Dear Ted Nugent

Dear Ted Nugent,

I’m a Republican. I have been since my 18th birthday, more years ago than I care to admit. Among other things, I believe in border security, limited government, and freedom of expression. I believe gay people should have the same right to marry as straight people. And I believe that bakeries should be allowed to refuse to make their cakes, then take their chances in the free market.

I also believe in the second amendment.

In the picture below are my children. Only they aren’t children any more.

The woman on the left is Jennifer. She’s been working since sixth grade to make the most of her God-given talents. She was the best student in her International Baccalaureate middle school and the validictorian of her IB high school. She graduated from George Washington University Phi Beta Kappa. She spent a year in the Marhall Islands helping kids learn English. She’s now a doctoral student at UCLA. She wants to be an academic.

Since sixth grade she’s worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known to make her way in the world. I love her more than my words here can convey.

The guy on the left is Daniel. He currently attends Syracuse University. He’s worked hard, too, but in a different way. His life is chaos. He’s always working on something and he’s on track to graduate a year early from school. He’s a little surly sometimes, but he’s quick and witty and has a touch with people I’ll never understand. And I love him differently, but every bit as much.

For reasons I won’t pretend to understand, you went on Alex Jones’s radio show and called for the murder of my children, among other people.

If you were just some random nut case, I’d chalk it up as stupidity and move on. But you aren’t a random nut case. You’re on the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association. You consider yourself a spokesman for people in the party I’ve always belonged to.

I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton–a fact that caused strain in my relationship with my daughter for a while. And now a growing part of me wishes I had, because President Trump’s reckless, unpresidential public persona has encouraged people like you to say things like “There are rabid coyotes running around…every time you see one, shoot one.”

In the context of your remarks, you’re referring to Democrats, academics, media, and RINOs (Republicans in name only). I guess under the First Amendment, you have as much right to spout this horrific drivel as the Westboro Baptist Church has to show up and make asses of themselves at high-profile funerals.

But, Mr. Nugent, in your remarks, you called for people to shoot my children, along with approximately half of the rest of the country. Some of those people are very close friends of mine and better people than you could ever consider being.

You can have whatever political positions you want to have. And that’s as it should be.

But if one of your hair-trigger followers even considers harming my children because of your words, the so-called fake media will be the least of your problems. I will make it my avocation to make sure every second of your life–and I truly hope it will be a long one–will be filled with the realization of the effects of your reckless, ill-considered, murdrous words.

These are human beings, not some imaginary vermin you can put out of their misery and out of your mind. These are God’s children you want put down like a rabid dog. And two of them are my children.

I hope common sense will prevail and you will reconsider and denounce your words. Failing that, I hope the NRA will remove you from its board and rescind your membership. And should the worst happen to anyone. I hope the riches that you’ve worked for decades to attain are paid out as a poor, inadequate recompense for the cost of your verbal poison.

The God I believe in will surely forgive you for your words, should you ask it, and I’m happy for that. But my soul and my logic are weak where my children are concerned.

Sincerely,

Chris Hamilton

Advertisements

The fat guy you see running

A lot time ago when I used to be in shape, I was out in the car one summer Sunday afternoon and saw this big fat guy running by the side of the road.

He was going about the speed of a slug and it looked like someone had hosed him down. He was running with his head tipped back and his mouth open and looked like he’d rather have bamboo slivers stuck under his toenails while having a root canal and listening Bob Dylan sing hip hop.

At the time, I opined that he was more courageous in his workout than I was because I knew what I could do. This was a familiar thing for me. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t super duper hard, either.

But he was out taking chances. And his two or three miles was more impressive than my eight or ten.

This morning, I was the fat guy. Ever since I was sick, I’ve been trying to get back toward in shape. I started by running–far too much–and messing up my Achilles tendons. It took forever for that to go away and finally, last summer, I started to ease into things. I dabbled with it, but the habit never really stuck.

Then I got with these guys who pushed me harder than even Insanity did. I managed to get back up to five miles running. That’s when the injuries kicked in. Two calf injuries. A hip injury. Then I got sick. Then I was working a zillion hours.

Then I got back from a business trip and started running again. I got two runs in and got sick again. And then I messed up my back. And now my shoulder.

But yesterday, I walked. Things were okay, so today I ran.

For whatever reason, Runkeeper decided not to get GPS this morning, so I tracked by time. Twenty-two minutes of running, at which point the tank was empty. So I alternated running a minute and walking a minute for another twenty minutes and finished just on the edge of slight nausea.

I didn’t go super fast–even compared to my previous glacier-like pace. And I didn’t go very far–probably around three miles overall.

And if I’d jumped in the pool, there was enough sweat that the water level would probably go up half an inch when I submerged myself. (It’s not that gross; it’s a saltwater pool.)

But I was that fat guy. And it was magnificent.

A lot of the time, people who are two hard on themselves are much fairer with other people. So if that’s you, treat yourself like them.

The day I turned a certain advanced age, I ran 17 miles. I’d struggle to do 17 miles in a week now. And that’s okay, because that’s where I am.

In the words of the great Tony Horton, “He did his best and that’s always enough.”

God never expects us to do the impossible and He’s, you know, God. Who are we to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

 


Imagine there’s no hell

Pope Francis made the news earlier this week–Holy Week in the Christian faith–by saying that there is no hell. In an interview with Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist friend of his, which was published in La Repubblica, the Pope said, “They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”

welcomeToHellMichigan

A little inside baseball for non-Catholics:

  • Both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Holy Scripture point out the existence of hell.
  • The Pope’s statement to Scalfari is just that–a statement. Papal infallibility does not apply to everything a Pope says. It’s used only twice–once to cover the Immaculate Conception and once about Mary’s assumption into heaven.

immaculate reception

With that out of the way, it’s always seemed to me that the overriding desire to attain heaven or avoid hell misses the point.

If God is the father in the story of the prodigal son, then what he wants is to have a relationship with us, and then for us to have a relationship with each other. Hence, he waits every day for his wayward son and runs to him when he returns. For a Jewish patriarch of the time to do that was unheard of. It would be like Archie inviting the Meathead to sit in his chair.

archie-meathead-chair

After the reconciliation of the wayward brother, he practically begs the responsible son inside to accept his brother back. There’s no reference to heaven or damnation because the story ends there. It’s entirely about relationships, not eternal reward or condemnation.

In the Christian faith, we’re taught the necessity to surrender ourselves to God, to give back to him the most precious gift he’s given to us–our free will. Not because he demands it, but because of his desire for relationship. Sort of like you give up your right to date when you get married. It’s a desire for union, not a harsh command.

Beyond that desire to enter into a trusting relationship is the desire for us to love his other children, or do our best. He’s inviting us into that larger union that exists horizontally. He wants us to join everyone else in the messy, sometimes agonizing party.

It’s another request to trust.

If that trust exists, then heaven and hell are beside the point. The relationship with the Beloved is heaven and its absence is hell.

I’m not sure of heaven or hell. I’m not nearly as sure as I’d like to be about that loving relationship of the Father. But if I were sure, heaven and hell would be the last thing on my mind. When a relationship that overpowering occurs, there’s no room for anything else.


Last year, actress Gal Gadot became an icon to some when her movie Wonder Woman became the first major mainstream theatrical superhero movie to feature a female protagonist.

Gal Gadot

Last week, some of the same people who lauded her were far less excited about her tweet in reaction to the death of Stephen Hawking.

“Rest in peace Dr. Hawking. Now you’re free of any physical constraints.. Your brilliance and wisdom will be cherished forever,” she wrote.

The reaction among some was some degree of anger. The post, they said, was ablist. They said it implied that a person confined to a wheel chair can’t live a full life. It implied that those with chronic or disabling illnesses are somehow less than they could be, less than others.

With deep respect to those who crave out amazing lives because of illness or disease, I disagree.

Hawking became what he was both because and in spite of his illness. He’s one of the greatest scientific minds of his era. If not for his ALS, he probably would’ve done something different with his life. But the ALS made it harder to accomplish what he did.

When skiier Amy Purdy finished second in Dancing with the Stars in spite of having no feet, a lot of people were impressed. That she trained while participating in the Winter Paralympics made her accomplishment even more impressive. Yet, in the shadow of that accomplishment, there was a cry from some of disability porn toward those who watched and were awed.

Amy Purdy in Dancing with the Stars

Closer to home (for me, at least), author Laura Hillenbrand suffered from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, while she wrote Seabiscuit and Unbroken. She never actually met Louis Zamperini, the subject of Unbroken because she was housebound. She worked with him via Skype, phone calls, and email.

Zamperini said that she probably did a better job telling his story because she was a prisoner, too, unable to leave her home. When Zamperini died, he willed his Purple Star to her.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with ME. I worked from bed some days and managed to complete a very long and difficult system implementation, then support a system that was so buggy, the manufacturer replaced it with a new product a year later. Looking back, the only reason I got the work done was that I refused not to.

At the time, I didn’t know I would recover. Some days I had to stop and rest on my way to the bathroom. Every weekday morning, I would wake to despair because of what lie in front of me.

I’m a different person because of that experience. My heart softened and my empathy grew. It changed my outlook of the world and it’s still working on my outlook on God–which is continuing to change my outlook on the world.

I figured I’d eventually become bed-ridden. I’d probably lose much of my ability to earn a living. I’d figure something out to stay employed–I knew that much. But that something would be harder than anything I might’ve considered before that.

You wouldn’t have insulted to me to wish I might overcome that condition. I wished it, too. My life wasn’t diminished when by the grace of God, misdiagnosis, or whatever, I slowly recovered from that circumstance.

I accepted whatever was going to happen, but never for a moment did I stop hoping and praying it would change.

The bottom line is that people who achieve with chronic illness or disability are, in fact, amazing. From Dr. Hawking, to Amy Purdy, to a friend of mine whose chronic illness has made her less active than she’d like. Admiring them isn’t disability porn. Wishing them recovery isn’t devaluing them. And accepting them where they are and caring about the person they are is what God commands.

The reaction to Ms. Gadot is far too harsh.

Continue reading

The President probably wouldn’t have gone blazing in at Parkland; you either.

I’d like you to think for a minute about someone shooting a gun at you. Let’s say you have a little cover–enough to hide most of your body. Let’s say that the shooter seems to be firing a lot, without stopping for a long period of time. A burst of fire here, another there. But no long, sustained gap between shots. He doesn’t seem to have to reload.

You’re safe, for the most part, because you’ve got cover. Others aren’t so lucky. You can hear that around the bursts of gunshots. You hear screams and cries of pain. At one point, you hear someone who sounds female begging almost. You can’t make out the words, but you know the tone. In the middle of one of the anguished pleas, another burst of gunfire. Then silence.

What do you do?

Most of us–particularly guys–like to imagine that we’d go handle things. Hell, this is something I’ve been training for from the first time I watched The Rockford Files, through the last time I watched Castle. That’s 40 years of “training.”

Castle pretending he can’t shoot.

One of those training videos was an episode of Simon & Simon. If you don’t remember it, it featured two brothers–AJ, a preppy pretty boy and Rick, a grizzled Vietnam vet. Together, they faced danger each week as private investigators.

Rick and AJ Simon

In one episode, AJ got pinned down by someone firing a machine gun at him and though he didn’t get hit, after the shooter was taken care of, he was a blubbering mess. His combat-veteran brother–who was typically the bad cop–went to him and held him and gently talked him down. AJ was decidedly unheroic that episode, but it felt real enough for me to remember it more than 30 years later.

TV and movies and video games aren’t training. Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, and Tom Selleck would probably do poorly in a real-life active shooter event. To assume anything different is to insult real first responders who go through real training so they’re positioned to be able to be more than a blubbering mess.

If you were in Parkland, there’s a chance you’d have done something, even if you were unarmed. There’s a far bigger chance that you’d freeze–that coherent though would elude you. Absent training, that doesn’t make you a coward. It makes you human.

The people who don’t freeze have almost definitely been trained. They’re special people and odds are that you aren’t one of them.

(An aside: I’m talking about going after the shooter, not shielding other people. In no way am I demeaning those heroic sacrifices, but running toward the danger is different than being in it.)

I have no idea what I’d do, and no desire to find out. Should it ever happen, I pray to God now that I would pray then and that He’d give me the grace and courage to do the right thing–whatever that might be.

I pray for God to give me that courage and wisdom, because I’m pretty sure I don’t have it myself. And whether you like the President or not, odds are he doesn’t either.

My only hope for myself is that I realize that truth and can maybe adjust for it. Our President doesn’t seem to have the same realization.


The hard, vapid, stupid answer

My children weren’t shot, or shot at, this week. I don’t have an empty position at the table where that smiling, maddening, ball of teenaged chaos once sat. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child.

I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child to someone whose sole mission was to rip gaping holes in as many lives as possible. I imagine it might make me echo with the kind of rage that comes with unimaginable hurt. Rage at God. Rage at those who seemed to allow what happened, who seem–from my point of view–not to care.

I don’t know what it’s like to be in high school today. Most of the kids in high school today weren’t alive when September 11 happened. In their lifetimes, there would seem to be infinitely more danger to themselves from people with guns than from Islamic terrorists. And I wouldn’t presume to argue that point. Especially not now.

I had a discussion with a guy who owns an AR-15 yesterday. This is a genuinely good person, a person with teenaged daughters. His main concern wasn’t his ability to make up for some insufficiency in his manhood. It wasn’t a love of a piece of steel over the lives of children.

His concern was for his family, and his ability to protect his family. He was put off by the personal blame that seemed to be aimed at him as a stereotypical gun-humping rightwingnut. (A rightwingnut who also reads Merton and Richard Rohr and takes his faith very seriously.)

All of the people I just described have several things in common. The most basic of those things is that they are all God’s children. They are all included in Jesus’s most basic command to love our neighbors.

Jesus specifically points out that there’s nothing special about loving your teenager or your parent or the people you agree with. He goes on to specifically command–not suggest, not recommend, but command that we (the use of first person plural is intentional, as I include myself in this) love the other.

We love the frigging snowflake millennial teenagers. We love the parent with a bullhorn damning gun owners and anyone who disagrees with him. We love the loudmouth with the MAGA hat.

There’s too many people making too many problems and not much love to go round. There’s always something breaking us in two.

It’s easy to be angry right now when everything is going to hell. But hell is a place of anger and hate. As hard and vapid as it seems to be, the answer doesn’t come in yelling louder and more forcefully than the jackass on the other side.

The answer is in a whisper. It’s in disagreeing, vehemently, but never loosing sight of our mutual connection to each other.


Joyful, joyful

The first two words to the lyrics to Beethoven’s 9th symphony are joyful, joyful. It’s somewhat fitting–for this post, anyway–that Beethoven’s 9th is also more or less the theme song to Die Hard.

According to the message at church today, as Christians, we’re to be joyful. I’ve written on this before. Joyful doesn’t necessarily mean happy. Happy is transitory. Happy is how you feel after your team wins. Happy is how you feel when you see your best friend or your kids come back home for the holidays. Happy is situational.

Joyful, though, is another thing.

A guy I knew died of cancer. I wasn’t part of his life at that point, but the other guys who knew him repeatedly point to how solid he was through that whole experience. It’s not happy-making to get a terminal cancer diagnosis. You aren’t likely to click your heels and don a party hat. But you can still have joy.

Joy is hard work. As hard as John McClane single-handedly foiling a bunch of very violent bank robbers. It’s dirty, too.

Joy isn’t intuitive. Intuition–and maybe sanity–would seem to dictate situational happiness. You’re joyful when you get the raise and the promotion–not when you get laid off. You’re joyful when the exercise and diet pay off at the doctor, not when the discussion involves grim looks and the c-word. You’re joyful at birth, not at death.

It’s just easier that way. How can you possibly keep an eye on joy when the world is going to hell?

According to church, that’s not our job. It’s the Holy Spirit.

But first of all, many people don’t believe in the Holy Spirit. And of those of us who do, the belief can often become buried under the burdensome pile of shit that life can deposit there.

And that’s to be expected. Jesus himself said that in this world, we will know trouble. But he also said that he has overcome this world. His father, you know, God, has said that he keeps track of our tears in his bottle. (Easy for me because I am a manly man and I have fewer tears than hair.)

Christian life never ignores the presence of pain, evil, and abuse. It’s at those times that we’re supposed to be together. We’re supposed to cry with those who cry and mourn with those who mourn. We’re supposed to sit quiet in the room, if necessary, with those who hurt beyond any words.

Counterintuitively, I think that’s one of the keys to joy–acknowledging that stuff will suck. That sometimes life becomes an endless stream of sewage for longer than anyone would deem fair.

Maybe part of the key to joy is lifting people in the stream up, if even just an inch. When you’re worried about drowning in shit, it’s hard to see the light.

But if someone’s helping you stay afloat, you have a better chance. And if they’re with you, even when it’s bad, maybe they reflect the light. Maybe they become your hope through the light.

Joy doesn’t mean Pollyanna. It doesn’t mean smiling and pretending nothing’s wrong when very much is. It’s a sober recognition that sometimes life sucks, but you’re going to understand that there are bigger things that suckage, and the ultimately, pain–even what we perceive as final pain, is transitory.

It’s fricking hard work. It will demand more than you can ever imagine delivering sometimes. And sometimes, you can’t do it alone. That’s when you need the Holy Spirit, if you believe, and the people you trust the most whether you believe or not.

And when the people around you are in that situation, that’s when they need you. Sometimes, as the poem goes, there’s only one set of footsteps on the beach. Because we’re here together, and that’s what we do sometimes. We carry each other.

And that’s joy.