There’s A New Voice At Washington’s National Cathedral Who’s Saying What Needs To Be Said.

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Although I’m not Episcopalian, I have a special feeling about the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. This is because I was born and raised in DC and lived just a short distance from the Cathedral, so I often played on the beautiful grounds surrounding the edifice and my mother took me there frequently to attend the concerts which seemed to be happening all the time.

           What I didn’t know about the Cathedral growing up was that it has also been a gathering-place Americans committed to essential American values like equality, freedom and alleviation from poverty and want. Dr. King delivered his last sermon there in 1968, the transition to democracy in South Africa was celebrated by Bishop Desmond Tutu in a special service in 1995. If the Cathedral is known for one thing, aside from the Darth Vader gargoyle, it’s the institution’s commitment to advocacy, in particular helping veterans, working for LGBT equality, racial reconciliation, dialogues between the various religious faiths and reducing the violence caused by guns. I particularly like the article published in 2013 by the Rev. Gary Hall, who at that time happened to be the Cathedral Dean, a position from which he retired in 2015.

The article frames gun violence as a religious issue because “one way to understand the Church’s call to end gun violence in America (or at least greatly reduce it) is to see this call as the natural consequence of our compassionate response to human suffering.” Now that’s an interesting thought, because according to the NRA, gun violence is only the result of what criminals do when they get their hands on guns. What Rev. Hall is asking us to do is look at gun violence in terms of its consequences, namely, the suffering which occurs every time someone is injured with a gun.

The problem with this call for persons of good conscience to be concerned about gun violence is that we currently have an Oval Office occupant who doesn’t think it’s a problem at all. Or better said, he uses allusions to gun violence as a way to promote his political and personal brand. Right now we have armed, right-wing jerks who call themselves ‘Proud Boys,’ allegedly protecting Houston residents from looters and thugs. I’ll take the short odds that Trump will invite them to the White House to back up his pledge to help Texas overcome the Harvey mess.

Given the Cathedral’s commitment to gun violence prevention along with other, meaningful causes, it’s understandable that there was a bit of a kerfuffle when its choir participated in the Inauguration followed by a hosting Trump at the now-traditional interfaith service following his swearing in. In fact, the public opposition to Trump’s appearance was led by Rev. Gary Hall, who felt that the “faith community should be a center of resistance against Donald Trump.”

The new Dean, The Rev. Randy Hollerith, decided to lead the National Prayer Service with Trump sitting front row center, but since then he appears to be seriously heeding his predecessor’s call for the Cathedral to take seriously its opposition to the Age of Trump. He has called out the President for just about everything that Trump has done, from immigration to politicizing religious institutions to transgender rights to promoting white supremacy – the public voice of the Cathedral is right back where it belongs.

Sadly, much of Trump’s obnoxious and offensive pandering seems to be aimed at white Evangelicals who supported him overwhelmingly in 2016. Not only is much (but not all) of the Evangelical leadership attuned to Trump’s world view, but they no doubt felt ignored by the 44th President whose social agenda did not align with their ideas to any degree.

I applaud Rev. Hollerith’s resistance to Trump but what needs to be done now is for Rev. Hollerith and like-minded religious leaders to come together, find common grounds on which to resist the former reality-television star and get the word out in an organized and ongoing campaign.  Enough is really enough.

Come To D.C.’s National Cathedral For Wear Orange Day.

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I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and when I was a kid, my mother used to take me to the National Cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue and while she was inside listening to a concert I would run around on the beautiful grounds. Anyone who has lived in DC for any period of time will sooner or later have some connection to this remarkable edifice, which calls itself “a catalyst for spiritual harmony in our nation, reconciliation among faiths, and compassion in the world.”

2008_05_cathedral6             The Cathedral will certainly embody those words in the event that is being planned for the Third Wear Orange Day, which is coming up on Friday, June 2. And what the Cathedral will do that evening is bathe this remarkable House of Worship’s  West front in orange from 8 P.M. until midnight as a symbol of the Congregation’s support of the Wear Orange day.

This event started as a community response to the shooting death of 15-year old Hadiya Pendleton in Chicago, but has now grown to national and even international proportions. The list of supporters, including media influencers, entertainers, non-profit agencies and organizations, municipalities and others just goes on and on down a website page and more than 150 landmark buildings and sites will be adorned by some kind of orange embellishment to mark this auspicious event.

cathedral             But I want to get back to what the National Cathedral is doing on Friday because it could serve as a symbol about what reducing gun violence should really be about. Back in 2008, as part of the Centennial celebration (the construction actually began in 1897 but cathedrals have a funny way of taking a long time to be built) the Cathedral mounted an outside exhibition by the Swiss lighting artist Gary Hofstetter, of which a picture of one of the exhibition displays accompanies this text. The exhibition was called ‘Lighting to Unite,’ which flowed directly from the Centennial address delivered the year before by Bishop Desmond Tutu entitled, Reconciliation: Hope for a Troubled World.  And in his address, the recipient of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize winner said, “Reconciliation is not an easy option. It cost God the death of his son.”

When I started thinking about writing a column on Wear Orange Day, I had to ask myself what I would be really expressing when I walked around on Friday sporting one of my hunting vests. Because don’t make the mistake of thinking that Mike the Gun Guy is going to traipse around in a little piece of orange plastic that you can pick up at Wal Mart for ten bucks. No, my vest is part of a jacket ensemble made by Laksen of Denmark, and as J. P. Morgan used to say, “If you have to ask what it costs….”

But the point is that if I’m participating in this important event, I want to understand what it really means. And I don’t think this event should only be seen as a way to raise consciousness about what happens to people who get injured with guns. Because the truth is that the only way we will ever see a real decline in gun violence is if we figure out a way to make people understand that everyone involved in a shooting is a victim of violence caused by a gun. And the only way we can do that, the only way we can make our entire society share in the tasks which must be accomplished to reduce gun violence, is to follow what Bishop Tutu said.

Whether you point a gun at yourself or at someone else, gun violence is the most shattering way to deprive us all of the joys and benefits of reconciliation whose everlasting values are embodied in the presence and spirit of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Which is why we should all go to see the Cathedral bathed in an orange glow come Friday night. Go to the Cathedral, stand there in meditation or in prayer, it’s the right thing to do.

 

Guess What? The National Movement To End Gun Violence Keeps Growing…And Growing…And Growing.

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You may recall that back at the beginning of June there was a national outpouring of concern about gun violence known as Gun Violence Awareness Day symbolized by everyone wearing some orange as a symbol of safety around guns.  I wrote a column about the event, or I should say events, because there were more than 200 marches, meetings, concerts and other gatherings all over the United States.  And I pointed out that the growth of this movement reminded me of how demonstrations against the Viet Nam War started small and then mushroomed into something really effective and big.

0616ThankCongressHPWide           Well the same thing seems to be happening now as regards gun violence, thanks to a whole bunch of gun activists who jumped on last week’s sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives chamber and followed all the Reps back to their home offices so that the energy and desire to do something about gun violence wouldn’t die out.  And at last count, there were close to 100 gun violence prevention events held or planned on June 29th in more than 30 states, with more to come.

Some events were held outside the district office of a House Member, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that these events focused on Republican members who openly or otherwise supported Speaker Ryan’s calling the sit-in as a ‘publicity stunt.’  Then there were events hosted by Democratic Members, like New York’s Steve Israel, who joined other advocates and activists in a gun-violence roundtable held at the LGBT Center in his district.

All of these gigs were together planned as a ‘National Day of Action,’ which was so widespread that events were even covered by Fox News.  Now let me tell you something, folks.  As you may be aware, Fox is the media arm of the Trump campaign, so anything they let fly about guns is usually designed to appeal to Gun-nut Nation, certainly not to people who are out there trying to do something to end gun craziness in the USA.  And I’m not saying that Fox is about to cozy up to the Gun Violence Prevention community; what I am saying is that the idea that there is now an organized, national effort to challenge the previously-uncontested strength of pro-gun organizations has become major news.

And what’s really important about the National Day of Action is that there’s more to come. A big event is being planned for July 5th to greet Members of Congress as they return from the Independence Day break to get back to work in DC.  The event will be in the form of a ‘Welcome Back’ demonstration at Reagan National Airport coordinated by Brady, Everytown, my good friends at National Cathedral, with more groups to come.

In all the fifty-plus years I have been watching gun violence advocacy, this is the first time that efforts to reduce gun violence are happening on an ongoing basis and on a national stage.  And what gets this event a 5-star rating from me is that many of the demonstrations and gatherings were at offices and other locations of Republican office-holders, which is about the last place that anyone would expect to see someone advocating for more control over guns.  Until this year, when it comes to gun issues, I can guarantee you that someone like Rep. David Young from Iowa or Bob Latta from Ohio never saw anyone who wasn’t from the NRA.

It’s one thing to hold a rally or a demo in a neighborhood or community of an elected representative who wants to do something about the carnage created by guns.  It’s another to show up at an airport or Congressional office in the middle of a district where everyone just ‘loves’ their guns. Preaching to the converted is one thing, making new converts is a much different kind of task.  The groups and individuals who have put together and now sustain this national movement have become adept at doing both. And that’s great!

 

Want To Move Between Two Worlds? Go From The National Cathedral In DC To A Gun Show in PA.

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This past Tuesday, as I wrote in a previous column, I attended a gun violence forum at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  The program included appearances by various religious leaders representing different faiths, several elected officials from Congress, representatives of anti-violence, community-based organizations and, unfortunately, several parents of children who lives ended terribly and tragically when a gun went off at the wrong time and in the wrong place.  Following the program, I sat at a table, spoke with many who had been in the audience and watched as hundreds of people concerned about gun violence walked by.

Today I am sitting at a gun show in Bloomsburg, PA, also watching hundreds of people walk by.  I have a dealer friend who has closed his retail shop this year and is doing the gun show circuit with a line of cleaning products that he believes are the next best thing to gluten-free food except that, as he admits, he may need to ‘tweak’ his marketing plan a bit in order to move ahead.  A few people walking past his table at the show actually say ‘hello’ or pick up and then just as quickly put down his little cleaning kit complete with a set of ‘indispensable’ tools.  But most of the folks walk right past his table because the guy at the next table has a really nice display of guns.

gun show1                So this week I am spending some time with the two populations whose views on guns and gun-related issues will ultimately make or break the way Americans own and use small arms.  One side, the folks I met at the National Cathedral, truly believe that we would be a safer and less violent country if we didn’t have such easy access to guns; the other side just as truly believes that they don’t need any laws at all to tell them how to behave safely with their guns. These different viewpoints would each find unanimous support amongst the two audiences that were present at the National Cathedral or the gun show in Bloomsburg, PA. But that’s hardly the only contrast between the two crowds.

The folks who walked past my table at the National Cathedral were, first of all, a completely racially and gender-wise diverse lot.  They were also mostly professionals and well-educated, the ‘uniforms’ being a mixture of LL Bean, corporate casual and an occasional outfit featured on Pinterest.  Want to know what passes for designer clothes at the gun show?  Dickie’s Clothing is all over the place, Woolrich is a step up, go for some real style with Pendleton, or since it’s a gun show, pull out the 5.11 gear and whiskey-tango-foxtrot, you’re good to go.  As for race and gender, there are plenty of snot-nosed kids tugging at Mom’s shoulder to ‘hurry up and let’s go to the mall,’ and plenty of Moms who are just as equally tugging on Dad’s shoulder to hurry up and let’s go to the mall.  Gun shows are a man’s world and the man is almost always white.

The point is that the two sides in the gun debate are more different than any two populations that we could identify as having different viewpoints on any public policy issue at all.  When it comes to gun violence, incidentally, what’s funny is that we all seem able to discuss in reasonable tones whether as a country we need to have a ready supply of really big weapons – planes, tanks, nukes – to make the world a safer place.  It’s when we get down to safety on our own street corners with the little weapons that rhetorical ugliness and angry epithets tend to shape the debate.

Somehow over the last twenty years the reaction to people getting killed or injured with guns has turned ugly, raucous and mean.  But hasn’t the discussion of all policy issues become more nasty and abrasive since a certain Kenyan signed a lease at for an apartment in the People’s House?

 

The GVP Community Had A Big Night At The National Cathedral And They’ll Have More.

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Yesterday I had the great honor and pleasure to attend the United To Stop Gun Violence event at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  I joined hundreds of others for a program of remarks, tributes, musical moments and videos, all focusing on the issue of gun violence and what needs to be done to stop it now.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, to sit within the lofty and majestic naves of the Cathedral and not feel inspired by what you see and hear.  But I can tell you in this case that we could have been sitting around a campfire in Rock Creek Park and the feelings of strength, dedication and sense of purpose would have been the same.

cathedral2                The program was the handiwork of the Cathedral’s Gun Violence Prevention Group who were described as a “band of determined advocates” in the program that we all received.  Let me tell you something right off the bat.  This bunch isn‘t just determined; they are determined to succeed.  The first thing that impressed me more than anything else about the evening was the shared commitment to solving this problem no matter how long it takes.

The second thing that impressed me was the diversity of the crowd, both on the stage and in the audience watching the event.  Every major religion was represented, there were no racial ‘minorities’ because, if anything, people of color seemed to be everywhere I looked, as well as speaking and performing on the stage.  And as opposed to NRA get-togethers or gun shows where the guys far and away outnumber the gals, at last night’s event clearly the women had the upper hand.

Finally, what impressed me most of all was the number of organizations and groups who displayed literature, sign-up sheets, fresh fruit and (thank goodness) Snickers to slake the hunger and thirst of itinerant travelers like me.  The whole point of the evening was to create a venue in which as many organizations as possible could introduce themselves to a wider audience, engage folks to get more involved, and build an even greater sense of purpose in the gun violence prevention community as a whole.  I spent time chatting with a number of the organizational staff and I figured out that these groups probably represented at least 100,000 activists, if not more.

Now 100,000 may sound like a paltry number when compared to the millions which the NRA claims to represent, but the issue isn’t numbers, it’s energy and commitment, which is what will ultimately prove out.  The fact that the NRA claims to have 4 million members basically means that 3-4% of the nation’s gun owners give the NRA thirty bucks a year to get a monthly magazine (which happens to be a very good publication) and a decal for their car.  They can also buy some low-cost gun insurance, get discounts at some motels, the standard fare offered by any membership organization, whether it’s the NRA or the AARP.

I’m not questioning the fact that some NRA supporters are always willing to stand up, shout out, do whatever they can do to ‘protect’ their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’  But while the NRA makes its members feel they share a common bond, namely, the ownership of guns, I don’t suspect they draw many people into the pro-gun fold unless they own guns. And here is where the GVP community, if it continues to forge ahead, has a potential for strength that the NRA simply can’t match.  Because when all is said and done, more and more Americans just don’t believe in guns.

I was convinced that the push to strengthen gun laws would run for about a year after the massacre at Sandy Hook.  The gun-control clamor didn’t even last that long after Gabby was shot. But I didn’t get the feeling that the people who were present at the Cathedral last night are going to fade away.  If anything, I suspect that GVP as a defining issue in the public dialog is here to stay.

 

 

If You Want To Help End Gun Violence, Come To The National Cathedral on November 3rd.

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On Tuesday, November 3, Washington’s National Cathedral will hold a special event on gun violence and if you can make it, I urge you to attend.  This won’t be the first time that people have gathered at the Cathedral to talk about gun violence and it certainly won’t be the last.  But the event is taking place at a time when the debate about the place of guns in American society seems to have hit a fever pitch, which is exactly why having a gun event at the National Cathedral is a good thing.

The debate started heating up when all the Republican Presidential candidates discovered how much they loved the 2nd Amendment.  Not to be outdone, Hillary and the Democrats volleyed back with an equally strong gun-control retort.  The current political divide on this issue reflects, if nothing else, a polarization that has always existed between the two sides.  According to the NRA, guns make us safe and protect us from crime; according to groups like Brady and Everytown, guns create risk. Not only do the arguments appear incapable of compromise at any step along the way, I also don’t recall another time that the arguments were as loud and continuous as they are right now.

cathedral1               This brings me back to an event held at the National Cathedral on December 11, 2013 – a memorial service for Nelson Mandela who died the previous week.   I was a high school senior when Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly attempting to overthrow the South African apartheid state.  I witnessed the civil rights movement in the 60s, the anti-War movement in the 70s, the gender equality movement in the 80s, and Mandela still languished in jail.  He was finally released in 1990 because otherwise the de Klerk government would have collapsed.  It disappeared two years’ later anyway and Mandela was elected President of the Government of National Unity in 1994.

In my wildest dreams I never imagined the racial breach in South Africa would ever be healed.  I also never believed that Mandela would come out of prison after 27 years and immediately talk about reconciliation and peace.  Which made it altogether fitting that the United States memorialized his death at the National Cathedral, a site consecrated by the commitment to finding ways for people to occupy common ground, speak in language that everyone can understand, promote commonalities instead of differences about the important issues of the day.

Nelson Mandela came out of jail after 27 years of incarceration and didn’t speak about hatred or violence, but about unity, love and respect.  In the same way, the United To Stop Gun Violence event at the Cathedral on November 3 will take place in an atmosphere of understanding, fellowship and grace.  You’ll meet advocates, policymakers, influencers, social media and messaging experts, folks who just want to get involved and folks who are already doing their thing.  It’s a chance for you to decide how and what you can do to help hasten the end of gun violence, as well as to learn what you can say to others who then might be persuaded to get involved.

I am hopeful that everyone who comes to the meeting, including myself, will leave with a renewed sense of optimism about the daunting task that lies ahead.  But I’m also hopeful about something else, which is that we will all not just learn better ways to enlist more people in the crusade against gun violence, but better ways to talk about gun violence to folks who own guns.  If Nelson Mandela were alive, he would say that the problem of gun violence can only be resolved by bringing everyone to the table who has a stake in the game. We need to invite the other side to join us in the discussion; if they refuse, we need to invite them again and again. That would exemplify the true spirit of Nelson Mandela and again denote what Washington’s National Cathedral is really all about.

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Want To Do Something About Gun Violence? There’s A Meeting For You On November 3rd.

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I was born in Washington, DC and one of my earliest memories was being taken by my mother to a concert at the resplendent National Cathedral, the towering Gothic  edifice which until the recent re-making of downtown, used to be one of the tallest building in our Nation’s Capitol. The ‘cathedral,’ as we all used to call it, was much more than the seat of Washington’s Episcopal Diocese; it was also a site that attracted visitors worldwide and had been the venue for many events that symbolized what America was all about.

Some Presidents , including both Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, journeyed up Massachusetts Avenue following their inaugurations to participate in prayer, other Presidents – Ford, Eisenhower – lay in repose at the Cathedral following their deaths.  Although the Constitution still gives everyone the right to follow whatever religion we choose, or not to follow any religion for that matter, the Congress designated the Cathedral as the “national house of prayer,” and what the Rev. Eugene Sutton called a “soaring, majestic place” still evokes the same wonderment in me today as it did when I walked into the building for the first time as a six-year old little boy.

cathedral                Leaving aside its historical, architectural and spiritual significance for a moment, the Cathedral has also not shied away from confronting public issues which impact all of us from day to day. And if you believe there’s any public issue that demands our attention more than the issue of gun violence, don’t waste your time trying to convince me that I’m barking up the wrong tree.  I’m not saying there aren’t other issues that need to be addressed, but gun violence is the only public problem for which a loud and incessant chorus repeats ad nauseum that no issue exists at all. There’s no gun violence according to the NRA; there’s no gun violence according to the NSSF.  In fact, the NSSF was just awarded a $2.4 million DOJ grant to help them continue their “effective” Project Chlldsafe program which is so effective that unintentional gun deaths and injuries have increased over the last few years.

If the National Cathedral is the nation’s house of prayer, it also functions as the nation’s public conscience.  There is no religious organization that has been as consistently and publicly concerned about equality, promoting freedom of choice and freedom of being over all racial, religious and gender lines.  In fact, the very last pulpit from which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a sermon before he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet was the pulpit at the National Cathedral.  The Cathedral was the scene of lively debates about wars in Viet Nam and Iraq; its leadership, both religious and lay, spoke out about the injustices of Abu Ghirab and the Cathedral sponsors an ongoing initiative to help veterans overcome the wounds of war.

And now the Cathedral will become a focal point for voicing concerns about gun violence when they sponsor a national forum on gun violence scheduled for Tuesday, November 3rd.  The meeting will bring together all the different constituencies who want to see some “common-sense” solutions put into place: political leaders, advocates, public policy experts and, most important of all, victims and survivors of gun violence themselves.  There will be a webcast, exhibits and tables run by the advocacy groups; it’s an opportunity to strengthen and extend the concerns we all share about putting an end to the senseless and destructive use of guns.

I just looked at the latest video treats offered by the NRA, It’s a series called Freedom

Safest Place and it features some of our country’s most notable freedom-fighters like felon Oliver North and home-schooling expert Dana Loesch.  I don’t notice that anyone who was injured with a gun ever comes out on behalf of the NRA.  Isn’t it funny how the victims of gun violence always seem to end up on the other side of the debate?   And that’s the reason why the people who come to the National Cathedral on November 3rd will ultimately win.

 

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