Monday, December 31, 2012

Interesting Resource Regarding Jewish Views on Guns ...

I published my sermon on guns and violence here and wanted to follow up with an article which details different views on how the rabbis of old addressed issues similar to gun violence ... consider what the article says and make your own choice regarding how to respond.

And, as today is December 31st, may we each have a safe, healthy, and meaningful (secular) new year.   : )

Monday, December 24, 2012

I'm Struggling in the Aftermath of the Connecticut Tragedy ...

Sermon Delivered at Temple Israel of West Palm Beach on Friday, December 21, 2012 

Shabbat shalom.

I have been struggling this week … struggling to understand the pain of the Connecticut tragedy, and struggling to understand what lessons should come from it.
I have listened to clergy of other faiths talk about evil and sin in the world in response and I am shattered by the thought that this is the meaning taken from the event … because it is not as simple as “there is evil in the world” and "being a good person will eradicate evil."  We humans are much too complex to think these simple ideas will solve our problems.
I have been forwarded news articles and sermons regarding the tragedy.  I have read and I have sat in silence to contemplate … I have written … and I have cried ... and I am worried that I will too soon reach the point of being burned out from compassion fatigue.
As many of you know, I have chosen to be without cable since Yom Kippur and, last month, I even went on what I called a “Facebook Diet.”  Yes, I receive the Sunday paper each week and I have access to the Internet, and I listen to the news pretty much every day on this old-fashioned thing people used to call a “radio,” but I have intentionally been trying to reduce the amount of information I receive for a while now … because, frankly, the news is disturbing and overwhelming.
I say "disturbing" because there is gossip included in what we call "news," because the race to be first reporting something has trumped the ideal that whatever is reported should be double- and even triple-fact-checked … so perhaps we should change the name from "news" to something different … perhaps we should all sit down and watch the “6 O’clock Speculation.”   This is reckless.
Worse, sitting down to watch the news soon becomes repetitive, even though I gather my news from very limited sources ... and the problem is, hearing it over and over, and seeing it over and over ... this repetition can make us immune … but, in a weird way, thankfully immune, because, if we weren’t just a little bit immune, if our hearts weren’t hardened just a little, we couldn’t make it through the day.

            I hear about the prayer vigils that have been occurring around the country and, again, I am disturbed … I am not disturbed by the well-meaning people who come together to express their faith and support for the victims, but disturbed because I am concerned that this is where their actions will end. 
I am concerned that people will believe that their prayers are sufficient to heal this broken world.
I am concerned that their hearts will somehow be relieved of the burden and responsibility we all share to ensure that this does not happen again.
I am concerned that, once the victims are finally all buried, since the gunman is dead and there won’t be a trial, I am concerned that we will just all "move on" without the urgency of making sure it never happens again … just like when we moved on after Columbine, even though we talked about the shooters being outsiders and mentally ill … just like when we moved on after Gabrielle Giffords was shot and 6 people were killed by 22-year-old Jared Loughner … just like when we moved on after the theater shooting in Colorado, just 5 months ago, where 12 people were killed and 58 people were injured … just like when we moved on until last Friday when 20 children and 7 adults died.

I was told last night that this is not a new phenomenon … it turns out that, on May 18, 1927, 38 elementary schoolchildren, 2 teachers, and 4 other adults were killed, along with 58 other people injured in Bath Township, Michigan, by Andrew Kehoe, who was angry after not being re-elected to public office … but his weapon of choice was explosives.
That was 1927 … it’s 2012 and sick people are still aiming for schoolchildren.

            I'm tired that violence seems to be a recurring response to anger.  I’m tired that  violence is still acceptable … and, yes, it is still acceptable because we haven’t done anything real to address the cause.

You should know that I’ve been going back and forth all week regarding preaching on gun control … I grew up in Georgia and my parents owned guns.  In fact, when my parents worked nights for their business when I was a teenager, I slept with a gun under my mattress … of course, I always tell people I couldn’t have lifted the mattress fast enough to ever use it, so I’m not sure why we put it there. 
And then there’s the story that, when my law school roommate woke up one Sunday morning to a man breathing in her window, the window which her bed was under, the first call that morning was to the local gun shop because she wanted to buy a gun.  I told her we could have one in the apartment as long as we both took a gun safety course … and I have never been so thankful for California’s ten-day waiting period. 
By the way, you should know that the most powerful thing about taking that course was when we went to the shooting range with the San Diego Police Captain who taught the course to try out different kinds of guns.  He had us shoot at a moving target coming at us from 21 feet ... so I want you to imagine the distance 21 feet.  [Walk to a distance of approximately 21 feet.]

You should know that, no matter how good a shot we were, not one of us could hit the target ... and that was in spite of the fact that the gun was in front of us on the ledge, that was in spite of the fact that we were all wide awake and all of us could see it, that was in spite of the fact that the target was farther away than the distance from most beds to most bedroom doors, and that was in spite of the fact that the lights were on.  Not one of us could hit that moving target.  That was a pretty powerful exercise.
So, yes, I’ve been going back and forth on the problem. 

There's a part of me that says we need more gun control, that we need longer waiting periods, and that we need more background checks ... and then there’s the part of me that understands the reality that the criminals will still have guns if we make it harder to get them and there is always a way to get a gun.
I’ve been going back and forth on the idea of mental illness being focused on as the sole cause … I’ve been going back and forth on the bumper sticker that says, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  I’ve been going back and forth on whether the violence we experience via the movies and video games cause the problem.
I’ve been going back and forth on it all … I’ve been struggling with how to solve the problem and am sad that the only easy solution that makes sense to me comes from a comedian, who said that we will solve the problem if we charge $5,000 for a bullet.
I’m struggling with the idea that this is a difficult problem and there is no right answer and that we will, yet again, become so overwhelmed with the problem that we end up doing nothing. 

I’m struggling with the realization that we are so worried about offending someone’s right to own guns that have magazines that can shoot 10 or 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 or 15 bullets at a time that we forget that there was no such thing as a magazine that held 10 or 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 or 15 bullets at the time the Second Amendment was written. 

I’m struggling with the fact that mass shootings and mass murder is almost exclusively American … you don’t hear too much about Canadians shooting each other in these mass shootings, you don’t hear too much about Europeans doing it … in fact, pretty much the only time you hear of a mass shooting somewhere else is when it is related to another crime, like drugs, being committed.

I’m struggling because violence is how we Americans respond too often to things we don’t like.  Violence has become too American.

And I’m struggling because I know this will happen again and again until we actually do something … actually, until we do many things to address the problem.  This is not simple, it will not be magically cured with a new gun control law, it will not be magically cured with more money for the treatment of mental illness … both of these, by the way, I believe are truly valid responses to what has been happening. 

I’m struggling because I know that prayer vigils are not enough.  Judaism is a religion of action and I am still trying to figure out how I can make a difference to do my part to make the world safer for all our children, and for all of us. 

I am struggling because I’m working to make sure my heart doesn’t harden to this tragedy ... and the next ... and the next tragedy that is sure to come ... I'm struggling because I know that whatever compromise we end up with will not be enough.

Shabbat shalom.