Last week, the Senate began a floor debate on gun control that brought to mind an earlier “floor debate” several months ago in Chaska, Minn.
Ever since our Community Dialogue on “Gun Violence in America,” I’ve searched for answers to what happened.
A crowd of 138 people came out on a Tuesday night to chime in following the tragedy at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn.
As the night wore on, it became clear that there would be no real dialogue, no moderated discussion. No give-and-take. A series of monologues, without interruption and with a time limit, was the best we could expect.
Fear, anger, hostility, and suspicion were in the room. The room was hot.
The months following have been a personal search for understanding of what happened that night, and how we in America move forward together on such a divisive issue.
Imagine two people going into separate audiologist booths for hearing exams.
John grew up in rural America. Betty grew up in the city.
In their hearing booths Betty and John repeat the word they hear.
“Say the word ‘gun,’ says the audiologist.
Their hearing is good. They say the same word.
After the hearing test, John and Betty are taken to different rooms for interviews. A social psychologist wants to know what emotions and thoughts are triggered when they hear the word ‘gun.’
“I’m going to give you a word. After you repeat the word, I want you to give me the other words that come to mind. It’s called “word association.” Don’t think about it. Just say whatever comes to mind.
“Safety, protection, coyotes, wolves, cows, cattle, sheep, careful, responsibility, civil right.”
“Run, violence, threat, death, war, robber, gangs, school massacres, NRA, Sandy Hook.”
“Second Amendment, right to bear arms, protector of civil liberties, defender of the Constitution.”
“Right-Wing, powerful, myopic, out-of-touch, vigilantes, white supremacist, radical, dangerous.”
“Government, anti-democratic, anti-Constitutional, intrusion, loss of freedom, fear, police state, socialism.”
“Safety, safe home, necessity, protection, peace, hope, end of fear.
Kingdom of God:
“Hmmm … Soul, salvation, heaven?”
“Hmmm … Safe streets, the common good, love?”
Both are church members. They are practicing Christians. Betty and John pray the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy (Your) Kingdom come; Thy (Your) will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”
Could the common bond of Jesus’ prayer bring the two into the same room in a shared search for understanding and action? Or are the formative cultural experiences so determinative that faith and religion are what Marx said they were – blinders that prevent them from seeing anything but what we’ve already chosen to see?
Perhaps some singing might help – a hymn or two – and reflection on the lyrics, like those of Fred Pratt Green (1969):
O Christ, the healer, we have come
To pray for health, to plead for friends.
How can we fail to be restored,
When reached by love that never ends?
From every ailment flesh endures
Our bodies clamor to be freed;
Yet in our hearts we would confess
That wholeness is our deepest need.
How strong, O Lord, are our desires,
How weak our knowledge of ourselves!
Release in us those healing truths
Unconscious pride resists or shelves.
In conflicts that destroy our health
We recognize the world’s disease;
Our common life declares our ills:
Is there no cure, O Christ, for these?
Gordon C. Stewart is a social commentator, writer and radio commentator on Minnesota Public Radio's "All Things Considered" (MPR). He is pastor at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minn. Visit him at http://gordoncstewart.com/.