My Hugging Ministry

My church often encourages us to use our talents for God.  This is most visible through a whole lot of quilts.  There are quite a few volunteers who visit with each other while making rather fancy quilts.  The quilts are then given to nearby hospitals.  The staff and volunteers there distribute the quilts to patients undergoing cancer treatment who have difficulty staying warm. 

Quilts-benchesPersonally, I lack any quilting skill.  I may craft a cross-stitch project every once in a great while.  I can certainly mend a shirt that has fallen on hard times.  I can make do, but quilting is not where my passion lies. 

I always thought that my contribution would come across in writing.  I fancy myself a storyteller.  I feel most like what God called me to be when I am working on a keyboard.  (This is not to suggest that my writings are brilliant or heavenly.   Just like me, my writing is a work in progress.)

I have found that I am a competent hugger.  Cats, people that are homeless, parents; I hug them.  I am not the first to embrace this ideology.  There is a woman, Amma, The Hugging Saint.  She hugs.  We each have our own approach.

Now and then I will wear a button on my jacket.  (I take it off when I do laundry and sometimes it takes me a while to put it back on.)  I rarely smile or exude warmth from my expression.  So the invitation to engage me comes from a small piece of metal.  And yes, I take some flak for the button. 

“Free hugs?  Sounds like trouble.”  “Free hugs?  Watch out ladies.”  I am not a creep.  I am not a sexual predator.  Calm down, folks.  If you are not in need of a hug, then go about your merry way and God bless.  There are plenty of people that enjoy a hug.  This appears to be true in this holiday season.

-About a month ago I was walking briskly downtown.  The ground was slippery from rain and I was scurrying to make my bus.  Between the crowds, my aversion to signature collectors, and trying not to slip, I am sure I had a “leave me be” look.  However, a man stood in my path.  It was apparent he was set on engaging me.  I tried to walk past him, but then I heard him say, “Free hugs?”  I stopped in my tracks and turned around.  At least, that was the idea.  My foot hit a slick patch and I found myself on the ground.  I shrugged it off, picked myself up, and gave this man a hug.  I could not hear much above the bustle of city life, but he said something about free hugs being worth something, as opposed to all the other “free” offers out there.

-I caught my bus.  I sat in the back corner.  A seat and a half away, a very large man sat near me.  I read my comic book, he talked to his wife; we left each other to their activities.  Then I heard him say, “Free hugs?”  He held his arms out, I leaned over, and we embraced.  After that we shook hands.  Then we fist-bumped.  The large man, just like me, liked to be in physical contact with others.

3892-teddy-bear-couple-hug-Last week I was scurrying through downtown and passed a man sitting on a street corner.  He had a small bundle of things by him.  He looked glum his feet were bare.  I did not feel moved to do much more than acknowledge his presence with a glance, so I made my way to the intersection.  From over my right shoulder I heard a voice say, “Free hugs?”  I looked around, expecting it to be one of the businessmen or fellow bus-riders around me.  Instead, there was the homeless man looking at me with desperation.  I gave him a hug.  A few seconds passed.  Then he came in for another hug.  I asked if he needed anything. He only hugged me tighter.  We let go.  Until he hugged me a third time.   I quietly said, “I got you”, and let him share in a little physicality with another person.  After the last hug he went back to his daily routine and I went about mine.  It did make me wonder; how much human interaction does he get?  If someone needs to fill that gap, I am happy to help.

When I wear a button like mine, it forces me to play nice.  If I rage at someone for playing a guitar on the bus or talking too loud on their cellular phone, that is not ideal.  Now, if I did that while wearing a “Free Hugs” button?  It sends a mixed message. 

Even on my worst day, I do not want to be a hypocrite.   When I get my dander up or one of the thousands of people around me rub me the wrong way, my button nudges me to play nice.  It reassures me.  Sure, that person is being a little inconsiderate, and yeah, it would be nice if that driver had tried a little harder not to run me over at the intersection.  Yet I would still hug them if they asked.

I have no great solution to cure homelessness.  I have no bargaining powers to assist strife between nations.  I do not have the therapy degree to help couples that struggle in their marriage or people that are overworked.  I simply hug.  Old men who are a year away from retirement, nieces, and coffee drinkers; I hug them all and more besides.  If people stare or mock my button, so be it.  If Jesus could show his love by hanging out with prostitutes and hugging small children, I think I can see my way to hugging anyone who asks. 

“Love your neighbor.”  I have plenty of neighbors left.  Plus, once people know what I offer, I get a fair bit of repeat customers.  I may not look as warm as a quilt, but I make do.

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Trying Out: Art Gallery (Week 47)

A/NT Art Gallery (Week Forty-Seven)

I strolled into what I thought I was a small, unassuming, independent art museum.  What I did not realize until I entered was that I was in an art gallery.

It was a slightly different experience to walk around, see little prices typed by the artist’s name, and realize that any of those pieces could have gone home with me.  I started to approach each piece I liked with, “Yes, but do I like it enough to pay for it and see it every day?”

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Whimsical, sure. But is it “must have”?

I also had to adjust to the rapid-turnover/ constant need to change the setup.  Every piece was ready to be taken down at a moment’s notice.  The art one saw this week might not be there the next.

There were several different sections.  One area was created by high schoolers.  (Those teenage students have much more artistic skill than I do.)  There were plenty of pieces that I liked, but my apartment is already decorated by Bierstadt, Rockwell, and Hopper.  It is a tough crowd to compete with.  Yes, you can buy an original.  However I would rather have a print of brilliance than a one-of-a-kind, “Interesting”.

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Fun to see, but also pricey. (And where would you put it?)

Speaking of interesting.  Oy.  The second-to-last room I entered had a curtain in front of it.  They clearly knew there would be some crowds that would not want to see what was inside.  Nudity is one thing.  The human body, the human form; those I understand.  (I still prefer landscapes to people.  To each art lover, their own.)  This room was not decorated with my tastes in mind.

In the interest of keeping this blog PG-13, I will go light on the details.  However, between the pentagrams, the naked woman having sex with a wolf, and other creations along those lines, I scurried out of there rather quickly.  Many of the pieces were clearly created by talented individuals.  The colors, the depictions; they were all quite graphic.  (In many senses of that word.)  Personally, I prefer my art to avoid bestiality.  However, if their goal was to elicit an emotional reaction or challenge my boundaries, then they succeeded.

Happily, the next room was full of bright colors.  Columns of balloons were photographed in front of bridges.  Yay for not ending on a dismal note!  I returned to a pair of paintings and a bear that I had seen before but wanted to take in again.  Then I scurried back out into the real world. 

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Color! Hope! Yay!

There were some fascinating sights in there.  There were some things I would not have made space for if I were in charge.  And there were some things that I thought would make nice conversation pieces.  There was a little of column A, a bit of row B. 

As a bonus, museums cost money, but galleries are free.  (That is, unless you go home with a few canvases under your arm.  Ah, the high price of art appreciation.)   

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Trying Out: Other Work Sites (Week 46)

Trying Out: Leasing Myself Out (Week Forty-Six)

I have had the same job for fourteen years.  I had no desire to work up the corporate ladder.  A few dollars more an hour is not enough for the amount of responsibility (and night shifts) I would take on.  I liked the people I worked around, so why risk getting moved around on the company’s “development plan”?  No, I am paid enough.  I liked seeing the regular customers.  I stayed put.

That is, until the hours became slim.  I asked for thirty to thirty five hours a week.  (More would be nice, but I am not greedy.)  For the last few months, I had been scheduled twenty or so hours.  I took some vacation, I kept quiet, but so did my bank account’s balance.

I work for a rather large company.  Other work sites were not far off.  So, for the sake of trying something new (and because my cat like to eat), I loaned myself out to another location.

I had nothing to prove.  If asked, I mentioned how long I had been employed. 

(No one likes braggart-boy.  “Oh yeah.  <scratch scratch>  I’ve been around for more than a decade.  <burp>  I  know pretty much everything there is to know.  <scratch>  You need anything, you ask for The Big Man.  That’s me.  <belch>  Would you like me to show you how you’re doing everything wrong?”  Humility works best; especially when you are a guest.)

Happily for everyone, someone I had worked with before was at this location.  If the others had any questions about my abilities, they probably checked in with her.  For the first four or so hours, I was mostly left to my own devices.  Nobody bothered me, nobody hovered.  They checked in on how I was doing once an hour or so.  By and large, they trusted me to take care of things.

The location was not that far from a museum I had visited this year, so I knew there would be some nice scenery to take in on my lunch break.  I walked up to a bench, noticed the goose droppings around me, and shook my head.  Looking up, I saw another bird, perched precariously up in its branch.

“If you could not poop on me, that’d be great”, I said to the birdbrain.

It must have sensed my loathing for it and its ilk.  Not too many minutes later, as I sat and enjoyed the blue sky with nary a rain cloud to be seen, I felt moisture fall on my neck. 

Clearly, not everyone was overjoyed about me visiting a different branch.  Stupid bird.  (It was a small deposit; but still.)

I returned to work, engaged a few customers enjoying their leisurely Saturday, and spent the rest of the day working with my friend.

It was much easier than my normal shift.  It was slower, and I knew if I worked there on a regular basis I would quickly be bored.  Still, I appreciated how much these folks trusted a stranger to work for them.  Trust goes a long way with me.

I proved to myself that I actually do know what I am doing, even in a mildly-foreign element.  Since then, I have worked four shifts in four different stores.  And my old job is still waiting for me, even after I tried something new.

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Trying Out: Digital Comics (Week 45)

Trying Out: E-Comics (Week Forty-Five)

Yep.  More comics talk.

I am old fashioned.  I like the feel of paper it pushes against my finger while I hear it scrape against my skin as I turn the page.  I like seeing a mass of pages to the left of me as the pile of paper to the right gets smaller and smaller.  I like physical books

Regardless, I do not think that digital comics are the be-all, end-all.  I downloaded one for free.  It was a sample, it ran about seven pages, and it was in black and white.  It was created for the medium and it worked fine.

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DC Comics’ Absolute line: The best way to view painted art.

Now, publishers and adapters have tried to make a square-sized peg fit into a round-shaped hole.  Typical tablets are, what, seven inches tall?  It is not unusual for a comic to be eleven inches tall.  DC’s Absolute line is over a foot tall so you can appreciate the art.  (This is especially useful when folks put in lots of detail in painted art, lots of captions, or write captions in lowercase.)

The tablet-solution?  They want you to zoom in a read panel by panel.

<insert sound of blogger’s head slowly catching on fire, spewing liquid magma, and eventually exploding>

That is not how comics are meant to be read.  Panel by panel?  No.  The artist lays out there panels a certain way for a reason.  There is a flow to each page.  They are trying to guide you this way and that.  Sometimes, go figure, they might even use panels that are irregular in shape.  Diagonals!  Head-shaped!  Broken borders.  All of those are rather common.

IMG_0060 (700x800)I understand the appeal for massive storage of simple text.  My Miriam Webster application makes me happy because I do not want to carry around a book that can stand on its own, but I embrace the utility of having a dictionary at hand.  I wanted to read the uncut version of The Stand, and I was glad when I did not have to carry around a hardcover novel with one thousand, three hundred and eleven pages.

But comics?  Art digitized, miniaturized, and re-formatted?

I could not get past it.

Until I found out that one can check out Archie collections from the library

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Tablets: Digest sized

Archie Comics are originally printed in standard comic book size.  However, as anyone who has gone to a grocery store can verify, they are reprinted into digest size.  The art can be shrunk to that size without any real loss of quality.  The writers and artists know that their work will eventually be put in that size.  They adapt.

This year has been a bit of a pill.  Having humor on hand was helpful.  So that one thousand page digest full of Archie humor made for a nice little sanity-break.  I caved.  When I finished, I went online and purchased two.  Now I have two thousand pages of mirth at my ready disposal.

So yes, I have now bought a digital comic.

However, I maintain that this should be the exception, not the rule.  Ninety-nine percent of comics need the room to breathe.  They thrive off the physicality of a real page.  I have nothing against those that publish e-comics.  (Battle Pug is pretty great.)

Yet after all is said and done, I will always default to physical comics.  They simply fit better.

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(Don’t even get me started on Wednesday Comics, a book printed over eighteen inches tall. Bigger than a house pet!)

 

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Trying Out: Comic Convention (Week 44)

Trying Out: Jet City Comic Show (Week Forty-Four)

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As has been stated many, many, many, many times, I have worked in a comic shop for quite a spell.  I have spent a few dollars here or there, read tens of thousands of comics, and have helped my boss set up her booth at a comic book convention.

What I had yet to do, was actually attend a convention.  San Diego is a little far from home, hosts maddening crowds, and has turned into a Hollywood film-fest.  Even nearby Emerald City sounds a bit intimidating for a first timer.  (Also, I usually tend the shop while the boss is working the show.)   However, the Jet City Comic Show sounded about my speed.

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Free parking?  Shazam!

I came across a pair of free tickets.  I invited one of my nerd friends to tag along and guide me through the con world.  I feel I chose wisely.  In the two hours of commuting time, and the two hours we spent at the show, we probably spent three and a half hours talking about comic books.  That suited us just fine.

Being Seattle-types, we were shocked to find free parking only two blocks away.  As an added bonus, it was on a street that shared a comic book connection.  We were off to a fine start.

We went inside, exchanged our passes for tickets, and were let right into the convention.  There was some sort of line forming, but we simply walked in the doorway and everything was laid out before us.

We walked around, taking it all in; figuring out the layout of the floor.  One should always peruse the guest plan before going.  I had not seen any huge attractions that made me drool.  There were some folks whose work I recognized, but none that I absolutely had to meet.

There was plenty of new stuff to see.  A fellow named Jeff Carpenter had some fantastic art.  Bats in a Batman suit.  Wolverines as Wolverine.  Panthers as Black Panther.  You get the idea.  I had never heard of Jordan Kotzebue, but his work looked intriguing.

Personally, one of my favorite anthologies is the Flight series.  If you can find them, all eight books are chocked full of gorgeous drawings.  And Michel Gagne, who had work published in six of those books, was present.  He was my one, “get”.  And he was the reason I was lugging around a bag with twelve hundred pages in it.

There was a woman in front of me, but she was spending a reasonable amount of money and was very excited at being there, so I was in no hurry.  She probably paid for her tickets.  She was spending her Saturday here.  No need to rush.  We were all happy nerds.

Five or ten minutes later, it was my turn.  I warned that I was asking a favor, and pulled out my massive bag.  He seemed to realize what the books were as I started to empty the bag, but I think everyone was relieved when I pulled out six large books, not several hundred small ones.  We talked about his story that ran through the books, how he wished he had been in the eighth, and how he still had ideas for the main character.  Since he was nice enough to sign my books, I perused the other works that he had for sale.  I settled on a small book, which he also signed, and was only too happy to hand over some of my money.

That was it.  That was my sole purchase.  I was not there to decorate my walls or score some convention swag.  I was there for the experience and the atmosphere.

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He wanted a picture with K.I.T.T.  Done.

My friend was a little freer with his wallet.  The first purchase came when I introduced him to my friend Rob.  Rob works at the comic shop with me and I have been gifted several original sketches from him and purchased two of his t-shirts.  My favorite piece of art from him revolves around Galactus.  I mention it to anyone who will listen.  And my friend listened.  And he bought a print.  Hey, he got it personally signed by the artist?  Why not?

The most interesting/ humorous/ frustrating part of my friend’s shopping involved a vendor and her phone.  Once upon a time, you had to go to a convention with hundreds of dollars in cash.  Vendors and artists only had portable tables.  You hit the ATM before you came, if you did not bring enough money you had to come back with more money, and one always had to be self-conscious about how much cash they had on them.

No longer.  Now, with smart phones and adapters that plug into headphone jacks, anyone can swipe credit cards and have the information go through their portable technology.  People can even get receipts e-mailed to them.  It all works great and makes life simpler for everyone.

That is, assuming the vendor knows how to work the program.  The program that they downloaded the night before the show.  The program that seemed to stall half a dozen times over three trips to this gal.

To top it all off, before noon the on the first day of the convention, the ATM went down.  Good times.  Eventually, my friend and the vendor decided on a PayPal exchange and that worked fine.  Technology saved the day.  Of course, if technology had cooperated in the first place.  Oh well.

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As long as there are cosplayers, there will be Catwomans.

Granted, that is the slight downside to a smaller comic show.  We were all a bunch of nerds celebrating our hobby with hundreds of other nerds.  There were TV actors.  There were authors.  But mostly, folks simply wanted to meander about and see what there was to see.  There were panels, cosplayers, and booths from local comic shops.  There were swords to buy, cosplayers roaming, and old gaming systems.

(I almost bought a NES cartridge, but I only use that system once a year or so.  They almost had a sale though!  …of seven dollars.)

The draw of this show was not the promise of glitz and glamor.  We only wanted to be nerdy for a weekend.  It was easy to do that with the short lines, the reasonable-sized crowds, and the friendly folks all around.  It was, dare I say, fun.

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On our way to the car, we met Batman.

I would partake in this sort of comic-centric activity again.  I would certainly take a friend along.  It gave us both an excuse to vent, gush, and laugh with someone.  Sure, you can do it all by yourself and internally, but there is more joy when you have another person’s energy to feed off of.

Meeting established pros would have been fun too.  There are artists whose work I have been following for years that I would like to watch as they draw and sketch.  However, I can content myself with enjoying the finished product.  I do not need to see all the behind the scenes work.  It would simply be a fun perk.

For the time being, I was quite happy to be surrounded by friends and folks that enjoyed this nerdy world as much as I did.  It was a trip well worth the taking.

 

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Noticing God’s Presence

I have never had any trouble believing in God.  The whole makes sense to me (as much as it can).  I have simply had confidence in that fact all my life.

Every now and then I will get reminders that I am not alone.  That God is hanging out with me, taking care of me in the day to day.  A fellow church-goer once stated that God was always with him, even when he was cleaning the toilet.  It is my opinion that God walks beside us through the everyday occurrences.

The story that often leaps to mind is a rather comical one.  I was driving home after church.  The message had not resonated with me.  I was grumpy.  I was frustrated.  I was traveling down the same road that I always took. (Metaphor?)

Then, in the car ahead of me, something rather wacky happened.  In the back-seat of a rather typical sedan, a cat jumped up, appeared to be attacking something in mid-air; claws and paws furiously batting about.  Then it fell back down, out of view.  It was like the world’s shortest puppet show was performed in that car.  A furry, lively, and highly active jack-in-the-box sprung to life.  Except, you know, much cuter and fluffier.

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There was no red curtain in the car window. But there might as well have been.

And I knew the amusing scene had played out for my benefit.

Things like that happen to me now and then, but never as much as I would like.  God probably knows that if these instances happened too frequently, I would get used to them.  They would lose their potency.  Maybe God delights in getting my attention.

An event that happened this year took place while I was getting ready for bed.  Once I am in bed, I am down for the night.  If I am getting back out of bed, there better be a fire, vomit, or some emergency that actually warrants me being upright.

I felt a little nudge that I should pray.  Okay, fine.  I can pray while I am lying down.

No… you should probably kneel for this.

I do not kneel on a regular basis.  I also do not look down or up when I pray.  I figure if God wants me humbled, God will make it so.  A lifetime of slippery hallways, bungled sentences, and awkward “Will you go out with me?” moments have proven that God has no qualms about humbling me.  Kneeling feels like forcing things.

As I was thinking along those lines, quite comfy in my bed, the nudge came a little stronger.

C’mon.  Just do it.  You don’t even have to stand.  Roll out of bed.  Boom.  The floor’s right there.  Couldn’t be simpler.

I acquiesced.  I almost went for the full-on kneeling/laying with my head touching the floor and all that.  That felt unnatural, so I readjusted.

No need to go crazy-town.  Over there.  On the bed.  Knees on carpet, shoulders on the bed; that’ll do just fine.

I do not know about yours, but sometimes my nudges are awfully bossy.  Gentle, tolerant of resistance; but still bossy.

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Should I ever be turned into a mouse, I’ll be safe. (-ish.)

I should pause here to mention that I have become rather adept at feeling changes of pressure around me.  I blame it on being around theatres with tight doors that create vacuums.  If I pay attention, I can feel my cat walk by or someone entering through a door rooms away.  People rarely surprise me when they try to sneak up on me because I can feel the air moving as their mass approaches.  Not a terribly useful skill, but it came in handy this day.

I was kneeling towards the middle of the bed.  There was a little room to the left of me, and a little room to the right of me.  Because of that room, and because cats like to hop on beds when they are warm, I was not at all surprised when I felt my cat walking around on the bed to my right.

Except, when I looked, there was no cat there.

Okay, I said to myself.  You misjudged the air pressure.  It can happen.  Just go back to praying.

There it was again  I knew the last time had been a mistake.  This time I knew my cat was next to me on the bed.

Except, when I looked again, there was no cat there.  I looked at the gap between me and my bedside table.  There was just enough room for somebody to kneel next to me.

I went back to praying.  I felt a presence on the bed next to me.  I just went with it.  I finished my prayer, felt blessed, and went to sleep. (It was all very Samuel-esque.)  I was alone in the room, but I had company too.

Having a God visit with you, right in your apartment?  Not too shabby.

Before I did nod off, I made one quick check.  Sure enough, my cat was conked out on the couch in the living room.

Yes, I believe that God was right there.  That God took the time to be with me and that God would not have fit so conveniently if I had been lying down in bed like I had originally wanted.

tmpAnd no, I did not hear any holy decrees.  I was not told when the world would end, was not promised that I would become a sovereign leader, and was not granted the ability to see the future.  I did not even get any lottery numbers.

What I did receive was a nice reminder that God is always around.  Even in the boring stuff.  Even in the troubling stuff.  Even in the stuff that I have not told anyone about.

Others can believe whatever they wish.  As for myself, I have seen too many acts of God to doubt.  I know that God is around and accompanying us all the time.

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Update on Week 40: Representative Response

Not that many weeks ago, I called a few of my elected officials to talk about how much I dislike guns.  I did not feel like I made that big of a difference, but neither of my representatives was outwardly dismissive.

A few weeks later, one of them even wrote me back.

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“Thank you for contacting my office to express your support for gun control legislation.  I know that this is an important issue for many of my constituents and I appreciate hearing from you.

As you may know, the United States suffers more gun violence incidents than any other country.  Since 1982, there have been at least 91 public mass shootings across our country.   Like you, I am outraged and deeply saddened by the rampant gun violence.  The deadly shootings at Marysville-Pilchuck High School and Seattle Pacific University in 2014, the Cascade Mall in Burlington and more recently at Freeman High School are evidence of the need to take action to prevent the tragic cycle of violence in Washington state, and throughout the United States.  While there is no one law or set of laws that will prevent every senseless shooting, we must do a better job.  I believe that as lawmakers, we have a responsibility to protect our communities from this tragic cycle of gun violence.  This year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas was unprecedented in our history in terms of scope, but families across the country know the heartbreak all too well.  We must not wait for the next tragedy to act.

I am committed to working to identify common-sense steps that we can take to prevent gun violence and mass shootings while also respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.  I support efforts to keep military-style weapons out of the hands of civilians, to remove the statutory ban on researching gun violence as a public health crisis, to strengthen our background check systems, to protect domestic violence and stalking victims from gun violence, and to prevent individuals convicted of hate crimes from accessing firearms.  I also support banning, “bump stocks”, which are devices that can be used to transform a semiautomatic weapon into the functional equivalent of an automatic weapon.  Please know that I will continue to fight for meaningful reform, and I will work with anyone who is willing to advance legislation for the safety of our children and communities in the House of Representatives.

Again, thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts and concerns.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of any assistance in the future.” 

So yes, I received a form letter.  I could take umbrage that it was not more personal, but I actually feel the opposite.  If she has this note ready to send off at a moment’s notice, then hopefully she has to send it on a regular basis.  She acknowledges the concern, states her position, and even attempts to educate the citizens she answers to.

Freedom-of-Speech_5_6_web-650x829My definition of what the United States of America should be is actually a painting.  “Freedom of Speech” is one of the “Four Freedoms” that Norman Rockwell painted.  In it, a town hall-type setting is depicted.  A person gets up, says what he thinks, and those around him, including his government, listen to what he has to say.

Everyone gets to say their piece (and peace).  We respect other opinions and do our best to work things out.

I said my piece.  My government listened to it.  And it feels like they are taking steps to move forward.

It would ideal if things would get worked out much, much faster.  However, I still appreciated the reply.

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