Sunday, September 23, 2018

Praying in the blur.

This has been a busy news week.

So much buzz, I've had a hard time keeping track of it all, not to mention the stack of political stories. Two mass shootings, one in Wisconsin, one in Maryland. One cop facing trial in Dallas for killing her neighbor in his own apartment, which the accused officer says she mistook for her own. Another veteran police officer on trial in Chicago on charges of first-degree murder. He allegedly, unnecessarily shot a suspect 16 times, killing him in the street. That shooting was captured on police video and has played everywhere.

Visit the Web site of any local TV or radio news station or big city daily paper and you will find headlines like:

"21-year-old killed in shooting at Fort Worth party"

"1 killed, thirteen wounded in city (Chicago) shootings"

"Man, 64, shot in foot in Michigan Avenue (Detroit) drive-by"

Day after day, local media turns the valve on an endless stream of carnage from coast to coast. A good friend and former major-market TV anchor told me the marching orders at her last gig were to report just two things "weather and crime in your neighborhood." Animated storm graphics and police blotter are cheap and easy to report. You send a lone photographer out to capture the shots of the house and the yellow crime scene tape. The news anchor yacks over it or your reporter writes a few inches of copy. Done. Roll your two minutes of commercials or run the full-page ad adjacent to the blood and guts.

According the Associated Press, Chicago police officer, Jason Van Dyke, told the Chicago Tribune he prayed daily for the family of the man he shot, teenager Laquan McDonald. If convicted, Van Dyke is facing the potential of spending the rest of his life in prison. McDonald has been dead since 2014.

Both families of the officer and the deceased wait tonight as Van Dykes' defense team opens its case  tomorrow. The victims' families in Wisconsin and Maryland will endure the funeral and burial process. The shooters who attacked their coworkers in both states are now dead. Both suffered from mental illness. Their families and friends are in indescribable pain, as are those who lost their loved ones to the heinous mayhem.

When we line up to argue for and against firearms in our national  debate, how many of us stop to think about all those suffering in the crossfire? Those whose child or brother went on a crazed rampage and slaughtered coworkers? Those who sit in jail cells awaiting trials for the unspeakable? Those who were randomly hit by stray bullets? Those who never came home from a party? Those who shot a friend because they had too much to drink or lost too much in a card game? Those who saw it happen?

Who prays for the vilified? Or the father who forgot to lock up his handgun? The one his child used to shoot a friend.

In the blur of gunfire and all the news stories, so many are wounded. And we all need to pray for them -- all of them.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Intense love

You are surrounded by two ferocious intruders.

At your front door is a hurricane. At your side is a typhoon. Only one weapon can protect you from these forces that defy human control.


St. Peter, the guy Jesus nicknamed, "Rock," said this, "Let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8) You may have heard it translated as "because love conquers all."

Some reports describe the flooding in America's Carolinas as "biblical." Landslides are burying people in the Philippines. And we're still waiting for the storm waters to stop rising so the full force of the rescues can begin.

Mother Nature can be as lethal as she is majestically magnificent and mesmerizing. Her powerful expressions are universally humbling and make even the most fearless tremble and beg her for peace.

It takes courage to love those we don't know as if they were family. Yet, over the coming weeks, quiet heroes will battle the impacts of disaster and comfort thousands who have lost everything. Victims will be left without understanding. Brought to their knees. Powerless.

There is always someone in our circle of family, friends or acquaintances who is battling a storm, submerged in despair. It is up to us to wield the only weapon that works.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Leftover firepower for sale

"The Bible justifies the right to bear arms!"

That's what a couple work colleagues told me many years ago. I was intrigued. Not so much by chapter and verse, because I've seen many manipulations of scripture. But I wanted to understand what they really meant.

"Does that include tanks, bazookas, and RPGs? What about nuclear weapons?" I asked.

One of the guys said, "Yes, there's no limit."

For those concerned about the proliferation of military assault weapons in the hands of civilians, this is sobering. But there's a broad spectrum of thought on the Second Amendment and its meaning. And there is a vast variety of influences in the debate. These include enormous sources of revenue from firearms. All this is interlaced with the issue and the long standing tradition of gun ownership, marksmanship and defense, both personal and national.

For example, this week, Bloomberg ran a story on a little known organization that is wealthier than the National Rifle Association (NRA). You can read the expansive story here about the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) that dates back to President Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders.

Roosevelt was concerned that American citizens, if drafted to fight in a war, might not know how to wield weapons. That was the purpose of the CMP. To train civilians. Of course, during the Spanish-American War, we didn't have the mammoth "big stick" defense budget we have today and massive corp of troops, sailors, airmen and marines.

By the end of the 20th century, Uncle Sam declared the CMP obsolete. Congress didn't agree. So, among the other surprises you'll discover Bloomberg's piece is this one: the U.S. armed forces sells surplus weapons through a private, non-profit that promotes guns and gun safety to youth. This non-profit earns hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale of leftover military firearms, some to collectors. The recent defense spending bill authorized the delivery of 18,000 M1911 pistols to the CMP over the next couple years. The premise is, the sale of the weapons cache saves the U.S. the cost of storing them. Turns out, the warehousing is less than a buck a year per pistol, much less. After refurb, the non-profit expects to sell them to the public for $850 to $1,050 per pistol. Their cost, the price of shipping the weapons. That's it. Buyers are already lining up, so if you want an M1911 this fall, you'll have lots of competition. CMP could earn $18 million from the refreshed military sidearms. That's a pretty nice non-profit. CMP is sitting on a quarter-billion in assets.

Not sure where this process is covered in the Bible, or for that matter the Constitution. But in the tug-of-war over America's gun culture, follow the money.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Praying for a second chance

"Nothing stops a bullet like a job!"

Those are the words of Greg Boyle, SJ, a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries of Los Angeles. The organization's Web site says it's "the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world."

Through a similar program in Chicago, founded by Catholic priests,  I've met former gang members, who committed serious, violent crimes as juveniles. They have each spent more than a decade in prison. Now, they are again living in the community and compassionately working to show teens and young adults how to avoid incarceration. They're dedicated to accompanying those they mentor and help them find employment.

Because it is a job and the dignity of work that allows each of us to feel that we're contributing. Working shapes our self worth and sense of belonging. It requires us to selflessly give of ourselves and our valuable time to help carry the load. The lifting we do impacts our families, the lives of those we love, and even total strangers. In exchange, we receive a wage. We are created to feel the value of work. To earn. To be acknowledged for our contribution to something greater than ourselves.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

But if you've got a police record, especially for an act of aggression, finding a paying situation can be especially challenging. Even employers that are felony friendly often reject those who have been convicted of assault.

On this Labor Day weekend, when we honor our neighbors and fellow citizens who do the work that sustains our communities, know there a many who are praying for a second chance.

"Nothing stops a bullet like a job!"

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Talk

When I was a little boy, my mother and father told me to never talk to strangers. Never. Of course, we had the other talk about how babies are made, but I already knew that secret before they told me.

By the time I became a parent, the faces of children began appearing on milk cartons making "stranger danger" breakfast conversation.

What I don't understand is how our older son and his wife will explain school lockdown drills to their young children. Our 3-year-old granddaughter will begin school in about ten days. She's so tiny and innocent and I'm not looking forward to hearing her questions about gun violence. We talk about safety all the time in terms of boo-boos that can really hurt you. But not bullets and gunshot wounds.

Although we've discussed bad people who hurt others, we've never talked about armed attackers. I'm sure there will be a fire drill at school. She understands hot and cold and getting a burn at the stove. We've even talked a little about life and death when she spotted a dead robin on the sidewalk. But not the idea that someone can come into a theater, church, or preschool and savagely shatter lives by slaughtering people, including tiny children. I can't imagine telling her "Your teacher has a gun in case someone comes into the classroom and tries to shoot you and your classmates."

The thought reminds me there are children dodging bullets and bombs in war zones around the world, and parents who seek refuge for their families in other countries.

So, is it time to have that talk with a toddler ... or is it time to change our conversation about gun violence in America?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Taste and see.

Today, while driving through an unfamiliar suburban neighborhood near Chicago, I saw peace.

A young girl, perhaps 11 years old, rode her bike, smiling broadly, her hijab furling in the wind. On the next block, an enormous star of David stretched across the brick facade of a synagogue. We had just enjoyed lunch at a Lebanese restaurant, prepared by a chef from Baghdad, who had learned from European chefs while living in Amsterdam. A Syrian Christian woman waited on us, while a 17-year-old South American  guy swept the floor. People of all colors from many nations filled this spotless eatery, savoring the flavors, aromas and atmosphere.

A car salesman, the grandson of a Palestinian refugee, suggested the lunch place. He told me he could  trace his ancestry to an ancient, tiny village near  the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.  Some of his extended family, who are Muslim, still live there. His boss, a friendly Catholic, explained the rosary tattooed artistically around his forearm.  He asked me about the Jerusalem cross on my ring. I told him about my Jewish friend who located a craftsman to engrave it. This jeweler chose a Muslim surgeon to perform a very delicate procedure on his back.

Despite the turmoil, tension and tragedy that fills the 24-hour-news cycle, ordinary people with powerful differences, enjoy swapping stories and celebrating the things they share every day.

It's a beautiful thing to experience peace in action.  Thousands of years ago, the psalmist, David, sang it this way, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:9). On this day, it genuinely felt like God was among these people, alive and joyful nourishing their serenity. Food never tasted this good.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Counting The Children

The typewriter sat like a lonely sentry under the window to nowhere with a single page of newsprint on the roll. That day, there was one name with age and address typed across the paper. It was the basic identification of the latest recorded homicide victim in the "Murder City." Detroit had earned that title in the 1970's and early 1980's by leading the nation in reported annual murders.

It was 1977, and I was in the press room at Detroit Police Headquarters, 1300 Beaubien Street back in the day. This was my junior year as an electronic journalism student at Wayne State University. Public Affairs Reporting put me in the cop house for three weeks, the city county building for three more and the courts for the balance. I covered colorful debates at Detroit's legendary city council, murder trials where defendants stared down witnesses, and I wrote a feature piece on a remarkably talented police artist who recreated the faces of suspects. Our assignment was to turn in several stories each week for the entire term. The best lessons were learned on the beat.

And if you were in the press room at police headquarters, even if you were just a student, you were expected to type and record the identity of any victim, when public information officer, Sargent Fred Williams, hustled in with the info. The local reporters were sharing duty of tallying the list of the dead, to accurately tabulate a total.

This week, I heard from two relatives who live in Detroit asking me about the insane spike in shootings in Chicago, where last week 66 people were shot and 12 killed. My wife and I live in the Windy City now. So do our two sons, our daughter-in-law who is expecting, and our darling granddaughter. Chicago had 750 murders in 2016 and is awaiting official FBI totals from 2017. Truth is, Baltimore and Detroit are still considered statistically more murderous, despite lower totals, because their populations are smaller. They report more murders per 100,000 than Chicago, Philadelphia, Nashville, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Houston and New York City. But when 66 people are shot in a week, a city instantly jumps to the front of the headlines.

Why are we so violent, with so many more gun killings than other industrialized nations? That would take too many chapters and interviews to answer journalistically. But I can scratch the surface on something just as important: the impact this kind of violence has on the next generation.

I met a man recently who mentors in one of the most violent communities in the nation, on Chicago's South Side. He grew up in the neighborhood where he now serves. He inspires me because he hasn't forgotten his community, now that his life is better. And he said something that has been haunting me.

Imagine for a moment you are a child. You're in middle school or high school. You see five or six kids murdered in your community each year. If you lived in the suburbs, you'd receive special counseling if just one kid were shot in your neighborhood. But not in this one. You grow up wondering if you'll make it to see your thirtieth birthday.

These at-risk kids don't choose to live where they do. And their mentor is doing his best to guide them through the maze of jeopardy. What can we do to help?

Jesus said: "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them: for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14)

While we're counting the number of lives lost to violence, we need to include those who live on, wounded by the trauma. Heaven knows we need to save them, no matter where they live.