Grasping Thorns

“But he who dares not grasp the thorn Should never crave the rose." ― A. Brontë

Caitlyn Jenner May Not Be Your Hero, But Here’s Why She Deserves the Arthur Ashe Courage Award

On Monday, ESPN announced that Caitlyn Jenner is the recipient of their annual Arthur Ashe Courage Award. ESPN executive producer, Maura Mand, explained the appropriateness of their choice: “Bruce [Jenner] has received many accolades over the years for being one of the greatest Olympians of our time, but The ESPYS are honored to celebrate Bruce becoming Caitlyn. She has shown the courage to embrace a truth that had been hidden for years, and to embark on a journey that may not only give comfort to those facing similar circumstances, but can also help to educate people on the challenges that the transgender community faces.”

Mand’s rationale certainly seems in keeping with the Arthur Ashe Award description, as printed on ESPN’s Web site. Note the emphasis on “human rights” and “never back[ing] away from a difficult issue, even though doing so would have been easier.”

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Unsurprisingly, the news of Jenner’s win sent many of her detractors, already worked up over her Vanity Fair photo shoot, into paroxysms of rage. Because it’s National LGBT Pride Month — and because it’s the right thing to do AND in keeping with the spirit of the award — let’s tackle some of the status updates and blog posts that have gone viral and explain why Caitlyn Jenner deserves both this award and our applause.

Yesterday morning, Orie Pancione from West Virginia posted publicly a status update criticizing Jenner that has since been shared 148,841 times (and counting). Pancione accuses ESPN of ignoring cancer victim Lauren Hill and wounded veteran Noah Galloway in favor of Caitlyn Jenner, who is “trending” for “play[ing] dress up.”

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First: as Deadspin’s Nick Martin explains, “This is an award ESPN doles out based on what they decide, not what is voted on, so anything you think is automatically arbitrary. If you don’t like who wins it, don’t watch the ESPY’s—simple as that. The award does not dictate who is the most courageous person in the world, nor does it diminish what Galloway or Lauren Hill—who people also said should have been the recipient instead of Jenner—have accomplished.”

I’d add: the type of courage defined in the award description (e.g. “using fame and stature to advocate for human rights, although at the time, these positions may have been unpopular and were often controversial”) is a very different type of courage than that used to fight a deadly disease or an enemy soldier.

The award that is more in keeping with either Noah Galloway’s or Lauren Hill’s struggles is the Espy Perseverance Award, which is going to Devon Still and his daughter Leah, who is battling cancer. That award is about having the courage to persevere in difficult circumstances. No one is accusing the Stills of taking an award away from Noah Galloway or Lauren Hill. Rather, they’re attacking the trans woman, saying that she should hand over her award, despite the fact that it would make no sense according to the award description and is quite simply a mean-spirited thing to say — which people seem to get when the honoree is a 5-year-old with pediatric cancer. But trans people are too often treated as less than human and their struggles dismissed.

Second: Caitlyn Jenner is not playing dress up, and to suggest otherwise not only reveals a gross misunderstanding of what transgender means but also perpetuates a stereotype that no doubt contributes to discrimination and violence against the trans community. Jenner has explained to us that her gender identity (female) is different from her assigned gender at birth (male) and that she has made the unpopular and controversial choice to live out the rest of her life as the woman she’s always been. Our job, which is admittedly *really* easy, is to say “Good for you, Caitlyn”; to stop referring to her as “Bruce” and using male pronouns; and to treat her like a human being rather than a child preoccupied at the play station with all the costumes.

Also this week, Emily Suzanne, a conservative Christian blogger penned “Bruce Jenner is Not a Hero” that has racked up over 10,000 Facebook shares in two days. The thesis — that Bruce Jenner is neither a woman nor a hero — is built upon assertions about gender that, in the 21st century, we know are false.

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People who insist that God wouldn’t “make the mistake” of confusing gender categories are understandably stumped when passed a copy of Anne Fausto-Sterling’s “The Five Sexes” or an article about Caster Semenya, the South African woman was was scrutinized because she outstripped other female runners to such an extent that officials had her gender-tested and discovered that she had both a vagina (female part!) and inverted testicles (male part!).

The male/female categories aren’t as clear as Emily Suzanne and her ilk think. Their experience of the world as cisgender isn’t the experience of everyone else; so, maybe (just maybe) they would do well not to play God, leaving instead a person’s gender classification up to, you know, the person; and God’s judgement up to Him . . . or Her.

I said as much in a blog comment, but it remains unpublished, still awaiting Emily Suzanne’s moderation.

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So, I’m taking my comment out of moderation by writing my own blog post — because I want to be courageous in the way Caitlyn Jenner is, although it makes me sad that too often the “unpopular” and “controversial” opinion to voice is one that should be universally accepted, namely: that the transgendered community is not comprised of people who are “mistakes,” but rather people who are more often than not mind-bendingly courageous in the face of adversity (which includes being pelted with countless transphobic comments, like those above).

Here’s to their courage . . . and that’s cour·age \ˈkər-ij, ˈkə-rij\ according to the most “Arthur Ashe” definition of the word.

The Only Duggar Spinoff That I’d Watch

June is National LGBT Pride Month, and TLC has yet to make a decision about the future (or not) of its hit show 19 Kids and Counting. Josh Duggar, who recently resigned as Executive Director of Family Research Council Action, has spent the past two years lobbying against LGBT rights, among other conservative causes. From suggesting that marriage equality will destroy the American family to fighting against anti-discrimination bills designed to protect the LGBT community, Duggar’s ethos as the “Face of Faith and Politics” has crumbled in light of a molestation scandal.

On May 21, In Touch Magazine published police reports from 2006 that detail an investigation against Duggar, who was accused of (and subsequently confessed to) molesting five underaged girls, some of whom are his sisters. While we should no doubt offer words of support to these (and all) victims of sexual abuse, and respect their privacy accordingly, we should also — as Alexandra Petri argues in The Washington Post — ”start pushing back against” an ideology that privileges a son’s reputation over a daughter’s safety; that equates one’s worth with one’s “purity”; and, I would add, that maligns families like Zach Wahls’s by wrongly suggesting they’re inferior to traditional families.

The best way to push back is to demand that The Learning Channel cancel the show, which — in a touch of irony — filled the time slot left vacant by Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, another popular “reality” show that was cancelled when the family matriarch began dating a convicted child molester. Fans of 19 Kids and Counting will argue that the situation is different — that Duggar was only 14 and 15-years-old (never mind the fact that, even at this age, he fits the medical definition of a child molester); or, that he made “mistakes,” turned back to God, and is consequently cured (never mind the fact that he initially received no professional treatment — which not only did a disservice to his victims but also to him).

For these reasons alone we should demand the show’s cancellation. But, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we should have demanded the show’s cancellation even earlier — in solidarity with the LGBT community. We should have said “no” to 19 Kids and Counting when Josh capitalized on the success of the show by scoring a position with FRC, which has been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center — or, more recently, when Michelle joined her son’s campaign against an anti-discrimination bill by recording a robocall that compared transgendered people to pedaphiles.

While the Duggars are free to think and preach whatever they like, we — as the viewing public — do not have to sponsor them financially. In fact, I would argue that we have a moral obligation not to do so. 19 Kids and Counting has made the Duggar family wealthy and influential, and they’ve used that wealth and influence to become political players. See, for example, their 2012 video “19 Reasons and Counting to Vote for Rick Santorum.” There is something particularly noxious about watching children who are much too young to vote pledging to support a presidential candidate because he’s promised to secure our borders and has an A+ rating from the NRA.

We should have responded by voting “no” with our remotes years ago — because TLC is supposed to be the learning channel, not the propaganda channel.

Unsurprisingly, the Duggars are fighting hard against cancellation by encouraging their fans to contact the network and “make your voices heard.” Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have scheduled a Fox News interview with Megyn Kelly for Wednesday night. And, according to rumors, TLC is considering a spinoff featuring daughters Jill Dillard and Jessa Seewald, and their respective husbands.

Here’s the problem: Jill and Jessa are devotees of the same branch of archaic, conservative Christianity as their parents. We felt culpable when we realized that we’ve promoted, through our viewership of 19 Kids and Counting, a patriarchal system that is dangerously sexually repressive; that first ignores female accounts of victimization and then responds inadequately once they’re (of course) repeated. I, for one, am not interested in promoting, though my viewership of a “Jill and Jessa” spin-off, that same patriarchal system with only different key players.

The only Duggar spinoff that I would be willing to watch would be one in keeping with The Learning Channel’s namesake: Episodes might include:

the Duggar girls take a gender studies class at a state university

the Duggar boys take a gender studies class at a state university

the Duggar kids read the Harry Potter series

the Duggars study the Living the Questions progressive Christian curriculum

the Duggars hang out with __________ (fill in the blank: Zach Wahls, Bill Nye, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, etc.)

Because here’s the thing: “secular” America has let the Duggars into their homes and has seen them humanized. We can understand and disagree with the Duggar family’s ideology while enjoying the cute kids, empathizing with the family when they grieve (e.g. over Michelle’s miscarriage), and appreciating all those moments in the universal human experience, like young love, that play out on screen.

We’re only interested in a spinoff if they’re willing to offer the same courtesy to us, to learn about different ways of seeing the world in a way that humanizes rather than demonizes. The Duggar kids should be able to choose differently from their parents without fear of losing their parents’ love, ruining the family image, suffering eternal damnation, etc. Granted, they should also be able to choose similarly to their parents, but the key word is “choice.”

My wish for the Duggar kids is that all of them will be free, sans television camera, to explore and experience the world more fully, that they’ll become “pro-choice” in the most basic sense of the word, and that having the freedom to choose their own way in life will make them more willing to accept and protect the choices of others.

In that spirit, Happy National LGBT Pride Month.

Blue Lives Matter? Then Support Gun Control Reform

This month, we’ve suffered the loss of several law enforcement officers unjustly killed in the line of duty. On May 9, Officers Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate were killed during a traffic stop in Mississippi. On May 2, NYPD officer Brian Moore was shot in the head and died from the injury a couple of days later. Both these tragedies bring to mind the double homicide of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on Dec. 20, 2014, a shocking act that was nearly universally condemned. And it’s wrong to suggest  — as many do via social media — that those who support the “Black Lives Matter” movement don’t care about cops unjustly killed.

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The hashtag #BlueLivesMatter (which sprung into existence in the fall of 2014, as a response to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri) is unsettling both because of the controversial nature of the movement’s title (i.e. the erasure of “black” for “blue”) and also because of the fact that it states the obvious and unquestionable: of course blue lives matter. Unlike black lives, blue lives are both valued and mourned. When a cop is killed, the murderer is sought and convicted — as is just. However, when a cop unjustly kills a black man, he’s much less likely to be convicted (unless there is an accompanying video, and sometimes not even then — e.g. Eric Garner).

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Of course, cops have a dangerous job, are afraid, and are right to be afraid — not of people of color, but of being shot. In 2013, 32 cops were fatally shot; in 2014, 50 cops were fatally shot. The number jump seems alarming, although NPR’s Eyder Peralta points out “While gun deaths of officers have increased, they still remain 12-percent lower than the decade-long average of 57.”

Still, we have a gun problem and need sensible gun control reform. One cop unjustly killed in the line of duty is one cop too many. Last year, while the debate was raging over Michael Brown’s death, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias argued that we should find common ground over the fact that we need gun control reform; he said, “This is true if you think Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson should have been found guilty of a crime. But in many ways it’s even more true if you think he’s innocent of any wrongdoing. A system in which legal police shootings of unarmed civilians are a common occurrence is a system that has some serious flaws.”

The rub? So many people who rally behind the “Blue Lives Matter” slogan are against gun control. They complain, instead, about a “war on police” and say that gun control reform is “off topic” rather than a sensible solution to a triad of problems: violence against the police, violence by the police, and violence against the community at large — including our most vulnerable: children. CDC statistics list 16,121 homicides in 2013, and 11,208 of those were with guns. Too many guns is absolutely relevant to any discussion about the safety of law enforcement officers — and public safety to boot. And while I’m concerned about any way kids are dying, 10,000 American kids a year are injured and/or killed with guns and those are preventable injuries and deaths. Finally, holding police accountable is not a “war on police.” It’s holding police accountable.

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This past December, a meme was circulating in response to 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s death. I first saw the meme on Facebook from an avid supporter of “Blue Lives Matter.” It features a man holding two nearly identical guns, accompanied by the phrase “quick! which one is a bb gun? Oops, too late . . . you’re dead.”

The person posting it was defending the cop who shot Tamir Rice, not pointing out the fact that maybe the NRA shouldn’t be blocking legislation like California’s Senate Bill 798 that would require not-real guns (air gun, airsoft and BB) to be distinguishable (as in brightly colored) from real guns.

Four hundred and nine people were fatally shot by cops in 2012, according to The Economist, some of them children. And that’s a problem for everyone: the dead people; the families of the dead people; and the cops, some of whom have to live with inadvertently killing unarmed kids. Think that’s just what happens? Number of shots fired by police in Britain that same year? THREE. Number of fatalities? ZERO. More recent tallies suggest that the number of people fatally shot by cops each year in the United States is even higher, as many go uncounted.

No one is defending violence against the police. I spoke out against the Dec. 20 homicides, just like I spoke out about Walter Scott’s and Freddie Gray’s deaths. Too many people in the “Blue Lives Matter” movement, on the other hand, are fearful of violence against their community while excusing violence perpetrated against those outside their community. And that’s wrong.

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What’s also wrong? To assert that blue lives matter while failing to advocate for gun control reform that would actually save blue lives.

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Brian Moore was shot to death with a gun stolen from Georgia, a gun lover’s paradise. As NY Daily News reporters explain: “Georgia’s lax gun laws are often cited by critics for the steady northern flow of illegal weapons to New York. Straw buyers purchasing firearms for people who can’t legally own guns face no penalty, and there are no background checks for people buying guns from unlicensed dealers. A bill passed last year even repealed the state regulation targeting rogue gun dealers convicted of criminal or fraudulent actions. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms stats from 2013, the most recent available, showed 331 weapons recovered in New York State originated in Georgia that year.”

I can hear the tired “gun rights” arguments now that essentially boil down to:

I don’t want to be inconvenienced when buying my gun — despite the fact that, for the sake of public safety, buying guns should be at least as difficult as having a pet (many cities require you to register dogs) or driving a car (think: testing, licensing, registering, servicing, renewing).

I don’t want to be restricted from buying military style assault weapons and high capacity magazines, because (2nd Amendment!) I need to be prepared to overthrow the government in case it becomes tyrannical — despite the fact that we have an unmatched military and arsenal of weapons (against which neither assault weapons nor high capacity magazines stand a chance) and despite the fact that we support our troops.

In the end, what is the purpose of asserting “Blue Lives Matter” (except in opposition to “Black Lives Matter,” which — let’s face it — seems to be the purpose) if the only “solution” is to allow police full discretion in killing civilians, which is unacceptable? What is the purpose of asserting that we support our troops, if we’re simultaneously daydreaming about fighting against them?

Of all the comments in response to Freddie Gray’s death, and I’ve read a lot of them, this may be the most hypocritical of the bunch:

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The implication is that Freddie Gray carried a knife and therefore should have expected a violent end (never mind the fact that, as a country, we’re one big sword-wielding maniac — and 20 times more likely to be a victim of gun violence than citizens of other first world countries because of it). It’s time for gun buyback programs and more sensible regulation, because it’s time for a real and decent solution that supports all: cops and our communities.

You say: blue lives matter. I say: you’re right; they do; let’s do something about that.

The Case of Two Walter Scotts

Walter Scott

UPDATE, again: You may also follow the following new link. Thanks to The Daily Dot for reposting it. While I miss the family photos on this version, I enjoy the fact that the quotes are blocked alongside the text rather than in it, since the latter always feels like a reading-hiccup to me.

http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/walter-scott-police-children/?fb_action_ids=10206373025508350&fb_action_types=og.shares

UPDATE: Please follow the link for the article. Thanks to Bustle for publishing it. Special thanks to my editor, Rachel Krantz, who added images that broke my heart. All over again.

http://www.bustle.com/articles/76683-walter-scott-a-black-man-was-shot-to-death-but-my-white-husband-also-walter

Dear Reader, Thanks so much for your interest in reading this personal essay (and many thanks to those who directed you to it). Bustle has picked it up, so I’m pulling it down temporarily (per their request), and will post in the link to the published version ASAP. I’m grateful for this interest, since Bustle’s readership is much, much more than this humble, personal blog, and I very much think this (i.e. cultural racism and — God help us — how to overcome it) is a conversation we need to have. Thanks, again — especially for being the lovely, inspirational people that you are, xoxo

Selma vs. American Sniper is Peeta vs. Gale

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blue reaping dress (check); braided updo (check); mockingjay pin (check);

Buttercup (wrong color and disinterested)

Currently, I’m piloting a two-semester freshman English course at a state university that examines Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games as a cultural phenomenon. Most recently, we talked in class about how to engage with issues in American Sniper without being polarizing or alienating the opposing side of the debate – because there has been a lot of that in recent weeks. Some argue that the film glorifies war and creates an unrealistic portrait of Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal upon whom the film is based, while others (including Director Clint Eastwood and actor Bradley Cooper) call the film antiwar and an attempt to raise awareness about PTSD among veterans. I am less concerned with the faithfulness of the film adaptation to Kyle’s autobiography, or Eastwood’s authorial intent, and most concerned with audience response. Regardless of the argument Eastwood meant to make with the film, audience response has been both polarized and vitriolic, with fans of the film calling for the death of critics, and with critics of the film suggesting that snipers are “cowards” or “hate-filled killers.”

I presented this debate to my students and asked how The Hunger Games could help us make sense of it. Our consensus: “Two of the contenders for Best Picture are Selma and American Sniper. One is about nonviolent resistance, and the other is about violent resistance. It’s Peeta vs. Gale.” Although often annoyed by the fact that love triangles seem to have become part of the required formula for successful YA series, I think this particular Team Peeta vs. Team Gale situation is worth fleshing out.

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the husband as Gale, before I turned him into Peeta (below)

Team Gale: Gale Hawthorne, like Chris Kyle, feels injustice acutely and sees the world in an “us vs. them” way. When their “district” (whether 12 or New York City) is bombed, they become integral parts of the war effort, seek retribution, and are impatient with anyone who asks hard questions about their plan of action. Maybe we shouldn’t bomb a District 2 stronghold when our fight is with the Capitol, not District 2 citizens (even if they’re more sympathetic to the Capitol and less so to the rebellion). Maybe we shouldn’t invade Iraq when our fight is with a terrorist organization separate from that nation. Gale’s response – “We watched children burn to death, and there was nothing we could do!” – bespeaks the pain, helplessness, and subsequent rage echoed by those who witnessed similar losses during the 9/11 terrorist attack. David Wong, in his funny, irreverent piece for Cracked.com, would say that prototype-Gale’s response is the “most automatic, unthinking reflex,” the “hit back” reflex, and that “growing up means resisting it”; Wong writes, “It’s the thinking part – the human part – that says to stop, resist the initial urge, and actually think about what action will make the world better.” Enter:

Team Peeta: Peeta Mellark, like MLK Jr., understands that “returning violence for violence multiples violence.” While he acknowledges that he will likely kill to defend himself in the games (an overt metaphor for war), because he “can’t go down without a fight,” he also shows that he is engaging in the type of thinking Wong promotes: “I keep wishing I could think of a way to … show the Capitol that they don’t own me. That I’m more than a piece in their games.” At the end of the first novel, Peeta, rather than Katniss, inspires the berry scheme (i.e. they will both eat poisonous berries rather than kill each other). Peeta’s commitment to nonviolent resistance is so subtle that most readers, along with President Snow, miss his revolutionary role completely. Yet, when the dual winner rule is revoked, Katniss turns her bow on Peeta. He throws his knife into the lake. Only then, with Katniss’s “face burning in what can only be shame,” does she think of the berries. Remarkably Peeta is only directly credited with a body count of three in the entire games and subsequent revolution: the first is a mercy kill (ending a fatally wounded girl’s misery in Book 1); the second is in defense of another person (Haymitch’s friend, Chaff, in Book 2); and the third is when he’s mentally deranged after being tortured in Book 3. And, no, we’re not even counting Foxface, since that was indirect and completely accidental.

What becomes most interesting is the fact that the other tribute-soldiers notice Peeta’s difference and dedicate themselves to saving him, and rightly so: he, in the end, symbolizes hope for a better way. In Catching Fire, Katniss only decides to trust Finnick when she realizes that he “knows what Haymitch and I know. About Peeta. Being truly, deep-down better than the rest of us.” She explains further: “Finnick took out that tribute from 5 without blinking an eye. And how long did I take to turn deadly? I shot to kill when I targeted Enobaria and Gloss and Brutus. Peeta would have at least attempted negotiations first. Seen if some wider alliance was possible.” Peeta is the baker, the artist, and – like MLK Jr. – the rhetorician. He is the person whose words have the power of an exploding bomb during his second Capitol interview, because he is able (1) to expose “at least for a moment, how horrific the whole thing is” and (2) to convince “even the most Capitol-loving, Games-hungry, bloodthirsty person out there.”

So where does this leave Gale Hawthorne and Chris Kyle? We can identify with their rage, certainly. When Katniss imagines what Gale saw, she “wants everyone in that mountain dead.” But then she replaces the images of burning children with the images of burning citizens and knows that this is horrible too; she says, “You don’t know how those District 2 people ended up in the Nut … They may have been coerced. They may be held against their will. Some are our own spies. Would you kill them too?” When Gale says he would, that he would similarly die for the cause (something that Chris Kyle also articulates in his autobiography), Katniss “know[s] he’s telling the truth.” But she also knows that this choice, admirably made by those willing to self-sacrifice, is “a coldhearted decision to make for other people and those who love them.” And, by the end of the novel, she realizes that despite Gale’s good intentions, his way brings about her sister’s death, the very thing she’s been so desperate to prevent. The series teaches us that we can understand Gale’s motivations; we can recognize his dedication to his family and all that is brave and heroic about him; we can even love him deeply. But we cannot love his way.

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This is why Katniss chooses Peeta. This is why we must choose Peeta as well. We have only to scan the titles of news articles (e.g. “It is now common knowledge that US drones bomb civilian rescuers”) to know that we’re currently Team Gale and running up against the same conclusion. Less than two months ago, the Taliban attacked an army-run school in Pakistan, killing over one hundred children, as retribution for US-led bombings that have killed their children. The cycle continues. In light of recent events, Katniss’s words in Mockingjay  (Book 3) are haunting: “I no longer feel any allegiance to these monsters called human beings, despite being one myself … Because there is something significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences. You can spin in any way you like. Snow thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control. Coin thought the parachutes would expedite the war. But in the end, who does it benefit? No one. The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen.”

Only Peeta’s words in The Hunger Games (Book 1) are encouraging – “I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not” – because he is able to articulate, from the very beginning, what will be the primary concern of the novels. The hope, the dandelion in the spring, is that there are people like Peeta and MLK Jr. (and Gene Sharp, if you’re looking for a contemporary) who see the world with moral clarity and push us to be better, stronger and braver. I don’t know which film will win Best Picture at the end of the month. Both Selma and American Sniper are contenders, and both are about creating a more safe, just society. The difference is that one of those two victories was achieved through nonviolent resistance, and (Oscar win or no) that will always be the better story.

The Night My Toddler Could Have Become a Gun Death Statistic

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I grew up in rural South Carolina on a hundred acres of farmland in a “neighborhood” of two houses: my own and my grandparent’s house next door. And, yes, we had guns. As I child, I would stumble across my father’s rifles and shotguns in his closet upstairs, although I never touched them nor tried to find the bullets, which were stored separately. The idea of them always made me uncomfortable, a deadly presence in the house, even though they were only used to scare off stray dogs from our chickens or to kill a venomous snake. We were not a family of hunters, and, when, as a teenager, I was peer-pressured into handling a firearm (because everyone who was anyone knew how to shoot), I spent an afternoon, after careful instruction from my father, shooting pears from our pear tree and was generally unimpressed.

Fast forward sixteen years later, and my family (husband, seven-year old daughter, and 2-year old son, Jack) dropped by my grandmother’s house unannounced. We were chatting, Jack was toddling around. Then he was reaching for a handgun on the end table next to my grandmother’s chair. Three adults lunged for it immediately, and I still have nightmares about what could happen any time you fumble with a loaded gun in front of a child.

Yes, it was loaded — because “what use is an unloaded gun?” my grandmother said. This was uncharacteristic of her, and we soon learned that she was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, with all the anxiety and paranoia that the disease so often brings with it. Needless to say, we removed the gun from her house (with more than a little prodding) and exchanged it with police grade pepper spray as a nonlethal means of self-defense. “It’s better than a gun,” I told her, “because you don’t need perfect aim to incapacitate an attacker; just spray in his general direction.” Years later, I would read about Seattle Pacific University student, Jon Mais, who used pepper spray to disarm a gunman, and remember this conversation.

I was reminded of that night more recently after reading about Veronica Rutledge’s trip to an Idaho Wal-Mart with her 2-year-old-son. A loaded gun in a purse. A shopping cart with purse, gun, and toddler. A distracted moment. And I realized there was another way that night at my grandmother’s could have played out: not with Jack shooting himself but with Jack shooting one of us and living for the rest of his life with consequences so unfairly thrust upon him — because it’s not fair for a 2-year-old child to die by gun negligence and it’s not fair for a 2-year-old child to live with the knowledge that he shot his mother because of gun negligence.

Veronica’s father-in-law, Terry Rutledge, has expressed anger at those “painting” Veronica, who had taken classes and was licensed to carry, “as irresponsible.” In doing so, he misses a key point: it’s not just “irresponsible” gun owners who are ruining and losing lives to gun violence; the “responsible” gun owners are right there with them. Because here’s the thing: when you walk through life with such a lethal weapon on or near you (Terry Rutledge says his son and daughter-in-law “carried one every day of their lives”) you run the inordinate risk of doing harm not only to yourself but also to others. Human beings are not designed to be on alert the way Rutledge-styled-gun-enthusiasts need to be on alert (i.e. never a distracted moment).

Veronica was not a bad or irresponsible mother (because she had a bad or irresponsible moment) any more so than the countless parents who have lost children to heatstroke, after inadvertently leaving them asleep in a car. Think of all the articles and public awareness campaigns about infant car death featured in 2014. A moment of distraction. A death. But cars are a necessity in a way that guns aren’t. As Veronica’s friend Sheri Sandow explains “She wasn’t carrying a gun because she felt unsafe. She was carrying a gun because she was raised around guns.” Veronica was carrying a gun because it was her hobby. And that’s what makes this so much more disconcerting, along with the knowledge that one person’s hobby can threaten the lives of so many others. Her 2-year-old-son could have killed any number of Walmart shoppers just as easily as he killed his mother.

I get that Veronica loved guns in a way I never have, that she had long-standing happy memories associated with them. But I’m sure she loved her son more. Because any memory that has worth — hunting on a beautifully brisk day with people you love, for example — has worth not because of the gun part but because of the being-with-people-you-love part. No one knows how her son’s accidental killing of a person would have affected Veronica. But I can tell you how my toddler’s close call affected me: it made me question a system in which an elderly woman with dementia can so easily buy and keep a gun, a culture that’s okay with that, and — most of all — the percentage of the population who believes that any introspection on the matter and push for change is an attempt to instate a no-gun-for-anyone policy. (Note: Farmers and ranchers in Australia have guns. Collectors and target shooters and hunters in England have guns. But these countries have many more restrictions and much less gun violence than we do).

As a mother, I want sensible gun reform that, if it does nothing else, will make being a gun owner feel more like a privilege than a right, if only because we are more mindful of things that are earned rather than given. After Veronica’s death, her father-in-law said “Odd as it may sound, we’re gun people.” Yes, Mr. Rutledge, that does sound odd. Maybe we should all redefine what we mean by gun people.

The Worst Memes on Facebook (at the moment, and possibly in the history of the world)

I haven’t written, at least publicly, in months. Work. Kids. And I may have started fostering dogs again — because with all the racism/torture/terrorism in the world right now, sometimes you just have to rescue a dog from a kill shelter.

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With newest foster dog Annie Cresta by my side, I’m tackling the five worst memes I’ve seen on my Facebook Newsfeed lately (which means, yes: they’re being shared by. people. I. know). They’re being shared by women who bring casseroles to new mothers and to widows and to anyone, really, who hints they’d like a casserole. They’re being shared by men who wave in a neighborly way and hum Christmas carols. They’re being shared by women and by men who have children, or at least seem to like children. So, clearly, they must not understand; and, since I can’t see such things and not respond (b/c “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”), here’s my two cents:

5) The “no mother should have to fear for her son’s life” meme. Actually, one of my students came across this on her Facebook Newsfeed and mentioned it during class discussion, but I’m sure that one of my 600+ Facebook friends is featuring it on their page too, because it’s the type of meme they’d love and the type that — yes, I’ll admit it — took me awhile to process before I even got it.

In the photo, a young black man stands with a couple of protestors while holding a sign that reads: “No mother should have to fear for her son’s life every time he robs a store.”

Me: “Of course not — because we don’t shoot people for stealing. If someone steals, they’re arrested for theft — not shot on the street.”

My student had to explain that the young black man was holding a different sign (one that read “No mother should have to fear for her son’s life every time he leaves home”), which was photoshopped to read the other version.

Oh.

So we talked about the ABC bike theft experiment (what happens when a white guy, a black guy, and a “hot” blonde girl steals a bike?) and whether the response to theft is consistent. Hint: it’s not.

And I talked about one of my friends in high school, who was around Michael Brown’s age when he stole gas from a local station (back when you didn’t use debit/credit cards for everything). He was busted, but he was white, and I watched and listened while people laughed about it, called him a rascal, and chalked it up to what seventeen-year-old boys do.

I’m not saying his mother should have worried about him getting shot. What I’m saying is that Michael Brown’s mother shouldn’t have had to worry about her son getting shot either.

*qualification: i’m less interested, here, in engaging with the finer points of this case (like the fact that wilson stopped brown for walking on the road rather than the sidewalk, not stealing cigarillos; or the fact that wilson said he was threatened) than I am in exposing some people’s disturbing tendency not only to appoint themselves judge-jury-and-executioner when a young black man is involved but also to flaunt, through photoshop and Facebook, that mindset.*

4) The “don’t like cops? the next time you’re in trouble, call a crackhead” meme. Two things:

First: As Jon Stewart points out, “You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards.”

Being critical — of the fact that neither the Brown nor the Garner case was deemed trial-worthy, when over 90% of cases that go before a grand jury end in indictment — is not the same thing as not liking cops. Pointing out that it’s a potential conflict of interest to ask local prosecutors (who work with police) to present evidence against the person who may be their Secret Santa is not the same thing as not liking cops.

Second: It’s annoying when people stereotype isn’t it? — whether they assume that you’re a bad guy b/c you have dark skin, or you’re a bad guy b/c you’re a cop. Okay. So, don’t assume “crackheads” (dehumanizing much?) — or, people who may be struggling with a drug addiction — aren’t capable of helping and doing good. Geez.

3) The “quick! which one is bb? Too late. You’re already dead 15x over” meme. This meme features a cop holding a real gun and a not-real gun, and they’re virtually indistinguishable.

YES. Cops have a dangerous job, are afraid, and are right to be afraid — not of people of color but of being shot. In 2012, 30 cops were killed in the line of duty.

We have a gun problem and need sensible gun control reform; as Matthew Yglesias writes, “This is true if you think Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson should have been found guilty of a crime. But in many ways it’s even more true if you think he’s innocent of any wrongdoing. A system in which legal police shootings of unarmed civilians are a common occurrence is a system that has some serious flaws.”

The rub? The person who posted ^this^ meme is against gun control. She was posting it, no doubt, to defend the cop who shot 12-year-old Tamir Ricenot to point out the fact that maybe (just *maybe*) the NRA shouldn’t be blocking legislation like California’s Senate Bill 798 — legislation that would require not-real guns (air gun, airsoft and BB) to be distinguishable (as in brightly colored) from real guns.

409 people were killed by cops in 2012, some of them children. And that’s a problem for everyone: the dead people; the families of the dead people; and the cops, some of whom have to live with mistakingly killing unarmed kids.

Think that’s just what happens? Number of shots fired by police in Britain last year? 3. Number of fatalities? 0.

2) The “breathe easy. don’t break the law” meme. This little slogan is actually a t-shirt, designed by police officer Jason Barthel.

So . . . people can breathe easy, as long as they don’t break any laws . . . but, if they DO break a law (like selling untaxed cigarettes), they may be choked to death by police, and we should be okay with that.

If you do not understand why ^this^ is problematic, please reread #5 and/or go looking for your absentee conscience.

1) The 9-11 torture meme. Whether the meme quotes Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney, the argument is the same: torture isn’t defined by what we do to other people (e.g. beating, rectally infusing food, shackling, water boarding, etc.) but what other people did to us on 9-11. Never mind that at least twenty-six of the people we tortured in retribution were totally innocent. Never mind that every.single.person who is giving.the.thumbs.up TO TORTURE on Facebook (at least in my circle of friends) claims to follow the teachings of a man who consistently challenged the myth of redemptive violence; as activist Shane Claiborne explains:

“[Jesus] abhors both passivity and violence and teaches us a new way forward that is neither submission nor assault, neither fight nor flight. He shows us a way to oppose evil without mirroring it, where oppressors can be resisted without being emulated and neutralized without being destroyed.”

Another person who shows us a way that oppressors can be resisted without being emulated and neutralized without being destroyed? FBI Special Agent Ali H. Soufan, or the guy who “elicited some of the most important confessions from terrorists in the war against al-Qaeda—without laying so much as a hand on them.”

To anyone giving a thumbs up to torture? You should read Soufan’s Black Banners — oh! and Jesus’s teachings too.

So ^those^ are the top (or bottom?) worst memes on Facebook at the moment. And I’ve had a couple of reactions to seeing them. My first knee-jerk reaction is to emulate my friend Mike, who wrote this oh-so-fabulous Facebook status update:

“Rather than respond to all of the disgusting comments I’m reading about the people in Ferguson, I’m just gonna do some spring cleaning on my friends list. If you’ve used the words ‘savages’ or ‘animals’ to describe the protestors/rioters/looters (whatever you want to call them), you’ve been removed. I’ll just continue to THINK racism still exists, rather than have you morons prove it to me on a daily basis. Good luck out there…..you’ll need it.”

But I’m going with the hope that those who have posted any (or all / shudder) of the five memes are confused, probably because they haven’t realized that the “thoughtful” commentary they’re hearing about these current, heartbreaking issues isn’t thoughtful commentary at all but propaganda. One way to tell the difference between a thoughtful commentator and a propagandist = their ability (or lack thereof) to empathize and identify with the “other” side.

Think Jon Stewart only goes after Christians for their silly war on Christmas? Watch him call down Freedom from Religion this past week for being just as petty.

Think Daily Beast, as a liberal news Web site, only glorifies protesters and vilifies cops? Read Michael Daly slam certain NYC protestors on Saturday for insulting Detective Larry DePrimo and Officer Conor McDonald, two men who he calls “civic treasures.”

Watch John freaking McCain address the CIA torture report with Jon Stewart applauding him.

And then, for Christ’s sake (which is not blasphemous — b/c I mean, literally, for the sake of Jesus and his Golden Rule), look at all.the.people who share this planet with you, give them the benefit of the doubt (i.e. actually listen to what they have to say), and then reevaluate your position (which, I promise, will not kill you).

Or, at the very least, stop being such a shitty person on Facebook.

Talking Racism and Reconciling History

My fingers have been been itching to write one of my vent-posts since Mike Brown’s tragic shooting on August 9th in Ferguson, MO. August is a difficult month for writing, between an annual summer trip (to, of all places, MO), two family birthdays, and the always hectic start of the school term.

So, I’ve shared things, rather than write them; I’ve had conversations; and I’ve been especially grateful for friends who have picked up the figurative pen (kudus, especially, to friend Elizabeth Broadbent, whose amazing blog post went viral).

As is often the case in such tragedies, those of us who feel sick to our stomach at the thought of losing yet another young black man are sickened further by the response of those who say:

“Look at that photo — Mike Brown, looking all innocent and young. I want to see a more recent photo, of the huge, scary man he was.” < yep, that’s an actual quote

or

“They’re not talking about the fact that he’s a thief!” < and another actual quote

or

“Poor Officer Wilson. They’re really wanting to crucify him.” < and another actual quote

or

“Have you seen Mike Ojo’s ice bucket challenge? He’s black and he tells other black people that they should pull up their pants and stop looking like criminals, if they don’t want to get shot on the street. If you ask me, Mike Ojo is a smart young man.” < apparently, this ice bucket challenge has 30,000 Facebook shares.

The retorts to such statements roll easily enough off the tongue. You’re not allowed to shoot a person, because you think he looks “huge” and “scary.” You’re not allowed to shoot a person, even if he stole something. (I remember watching Disney’s Aladdin as a kid and shrinking back in horror at Princess Jasmine’s near loss of her hand as punishment for theft. I was grateful that we don’t have punishments like that here, not realizing at the time that young black men sometimes get much, much worse).

We should be able to trust our officers, trained professionals, to keep their temper and fear in check and to neither instigate nor escalate fights with the civilians they’ve sworn to protect (e.g. an officer may get angry at the teenager who punches him in the face, but that officer should not retaliate by putting a bullet through the teenager’s head). And, rather than dubbing a young black man “smart” for urging other young black men to dress differently in order to be perceived differently, we should rail against the fact that people of color have to live by a set of rules [that includes the bagginess (or lack thereof) of one’s pants] in order to freaking survive. This, of course, is reminiscent of the equally wrong “don’t wear a miniskirt if you don’t want to get raped” argument — another classic example of blaming the victim.

As sickening as these racist comments are, I expected them, especially since so many of them are parroted back and forth between Fox News pundits. What I didn’t expect were the comments I received both publicly and privately on Facebook, after posting an article about a brilliant video, entitled “See The Stripes [Clemson University]: A Poem by A.D. Carson,” recently nominated for the University of South Carolina Museum of Education’s Charles and Margaret Witten Award for Distinguished Documentary Film in Education.

A.D. Carson’s poem, and the accompanying video, convey both his (overall positive) experience as a young black student at Clemson University and also his fervent wish that Clemson University will one day own its complete history (i.e. the ‘university grounds as plantation, peopled by slaves’ part of its history). Carson argues that we’re better and stronger by acknowledging “the stripes” — the good and the bad. Most, if not all, institutions only highlight the good moments, and it would be nice if that wasn’t the commonplace or the expectation. Imagine if, instead, institutions of higher learning were encouraged to educate current and prospective students more responsibly, to model thoughtful discussion of difficult topics, to discuss how to create better futures by learning from past mistakes.

Facebook friends, both conservative and liberal, denigrated Carson’s argument, insisting that he should be celebrating his university rather than airing particularly old and dirty laundry. At first, I thought they misunderstood. I always forget that Clemson (of which they’re alums) and USC (of which I’m an alum) are “rivals.” I’ve been at USC for over a decade and have never been to a football game. I drive an orange car (Clemson color) with a paw print (that’s meant to be a dog’s but could just as easily be the Clemson tiger’s). I half-heartedly stuck a USC sticker on the car when my students complained, but — really — I affiliate myself with institutions of higher learning, because I value education, regardless of the color (orange or garnet) through which it’s filtered.

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^ that’s my “solid orange” car in the background ^

My friend and colleague, Graham Stowe, thought they misunderstood too, and hastened to explain: “This isn’t a case of ‘USC people’ bashing Clemson . . . Both schools have a tendency to whitewash (pun intended) the more despicable parts of our history. Why can’t both schools become leaders on this? There are smallish projects on this happening, but why not make these things center pieces of our stories? Can’t reconciliation with our own history be part of healing and good for these important public institutions?”

Yes.

Because here’s the thing:

Racism.

It’s a problem, and it’s at least partly a problem, because we ignore talking about things that embarrass us. Example: I was watching the John Adams series, and I was shocked by the image (in Episode 6) of the White House being built by underfed slaves. And then I felt like an idiot. OF COURSE it was built by underfed slaves. But that’s not anything I ever heard on the tour when I visited DC as a child, and that did a disservice not only to me (by limiting my understanding) but also to all those earlier lives — lives that *mattered* and that should be remembered and honored.

The White House is beautiful, as is the Horseshoe at USC, as are the buildings that make up Clemson university. But we neither talk about the African-American artisans who contributed to their beauty nor the fact that they were able to do so under unimaginably trying circumstances.

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^ a happy, recent DC duck tour, in which I did not hear about slaves building the White House ^

I can’t help but think that this omission, this erasure of others’ humanity, has a chilling effect. You see it in “blackface” parties, like the one Clemson alum, Coby DuBose describes; or in the fact that within walking distance of USC’s campus, the confederate flag still flies in front of the South Carolina State House.

Making slave narratives a centerpiece of our university stories may not put an immediate end to “blackface” parties, and the confederate flag may still fly for awhile, but as more and more incoming students hear the voices of previously silenced people of color, and understand how devoted we are to hearing and appreciating those voices, I suspect that they’ll be less likely to ignore and/or ridicule. Enough of Gilderoy Lockhart, university edition. Let’s be honest, transparent, and thoughtful about our histories, please.

This and this = a good start.

Why the Hobby Lobby Case is NOT a “Pro-life” Victory — despite what Conservative Christians Might Claim

Since the Supreme Court struck a decisive blow against women’s reproductive rights last Monday — by granting Hobby Lobby exemption from providing emergency contraception (Plan B and Ella) and IUDs (both the hormonal and copper variety) as part of employee healthcare coverage, my Facebook Newsfeed has been awash with conservative Christians celebrating a “pro-life” victory.

When a friend and I bemoaned the ruling, one of these conservative Christians responded: “So you’re in favor of abortion?” — to which I replied, “The National Center for Health Statistics published a study that showed contraceptive use (including emergency contraception and IUDs) decreased by a third the number of abortions in two decades; so, actually, those on the side of Hobby Lobby seem to be the ones ‘in favor of abortion.'”

Not to say that I don’t believe that women should have access to legal and safe abortion. I do.

Even most conservatives admit that in some cases — incest, rape, and when the mother’s life is in danger — they do too. In those instances, most want access to a safe, legal abortion, and one without judgment, for their sisters, wives, and daughters.

What they don’t realize: the rhetoric they use when discussing abortion, rife with judgment, makes even those instances for which they’d make exceptions less likely to end well for the mother involved.

Mikki Kendall writes eloquently about her harrowing ordeal, when she experienced a placental abruption at 20 weeks and was denied a life-saving abortion by the attending doctor; thankfully a concerned nurse called in another doctor willing to perform the surgery:

“I don’t know if [the attending doctor’s] objections were religious or not; all I know is that when a bleeding woman was brought to him for treatment he refused to do the only thing that could stop the bleeding. Because he didn’t do abortions. Ever.

My two kids at home almost lost their mother because someone decided that my life was worth less than that of a fetus that was going to die anyway. My husband had told them exactly what my regular doctor said, and the ER doctor had already warned us what would have to happen. Yet none of this mattered when confronted by the idea that no one needs an abortion. You shouldn’t need to know the details of why a woman aborts to trust her to make the best decision for herself. I don’t regret my abortion, but I would also never use my situation to suggest that the only time another woman should have the procedure is when her life is at stake. After my family found out I’d had an abortion, I got a phone call from a cousin who felt the need to tell me I was wrong to have interfered with God’s plan. And in that moment I understood exactly what kind of people judge a woman’s reproductive choices.”

What kind of people judge a woman’s reproductive choices? The kind that value potential life over living women.

If the goal is — as it should be — to make abortions safe, legal, and rare (b/c let’s just be honest and admit that no one gets excited about having a surgical procedure, please), contraception is key. Again: contraceptive use decreased by a third the number of abortions in two decades.

So, let’s talk contraception. Every major medical institution disagrees with the claim that contraception — even emergency contraception — causes an abortion. Jill Filipovic, a feminist writer recently hired by Cosmopolitan to tackle more serious issues in the women’s magazine, explains:

“The medical definition of pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants into the uterus (more than half of all fertilized eggs naturally flush out the body, never resulting in pregnancy). Once an egg implants, Plan B and Ella cannot dislodge it or end a pregnancy.

This gets into some sticky territory, because the position taken by Hobby Lobby and many people who oppose emergency contraception is that life begins at fertilization, not implantation, and Plan B and Ella may interfere with implantation of a fertilized egg. Even if we accept that definition of pregnancy and abortion . . . there is no evidence that emergency contraception prevents implantation of a fertilized egg. Instead, it primarily works the way standard birth control does: By inhibiting ovulation and thickening cervical mucus so sperm can’t pass through. Fifth-grade sex ed was a long time ago, so a quick refresher: Pregnancy doesn’t happen immediately after ejaculation. It takes some time for the sperm to swim up into the fallopian tubes, and an egg has to be released to meet the sperm. Sperm can live in the female body for up to five days, and an unfertilized egg can sit in the tube for several days as well. That’s why emergency contraception works even a day or two after sex. Even after the sperm have been released, it can make it harder for them to get past the cervix, and then it can prevent an egg from being available for fertilization . . .

As for IUDs, the copper ones work essentially by killing off sperm before they reach the egg, and according to the latest, most reliable research, neither copper nor other IUDs affect implantation of a fertilized egg. Now, copper IUDs can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting if they’re inserted up to five days after unprotected sex, but the number of women who actually use IUD insertion as a form of emergency contraception is slim to none, given that the cost of the device and insertion can reach $1,000 and requires a doctor’s visit (which is exactly why it’s so important that IUDs be covered by insurance).”

There are those (I’m looking at you, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar) who refuse to use any contraceptive pill for fear that an egg will be fertilized and then unable to implant — although there is no way of knowing if and when that happens. Still, it’s their right to refuse birth control. The problem is when they, or other conservative Christians who believe as they do, try to limit the rights of other women to make their own reproductive choices.

The other problem? Hypocrisy. 

afternoon-visitSo often the people who fight so hard to limit women’s reproductive choices do not, themselves, offer to raise any of the unwanted or uncared for children in the world (there were 140+ children in my daughter’s Kazakhstan orphanage alone, and there’s an estimated 150,000,000+ orphans worldwide).

Most in my hometown community (proudly conservative and Christian!) reacted to our decision to adopt in one of the following three ways:

(1) my mother tells a family member, “Scott and Nicole are adopting!” and the family member replies with a gasp and “What? They can’t have their own!” (2) my grandmother tells her friend, “Scott and Nicole are adopting!” and the friend replies with a gasp and “What does her mother think?” (3) my mother tells her friend, “Scott and Nicole are adopting from overseas!” and the friend replies, “What if the baby has AIDS?”

I got a response similar to the AIDS one (but with FAS as the disease/syndrome of choice). Mom and I responded to both comments by reminding our respective naysayers that I would, in fact, become a parent with more info than most (e.g. a full medical workup and report) – to which my mother’s friend replied, “Well be careful – because they will lie to you over there.”

My mother’s friend, so critical of those people “over there,” probably couldn’t have picked out Kazakhstan on a map. At this point, though, Mom was more seasoned to such responses and said, sarcastically: “Well, then . . . if the baby has AIDS, I guess we’ll just put him on a boat and send him back.”

What do you do if  . . .? Why wasn’t the answer obvious? — especially to so-called “pro-lifers.”

And more hypocrisy. So often the people who fight so hard to limit women’s reproductive choices — especially LOW INCOME women’s reproductive choices — get royally pissed off when these same low income women have children who need to be supported through the welfare system. If they believe, as Michelle Duggar does, that “saying there are too many children is like saying there are too many flowers,” they should jump at the chance to help any woman willing and able to bring a child/flower into the world with the caring of it afterwards.

To believe otherwise is pro-birth but not pro-life.

The final problem? A misunderstanding of both science and Christianity. 

What’s most alarming about the Hobby Lobby ruling is that it privileges religious belief over science in a way that affects the medical well-being of others. And it’s dishonest, because — even playing by their own rules (i.e. “The Bible says!”) — conservative Christians lose, because for every Psalms 139 and Jeremiah 1 (the “knitting in the womb” type passages) there is a Genesis 2 (in which man becomes “a living being” with first breath), an Exodus 21 (in which the fetus is not equal to the life of a woman), and Leviticus 27 (in which God tells Moses only to count as people those one month old and older).

Again, and again, and again — in issues of marriage equality as well as in issues of women’s reproductive rights, and more — we’re reminded of the fact that the Bible is contradictory, and rightly so: it’s a reflection of humanity’s search for and understanding of God, and reading it requires that we make interpretive choices about both God and morality. And those choices are our own, not to be imposed on others.

It’s time for a more grown up, sophisticated understanding of faith. Those who are still trying to hold on to Biblical literalism are no doubt thinking, “Mark 10! Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

So, we shall practice making interpretive choices. Maybe Jesus isn’t talking about heaven/the afterlife — because, you know, he was interested in establishing a kingdom of God not in heaven but on earth (a la the Lord’s Prayer). Maybe he’s suggesting that the way to make earth a more just, heavenly place is to accept those around you as they are, without judgment or prejudice — to have faith that most people are genuinely good and trying to do the best they can.

Or I suppose you can take “the faith like a child” thing more literally (i.e. that you should be like a child and think about complex issues simply). But, if you decide to keep a theological outlook that’s so stunted, at least do the rest of us a favor and remember that children are neither interested in nor capable of deciding political issues.

 

Things Responsible Gun Owners Understand: A Top 5 List

Since my last blog post, I’ve engaged in a number of conversations, both public and private, about America’s epidemic of gun violence. And those conversations were so encouraging that I’ve decided to write a top-five list of things responsible gun owners seem to understand.

(5) If every gun owner in America is in a theoretical gun club, responsible gun owners realize it’s a club that should be more, not less, exclusive. They always take an extra few sentences in conversation to say how they store their guns (e.g. separately from the bullets, in a safe, etc.), and they don’t balk at the idea of having to take safety classes — because they’ve likely already elected to do so if they weren’t required.

They’re deeply offended by the idea that so many people abuse the right or privilege to bear arms and believe (correctly, no doubt) that if the club were more exclusive, gun owners would be more respected if only for the fact that being a gun owner would be earned — a badge, if you will, of accomplishment.

(4) Responsible gun owners don’t fear: background checks or reference checks or waiting periods or registration or physical/mental exams or smart gun technology or the government.

They say, “bring it.”

They can pass a background check, because they don’t have a criminal record; they invite a reference check, because they have more family members and friends to vouch for them than they could ever possibly need; they don’t mind a waiting period, because they don’t need a gun to settle last night’s dispute; they’ll register their gun, because they *want* to be on record as the owner who uses it responsibly (alternately, they want the authorities to be able to find it if it’s stolen); they can pass a physical and mental exam, because they’re physically and mentally capable of handling a dangerous weapon; they don’t fear smart gun technology, because they support advances designed to prevent children pulling triggers; they don’t fear the government, because they understand that they are the government.

They welcome the opportunity to make buying guns at least as difficult as having a pet (many cities require you to register dogs) or driving a car (think: testing, licensing, registering, servicing, renewing).

They know that other countries (England, Australia, etc.) have many more restrictions and much less gun violence than we do, and yet: responsible gun owners still have guns. Farmers and ranchers in Australia have guns. Collectors and target shooters and hunters in England have guns.

Responsible gun owners in America know that this will be the situation here too, that — if it’s not — the very gun control advocates they’ve stood beside will stand beside them, vouch for them, and fight for their rights.

(3) Responsible gun owners don’t need to own weapons of war: military style assault rifles and high capacity magazines. They are willing to sacrifice personal ownership of these types of guns for public safety. They know that they can enjoy these particular weapons in a more secure environment, like gun/shooting clubs.

They know that seconds matter, because they remember that Christina Taylor Green (the one child fatality in Tucson) was killed by the 13th bullet; that Jared Lee Loughner’s spree ended when he paused to reload another 33 round magazine; that if Loughner had paused after a 10 (rather than 33) round magazine, Christina would probably still be here.

(2) Responsible gun owners know that the NRA is no longer an organization that they should support, that it’s rotten to the core. They’ve withdrawn their membership, if they were ever members in the first place. They may have been members at one time, when this Wayne La Pierre was spokesperson:

But they cannot, in good conscience, be a member when this Wayne La Pierre is spokesperson:

They recognize the lie: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” — because they know that 61-year-old Patricia Maisch stopped Jared Lee Loughner by wrestling away his ammunition magazine and that Jon Meis stopped the Seattle shooter with pepper spray.

Responsible gun owners don’t have guns to stop bad guys. They have guns for hunting, for recreation, and yes — for self-defense and home protection, but not for gun battles.

If someone sends them a link to the NRA online membership page, they have only to see: “[any and all regulation] ends with an outright ban on your guns!!!!” to know that the organization as a whole is as credible as the forward that claims Obama wasn’t born in the United States or  _____ (fill in the blank: the Holocaust, 9/11, Sandy Hook) didn’t really happen!!!! Yes — those forwards probably have four exclamation marks too.

(1) Responsible gun owners know an America that markets bulletproof backpacks is not one  in which we want to live.

We don’t want our children just to survive a gun battle. That’s not good enough. We don’t want them to be in a gun battle in the first place.

Many (maybe even most?) responsible gun owners have children. And they’re profoundly effected and troubled by this fact: when Bianca de Kock was shot five times by Elliot Rodgers — when she was on the ground, bleeding, by her two dead sorority sisters — she was so sure she was going to die that she didn’t call 911. She called her mother.

Responsible gun owners imagine that they’re the parent on the other end of the line, wanting but unable to call 911 (because: how can you interrupt your possibly-dying child? You can’t. You hang on to every word of goodbye, every word of love).

And when the nightmare ends, responsible gun owners say: not one more.

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