Spring 2010 Social Concerns Focus:  Reducing Violence in American Culture
 
June Newsletter
 
During the first half of 2010, the Missions & Social Concerns Committee asks Friends to learn about the problem of violence in American society and culture, and to work at finding ways to helpfully address and reduce it.
 
Violence.  We hear about it all the time; we see it in the news; we watch it in movies and on TV.  As a high school teacher, I rarely get through a day without some reminder of how prevalent violence is.  Sometimes students actually trade blows.  Like other high schools, ours has its share of fights.  At the beginning of the year, one student was injured in a very serious fight with another student.  The motivation?  The attacker thought the other guy had stolen his bicycle over the summer, and name calling and racial slurs quickly escalated to fists.  Recently, another student attacked a classmate for the second time this year --  both times because of a girl.  (I can't help but worry about the relationship between the boy and girl, if this is how he handles jealousy.)  Since this was his second incident, the police were called and the young man was taken away in handcuffs.  I'm sure he did not expect much more than a few days' suspension, but regardless, he seemed unrepentant.  Only later did I discover that the student and his friends held a daily "fight club" in a basement where boys could challenge each other to bare-fisted fighting.  We constantly hear about students being threatened by other students, either in person or through cell phone text messages.  Fights take place out of school, as well as in school.
 
Where does this idea of "might makes right" come from?  While I firmly believe that violence on TV, in movies, and in video games contributes to the problem, I suspect it is first learned in the home.  We know children learn what they see, but how is it  that no one sees this violence as wrong?  One Monday, a girl came to class and told her teacher there had been a big fight between family members, and the police had been called.  The teacher asked her, "Do you know that there are families where no one beats up anyone else, and the police never have to come to the house?"  The girl's response?  "No way!"
 
I have asked students for years what they hope to accomplish through fighting.  What does it prove?  I've never gotten a satisfactory answer.  They usually tell me something about showing they're not scared of the other person.  But what, I'll ask,  does that accomplish?  Does it make you are a better person?  Show that you're smarter?
 
I obviously have many more questions than answers.  I've taught for almost 25 years, and I've yet to find the magic words to convince any of my students to reject violence.  I will continue to talk to them, and I will continue trying to set a good example.  And as always, I'll pray.               
 
--by Suzanne Weber, Missions & Social Concerns Committee member
 
 
 
[When] the Spirit is poured upon us from on high....., the fruit of righteousness will be peace.....  My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.  (Isaiah 32:15,17,18)
 
 

May Newsletter
During the first half of 2010, the Missions & Social Concerns Committee asks Friends to learn about the problem of violence in American society and culture, and to work at finding ways to helpfully address and reduce it.

The Lord forbid that I should....lift up my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.....
Who can lay a hand on the Lord's anointed and be guiltless?
  (I Samuel 24:6; 26:9)
While King Saul and his security forces were hunting David to eliminate a perceived threat to his throne, David twice had easy opportunities to do away with Saul and seize the kingdom for himself.  On both occasions, David spoke of recognizing the calling and work of God in Saul's life and refused to harm the jealousy-driven king who was trying to kill him. 
One of the primary reasons the early Quakers gave for their refusal to participate in violence and war was their acknowledgment of "that of God in every person," a broader but similar recognition of the love of God for every human person and the presence and work of God's Spirit in them.  They understood that loving presence to be an "anointing" and were unwilling to inflict harm upon Christ's work in others.
One could be tempted in 2010 to believe that such understanding is nearing extinction.  NBC News reported in late April that the city of Chicago has experienced 116 gun deaths thus far in 2010 (compared to 127 US military deaths in Afghanistan in the same period) and is considering requesting National Guard help to stem the violence.  A 2006 Josephson Institute survey of US school kids showed that 42% of high schoolers and 32% of middle schoolers believe it is acceptable to threaten or use violence against someone who angers them.  Young people now watch more television than any previous generation, and 61% of the TV programming available to them contains some sort of violence.  Hugely popular interactive video games containing graphic violence now add to the problem.  Three of four families with children own video game equipment, and kids now play video games an average of 53 minutes per day, but less than half of those parents supervise their kids' video game usage. 
Something needs to change.  In such a culture, how are children and young people ever to learn about David, or to recognize that of God in all other persons, or to challenge the too often violence-condoning values of the dominant culture?  How can we learn to consider that of God in others as we decide not just whether we'll hit people, but also how we will treat the air and water others consume, or how we will treat immigrants, or whether we will take economic advantage of others, or how we will spend our leisure time?  Some will answer that churches must teach us -- but according to a recent Lifeway Christian Resources survey, 65% of Americans under age 30 who say they're Christians admit that they rarely or never attend worship, read the Bible, or pray regularly.  If they're not doing those things, it's unlikely that their children are, either.  They're "spiritual, but not religious," meaning the church will have difficulty finding the opportunity to teach them or their kids to see that of God in others. 
Learning to see that of God in others needs to begin early, and it needs to begin at home. 
Or perhaps we could try a colorful new Christian wristband -- WWYD(TJ)? -- What Would You Do To Jesus?
Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.  (Matthew 25:40)
 
 
A Consistent Easter Message:  Don't Be Afraid.... Peace Be With You
April Newsletter
  During the first half of 2010, the Missions & Social Concerns Committee asks Friends to learn about the problem of violence in American society and culture, and to work at finding ways to helpfully address and reduce it.
 
A few hours before His arrest, Jesus told His disciples at their Passover supper that the Holy Spirit's ongoing teaching ministry to them would keep them in a kind of peace the world cannot offer, peace marked by untroubled hearts and the absence of fear (John 14:26,27).  Two days after the terrifying ordeal of His arrest and crucifixion, amidst the very real threat of a similar fate for His followers, Jesus' female disciples went to tend His grave.  They were met by an angel whose first words to them were, "Do not be alarmed" (Mark 16:6).  The risen Jesus met them as they left the garden and told them "Do not be afraid" (Matthew 28:10).  When He appeared to the gathered disciples later that day and to Thomas a week later, His first words to them were "Peace be with you" (Luke 24:36; John 20:19-26).  Despite the violence He had suffered and a social setting dominated by threats and fear, the Lord was consistently "on message" with words of peace and healing.
 
Let your conversation always be full of grace.... (Colossians 4:6)
 
Not all violence is physical.  Verbal violence and the emotional harm it inflicts can be every bit as damaging as a fist fight.  It utilizes fear to escalate conflict to the point of physical violence.  The recent heated health reform debate in the US Congress (and in the media and the coffee shops) is just one familiar case in point.  Undisciplined verbal hostility leaves adults sounding like children and creates an environment where physical violence seems logical or necessary.  For those who would follow Him, however, Jesus early on set the bar much higher than that.  Citing the Law's prohibition of murder, Jesus taught that it actually meant that God's children were to live free of hatred and insult (Matthew 5:21,22).  He taught that the mouth merely expresses the overflow of the heart, and that one day every careless word will have to be accounted for (Matthew 12:33-37).  His half-brother James echoes Jesus' teaching by questioning how people could use their tongues both to praise God and to curse human beings made in God's likeness.  "My brothers," he wrote, "this should not be" (James 3:9,10).
 
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful
for building others up according to their needs..... (Ephesians 4:29)

It is likely that nearly all of us have at some time been hurt by verbal aggression, especially the kind made so easy and commonplace by today's impersonal forms of electronic communication.  It also is likely that we've been tempted to respond in kind.  As followers and earthly hosts of the resurrected Christ, we are privileged to break that cycle of violence, to hold our tongues (and our e-mailing fingers and texting thumbs) in check, and to de-escalate rather than inflame conflict by choosing words like those Jesus spoke, words that dispelled fear and encouraged wholesome, reconciled relationships.  It is one way each of us can and must work at lessening the level of violence in our society and culture.
 

 

March Newsletter

  Let your gentleness be evident to all.... Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things.... And the God of peace will be with you.  (Philippians 4:5-9)
 
During the first half of 2010, the Missions & Social Concerns Committee asks Friends to learn about the problem of violence in American society and culture, and to work at finding ways to helpfully address and reduce it.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children in the US watch on average nearly 30 hours of television weekly, roughly the same amount of time they are in school, more time than for anything else except sleep.  Television has been shown by hundreds of studies to be a powerful influence in the forming of value systems and shaping behavior.  Unfortunately, much of today's television programming is filled with violence.  AACAP finds that children and teens exposed to media violence "may become 'immune' or numb to the horror of violence; gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems; imitate the violence they observe on television; and identify unhealthily with TV characters, both victims and victimizers."  AACAP observes further that "extensive viewing of television violence by children causes greater aggressiveness," that "children with emotional, behavioral, learning or impulse control problems may be more easily influenced by TV violence," and that "while TV violence is not the only cause of aggressive or violent behavior, it is clearly a significant factor."  Parents Television Council cites one 17-year longitudinal study which concluded that teens who watch more than one hour of TV a day are almost four times more likely to commit aggressive acts in adulthood than are teens who watch less than sixty minutes per day.

Adults often rationalize their own media habits by insisting that the negative impacts are exclusive to children.  Abelard.org, however, counters that assumption by asking, "If you think TV program content has no effect on you, why do you suppose advertisers spend billions of dollars each year on the 2-3 minute commercial breaks interspersed throughout the shows you believe do not affect your thinking or behavior?"  As the apostle Paul told the Philippians, our experience of the protective peace of God, and our ability to perceive the presence of the God of peace, is hugely determined by what we choose to allow to fill our minds.
      

For more about the 3 R's and this project, see Pam Ferguson's Barclay Press article.......

 

       2010 Woolman Award:  Join other Winchester Quarterly Meeting churches from now through April in "getting back to the 3 R's" of the 21st century -- recycling electronics, reclaiming what is valuable, and restoring lives.  Help collect as many old, broken, unused computer towers, laptops, monitors, printers, televisions, and other electronics as possible to be safely recycled.  Starting March 15, bring those items to the meetinghouse, or call the office for pick-up.  They will be given to Workforce, Inc., an Indianapolis business that employs and trains released inmates needing jobs to recover precious metals from the equipment, recycle the plastic and steel, and safely dispose of toxic materials without polluting soil or water.  Providing jobs and new skills to released inmates helps keep them from re-offending and returning to incarceration.
 
 
February Newsletter
The commandments, "Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule:  "Love your neighbor as yourself."  Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."   (Romans 13:9,10)
 
 
       News reports frequently update viewers/listeners/readers on the climbing number of US military personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.  In giving local news, they report the most recent violent deaths in a city or region, but rarely are cumulative statistics reported.  Many Hoosiers likely would be shocked to realize that in 2009, 317 American soldiers died in the escalating war in Afghanistan, and during that same period, there were around 350 homicides in our state (final statistics are not yet available, but Indiana has averaged 350-400 homicides annually for the past several years).  If we broaden the scope, consider the fact that seven years of the Iraq war 2003-2009 cost the lives of 4375 US soldiers.  That same number of US residents die by gunfire in this country every seven weeks or so.  Firearm deaths and injuries result each year in $2.3 billion in medical costs, half of it paid from tax revenues.  When the legal and social costs of those events are added in, the cost goes to $100 billion.  [sources: Legal Community Against Violence: lcav.org; icasualties.org]

       During the first half of 2010, the Missions & Social Concerns Committee asks Friends to learn about the problem of violence in American society and culture, and to work at finding ways to helpfully address and reduce it.  We might be tempted to believe that it is a problem of "those other guys," people who glorify violence and live recklessly.  Before reaching that conclusion, however, consider that the church office periodically receives promotional materials from a Christian camp that touts its state-of-the-art recreational facilities with a photo of a cute teenage girl pointing her paintball gun almost at the reader holding the brochure.  Or consider the church newsletter (another denomination -- we get a lot of them) that urged teens to attend a youth laser-tagging party (players "shoot" low-energy laser "guns" at opposing team members) to "try your hand at some serious infrared carnage...."  Call them games if you wish, but such activities tend to cause participants to enjoy simulating armed conflict by launching projectiles at other people.  And then there are the TV shows, movies, and computer games.  Perhaps Jesus' followers' work of learning to "do no harm to our neighbor" needs to begin at home.

       2010 Woolman Award:  As a way to begin, the Committee reminds you to join other Winchester Quarterly Meeting churches from now through April to collect as many old, broken, unused computer towers, laptops, monitors, printers, televisions, and other electronics as possible to be safely recycled.  They will be given to Workforce, Inc., an Indianapolis business run by former Winchester resident Gregg Keesling.  He employs and trains released inmates (who nearly always have trouble finding jobs) to recover precious metals from the equipment, recycle the plastic and steel, and safely dispose of toxic materials without polluting soil or water.  Providing jobs and new skills to released inmates helps keep them from re-offending and returning to incarceration.  Terry Reynard has termed it "getting back to the 3 R's -- recycling electronics, reclaiming what is valuable, restoring lives."  If you have items to donate to this Woolman Award project, please notify the church office.