I’ve not had much to blog lately. Nothing pertaining directly to the crises in Ferguson or New York City, nor to the related demonstrations in many cities, including Washington. Nothing about Advent or liturgy—something justifiably seasonal—either, and neither lint-pulling nor crabbing seemed appropriate. There’s a time and place for everything, and I’d like to work through a couple of thoughts in the next couple of days.
One fact about Michael Brown and Darren Wilson stood out to me, but I’ve not seen anyone say anything about it. That both men were 6-foot-4. The short end of very tall. As, it happens, am I. (Later. And Eric Garner was 6-foot-3.)
Now, I know several people who are taller — two Unitarian Universalists come to mind — but I’m in the 98th percentile for height (or so). Tallness is a part of how I see myself, down to the fear of too-short pants, losing my head in family photos, a hatred of air travel (thus my preference for the rails) and a wary eye clearing the doors in historic houses.
It’s my experience that people project all kinds of attributes to me — mainly unfriendliness or least unapproachableness; scariness — and rather than fight it I use it sparingly when people trifle with me. (It also makes a good foil when people start up with their gay man projections.) You may even see this non-trifling attitude on the blog. Even so, I was left speechless when a man I know described, jokingly, another 6-4er and me as “monstrous.”
And these experiences should make me less wary of large men, but they don’t. I try to be aware of my surroundings in city settings, including anyone large enough to hurt me. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen some giant come towards me, only to see that he was my height or shorter. I never feel good about that.
Perception of harm is so subjective. Whether that’s in a life-threatening crisis, in personal relations or in the pursuit of public policy. And that’s something my scalp-scarred brethren don’t have a lock on.
Daisy the Dog has been recovering from an injury and today was a high point. Clean dressings, fewer drugs and no vet visit tomorrow. She’s on the mend.
We’ve gone to the vet every day for several days, and I usually pick up Daisy on the way home. But before we make it home, she needs a comfort break. And since she’s clearly feeling better, the walk was longer than usual. We saw commuters on the sidewalk, in cars and buses and on bikes. We paused to watch a motorcade with police blaze up Embassy Row. But I quickly turned back to the dog.
We made it to a grassy bank: a park-like area near a major road. Across the road stands a large tree, a plane tree, I think and so typical in cites. It’s leaves have already gone yellow, and a sudden breeze brought a flurry of the beautiful but dead leaves towards us. One stuck to Daisy’s fur.
I choked at the sight, and stifled a tear: I had a responsibility to care for this dog and there was so much traffic. Everything must, at last, die. The leaves have died and blow away. But Daisy is alive today. Alive, getting better and sniffing happily. And I was happy and thankful on an autumn day.
Fred Phelps, an infamous hatemonger under the cover of a pastor’s call, died today. I won’t weep for him, or pretend to. I won’t yell or call for pickets in retribution. I endorse the “stay cool” platform floated on the web, if not the “ignore him” plank.
We can’t afford to ignore what he and his clan did, not least of which is the harm inflicted on other generations of the Phelps family. But even as the hurt lingers, and there are many who have been hurt deeply and personally by his actions, let’s remember that his life — and his ability to cause further harm — is over.
Let’s also remember and praise the creative responses that many people — some strangers to his targets — developed, and acknowledge (if not be grateful) that his indecent targeting demonstrated that many more of us were “decent” and worthy of care than if a respectable and cool-headed judge decided to separate the sheep and goats. His outrageousness was his own undoing, and a warning about simmering and violent hatred that has a better public face and smoother voice.
And let’s not make him better in death than he was in life, nor overstate his shadowy, late-in-life apotheosis suggested in news accounts. He set himself up consciously to be my enemy, and perhaps yours. But Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. This reminds us, and is our testimony before God, that we regard Fred Phelps as human and not a monster. Redeemable, if not in this world then the next. And if he could not change, others still might. He, too, is more like the rest of us than not, and if we regard him as monster only, we will be unable to minister to those who have been hurt by his cruel hate, or those trying to flee it.
I have no answer why he hated with such a perfect hate, but the reason is less important than making clear to the living that we need not live like that, that we need not be silent before it or that he did not represent what faithful people are.
If you’re thinking about giving money for Philippines storm relief, please seriously consider giving money to the World Food Program USA. Perhaps you’ve heard about rations — “high energy biscuits” — being flown in. The WFP provides these, and that’s the kind of practical we-need-that-now help needed now. More info about the high energy biscuits here, and what they contain.
And a video about a similar relief effort in 2009. But this last cyclone was much bigger.
I’d hate for my readers to think that my few comments about the Occupy movement suggests I’m uninterested. Far from it. Indeed, I’m very mad and deeply concerned about yesterday’s pepper-spraying of student demonstrators at University of California Davis. Google for it, if you’ve not seen this now-iconic photograph.
But I comment mostly by Twitter, Identi.ca, Google+ and Facebook. Â And if you have the means to support your closest Occupy encampment, I encourage you to do so.
Scott Wells on the practice of Universalist Christian faith