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Guns, Part II: Ethics and What It Might Mean

January 10, 2013

ImageIn the last post I addressed the thought process that ought to go into deciding own a firearm for self defense or home defense purposes from a practical point of view.  I would now like to tackle the ethical/moral point of view.  Because if we’re talking about gun ownership for the purposes of defense, what we’re talking about, at the least, is shooting another human being. 

My uncle tells the story of how a business colleague of his, who ran a predominantly cash business, was robbed and murdered one night while making his cash collections.  The perpetrator had figured out where and when the business man would be with the cash from his business and held him up, ultimately resulting in the business owner’s death.  My uncle, who also runs a business where he goes around and collects cash, often by himself and at night, grew concerned.  He thought about purchasing a handgun that he would carry with him for protection.  And, in a conversation which I have never forgot, spoke to me clearly about how long he hesitated and thought about that decision.  As a Christian, he was concerned that having a gun for that purpose could result in his having to shoot another person.  He didn’t know if he was ready or capable of doing that.  So he took a concealed/carry class, in which they taught that if you have to shoot another person in self defense you should aim to kill.  Injuring a robber who is also armed does not prevent them from shooting and killing you.  This only caused him to hesitate further.  He had to decide if he could kill another human being.  After what I suspect was a lot of thought and no small amount of prayer, he purchased a handgun to carry with him when he made his cash collections. 

Would that every person who buys a gun for self defense went through the same agonizing thought process!

You can’t just buy a gun for defense without knowing, and I mean really knowing without a doubt, that you could shoot to kill another human being.  That is simply not something that every person is able to say confidently that they can do.  Every year there are deaths associated with guns that were simply taken from their owners hands and then turned against them when they hesitated to fire.  Owning a gun for self defense might mean that you have to kill someone.  Could you do it?  How does your Christian faith inform that decision?  

Professional police officers and soldiers who have killed in the line of duty are affected for ever.  Often times they never fully recover from their action.  Soldiers especially, who may have killed dozens, are profoundly affected for the rest of their lives.  And they were fully trained, fully prepared!  The average citizen who owns a gun for self defense, I suspect, has neither the training nor the mental preparation of those professionals.  How might the situation in which they are called upon to use their gun in self defense develop?  It could be a scary proposition.  

I am not one who suggests that the right to own and carry firearms should be taken away from citizens.  For better or for worse, it is a part of this country.  But what I can and will say is that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!  Especially if you are a Christian; Jesus asked us to think about a different way of life, a way in which violence was given up for alternative methods, where swords were beaten into ploughshares, where daggers used to assault imperial troops were put aside in favor of healing the wounds they created.  Jesus reminds us also of God the Father’s commandment not to murder. 

I am not suggesting that true self defense with lethal force is wrong.  I am suggesting that before one finds themselves in that situation one needs to consider seriously, to pray, and to soul search, to really look within oneself and ask, “Can I kill?”  You may discover than you can.  You may discover than you can’t.  You may find out that because you can, you feel comfortable owning a gun for self defense.  You may find out that because you can, you do not want to own a gun for self defense.  You may find out that because you can’t kill, you don’t want to own a gun for self defense when you will in all likelihood not be able to shoot, or at the worst, be used against you or your loved ones.

The responsibilities of gun ownership include deep consideration of what owning a gun might mean.  It might mean you have to kill.  It is your responsibility, not only to yourself, but also your loved ones, to decide if that is something you can and/or will do.  If you haven’t spent serious, soul-searching time thinking about that, I don’t believe you have any business with a gun the purpose of which is self defense.

Fr. Ryan+

Guns, Part I

December 22, 2012

I don’t ever really post about politics here, but I feel that this is an important topic that I need to comment on.  We, as a nation, are in a particular, energetic moment, and this energy should not be lost.  However, most of the rhetoric I’m hearing, on both sides, is a lot of fear mongering.  Hopefully, I can address this topic from a reasoned perspective and I invite your participation.  I would like to go about this addressing three principal areas in three different posts: gun ownership for self defense; the ethics of gun ownership: what it might mean; and finally, armed police officers in public schools.


A Decision: Owning a Gun for Self Defense

When it comes to gun ownership, there are any number of reasons why an average, law abiding citizen might choose to do so.  They could be a hunter, or a collector of antiques or modern firearms, a sport shooting enthusiast, or a competitive target shooter.  But let’s face it, those reasons are not what this national debate is about, despite how the different lobbies choose to frame it.  This debate is about owning a gun for the purpose of shooting a human being.  That’s the part that’s got everyone so riled up and so that’s the part I want to talk about.

Before we go any further, for the purposes of full disclosure, you should know I am a gun owner.  I own a single firearm: a Remington 870 Express pump-action 12 gauge shotgun.  I bought it for the sole purpose of clay pigeon shooting.  I have never hunted a day in my life, and the firearm is expressly not for self or home defense.  To me, it is as any other piece of sporting equipment which I own, like my softball bats or my golf clubs.

I tell you that not just for full disclosure, but also as a part of my point.  You’ll note that I said the gun was expressly not for self or home defense.  When you are a gun owner, you have to make a decision, and it is a very important one with all kinds of implications for safety.  The decision is whether or not your gun will be used for home defense.  If you decide it is for the purpose of home defense, you will need to abandon most safety protocols.  The gun should be kept loaded, within easy reach of your bed, with the safety off.  Why on earth would you do that?  Because no self-respecting home intruder is going to wait for you to retrieve your gun from another room, load it, and then wait for you to remember to take the safety off.  If the gun is for home defense, it needs to be ready to go.  I make no judgments about whether a person chooses to do this or not, but it is a decision that needs to be thought about and clearly made before bringing a gun into the home.  We decided against this purpose of gun ownership, and so my shotgun, as all non-home-defense guns should be, is kept in a safe place, with a trigger lock on it, chamber open, safety on, and the ammo in a completely separate part of the house.  This is the safest I can make it and that was important to us.

While we’re on the subject of shotguns, I want to share with you some information I learned back when I was making the decisions about purchasing a gun and whether or not it would also be used for home defense.  A shotgun is the preferred firearm for home defense among most gun owners I know.  Usually a short barreled (18.5 inches or less) pump-action one.  The short barrel allows for easy movement and provides for a wider pattern, and the pump action ensures it won’t get jammed.  Also the psychological effect of the noise of chambering a round in a pump action shotgun is a profound one, especially if you feel you may soon be on the business end of it, and may be enough of a deterrent in and of itself.

But why not a semi- automatic pistol or a revolver (more ammo vs. doesn’t jam), you might ask?  Wouldn’t they be far easier to move around, especially inside a home at night?  They would indeed.  But they are also much, much harder to aim, especially at a moving target that you probably can’t see clearly, not to mention when your adrenaline is through the roof.  And more to the point, the bullet from a revolver or a pistol will penetrate walls (wood and drywall, quite easily) with killing power.  If you go shooting around your house at an intruder with this type of weapon, you stand a high chance of shooting someone in your household accidentally (or even a neighbor!), through a wall.   A shotgun’s pellet spread does not carry as much of this same risk.  Sure, some pellets may penetrate the wall, but the killing power will mostly be neutralized.  Now if you’re military, this doesn’t apply to you as much.  You know better than to just go blasting around at what you can’t see.  I’m talking about the average, non-military, gun owner.

So, it should go without saying that a semi-automatic, military style rifle like the AR-15 is a perfectly horrible choice for home defense, unless you live in the Alamo.  Even the most gun loving, NRA card carrying, makes-his-own-ammo gun nut I know (who owns multiple AR-15s and an AK-47) keeps those locked up and employs a short barreled shotgun for his home defense gun.  He doesn’t want to kill his family accidentally anymore than anyone does.  So, I simply cannot buy anyone’s argument that says an AR-15 is for home defense.  Even among gun lovers, it’s a dumb choice with potentially fatal repercussions for those you’re seeking to protect.

For all of the reasons listed above, home defense is not a valid reason to own an AR-15, an AK-47, or a similar assault rifle.  As they are silly hunting platforms (don’t listen to those who tell you they hunt with one – go ask a real hunter), I can’t think of any reason to own one, and so I would fully support an assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazine ban.

Next up – The Ethics of Gun Ownership for Self-Defense: What It Could Mean

Fr. Ryan+

All Souls’ Day Service 2012

November 1, 2012

Please join us for an All Souls’ Day service this Friday evening at 7:30.  We will begin with a blessing of the Memorial Garden, followed by a Choral Eucharist.  Come out and help us to remember, honor, and pray with all the Faithful Departed.  Rest eternal grant unto them O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.  May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest this day in peace and rise in glory.

Reflections on the SCP 2012 Conference

October 15, 2012

This past week I had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles for the 4th annual Society of Catholic Priests conference.  One of the things that’s great about this and other conferences is the variety of venues and locations; I’ve never been to LA before and what a great chance to go!  We were graciously hosted by the good people of St. Mark’s in Glendale.  The conference began on Wednesday with Solemn Evensong and Benediction, which was glorious.  As the conference has moved away from it’s founding church, Christ Church in New Haven, CT, I think they’ve encountered some logistical problems and some of these showed through but really they were very minor.

The rest of the conference was centered on presentations and worship with plenty of fellowship time throughout.  As you might expect, the worship was angelic and I even had the delightful (though slightly anxious) opportunity to serve at both Solemn High Masses as the subdeacon.  One of things I truly value about this conference is all that I learn.  This role, in that type of service, was not something I had done before and so I had to learn, but that was the beautiful thing about it.

Our presenters at this conference are always erudite, inspiring, and though-provoking, and this year was no different.  Friend of the Society and liturgical scholar, Dr. Derek Olsen, returned this year, and was accompanied by Dr. Charlie Stang of Harvard Divinty, the Rev. Julie Morris of the Abundant Table Project, and our own Society Convener, The Rev. Dr. Bill Carroll.  The topic they were all asked to address (with the exception of Dr. Stang, who “didn’t get the memo”) was “Catholic Social Witness.”

Dr. Olsen led off with a wonderful presentation (the text of which is available at his blog here) on how praying the Daily Office is a key element in helping to form a catholic social conscience through the constant use of the psalms and canticles.  His main points were: (1) the psalms and canticles “define a reality where all creation is oriented towards God and participates together in the mutual worship of God;” (2) that “they emphasize the rule of law—that is, they emphasize that justice is a key attribute of God and that justice, righteousness, and equity must be central values for us because they flow directly from the identity of God himself;” and (3) they “form us in the habit of empathy because they place in our mouths the words of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, and they invite us to see the world through those eyes, and to recognize the injustices seen through those eyes.”

He concludes with this powerful admonition, “Praying the Office just every once in a while isn’t enough. It has to become a discipline. That doesn’t mean that if you miss it once you’re lost or anything, but its power lies in the force of habits. Habits of mind, habits of devotion, habits of thought. That’s what transforms us—patterns of life.”

His whole text is really worth reading, if for nothing else than what he has to say about how the imprecatory psalms (the psalms that call for God to curse others) can also shape us.
Dr. Charles Stang, Professor of Early Christian Thought at Harvard Divinity School, presented perhaps the most provocative topic of the week, on something he referred to as “twinning.”  This is a concept wherein ones relationship with Christ becomes so close as to form almost a twin-like relationship.  He presented the idea that in the Gospel of Thomas, some scholars believe that Thomas was actually Jesus twin brother.  (We had to shelve a lot of preconceived notions for this presentation, but that was acknowledged up front.)  It was a fascinating topic, a challenging presentation, but I described it in the end as “interesting in the way something in a store window is interesting.  I’ll look at it for a while, but I’m not going to buy it.”

Mother Julie Morris presented what I thought was the overall most interesting topic, or at least the one from which I took the most ideas away with me.  The Abundant Table project is an Episcopal Service Corps project that grows, harvests, and provides organic vegetables to local food pantries and farmers’ markets.  They are all about organic, sustainable (I don’t like those terms: all food is by nature organic and sustainable describes most food with the exception of manatee steaks and dodo bird breasts, but when I use these words, you know what I am talking about!) and healthy food and cooking and connect all of those ideas to both the gospel imperative to feed the hungry and the Eucharist.
Finally, Society Convener Bill Carroll presented the historical writings of Vina Scudder, focusing on social transformation and the Christian Year.  We spent a lot of time in discussion about the Christian year, mostly lamenting the loss of many of its traditions in the culture.  What I was most interested in was how do we live into that Christian year in an embodied way in out churches so as to teach about its gifts to us without sounding old fashioned.  We didn’t get very far in that discussion, but I am still interested.  This year I will be focusing on how do we make Easter a bigger season in this parish than Lent, as it ought to be.  And I think I’ve got some fun ideas and great things in store.

As I’ve said before, I think the academic quality of the presentations at the SCP conferences is hard to rival in terms of Episcopal continuing education opportunities.  It is always challening, thought-provoking, and serves to bring us back to our call as priests to worship God in the beauty of holiness and to go into the nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Behind the Scenes on the Altar

October 4, 2012

by: Pleasants Tinkler
Church Needlewoman

Recently I returned from a very inspirational week in Virginia and would like to share this experience with my fellow St. Georgians. As some of you may already know, I have been working on improving my ecclesiastical embroidery skills for many years. My journey with the National Altar Guild began years ago when we were living in the Los Angeles area. The Diocese ran a very comprehensive center for this ministry at the Diocesan headquarters.   I have continued this process at many locations, including Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina and Episcopal Convent St. John Baptist in New Jersey.

About a year ago I made a commitment to embroider an altar frontal for the St. George’s Chapel (you may have noticed that the green frontal is very shabby and quite beyond repair).   Last week I went to Virginia for a refresher course with one of the National Altar Guild teachers along with four other needlewomen from other places.

While learning new techniques, practicing stitches, studying church symbolism and books with beautiful examples; we all enjoyed many hours of eating, laughing, and sharing faith/church/stitching experiences. I learned so much more than just church needlework. My fellow stitchers were from very different parishes and shared some of their mission work and outreach ideas. We all shared a faith approach to our needlework and found inspiration in many different ways. We looked at photos of each others’ work and admired one anothers’ beautiful creations.

I have returned both encouraged and supported by the time spent with these talented and spiritually faithful friends. Now I am ready and excited about making the green altar frontal. Thank you, Father Ryan and Vestry members for being patient with me. I will keep you posted on my progress.

~~~Needling along, Pleasants Tinkler

3rd Annual Sulgrave Classic Wiffle Ball Game

September 24, 2012

In the annual battle on the Wiffle Ball field between the Parents and the Kids of St. George’s, the Parents will convincingly 10-1, to bring the series to a 2-1 lead.

Blessing of Taize Chalice and Paten

September 17, 2012

ImageParishioners David, Robbie, and Sarah Farnsworth recently traveled to Taize, France where they visited the Taize community that has a whole new style of worship and music over the last few decades.  The monastic community itself is unique, being comprised of both Roman Catholic and Protestant brothers, and has as one of its principle foci a powerful devotion to peace and justice. 

Here at St. George’s we have a monthly worship service in the style of the Taize community, hallmarked by periods of extended silence, intentional readings, candlelit worship, contemplative and meditative music, and simplified Eucharist.  At 7pm on the third Sunday of the month, we offer this style of worship to all in our community. 

ImageAs a gift to St. George’s, the Farnsworth family brought back with them a paten and chalice set from Taize.  They brought it forward during the Offertory yesterday to offer to God and the community, as well as to be consecrated for sacred use.  This consecration, normally reserved to the Diocesan Bishop, was delegated by special permission to Fr. Ryan, who blessed the new holy vessels prior to the celebration of the Eucharist at 10am yesterday.  The vessels were then used for the first time in worship during the first Taize service of the year, last night at 7pm.

Won’t you join us next month, on the third Sunday at 7pm, for worship in the Taize tradition?

Fr. Ryan+

(Maybe Not So) Radical Thinking: The Lectionary

June 14, 2012

A number of influences converged on me last night while I was leading our Wednesday night Adult Education class at church and, in the midst of speaking I had an apostrophe.  (Don’t you mean an “epiphany?”  Bonus points if you can name the movie reference.)  So I had an epiphany.  But I’ve got to explain the influences first before the epiphany can hope to make sense to you, and even then there’s a chance it won’t, not because you’re not smart but because it may not be all that epiphany-tastic.

Influence 1:  Parishioners who took our Introduction to the Bible course, all the way through, who repeatedly tell me how important that class was for them.  How they understand so much more about the Bible now, and how, particularly on Sunday morning when we only get snippets, they understand the context so much better and how everything fits together.

Influence 2: My listening to the sermon podcasts of an Episcopal priest who serves an unconventional church that doesn’t use the Lectionary.  Rather, they have one reading each week and they read through an entire book of the Bible contiguously.  Each week, the sermon picks right up from where it left off the previous week, highlighting the same themes and retracing ground often.  This provides for this priest’s congregation a deep understanding of and connection to the Biblical narrative.  And the sermons rock.

Influence 3:  By being influenced by #2, experimenting in my own congregation with a sermon series on one book of the Bible – the First Letter of John.  Now, in week 10 of that experiment, I am gratified to hear that people are enjoying it, don’t want to miss the next sermon because they’ll feel like they would if they missed an episode of a show they like, and share a grasp and an understanding of the letter of 1 John unlike any other Biblical text we’ve covered by using the lectionary, with the possible exception of Genesis and the Gospel.  Another interesting thing that’s happened is my sermons have gotten longer (now averaging 14-16 minutes, but some approach 20) and there has been a complete dearth of snarkily unsubtle comments or more direct complaints about sermon length.  I expect them to roll in now that I’ve said something about it.

Influence 4:  While preparing to teach a class on the Prayer Book to the Deacons’ School of our diocese, I’ve been brushing up on my BCP history.  While there has always been appointed texts for each Sunday, the 1928 BCP revision really addressed serious problems with the Lectionary, namely “vain repetitions.” This in turn gets tweaked in the 1979 BCP revision, and reworked for the Revised Common Lectionary.

Notice all the people in the pews…

Disclaimer:  All of these influences have led me to do some wondering.  Before I go any further, I want to make absolutely clear: I like the Lectionary.  I think the RCL in particular is a gift to preachers, individual congregations, but most important to the idea (and a step in that direction) of unifying the Body of Christ.  The Lectionary is a treasure and a gift of some really hard working and brilliant people through the ages.  I thank them and bless them for it.

But I wonder.  Going back to 1928 when the first serious revision of the lectionary was undertaken, we were, by far, a much, much more biblically literate society.  Just ask yourself this question – do your (great) grandparents know more about the narratives in the Bible and the Narrative of the Bible than you do?  Everyone I’ve asked so far who wasn’t a seminary trained clergy person and even a few who were have said yes.  The point is, people back then, by and large, knew it better than we do today.  I don’t think this is nostalgia; I really believe it’s just true.

So, when those people, back then, would have gone to church and heard a particular pericope or reading, selected by the Lectionary, they stood a far better chance than we do today of reacting with, “Oh yes!  This one!”  And they stood a far better chance than we do today of knowing the context of the story both prior to and following the selected reading that was actually heard.

They might have known, for example, that when on the Sunday of Proper 9, Year C, the story of Naaman’s healing is read from 2 Kings that this story follows right on the heels of the major miracles performed by Elisha (they would also have known that Elisha succeeded Elijah) and that right after it is the story of how the King whom Naaman served immediately attacked Israel.  (Some gratitude for getting his chief commander back, right!)  And to prove my point, I had to look all that up!

We are not so biblically literate these days.  Sure there are familiar stories, most likely in the Gospels, but we just don’t know the Bible like our forebears did.  There’s a whole host of reasons for this, but that’s for someone else to write about.

What I am wondering, given that we are not as biblically literate as we once were as a society, given that we’re unlikely to come into church, see what the lectionary has appointed for us on that day and react by saying, “Of course!  I love this story!”, given that our children are even more unlikely to react that way, is the Lectionary still the way to go about the reading of Scripture in the context of worship, knowing that is likely the only time and place most people will hear/read Scripture?

I don’t know.  I pretty traditional and I like the traditions of our church, including the Lectionary.  But is this one tired?  Is there a better way to do it?  Perhaps a more narrative way.  Focusing on one book at a time as we together explore God’s story and our place in it? I’m not sure, but I have been thinking about it.

I’d love to know what you’re thinking.

Fr. Ryan+

Some Pictures from an Incredible St. George’s Weekend

June 11, 2012

Tim Gavin made a Deacon of the Church, Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, June 9, 2012.  St. George’s was well represented to support the man who had been our seminarian intern for the past year!


Some shots from our first BYOM (Bring Your Own Meat) Family Tailgate party of the summer!

The Greatest Unrehearsed Reading of Genesis 3:8-15 in a Church Service

June 11, 2012

When lectors approach a microphone in church to give their reading for the day, they usually do so following one of two schools of thought about how Bible readings should be done in a worship service.  The first is to read the passage without much inflection or emotion, thereby not putting your own spin on the biblical text.  The second is to go ahead and interpret the text with tone, emotion, and inflection.  I’ll let you guess which one this was!

Genesis 3: 8-15