Stuff Happens: Ten Dead and Seven Wounded in Oregon

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush was asked to respond to the massacre of ten and wounding of seven students at Umpqua Community College in Roseberg, Oregon. Specifically he was asked whether stricter gun laws were needed. He said: “Look stuff happens, there’s always a crisis and the impulse is to do something (more government control) and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

In recent years a lot of murderous ‘stuff’ has been happening. According to the web site Mass Shooting Tracker which tracks events in the USA where 4 or more people are shot in an event, there have been 994 mass shooting events in 1004 days.

Most of us thought that the murder of 24 children and staff in Newtown, CT in 2012 would be the tipping point for tightening up on our lax gun control laws. But we’ve learned that the NRA is a powerful barrier to gun restrictions and to date has controlled the political debate. The NRA offers an extreme interpretation to the 2nd Amendment where there are essentially no limits on access to weapons and the harm they can inflict.

To understand the effectiveness of the NRA we need only follow the money. The NRA has received 39 million dollars in recent years from the 12 billion dollar a year firearms industry. The NRA as a primary lobby for the gun industry spends millions of dollars to support and defeat members of congress. Thus far the NRA has effectively controlled the debate in Congress and has muted resistance within the Democratic party and is seemingly in complete control of the Republican narrative, hence Jeb Bush’s lame response to yet another mass shooting, ‘stuff happens’.

NRA president Wayne Lapierres response to the mass shooting is to arm more people. Donald Trump leading in the Republican polls calls for arming every teacher. It’s enough to hang one’s head in despair for common sense.

vigil in Roseberg

Yet, throughout history there has come a tipping point when enough people have awakened to the need for change. This was true with the great justice movements in US history: Abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, gay rights. Underlying these great historic events were years of effort and seeming failure until that time arose when enough people came together to usher in change.

I believe that in time reasonable gun controls will become the law of the land. In time enough of us will no longer accept the fear mongering of the NRA and the gun industry. In time we will no longer accept the resistance or inaction on the part of our elected officials.

Enough ‘stuff’ has happened. Enough lives full of promise have been extinguished. It’s long past time for a change. Will you add your voice and efforts and tip the scale? Will you say no to fear and yes to reasonable laws? Laws that allow us to send our kids to school and walk our streets with a greater sense of safety? We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for, the answer rests with us.

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Spirituality of Extreme Weather

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Spirituality of Extreme Weather

I grew up in New England where extreme weather is the norm. We can have hot humid summers that rival an Ecuadorian rainforest. Heavy rains can so soak the earth that water seeps from basement walls and rises from basement floors.

Winter however is where New England often smacks you upside the head. I remember the blizzard of 1978 but nothing prepared us in the greater Boston area for 9 feet plus of snow, that accumulated from a series of blizzards in February and March of this year. It was epic and brutal.

Blizzard of 1978

I grew up in New England but for twenty years lived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The Willamette offers a generally moderate climate with occasional moments of weather related drama. For the most part it is a pleasant climate where the finicky Pinot Noir grape flourishes and flowers emerge in late winter. In the valley there are generally two seasons, wet and dry.

Over a year ago I returned to New England and have lived through a full cycle of the four distinct seasons. For me this cycle has been a spiritual journey. There’s something about living through an extreme winter that encourages one to appreciate the spring and savor the summer even with its humidity. There’s something about being smacked upside the head by 6″ of water in my basement last October, that invites me to savor the warm, dry and beautiful days that accompany these initial days of Autumn.

While I will always love the beauty of Oregon I find that New England has attuned me to the weather and my surroundings in a deeper way. I find that a change in the weather is also bringing about a change in me.

I am more aware of the birds migrating south for the winter, more dialed in to the tides and the wind as I regularly launch my kayak in the ocean. Today I went for a long run because it was sunny and dry and I know the opportunity to do so is fleeting.

Monks and mystics teach that being awake is essential to be awakened by that great mystery we call God/Creator/Spirit. Being awake physically, emotionally and spiritually opens one up to lessons and gifts that otherwise might be missed.

Thich Nhat Hahn the Vietnamese Buddhist invites us to practice mindfulness. He offers a lovely mantra to be in the moment: ‘Breathing in I calm my spirit; breathing out I smile. (Inhale) Living in the moment; (exhale) this is the only moment.’

Living in New England helps me to live in the moment. Partly because I don’t know what the next moment (weather wise) will be. And, as I live in the moment I find there is much to be aware of and thankful for.

If I forget and begin to live in the past or the future, a Nor’easter storm off the ocean, a blizzard or a breathtakingly beautiful morning (as it was this morning) will grab me by the lapels and say ‘listen up and look around!’

3000 years ago a Hebrew prophet named Isaiah said, ‘Listen and your soul will love’. New England weather requires that we keep attuned to what is going on around us. And, if we are attuned enough, we may very well discover that something new and life-giving is being awakened within.

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From Scarcity to Abundance: Refugee Crisis, Part 2

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From Scarcity to Abundance: Refugee Crisis, Part 2

In the previous blog we explored how our world is governed by the Economy of Scarcity. A scarcity mindset constricts the mind, imagination and heart. Scarcity teaches that there is only so much to go around and we must protect what is yours.

Desperate refugees fleeing civil war and grinding poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and northern Africa are fleeing in record numbers to the gates of Europe. The response of the Hungarian government is a grim example of the scarcity mindset at work. That government has set up razor wire barriers and passed a law criminalizing any refugee who seeks to pass through.


Is there an alternative to scarcity thinking? Yes. The answer is found in an ancient story. Whether you take the story literally or metaphorically there are lessons to be had.

2000 years ago a healer and prophet named Jesus brought about a miracle. A crowd of 5000 had gathered to hear him. Late in the day his disciples urged Jesus to disperse the crowd so they could forage for food. Instead, Jesus had the crowd break into companies of 50 and 100. Then Jesus took his disciples scarce provisions, 5 loaves and two fish and offered everything he had to the crowd.

At first glance this seems like a hopeless and reckless gesture. How do you feed so many with so little?

Parker Palmer the theologian suggests that this intentional act of vulnerability led to the miracle. Moved by the generosity and selflessness of Jesus and his disciples, the crowd which had hidden away food of their own, began to share with others.

The miracle was that those who had nothing now had enough. Those who had much and a little had enough. And, points out Palmer, by breaking the vast crowd into companies of 50 and 100 it was no longer as easy to ignore or refuse to help. Now the person in need had a name, a story.

This is called the Gospel of Abundance. Translated to today’s refugee crisis, nations of the world have the capacity to solve this crisis. We have the resources to feed and place those who are fleeing war and poverty. We have the resources and capacity to solve the conditions that have led to the wars and poverty.

The Gospel of Abundance tells us that there is an alternative to fear which fuels scarcity thinking. When we act abundantly we make a series of choices: We choose to not give in to fear. We choose to take a risk and share what we have. We choose to open our hearts, minds and imagination to new ways of thinking, new ways of partnering to solve seemingly intractable problems.

Do we see examples of abundance at work? Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Jordan, Turkey have been on the front lines for many months and in some cases for years in housing and rescuing refugees. Germany has committed to receiving and housing up to 800,000 refugees in 2015 at a cost of 6.6 billion dollars.

Welcoming refugees

Such examples of abundance offers an example to the United States. My country has stood largely on the side lines and only recently agreed to receive 10,000 Syrians at an undetermined rate. We are capable of doing so much more.

As a pastor I see local communities of faith being capable of getting involved and making a difference. A committee in the church I serve is researching ways to lobby our elected officials to make our nation more generous. One step is to lobby for ‘The Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act’, now before Congress. We’re also looking into ways to partner and help house refugee families.

Imagine what happens when every church, synagogue, mosque, temple, tribe, city and nation is led by the Gospel of Abundance. 2000 years ago a prophet and healer named Jesus made a choice not to be governed by fear or scarcity. The result was a miracle. That same capacity for the miraculous is found within you and me and the communities we belong to. Don’t you think its time for another miracle?

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Scarcity, Fear and the Refugee Crisis: Part 1

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Scarcity, Fear and the Refugee Crisis: Part 1

Much of our world is governed by the Economy of Scarcity. The Economy of Scarcity teaches that there is only so much to go around and that the wise person takes care of oneself and one’s own first. If anything is left over then you may choose to share. Nations go to war to protect what they have.

The governing principle of Scarcity is fear. Fear of not having enough. Fear of someone else taking what is yours. Fear that you must rely on yourself first and foremost. In the United States our mythology of the strong, independent pioneer reinforces this mindset. Libertarian principles both political and cultural reinforce this ideal.

The positive side is that it leads people and nations to strive to be self-sufficient. The negative is what takes place when circumstances are so overwhelming that individualism is not enough.

We are in such a time. According the United Nations there are currently 195 million refugees the largest since World War II. A series of regional wars fueled by political instability, tribal and religious tensions have formed a perfect storm.

Currently hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan, Libia, Yemen, Somalia and other locals are fleeing for their lives seeking the stability and resources of Europe. The response of Europe has been mixed: Italy and Greece have done their best to cope with refugees coming to their shores in leaky boats (3000 are estimated to have drowned in 2015 to date).

Refugees in boat

Hungary has put up barbed wire fences and is moving to criminalize those fleeing to their country. Germany and Austria which have been the principal leaders for a humane response are at risk of being overwhelmed unless other hesitant countries in Europe step up.

Here in the United States the scarcity mindset is at work. After a long silence the Obama administration has offered to settle 10,000 Syrian refugees. In contrast Germany has said it will take up to 800,000 refugees in 2015.

Donald Trump is leading in Republican presidential polling with anti-immigration rhetoric. He is calling for forced deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the USA (primarily from Mexico and Central America). He is playing the scarcity card that we can’t afford to take care of others problems whether it be people fleeing poverty or war.

Yet the reality is that our world is inter-dependent. Instability in one region has implications for everyone. The Economy of Scarcity offers no answers. Is there an alternative? I invite you to read this blogs next installment. But before we can explore an alternative we must acknowledge the subtle and not so subtle hold that scarcity thinking has on how we so often function as nations, states, tribes, families and as individuals.

Fear drives scarcity thinking. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Stay tuned.

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