You win, NRA

It was a typical traffic stop. I had a tail light out.

I guess it was about 15 years ago when I was stopped in the mostly white suburban neighborhood by a cop who said my tail light was out. “Ok, no problem, I’ll get that fixed”. While he was writing my ticket, I sought to maximize my time and get the golf clubs I was delivering packaged. I reached into the back of the SUV I was driving to get the clubs and slide them into the long box. As I turned back around I saw that the officer was crouched behind his car door about 20 feet away with his gun drawn on me.

“What are you doing?!” he yelled at me. And I replied back: “what are YOU doing?!”

The exchange didn’t last long as he quickly realized I only had golf clubs and not a gun. He was as shaken as I was- and quickly told me just to get out of there. I left without a ticket. He was a white cop stopping a white male in an upper middle class neighborhood. If I had been black or in a different neighborhood, the outcome might very well have been different.

If it had happened yesterday, I would probably be dead.

The events of the past week have made me sick to my stomach. I am beyond discouraged at the state in which we find ourselves in America. I am really tired of it. And I’m sad.

I want to say this: NRA, it appears you win. You have said that we just need more guns; you have said you want everyone to have a gun, and it appears that’s where we are in this country. Everyone seems to have a gun and they are carrying them and they are using them. And that, according to the NRA, is supposed to make us safer. Excuse me, but I’m not feeling safer right now. If you’re a gun lover- you’re welcome to your opinion and your “right”, but save it. Keep it to yourself; I don’t want to hear it. I’m tired. Write your own blog or make a Facebook post or whatever- but don’t rebut this with your worn out arguments. I’m just not in the mood.

I don’t have the answers. I’m not sure anyone does. Our politicians sure don’t. I’m just sad that we don’t seem to be able to learn. We are not getting better at this. I’m sad for the loss of life and the pain that accompanies the violence. I’m sad at the anger I see all around me. I’m sad for the world my children and their children are growing up in.

This much is clear: We have a race problem in this country. And we have a gun problem in this country. And if you don’t see that, then it’s because you just don’t want to. At lunch today in a restaurant, I wanted to go to the few black people I saw in there and just apologize to them. I’m so sorry for what this country has perpetrated on their people down through history. It has to change.

I know I have to go on with my life and keep moving forward. But man, it’s hard sometimes when it seems that there is so much pain and anger and hate. I will seek to find the good in everyone I see; and seek to be good to everyone I see. That’s all I can do. That’s all any of us can do.

Oh, and speak up. I can speak up. And I am.

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Life is for living

A young couple is having their first baby- a boy. The excitement is nudged aside by concern as he is delivered way too early. Often the only way to save an extremely premature baby is to load him up with oxygen. So the doctors do- and they save him, but it has cost him his sight. He is legally blind; and most likely will always be. At seven years of age now, he can get around fairly well, and to the casual observer, he seems like any other boy playing in the neighborhood- only he has really thick glasses. They live three houses down from me. Today as he raced to catch the bus in front of my house, I could hear the interchange between his mother and him. It was loud and unpleasant; the finale of a difficult morning. I wondered how often they live that out. There are other challenges that come with how he entered the world. But…they are just happy to have him.

“I have been to two stores and I can’t find a Mother’s Day card for a granddaughter”. The sweet little lady next to me at the card rack was talking to me. It took me a second to realize that she was looking for a card for her granddaughter- no doubt a young mother. I offered that no, I didn’t see any either. Without any prompting she quickly shared that her granddaughter was 31 and had cancer. I asked if it was breast cancer. Not sure why. “Yes, she is going to have a double mastectomy soon, that’s what the doctor said”. She was looking up at me now. I assured her that they do amazing things with breast cancer these days- I just know she’ll be fine. I then shared that my wife had it several years ago- and treated it that very same way and she is just fine. She’ll be fine…”Oh thank you”, she said as the tears started. You have made me feel so good. I hugged her and cried with her a bit.

And she was gone. As I went on about my shopping I pondered that moment. And I ponder still- about life. How fragile it is. How short it is. How precious it is.

“ponder”. It’s an old fashioned word maybe. It’s a word my friend Steve and I shared a lot back in the day. At his river property we had a “ponderin hole” where we would sit in the cold water and talk- maybe sharing a beer or a cigar. If you don’t know what a ponderin hole is, that’s ok. Not important.

Yesterday was the eight year anniversary of Steve’s passing. A tree fell on him near that ponderin hole and his life was snuffed out in an instant. No final goodbyes; no last words. Life- this brief, fragile life…was done.

He would say- and I would agree, that he lived a good life. Did the best he could. He would have liked it to continue a bit longer. He never got to meet the grandchildren that have come along in the eight years since. He didn’t get to walk his daughters down the aisle. But we who knew him know that he lived life well. I miss you, buddy.

I think of that often these days. How am I living my life? How have I lived it? As I work through these autumn years, how will I finish it?

I have many regrets. But as I look in the mirror these days, I see a man who is still trying to live life well. And- when you break it down, that’s all we can really do. We play the cards we are dealt- and that is often unkind or unfair. But it is also often surprisingly sweet and good. And I am thankful for those parts- those moments. May I be one who gazes at the good.

I was bolstered in the market today by a sweet elderly woman as she was trying her best to love her granddaughter- fighting back her fears the best she could. I am honored to know a young couple as they embrace the challenges life has thrown their way- not a hint of complaining or self-pity; though I am sure they have had their moments; and maybe still do.

They get up and go on. They know that is what we do.

Life is for living. Life is for loving.


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Pain. It sucks


We have all experienced pain.

If you haven’t…just stay in the boat a while and you will. It is common to the human condition. Things hurt us…people hurt us; it’s how our heart is wired. Most of us would rather not be wired that way, but then we would be less than human and I’m not sure we really want that. I think perhaps in order to be able to experience the great joys and pleasures of life, we have to take the back side of that deal; and that is called pain. It sucks.

The thing about pain is that it seems to be tied to our expectations. The greater the expectation, the greater the potential for disappointment or hurt. Consider a man who’s date stands him up for coffee after he has only recently met her. He would be hurt, or confused; and rightfully so. But fast forward a few months, and that girl leaves him standing at the alter with a note that says she doesn’t think she really loves him…that is a shattering kind of pain. His expectation was much bigger.

The more we expect of someone, the more they can hurt us. And there is no way around it. One way to shield yourself from potential pain is to avoid relationships of any kind. Isolate yourself. Some people do that. I’ve tried it at times in my life. But it’s simply not a good way to live. When we shut ourselves off from potential hurt in a relationship, then we also eliminate the potential for the great joys and pleasures a relationship can bring. And that is not a good trade. Life is too short. We have to live. We have to love. We have to open up to people; to share ourselves with them. We have to.

But they will hurt me. Yes. They will. And you will hurt some of them. You will. It’s called life. It’s called humanity. I have hurt people, and I have been hurt. Neither one feels good. But no one does it on purpose (unless you are a psychopath)…it’s simply the fallout of broken human beings living in close proximity to one another. Sometimes the pain gets so intense…you do things rational people don’t normally do. And then the pain increases. I’ve known people for whom suicide seemed the only escape from the pain. It was for them, but not those left behind. I’ve seen that side of pain. I’ve done things that have hurt people. The fallout of pain…

Is there a remedy for pain? Is there a medication that brings relief? Is there a prayer that will fix it? I don’t think so. Maybe the symptoms dissipate for a time. I think maybe we can learn to live with it. I have found that having flesh and blood friends to whom I can talk- who don’t try to fix me…who don’t offer words of advice…who don’t judge me…they help me with my pain. And for you- I am very thankful. And also I think living with pain can make us a bit more compassionate toward those around us…maybe not so quick to judge. You are more apt to look at someone who is behaving badly and wonder…what is his source of pain? What is she dealing with?

No, I’m not saying…bring on more pain, it’ll make me a better person. Hell no. Anyone who says things like that simply hasn’t experienced much pain. No, I’m pretty clear on this. Pain sucks. But we can live with it. And we can be the best person we can even through the pain.

At least that’s how I see it tonight. I might think differently tomorrow…someone may hurt me!

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I’m reading another media account of a horrible shooting- again. A New Mexico teen shot and killed his family early in the morning last week, then went to the church they attended and spent the day there. His father, who was among those he murdered, used to be on staff at the church. I have nothing to say about the what’s and the why’s of this incident; another in a seemingly endless string of violent crimes in our nation. There is nothing I can add to the debate there. I am out of words…

What did strike me as I read this account was a comment by a church employee who first talked to the youth. After the young man had confessed to killing his family, he apparently told the authorities that he had been planning to go to a Wal-Mart and randomly shoot people there. Then I read this:

“That sends chills down my spine,” Harrison said. “But obviously, God had a different plan.”

This was the quote from the story that I stared at for a long time. Incredible.

Here’s what that statement implies: God involves himself in our daily affairs, and he sometimes intervenes and protects us from harm- or even death. And this man believes that God somehow intervened in this situation and prevented the young man from going to Wal-Mart and randomly killing people. Really? Was God asleep early that morning when the boy was shooting his mother and father and siblings? Was that God’s plan…but he had a different plan for the shoppers at Wal-Mart? So God can stand a little bit of murder, but- not a whole lot?! Do we think he is watching mayhem like that and then at some point- like an exasperated parent when the kids are bickering, he bellows out, “ok, that’s enough! no more!”

Do we even stop to think about statements like that when they come out of our mouths? “God had a different plan”. Yeah, maybe he had a plan for those little children to grow up and have a good, full life.

You might be inclined to say that was just one guy’s opinion; or that he spoke without thinking. But in all my years in Christianity I have heard that sentiment expressed a dozen different ways in hundreds of situations. God has a plan. God is in control. God’s will is going to be done. I have heard it over and over again.

In a recent discussion about the sovereignty of God and the free will of man, the opinions of those in the room were varied. Who’s in charge down here? If God is in control, how does that account for free will? He supposedly gave man free will in the garden so that we could choose to serve him or not- and he wouldn’t have just created a bunch of puppets who have no say in the matter.

But if we have free will, then God is really not in charge is he? And if he is in charge, and these kinds of things keep happening, then he’s not doing a very good job. No, I have to say I believe he’s not in charge. We are. And we don’t do a very good job sometimes. And it causes pain and suffering for others- and sometimes ourselves.

I just think it might be better if we didn’t try to imply that God had a plan when we mess it up time after time. God didn’t have a plan there. He wasn’t involved in any of it. Can we just admit that what goes on is just us being us?  People are people. Some have some serious issues and need help. Some of us are meaner than others; some are nicer than others. Why do we have to try to find a way to attribute any of that to God?

It’s just broken people doing the best we can and often failing.

God isn’t involved in that. It’s just us.

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We are all going home

It is that time of day.

The daylight is fading fast…night hasn’t taken over yet. Dusk, I think it’s called. I’m in traffic. Driving home like hundreds of people around me. Most of us are not real happy to be crawling so slowly down the road…we’re always in a  hurry to get home. It’s human nature I guess.

I glance at homes as I drive by them. At this time of the evening, the windows glow yellow and orange. Night is coming on fast- even though it’s not yet five o’clock. Moms and dads pull in their driveways…garage doors open. Children finish up homework…watch TV. Dogs get fed, dinners get cooked. Some gather as families tonight; they will watch a movie, or go to a school play later. Some will come home alone…to an empty apartment, or an empty house, way too big for one person. There used to be more here. More people…more noise…more mess. Now the house is clean, and empty, and big.

Someone will meet someone for a drink- not going home yet. Some will meet for dinner. Some are away on business trips. Some are just away. But most are going home. It’s where we go at the end of the day. It’s where we are safe. It’s where we find comfort. It’s our space. We have made it our own. It’s a part of us. It’s home.

We are the same, we humans. We have the same desires, the same needs, the same hopes, the same dreams. And we all feel pain. We hurt…all too often. We all bleed red, as the song says. None of us are more favored than another. None of us are more loved than another. None of us pleases God more than another. We are all the same. We all try to do the best we can; for the most part. And, yes, we all stumble along the way. We each long to be loved- to be liked, even. We long to be forgiven when we make mistakes. We try to be patient and gracious and kind to each other- and we hope for the same in return. We are all alike in that regard.

As I look around I see a lot of folks who are very different from me. Different color; different age; different size; different ethnicity; different cultural biases. In fact, everyone is different in some way or another. It’s easy to see them through the lens of suspicion…of doubt…of judgement. We tend to gravitate toward others who are like us. It’s like we need that affirmation- we need someone telling us we are ok. We need someone telling us we are right. We need so to be right.

But as I drift through the autumn of my life, I am hoping I can grow beyond that. I’m hoping that I can learn to not have to be right. I’m hoping that my need to be right doesn’t have to come at the expense of you being wrong. That notion must change. It simply must. We cannot coexist in an environment that adopts the posture that my way is right and all the others are wrong. The way I think is right. The way I believe is right. The way I live is right. The way I worship is right. The way I raise my children is right. And the other ways…your ways…are wrong. No. That attitude is wrong. It has to be wrong.

I know it’s wrong because I can look around and see that we are all the same. We are. Even though we have all come from different places, we are all the same. Some of us had plenty; slept on satin sheets as a child. Some of us had few choices in life as we grew into adults. Some of us barely got by- helping a single parent cope with the harsh realities of getting by week to week. Some came from strong, stable families full of love. Some were born in third world countries where survival was not a given. But we are all the same; inside, where it really matters. And all we want at the end of the day is a little comfort; a little peace; a little safety. Some happiness, even? All we want at the end of the day is to know that we lived the best we could today.

Look around. I think we know in our gut that we are all the same.

And we really just want to go home.

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We hurt with you, Newtown

Simmah down Dave…

I have waited a couple days to do just that. It has helped. Somewhat…

Many of us are still numb from the news of the school shooting in Newtown, CT. And I hope I don’t quickly “get over it” and move on with the business of life. It’s hard to comprehend how a person can do what that young man did. It’s impossible to imagine the pain that has the families in that small town reeling.


There are no words.

But apparently some people think there are words; and they are not reluctant to share them. Instead of saying something like “I don’t know”, some of our religious and political leaders feel obligated to explain to us how this could have happened.

Where was God? How could God allow this? People of faith; those who hold that God is active in the lives of his creation; and that he watches over them and protects them- inevitably ask these kinds of questions when something so obviously evil is inflicted on people who are so obviously innocent. It shakes our world.

Mike Huckabee opined in a Fox News interview that the reason this happened is because we have removed God from our schools. He really said that. He backtracked somewhat the next day and tried to soften the language a bit, but still held to his theology. And that’s what it is. It’s a theology; a conservative Christian theology. It says something like this: God watches over societies and nations who honor him. He protects them from bad things happening to them. And conversely, when those nations or societies or cities refuse to honor God, he brings judgment upon them; or allows it to happen…however you want to phrase it.

James Dobson said essentially the same thing a couple days later. And Newt Gingrich has added his voice to the choir today. Ugh. That kind of thinking makes me ill. I have a few questions for Mike and James and Newt and those who share that ideology (there have been many others in the past few days- less notable radio hosts, bloggers, preachers, etc…)

1.     I wonder…I just wonder…would it have been God’s judgment if one of your precious babies had been gunned down? Or one of your grandchildren? I wonder. We won’t know- because they weren’t, or you would have been too grief-stricken to climb up on your soapbox.

2.     Why does God rain down judgment upon innocent children in this country for our collective sins when there are many nations around the world who are far less “Christian” than we are. We have more violent (especially gun-related) deaths in America than any industrialized nation in the world- by far. And we have a greater percentage of Christians than say, Belgium, or England, or Spain, or Sweden or China… Consider Japan as a clear example:

…from the Atlantic Mobile: “What is the role of guns in Japan, the developed world’s least firearm-filled nation and perhaps its strictest controller? In 2008, the U.S. had over 12,000 firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced 11; fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally.”

Where is God’s judgment on those wicked nations? Why don’t we read about mass murders in those schools? They have had God “out of” their schools for decades. Why is God picking on American children?

3.     Mike, how do you “put God back in the schools”? Does God leave when you take down the Ten Commandments? Does God leave because they don’t start the school day with prayer- or Bible reading? Is he not there? It’s a very small God indeed that can be “kicked out” of a school. Did they lock the door? He might try to get back in; you can’t be too careful.

4.     And which God do you put back in the school? The Jewish God? The Muslim God? The Mormon God? The Hindu God? I suspect Mike and James and those guys are talking about the Christian God. And not just any version of the Christian God; but the one to which they ascribe. I don’t imagine they would want the Pentecostals from east Tennessee bringing their version in there with the snakes and the poison and the tongue-talking and such as that…Are the Muslim families and the Jewish families who also pay taxes in our cities and states just supposed to shut up and swallow their faith because a majority of the people hold to a different faith? Do they not have the same rights in a nation formed “by the people, of the people and for the people”?

5. Where did we get this idea that God sends judgment on societies and nations that don’t honor and obey him? Is that an archaic Old Testament idea? Is that a theology you guys really want us living under? Ok. Well let’s go all the way with that. Our women will need to stand outside the city on the highway and yell “unclean” once a month during their special time. Our rebellious children will need to  be stoned to death, we cannot wear anything made of mixed fabrics, nor can we eat any pork…and on and on ad nauseum… This concept of God judging America is just as ridiculous as us trying to live under the yoke of these ancient laws.

What is saddest about the pontificating of these talking heads is the overwhelming lack of compassion and sensitivity on display here . Imagine one of those parents; in the midst of unbelievable grieving, seeing Mike Huckabee on TV sharing his opinion with the nation that the reason their baby was killed was because God had decided he had enough and he was going to let a little judgment loose.

In a small town in a small state in our great nation, God is going to send a message. Little children have to die so that God can let us know- again…that he is fed up with our immorality and that he wants back in our schools and he wants his commandments back on the walls of our county courthouses and he wants us to pray to him at government functions. He’s mad at us, and someone has to pay. It’s too bad that some little children were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s just the price of divine judgment. God is holy and righteous and just and his laws have been broken. And we better get the message loud and clear or there will be more casualties.

That’s what Mike and James and Newt and others of that mindset would have us believe. It’s pathetic. It’s disgusting. And it portrays an image of a very small God indeed.

Instead of trying to figure out where God was or wasn’t or how these kinds of things could happen, can we just be quiet for a little while and grieve with those poor parents? Those moms and dads and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers and friends and neighbors and teachers…these folks have suffered the worst of the myriad pain we experience as humans. Can we just hurt with them? Weep with them? That doesn’t require any words.

For there really are no words.

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things I don’t know

things I don’t know.

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