Gun Nuts Need to Learn Interpretation Skills 

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I’ve heard it said that of all the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment is the one that gives no qualifiers. It’s like they wrote it down, intending to come back to it, but didn’t want the trouble. 

Hey Tom, this Amendment is only a sentence, do you think we should expand on it? Maybe tell people what we actually mean here? It might confuse people, no?” 

“Pfft. I think it’s pretty self explanatory, Georgie. Whatta you think, Jim” 

“I’m with you, Tom. Just don’t give Alex one, I don’t think he knows how to use it. He’ll just end up getting shot.”

Thus the groundwork for the Great Debate was laid. 

I am not an expert in constitutional law, nor do I espouse to be. My education is in theology. But considering that the last expert in constitutional law who spoke about the second amendment was considered a sleeper cell terrorist, who wanted to take away everyone’s guns, I don’t think expertise matters much these days anyway🙄. Regardless, where my education helps me in this, is that I was trained in the basic skills of interpretation. Albeit, biblical interpretation, but interpretation nonetheless. Even if you consider the Bible a bunch of myths and fairytales, reading of any kind requires a basic set of skills that allow you to take the words on the page, and understand them within the context for which they were intended.

For instance, when I say that I love a good steak with a twice baked potato, I do not mean that I love them the same way that I love my wife.  Though I use the same word (love), I do not mean it the same way. I do not have romantic feelings, and all that comes along  with them, for a steak. That would be weird. 

To use another example, whenever I say I like a Wendy’s #2, I mean the #2 Combo from the fast food restaurant, not another type of number two from a gal named Wendy … 💩. That would be REALLY weird. 

And thus I say, gun nuts need to learn some interpretation skills. And just for clarity, by gun nuts, I do not mean responsible gun owners. Those are two very different groups of people. (Though I did use it as a title for this blog just to grab your attention 😇.) Most responsible gun owners that I know actually favor enforcing sensible gun safety laws. 1) Background checks. 2) Mental health checks. 3) Banning known criminals and people with terrorist ties. Even they will say that certain people should never own or operate a gun. Ever. And, they will say that if you are going to own one, you better know how to use it safely. You are not in an action movie. You are not Bruce Willis in Die Hard. You are a human being with an instrument of death in your hands. You can kill someone with it. And yes, even “righteous kills” will eat your conscience alive. 

Here’s where I think interpreting the second amendment breaks down: everyone focuses on the final clause–“…the right of the people, to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”–and neglects the first two–“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…” Just to use the words of the amendment itself, the point of keeping and bearing arms was to be able to assemble a well trained militia, to secure the free state. In other words, The Founders (as far as I can tell) were not intending for people just to stockpile guns for fun. If you know anything about British history, you know they had a habit of quelling rebellions against the Crown, and then outlawing the possession of arms of any kind. (The Disarmament Act in the wake of the Jacobite Rising of 1745 in Scotland is an example–no guns, no swords, no dirks.) In the wake of the American Revolution, The Founders wanted to make it so that if democracy failed, and our government became a bunch of tyrants again, that the people could realistically rise up against the government, and overthrow it. 

I don’t think it unreasonable to say that both our government and our understanding of the second amendment have drastically changed since then. But annoyingly, the counterpoints never do. Good guy with gun stops bad guy with gun. Criminals will get guns anyway. Bad people will do bad things even without guns. Why do you want to punish responsible gun owners for the sins of those who aren’t? And a monotony of other silly arguments, and caution against boogeymen and spooks and things that go bump in the night. (The guy stealing your stereo may actually just want to hawk it for food to feed his family.)

I, for one, am not trying to take away people’s guns. I personally would rather they all be destroyed. But if you can own and operate one responsibily, or you want to hunt for your food, please do. But please stop treating people whose concern is public safety like a bunch of brainless morons who don’t know what the constitution says. You yourself may be misinterpreting it, and adding meaning to it that was never there. And I doubt you would be favorable of such treatment toward yourself. At the end of the day, shouldn’t the golden rule be more important than the second amendment? Shouldn’t we be more keen to love our neighbor, than we are to shoot them out of suspicion? (That may be a stretch, and I apologize if it is. But I have seen way too many people–gun nuts–jump on soapboxes for scenarios that will never happen.) Emotional arguments and overreactions make for poor policy. 

So I was asked in a thread once, what would I propose for solutions. Because it’s one thing to simply vent our ideologies, or throw out “we just need…” blanket statements. This really only accomplishes us stubbornly cementing our position, good, bad, or ugly. But when we can come to the table with viable option(PLURAL), we might be able to meet in the middle here, and accomplish reasonable changes to our gun policies. 

So here are my suggestions. 

1) A well regulated militia will never be able to stand against a government that can huddle in a bunker, and send a drone to erase that militia with the press of a button, and then spin a story about that militia. Yes, that would have to mean that the soldiers in charge of pressing the button would desire the same outcome, but throughout history, loyalty tends to outweigh morality. It’s called the mob mentality. People who would usually be the most law abiding citizens on their own, start setting cars on fire, and destroying store fronts during riots because “everyone else was doing it.” So the amendment may not even practically function for its intended use. 

2) Enforce the laws that we have in place. Off the top of my head, I cannot remember the numbers, but a majority of gun owners do support background checks, and banning sales to people on terrorist watch lists, and/or with mental illness. But as we saw with the Texas shooting, those laws only work when we actually apply them. (For once, I mildly agree with Paul Ryan. I’m shocked too!!!

4) Make gun laws universal, across all states. The common illustration is Chicago. It’s said that Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws in the country; however, the surrounding areas are pretty lax. So unless there’s a comprehensive stop and search procedure for all people entering Chicago, people can just buy guns elsewhere, and bring them in. That becomes much more difficult if everyone had the same laws. 

5) The NRA needs to be shut down in some way, because it is clear that they are no longer functioning as they originally did, and they are turning a continually growing national crisis into a partisan issue. Preventing death is about as non-partisan as it gets. But so long as they remain a billion dollar propaganda machine, who can literally buy our politicians, we won’t see change. (Show me a politician who actually cares about their constituents, and I’ll show you a very poor, one-term politician.)

6) Repeal the Dickey Amendment, which would allow for funds to be allocated to the CDC for research into gun violence, and that research be used to form legislation. 

7) Change the narrative about terrorism. Right now, the common misperception is that terrorists are Muslims from countries out there, when the most common people group to commit mass shootings (defined by the FBI as a shooting that involves 4 or more people) is white Christian males who have been born and raised in the US. We realistically are the greatest threat to ourselves. But when we consider the threat to be “out there,” it’s very easy not to change. 

What do you think? 

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Don’t Just Read, Interpret! 

“Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up, he was hungry. The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave the first test: ‘Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: ‘It takes more than bread to really live.’ For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, ‘They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole world.’ Jesus refused, again backing his refusal with Deuteronomy: ‘Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.’ For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, ‘If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that “he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t do much as stub your toe on a stone”?’ ‘Yes,’ said Jesus, ‘and it’s also written, “Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.”‘ That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.”                                           Luke 4:1-13 (The Message)

Familiarity is often one of the greatest enemies to faith. It has a habit of lulling folks into a spiritual innocuation that all but dismantles any need for faith, in the name of “I know that!” Like those folks who can ace a test, but have no actual grasp of the course content, faith-based familiarity can leave one with a tragically false sense of intimacy with the Divine.  I myself have been a Christian since 1999, and have a B.A. in Christian Studies, and an M.Div with a concentration in Apologetics, so that familiarity sticks to me like tar and feathers. And it’s usually not until life happens that I (once again) come to the realization that I lack the convictions of my courage. 

The wilderness temptation of Jesus is one of those things that suffers from that familiarity. The passage was one of the readings in my morning prayers recently. I almost didn’t even read it because I already knew what happened. “Yeah, yeah. Satan tempts Jesus. Jesus resists. Got it!”

You know that scene in Home Alone where Kevin just keeps walking around the house, “I made my family disappear,” and then he stops: “I made my family disappear!”?  I had that moment with this passage. “Satan tempted Jesus using Scripture…Satan tempted Jesus using Scripture!!!” 

This made me think: If Satan tempted Jesus himself with Scripture, why do we not think of this when listening to preachers, teachers, and politicians? It’s like certain Christians don’t even want to try to engage the Scriptures prayerfully. All that matters is that one merely quote the Bible. 

Jesus shows here that merely quoting the Bible does not mean that what is being proposed is godly. (Oddly enough, I had always been warned that “even Satan knows the Bible! So be on your guard!” But those same folks seem to fall for anything when it has been sprinkled with Christianisms.) Notice that Satan quoted Scripture, but Jesus interpreted it. Satan wanted Jesus to focus on a line or two taken out of context, like a bumper sticker. Jesus brought attention to other parts of Scripture that needed to be taken into account. And this begs the question, If Jesus interprets Scripture, shouldn’t we?

Now, I know that hearing that word brings much fear and trepidation to some. “You mean I have to become master of interpretation??? That’s hard!” But if I may counter that, we are masters of interpretation for matters far less important. We learn not to take things at face value for the silliest things. “That speed limit sign says 65, but I’m allowed to go up to four miles over.” “My friend said ________, but what they meant was _______.” “That’s his game face. He’s actually quite humble off the field.” We learn to interpret other things, why not the Scriptures? Why do we turn our interpretive skills off when it comes to someone quoting the Bible? Is it because we think it means more than it does? 

Jesus himself, in a dialogue with a lawyer (an expert in the Mosaic Law), asked, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you read it?” In other words, based on all you know of Scripture, how do you make sense of this part here? 

A good way to think about it is to consider book series. Think of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Outlander, or Game of Thrones. You can read any one book in those series, and follow along well enough. But unless you read the previous books, or the books that follow, you will be left in the dark. If you stopped reading Harry Potter at Half Blood Prince, for example, Snape is the worst kind of traitor. But if you read on, you know that he is a great hero. 

Certain literary characters are complicated, and are developed over time. And unless you consider the fully developed character, you will not see them as they are. The same is true with Scripture. 

Jesus showed Satan (and us) that merely quoting a passage did not make the temptation godly. In a world of competing ideologies, and swirling notions of what it means to be biblical, we need to do the same. 

Embracing Our Enemies

“You’re blessed when you show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”             Matthew 5:9 (The Message)

“As the morning casts off the darkness, Lord, help us to cast aside any feelings of ill will we might harbor against those who have hurt us. Soften our hearts to work toward their conversion and ours. Amen.”                                             (Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)

Making Peace is Frickin Hard!

Peacemaking is not the easiest of tasks. It involves taking two sides (maybe more) who are estranged, and making it so reconciliation can take place. It is not, as Miroslov Volf points out in his book Exclusion and Embrace, merely moving the oppressed out from under their oppressor, and exacting justice on those oppressors. This, he warns, very often leads to the oppressed becoming oppressors themselves, which means that oppression has been allowed to continue, just in a different name. Such “peacemaking” is better understood as retaliation. “They did it to us, so we will do it to them.” This is also called warfare.

Volf, being Croatian, does not write about reconciliation and peacemaking from inside a bubble, as I would. I can point to history books, and documentaries, all while living comfortably in my little rural town in North Carolina. Volf saw his country torn apart by civil war. He saw two sides gather in the name of God, and pillage, rape, and kill each other with genocidal viger. The things I saw on tv as a teenager, happened in his backyard, so to speak. So whenever he speaks about reconciling enemies, he doesn’t mean two sides that just don’t get along,  he means enemies.

Enemies Are Relative

Of course, if we’re talking about peacemaking and embracing our enemies, it’s helpful to know who our enemies are. I’d also venture that it’s helpful to know if they are an actual enemy, or nothing more than a perceived enemy. For instance, in my younger, more brash days, any Christian who didn’t share my specific beliefs — within an undefined perameter, mind you — I considered a heretic! (Sorry, Rob Bell.) To borrow from On Distant Shores by Five Iron Frenzy, “And off of the blocks, I was headstrong and proud. At the front of the line of the card carrying high brows. With both eyes fastened tight, yet unscarred from the fight. Running at full tilt, my sword pulled from its hilt…Casting first stones, killing my own.”

But  if experience is any kind of teacher, I’ve come to find that “enemy” is a relative term. (Once again, if that enemy is an actual enemy.) We don’t get to choose our enemies. Nor do we know if and when we’ve met one. But they are relative nonetheless. For some, an enemy is someone who simply makes life a little more challenging. These enemies don’t pose a threat to anyone; however, they are just harder to love than most. And frustratingly, folks who have these types of enemies, are the ones who just love to quote Jesus at people. “Well Brother, I hate that that’s happening, but Jesus said to love and pray for our enemies.” (Yeah, easy for you, buddy. The only thing you’re dealing with is hiding your frustration. Meanwhile, I was just abused by my pastor.) I remember posting a status about this once, and a missionary buddy of mine commented, “Yeah, while some people are dealing with bruised egos, I walk passed corrupt local police who are dressed like soldiers, complete with automatic weapons. Loving them is not simple.”

Thankfully, there are people throughout history who have endured far more than said bruised egos. Volf, as I mentioned above, if not personally, saw it in his countrymen. Likewise, there is Corrie ten Boom, who was a Holocaust survivor. She once said, “Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.” And lest it be said that that was easy for her to say post concentration camp, she once told a story of meeting one of the officers responsible for her daily nightmares, years later, and with much internal struggle, still managed to forgive.

Why Say All This?

What’s the point? Well isn’t it obvious?!? Particularly in the United States, we are living in a time of absolute lunacy. Forgiveness is a foreign language, and at this point, may even be banned as a threat to the country! But forgive we must! Especially if you claim the Name of the Divine Interupter, who forgave and gave his life for the very people who unjustly arrested and murdered him. On a Roman cross no less!

We are living in a time when all one has to do is say one criticism of their opponent, and that opponent flies off the comment section handle, and projects every form of vitriol they can conjur. Conservatives are more guilty of this than liberals these days; but liberals, you’re guilty all the same.

The Big Idea of Forgiveness

Whether we are conservative or liberal, climate deniers or protectors, Christian or Muslim, we are all human. We are interdependent of one another. Conservatives don’t have all the answers. Liberals don’t have all the answers. Christians (being one myself I can say with utmost certainty) don’t have all the answers. And Muslims are tired of being blamed for every little bump in the night.

Conservatives, you don’t get to call every opponent a liberal snowflake just because they challenged your thinking. Learn to forgive. And see how you can work with liberals to make this world better.

Liberals, you don’t get to write off all conservatives as brainless morons because they deny climate change. Learn to forgive. And see how you can work together.

There really are bigger, badder, more wicked threats out there than bruised egos. And while we’re busy calling each other names on social media (yes, I do it too!), those threats are rolling on. People’s rights are being stolen for no other reason than their sexual orientation, or that their skin color is different than their lawmakers’ (here’s looking at you North Carolina General Assembly!)

There is a scene in the Outlander Series where Jamie Fraser, who earlier on had been brutalized by his enemy Black Jack Randall, and as he (Jamie) is helping his own daughter forgive her enemy, he comes to his own realization, Black Jack is only a man. Yes, he did terrible, terrible things. But he was only a mortal man. Not only that, but forgiveness is not a one time event, but rather many events over time.

Whoever your enemy is, no matter what they’ve done, they are only mortal. Life is worth far more than spending it hunkered down in bitter hatred because someone doesn’t agree with you.

Forgive as if humanity depended on it.

More to come on this very difficult subject later.