Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sometimes freedom bites us in the ass

For any of you who are unaware there is a group of people who refer to themselves as the Westboro Baptist Church.  These folks envision themselves as prophets of "god" and their message is "God hates fags!".  Ok, we know there are many religious organizations who preach a theology of hatred of many different communities-blacks, Muslims, women, etc.  But what makes the "Reverend" Fred and his followers different is that their twisted dogma states that "god's" hatred of the LGBT community causes "him" to take out "his" wrath on American soldiers stationed in the Middle East.  So, WBC takes it upon themselves to show up at the funerals of these service people and inflict their incedious rhetoric on the mourning family members.  How sick can you get?

We live in a nation that, fortunately, has a constitution that endows us with the right to free speech.  Most of the time this is a great and good thing.  However, that freedom also allows groups such as the KKK, skinheads and other hate groups to also speak their minds.  So, the courts are stuck between a rock and a hard place determining when they can successfully prosecute groups or individuals for actual hate crimes.  Now I don't know about you but I would consider what Fred Phelps and his clan pull at funerals a hate crime.  However, recently a court of appeals decided not only was the Westboro "Baptist" "Church" exercising its right to free speech but also ordered the family who brought the suit against them to pay over $16,000 in damages and court fees to Phelps & Co.  How's that for trying to find peace over the loss of your child?

This also answered another question.  How does "Reverend" Fred and family afford to travel all over the country to hold their hate vigils along with paying the daily bills and keeping a roof over their heads?  WBC is not sactioned or supported by any sector of the Baptist church so the preacher is not receiving compensation there.  As his flock is tiny and mostly family members, no one's putting money in the collection plate to provide his salary.  That leaves other wing-nuts around the country/world who send donations, gullible members of the press who will pay for an exclusive story and the poor unsuspecting families of dead children who find out the hard way that "Rev." Phelps knows very well how to work the U.S. legal system to his benefit.

How can you help stop this idiocy and offer some peace to grieving families?  Well the current victim of WBC's flouting of our right to free speech is Spring Garden, PA resident Albert Snyder whose son Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq in 2006.  Westboro picketed his funeral in Westminster, Md.  Snyder had originally sued WBC for invasion of privacy and emotional distress over the incident and was awarded a $5 million settlement.  However, WBC appealed the ruling and now Snyder has been handed a bill for $16.5K for Fred's time, trouble and legal fees.  You can donate to the fund that has been set up to help Albert pay this bill either here: Barley Snyder LLC, 100 East Market Street, York, PA 17401 or visit Matthew Snyder. org to donate electronically.

As for future things you can do to end this lecivious behavior?  Check out this blog to see what happened when the WBC showed up at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco: Counter protest at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco  If you read the article, apparently Fred and his flock were humiliated to the point that they did not show up for their other planned outing that day, a theater where Fiddler On The Roof was playing.  Remember if you and your group do plan a counter-protest such as this you should not interact with any members of the WBC as they are experts at twisting words and situations to their favor.  I would hate to see you stuck with legal judgements that put your money in Mr. Phelps' pocket.  Also do not visit any websites affiliated with WBS or God Hates Fags as they do get paid by advertisers for site hits just like everyone else.  There is plenty of information about this group on the mainstream press sites along with blogs and wikipedia.

 Photo credits: SandwichGirl  Rubin Starset

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Real strength and courage

Interesting how a work of fiction has opened me to so many sides of love over the past four months.  I follow a WIP (work in progress) about a relationship between two guys. One suffers from post traumatic stress as a result of being gang raped in high school.  Ten years later he starts to recover after hiding behind a wall of false bravado and domination.  He has been forced to finally face down his demons, identify triggers and develop new coping skills in an attempt to re-enter society having been inspired by meeting someone who he eventually falls in love with.  His partner has his own psych issues to deal with and so the whole thing is very real, it's not a peaches and cream romance.

The first time this story came into my life on a real gut level was dealing with a family member who had just hit that point in their life where they needed to either finally let the dragons out and deal with them or crawl under a rock which would have meant sacrificing a career and a wonderful romance.  Having dealt with this person for many years but never really identifying the issues and facing them head-on, I took lessons from the story and suggested they identify their triggers.  Also to identify negativity in their life that could be avoided.  The last time we were together there was a huge melt-down on both our parts but it was something we both knew had to happen.  But this time there was no yelling one another into submission.  No nasty outbursts.  When they got angry I saw that they were angry with themselves and no one else.  The next morning we were in a whole new place.  Since then this person has been doing a great job of healing and dealing.  I'm so proud of them.

The other lesson I learned from this story came tonight and it lifted this large, heavy black veil from a mystery I have pondered for quite a while...why are men so afraid of women or other guys who are more passive?  The answer was the macho guys are afraid because they know that emotional strength is far greater than physical.  To let down one's guard, to care-especially for someone else more than yourself, to empathize, to show compassion takes so much more.  You bare your heart not your throat.  To have one's heart broken is sometimes monumental.  It is a crushing blow that is painful for a long time.  It leaves deep scars.  If you want real love you have to be vulnerable and that vulnerability just magnifies the hurt if it doesn't work out.  And I'm not just talking romantic relationships.  Think how many times you've been hurt by a friend.  Or take it another step, how about trying to help a stranger who just blows you off?

So guys get all in their heads about how they are going to protect the women folk who are weak. Ok, maybe we're physically weaker but guys?...We birth babies if you want to talk tolerance of pain.  We also schlep those babies around, open vacuum sealed jars to feed them, do laundry, clean houses, etc. etc.  Physically we don't do half bad.  But maybe we sometimes would like a little emotional protection and support.  Hold us while we cry.  Hug a kid who's had a bad day.  Sit down and hold an intelligent conversation.  See someone who is worse off than you and do something nice for them.

For any dude who wants to play the "christian" card?  Ummm I never read a story where Jesus punched someone out.  He didn't watch football or drink beer.  He didn't treat women like chattel, crap, bimbos or anything less than emotional and intellectual equals.  Hey!  I said JC!  Yeah, you're gonna pull out all those other dudes that either hung around with him or came after him that seemed to have a problem with women and passive men.  (Interject a giggle that the bible never mentions lesbians...hmmmm)   No, Jesus had women friends, followers and disciples.  He told Martha to come out of the kitchen and hold an conversation with he and Mary and the other people in the house.  I'd like to think that he apologized to Peter's wife for the neighbors taking the roof off the house and helped replace it the next day.  He did give out a number of ass-chewings to the Pharisees and their cohorts but he never laid a glove or sword on any of them despite the fact that Caiaphas and his boys pissed JC off a lot.   Jesus was a pacifist and yet, I dare any of you to be strong enough to take on the entire world's guilt and accept the death sentence of the court without any protest.  Hell, I dare you to go to jail for a year for somebody else's transgression or for sticking up for someone else's rights.

In the story, the guy who is recovering from PTSD has just been put in a position where he really sees how much stronger his is now that he has become vulnerable than when he hid behind the strut and swagger.  As I read how the realization hits him, a bright light came on for me and that big black cloth was stripped away.  I just wish that my words would give all the guys in the world permission to let down their guard.  Stop being afraid or jealous of men and women who are strong enough to care.  We're not going to hurt you and it doesn't make you any less male.  It makes you human.  Find the strength and courage to cry.  To hold someone else when they fall apart.  Allow your hearts to love even if they do get broken.  Yeah, there will be scars and residual pain but they will heal.  Try.  Please?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hey America! When did you forget how to laugh at yourself?

Dear America,

It hit me today the biggest thing wrong with this country right now...we've lost our ability to laugh at ourselves.  As a nation, not myself personally or most of my friends, we've gotten really holier-than-thou.  We think we are the shit as far as countries and governments go and that everyone should want to be like us.  Really? I mean really?

As I have stated before and will go to my grave feeling, the hippies let me down.  Unless the part of the under 40 crowd that has a sense of humor, conviction and open minds prevails we are doomed to have the time from 1964ish to the very early 80's go down in American history as a blip on the radar screen.  I pray hard every day that the loud-mouthed, rainbow colored folks twenty years my junior are successful in not allowing things like Woodstock, Stonewall and Dr. King be forgotten.

Yes, there were a lot of very serious things that happened in the 60's and 70's...Vietnam, WATTS, the Mason murders, the gas squeeze, Watergate and the Kennedy assassinations.  But those things drew us close and we poured out tons of new art like the whole rock music shift, Andy Warhol, Peter Maxx, Hair, Clockwork Orange, Kurt Vaunagut, etc.  We also birthed amazing comedy inspired by our neighbors to the north (SCTV) and the Brits (Monty Python and Benny Hill).  Saturday Night Live hit NBC and shocked us up but had us laughing insanely at our own stupidity.  We saw the rise of people like Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Whoopi.  Political humor was biting and deep but Washington took it and for awhile still seemed to be fighting for us, just a little.  

Things have become so incredibly boring and lack-luster in the country that owns half the world's wealth.  Art is black and white photography and earth-mother pottery.  Etsy and Ebay wreak of more of the same feathered barrettes and beaded jewelry.  Books and screenplays are just rehash after re-hash.  With the death of Crichton we are left with Dan Brown as far as exciting, well-researched adventure fiction.  Tim Burton and Tarentino about the only current directors with an out-of-the-box vision.  Scorsasi is amazing but how many more years will we have him?  Besides he was a product of that 70's art explosion too.  Fortunately he's been able to hold on despite the Academy's continuing snubs.  Even some of the good ones eroded into cookie cutter bullshit, like Speilberg.  Comedy has become nothing but a conglomeration of stupid site gags.  People, Will Farrell is not clever.  And the few great satirsts have to deal with five-year old politicians who go "You're picking on me.  Say you're sorry."  Really?  That's why it's call political satire.  You chose to be a legislator, you knew what came with the job and besides its only a bit more sarcastic way of the public demanding you to do the job you were elected to do. 

As far as modern rock?  The only American old regime that stays true to their tight black jeans, eye make-up and big hair is The Crue.  Jon and Richie, Sebastian and Brett have left their spandex and Adorn behind for boring flannel and blue denim.  :::yawn:::  Yeah, Kiss still does their thing but Gene has gotten so arrogantly, irrelevant.  Even he stopped laughing at himself. 

So today I put a face on the majority of my own country.  This face has furrows in its brow, scowl lines at the corners of its mouth, and cold eyes.  I don't know what to do to bring back you sense of mirth.  You really need to get over yourself.  You're not that wonderful.  You're far from perfect but that's ok.  You're human.  You don't have all the answers but you don't seem to be open to learning any new ones.  You need to recoup your free spirits and stop with all these rules.  The government and the church are not responsible for you, you are.  There really is only one rule...treat people the way you want to be treated.  If you don't like what's on TV...shut it off.  If you don't like what's on the newstand...don't buy it.  If you don't want your kids exposed to crap...throw out the computer or put passwords on it.  Oh and while we're at it...be a PARENT!!  But in that parenting...teach your kids to laugh...not at others who are different than them but at themselves.  When they face their own frailties, suddenly others are something to become the butt of a joke.