American Gun Lovers are America’s Gun Problem

Some days you don’t have to explain why you oppose people.
Some days they explain it better than you ever could. 
They open up their mouths and reveal themselves with sickening clarity—and you simply see them.

I’ve been seeing the gun zealots clearly in these days.

I’ve looked into their eyes at protests.
I’ve listened to them dispense filth at campaign rallies.

I’ve watched them leverage megachurch pulpits and political seats and social media platforms.

They’ve been helping me.
They’ve been making it impossible to forget why I feel the way I feel about them and people like them owning weapons.

Sometimes they’re anonymous—unleashing their verbal venom from behind the protective wall of fake Twitter handles and bot accounts.

Sometimes they’re professional browbeaters like Dana Loesch and James Woods and Wayne LaPierre and Ben Shapiro; siccing their massive followers on grieving teenagers and distraught parents and mom’s activist groups.

Sometimes they’re NRA-sucking politicians like Rick Santorum and Marco Rubio, suggesting high schoolers should take CPR classes instead of marching—or that they aren’t mature enough to speak at all.

Sometimes they’re gun-packing thugs with confederate flag hats, physically intimidating young women walking in their north Georgia town.*

Sometimes they’re immature hotheads, revving their pickup engines while circling a town hall where families have gathered to march for the cause of life.*

Sometimes they’re jittery grandfathers showing off their weapons and bragging loudly in local pizza places.

Their tactics vary slightly, but they’re all similar in result: bullies brandishing guns while trying to scare unarmed people into silence.

And every single one of them seems oblivious to the fact that they are making the greatest case against them; they are convicting themselves without needed me or anyone else to say a word; they are ruthlessly terrorizing people while claiming they’re afraid for their lives.

All these gun-lovers trolling and threatening teenage survivors and harassing marchers and mom activists, continue to perfectly illustrate why the rest of us want fewer of them to have weapons of swift carnage.

They are showing us that they are exactly as unstable and reckless and easily set-off as we who worry about them allege they are.

They are reminding us that putting more high-powered guns in the hands of specifically these kinds of insecure, intolerant, and fearful people—is the very thing we’re trying to prevent.

They are showing in stunning detail, the effects of the toxic cocktail of rabid nationalism, fear-based theology, and good old-fashioned racism these folks are daily drinking—and how rage-drunk and trigger happy this makes them.

It’s all a bit stomach-turning to watch the gun-toting trolls descend right now; to see them make death threats on teenage shooting survivors, to see them preach incendiary sermons to their amening congregations, to witness their flat-out refusal to engage in anything resembling reasonable debate, to be so willing to resort to violence and intimidation in the name of self-protection.

And yet in the saddest, most tragic way, these weapon-wielding bullies are providing a valuable service to the rest of us.

They are clarifying our calling and keeping us vigilant in defending others from them.

They are fueling the fire of our activism.

They are giving us ammo for our outrage and making sure we never again relent.

Thank you, gun bullies for showing us who you are.

We see you.

 

 

* I witnessed these things in person at Dahlonega, Georgia’s March for Our Lives.

 

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A Funeral for My Christianity

 

mourninginchurch

“You seem really angry lately.”

Someone said that to me recently—and at first it really pissed me off.

I instantly mounted a spirited, vigorous defense laying out the reasons she had assessed me incorrectly, but soon found myself trailing off and resigning myself to a harsh, unwelcome truth:

She was right—or at least she was in the ballpark.

It’s an easy mistake to make. From the outside grief looks a lot like anger. The external markers tend to be similar; impatience, bitterness, violent outbursts, a loss of optimism (I’ll cop to those), but the difference is that the source, is a profound loss. Something or someone has died, and this is the mourning that has come to take up residence in your chest cavity in its absence. Yes, you’re all negativity and rage outside but it’s because sadness has fully saturated your heart, and carrying around that heaviness takes its toll after a while.

Looking around at my country right now I can’t help but grieve at the passing of the faith I used to know, the one I grew up believing was home for me, the one I once wanted to make my life’s work. I am witnessing the second death of Jesus here in American Christianity and no I’m not dealing with it well. When someone you love dies, the disorientation is profound, but when you lose your religion it’s an existential sh*t storm, so you’re going to have to excuse my unpleasantness while I process it.

Last night I came across a Facebook post from an old friend from a church I served at nearly two decades ago that crystalized it all. She and I have remained in contact all these years, albeit through the artificial closeness social media provides. In truth, we hadn’t had a substantive conversation in well over a decade, but she was one of those people I figured as a Christian, was some kind of sacred extended family and so I should keep the connection.

She was delivering a fiery political manifesto about the President and sharing with great zeal why Jesus wanted her to vote the way she voted. Beneath her heavily coded words I could see it all: a fully ignited fear of terrorists, Muslims, immigrants, gay folks, and people of color, mixed with some impending sky-is-falling spiritual doom that she believed only her candidate could rescue us from. Over the past few years these sentiments have become familiar in the circles I’ve traveled, and I’ve spent a good deal of time rationalizing them away, minimizing them, and looking past them. Today, reading my old friend’s words I realized that whatever this thing is that she and I used to share as a common thread has frayed beyond repair. Her Jesus and mine bear no resemblance to one another. I don’t belong in this tribe anymore. I am the outlier now.

That’s not to say that Jesus matters any less to me or means any less to me, it’s just that in so much American Christianity it feels like all that’s left of him are ghosts and fading memories—and this genuinely grieves me. It feels like a funeral.

I don’t say these things for hyperbolic effect or to curry attention or sympathy. This is just what is. It’s the clearest, most sober revelation I’ve had about the state of my spiritual union; that I feel like something is gone for good. I see what’s become of the Church here in America and it’s like a wake for the religion I once called home.

I’m not sure what all this angry, chest-thumping, bullying, “don’t tread on me” thing that we’ve come to call Christianity is, but here’s what I do know:
It isn’t the Gospel.
It isn’t Good News for the poor and marginalized.
It isn’t the Prince of Peace.
It isn’t the perfect love that casts out fear.
It isn’t Jesus by any measure.
It’s a toxic cocktail of power, control, fear, nationalism, and white privilege—and it looks much more like the bloated opulence of Rome than the early Church that resisted it.

Many times over the past few decades, my faith tradition has been life to me. It’s been the place I’ve found hope and rest. There was something bigger that I knew I was a part of, and in the people of Jesus I felt like I belonged. This faith isn’t giving me life anymore. I am no longer finding hope and rest here. I don’t belong in that gathering like I once did. This is cause for real mourning.

But as with all funerals, they are necessary to mark the loss and to pivot toward life beyond it, as uncertain as that may be.

So yes, it might seem like I’m angry, but you’ll have to take my word for it I’m not. I’m just finally accepting the grief that comes when something you loved is gone and you wish that it wasn’t.

 

 

The Golden Age of Social Media Outrage

AngryComputerGuy

Life tends to become repetitive. If you look carefully you can see the patterns.

Here’s one:

Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley offers compassion for victims of gun violence in Orlando on Instagram.
Olympian Gabby Douglas doesn’t place her hand on her heart during the National Anthem.
Comedian Ellen Degeneres shares a Photoshopped image of herself on the back of Track and Field Legend Usain Bolt.

Begin immediate and unrelenting social media sh*t storm.

Open up the floodgates for The Internet to be outraged.
Cue millions of us falling over ourselves to fire off the Tweet that will be heard ’round the world the next morning.
Commence the incessant public badgering of complete strangers.
Enter an army of finger wagging, shame-throwing, just-add-water keyboard activists to save the world.

In every case and dozens like them every single day, history repeats itself:

We pile on relentlessly with expressions of volcanic indignation, as those involved explain their misinterpreted intentions, defend the purity of their hearts, apologize profusely, and then limp away battered and bloodied—and we all go back to keeping up with the Kardashians and sharing cat videos, feeling the momentary intoxication of our own self-righteousness.

Then we simply turn our gaze away from the feigned interest we had in whatever deep, underlying issues of humanity we claimed to care about in the moment—and scan the screen in front of us for whatever else is trending.

We aren’t known as a deep people anymore, as much as we are a combustible people.

We’re all brilliant at generating instant, scalding anger and packaging it in 140 characters, but not as adept at doing our homework or sustaining interest. The extent of our historical research tends to involve retweeting excerpts from books we’ve never read or sharing memes we haven’t fact checked and believing we’re authorized to speak—and not just speak, but speak with volume and venom.

Never mind that an entire world is within the reach of our finger tips, and that we could learn and dig deeper and begin the real work of addressing the pervasive ills of our world. But that’s too time-consuming, too laborious, too boring, and not as good at producing endorphins. We’d rather just put people we’ve never met and have no relationship with on blast and soak in the cheap applause of the gathering crowd.

And yeah, maybe it’s redemptive, but maybe it’s just bullying for sport.
It might be compassion, but it might be anger created for public consumption.
It could be speaking truth to power—or it could be just throwing shade to gain followers and grow our brand.

This isn’t a question of whether one or all of the examples above resonates with you or me as insensitive or misguided or dangerous or historically ignorant. Of course it might. It isn’t a question of whether or not we should speak into issues of injustice, bigotry, institutional racism, or any other social sickness. Of course we should. It isn’t a question of whether we get to police what moves someone else. Of course we don’t.

The question, is whether or not we really give a damn in these individual moments or whether we simply want to feel or appear like we do.

It’s about whether the fire in us is for the cause—or whether it’s just to start a fire.

It’s a useful thing every once in a while to ask ourselves if we really care about whatever it is we say we care about in the middle of our daily online engagements, or whether we just need an object for our anger. And we can only answer this question for ourselves. I get worked-up almost every single day, but more times than not what begins as righteous anger quickly morphs into a desire to be angrily right.

This world is broken, friends. People are hurting.

Racism, violence, bigotry, terrorism, poverty, and illness are real and insidious and they deserve our sustained attention. There are a billion things that are calling out to us and asking our hearts to respond, asking our voices to speak, asking our feet to move.

But they aren’t likely to be easy to hear above the din of our self-made social media storms, and they’ll require a whole lot more than the time it takes you and me to share a graphic, compose a Tweet—or to write or read this post.

There is more than enough injustice and suffering in this world to merit our outrage.

May we choose those things carefully, so that our time here isn’t just filled with momentary bombast, but with meaningful, redemptive passion that makes the planet better, not just louder. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Forgotten Children Killed in the Pulse Shooting

Eyes of a Child

49 children were murdered in a night club in Orlando.

49 sons and daughters, carried in the swollen bellies of mothers who waited breathlessly for them to arrive.

49 nurseries prepared with brightly colored walls and soft, and furry animals just waiting to welcome them home.

49 smooth, helpless, perfect bundles, cradled in the crook of the arms of proud, nervous parents and loving siblings and beaming grandparents.

49 middle of the night cries, rushed to by sleepless caregivers whose very voices quieted the fear.

49 sweet-smelling heads with swirls of fuzzy hair spirals.

49 pairs of doughy hands, pulling themselves up onto end tables, and one moment pushing away and reaching toward outstretched arms.

49 pairs of wobbly legs begin to find their strength.

49 first words, greeted with wild exuberance by tearful, applauding witnesses.

49 first days of school, with new lunch boxes and butterflied tummies and dreams of what will be.

49 gloriously off-key first grade recitals.

49 paper mache volcanos.

49 early morning snuggles. 

49 toothless, jack-o-lantern smiles.

49 wide-eyed mortals realizing they are superheroes.

49 fearless boys and girls bounding and skipping and jumping through the woods and on top of beds and off of staircases. 

49 scraped knees and stitched chins and broken arms and 2AM emergency room visits.

49 first loves and pimpled cheeks and awkward moments and fender benders.

49 middle school meltdowns.

49 high school crises.

49 children finding their gifts and passions and calling, all pushing them toward purpose.

49 young men and women, navigating the worries, joys, and wounds of finding their own place in the world.

49 souls just beginning to find their voices.

49 people loving and being loved.

49 laughing, dancing, embracing bodies—silenced in a second.

49 hearts, ceasing to beat.

49 family members waiting in helpless, prayerful, panic.

49 cell phones ringing incessantly, never to be answered again.

49 children were murdered in a night club in Orlando.

49 children’s parents are grieving.

49 children’s siblings and friends and lovers and spouses and children are planning funerals.

49 children’s stories were horribly interrupted.

Not statistics, not people groups, not causes or culture war symbols, not illustrations or examples or stereotypes or case studies.

Children.

Someone’s children.

As treasured as your own.

As treasured as you are to another.

Flesh, blood, and bone.

Souls and dreams and crooked smiles.  

Children whose deaths should shake and infuriate and grieve us fully.

Children whose loss is as senseless and tragic as any we an experience.

If we can’t see this or we choose to overlook it or succeed in forgetting it, it will be our fault when more children die.

49 LGBTQ children were murdered in a nightclub in Orlando.

49 children were born.

49 children lived.

49 children were loved.

49 children deserve to be treasured.

49 children deserve to be remembered.

49 children deserve that we all do better.

 

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