Small is the number of people who see with their eyes and think with their minds.” ~ Albert Einstein

A Member of the Patriot Group Riders in Front of WBC Protestors

“Bigotry dwarfs the soul by shutting out the truth.” ~ Edwin Hubbel Chapin

So Kate Gosselin is having temper tantrums on “Dancing With the Stars.” Kim Kardashian is tweeting pictures of herself in a bikini. Madonna wants her daughter to wear more conservative clothing.  

WBC Protestors: Lunatics Laughing

Meanwhile, back in the real world, a 15-year-old New Jersey girl sold her 7-year-old stepsister to a group of men for sex. We’re seeing new allegations that then-Cardinal Ratzinger failed to defrock an American priest who allegedly molested 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin. And an appellate court ruled that Albert Snyder has to pay the legal fees for Westboro Baptist Church to the tune of over $16,000.  

I’m sorry. What? Westboro Baptist Church, that hate group that protests at fallen soldiers’ funerals? That group of lunatics who rejoiced in the deaths resulting from 9/11? That Westboro Baptist Church?  

Let me see if I have this correct:  

  • Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder was killed in Iraq, and his body was sent home for burial.
  • Members of Phelps’s group waved signs saying that “God Hates Fags” and “God Hates the USA” at Matthew Snyder’s funeral in 2006 because “military deaths are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality.”
  • According to a website created in Snyder’s honor, his relatives filed the civil lawsuit against the Westboro Baptist Church to “bring an end to the reign of terror and abuse that they inflicted” upon grieving families of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Albert Snyder sued Westboro and was awarded $11 million (later reduced to $5 million) in damages by a federal jury in Baltimore because the group “intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the family.” This award was overturned on appeal. The case is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
  •  Now, Snyder’s father, Albert has been ordered to pay $16,510 to Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas for legal costs.

Those are the most basic facts. What you have to infer, of course, is the magnitude of the most recent court ruling. Consider, Phelps and his band of haters make it their mission to protest at military funerals. They wave hate-filled placards at the mourners: “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” Really?  They sing songs of hate at the top of their voices all in the name of their god, who they say supports their actions.  

Now let me pause here. I am no Biblical scholar, but I have read many parts of the Bible. I do know that the god in the old testament is a more wrathful being than the loving god of the new testament. There is conflict there, and anyone who wants to find verses to support his or her claims can likely do so with enough searching. Still, I find it truly abhorrent that these nut cases are using god as their rallying cry for hate-inspired protests. However, the WBC contends that “God’s hatred is one of His holy attributes,” which in their small minds completely justifies their actions.   

“Too small is our world to allow discrimination, bigotry and intolerance to thrive in any corner of it, let alone in the United States of America.” ~ Eliot Engel

Shirley Phelps-RoperOkay. We’re back to that whole First Amendment thing, free speech for all no matter how nasty, racist, conservative, liberal, whatever. I get it. I really do. I support your right to protest. Hell, I even acknowledge that the Klan has the right to protest. But protest at a funeral? What happened to common decency?  

Have we become such a myopic society of us versus them that we no longer acknowledge even the barest niceties, you know, the right to have a funeral in peace? I mean, and this is a bit off subject but still on the subject of hate-filled protests, when we have been reduced to a society in which people see nothing wrong with spitting on members of Congress (and no, that wasn’t made up. I watched the video showing the spray of spit), what kind of society have we become?  

Of course members of Congress aren’t sanctified, nor are they above anyone else. Having said that, I don’t believe that it’s all right to spit on anyone. That’s the way that my parents raised me. Were these people raised in barns near donkeys?  

But back to my main point: Losing a family member to war, however that person died, is unbearably hard. Burying a child is beyond painful. Imagine, if you will, for one moment what it must have felt like for Mr. Snyder and his family and friends to have to be escorted into the service entrance of the church so that they didn’t have to see the protest signs. Imagine what it must feel like to kiss the coffin of your son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, while outside litanies of “God Hates Fags” are being screamed across the street.  

No one should have to imagine that.  

“Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

WBC Protestors: Stupidity Speaks for Itself

A little background on WBC for those of you who may not know a lot about this fringe group. Westboro Baptist Church is a small, homophobic, anti-Semitic hate group that stages protests all around the country. The group pickets any institutions or individuals who they believe are against god’s law, and they believe that their protests are a form of preaching to a country that is doomed.  

Since they are incorporated as a church, WBC is non-profit. It should be pointed out that WBC has no official affiliation with mainstream Baptist organizations and considers itself an “old school” or “primitive” Baptist church, i.e., belief in man’s total depravity and limited atonement for the elected.  

WBC targets include “schools the group deems to be accepting of homosexuality; Catholic, Lutheran, and other Christian denominations that WBC feels are heretical; and funerals for people murdered or killed in accidents like plane crashes and for American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.” WBC also protests at “dozens of Jewish institutions around the country, from Israeli consulates to synagogues to Jewish community centers, distributing anti-Semitic fliers to announce planned protests at these sites.”  

The only time that WBC has been convinced not to protest is when a local radio station in Pennsylvania offered the group airtime in exchange for not protesting at the funeral of the Amish schoolchildren who were gunned down in 2006 at the West Nickels Mine School.  

“Nothing dies so hard, or rallies so often, as intolerance.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Patriot Guard Riders Line the Street of Funeral Procession

Now I would be remiss in this post if I did not take a few lines to acknowledge the Patriot Group Riders as they have been instrumental in shielding grieving families from Phelps and his hate-mongers. I pulled the following from a letter of appreciation to the PGR from a Sergeant after learning of what the PGR does:  

“One thing we didn’t anticipate was the disrespect and hatred shown by the Phelps church group . . . protesting at our fallen brothers’ funerals, waving the banners and signs that they wave so ignorantly and so proud.  The first time I read about that in the ‘Stars and Stripes,’  I had to read it again, because I couldn’t imagine anyone being so hateful and disrespectful.  I just about cried after reading the article . . . Then, a few days later, there was an article about this group of bikers who were now putting themselves as a barrier between the protesters and the grieving families of our fallen soldiers.  I couldn’t believe that when I read it, either . . . the feeling we all felt that someone was actually doing something to counter the protesters was the best feeling I can’t even describe.  I was filled with pride to know that fellow Americans were giving up their time, honoring our fallen, regardless of whether they knew them or not, and providing a barrier from the protesters for the families grieving.”   

According to their website, the Patriot Group Riders have two objectives in their mission when attending funeral services of fallen American service men and women:  

  1. Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.
  2. Shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.

I have seen news footage of these awesome men and women and how they use their motorcycles and the American Flag to shield families from the likes of WBC. I am including a YouTube clip that I hope you take a few moments to watch. I know that watching the clip really helped to quell some of the intense rage that I was feeling immediately after reading about the injustice served up to Mr. Snyder by the courts.   

(If you are interested in making a donation to Mr. Snyder to offset the fine, please visit matthewsnyder.org. Since the announcement about the ruling, Snyder and his family have received thousands of e-mails and letters of support, as well as financial pledges to help pay the legal fees associated with filing a Supreme Court brief, as well as the outrageous fine.) 

  

I am also including a more tongue-in-cheek protest of WBC by Michael Moore . . . “Fred (knows) a lot about dog vomit.”  

  

 

“We shall find peace. We shall hear angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Marine White Gloves, Sand from Iwo Jima and a Red Rose Atop the Casket of Lt. James Cathy, image by Todd Heisler, Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer 

“Give me love, give me peace on earth, give me light, give me life, keep me free from birth, give me hope, help me cope, with this heavy load, trying to, touch and reach you with, heart and soul” ~ George Harrison

Well, it’s been over a week since I last blogged, except for my brief Christmas message. In that time so much has happened. I’ll get to the saga of our most recent trip to Ohio in a different post, but today, I wanted to share something with you that happened this morning: 

I was on my way to the bank, and Eamonn was in the car with me. Normally, I cut through a small neighborhood to get to the bank; it’s an old neighborhood, full of smaller houses. I was driving slower as I do on neighborhood streets when I noticed a marine in full dress uniform knocking on a door. Two other marines were sitting in a car parked in front of the house. 

When I saw that young marine, my heart completely sank. I knew what was about to happen. I have seen this scene in countless movies, but never in person. I explained to Eamonn what was about to happen: The day after Christmas a family was going to be notified that someone they loved had been killed. I explained to Eamonn that notifications are always done by someone official. 

The marine on the porch paused to watch us drive past; he was young, and his face was momentarily filled with anguish, and then the façade reappeared just as quickly as it had faded. 

“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs.  The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.” ~ William J. Clinton

I cannot tell you that I know how the family that received that notification feels because I cannot. Yes, I have known death, have watched it come, have held it, but I have never faced the death of a loved one in the military, of someone who has been killed in conflict by whatever means. Someone who was close to me has faced the horror of the knock on the door, and the pain that I felt for her was miniscule in comparison to what she felt, still feels to this day. 

But after this morning’s moment of great sadness I felt great anger, incredible indignation at what had brought this man to this family’s door. I am not naive enough to believe that we will ever truly have peace on earth. As long as human beings inhabit this planet, there will be war, conflict, evil. There is something within our species that is never content, something that always wants more—whether it be more land, more oil, more power. No matter how much millions of us clamor for it, rally for it, cry for it, there will never be lasting peace. Humanity is not capable of it. 

Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying that human beings are inherently evil or bad or malicious. I choose to believe the opposite. But I know that to erase intolerance of other religions, other races, other tribes, other beliefs, to do this is an impossibility because people with intolerance and hatred in their hearts will always exist. People with evil in their souls will always stake claims over the lives of others. This is life. This is the life that we have created over thousands of years, the life that we have accepted, will continue to accept. 

Kindness and generosity should rule, but they do not. Empathy and tolerance should be the way of the world, but it is not. And so, in spite of my great desire—a desire that is shared all over the world—not to send sons and daughters, mother and fathers, brothers and sisters to war, we will continue to do so, and families will continue to receive heart-wrenching news from someone whose unenviable duty it is to carry this message to their doorsteps. 

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” ~ Black Elk

Pulitzer Prize-winning Image of CACO Major Steve Beck, 2005, by Todd Heisler of Rocky Mountain News

I must pause here to acknowledge the marine CACO (Casualty Assistance Call Officer). Notifying a military family of the death of a family member must take immeasurable strength and courage of a different kind. I know that these men and women undergo rigorous training for their jobs, which includes notification, family support and assistance, as well as escort. Being a CACO becomes the primary duty of the service man or woman, and it must be a job fraught with emotional turmoil. 

I don’t think that the memory of the marine’s face will ever completely fade from my memory. If I am to retain my humanity, I pray that it does not 

However, if I am to be completely honest, I must admit that something deep within me was incredibly thankful that Eamonn was with me; perhaps he, too, will remember that moment and understand it for what all that it was: the fragility of life, the real consequences of war, the need for compassion, the ineffable sadness of loss. 

Witness creates impression in a way that all of the words spoken cannot. A hard lesson for the holidays. 

“Namaste. I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides . . . a place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, of wisdom. I honour the place in you where when you are in that place and I am in that place there is only one of us.” ~ Mohandas K. Ghandi

 More later. Peace. 

“Happy Xmas (War is Over),” by John Lennon with incredible images. 

  

 

  

For more information about CACOs and their relationships with military families, see the excellent book Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives, by Jim Sheeler. Click here for The New York Times book review.

The Sour Milk of Human Kindness?

I freely admit that I am a curmudgeon. I am impatient with people who purport to be intelligent and then open their mouths and prove otherwise with but a few misspoken words and phrases. I detest sweeping intolerance of entire groups of people simply because of their beliefs or their sexual orientiation, and I cannot abide bigotry, racism, sexism, or someone telling me that I am going to hell because I am not of the same religious belief. All of that said, believe it or not, I can also be the best friend you have ever had and your most loyal supporter. I cry at sad movies and am completely overcome by beauty in nature.

When our boys were relatively young, we took a detour through Washington, D.C. in the evening to show them homeless people living over the subway grates to stay warm in the winter. They had never seen such a thing before, and I wanted them to know that such things existed in this, the wealthiest country in the world. I sat through Schindler’s List with my children so that they would know what horrors we have witnessed in this world, and even though we have said “never again,” I explained to them that it has happened yet again and again in places like Rwanda and Bosnia and in other corners of the world. And I told them that sometimes the world watches, and sometimes the world helps, but I had no answers as to why some people seem to matter more than others.

I have explained to my children about bullies and heartlessness and name-calling and the long-lasting effects that such things can have, and I have prayed that they would never become these people and that they would never become the victims of these people. I have warned them against becoming immune to violence by not being able to distinguish between what they see in movies and video games and on television and then what is real life as I am just as fearful as the next parent about what affect video violence is having on this generation that does not seem to feel fear.

In spite of all of this, I cannot answer my son when he asks me why there is no human decency in this world. I have no answer to such a deep question. But more telling, I have no answer as to why he would be asking me such a question at such a young age. What could possibly prompt a 16-year-old to wonder such a thing? Has my cynicism jaded him already? The ironic thing is that I do believe that their is goodness in the world. In spite of W and his war, in spite of men like Dick Cheney who have no soul, in spite of CIA-trained terrorists who have turned their training back on us, in spite of car bombs that kill and maim without a target, in spite of thousands of flag-draped coffins that have come home, in spite of anthrax and sarin gas . . . in spite of all of these abominations, I do still believe that their is goodness and kindness, and good and kind people in this world.

There are people who will offer you that four cents that you need for your bill when you are in line at the grocery store. There are people who will hold the door open for the man with the walker coming in to the bookstore. There were the people, at least 10, who stopped and asked Corey and me if we needed them to call a tow truck, when we were stopped by the side of the road when the truck broke down. I’m sure you all have some kind of similar story to tell: a neighbor who is always there to help, a total stranger who helped to push your car out of an intersection, someone who picked up your tab for coffee at Starbucks for no particular reason.

And I’m sure, you also have your own tales, personal or otherwise, about a person who was careless with someone’s feelings or indecent for no particular reason other than to be an asshole. Or maybe that person was you. I’ll share two: When I was sixteen, I was walking home from my best friend Sarah’s house, and some guy in a black Camaro came barreling down the street and flew head on into a flock of ducks. At that time, wild ducks roamed freely in my parent’s neighborhood. I watched in horror as ducks flew into the air, feathers went everywhere, and carcasses landed at my feet. The driver didn’t stop. I reacted normally for me. I started running after him, screaming at the top of my lungs. My father ran out of the house, as did several of my neighbors, including one of my friends. The driver finally stopped the car at the corner of the street, and I started pounding on his window, screaming at him. I never even thought about who he was or what he might do to me. I just demanded that he go back and clean up the dead ducks, after I told him never to drive through our neighborhood that fast again. Astonishingly, the driver apologized to me, turned his car around, and went and cleaned up the pile of dead ducks. My friend put his arm around me and walked me to my porch where my father was waiting. My whole body was shaking as anger coursed through me. I couldn’t believe that anyone could be so callous. My friend couldn’t believe I could be so angry as to not even think about what I was doing in running after a stranger’s car. My dad just took me in the house and gave me a cup of tea.

The second incident is far less dramatic, but something of which I myself am ashamed. I was in high school, and there was someone in my class who had a very pronounced overbite. One day, I turned to a friend of mine, and I said, “she is soo ugly.” My friend paused and replied, “I can’t believe that you would judge someone based on how she looks.” I’ll never forget that. She really put me in my place, and boy, did I deserve it. That girl that I was commenting on was extremely nice and had never done anything to me. Who was I to judge her, and she might have heard me. I was being just plain mean.

So getting back to the main question: Why is there no human decency in this world? Is there? I’d like to believe that there still is. I’d like to be able to show my son that yes, there is still decency in this world, in large ways and in small ways. But mostly, I would like to be able to enfold him in my arms, hold him in my lap, and shut out all of the bad things that would make him think that there is none, but I know that I cannot do that any more. He is coming into his own, and unfortunately, he has hit a rough spot that is causing him to be anxious and to feel some of the pains of this world. And this is the part of parenting that genuinely sucks because mommy kisses are no longer magic. Would that I could kiss his eyelids and make the bad images go away with his sleep as I did when he was but a baby.

Brett
Brett

Nothing prepares you for the times when you are absolutely powerless against to come between the world and your child, no many how many times you might encounter such a situation, and I hope that you never do, but if you have a child, you will. To say that I would give anything for him not to be feeling this way does not begin to embrace the helplessness I feel. To know that I have passed on to him this predisposition for melancholy (what a polite way to put it) does nothing to assuage the guilt. So I sit by and watch him closely, offer to listen, this boy/man, so much like my father, the one who holds everything deep within, the one who I must read through his eyes.

Yes, there is goodness in this world, just as there is pain. But human decency begins with the decent. That is what I want for you to understand.