Friday, March 02, 2012

Guns and roses

Iowa's House Republicans repaid debts to the largely whackadoodle gun lobby Wednesday by sending off to the Democrat-controlled Senate two measures of the sort NRA types have wet dreams about --- a proposed constitutional amendment that would open all existing gun laws to court challenge (and preclude new restrictions) and a bill that would make it easier for Iowans to shoot and kill each other without penalty.

Joint Resolution 2009, the amendment, would ban the state from infringing on or denying the right to "acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms" and prohibit firearms licensing, registration and special taxation. House File 2115 would rewrite "reasonable force" law to make it easier to just kill that guy who looks sideways at you.

House Democrats, a 60-40 minority, added a little comedy relief by leaving the Capitol for six hours in protest when the bills came up, alleging they'd been assured debate wasn't on Wednesday's schedule. Republicans scoffed --- gee guys, you should have known better than to believe anything we might have implied. And the bills passed.

Their future in the Senate is unclear --- it's the gesture that counts, you know. I'm wondering. Recent polling suggest a good majority of Iowans are either satisfied with existing gun laws or want tougher restrictions. Wednesday's skirmish certainly doesn't do anything to inspire confidence in Republicans and reinforced stereotypes about the gun lobby,  at least among those capable of coherent thought.


There have been roses among the guns this week, however, and I enjoyed watching "The Amish," broadcast on PBS as part of the American Experience series. You can still watch it online by going to the American Experience Web site, which is here. Just hit the "Watch Online" button.

Although filmed largely in Pennsylvania with brief forays into Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere, it's a documentary relevant in these southern hills of Iowa where the Old Order Amish population is increasing rapidly.

If the film has a weakness, it's the fact that it doesn't do a particularly good job of explaining the Anabaptist tradition in general, of which the Amish are only a part. There are, for example, far more Mennonites --- the Anabaptist expression that produced Jakob Ammann, from whom the Amish take their name and discipline.

It does do a good job, however, of illustrating three key threads of Amish thought and discipline --- that discipleship is the essence of Christianity, that the church is primarily a community of fellowship and that an ethic of love and peaceful nonresistance governs both the essence and the community.

And in its way, it also clarifies some of the misunderstandings about the Amish that develop among those who aren't --- the most frequent perhaps the perception of inconsistency that develops because the Amish use technology --- telephones, vehicles owned and driven by others, generator-powered equipment --- but distance themselves from it. 

It helps to understand, as the documentary shows, that the Ordnung, or body of rules, that governs each Amish church district's communal life, has little to do with the perceived "evil" of progress, everything to do with embracing technology selectively and cautiously in order to preserve the community.

The film also pokes a little gentle fun at the sentimental longing for perceived simplicty among non-Amish tourists and highlights substantial challenges to the community --- the increasing need to rely on off-the-farm jobs by people who consider working the land among the most effective ways to approach God. And the harshness that sometimes governs relationships between the community and those who leave it either because they choose not to or cannot live within its bounds.


Finally, I wrote last year about "Hide/Seek," the National Portrait Gallery's groundbreaking exploration of same-sex desire as expressed in widely admired art featuring works by, among others, Iowa boys Grant Wood and Carl Van Vechten. In many instances, the homoerotic aspects of these works had been largely obscured by artist reticence and institutional skittishness.

"In the Life," a long-running LGBT documentary series, is now featuring a video exploration of the exhibition and its implications, which may be viewed here, that is well worth taking a look at.

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