the narrative that they're actually bad people, qualitatively different than you and I.

Sure, that flies in the face of Reason and pretty much Everything Jesus ever tried to say in the Bible - but sometimes you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet. God'll understand if you've gotta twist things a bit in order to muster the courage to do ugly things in the name of truth, beauty, and the American way, right?

Because, when did that ever go wrong for us?

Oh, sure, there were times like, say, Vietnam or Desert Storm when we may have gotten a little overzealous, but we did it with Jesus in our hearts and Bible Verses etched onto the sights of our assault rifles. Heck, I grew up with one of the guys who put those Bible Verses on those guns, so I know for a fact that we did it with the best of intentions.

It's the thought that counts, right? Right???

We struggle and stumble through life and do the best we can. Sometimes we screw up, but that's life. I come from a line of people who fought on the United States of American side in World War II, and while I feel like vomiting when I think about the way we ended hostilities in the Pacific by NUKING civilian populations, I'm glad that Hitler was brought to a grinding halt before he could take over the world and kill and oppress the lot of us. So let's just keep that baby soaking in that bathwater and not talk about it, amiright?

But even knowing all that - even knowing, as I do, that we can't possibly hope to get it right - it still pains me to know that the name of Jesus is sometimes invoked on the side of Power and Carrying-A-Big-Stick.

I'm pained to know that in this particular story, we are not the hairy-footed young Hobbits who take up the Ring of Power with great reluctance and humility in order that it might be destroyed; rather, we are the proud race of men, who wish to wield the ring in the mistaken belief that we can control it - that we, as the inherently good characters in this story, can control and resist the ring's awful stirrings.

Who am I, then, to write about all this? Who am I to pour my heart out on the altar of the internet and expect anything to change - for the violence to end? Jesus himself - when confronted by the tragedy of the human condition - often had no response other than to weep (John 11:35), groaning along with all of creation for the death, death, death that afflicts our hearts, minds, and bodies (Romans 8:22).

Jesus was a man surrounded by violence who wept and chose the harder, more nonsensical path. Who am I, therefore, to claim to do more?

Rough wind, that moanest loud
Grief too sad for song;
Wild wind, when sullen cloud
Knells all the night long;
Sad storm whose tears are vain,
Bare woods, whose branches strain,
Deep caves and dreary main, -
Wail, for the world's wrong!

- by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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4 comments:

  1. I'm with you in this sorrowful rant. I don't think our culture will change through largely through legislation, but maybe (I can hope) eventually through a change of hearts and minds.

    I look for the progress we have made on smoking and drunk driving for examples. Sure, people still do both in this country, but A WHOLE LOT LESS, and it's not cool anymore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ack. Failure to edit. Sorry.

      Remove first "through" in second sentence.
      Change "for" to "to in the third sentence.

      Delete
  2. So with you on this.... Have you read John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus? This could be like the blog digest version of that book. The other day my daughter was pretending a hanger was a gun (she learned about guns from watching The Pink Panther on YouTube) so I took a long time to explain why we're not a shooting family and what death is. And the next day she repeated the whole thing back to me almost verbatim. It's such a gun-soaked culture. I told her we're a hugging and helping family. I hope this sticks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've not read that one. My son's quite taken with guns and killing. I respond, always, by suggesting that perhaps the lego soldiers might try to talk things out. Or invite their enemies for a picnic. It's an uphill battle, to say the least :)

    ReplyDelete

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