Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Have Faith

I belong to a secret Facebook group that discusses Oklahoma politics.  I guess it's not so secret anymore... ah well. They are a good group of people, dedicated to progressiveness, reason and social justice.  I like them very much.  We support each other and give advice on dealing, with clarity, understanding and compassion, with conservative viewpoints all around us in this highly conservative state.

We have taken time lately to discuss the shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater.  The shooter, whom I will not name, wore tactical gear and carried numerous weapons, including an assault-style rifle.  He had legally purchased all of these weapons, including 6,000 rounds of ammunition and had booby-trapped his home with 30 home made grenades. He killed twelve people, put another 15 in the hospital and brought the injured count to 58.  That's a lot of pain.

In times of tragedy, I think there are choices of where to look for our cues and guidance.  I can easily fall into a trap of blame- blaming American society for not investing in a healthcare system that might have helped this young man- helped so many others lately who have committed mass murder.  Blaming the perpetrator, who might have been in such pain and distress that this is the inevitable conclusion (We just don't know).  Blaming gun laws that restrict open carry- I have heard it bandied about that if everyone in the theater had had a gun, the shooter might have not had the chance to do so much damage.  Of course, I think that's a terrible idea since in an actual gunfight, it's hard to tell friend from foe.

I have stopped hearing "how did this happen?" and "what can we do to prevent this?" and have started hearing calls for blood and revenge. I think Americans (I know my international readers get confused, so when I say "Americans", I mean North Americans from the United States) are getting tired of all the gun violence but are losing our compassion.  This is not the America that I want to live in.

This is not to say that we are ready to pass stricter gun laws.  I can see no reason for the average citizen to own an assault rifle.  They are made to kill people quickly, with great accuracy and from a distance.  This does not increase home security, not is it good for hunting.  The third argument for non-governmental control of weapons is to keep the people safe from their government.  I believed this was possible for a long time but now I'm pretty sure that since the government has drones, tanks and nuclear weapons, not to mention an Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines (Hello...best military in the world!) we should use the legal means available as recourse and owning a few military-style weapons won't do any good.  If citizens are allowed and AR-15, then shouldn't we also have access to nuclear weapons?  No? Who drew that line then? I say back up to weapons that have other uses, like handguns for home defense and rifles for hunting.  Just a thought.

The other issue I have had on my mind is the victims of this person who called himself the Joker, dyed his hair orange and decided to go shoot up a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises".  I have heard that they were allowed to be killed or shot or wounded because the U.S. is moving towards the legalization of same-sex marriage (also known on this blog page as equal rights for everyone).  Newspapers have printed reports of religious groups attempting to capitalize on this tragedy by reiterating the belief that everyone not "saved" who died in the shooting will be visiting a huge lake of fire in the center of the Earth for a very long time with everyone who does not follow the guidelines of their religion with no SPF 1,000,000,000.  Strong reactions, considering that all these people had in common was going to the same movie at the same time.

I know, I know, that sounds sarcastic and rude.  I don't mean to put down anyone's religion.  I'm tired of hypocrites.  It's easy to look at something like Scientology and it's alien beings and scoff.  It's easy to look at Mormons and their married undergarments and scoff.  It's easy to think of Christianity and its virgin birth and zombie savior and scoff.

I try to not scoff at organized religion.  For all of the damage it does, it also provides a safe refuge in the heart for questions that we don't know the answers to.  It provides a guideline for how to treat each other.  I'm not sure where we go when we die.  I'm not sure we go anywhere.   I also don't have any proof that any of the ideas of heaven, hell, enlightenment or just becoming unconscious forever are wrong.  There are people of all faiths in my Facebook group.  We all have a shade of religious belief, including atheism, which is most common, and agnosticism, Unitarian, Catholicism, Buddhism, and others of questioning natures.  I recently commented on a discussion that I feel a little protective of my friends and family who have faith and who stick to the tenants of a religion.  Those people I know would never use that religion to blackmail, hurt or coerce another person in their lives, but act and speak (usually!) from love and selflessness.

I look to my early recollections of my understanding of religion for my own answers on faith and religion.  And they scared me with talks of sulphur, dismemberment, rape, rending of flesh and something called gnashing of teeth.  It's no wonder that children inculcated to religion cling to it and perpetuate such stories through to the next generation.  It's no wonder that I thought that if "The Devil" just had a friend and some forgiveness, that everything would be ok.  That was my experience until I was about 7 years old.  If I left it at that, I might always have felt such an aversion as to be bitter and angry towards any person of faith that comes my way.

But then, not everyone had the family I have.  My great uncle, Dallas Keck, was a Christian minister.  He was a kind and loving man, with a good heart.  He would pick me up and smile and make me feel safe.  He always laughed and was inured with a light that seemed to shine right through him.  He married my great aunt Dorothy (An English teacher, if you wondered), and they remained happy through the end of his life.  Dallas had a pilots license and a small plane, and he and Dorothy flew from Portland to Montana and all over Washington.  Fun people; kind people.  Those things go together.  After his death, Dorothy married Dallas' identical twin brother, Houston.  Yeah, great names... Anyhoo....Houston was also a widower and they have gotten along quite well ever since.

If you have read my blog, you know about my great Uncle Vernon.  As a young teenager, he would pick me up to go to church and sent me to church camps a couple of times, driving me six hours each way to the camp.  It was fun- we had bible class and crafts and roasted marshmallows and sang lots and lots of songs (off key).  It's where I had my first kiss.  On the way back once, Uncle Vernon and I stopped in Lewiston, Idaho, for chinese food.  He carefully showed me how to use chopsticks, and we laughed our way through the meal.  Uncle Vernon was great with young adults.  Before he got too old and frail to do so, he would have pizza parties at his house for the teenagers and taught Sunday School.

Sometimes I would be his only student in the bible school class.  Small church, you know.  I asked him once about heaven and hell.  About who goes where and why.  I asked him if Jews would go to hell just for being Jewish.  Even as a young person, I could see that this was something my Uncle thought carefully about.  Religion, spirituality, faith- none of them were rote dogma to him.  His eyes turned inwards for a moment and his jaw worked silently.  He had obviously considered the questions and the implications of his answers and would choose his words carefully.  "No," he said finally.  "No. Jews do not have to go to hell.  I don't think Jesus would do that to anyone."  The message for me is that my Uncle Vernon believed.  And I believed in him.  One of the nicest compliments in my life was being asked to speak at his funeral, to find words, however inadequate, to honor someone who did so much so selflessly in his lifetime.  In my life, my sister Patti has assumed that role.  This week she took 10 vivacious pre-teenagers to church camp, having put on fundraisers through her church to pay the way for all ten.  As a member of her church and now as a Deacon, she believes it is her responsibility to help people.  And she does, and she doesn't mention it to anyone.  We look to each other for support and friendship and as confidants.  I keep hoping someday to change my mind about religion.

When I think of the victims and people affected by the shooter in Aurora, I think of compassion for them, for his family and even for him.  I wonder how this tragedy happened; I wonder what we can do as a society to prevent this from happening again.  It's difficult to be a human being and I guess part of me wonders what went so wrong with this one, for him to act out so violently towards others.  I want strict laws dealing with automatic weapons (which has not won me any friends on my personal Facebook page) and greater, easier access to mental health care for all people (which, surprisingly, has won me some points with friends).  None of these things deter me from my own course of action: writing to congressmen, protesting where appropriate, speaking my truth but being willing to change my own mind. Trying not to shut people down but to engage those with whom I disagree.  Trying to have a little faith.
Have Faith (But Keep Your Eyes on the Road)


  1. We went to OKC to see minister Tex Sample preach at Mayflower this weekend and I think he summed it up quite well, "Nowhere in the bible does it say that all are 'saved', but if God is anything like Christ, I think we can rest assured that we are all saved and forgiven."

  2. I heard Tex too! He was great.