Wednesday, December 19, 2012

santa in the rain

There are things you encounter out here on the rim you might expect only to see elsewhere.  One of them is a fellow silently standing along one of the overpasses to the interstate in a Santa costume with an American flag beside him.  That seems only the sort of thing you'd see, say, in the midst of the hub.

But he's been there a couple years at least, and when I passed him--twice--on Sunday--the first time at 9 and then again as I returned at 1:30--I recognized him for the first time as a local example of a mashup of memes we'd grown accustomed to here.  It was raining at that point, a mist steadily pouring out of the fog that surrounded us, and then it gradually tapered off to a dry patchy fog that seemed to coat everything with that odd texture of the chemical we used to spray on Xmas decorations to simulate snow.

Where I was going to and coming home from was the UU church I serve sometimes in the hub.  I'd had a conversation with my wife, who is interning with a UCC church north of there, and we'd agreed that after the shooting on Friday, I ought to be with the people who look to me for spiritual help.  It's one of the most important, non-aligned, quiet thing I think I do as a minister:  simply to be present with people when something difficult happens.

They had scheduled a talk by a local organic farmer, Atina Diffley, whose book, Turn Here Sweet Corn, chronicles the 30 years she's been a part of a farm that began a century ago with the family of her partner.  Her speech, and I don't think she'd planned it this way but how can you avoid drawing a connection with it, turned out to be a good example of the sort of hope and work for change we can take part in to make a difference in the face of overwhelming resistance.

Other people have noted the nearly irresistible force which the National Rifle Association has been--and when I was growing up, it was still only becoming that--and most of us take it as a given that attempts on the order of the Brady Center.  I admit to bias:  I want guns removed as much from our public places as possible.  There are too many opportunities for wrongful use and accident to convince me otherwise.  I don't want them completely removed from society--there's a place for weapons whose only purpose is to kill in our culture--but that place is neither in schools nor bars nor malls.

I'll be the 1st to admit I am scared shitless by guns.  Pistols, shotguns, semiautomatic rifles:  they all have the same effect on me.  They make my skin itch.  I understand they don't do that for others--my wife grew up in a gun-friendly culture and she's expressed her wish to inherit her dad's hunting rifle, the one he taught her to shoot with, when he dies and maybe display it.  I eat venison supplied to me by the brothers-in-law and nephews and nieces whose joy is their annual hunt together.  When I was a kid I had multiple BB guns and loved shooting targets (I won't say I got very good at it) and in high school I remember a gun-repair course that was one of the options in shop.  You signed up, got your parents' permission, and brought your malfunctioning weapon to school to learn to fix it.  That's probably led to a pretty good hobby or calling for some of those guys.

Neither do I begrudge the neighbor who collects guns or the cop who has to carry one to keep the peace.  But I'll admit I don't feel safe around them.  I don't think they'll turn them on me but they might.  It's been known to happen.  And unlike a lot of people who aren't in the military or involved in crime I've been shot at.  I know already what my response is when faced with a person shooting at me.  It is to piss my pants.  I don't think 30 years have changed much about that reaction.

That digression aside, Atina's talk was mainly about engaged optimism, a term coming from British eco-philosopher Rob Hopkins, a transitional culture idea which is  "a bottom-up approach to the creation of community resilience; the ability to withstand shocks at the local level. It [is] a solutions-focused and positive response.." to the problems communities face. It is, she suggested, this "sitting with" the problem and with the people who are involved in finding the solutions to it that mark the engagement as likelier to be positive rather than harmful to anyone concerned.  There will be inconvenience--that can almost never be avoided or there wouldn't be a conflict about the solution in the first place--but there should not be harm.

I don't know how this might work in relation to the shootings in Newtown.  We are only now learning that things we understood initially might not be quite right.  That rather than being involved with the school, Lanza and his mother had cut their ties to it when he was younger.  That his mother may have been involved in fringe "prepper" culture that many of us are only now learning about.  What is most disturbing to us, in this culture of near-instant communication and information, is that we simply don't know, and may never really know, why he did what he did.  This explains why so many crazy ideas about his motivation or why it "really happened" are floating around.  Ignore them or, if you must, read them and pass on.  

Stick to what is important.  Noticing things--like Santa Claus in the rain, like what is happening in your community--and pay attention because you love one another.

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