Guns are our problem, not God’s.

If you are like me, after major school shootings, you see a meme that makes its way to people’s social media feeds with an illustration of the Christian image of God and claiming that God hasn’t stopped schools shootings because God isn’t allowed in schools.

One might think this sort of thing is circulated only by Christian fundamentalists, but I’ve seen it posted by people who otherwise have shown themselves to be fairly open-minded. Do these people really think a significant part of the problem with school shootings has to do with the presence or lack thereof of God?

Yet, there are so many more questions. Let’s start with this one — if these people want God in schools, are they okay with having everyone’s God in schools? Would a Christian feel like God was present if teachers read passages from the Torah? What if instruction was interrupted for a mandatory prayer to Mecca? After all, if not everyone can have an expression of their God in school, doesn’t that leave some with a God-less school day?

Why do people assume the presence of religious exercises and rituals results in the absence of human failings? Do they really believe that if prayers are spoken within the walls of a school, it will provide superior protection versus stopping unhinged disaffected people from legally buying semi-automatic weapons and hordes of ammunition? If prayers in the house of God can’t stop mass shootings, why does anyone expect them to solve the problem of mass shootings in schools?

Have people, presumably Christians, forgotten about the Holy Spirit? If there was ever a positive enlightening moment in my tenure as a parochial school parent, it was when our school’s priest talked about the Holy Spirit. He described it as the most conceptual, esoteric, part of the Trinity, but just as critical as the other two. It is the spiritual thread that connects us… all of us.

If God lives in us through the Holy Spirit, how is it that God is not in schools? For that matter, how is it that God is not in movie theaters or on dance floors or at country music festivals? We’re all there, right? 

If you believe in God, do you honestly believe that God wasn’t with those 20 first-graders in Sandy Hook? Was God not with those 32 people at Virginia Tech? Was God on a dinner break when Dylann Roof killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina? Are these people saying God wasn’t there when babies were shot point blank at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas? In these last two cases, people were there for the specific purpose of worshipping God, so how is it God wasn’t there?

If God makes a difference in gun deaths, then why does he seem to be everywhere else in the world but here?

Because guns are not God’s problem; they are our problem.


Let’s stop playing dodge ball across an imaginary gulf

When it comes to politics, I really do believe the vast majority of us sit in an ample swath down the middle. Yet, when it comes to how we are positioned, it’s as if we’ve been picked for teams in gym class and have begun to believe in the “evils” of the other side.

In the gym classes of my younger years, picking teams wasn’t my favorite thing. Nor is it now. My political views veer in a particular direction, but I don’t see those who disagree with me as being on the other team. Voting is a competition, but it doesn’t mean that I have to throw the dodge ball at someone’s face to participate, or even win.

Out of curiosity, I wander every so often into the media environment that promotes different views. This practice hasn’t changed my views, but it has influenced how I consider the media environment that supports mine. Anger and finger-pointing exists on both sides. Spin exists on both sides. If someone talks favorably about God, ultra-conservatives are quick to claim that person for their team, a Crusader who wants to “obliterate the left” when said person’s message may have nothing to do with politics. At the opposite extreme, that same person talking about God might be held in suspicion, the expectation that they are likely anti-abortion and therefore also a white supremacist and climate change denier.

Without the benefit of polling — and we know how well that works — I can’t determine how prevalent extremists are. But I can say my personal experience indicates there are plenty of people who aren’t so far on either end that they can’t coexist with those who don’t share their precise views.

It’s brand politics. To a certain extent, we’re going to engage in it. Some may want to spend more time at Starbucks and less in an Uber (or vice-versa) because of the stand each company’s CEO has taken on the recent immigration order. This is a freedom those CEOs share with all of us — the right to stand up for what we believe in. The rewards and risks are market-related. If you are supplying something that aligns with my political views, my demand for what you offer is going to go up. But I can also avoid companies that counter my views.

The kind of brand politics I think we want to be careful about is putting others on the opposing team and leaving them there, only interacting with them to show force or prowess about our own views. As many on both sides have pointed out, our votes impact other people, including those who don’t agree with us. But we’re actually all on the same team. We share many of the same resources. We pass each other on the street. Every time we get into a car, we count on others to be good drivers. We are all sitting on the same bench.

This isn’t to stay I don’t want to talk politics with friends. It’s actually the opposite. I want more talk, but I want it to have substance. I want people to tell me why they do or don’t support something. I want us to get past name-calling, cliches and assumptions.

Because whenever you articulate your views, you cycle through your own personal vetting process. We should all be asked to this during times like these. Right now, many of the issues arising aren’t red or blue. Unless we shed those filters, though, we won’t be able to see what they really are.

Thank you, Prince

How is it that losing a physical embodiment of your memories, even if you never were in his presence, makes you so sad?

The death of a musician for a fan always interrupts their day with a mix of disbelief, nostalgia and poignancy. You want to post their music on your Facebook page for commiseration or stream them on Spotify as a personal memorial. (With Prince, your opportunities for this are extremely limited, but I help you out below.) But some artists are more than just great to listen to. Some have woven their music into your very life in a way that makes you unable to separate it from who you are and what you became.

For many GenXers, Prince is probably one of those artists. He was our very own virtuoso rock star. Our very own James Dean riding on his motorcycle in Purple Rain. Our very own taboo-breaking icon.

Prince was pop and funk and rock and psychedelic and blues and soul and even a bit of metal — everything that had taken hold in the modern era of popular music. He transcended each genre to create a sound that was uniquely Prince. Anytime another artist covered one of his songs, even if it was the first time you heard it, you knew it was his — and not just because of the way the title was written.

It was hard to wrap your head around Prince. One year you are turning the volume down on “Darling Nikki” so that your parents don’t hear it belting from your room. Then years later you find out Prince has become a Jehovah’s Witness.

He’s Prince, then a symbol, then Prince again.

He emerges from years away from Top 40 radio to single-handedly kick the most ass ever (and probably forever) in the rain at the 2007 Super Bowl halftime performance.

Then he saunters out to present a Grammy in 2015 in a Dreamsicle-colored chemise stating that albums still matter — and that black lives matter. And you imagine if anyone could crystallize that truth, it would be him.

It’s hard to wrap my head around Prince’s death. His music makes me remember moments that otherwise would have disintegrated into forgotten personal history. His songs are like glue that holds together the narrative of a certain time in my life. With his death, those years are just a bit further away from me.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Classic Rock

Life's encyclopedia.

Life’s encyclopedia.

If you celebrate enough birthdays (even if you are “forever 39”), you learn a few things. But where did all this wisdom come from? Turns out there is a fourth R — Reading, wRiting, aRithmatic and Rock.

Turns out all I really need to know I learned from classic rock.

If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.
(Hold On Loosely, .38 Special)

Better recognize your brothers, everyone you meet.
(Instant Karma, John Lennon)

Hold on to 16 as long as you can. Changes come around real soon make us women and men.
(Jack and Diane, John Mellancamp)

The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth.
(Subdivisions, Rush)

Maybe it’s not too late to learn how to love and forget how to hate.
(Crazy Train, Ozzy Osbourne)

The love you take is equal to the love you make.
(The End, The Beatles)

And it came to pass that rock-n-roll was born.
(Let There Be Rock, AC/DC)

Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.
(Dust In The Wind, Kansas)

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
(Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell)

Time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me.
(Time Waits For No One, The Rolling Stones)

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed, now. It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen.
(Stairway to Heaven, Led Zepplin)

War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.
(War, Edwin Star)

I hope the Russians love their children too.
(Russians, Sting)

It doesn’t really matter which side you’re on. You’re walking away, and they’re talking behind you.
(New Kid In Town, The Eagles)

The problem is all inside your head.
(50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon)

Traveling twice the speed of sound, it’s easy to get burned.
(Just A Song Before I Go, Crosby, Stills & Nash)

I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.
(Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen)

Send it off in a letter to yourself.
(Rikky Don’t Lose That Number, Steely Dan)

There’s too many places I’ve got to see.
(Freebird, Lynyrd Skynyrd)

There ain’t no Coup de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.
(Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, Meat Loaf)

So teach your children well, GenX, and keep that throwback rock station on the presets. It’s called classic for a reason.


Photo credit — Unger

RIP, Glenn Frey

Life's wisdom on the dial.

Life’s wisdom on the dial.

The people of my generation were not just raised by our families and our communities. We were raised by the radio, the people who chose the songs and the artists who created them.

This past week has been a tough one for those of us who learned about the world through rock’s classic years, with the loss of Bowie last Monday and Glenn Frey today. Though I would say that I am more of a Bowie fan, it’s Frey’s passing that makes me uneasy.

Bowie was ethereal, singing about worlds that exist at the edges of our minds, giving us an escape from the everyday, even if it wasn’t always a pleasant journey. The Eagles taught me more about the world I was living in and would inhabit — the common experiences, the pain, the complexity that comes with just living a life.

A few years back at a party I was asked to advocate in favor of the Eagles during a marital disagreement about the band. My best argument was this — they are among rock’s greatest story-tellers.

And they are the writers behind one of my very favorite songs of all time. I am grateful that their music played a role in shaping my view of the world.


Photo credit — Adrian Keith/

Is this a good guy with a gun, Mom?

Do we really want our kids seeing threats everywhere?

Do we really want our kids seeing threats everywhere?

If you send a child to school in this decade, you know the feeling that creeps up on you. Will my reality be shattered by another — the fact that this country offers little protection against someone breaking into my kids’ school and firing off multiple rounds of ammunition with the intention of killing as many people as possible?

This is one of those things you simultaneously try to bury in your subconscious to protect your sanity and emotional fortitude to send your child to school and also keep top-of-mind so that you can do your civic duty of participating in a collective force against the gun lobby.

Maybe you don’t want to believe that guns are the problem. Maybe your political and social views have had you favoring lawmakers who happen to support your values but also are funded by gun manufacturers through the NRA. Maybe you are beginning to understand that conflict of interests. My guess is that you still feel the same fear most parents these days do. If this is the case, I am still talking to you. In fact, I am especially talking to you.

We’ve seen many articles and opinion pieces — lockdown drills have been added to the fire and tornado drills we grew up with. Kids shouldn’t have to know how to barricade themselves in a closet because someone armed like a terrorist has come to kill them. Teachers shouldn’t have to devise way to squeeze 20 little kindergarteners into a cubby space to hide them from a disturbed individual with dozens of rounds of ammo. Armed combat should not be part of the requirements for being an educator of children.

Today I saw something just as unsettling — a photo of a man exercising his open carry rights in a donut shop, taken from the perspective of a family sitting 20 or so feet away.

It didn’t appear that this man was participating in a staged protest. He was simply buying a donut, or some coffee, and he happened to have a sizable weapon sticking out of his pocket.

In the foreground of the photo is a child. I think about what this looks like to him.

If I was sitting at that donut shop, what would I have done?

The gun lobby protests that in a world where there are so many guns, more guns are needed — that to be armed is to be safe, that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to be a good guy with a gun. But research shows that this is very, very rarely the case.

Look at the photo. What do you see? If you love guns, you might see a piece of gear you admire. If you want responsible gun control, you see someone whose mind you want to change. If you are the NRA, you see dollar signs.

Do you see a good guy with a gun?

I don’t know this man, as is the case for the thousands, perhaps millions, of people who will see him on social media in the coming weeks. I have no idea if he has any intention of harm. He could simply be a misguided individual who is otherwise kind and thoughtful — a real good guy.

But if you are a child drilled in the art of hiding from people with guns, I think what you might see is the monster who, rather than hiding in your bedroom closet, lurks outside the door to your school. And now he’s in the donut shop. Is it time to hide under the table? Can you barricade yourself in the restroom before he opens fire?

If you are a parent, how likely is it that you will stick around to find out?

I don’t want to demonize this man. It has been my policy to avoid name-calling and assumptions about people who own guns, because I believe that putting people on the defensive won’t support change. This image isn’t about this man. It’s about the gun, and what it represents to our children.

The gun lobby may find reassurance in this scene, but my guess is that most people don’t — especially our kids. Isn’t it time that we make guns less a part of their lives?

Suggestive song lyrics — yesterday and today

car stereo dialIt’s not easy being a GenX parent. So much has changed from the decades dominated by the free-range parenting style. I even had the idea to start a special feature about how much harder it is for parents these days, and I get ideas all the time. I’ve just been too lazy to put them into thoughtful posts.

Take for example song lyrics. Considering that music-oriented pop culture is introduced at younger ages these days, and that Miley Cyrus seems to have no limit to what she is willing to do onstage or say in interviews, one might suggest that this is another way in which GenX parents have been burdened with yet another hazard to circumvent.

I’m not sure this is true. As a kid, I heard an ample number of suggestive songs on the pop music stations of my ultra-conservative hometown. (I lived in one of the markets where George Michael’s late-80s hit was, “I Want Your Love.”)

Let’s take a look at yesterday and today through the lens of risqué lyrics.

Today: “Get Lucky” — Daft Punk
Yesterday: “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” — Rod Stewart

It’s a lot easier to tell your kids “Get Lucky” is about visiting casinos in Monte Carlo than trying to explain the concept of sexy and how Rod Stewart could be considered as such. Throw in a rumor about what was found when Rod’s stomach was pumped, and out through the school bus window goes your 10-year-old’s innocence.

Today: “Can’t Feel My Face” — The Weekend
Yesterday: “Cocaine” — Eric Clapton

I am ready with my explanation. If they ask, I will tell my kids that The Weekend is talking about vampires. My supporting evidence is the line, At least we’ll both be beautiful and stay forever young. This may not be the most comforting interpretation, but it beats telling my kids the real story. I’d like to see a parent concoct an alternate meaning for what Clapton sang about.

Today: “Teenage Dream” — Katy Perry
Yesterday: “Afternoon Delight” — Starland Vocal Band

Eventually your kid is going to understand, Let’s go all the way tonight. No regrets, just love. But you can pretty much ignore it until that time. “Afternoon Delight,” though; it’s just so forthright in its ickiness. This song still makes me uncomfortable and embarrassed and all those things you feel when you finally realize what those feminine protection commercials are about. I seriously wonder if this song put a damper on daytime “escapades,” rather than encouraged them. My kids hate it when I sing along to, “Can’t Feel My Face.” They have no idea what my generation suffered hearing our moms singing “Afternoon Delight.”

Today: “Cool for the Summer” — Demi Lovato
Yesterday: “Like a Virgin” — Madonna

“Cool for the Summer” is stuffed with more innuendo than it takes to make Paul Stanley blush. But until kids have already been introduced to these concepts otherwise, the lyrics are explainable. (Really you should turn the song off due to extremely low artistic merit.) “Like a Virgin” has no innuendo. Madonna just puts it all out there. And you can’t turn the station when Madge is on.

Today: “Animals” — Maroon 5
Yesterday: “Sexual Healing” — Marvin Gaye

So the same hometown stations that refused to play “I Want Your Sex,” had no problem putting “Sexual Healing” into heavy rotation. That aside, it’s hard to come up with an innocent twist on a line like, Let’s make love tonight. Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up. ‘Cause you do it right. The most egregious of lines from “Animals” can’t compare.