On Both Sides

holy warIn 2018, Washington state representative Matt Shea wrote a document describing a “Biblical basis for war” against people who “practice abortion and same-sex marriage”.  In it the currently serving, elected government official instructed: “If they do not yield, kill all males.”.


I swear to dog, an actual PETA billboard.

Also, in 2018, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) came out against what they call “speciesism”.  This is the thoughtless anti-animal language populating the idioms of our language.  PETA urges us to replace “beating a dead horse” with “feeding a fed horse”, and instead of “taking a bull by the horns”, they’d rather we “take a flower by the thorns”.fanaticsOne is mind-boggling evil, one is outrageously ridiculous.  But they are both depressing examples of the extreme ends of the spectrum.  The ones that result in people fearing and hating them or finding them so whiney and absurd that even when they have something important to say, no one listens.politicsIn political science, there is a phenomenon known as the horseshoe theory.  It posits that rather than a straight line between pure communism on the left, and fascism on the right, it’s shaped like a horseshoe with the extreme ends residing very close together in belief and action.duck rabbbitThis kind of ultimate extremism, whether it’s the driving force at the heart of an entire nation or an organization of true believers, can only be maintained by authoritarianism or totalitarianism.  When those in power are completely convinced, down into their very marrow, that they have all the answers to all the questions, and only they know what is best for everyone.  And this dominion must be maintained at all or any costs.  They are absolute in their belief that the decisions they make, and any discipline or punishment meted out is necessary, in fact good, and even ordained.the foolBut the only people who have all the answers and see the world solely in stark shades of black and white are fools, children, and fanatics.  Sure, it’s easier and more comfortable to put our fellow man in neat little boxes like hero, villain, saint, and sinner, but all thinking, reasoning humans know that life doesn’t work that way.life roadEvery one of us has a story.  There were shady garden paths, dangerous rocky roads, and tricky confusing detours that got us to where we are at this moment.  We’ve had missteps that have made us kinder, tragedies that have hardened us, miracles that have amazed us and made our souls a little brighter, and betrayals that have almost broken us. out of bedAnd yet, we regularly get out of bed in the morning to do it all over again.  And most of us usually try to be our best selves.  The selves that are shocked, horrified, and saddened by those zealots out on those horseshoe fringes.

So, what do we do about those scary outliers?  How do we protect against such stark, unyielding absolutism?

Here’s my best advice: we try.tryWe try to make the world around us a better, kinder place.  We try to make the journey of our fellow man a smoother, more peaceful one.  We try to help where we can and call out evil when we see it.  We look within ourselves, and attempt to exercise our better angels, and exorcise our demons.angelsAnd if a member of a marginalized portion of the population says that something we or others say or do is hurtful, or frightening, or patronizing, we listen to them.  And imagine if that person had your mother’s face, or your child’s, or your own.  And try to understand and do better.love circleAnd remember, if your heart’s in the right place, you’re halfway home.

Thanks for your time.

My Fellow Travelers

Last week I spent a couple hours on I64, traveling east, then a couple more back home.

And I noticed something both alarming and depressing—the roadways seem heavily populated with bullies.

Sometimes, a car suddenly appeared behind me, almost close enough to drive right on up into the back of my jeep.It was at this point I felt unequivocally bullied.  There was menace in their maneuver.  At the earliest possible moment, they would go around, at a frightening proximity; both next to me, and when they pulled in front.

In addition to feeling like I’d just been roughed up for my lunch money, I felt an absolute disregard for, and denial of, my humanity.  I was not only in their way and deserved rebuke, I was less than. On my way home, this attitude struck me even more forcibly.  You see, I was returning home after a day with Sam Jones, proprietor of Skylight Inn and owner of Sam Jones Barbecue.

To look at Sam, you might make a few assumptions.  And, they may go something like this: he’s a rich, famous restaurateur who comes from the most famous and important family in town.  He’s got a fancy new restaurant, and nobody’s ever said no to him, and nothing bad’s ever happened.

Not Sam; just a representative cliche of a stereotype of a rush to judgement.

Heck, in 2003 the Skylight Inn won a James Beard award for “American Classics”.  This award thrust him firmly into the realm of celebrity chefs.

Two years later, Sam was working in the family restaurant, a respected volunteer in the Ayden fire department, and talking marriage with Ashley, a fellow Ayden resident, and his girlfriend of six years.

In their hometown, they were well-known and well-liked, the prom king and queen of Ayden.  Their future was bright and glorious, just like the rest of their charmed lives.One day the couple was traveling in Sam’s truck.  He pulled into an intersection.  And that was the last thing he remembered until he found himself crawling on the road, looking for Ashley.  There had been a collision, ejecting both from the vehicle.

She was under the front of the truck.  She wasn’t pinned, but Sam knew it was bad.  He found his hand-held radio and called in the accident. When rescue arrived, he wouldn’t allow them to transport him until Ashley had been loaded into the ambulance.  With paramedics furiously attending her, the truck left, and finally Sam was taken so that his own, not insignificant injuries could be tended to.

Ashley didn’t make it.

Within six months of this nightmare, both grandparents, constant, daily presences in his life, passed away.  Sam was left in a dark, dark tunnel and it seemed, some days, that he would never emerge.  And many days, didn’t want to.Today, Jones is married with two young children.  He’s also become chief of that volunteer fire department.  He loves what he does and gives back every chance he gets.  He’s smart, funny, cooks amazing Q, and tells a great story.

The point here is that everyone has a story—everyone.  Even the famous guy with the exciting life, even the middle-aged lady driving the well-worn jeep with too many bumper stickers. Every.Single.One.

Life is short, often hard, and can change in the blink of an eye.  There is no telling in what part of a stranger’s story that we encounter them.  It could be the best day of their life or the very, very worst.

So here is my plea.  Please, let us all treat each other more gently.  Just imagine this world if we all acknowledged our shared journey and are kind to every person we meet.Thanks for your time.