On The Matter Of Guns

The gun debate has been in full swing since the tragic events that transpired at Sandy Hook Elementary in mid-December. This issue is contentious, as it has flared emotions from two very polarizing views. Through generalizations, one argument emphasizes more regulation on guns, while the other focuses on the right to possess guns. There is undoubtedly more views on this subject that range from compromised wants to the far extremes of both sides. However, after watching countless hours of media reports on the issue as well as reading news articles on the subject matter, there appears to be three distinct arguments that have taken center stage. The center piece is safety. The second is the Second Amendment. And the third is regulation. Each topic contains sub-topics that divulge into connected arguments, but ultimately revert to an issue of safety. While I am not a gun expert (or fanatic), I assume a view that is in favor of gun regulation; however, despite this view, I have attempted to remain neutral in the debate in regards to listening to both sides of the argument–which has largely been absent from discussion and debates. Up to this point, much of the debate has centered on, “I’m right, and you are wrong.” Examples of this can be found on Piers Morgan, where the debate has resulted in petitions for the British citizen to be deported from the United States because of his relatively anti-gun stance. In the eyes of some National Rifle Association’s (NRA) fanatics, it has become a debate of ‘Americanism’ where if you are anti-guns then you not truly American. However, this is blown out of proportion because there are principles that are largely more important than guns. However, those that are strictly anti-gun often neglect important aspects of the debate as well.

The American Spirit

Being an American citizen, I am privileged to be endowed with numerous rights and liberties, more so than most countries in the world. The United States Constitution is a renowned political document that grants to its citizens certain rights and liberties. Among these rights and liberties, citizens are entitled to free speech, freedom of press, and freedom from religious persecution among others. Citizens of the United States are also protected from a tyrannical government by setting limits on the government as found in the Constitutions first six sections. However, it was not until several years after the ratification of the United States Constitution that the Bill of Rights was officially adopted. The First Amendment, perhaps the most famous, lists the freedom of speech, etc.  The Second Amendment gives each citizen the right to bear arms. While each Amendment is subject to its own discussion, the First and Second Amendments are two most prominent issues in the larger gun debate. The American spirit is found in these first two Amendments: liberty and protection of the individual. Of course, this is a limited view on the American spirit, for it denotes many other political, moral, and philosophical principles. For the sake of this discussion, I think it is vital that an assumption is made that in general American citizens want to feel safe while being allowed to have liberty.

Interpretation of safety and liberty granted by our Constitution is not black and white. It comes down to a matter of personal preference in the end. There are typically three views on constitutional interpretation: strict, implied, and historical. Strict interpretation (textualism for lack of a better word) refers to literal interpretation of the Constitution’s text. Implied interpretation of the Constitution leaves flexibility in overall interpretation. Implied constitutional theorists would argue that the people that drafted the Constitution intentionally left ideas out, for the original drafters new that over time principles and values changed over time and did not want to restrict critical developments later on. The last of the three interpretations is based on a historical knowledge of the founding times. For example, the freedom of religion could be understood through the historical perspective that since that nation was largely of Christian belief, the laws of this nation should reflect Christian principles and values (This view on the matter of religion is largely skewed since many of the founders were deists and went to church per tradition).

How do these views affect the gun debate? For one, strict interpretation of the Constitution reflects a common sentiment of many gun owners, specifically that of NRA members. The Second Amendment, strictly interpreted, allows individuals to possess guns without restriction. However, a more implied interpretation would note that gun ownership is something protected by the Constitution, but is not exempt from regulation. Historical interpretation would likely argue that guns during the time was something that was a part of the time, but also the guns were far more simplistic (or complex depending on how you look at it) and that the original drafters of the Second Amendment did not foresee a day where the average citizen would have access to such powerful weapons (let alone that semi-automatic guns, for example, would exist). With these interpretations, it is obvious that the views come into conflict with each other. Nevertheless, of the three interpretations, of the two larger arguments (pro-gun / anti-gun for short), both have interest in societal safety.

Safety In Our Communities

The concept of safety is constant. It does not stumble in the midst of the heated political debates of our time. However, there are variables in the methods and processes in which society reaches safety goals. The common-person cannot argue with the end result of safety though.

The variables of safety in communities in regards to the gun debate is based on two fundamental thoughts: gun control and more guns. The first, people argue, is guaranteed to stop fatal/violent community shootings. Those who believe that gun control is a solution reason linearly: if no guns are out there, there is a decreased risk of violent attacks against innocent citizens. However, most people would not argue for complete dissolution of guns. Most individuals look  at the most recent of shootings (Sandy Hook, Oregon Mall, Aurora Movie Theater, etc.) and realize that there are assault weapons in the hands of volatile individuals, who are willing and able to commit mass atrocities. If we take these [more] dangerous guns out of the hands of all citizens, the world will be more secure. Of course, there are inherent flaws in this line of reasoning. As long as guns exist, they will continue to find themselves in the unfortunate individual who will use them for incorrect purposes [Of course, there is a topic in itself: what is the correct purpose of a gun?]

The flip side to the coin is that there should be more guns present in society. Individuals who present this view are confident in the role of the individual to protect others around them. There has been various speculations on how the role of gun will actually improve society. Among others, some propose that placing a police officer at every school, regardless of level. If a figure of authority is present, it will deter further causalities if an event occurs, if not deter it altogether. Also, arguments have been made that if all citizens are permitted to carry concealed weapons, individuals would be able to prevent events if the situation of harm. This argument is largely based on hegemonic power dynamics that focus on the ability of an authority figure being able to effectively and safely distinguish harm in society. However, like the latter argument, increased influence of legal authorities in populous areas and less restrictions on concealed firearms is flawed. There is a large enough portion of the population [assuming] that have no interest in carrying a gun. Also, placing an armed officer at schools, mainly that of lower level education presumes that danger is imminent. While it is preemptive strategy, living in a state of uncertainty and fear is not a positive communal value. [Ok, yes, the police officer should reduce this fear in principle, but is there not a mental stigma that denotes danger or potential harm--even discrimination--if the officer is present? Just food for thought]

Why Not Regulate? 

On January 10, 2012, Joe Biden submitted a proposal to President Obama regarding the potential of putting new regulations on guns. [Sources: Huffington Post, New York Times, Human Events] To ensure transparency, these three sources help look at the issue, with Human Events being traditionally more conservative than both Huffington Post and New York Times. However, while the unanimous view is that the proposal is faulty, the principles must be looked at. While many have argued for a ban on assault style weapons, Biden’s proposal examined the legal methods behind obtaining guns. His proposal sought to put tighter regulations on background checks. As it stands, background checks are faulty and only seek minimal information. Background checks are also absent from many gun shows in which the ability to obtain guns is nearly effortless.

Annually in the United States, it is estimated that there are about 20,000 – 30,000 gun deaths. In certain circles, this number is debated, but approximately half of the deaths by guns per year are homicides. [Fact] If regulation on guns could decrease this number by even 10% would it not be worth it?

The concept regulation boils down to three subtopics: Background checks, ban on assault weapons, and ability to distinguish mentally ill people. First, as mentioned previously, background checks would attempt to tighten the legal reigns that have been already established. Background checks would not ban any guns, but instead keep guns out of unwanted hands. The background check would potentially look at an individuals standing with the law, mental capacity,  age, etc. The process has positive aspirations, but many argue that this an unduly restraint on the Second Amendment (to be discussed).

Others that are more opposed to guns argue that a ban on assault weapons is necessary. Originally manufactured to be in the military, assault weapons have been developed into guns that can be easily purchased at any store that sells guns. Many non-gun owners are at a loss of why a person would even need such a gun. Putting regulations on the sale of assault-style weapons would take these guns off the normal market. However, members specifically of the NRA argue that this is a direct violation of the Second Amendment. Also, banning assault weapons would automatically increase black market demand of these weapons, becoming more ‘valuable’ in the sense that individuals who enjoy the thrill of guns would have increased incentive to find a ‘rare’ gun.

Many gun enthusiasts have proposed that instead of regulating guns and initiating stricter background checks, there should be more effort worked into finding the mentally ill of society. While these intentions are probably for the best, who defines mentally ill? I believe that it is important that we keep guns out of the hands of those that are incapable of using a gun properly. However, I’d argue that in many instances when these shootings the media overly portrays individuals as mental ill. (Yes, it is mentally disturbing that an individual would take the life of another person, but I’d imagine that many of the individuals have problems that would not fit the mold of mentally ill). James Holmes, for example, is an individual that in all seriousness looks crazy. However, there is a back story. He was a graduate student studying neuroscience. No individual that is mental ill would likely get there. There are events that lead up a decision to take the lives of others. [In no way am I defending the actions of James Holmes, but to read further look here or here] People snap out of frustration. Some people do irrational things out of anger. Studies and medical examinations cannot predict when and where these events will occur assuming it is not a reoccurring issue in the prescribed individual.

A Last Stand

The Second Amendment poses an interesting dilemma, but ultimately comes back down to how an individual interprets the Constitution. For some, limited government is the only correct way to operate in society. On the other hand, some individuals believe that government involvement in various aspects of life is something that should be done. The Second Amendment states, “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.” Taking a strict interpretation of the Second Amendment would lead me to a definite answer on the gun debate: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It is simple. For many pro-gun advocates, I’d venture to say that many of them do not want the government leaning into this aspect of their life. A lot of them probably believe that this is one the last things remaining that has not been touched by our legal system. Of course, there have been laws passed that have touched on the regulation of gun, with various levels of success.

However, when I look at where our legal system is now compared to what it was, there are noticeable changes. The Constitution on a whole has remained malleable. If the history of the Constitution has told us anything about itself it is that it has not remained constant. All things that have seemed relatively safe from changing have changed. When I question what the Second Amendment, I generally read it from a strict interpretation point of view. However, from the historical standpoint (Well, rather implied interpretation), I see that most powers of the Constitution have been interpreted with implied powers. In light of this, what does the Second Amendment appear to be when interpreted with implied powers? While purely speculative, I would understand it to have limits. Yes, citizens can have there guns and have no limit on how many they buy (even though that is not my preference). Legally, people are entitled to possess guns. If it is in the best of interest of the country, like it has been interpreted for many other laws in the United States, would there not be some restrictions? Even if on a small portion of guns, why must the Second Amendment protect every single gun out there? Are guns not also adept to corruption, i.e. too much power? While I don’t have answers to these questions, I see that the Constitution has been historically malleable and that the Second Amendment should not be exempt from such scrutiny.

Guns, Freedom, and Kittens

As I write this blog, my attempts to figure out an issue that we have at hand is difficult. It is challenging to look at both sides of the picture, but it is possible. As it stands now, I think emotions have been flared too much on both of the argument. People have become so rooted in there argument that they have refused to budge at any sort of legal compromise. All discussions since Sandy Hook have resulted in extremely flared arguments–yelling debates. If any progress is to be done and tensions relieved, people must first listen to the other side. No pre-planned agendas.

What we have is guns, and what to do with them. I am not a gun owner. I have shot a gun a couple of times. I understand that people find thrill and sport in it. I am not position to tell them they cannot do that. Guns are hobbies to millions in the United States. Shooting guns may not be my hobby, but I understand where they are coming from. I have hobbies that I enjoy that other people definitely do not enjoy with the same level of passion as I do. I don’t want to be told that I can no longer participate in my hobbies. I understand that.

However, I believe that life is valuable. I believe that precautions must be taken to preserve the precious life that is here on this earth. I am not a lawmaker, so my opinion will wander on the internet haplessly until someone reads it. What I do hear is the cry of the parents, the family, and the relatives of those that have become victims to tragic shootings. I have yet to hear one affected mother or father advocate for more guns in school or that they should have a concealed weapon. I have yet to hear them say this. Instead, I have heard them speak out against gun violence, not mental insanity like many gun enthusiasts have pointed at. If a law on guns could be put in place within reasonable bounds and reduce the number of deaths by even 10%, I’d say that is effective. That would be equal to 3,000 lives. Those 3,000 people would be indebted to that law. While the methods in which to save these lives may look different, I’d argue that more guns is not necessary the solution. I believe it can be a solution from time to time, but not all the time. No law will ever solve every negative part of society. There are always ways around it. However, we can sure as hell try and say we attempted instead of saying we didn’t.

Peace in a Broken World

The devastating news of a massacre at a elementary school in Connecticut filled the airwaves and news stories yesterday. When I first saw the news of this shooting, no reports on the total amounts of fatalities had surfaced. At most, the beginning reports just said there were a few injuries at most. However, that was far from the actual fact: 26 people died, 20 of which were children. Reading about this event and watching the news just pissed me off. How the hell could an individual do this in their right mind?

I was angered. Over the past several months, there have been many fatal shootings. At the end of July, James Holmes walked into a movie theater and killed many people. During the past week, Jacob Roberts walked into a crowded Clackamas Town Center. A couple of a weeks ago, a young man walked into his father’s college classroom in Wyoming with a bow and arrow and knife and killed him. Early yesterday morning, I woke up to reading headlines of a Chinese man taking a knife to dozens of children. Then Adam Lanza, who walked into a elementary school, killed his Mom and innocent children. Many of this killers have been under the age of 25. What drives a person to the extent of killing innocent bystandards? As cynical as it sounds, why do they not just kill themselves without hurting anyone else?

In light of all of these events, I have seen multiple discussions on gun rights. There are those that are adamant that guns are the issues, while others argue that guns are harmless tools. These events, however, go far beyond a debate on gun rights. The matter of the fact is that we live in a broken society. Of course, this is a complete understatement with the events that transpired yesterday in Connecticut. What can we do to impact the lives of these people?

From my individual standpoint, I would argue that many of these people struggle with pain. As a quiet person myself, when it comes to problems in life, I tend to keep it in. Over time, these pains and problems build up. It reaches it a point where we need to let it out. For many of these individuals who resort to violence, whether mentally ill or not, they probably have felt unheard and what people to finally notice them. As a quiet person, I often feel invisible in the world. Most people make assumptions about me, which are often not true. When pain builds, it is often because I do feel unheard. Maybe it is just me, but I generally equate being unheard with not cared for. While this is a logical fallacy, and often not the case, the fact is that this type of mentality is the only one that I can see. I can’t see past the personal negligence of my pessimism that I get to the point where if I want to be heard, I need to break out of my ‘quietness’ to be noticed. While I may not be violent like many of these individuals, the drive for attention is something that is similar. This brings two issues: why is violence such an appealing method of attention and mending broken hearts.

First, I have seen a correlation between violent attacks and the amount of media coverage. While I have not dynamic studies on the actual effects of this correlation, I continue to ask, what if the media stopped covering these violent attacks? Would people be driven to such attacks? I argue that if the media did not give as much time to these violent attacks, individuals who struggle with innerpain would be less likely to resort to violent methods that affect multitudes of people. While these events are tragic, and many people would actually feel offended if they did not receive coverage, would it not be better? In a weird sort of way, I would love to get inside of some of these individuals minds to understand what drives them to such extents. I would guess that many of these individuals deal with so much pain that they need to take it to a larger extent and are smart enough to know that they will finally be noticed if they take it to larger scale (even if it is not right). They have lost hope for people reaching out to them that they have to foce the world into paying attention to them.

However, while this is a troubling reality, the second point is the methods in which we can take in mending the pain of these individuals. I have previously wrote two blogs on loving the unlovable: Holmes Shooting and Muslims. While I could write a similar blog about this incident, I want to stress the importance of one thing: As a quiet person, and speaking for many others that don’t feel like they are hear, we, too, want attention and feel cared for. (Disclaimer: I am not implying that I am not cared for or that I don’t have these people around me, nor am I in a volatile position–I am simply trying to point to a dangerous line of thought found when people struggle with pain). Before people feel like they need to act violently, I think there is more to be done for individuals. Love all people at all times; sometimes our biggest regrets come after something tragic happens. We must not miss the important opportunities to reach out to those around us. How different would our world look like if were were seriously pursuing positive relationships with those around us?

While my hope will likely never take full force, I think there is things to learn. I do believe that peace is achievable, but it is a slow process. We are all broken. I know that I am not perfect when it comes to reaching out to those around me. I can often sense problem because of my observations of people, but the reality is that I, and all people around me, need love. To take just a little time out of your day to seriously ask somehow how they are and actually be involved in a life will make the difference. Peace comes from God, and we must be fully reliant on him; be a light for those that do not see the light. Be a light for the broken and the potentially violent. Be a reflection of God to those around you.

Viewing the Election from Above

Two angelic beings looked down on the earth on a certain November 6, 2012. For whatever reason, the whole world was peaceful everywhere but the United States. From above, they were slightly confused.

One joked to the other, “And here we’re never worrying about them Americans.” When they noticed all the commotion, they started to observe more closely. It was clear to them that were two sides up in furor against each other. Even more odd was how each state was changing either blue or red, but neither was sure why.

They started investigating and discovered there was some presidential race, something about a Barrack Obama and a Mitt Romney. There were a lot of people butting heads about which candidate was better qualified for their presidential position in the United States. The angelic beings questioned, “Why do they ever care so much, I mean, they are just fighting over an individual, doesn’t quite make sense?”

One responded, “It looks like they think their side is clearly better, which is odd, because we cannot tell the differences.” The other let out a laugh while the one continued, “It looks to me like these two sides are labeling themselves as Republicans or Democrats. Both Obama and Romney are advocating for different points, but in reality does that matter? I mean, tomorrow all the people are just going back to work and won’t notice a difference regardless who is elected. The losing party, no matter which one, will complain about the other side; and frankly, even if their side one, they’d still complain.” The one shook his head, “Silly Americans.”

The other replied, “Tell me about it. They’d be better off complaining about their bosses or an acquaintance they don’t like! I mean, they are far more successful in doing so. They only get into deeper water when they start trying to complain about their president. Afterall, they don’t realize how much the president has to actually do, regardless of party. That is a pretty damn hard job to run a country in a just manner. I’d think they’d be far more content just sticking to complaining about those closer to them, they’d probably be far happier too.”

The one quirked, “I think they should all just shut up and eat bacon.”

“Well, of course,” the other responded, “But lets be practical, that would only happen in a perfect world–people shut up and eat bacon of course. I think it would be far more likely if those stupid Republican evangelical Christians would stop claiming that Obama guy was Muslim or the anti-christ.” He was puzzled, “Why can’t they just make up their mind?”

The one pointed out, “I don’t think it is as much of making up their mind. Frankly, I think they are just pissed off because they can’t get their way that they need to make some extreme comment like that to feel empowered. I mean, why can’t they just see the reality in their little world of theirs? I mean the evidence is all in front of them, but instead of trying to get onto the bus, they decide to walk in front of it and questioning why they aren’t on the bus.”

The other nodded his head, “Agreed. I heard rumor that some Ron Paul guy would have solved all their problems, but then I heard that they liked stagnation in their government.”

The one laughed, “Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Ron Paul, sure, but still. Their governmental stagnation will persist as long as there is enough people to believe that their party is correct. It will never meet their standards of progress as long as they think their party is correct. And to be honest, they will like not do so as long as people cannot see both sides of the picture.”

After the angelic beings finished their conversation, they went on their ways, likely eating bacon. As for on planet earth, people went slowly back to their normal lives. The world did not end. There was no civil war. People realized that their lives were better off by just complaining about their bosses and piers and they didn’t need to be fed up with a government. Meanwhile, a certain Donald Trump made an expedition to Tajikistan to prove that Obama was not born in the United States. He found nothing but a citizen who said she had heard of Obama, and that was good enough to make a case for non-citizenship against Obama.

———–

In real talk, I write this kind of tongue-in-cheek. Yesterday, President Obama won reelection. Many Republicans were disappointed. I saw plenty of doomsday comments. This is absurd people. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, your lives will go on. The world is not collapsing. Everyone will go back to work today, tomorrow, and forever long as they wish, and frankly the president is not going to ruin this. Your ability to practice your faith will continue. Your freedom and liberty will still exist. An election is only and election, it is not worth worrying about. Far greater things are to come, you just have to be patient and allow God to move through your patience and he will keep you strong!

Hearing His Voice

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.’”

Over the past week, I have been really trying to understand what it means to focus. The beginning of the new semester at school for me has been busy. I have been on auto-pilot when it comes to my homework assignments and work. I have been going about my days aimlessly and without focus. However, over the past week, I have felt God telling me to regain my focus and follow him. Of course, I could not argue with this.

When I felt God telling me this, I knew that I had to get back to where my heart really lies in life, and by that, I mean ministry. When I first came to college, I never had a specific drive to minister, but over the past several years, my life has been invigorated by my love for ministry. However, for me, it wasn’t the easiest decision, because I had to choose between my social life and ministry. I had been planning for one event this whole week, and well for the past couple weeks, and really did not want to give that up. Then God revealed himself to me. I did not know why that happened to me at a specific time, but I felt a strong urge to go and be with the homeless community in Salem, Oregon.

Whenever I have the opportunity to work with homeless and financially struggling people, I never know quite what to expect. Sometimes I will get into a good conversation with someone, while other times I simply enjoy the smiles and tears of the homeless as they walk through the food line. However, on this specific night, I knew that God had drawn me there. It was for a man named Andrew.

Andrew had just recently arrived in Salem after traveling from far way. He was there for his sister, who is going to be released from prison in the next month. As we got into talking, we began talking about purpose in life. Now, speaking about this subject with a financially struggling man is not the most easy of subjects, but what made it beautiful was his openness to Christ. He understood that he was not perfect, but he realized that in his life, what he needed was God and family. He understood that in life, no matter the situation or how many times he fell, God’s grace would be able to make his faith all the more stronger. To me, this was beautiful. From a man living on the streets, who society normally deems at the bottom of life, to hear the words come out of his mouth so sincerely was incredibly meaningful.

What is the purpose of life?

I think the answer lies in the voice of God. It seems ambiguous, but I believe entirely true. For me, I want to base my purpose on my relationship with Jesus. When I hear the voice of God, I know that he is guiding me in the way he wants me to, even if it may be contrary to my plans. I must trust that God is leading me in the right direction; like a carrot on a stick, I must trust that I am being led in the right direction. Even our hard times, we must trust. We may not hear the voice of God all the time, but we still must rely on our faith that God is with us and will give us strength. Life may be short, but it is not short enough for God to change a life.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.’”

Loving the Unlovable, Pt. II

It never seems to amaze me how there is a new global issue that people instantly take offense too. Violence is consumed in our society. Detestable actions are everywhere. People who have been following the news lately will know that in many Middle Eastern countries there have been uproars about the infamous ‘Innocence of Muslims’ movie. Muslims globally have been angry at the fact that this movie depicts there prophet Mohammed as an imbecile.

As a result of this relatively unheard of movie within the United States, radical Islamist have attached American embassies and consulates from places such as Libya and Yemen. Countless riots and protests have erupted outside of embassies and consulates all over the Middle East. The result of this was one American Ambassador killed.

Of course, through media reports, the American public has reacted rather disfavorably, condemning Muslims for reacting too harshly and too violently. And while it can be agreed that there reaction were indeed too violent, is that to say we can not respect the Muslim people on a whole?

I find it sometimes egregious how Muslims are depicted as an inherent evil within American culture (yes, gross overstatement), but I do not believe it should be like this. From my point of view, I see Muslims and world religions as beautiful, even if Christians around me say that what they believe in is completely wrong. While I do conceded that I do not believe and agree with all the theological differences, there is still beauty in difference.

Over the past several months I have thought about the idea of reconciliation. What are the implications of cultural reconciliations? Maybe I am naive, but sometimes I can only dream of a day when we can all get along. While it is very unlikely that reconciliation will occur anytime soon, what about later down the road? I feel that much of our society sees life through a set of boundaries: You are Christian; You are Muslim; You are Republican; You are Democrat; etc. However, what I propose, and perhaps would only be a dream, is that we get rid of these ideas. Step back, view our world impartially.

Religious, political, ethnic divides only exist so long as we create them by stereotyping; and yet our culture so strongly looks at people through certain views. I find this sad, because I want to see these people as human, just like they are.

Here’s the thing, I proposed in this blog that we should love those who our society generally depicts as pariahs. I want to extend this to even Muslims. Yes, we may disagree with what they are doing in reaction to a movie, but who can’t say we love them just as they are? I feel that we, including myself, have so many prejudices against Muslims. However, I am willing to argue that if we look hard enough, we can certain find something incredibly beautiful about a religion and culture that is so incredibly different from our own.

Here, we can find Jesus, for he is here.

The Injustice of Justice

For those that know me and have talked about this subject even briefly with me, you would know that it is not my favorite talk. In fact, it is a subject that has troubled me for a while now. Part of me writing this is in complete frustration, but also there is a lot of important points to this blog. I am not sure where it is headed, however, what I do know is that it will be a shot to the heart to some people who feel differently than me. I am going to do my best to be open minded while writing, but the likely hood of feeling emotionally driven is rather high.

The title probably has many people wondering, what does Brian mean by the injustice of justice? Off of first impression, I feel that justice has become synonymous with injustice. I feel that people around me are doing an injustice to the word justice. Rather, I feel that justice has become just another cliché in this world. It has lost its meaning. It is just another word to explain all the things that are not right in the world. So where does that leave me? What does the word justice mean?

In the past several months, I have felt a strong distaste towards the notion of justice. It is a word that angers me. Frankly, I do not know why. What I do know, however, is that it appears to me that people worship the concept of justice. In a strictly Christian sense, I feel that people put justice before God. I think this is wrong. Justice should be something that occurs through the work of God, not an individualistic motivation. Over the past semester, I had a professor that gave us a lecture on mission work. He strongly emphasized the justice aspect of mission. He gave us a hand out with questions to ponder; most of these questions addressed the issue of justice and then God. He framed many of the questions in a way that had only one answer: YES. Many of the questions were more of a ‘guilt-trip’ making you look like a bad person if you said ‘NO.’ These are not the actual questions, but give a general sense of what they were asking:

  • Are you aware of the homeless in your community? Have you ever participated in a homeless ministry? How do these things make you feel?
    • With all the economic disparity in our country and around the globe, how should the government intervene? What can you do within your local government and cities to effect the homeless population?
    • Are you aware of global poverty? Have you ever participated is a missions trip outside of the country? How did you actively participate in justice? What injustices did you witness? How did this make you feel?

While these are just brief paraphrases of the questions, the general feel of the questions were if you said ‘NO’, you would feel guilty. All the questions, in one way or another, pointed to an injustice. And don’t get me wrong, there are so many injustices in this world, but the questions often negated the influence of God on such ideas, and only emphasized the role of the individual self.

One thing that was distinctly missing was God. This, as I mentioned before, was a troubling reality. Justice has been done through individuals and not God. Over the course of history, whenever individuals tries to go about something as big as justice, it often ends in more harm than good. However, in the Bible we see men and women doing miraculous things when they put God, not the individual, first.

I think at this point, it is worth defining the word justice to further understand what I am referencing. The word justice can take many meanings, but which is the right one? The dictionary gives a couple definitions for the word justice:

  • The maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.
  • The quality of being just, impartial, or fair
    • The principle or ideal of just dealing or right action; conformity to this principle or ideal
    • The quality of conforming to law
    • Conformity to truth, fact, or reason

Further, the word just is defined:

  • Acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good

After attending the Justice Conference in February, they defined justice as truth. With all these definitions, which is the right one? I feel that from the Christian aspect, many of these definitions seem faulty. The word conformity appears several times within the definitions. If we conform, we lose our ability to act independently. But, if we conform to a methodology that emphasizes a God-driven and God-first ideas, that is a whole different topic.

The idea of truth, however, has a special ring to it. The ways of God are those that are supreme. The Bible presents to several ideas of justice:

“Then the Lord said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.’ The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Them Abraham approached him and said: ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing — to kill the righteous with the wicked treating the righteous alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ The the Lord said, ‘If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.’” Genesis 18:20-26

In these verses we see the idea of justice displayed in a couple ways. First, God, not man, will invoke justice upon the people of Sodom. God remains adamant about sparing the righteous. Even if there was one righteous man left in the city, he would have spared it. Secondly, the idea of righteous appears to us as a synonym of justice. The righteous have been distinctively labeled as people that are worth saving even if they are outnumbered by an entire city. In the Book of Ezra, we see a similar concept:

 “Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.” Ezra 9:15

The words ‘humbly submit’ come to mind when I read this verse. Our lives here on earth surmount to so little compared to the majesty of God. God is righteous even though the causes of our guilt and wrong doings causes us to sin. Jesus allows our sins to be washed away, and because of this we are indebted to humbly submit and serve God. He alone is worthy of praise, and he alone is the maker of miracles.

In the book of Romans, we can find either a troubling reality or a glorious gift. Paul writes,

“There is no one righteous, not even one; There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mounts are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:10-18

This seems absolutely brutal. Earlier, we saw the parallel between justice and righteousness, but yet here Paul just says it how it is: We are not righteous. So does that mean we are incapable of preforming justice? I do not believe Paul writes these verses to scare us, in fact it can be summarized in one word. Sin. We are guilty of this, all of us. Just like the book of Ezra, we are guilty, and we are only a small remnant. It is a fact that we must come to grips with our own sin; we must acknowledge it. It is this that we are given hope:

“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made know, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…For all have all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:21-26

We may not be righteous, but there is hope indeed in the dark world. A faith of a mustard seed can moves mountains, so can it be used to see the grace of God on a fallen world.

So where does that leave me?

Where justice reaches injustice is where the individual precedes the works of God. I believe that the words of Donald Miller help convey this idea:

“I think every conscious person. every person who is awake to the functioning principles within his reality, has a moment where he stops blaming the problems in the world on group think, on humanity and authority, and starts to face himself…The problem is not out there; the problem is the needy beast of a think that lives in my chest.” – Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz

It is not a problem of a society as a whole. It is us. It is me. The reason that justice has become so synonymous with the idea of injustice is because we [I] are [am] the problem. It our desire to fix the external aspects that gets us into the trouble. But yet, in our relentless attempts to change the world around us, we seemingly forget about ourselves.

“The Lord enteres into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses.” Isaiah 3:14

In more ways than one, I can see in my own life how I have lived this verse out. No, I have never actually taken away from the poor, nor do I intend to. What I do see in my life is an ungratefulness for the things I do have. I take food for granted. I take my possessions for granted. However, after nearly two years of homeless ministries, I often feel that I should have no right to many of the things I take for granted. Men, women, and children, who live out on the street or are forced to live on barely enough are way more grateful for the small things in life: A meal to eat and a person to talk to. The tears of the homeless make my eyes water, because you can feel the sincerity. However, I am left stuck. I know I personally cannot change their situations, and I am not the first to feel this way. In fact, David (and other Psalmists) wrote about his anguish for this situation:

“Arise, Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.” Psalm 7:6

“He rules the world in righteousness and judges the people with equity. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:8-10

“Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bring against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken.” Psalm 15

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.” Psalm 37:6

“And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice.” Psalm 50:6

“May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.” Psalm 72:2

“It is God who judges: He brings one down, exalts another.” Psalm 75:7

“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” Psalm 82:3

“Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve.” Psalm 94:2

David provides us with many strong words throughout the book of Psalms. He too, however, understood that it was not within his own power to change the situation of the oppressed and poor. He understood that God alone had the power to transform a broken society.

When I discuss this idea with my friends, I feel almost bad to admit it, but it seems to get the point across. I look at Syria–the destruction, the death, the fear. To me, all I can say, “Well that sucks.” I look at natural disasters, all I can say, “Well that sucks.” I was recently watching CNN and short broadcast on working conditions in Congo. Men and children mining in horrible conditions, often making less than a dollar a day. What they do, benefits us here in the West. The specific mine was being used to find natural materials used in cell phones. But for me, well, all I can say, “Well that sucks.” I am simply powerless to change these situations by myself.

Am I a heartless person? Not exactly. But the point is that justice will never prevail as long as we are complacent with our own lives. We are selfish human beings. Hardly anything is done selflessly. I can’t do much to change what happens in the world around me, nor do I care to, because I am fine here where I am at now. Before I can even think of helping any of these situations, I instinctively think about me first. Money, reputation, and health are only some of the categories of that my mind engulfs itself with.

Maybe I am over-reacting on the whole idea. But the reality is that bad things will always happen. We cannot change it as long as we are selfish. We must be selfless servants of God — that is where the true change lies. Do something because you truly care, and do not hold back. When it all comes down, death is the ultimate asking price, and it is question of whether you are willing to sacrifice your life on behalf of others.

Reflecting on my own life, I will never full understand what it means to be selfless. The truth is I never will be selfless and that is why I cannot worry about all the injustices in life. However, if I can be a light in the darkness, I will allow God work through me, even if it is not seen through me or through my lifetime.

Loving the Unlovable

Ever since the the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I have had a question running through my head: Can I love James Holmes? Now, this is a difficult question to think about. After all, how can a person even love a person that has ruined so many lives. Honestly, for me, I can find so many things that are wrong the picture I am trying to frame.

I have read many articles about James Holmes, and the results of his shootings in the Colorado movie theater.  I have read countless articles about how deranged this man was. His premeditated plans to attack this movie theater; stockpiling weapons and ammunition; booby trapping his apartment; and so on. I have read many articles looking at the political implications of this shooting; ‘Well this proves that there must be gun control so this type of event shall not happen again’ contrasted to ‘If all people were armed, this type of event would not happen.’ I also have read many articles of the lives lost and the impact on their loved ones. Out of these, there are beautiful, yet sad stories, of those who risked their lives to save others. There were those who were celebrating birthdays, those being in community with friends, and a child. It is truly heart breaking.

Now, I can come up with a list of things that I absolutely hate about James Holmes. Frankly, he deserves it. But, as a Christian, am I really called to do that? I find it challenging to find something lovable about Homles. Of course, not knowing the man himself, I can not make accurate assumptions. However, from my readings, he was described as a student, who was at the top of his class. From my experience, people in similar positions academically are often bright with their heads on straight (or it appears to be). So, what went wrong?

I often tell the story of Aaron. Aaron was someone that was not the brightest kid on the block, but he was unique. I met Aaron at a camp called RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award). This camp was designed to bring high school juniors together in one camp and learn leadership skills. No more than an hour into this camp, I noticed, along with many other participants, that Aaron was ‘not the same’ as everyone else. He often spoke out of turn and said things that really didn’t belong. One day during the camp, I got around to talking to him. He was sitting by himself playing his guitar and I took some time to talk to him. I began with the simple questions, ‘How long have you been playing the guitar?’, ‘What type of music do you listen to?’. As we talked longer, I got to ask him, ‘Do you play your own music?’ He answered, ‘No, my friends always told me that I was not good enough.’ This bugged me, because I was not a fan of allowing people to tell me what I could and could not do. I responded, ‘You should not allow people to judge your talents, but instead just be yourself and play your own music if that is what you want.’ That was that for that day. On the last day of the camp, we had a talent show. Unexpected to me, Aaron went on stage with his guitar and played his own original song with lyrics. All the participants of the camp were singing along. After the talent show, everyone hiked up to the top of the mountain so that we could see the whole horizon with the stars. The camp leaders told us that this was to be spent in silence, just reflecting on our experiences from camp. However, in the silence, we could all hear Aaron say, ‘If it was not for you guys, I would have committed suicide.’ I knew immediately that I had helped Aaron fight through his problems. While I know it was not only me that helped, to feel that I had help an individual to change his mind about such a serious thought, meant the world to me.

I tell this story not to parallel Aaron to Holmes, but rather to show that even in unexpected situations and unexpected people there can be love found. What is rooted in both people, I would speculate, is a state of loneliness and depression. There are so many people that suffer from this. I would argue it is some sort of disease. Thoughts become distorted and blurry. The state of mind cannot handle the darkness alone. It needs help someone side by side to help them through. It can be seen through people like Aaron, that even little things can go a long way. Holmes horrific act has come and gone, but could something as little as encouragement helped? We will never know.

Through this, I believe that Holmes definitely could have been loved before he ever committed his crime. What about now? After all the lost lives? I argue yes. Love can look different that what it is traditionally associated with. Love Holmes through prayer. Love Holmes through forgiveness. It goes with the whole saying, ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner.’

The Bible presents many ideas of love. While many verses coule be chosen, I would like to look at just a couple.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48

“Two other ment, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’…One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourselves and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserved. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23:32-34, 39-43

“If we speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” I Corinthians 13:1-3

These verses are incredibly powerful. James Holmes is now seen as a enemy and degenerate of our society. However, Jesus tells us that we must love him. Jesus spent much of him time ministering to the least of these, but in his last hours, we see him love even the criminals of the society, regardless of their actions. And lastly, we see in the letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians that if we have love, we do not have anything.

As a challenge, find people to love in your own life. It does not have to be a criminal, but rather, it can be someone in your family, a friend, or a complete stranger. Whatever it might be, reach out, it can never hurt to love other people. People everywhere are desperate for love and can have the potential to change a life.

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