A Modern Day Easter Tale

Imagine that a scruffy looking guy shows up on the scene preaching the values of peace, love, and looking out for the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable among us. He calls himself Abdul of Damascus, and we learn he comes from a family of refugees and recently managed to make his way to the U.S.

Abdul has an engaging and charismatic manner about him and walks the proverbial walk on his values every day. He speaks truth to power and openly challenges the establishment whenever he thinks they are falling short of living up to these core values. And he finds a lot of material to work with there.

While he speaks of God, he suggests we need to challenge the established religions, noting that they do not always live up to these core values in their policies and practices. In particular, he believes we should be forgiving and judge others by what kind of people they are in their hearts; not by what they look like, where they are from, how much money they have, their sexuality, or their past mistakes.

People are quickly attracted to Abdul’s positive messages of hope, equality and a shared responsibility for helping the less fortunate. The next thing you know, he is an internet and social media sensation, and people everywhere are starting to challenge the status quo.

Where would the story go from here?

I obviously made up this story, and I know that my fictional Abdul would never be mistaken for a moderate (raging or otherwise). On this Easter weekend though, I tried to imagine what the story of Jesus might look like in our modern world, and consider whether our society’s response would be different if it happened today.

XTC, a great band who made my top ten list of musical inspirations for another one of their classics when I kicked off this blog, explored a similar theme in their ‘90’s hit, The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead. If you have not heard that song in awhile, I encourage you to take a few minutes to click this link and listen to it as you read this.

If you know the song, you know Mr. Pumpkinhead met a similar fate to Jesus in the end. While it is hard to imagine a modern day Jesus literally would be nailed to a cross today, it is not so hard to imagine he would find himself in danger. As an “outsider” who looks and acts differently than most of us and espouses views that fundamentally challenge how we are living our lives—both individually and collectively through our governing bodies—there is little doubt that many would instinctively view him as a threat.

While chances are we will never be faced with this scenario, there is one thing we all can take away from this whether or not we are celebrating Easter this weekend: to be more tolerant of people who don’t look or act like us or always share our same views.  So many of the divisions in our country today are being exacerbated by people retreating to their own echo chambers, tuning out opposing viewpoints, and demonizing those who do not agree with them.

While there of course are much larger lessons from the story of Easter than that “tolerance” takeaway, it is one we all have the power to carry out and one that would make our world a much better place.

 

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Turning Outrage Into Action

If there is any issue that puts the rage into this raging moderate more than inaction on sensible gun control, it is hard to imagine what that would be. But as many have remarked over the past few days, this time feels like it really could be different. For that to happen though, the overwhelming majority of us who favor reasonable gun policies need to turn our current outrage and energy into a longer-term action plan that has real staying power.

In the wake of the most recent mass shooting in Florida, the Onion again ran its longtime headline for these all too common moments: ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. They used their sarcastic wit to underscore that we need to take a hard look in the mirror to see why the U.S. is so unusual in this regard. As the Onion once again put it: “At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

Except this time, with the courageous fellow students and families of the shooting victims in Florida leading the way and inspiring us, we aren’t acting so helpless: more Americans are organizing to counter the NRA than ever before. Corporate America is taking notice too, publicly taking stands to disassociate their brands from the NRA for the first time in my memory.

And politicians and commentators from all sides of the political spectrum increasingly are speaking out and demanding action. A Florida Republican with a lot of credibility on the issue recently made it a point to publicly support an assault weapons ban. And Max Boot, hardly a liberal, really nailed it in the headline for his recent op-ed: “The Second Amendment is being turned into a suicide pact.” Those are just two of many examples of the changing landscape, and we need to keep building on that momentum.

To do that, we need to understand where the primary source of the NRA’s outsized influence on this issue comes from. People typically believe that the NRA’s power comes from their campaign contributions and associated heavy investment in lobbying at all levels of government. That stuff matters for sure, but in the scheme of things can be countered relatively easily.

What makes this more challenging is that the NRA’s principal clout is mobilization, not donations, as a very good article in the New York Times a few days ago noted. The NRA is able to mobilize their voters and thereby give a vocal minority outsized influence in a way that few others have been able to do.

That’s what we need to counter for the longer haul. And as we do that, we should heed the words of David Brooks in his recent op-ed, Respect First, Then Gun Control. While I disagree with his premise that for gun control to be successful, people from red states have to lead the way (a premise he also questioned in a subsequent column), Brooks makes a number of important points we should all keep in mind as this debate unfolds. While I have no problem demonizing the NRA and its leadership—they bring that on themselves—we should be careful not to demonize all of its members just because they may not immediately agree with us here. Like most issues facing our country, sitting down and listening to the other side respectfully can go a long way towards finding common ground. And as Brooks said well, while there are fringe elements who should be called out as such, painting everyone who disagrees with us with the broad brush of “enemies” won’t help us get there.  Congresswoman Robin Kelly from right here in Illinois is one of the best advocates for reasonable gun control policies anywhere, and sets a great example in the way she approaches those who aren’t there yet.

So with respect where it is due, we need to stay mobilized on this issue in the same way the NRA has done so successfully. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has a “Turn Your Outrage Into Action” platform that inspired the title to this post and is a great place to start. They have three central action items for our elected officials: require background checks on all gun purchases, ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and enact “extreme risk” laws. The great majority of us who favor this kind of reasonable approach need to make this one of the core issues we hold our elected officials accountable for in the same way the NRA has done in reverse with just a small fraction of the overall popular support we have on our side.

And we need to maintain that commitment when the initial shock and outrage of this latest incident naturally starts to subside for those of us fortunate enough to not be living it firsthand. The NRA and its allies are depending on us to do just that and lose our current focus on this issue, which to their credit they will never do. If we as the once quieter majority can maintain this energy as a core position for the longer term though, the NRA has no chance. And that is when we’ll start to see real action in Congress.

We can do it, and you and me need to be right out in front.