And Now Uvalde, Texas. Had Enough? The Republican Party Hasn’t.

Last week we learned the name of another small city with an elementary school: Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. In the last 23 years we’ve also learned about Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; Marjorie Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. There are several more, but you get the point. Each of these schools lost students to gun violence.

This type of mass murder also happens outside of schools as we learned of shootings at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York; Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada; Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. And this is only a fraction.

I wrote a longer article in 2018 and I don’t wish to repeat it here. I argued that it was time to outlaw the purchase of assault rifles. They have no place in legal activities such as hunting. Simply put, they are weapons of war and are designed only to kill a large number of people in a short time.

After every massacre the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party attempt to frame them as mental health issues. This allows them to divert attention away from the guns and their responsibility for the deaths.

After Sandy Hook in 2012 it briefly appeared that the deaths of students that young would shame those groups into talking seriously about reasonable gun control. Alas, no.

As I write this there are some Republicans who are feigning interest in reasonable legislation and I’d like to believe them. I hope I’m wrong.

Kent State, Fifty Two Years Later

If you’re under fifty May 4th probably makes you think of the Star Wars franchise (May the Forth Be With You) but for older generations it’s a day of mourning.

On May 4, 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio four people were killed by members of the Ohio National Guard. About 300 students were on campus protesting US participation in the war in Vietnam.

They were ordered to disperse and tear gas was used to end the protest. You read the details but at some point several guardsmen fired into the crowd. The four killed were:

May they rest in peace.

Ukraine and Russia: This Is Going To Be Much Longer And Much Bloodier

As I write this it’s been about 6 weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine. When Vladimir Putin invaded he expected a quick and easy victory; he didn’t expect Ukrainian resistance to be so fierce. This was partly due to bad advice he was given by his advisors. Dictators often run into this: they demand absolute loyalty from those around him and they tell him only what he wants to hear. Nobody is willing to speak truth or power because they will be fired or worse.

But what happens when a “quick victory” doesn’t work out? Well, nothing good. Rarely does an aggressor recognize the obvious and pull back. And we need only look at several examples from the 20th Century.

  • During World War II Germany fought a war on two fronts: The Soviet Union to the East and the Allies to the West. In 1943 Germany lost the Battle for Stalingrad and Soviet troops began their march toward Berlin. In 1944 Allied troops landed in France and began their march toward Berlin. It was clear that Germany couldn’t win the war but Hitler refused to surrender and the war continued until May 8, 1945.
  • Meanwhile, in the Pacific, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 intended to defeat America’s ability to stop Japan’s quest to conquer much of East Asia. But the next year American forces defeated Japan in the Battle of Midway. It wasn’t easy or fast but American forces were able to begin “island hopping.” In other words we were able to occupy islands that gave us closer and closer access to Japan. Many of us recognize Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa from high school history class. Long after it was clear that Japan could prevail they refused to surrender and they only gave up after two atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • In the 1960s the United States began a policy of supporting South Vietnam against the Communist North Vietnam. We sent advisors and then troops. In 1967 Defense Secretary Robert McNamera asked for a comprehensive report on US involvement in Vietnam, going back to 1945. We now know this report as the “Pentagon Papers.” The report was leaked in 1971 and it reported the American people were regularly lied to and that there were grave doubts as to whether the war was winnable at all. And yet we fought until our withdrawal in 1973.

I don’t think any of us want Putin and Russia to successfully conquer Ukraine. Given his fixation on restoring the old Soviet Union he may then set his sight on the Baltics (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia).

But a war that goes badly for Putin also goes badly for Ukraine. We are already hearing reports of murder of civilians and other atrocities. We can only pray.

Thoughts on Ukraine and Russia

For the past month we’ve been watching horrific scenes from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s been hard to watch.

Russian President Vladimir Putin falsely claims that he is “liberating” Ukraine from the Nazis. The charge is absurd but it calls for some background.

The nations of what we now call Europe and Eastern Asia have often had fluid borders. Suffice it to say that those who live in modern Ukraine claim their own culture and language.

After World War I they were seen as an independent until they were occupied by the newly formed USSR (Union of Socialist Soviet Republics). From 1920 until 1991 the border between Ukraine and the USSR were sufficiently porous that many ethnic Russians moved to Ukraine. This wasn’t much help to Ukraine as Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin essentially attempted to starve the the people of Ukraine in the early 1930s. Ukraine was known as the “breadbasket” of the region because of its rich soil and huge crop yields. But Stalin forced farmers to turn over so much of their yield that between 1931 and 1934 between 4 and 5 million people died of starvation.

But by 1990 – 1991 the Soviet Union could not protect their people and it collapsed, allowing for the freedom of Ukraine and several other countries. In late 1989 the Berlin Wall was torn down and shortly after that East and West Germany reunited, ending Soviet rule in East Germany.

At the time an agent of the KGB, Russia’s spy agency, found himself in East Germany with an uncertain future. His name was Vladimir Putin.

In his climb to power he never forgot the USSR’s collapse and, frankly, he pined for the “good old days” where he could reconquer the nations the Soviet Union lost in 1991.

In 2016 when Donald Trump was elected as the US President, Putin saw an opportunity. In his time in office Trump begged for Putin’s approval.

Trump also often threatened to withdraw from NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) which would give Putin the ability to invade countries in Eastern Europe without worrying that the United States would retaliate.

On February 24, 2022 Putin invaded Ukraine, being told by his advisors that he could conquer Ukraine in a matter of days. It hasn’t happened like that.

But it has caused tremendous damage to the land the people. I’ll be writing more about this as events continue to unfold.

Observations on Roe v. Wade 49 Years Later

It was on this day in 1973 that the Supreme Court rule 7-2 that states could not outlaw abortion in early pregnancy. You can read the opinion here. There has been a great deal of attention as the Supreme Court has accepted a case (Dobbs v. Jackson) that may overturn Roe.

As a Catholic I’m feeling torn about this. I’m pro-life and I find myself nearly alone in the hope that the Supreme Court does not decide to overturn Roe. I believe that all life is sacred but I believe one Supreme Court decision will not achieve that goal. Overturning Roe will only allow individual states to legislate abortion policy (as they did before 1973). I doubt anything will bring abortions to zero but this certainly will not.

Conservative states like Mississippi and Texas will outlaw abortion while liberal states like New York and California will not and this will allow wealthy women to travel to end their pregnancies, a right denied to poor women.

If we wish to be a pro-life nation we need to work to prevent unplanned pregnancies and we know how to do that. First we need to provide sex education in high school. Evidence shows that instead of giving teens permission to have sex it gives them the tools to make mature decisions. Second we need to ensure that everyone has free and available birth control.

Finally, Switzerland’s experience tells us that we need to work on closing the gap between rich and poor. Nearly three out of four women choose abortion out of a fear that an unplanned child will drive them deeper into poverty. I have several friends that describe themselves as “oops babies,” that is, a pregnancy that was unplanned but not unloved or unwelcome. Our best ability to become a pro-life nation lies in the ability to prevent unplanned pregnancies or at least welcome them as “oops babies.”

Thoughts On January 6th, One Year Later

On January 6, 2021 I saw something I never expected: A group of terrorists, angry that Donald Trump was not reelected, stormed the Capitol in the hopes of preventing the Senate from certifying that Joe Biden was elected President. You can find an excellent timeline here.

At first even the Republican National Committee condemned the riot. But this was not to last.

In the year since this event Donald Trump has continued to claim he won the 2020 election and virtually all Republicans have tried to excuse or downplay January 6th.

A year later I think we have a few takeaways:

  1. The Republican Party has figured out that democracy isn’t working out for them. Since 1992 the Republican Presidential candidate has won the popular vote only once, in 2004. In 2000 and 2016 George Bush and Donald Trump won the electoral vote but lost the popular vote.
  2. Gerrymandering will only take them so far. For the most part state legislatures determine voting districts and the Republicans currently control statehouses in 30 states. After the 2020 census they are working hard at making sure that congressional districts give them an advantage. Instead of voters choosing the candidates, the candidates are choosing the voters. But there is a problem:
  3. People of color vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Despite all Republican attempts, the United States continues to move from a white majority to a more diverse nation. Children of immigrants who are born here are American citizens and can vote when they turn 18 and Trump’s xenophobia and racism are not lost on them.
  4. Younger voters vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Younger voters generally don’t vote as much as their parents and grandparents but that’s changing. The youngest Baby Boomer (those born from 1946 to 1964) is now 57. Gen X (1965 to 1980), Millenials (1981 to 1996), and Gen Z (1997 to 2012), when they vote, vote Democratic. A child born in 2006 will be able to vote in the 2024 Presidential election.

I believe that if Donald Trump remained in the White House on January 20, 2021 he would never leave. He would attempt to cancel the 2024 elections or at least find a way to win a 3rd term. I believe that would end our democracy.

I also fear that if he attempts to run in 2024 his supporters will do anything to make this happen.

I hope I’m wrong.

Happy 2022

This is the time of year when seemingly everyone wishes everyone else a happy new year. This year it seems like more of a prayer than a greeting.

As Americans we generally think ourselves optimistic about the future but I have to admit this year it’s more of a reach for me than usual. Last year at this time I was expecting good things from 2021. Joe Biden was on the cusp of the Presidency and I truly believed that this was the year we would end COVID 19.

I wasn’t entirely surprised by the events of January 6th and was frankly a little surprised that Donald Trump voluntarily left the White House on January 20th. I fully expected that President Biden would need to call the Secret Service to remove a trespasser.

This is what I didn’t expect: as COVID continued to enjoy 2021 I had no idea that large numbers of ordinary people would continue to believe the lies that masks don’t work, that vaccines are dangerous, and that getting sick wasn’t too bad.

Last year 386,000 Americans died of COVID, more than died in 2020. The science couldn’t be clearer. Those who got sick and those who died were overwhelmingly people who didn’t follow simple directions.

Problem is that I don’t see anything turning around in 2022. As far as I can tell the science deniers will continue to deny and the ignorant will continue to work hard to maintain their ignorance. Meanwhile we will continue to discover COVID variants like Omicron.

As an American I find optimism hard, but as a Christian I find hope easier. Unlike optimism, hope does not rely on events but on faith.

Even the most ignorant person, and even the most evil purveyor of these lies lives within God’s love and healing. So if we happy new year is more of a prayer than a greeting, let us rejoice in the hope that makes it so.

Thoughts on Christmas Movies

I write this in the days after Christmas, having watched parts of countless movies, some old, and some new. My wife loves Christmas and spent the last few weeks addicted to the Hallmark Channel. It got me thinking about Christmas movies.

As long as there have been movies we’ve experienced movies about Christmas. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) may have started this with his novel A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843.

The first half of the 20th Century gave us movies that many of us remember from our childhood. I can’t keep up with the number versions of A Christmas Carol but that was far from the only Christmas movie. We also enjoyed It’s A Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Charlie Brown Christmas (among several other cartoons).

All of these movies explored some aspect of conversion. Some character, normally the main character, found his life was changed by the birth of a child 2,000 years ago.

Ebeneezer Scrooge recognized that his choice of profit over love wouldn’t go well for him. George Bailey learned that his life made him a hero, not a sucker. Charlie Brown learned that his heart captured the real meaning of Christmas and he’s not a blockhead.

The birth of a child calls all of us to recognize the possibilities of new life. I think all of us see a newborn and wonder where his (or her) path will lead and hope it’s a path that’s good for everyone. And I think we watch these Christmas movies to remind ourselves of the reality of this.

That said, I have to confess I watch parts of several Hallmark movies with a little concern. In fairness Hallmark is a for profit company and they make movies to make money, not to remind us of who we are.

But if what I saw indicates anything it indicates this: We celebrate Christmas because it allows young, beautiful people to find each other and fall in love. A young man moves back to his hometown and connects with an old girlfriend and they find they were destined from the start. A young woman accepts a job promotion and works alongside a man who seems arrogant but really is trying to heal from a toxic breakup.

This may mark me as a grumpy old man but these movies trouble me. The birth of Jesus didn’t inaugurate a new world where young, beautiful people can finally find each other and fall in love. The birth of Jesus meant that people like Ebeneezer Scrooge and George Bailey and Charlie Brown were more valued than they thought.

And if Faux News finds out about this please understand that this isn’t an attack on the Hallmark Channel or another example on the war on Christmas.

It’s just a reflection from an old guy in California.

Thoughts On Thanksgiving

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved Thanksgiving. Full disclosure, as a child I didn’t much like turkey as I found it a dry version of chicken but that was before turkeys were engineered to taste better. But I liked the fact that it gave me a Thursday and Friday off from school.

And like many children of the 1960s I was heavily influenced by the Peanuts “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” and more to the point, Linus’ account of the shared meal between the Pilgrims and the Indians in 1621. Alas, like many historical events, our image has little to do with the actual events. If you want the true story of the first Thanksgiving, let me steer you to Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Nevertheless Thanksgiving has become a time to recognize gratitude. Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1861, instituted by President Lincoln. He proclaimed it during a time of great suffering, when the future of the nation was in doubt.

Now, near the end of 2021, we have a great deal to fear. Many of our leaders continue to ignore the devastating realities of climate change and our role in its creation. Here in the United States many of our citizens have used victimization to ignore the simplest of truths and the most obvious of events.

And yet we give thanks. Thanksgiving does not depend on optimism, the preponderance of evidence, but on hope. There is darkness in even in our best days but more to the point there is light even in our worst days.

Years from now we will look back on Thanksgiving 2021 and recognize not only what was wrong, but what turned out right. Gratitude (Thanksgiving) allows us to celebrate that now.

Saying Goodbye To My Friend Pete

Last month I learned that my friend Pete Fullerton died of cancer. He had been diagnosed seven weeks earlier and his last journey was, gratefully, peaceful.

If you’re a fan of 1960s folk rock you may recognize him from We Five and their hit song You Were On My Mind.

In the fall of 1983 I was a seminarian with the Stigmatine Fathers, living in Los Altos, California. At the time I took classes at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park. As part of our education we were all assigned to a parish. We were expected to participate in the ministry of the parish but we were given some freedom to choose what we did.

I was assigned to St. Williams and St. Nicholas Catholic Churches in Los Altos. I was asked to participate in the youth ministry there; at first I declined because I already had experience in youth ministry and wished to broaden my experience.

Nevertheless I agreed to I meet a couple that lived in the parish and had teenagers in the group. My first dinner with Pete and Sue Fullerton changed my life in ways that continue to take my breath away.

They were raising five children. Pete worked as a security guard and Sue worked in the Catholic school that allowed their children to attend tuition free.

Suffice it to say that they convinced me to participate in the youth ministry program, working with the youth minister Greg Kremer.

In addition to their participation in the youth group they began a charity called the Truck of Love. I grew up Catholic and was familiar with organizations that helped the poor. But Pete and Sue (and others) taught me not only to give, but to give with enthusiasm. They taught me that we shouldn’t give to the poor because we think we’re better than them but that we should give because we are all the equally loved. Generosity isn’t a value but a commandment.

They also taught me that we are called not just to give what people ask for but what they need. Pete taught me to ask “What else do you need?” When people in need ask for something they often ask for less than they need out of embarrassment. But when we tell them that they are loved and deserve what they need we give them the freedom to ask.

One more memory: On June 13, 1987 many of us gathered in upstate New York for the wedding of our friends Greg and Kate. The next day I took a canoe onto Lake Ontario intending a short trip. Alas, I stupidly found myself in over my head when the canoe capsized and I couldn’t paddle back to shore. Greg, Kate, Pete, Sue and several of my friends spent the night praying that I would be found. I spent the night knowing that I was the only person on earth that knew I was alive.

As you can guess I survived, but I learned that those who spent the night not knowing about my survival divided into camps. Some believed I would be found alive and others were preparing for my death. But Pete spent the night telling those gathered that no matter what happened to me they would find a way move forward.

In the years since I’ve often thought of that. So many times I’ve found myself subject to events beyond my control where I expect, hope, or pray for a positive outcome. Pete taught me not to pray for a particular outcome but instead to pray for the strength and faith to accept what happens.

When I learned that Pete was diagnosed with a cancer that infiltrated his brain I called him and Sue. Pete responded, as I expected, with his faith, humor, and love. He knew his days were numbered and decided to live the rest of his life with the love he shared with me.

I pray that when my time comes I will show the grace, humor and love he gave me.