Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Faith Works 11-11-17

Faith Works 11-11-17

Jeff Gill


To serve honorably



Let's get this first part out of the way quickly.


Fools and knaves and, yes, murderers have served in the military. There are some who have very personal reasons to hear the word "veteran" and not smile, not feel thankful. Some have misused their service and the responsibility that comes with that heritage in terrible ways.


The oath of enlistment I took is the same one the shooter in Texas swore to. I would prefer to disavow any connection to him at all, but in truth I cannot. There is that bond, one many of us have and wrestle with.


My scoutmaster in youth I recall as being incredibly angry every time local newspapers would put in a headline "Eagle Scout arrested for…" whatever had happened to that young man, even if he had been away from Scouting for a decade or more. He was known in the newsroom for showing up to chew out the offending reporter, who would try to explain that headlines weren't put on stories by him, and . . . but Mr. E was having none of it.


Mr. E would calm down, and then he would gather us together, and turn it as he so often did into a teaching moment. He would remind us "it may not seem fair to you or to me, but the fact is, you carry this honor your whole life, and what you do with it reflects back on all of us who got you there, who share that rank, that distinction."


And often he'd relax into the realization and remind us further: "if you benefit from the reflected glory of all those who have gone before you as Eagle Scouts, it's only reasonable that we're going to have to look out for each other, and help remind each other – if you do something stupid, it's going to reflect on me!" I've said it myself in decades since to new Eagle Scouts.


Likewise to veterans, those who have served in our nation's armed forces, standing in the gap to protect our nation and those we love, with "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." There's a glory we share, from short-term peace-time grunts like me, to the honored combatants with medals and memories from harder service than the rest of us can even imagine. And so it is we share a responsibility for each other, no matter what.


A blessing of these recent years is that we've come to see that we have a special responsibility as a nation for those who have served, even when they make mistakes. There is special emergency and transitional housing available for veterans and their families, slots in treatment for addiction and recovery, places in programs that even includes in some jurisdictions a "veterans court" for offenders who have a service record behind them but a criminal record looming over them. I think these are all fair and reasonable and sensible responses that are long overdue.


As any drill instructor from boot camp will tell you, we take young men and women and teach them "to kill people and break things." We expose them to powerful firearms and tools of incredible destruction, and it does change you. Whether you see combat or not, you now see an aspect of life, and death, most people can go through life not thinking about – now, that capacity of the human heart is at the center of our thinking.


Then, when the term of service is done, you go home. To people who have never thought about the best way to slide a bayonet into another human being's body, or how to choose where to shoot. They do not think these thoughts, and you have them all the time. With the blessing, those teachings fade to a simple yet useful heightened awareness of where exits are in a new room you enter, or a reaction to sounds in the distance that turns your head while others don't even blink. For some who have "seen the elephant," that fading is slower, if at all, without some help to turn down the volume of the memories.


Veterans Day is a day to honor those who have served honorably, and also a time for us as a nation, a community, and yes, for churches & faith communities to be mindful of what it means to ask people to enter that strange new world, and to casually come back into ours. Veterans have much to teach us, and we have debts still unpaid. To all who have served, no matter the form or branch, and indeed, no matter the outcome, I say thank you, and I know I speak for many.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your life learnings from time in service at knapsack77@gmail.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Notes from my Knapsack 11-9-17

Notes from my Knapsack 11-9-17

Jeff Gill


We are a violent people



Credit must be given to David Hackett Fischer, a history professor who wrote a 900-plus page book entitled "Albion's Seed" about patterns of migration to the early United States.


But fairly or not, I'd sum up what I learned from his scholarship in the simple phrase: "We are a violent people."


Not bad people, but restless, by nature rootless, wandering folk who chose to leave the British isles and come to the rocky uplands of the eastern United States to eke out a living, singing our folk songs which became bluegrass & blues, and maintaining tensions between clans and families which become legendary feuds, such as the Hatfields and the McCoys and NASCAR.


Americans are good, gracious, giving, caring, loving . . . and violent people. Maybe not you, generally not me, but in sum, compared to many populations around the world, we have a tendency to violent reactions. No, we are far from alone in this, but American violence is, well, known. And well known around the world.


Think about our movies. Car crashes and massive explosions and guns of every sort, but culminating with the ever-so-satisfying punch in the mouth of the bad guy by the hero.


As you may have heard, we own guns. It's not surprising. This is a vast continent, in the larger picture of things relatively recently pioneered, with big chunks of rural and even huge semi-wilderness areas between our sprawling cities. Colt Peacemakers and Winchester 73s and Browning M1911s have been intrinsic to our history; Garand M-1s and AR-15s and tin can plinking .22 caliber bolt action Mossbergs are in households all around us.


300,000,000 guns. That's what our best estimate is (no one really knows) of how many guns are owned in America. I'm skeptical, and not just on Second Amendment grounds, of anyone who argues that we should just have the government go door to door and collect them up and wait for the peaceable kingdom to arrive. That's one firearm per American, old, young, pacifist or veteran. If you don't have yours, don't worry, someone else has seventeen of them. No, I don't quite get that either.


Candidly, I don't think that the answer to safety and security of churches or public gatherings of any sort is more people packing heat. The whole "an armed society is a polite society" is one of those debating points that doesn't play out well in real life (ask the Dodge City sheriff). I don't know that gun control in any of the forms I've heard proposed is the answer, either. But I do believe I have reason to argue two things.


One is that while the idea of "we have to DO something" is always tied up with "pass new legislation," I see in the practical impact of recent events a strong argument for saying "actively enforcing the laws that are on the books will lead to less gun violence." Yes, that means more funding for the FBI & ATF & local law enforcement in maintaining databases and running background checks. Do that, not "something." Let's see what that does.


And rather than keep fighting about "gun control" per se, could we talk about firearm deaths as a public health crisis, and deal with it as we would such a thing? Yes, 33,000 firearms deaths a year are terrible – and two-thirds of those are suicides. Most mass shooters end in a . . . suicide. Most gun violence seems to have an element of willful self-destruction tied into it. What's going on with that? How can we respond?


We are a violent people. We need to work on that aspect of our American culture. Particularly between men and women, mostly on the male side of that. I don't notice many shooters being women with a grievance, and I know enough women to know that's not because they don't have any. Let's work on peace, healthy relationships, mental health and suicide reduction, and deal with weapons restrictions as they naturally arise within those contexts.


That we can peacefully and collaboratively do.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's fired many sorts of weapons in his life, but never in anger. Tell him how you deal with your violent tendencies at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.