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Archive for December, 2012

The Shocking Plot Twist of Christmas

Even if you are not a Christian, or even a fan of the Bible, there’s something really intriguing about the way God writes his story.  Even if you view the Bible strictly as literature, the shocking twists and turns of the narrative are good stuff.  The Bible’s God rarely, if ever, does stuff the way we, the readers– or even his most vocal fans– would expect or even like.

But even my atheist friends are so familiar with the Bible’s shocking twists and Serling-esque turns that we can barely appreciate them.  We no longer gasp when we get to the part where God’s prophet, Jonah, first runs away from God’s command, then ends up tossed into the stormy sea.  Unlike Jonah, who was surely convinced that the waves were closing over his head for the last time, we know how the story turns out.  It isn’t shocking to us anymore.

ImageIt all seems so obvious in retrospect.

But some of the twists are worth looking at in a new light.  If only to remind us of just the kind of being the God of the Bible claims he is.

With that in mind, bear with me for a little holiday tale.  Grab some eggnog, put your feet up by the fire, and load some cherry blend into your pipe.  We’ll set this little holiday tale in a Pride and Prejudice sort of timeframe.  That makes it instantly classic, right?  You’ve probably read books like that, or seen movies in that setting, or– like me– been forced to sit through such things.  Even if you haven’t, you can probably picture it, right?

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A huge stone house, its windows glowing yellow against the falling snow of a winter night.  Inside, a dozen immaculately dressed people in powdered wigs and petticoats, coattails and watchchains, all sit around a long, lavishly set table.  Servants bustle in and out, adding platters, refilling goblets.  Few of the lords and ladies around the table have any clue of the hive of activity down in the kitchens: the scullery maids endlessly scrubbing, the cooks sweating over (and occasionally into) boiling pots on wooden stoves.  No, only one thing occupies the minds of the fancy men and women of this land.

They are expecting a special guest.  And not just any guest, mind you.  A representative of the King himself.  His coming has been expected for months and years, and tonight is the night he finally arrives.

The fancy lords and ladies are all intently discussing just how he will arrive.  He is the king’s man, after all– some even say he is the King himself, or the King’s son.  Surely, some argue, his arrival will be heralded for miles in advance.  A string of carriages two hundred yards long will precede him, along with a trumpet fanfare to wake the entire countryside.

Others insist that he would not travel by carriage at all.  They claim that he will arrive by ship, that soon enough the river behind the manor house will be lit from shore to shore with the regal glow of the pride of the royal navy, decked with banners and announcing its arrival with a fifty gun salute.

The lord of the manor, however, claims that the king’s man will be daring and subtle.  He will travel alone, but on the fastest, sleekest horse in the king’s stable, decked with a golden shield and a silver sword, a noble knight, prepared to single-handedly advance the King’s cause against the rabble of malcontents, ruffians and drunkards.

Image“Ho ho ho!  Everybody’s dead!”

They argue about this into the night as the fire burns low and the servants grow weary.  Finally, with some alarm, they realize that it’s midnight.  Where is the King’s man?

They stand and approach the windows, peering out into the snowy night.  Nothing is to be seen but blue distance and spotless drifts.  Well, almost spotless.

One of the ladies spies a single set of footprints tracked across the yard.  The tracks bypass the front door and angle around the side of the house.

The fancy lords and ladies begin to explore the house in great confusion, seeking any sign of the maker of the mysterious footprints.

Eventually, they barge into the depths of the scullery.  The scullery maid jumps up at the sight of them, guilty for resting when there is so much work to do.  And yet, the work is being done.

A man stands at the sink, the sleeves of his rough shirt rolled up, his arms elbow deep in grey wash water, working away.  His boots are still dripping snowmelt onto the stone floor.

This man– somehow, this commoner, elbow deep in dirty dishes, wearing a rough shirt and flannel pants– this plain working man… is the king’s representative.  Possibly– incredible as it seems– the King himself.

That is the shocking, unexpected twist of the birth of Jesus.  Whether you call it fiction or history, it’s a good one, isn’t it?  Who expected the promised messiah, the man of God, to appear in a barn, entering the world as the seemingly illegitimate son of a poor teenage girl and her new, somewhat reluctant husband, making his first squalls from a food trough still half-full of dirty hay.

Absolutely nobody, that’s who.

If anything illustrates the nature of the Bible’s God– that he is for everyone, that he likes to knock the proud onto their butts sometimes, and that most of all, he likes a good, gripping, surprising story, this is it.

But in the moment, for Mary and Joseph, and for all those clueless prophets who didn’t even know the prophecy had come true– and in a way that most of them would find supremely disappointing– while God’s plot twist was first happening and no one knew what was going to happen next, it had to have been pretty disheartening.

Image“Nowhere near as good as the graphic novel.”

It’s a good thing– for me, at least– to think about right now.  It’s a good thing to remember that, as dark, depressing, and disheartening as the ongoing story of this world can be, the story isn’t over yet.  We don’t know the ending.  And if you believe in God– if you believe he is the writer of stories like the birth of Jesus– then it’s good to remember that he is surely the best, the very best, storyteller of them all.  The ending, when we get to the final page, will be, as they say, a good one.   Somehow, it’ll be worth it.

And if you don’t believe in God, forgive my optimism.  And in the words of Coffee With Jesus, “Try to have a merry Christmas anyway.”

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The Best Solution: More Guns! (And Less Guns!)

I’ll be blunt: if you are the sort of person who thinks gun control is going to fix the issue of crazy sick people killing other people, you are, and I mean this as respectfully as possible, a self-deluded simpleton.

If, on the other hand, you think that more guns in the hands of anybody and everybody is going to prevent deadly rampages by psychos, you are missing the point entirely and possibly contributing to an environment of cultural stalemate over extremely important issues.

Guns aren’t the problem.

If that statement leaves you staring at the screen with breathless apoplexy, I’ll throw you this bone: guns aren’t the solution, either.

And the fact is, we all know this.  We just refuse to admit it to ourselves.  As a society, we are obsessed with how the gun got into the killer’s hand, because it lets us off the hook for how the murder got into the killer’s heart.

We humans are just a bunch of lazy, knee-jerk, reactionary people, always looking for the quick, feelgood solution. Guns provide that, regardless of which side of the debate you fall on.

The problem of tragic killings is guns in the same way that the problem of obesity is forks.

Every day in America, approximately ninety people are killed in car accidents.  Few people get riled up in debates about how cars should be banned (“no cars means no car-related deaths!  Doih!”) or how there should be even more cars on the road (“big motherlovin’ SUVs to get between those crazy, deadly drivers and their innocent motorist victims!”).

Why not?

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Both the problem and the solution.

Because that would be plainly idiotic.  We all know that cars aren’t murderers.  Cars are tools, and the tools occasionally get used by careless, drunk or otherwise just plain stupid people.

Neither the problem of– nor the solution to– mass killings is the weapon.  The largest school killing in America was implemented with dynamite.  Guns couldn’t have fixed that one way or another.  On the same day that Newtown happened, a psycho attacked 22 school children in China with a knife.  Gun control doesn’t affect the availability of knives.  Or box cutters, for that matter, the weapon of choice of the 9-11 hijackers.

The problem is a deeply fundamental psycho-cultural trend that I have discussed, briefly, elsewhere (the comments are actually better than the original post, which was, admittedly, fairly emotional).  But there’s more to it than that.  The problem is that psychologically broken people happen.  For the most part, the rest of us still don’t quite know how to manage them.  We have a long way to go, both in terms of how our culture irresponsibly foments mental illness via creeping nihilism (nothing matters) and postmodernism (nothing is true), and by how we diagnose and treat people with potentially dangerous (to themselves and others) mental issues.

But we won’t address either of those root issues as long as we get stuck, conveniently and willingly, on the easier feel-good issue of guns.

So OK.  Let’s start with that.  Because I have an idea that as much as we all like to fight about it, most of us are really not that different on this issue, if we’re honest.

The Solution is MORE GUNS.

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All right, with one caveat: more guns in the hands of the right people.  Who are those people?  Besides the obvious (cops, professional security, the Punisher), the right people are, quite simply, sane people who are responsible and competent.  Examples?  How about Democrat Senate Majority leader Harry Reid:

“…as some of you know during my time being Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, I had a lot of bad people after me and I carried a gun every place I went. So I know what a gun and self-defense is.”

And long-time gun control advocate, Senator Diane Feinstein:

“I know the sense of helplessness that people feel. I know the urge to arm yourself because that’s what I did. I was trained in firearms… I made the determination that if somebody was going to try to take me out, I was going to take them with me.”

For even my most ardent anti-gun friends, would you feel threatened to be in a room with either of these two, knowing they may well have a loaded gun on their person?  Would you fear that, somehow, the gun would fill them with an overwhelming bloodlust and they would, for no reason other than the sheer, unadulterated hell of it, draw their weapon and start capping everyone in sight?

Of course not (and for those who said yes to that question– because I know a very few of you actually did– you have the exact opposite kind of crazy as the Newtown killer.  And no, that’s not a joke).

More guns in the hands of sane, reasonable, responsible people is not a bad thing.  Because the gun is a tool, as both Harry Reid and Diane Feinstein just explained, and a tool in the hand of someone who knows how to use it well is a beautiful, productive, and occasionally necessary thing.

ImageBoth Reid and Feinstein are strong proponents of gun control.  And even they know that a weapon in the hand of the right people is a good thing.

If they believe that, I suspect that most of the rest of us– even the harshest of gun critics– can as well.

The Solution is LESS GUNS!

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Seriously, find me a person who doesn’t think that things might have turned out a bit better if, at the last moment, someone had stepped up to the Newtown killer and plucked the guns away from him.  See?  We all agree, then, that in specific situations, less guns fixes the problem.

The Newtown killer wasn’t a super-villain.  He was a pathetic, mentally cracked little man.  Without a weapon in his sick, weak hand, he could have been taken down by almost anyone in the school.  Thus, less guns would have fixed the problem.

Specifically, less guns in the hands of sick, unstable people.  We can all pretty much agree on that, right?  With no reservation, no hesitation, no quibbling.  Dangerous, unstable, mentally ill people just shouldn’t be getting their hands on guns.

Of course, the question is: how do we accomplish that without limiting guns to the people in the sick person’s general vicinity?  After all, sick people will just steal those guns.

You know, we are not (in general) stupid people.  I bet we can come up with a solution to that.  For instance, if people with potentially dangerous mental illnesses were registered and treated openly before such tragedies could occur (the Newtown killer’s mother knew well in advance that her son was a danger to himself and others), then we, as a society, might have had some legitimate reason to say, when she came looking to purchase weapons and train her son in their use, “you know, not so much!  Sorry!  No guns for you!”

Image“Here.  Have fun.”

Which brings us back to the real problems.  The problems aren’t guns.  The solution isn’t guns.  The issue is that we are all too fractured, too self-obsessed, and too mentally lazy to address and fix the real root of these sorts of tragedies.  How can we consider making a medical record of people with potentially dangerous mental illness when the very suggestion that certain mental conditions might contribute to deadly tragedies results in a shrill outcry of offended “advocates”?

We are so obsessed with being victims that we cannot tolerate the fact that certain factors that some of us may share– and deal with in a perfectly healthy manner– could, in a less stable person, contribute to a dangerous “perfect storm” of psychotic potential.

We refuse to move mountains for fear of offending pebbles.

Thus, there is no way to legitimately create the sort of medical record safety net that could offer weapons sellers the information they’d require to keep guns out of the vicinity of potentially dangerous individuals.

To my gun rights friends who object to the idea that someone might be denied gun ownership because of their familial proximity to a potentially unstable person: yours is a losing, foolish, and frankly irresponsible battle.  Remember?  We all agree that less guns in the hands of unstable people is a good thing.  Sure, YOU might be responsible enough to keep the gun out of that unstable family member’s hand.  But other people might not.  The Newtown killer’s mother didn’t, and she paid the price, along with all too many others.

And for my friends who are impassioned advocates of gun control but abhor the idea that mentally unstable people should be registered and treated, proactively and humanely, for their own good and the good of others: we simply cannot afford to be polyanna about the root causes of these tragedies.  The key is not to take the weapons away from everyone else.  The key is to take the weapon out of the heart of the unstable person.

If we don’t face this, we are fools.  We are simpletons trying to prevent beatings by hiding all the sticks.  Killers are inventive.  Just look down through history.  Humans will find ways to kill other humans.  Arguing about the weapon in their hand is just stupid.

It’s lazy.

It’s irresponsible.

And let’s face it, we all really do agree a lot more than we want to admit.  Less weapons in the hands of killers, more weapons in the hands of protectors.  Simple.

Now.  Let’s start addressing the real issue.


The Death of Reverence is not a Metaphor.

I am sick of mourning after the fact. It’s time to address the social disease that leads to these things. We as a society have created our monsters, and we have the hilarious temerity to blame it on guns. Culture cannot make comedy out of every reverent thing and not expect reverence, as a human entity, to die. Where there is no reverence, where there is nothing sacred, there is no safeguard for the human animals that walk among us.

Shall I sum it up? “Family Guy” has taught us that dead children are funny. Humanity learned the lesson.

I wouldn’t suggest you watch this, but it makes my point. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iF77p6-A5RM