In Defense of Gawkers and Looky-Loos

Local news reports here in Sonoma County  tell us that many people who lost their homes to the October fires are upset that the fire tourist “looky-loos” now descending on the rubble of their streets are adding further insult to the grievous injury they have already suffered. This is an understandable response, and I feel for them.

But it seems to me there is much more to this phenomenon than mere voyeurism, so I would like to offer another perspective.

I do so as someone who did not lose his own home but, like most all residents of this area, know many friends and acquaintances who did. And who, like everyone connected emotionally to this beloved landscape and community, shares in the grief of so much loss.

Within the collective trauma, each person, in the privacy of their own fears and anguish, still has to reckon with their sense of loss, still has to make peace with the images now seared into memo...

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The Conundrum of God As “Father”

The names of God—the idea of the infinite reflected in a nearly infinite number of images and words— was the subject of the day in my church this morning. Following are some remarks delivered there by yours truly.

***

I’ve been mulling the 99 or the 9 billion or however many names of God there might be. But I find myself coming back to what has historically been the most prominent of those names: Father. The male of the species.

The mystics might speak of the alpha and omega, the unmoved mover and the fathomless void, but in everyday parlance among the masses of humanity throughout history God has mostly been: a man.

At his best, a benevolent all-embracing father figure. At his worst: a raging avenger constantly threatening to lay waste to his creation.

This line of thought has been dogging me in the wake of about 9 billion recent news articles...

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After the Fires: Searching for Meaning, Practicing Prayer

So we have arrived at “full containment” of the fires ravaging Northern California over the past two weeks. Keeping a close eye on the “containment” percentage has been but one of the obsessions affecting the local population through these days. Or at least those of us who had not lost our homes and were casting nervous eyes on the local hillsides to gauge the chances of it still happening.

Living not far from the oak and fir forests of Annadel State Park as I do, I used to look up at the nearby hills periodically and think that a fire would surely sweep through there someday. But I was just as sure that it would never jump down here to the flatlands, thick with residential neighborhoods, roads and schools.

It’s one thing for a fire to sweep up and across open canyons and ridges where only the wildlife and adjacent hillside homeowners need flee...

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Dodging Bullets, Traffic, and the Fire This Time…

You are at a country music festival, the weekend’s final act.

It is late and you are feeling the love.

For the artists, the music, the atmosphere, those you came with, all those you didn’t come with but with whom you are now bound and bathed in a warm bubble of what will surely be a lifelong memory.

Then there are alien sounds, rhythmic but not musical—and not coming from the stage.

Then comes the chaos, the confusion, the sudden mad scramble and cowering amid bullets and falling bodies all around you, blood spattering your clothes (is it your own?), screams of fear, of anguish, and death for 58 people.

And for some reason, you are not among them.

You are alive.

***

You are driving down the three-lane highway with a childhood friend on a sunny afternoon, fast lane.

You need to get off, so you move toward the middle.

A driver in the slow lane has the same idea, same time.

You don’t notice, until you d...

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Toward a Reasoned Second Amendment Debate

I want to start with this question for fervent defenders of the Second Amendment: Is there any limit to the right to bear arms? Assuming that no one should be able to walk down to their local CVS or Safeway to buy a bottle of aspirin, a bag of potato chips and a machine gun, can we acknowledge that there should be some reasonable limits on an individual’s right to buy weapons?

If so, then the question simply becomes: What should the nature of those limits be? If I can buy one handgun for my family’s protection, can I buy 10 in order to place one in every room and thus increase the security I am aiming for?

And knowing that there are bad guys out there with rifles, should I have 10 of those instead of mere handguns?

And not only hunting rifles either, because I also know there are bad guys with military-style assault rifles, so how will I protect my family with mere hunting rifles against them...

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