Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Do you think it might be time to have another national conversation about gun control?  When Gabby Giffords was blasted and all of those innocents were killed in Arizona, we gave it the old college try.  The NRA and gun rights advocates came out in full force against anyone who would even consider that it might be vaguely possible to get even a little control of the weapons and ammunition offered to absolutely anyone, at any time, for any reason.  If someone came out publicly for some form of gun control, or at least not allowing guns into the hands of nut jobs, they were called unpatriotic.   To consider the 2nd amendment fallible was like saying the Founding Fathers could have been mistaken and to too many of the self-proclaimed patriotic, The Founding Fathers = GOD.  The Constitution = BIBLE.  Truly.  Don’t you mess with my constitution now!  

I am not one of those people who think the founding fathers were infallible.  They were plenty fallible.  Who wants to live in a world where it is legal to own another human and make him/her do your bidding?  About one third of the signers of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves, including two of the three writers of the Declaration.  Thomas Jefferson himself owned around 150 slaves.  Who believes the Constitution is infallible when women had no rights to vote or own property?  The Constitution was written by white, male elitists who could not have foreseen the changes to come two-and-a-half centuries later.  They just didn’t see it coming.   They couldn’t have.

I checked out the 2nd amendment to the constitution.  Here’s what it says, "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."  The context is pretty important here.  America had just fought with a superpower of the times.  To win, they had to use local militias.   The founding fathers were scared of a ruthless, authoritarian government.  Today, we do not need well-regulated militias.  And the militias we have today are not regulated at all.  They are just plain scary.  Gun rights advocates reliance on the 2nd amendment simply doesn’t make sense in terms of militias – which is what the amendment was intended for.
Another aspect of context is the weaponry we are talking about.  Back in the day of our forefathers, a rifleman was lucky to be able to shoot once or twice a minute.  The guns were single shot muskets.  In the recent Colorado shootings, the killer used an AR15 assault rifle.  With this gun, he could shoot as many times as he could pull the trigger – 50-60 times a minute. And he had over 6,000 rounds of ammunition.
Try defending the 2nd amendment to the families of the tens of thousands who die each year in America from firearms.  Really.  I’d like to hear a convincing argument. 

Convince the victims at Columbine High School where 12 students and a teacher were murdered and 21 others were wounded that we should have the right to bear practically any arms we desire.  Or tell it to the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre where 32 people were killed and 17 were wounded.  Explain our rights to bear any kind of arms to the families of the victims at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966 where 16 people were killed and 32 wounded.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
In the year 2007
Homicide with a firearm: 12,129
Suicide with a firearm: 17,348
Death by accidental discharge of firearm: 721

Predictably, the argument about gun control will heat up again, although I have serious doubts about anything substantive changing.  The NRA spends millions each year on lobbying efforts to be sure that we all have the right to own and bear arms. 

After the shooting in Aurora last week gun rights advocates claimed predictably that if others in that crowded auditorium were armed, someone could have shot and killed the shooter before he could have shot and killed so many others.  That’s not very likely because the shooter was covered in body armor.  So, unless the well armed bystander was shooting with armor piercing bullets – it wouldn’t have helped.

From the NY Times (.com): With a few keystrokes, the suspect, James E. Holmes, ordered 3,000 rounds of handgun ammunition, 3,000 rounds for an assault rifle and 350 shells for a 12-gauge shotgun — an amount of firepower that costs roughly $3,000 at the online sites — in the four months before the shooting, according to the police. It was pretty much as easy as ordering a book from Amazon.
When I buy Heidi’s allergy medicine at the drugstore, a photo ID and signature are required.  My information goes into a database to make sure that I am not purchasing an unusually large amount that could be used to cook up meth.  I get it.  That doesn’t bug me.  It makes sense.  Does it make sense that a guy could buy 6,000 bullets online and it not raise any warning flags?  Anywhere? 
He also bought head-to-toe body armor and a high capacity drum magazine that allowed him to shoot his assault rifle 100 times without reloading.  No record forwarded anywhere.  No background check.  No notice to law enforcement.  At all.  Gun groups have been saying that more restrictions would not make the nation safer and that they would restrict our constitutional right.  Ah yes, our constitutional rights.  What about the rights of those people killed and wounded in that theater?  Are they not guaranteed by the same constitution?
The freaky part of the argument to me is the stuff from people like former Arizona senator Russell Pearce who wrote last Saturday - “Where were the men of flight 93???? Someone should have stopped this man,” he wrote. “…All that was needed is one Courages/Brave man prepared mentally or otherwise to stop this it could have been done.”  And that’s not all… “Lives were lost because of a bad man, not because he had a weapon, but because no one was prepared to stop it.”  This opinion echoes the ideas of the National Rifle Association – the more guns out there, the more lenient the gun laws, the less gun violence there will be.  I’d like to see some proof of that. 
No, Mr. Pearce, lives were lost because of the weapons.  If that killer only had a knife or a sword or even hunting rifle or a pistol, this tragedy would have been so much less. 
Listen, we have free speech in this country.  And we should.  But one is held accountable for yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded theater.  That isn’t free speech.  That is lunacy.  That is just wrong.  So… isn’t it wrong for someone to be able to buy an assault rifle, a shotgun, two pistols, 6,000 bullets and hundreds of shotgun shells, magazines that hold a hundred bullets each, and full-body protective armor?  Without a background check?  Without a waiting period?  This guy paid extra to have some of his orders expedited for God’s sake! 
I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t that just a little too much “freedom”?  Isn’t there a line a little closer to sanity we can draw about the types and amounts of weapons we can buy in our country?  Now that we are several news cycles away from what happened in Aurora, the conversation is already slipping away.  Already gun rights advocates are breathing a sigh of relief about this moment of scrutiny passing. 

We shouldn’t let it pass.
OK, if you have put up with my rant, here is your dessert.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Good Man - In The Worst Sense Of The Word

I don’t really like entertainment news.  I try to avoid it.  But if you live in this country and read a newspaper or walk by the tabloids in the grocery stores you know that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting divorced.  I guess I feel sorry for them, but I’m not even sure if they are real people. 

So, like most adults in America I know that Sylvester Stallone’s son died this week.  Sort of mysterious.  Again, I don’t know the guy or his first wife (Sage Stallone’s mom), but I feel sorry for them.  How hard would that be?  For anyone?  I can’t imagine losing one of my boys.  The pain would be excruciating.  It’s not the way it’s supposed to work.  The parents are supposed to die first. 

Then I find out that the Westboro Baptist Church is planning on picketing his funeral.  You know Westboro Baptist Church (go ahead, check them out at  They are the Christian hate group who busy themselves (and get much needed attention) by picketing the funerals of servicemen and women as well as gay murder victims and people who have died of AIDS.  From Wikipedia: The group came into the national spotlight in 1998, when it was featured on CNN for picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young man from Wyoming who was beaten to death by two men because of his homosexuality.[28] Since then, the church has attracted attention for many more actual and planned funeral pickets.[29][30][31][32][33][34]
In July 2005, the Westboro Baptist Church declared its intention to picket the memorial service of Carrie French in Boise, Idaho. French, 19, was killed on June 5 in Kirkuk, Iraq, where she served as an ammunition specialist with the 116th Brigade Combat Team's 145th Support Battalion. Phelps Sr. said, "Our attitude toward what's happening with the war is the Lord is punishing this evil nation for abandoning all moral imperatives that are worth a dime."[35]
In 2006, Westboro picketed with banners saying "God hates fags" and "Thank God for dead soldiers" at the Westminster, Maryland, funeral of Matthew Snyder, a U.S. Marine who was also killed in Iraq.[36] Ruling on a subsequent lawsuit filed by Snyder's father, Albert Snyder, the U.S. Supreme Court decided 8–1 that Westboro's actions constituted protected free speech.[37]

Check out their
Sister Sites: - God hates all false religious systems. That includes Islam. - The worldwide media is in place for WBC to preach through. What they mean for evil God means for good. - Brief, fascinating videos that offer Bible-based expositions of the message of WBC. - Country-by-country explanation of why God hates the world. - What the Bible teaches about the final fate of the nation of Israel for murdering the Messiah. - A Scriptural look at the rising beast and how he is going to usher in the destruction of the world. - The Catholic Church: the largest, most well-funded and organized pedophile machine in history. - Chronicles the worldwide street preaching ministry of Westboro Baptist Church!
         - Builds the airtight case that america is not only cursed of God, but that this curse is irreversible.

These are the people who have the numbers.  The REAL numbers.  They know exactly how many soldiers that GOD killed in Afghanistan.  They know exactly how many gallons of oil GOD poured in the Gulf of Mexico.  They know how many people God spared in the flood (8 – Noah and his peeps, right?) and how many God killed in the flood (16,000,000,000 – that’s sixteen billion.  I know, I know, there are less than 8 billion now and this is the largest number ever to inhabit the earth.  But these people know the real truth!).  If you go to their homepage you can even find out exactly how many “people whom God has cast into hell since you loaded this page.”  And it's a lot, friends.

These people mean business.  So on July 13, Margie Phelps, the daughter of Westboro Baptist Church “leader” Fred Phelps, tweeted her followers (over 5,600) urging them to picket Stallones’s funeral.  And you know what?  There will more than likely be plenty of fools who do just as they are told.  Because the more anguish they can cause, the more pain they can inflict, the more attention they can get – the more righteous they are.  In their own eyes. 

"When a parent loses a child there is no greater pain," Sylvester Stallone said in a statement released to TMZ. "Therefore I am imploring people to respect my talented son's memory and feel compassion for his loving mother Sasha."  This is reason enough for these nutjobs to picket.  Think of the splash.  Think of the eyes turned toward them.  Think of the “teaching” they can do about Christianity!  What an excellent opportunity. 

Of course, these idiots are the enemies of Christianity.  They are the epitome of what many non-Christians think about us.  In interviews with hundreds of young people, authors Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman, “discovered that nearly half of unchurched young Americans hold a bad impression of evangelical believers. They are especially bothered by, among other things, evangelicals' conservative political activism, hypocrisy, anti-homosexuality, and judgmentalism.”  That is the Westboro Baptist Church in a nutshell. 

All organized religions have image problems.  It’s too bad.  Religion can cause powerful, positive changes.  At it’s best, religion can bring about social justice, an immense feeling of fellowship, comfort to the needy and sick, logic and intelligence to political problems.  And at its worst… You have WBC. 

My old friend Marty wrote in a response to one of my posts, “When people ask me my religion, I say I’m reality based.”  We should all be so. 

If you know me you know that David Wilcox is one of my favorite singer/songwriters.  He is a master.  One of my favorite newish songs is called Good Man.  It reminds us of the pain religion can cause.  Because there will always be a good man, in the worst sense of the word.  Do yourself a favor and click on the link below to hear him sing it.  

Let me apologize in advance
For the way my friend behaves
He'll pick a fight and take a holy stance
He's so proud that he's so saved

I hope you don't judge Jesus
By the things my friend will say
He holds a bible like a dagger
And he twists it just that way

He just loves conversation - like a cat loves a bird
I guess he's always been a good man - in the worst sense of the word

The good knights went out to save the day
In the age of the crusades
A sharp sword on a tortured soul
They were sure the point was made
Any tool can be a weapon
If it's used with that intent
The devil's great at quoting scripture
And confusing what it meant

So all the evils done for Jesus - it is a history so absurd
But there will always be a good man - in the worst sense of the word

They 'jacked a plane to make a sneak attack
They were trained to die in flames
Their last words were to God above
Just to praise His holy name

For all the terror and destruction
They felt no sense of shame
You gotta wonder why religion
Can make people so insane

But their devotion was unquestioned - follow straight and never swerve
The devil always needs a good man - in the worst sense

Monday, July 9, 2012



The waxing gibbous moon is setting
Deep in the night I'm not forgetting
A love once young
Long since begun
Has vanished with the setting sun

The cricket's tune is mournful and long
I sit in darkness and hum along
A challenging test
There will be no rest
A painful tightness in my chest

Alone under the starry sky
Confused and empty, too tired to cry
Our time is past
It couldn't last
Why did it have to go so fast?

Yesterday's over, today's not begun
I wait in the gray for the rising sun
This time between
Is not what it seems
Too late for sleep, too tired for dreams

When daylight's colors reach across
We'll know the truth and feel the loss
The colors dance
A lost romance
No waiting for a second chance

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Boy In Summer

When I was a kid, the beginning of summer was something so special.  For one thing, summer lasted forever.  The possibilities of unrestricted fun were limitless.  My parents wanted us outside which was fine with me.  We were so entirely free.  This little poem is an attempt to capture that feeling.

A Boy In Summer

Summer for the young
Stretches out into forever
Each day is endless freedom
T-shirts and shorts
And sandals if you need 'em

Waking up into a day 
Of almost too many choices
Of meadow flowers and garter snakes
But if your parents catch you
Perhaps a garden rake

And if the day is hot
And you droop beneath the sun
You get yourself to a swimming hole
And find some worms 
And a fishing pole

Every day is an adventure
You start out with no plan
There are endless possibilities
Riding bikes and playing ball
And always climbing trees

Shadows grow long
Parents' voices ring out
Dinnertime brings sweet sorrow
Crickets sing, you make new plans
'Cause there will always be tomorrow

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Left To Tell

If you know me, you know that five years ago I went to Rwanda with a bunch of brilliant people who taught me about a part of the world I was just coming to understand.   I had read Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza.  When I was finished, I read it again.  It was so compelling, so real and it contains lessons for a lifetime.

Then I had the chance to go to Rwanda and explore this beautiful place, meet these wonderful people.  The Fourth of July means so much more to me now.  July 4th is also Liberation Day in Rwanda, the day when Paul Kagame, the rebel leader of the RPF, came into Kigali and rescued Rwanda from a genocide that had lasted 100 days.  One million one hundred seventeen thousand people were killed.  I had the chance to meet and hang out with the survivors, visit sacred burial sites, to see the places of tragedy and miracles.

While I was there I took pictures and kept a writer's notebook.  My notebook was a long letter to Heidi, a travel log, and a journal.  When I returned I posted my thoughts on a blog.  Below are a few blog posts I wrote on Liberation Day in Rwanda, five years ago.


Thursday 7/4/07

I miss you so badly today. Fourth of July is one holiday we have always spent together and one we enjoy so much. Not so much because we think of or honor our independence. Just because we make it special. The fireworks, the boat, grilling out… family.

Today is the thirteenth anniversary of the end of the genocide. Today the Hutu and Tutsi celebrate the end of real madness and the beginning of goodness coming back into this country. Before the genocide the Tutsis were mercilessly persecuted. When they were mocked, compared to cockroaches, threatened, beaten, raped, even killed – they could do nothing. Just look away, just hope that it didn’t get worse. Just pray. Then there were three months of Hell.

Today, things are not right in Rwanda but they are getting there. Thirteen years ago well over a million people were killed in the worst ways imaginable. Thirteen years ago Immaculee and the others were praying in the bathroom they had been in for months. There was no government, police, social services, transportation – nothing civilized except for the unbelievable daring of some selfless people who risked their lives to save others.

The Soccer Field

Paul Kagame enters the futbol stadium on Liberation day

Independence Day in Rwanda is remembered by the people here to celebrate real independence. The ceremony at the soccer stadium was surreal. Because we were with Immaculee, our little eclectic group was seated in the VIP section. Parade. Business, military, dignitaries. It lasted for about four hours. Paul Kagame’s speech was pretty amazing. He would like to see Rwanda’s image go beyond malaria, AIDS, poverty, third world status and, especially, the genocide. It was all about individuals making a huge difference in the lives of their countrymen.

Boring at the time because it was in Kinyrwanda but it was later translated for us by Richard and Immaculee. The president was only a short distance from us when he gave his address to the country. Before going into the stadium we met some important dignitaries and men in the military. The head of all of the military in all of Rwanda set us up with the nice seats and the invitation to the reception with the president afterwards. I can’t remember his name (James ?). He’s one of the most powerful people in the country.

The Military

Paul Kagame delivers his Liberation Day speech.

One of the surprising things for me was how much the military/violence/weapons were glorified during the parade and ceremony. It’s just that it wouldn’t be all that acceptable in our country. Lots of demonstrations of hand-to-hand combat, bayonet drills, hatchet-knife-pickax-and machete throwing demonstrations, etc. Different sections of the military part of the parade were devoted to showing off different weapons. A hundred guys would march with M16s.

Then another hundred with

Then grenade launchers. The VIP section was about half military men in camo-type uniforms. It only stands to reason that the military would be held in such high esteem since it was what stood between genocide and eventual peace, madness and civilization. It is also what keeps their enemies at bay (the Interahamwe – extremist Hutu – are all around in neighboring countries). I’m sure this was just as much to show their enemies their military strength and resolve as it was to give the people of Rwanda peace of mind. Still it was kind of spooky. Same with all of the heavily armed police and military presence around Kigali. Lots of guns. Big ones.

The Reception

A soldier prepares his speech at the Liberation Day celebration.

The reception was also surreal. It was in the office compound of the president. He was socializing and having his picture taken with dignitaries. I never approached him, although I wanted to. He is so brave, so selfless. He saved this country in its most desperate hour and he presides over a peace and reconciliation process like the world has never seen. I am in awe of him. But I couldn’t approach him. So much heavily armed security – of course.

Beautiful women in traditional dress, high powered government officials and officers in uniforms, huge tents open at the sides – a full bar in every one, exotic food, wonderful traditional dancers. They were beautiful/mesmerizing/haunting/enchanting/sensual. Large hollow animal skin drums and chanting. You would have loved that part. They danced the land; swaying grass, long horned cows, the wind, the savannah, the rainforest. There was so much power in that compound. It was kind scary (beginning to see a pattern?). Not so much the awe-of-the-elite. Just knowing how much blood had been spilled by the men in that place. Also the suffering many of them had to endure. Men with machete scars across their heads, bullet scars, slash marks. It wasn’t bad. It was exciting, intense. 

It was also a little creepy leaving because we headed out to find the cars and drivers without exactly knowing where they were. There was a lot of desperation there. Soldiers with machine guns everywhere. People driving crazily (which is pretty average here). Lots of poor people asking for money.

We ended up going to a soccer game in that same stadium where the president spoke. Weary. Long day. I miss you more than you can know. I love you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New Poems

wooden body
steel strings
twisty machines
bone pegs
folk songs
rock music
rhythm and blues
metal frets 
good friend

running children
loud voices
happy hearts
dusty shoes
dirty knees
flying balls
swinging ropes
climbing bars
loud whistle

Casting carefully
looking meticulously
trolling slowly
selecting craftily
grabbing carefully
holding proudly
releasing kindly


Chirping Mournfully
Summer is over and gone
Last songs of summer

Shiny black in fields
Jumping lazily along
Happy summer dance

Antennae swirling
Gathering information
Exploring their world

Six-legged wonders
Crawling, hopping, leaping high
Amazing black bugs

Red is apples on a fall tree
Gifts of fruit for you and me
Red is anger in a cold heart
Red means STOP and a strawberry tart
Red is blood - it gives us life
Red is war, evil, strife

Old Guitar
With taped up case and rusted locks
Much more than strings and a wooden box
It tells of friends from times long past
Of love so strong and meant to last
Lullabies sung deep in the night
To sooth small boys who woke in fright
Sing at the beach and the sandy shore
Or in my room and the wooden floor
On that humid porch as insects sing
At the bottom of the hill in that old swing

Marvelous mysterious melodies made
Using wonderfully crafted devices
Seeking beauty
In my
Careful fingers

Anger and

Racing to the
End to find
Answers to questions and 
Inside characters and events
Now I must 
Get another book

Heron Day
down on the porch
high up in the trees
not a leaf is stirring
for there is no breeze
morning fog is rolling
into the valley below
it's pouring like a liquid
thick and sweet and slow
I see a faint shape moving
in that mass of cloud
a great blue heron breaks through
it's voice is clear and loud
pulling fog behind it
as it makes its way
then on into the valley
it starts its heron day