Friday, March 14, 2008

Everyday Theology

The District of Columbia’s 31-year-old gun restriction law is going to be tested before the Supreme Court soon, and I heard opposing sides on the radio offering perspectives yesterday. There was really nothing new under the sun on this argument, which has been going on in one form or another my entire life, but I was struck by a theological error voiced by a Cato Institute representative arguing against the restriction.

He was making the case that gun laws only strike at “good people who obey the laws.” I’ve heard this argument many times, and I’m enough of a Calvinist to ask, “who are these good people?”

Are they the ones who never break any laws? Not even traffic laws? Which leads me to wonder about the number of speed-related traffic fatalities compared to the number of gun-related deaths. A lot of good people break laws, and sometimes they kill other people when they do so. I don't know what the Framers would have thought about traffic laws as not even those most imaginative of them would have foreseen the Beltway. Of course, they probably also did not imagine AK-47s.

I’m not suggesting that the DC gun law is necessarily a good one, I’m simply pointing to a theologically flawed argument. I do think the Framers would have understood that.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Frustrations, to be sure

Well I thought I might experience a few frustrations encountering the police as crime victim and I was not disappointed after spending almost three hours waiting for someone to show up and take my statement so a formal report could be filed (and thus open the way to making an insurance claim). I finally had to give up and head home to pick up my daughter after school. I suppose I'll be back at it tomorrow.
At least I spent most of the waiting time today in the Lincoln Parlor at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. The parlor includes Lincoln's handwritten original draft of a legislative proposal that eventually become the Emancipation Proclamation. Pondering the long wait for justice faced by the slaves did not make me any happier, but it did put me in my place with respect to my own little problems.
Moreover, considering Lincoln's actions and the long road to justice did and always will renew my own hopefulness. Frustrations, to be sure, will always arise along the way, but the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice (with or without a laptop).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Agitations and Response

Anonymous has been posting comments here for quite some time, and I have not responded. Perhaps that is a breach of hospitality.

On the other hand, perhaps it is a question of call. It is not so much that I disagree with him – and the aggressive tone of the posts leads me to this assumption about gender – on the question of abortion rights as it is that I do not feel centrally called to work there. I admire the clarity of calling that anonymous feels on the issue, and the persistence of his agitations, even though I disagree theologically and in terms of U.S. Constitutional law on the issue itself. I just do not share his passion, nor do I feel any great call to engage beyond a link to an interfaith statement on abortion rights that more or less aligns with my own perspective, and some statements of the Presbyterian Church General Assemblies over the years which also more or less align.

That does not mean that I do not support those doing work on the issue from the perspective with which I agree, it is rather an acknowledgment that I only have so much time. Beyond parish ministry and all that entails, the core callings of my life for a long time have been peacemaking and equal rights, particularly as pertains to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters both in the church and broader civil society. These three – parish ministry, peacemaking, equality concerns – have been and will continue to be what I reflect on here. It seems enough to keep me busy and mostly out of trouble. Guests are welcome to comment on anything, of course. Anything less would be inhospitable. But if an argument about abortion is what you're looking for, I suggest looking elsewhere -- they're not hard to find.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Peacemaking in the Empire

So my laptop got stolen over the weekend, and I got arrested. Perhaps this is what happens when you try to be a peacemaker in the heart of the empire.

To be sure, the events were not related. The laptop walked away from the temporary offices of Christian Peace Witness for Iraq at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church sometime Saturday afternoon. By then I had already been, like a sport fish in a school of 42, caught and released by the U.S. Capitol police.

We were arrested Friday evening in the Hart Senate Office building where we had gathered to pray for peace in what the police deemed an illegal demonstration. Following a permitted interfaith witness in Upper Senate Park attended by 750 folks in a driving rain and led by a remarkable collection of folks including Rev. James Forbes, Rev. Michael Kinnamon, Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Dr. Sayyid Syeed, we processed up the sidewalk along Constitution Avenue to the Hart building.

Those of us risking arrest walked down the stairs into a small patio outside the glass doors. Police watched, photographed and filmed us, but made no move to arrest. Most of them were warm and dry inside the building and seemed to be thinking, “well, if those fools want to sing and pray in the rain, they can stay out there all night for all we care.”

After a half hour, we decided to move inside and join them.

We made our way through security, and 42 of us sat in a circle beneath the gigantic Calder sculpture that dominates the atrium. We prayed and sang, and sang, and sang some more – This Little Light of Mine, O Freedom, We Shall Overcome, Peace, Salaam, Shalom. Perhaps had we rehearsed more and sounded better the police would not have arrested us, but as we sang We Shall Not Be Moved, they moved in.

The Capitol police are an interesting institution. We worked for weeks prior to the event to arrange a permit for Upper Senate Park. They dragged their heels and dragged us through a tortuous bureaucratic maze before finally releasing the permit on Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours before we were to begin the program. The permit included a stage and sound system, and the information that we included with the permit application detailed it all. Then, in the midst of the program, in the driving rain, the police informed us that the small tents over the stage and sound equipment would have to be removed. It was harassment, pure and simple. They had the power, and they were going to use it. We negotiated and stalled and speeded up the program and brought it to a conclusion before they pulled the plug on the electricity.

Then, the same police, as they arrested us, were incredibly humane and thoroughly professional.

I was among the last to be arrested, so I had the opportunity to watch the process unfold slowly. It was almost liturgical. As each of us was arrested, the arresting officer asked if we had any injuries. (In my case, a rotator cuff that causes serious pain when my right hand goes behind my back, led to being handcuffed in front of my body which allowed me to get to my cell phone while in the paddy wagon and take a couple of seruptitious pictures.) We have all been through nonviolence training, and in keeping with that spirit, each of us tried to connect with the human being on the other side of the line.

In a remarkable testimony to the power of nonviolence, such connections were made in many cases with the same police force that an hour earlier was threatening us. I was wearing a new, bright blue clerical shirt, and several of the officers were admiring the color as they stood with us waiting to load us into the wagons. When I recounted this later, my wife asked if we’d been arrested by the fashion police! Another young officer told me that he lives down in Fredericksburg, a long commute to DC, and uses his morning drive as prayer time. The woman in charge of the station where we were processed shared with us that when she retires in 18 months she fully expects to be joining us in pressing for peace and for an end to this war.

Small connections, to be sure. Nothing earth shattering or system changing, but small human connections that break down walls and barriers and begin to build common ground and community where mistrust and hostility reign.

Today I will engage the system again. This time as a crime victim, as I follow up on the theft of my laptop. I anticipate frustration, but I will look for connection. That is the way, these days, of peacemaking in the heart of the empire.