This is going to be a fairly random, Kiwi bouncing off walls, kinda post. About things that people take very seriously. Life, love, religion, first amendment rights and inter-species erotica. Oops, that last one was purely for Squiggles.
Of all the amazing things that happened on my three-month, 6,000 mile motorcycle tour of the United States of America earlier this year (and there were epicly amazing things all along the way), three experiences touched me deeply. I've been promising to write about the final one for some time, but it needed to simmer for a while before being ready to serve.
1. Rolling Thunder, Ride for Freedom, 2011.
2. The funeral of SSgt Ergin Vidot Osman in Great Lakes, MI. The family had requested a motorcycle escort and the word was put out quickly by the Patriot Guard Riders and the local HOGs (many of whom, including my hosts in Detroit, are ex-military).
I was stunned as we rode out of the funeral home carpark to see so many people lining the roadsides, bearing American flags or saluting or simply standing with hands on hearts. Local police had roads blocked and traffic signals off for the cortege and all stood at attention as the hearse and entourage passed. As we neared the National Cemetery, about a half-hour ride away, I noticed families in their front yards, honoring Osman's service. Mom, Dad and three kids, just standing silently in respect to honor his sacrifice. I was glad to be a passenger for that trip (thanks, Pirate Martin) as I was too choked up to have been a safe rider.
3. This is the one some of my friends have huge issues with.
While in Kansas City, Missouri, I visited with the Westboro Baptist Church.
Yes, those of the godhatesfags = godhatesamerica = thankgodforieds protests at the funerals of military members, small children and homosexuals. Actually, anywhere they can get an audience.
I wanted to ask them, "Why?"
I've been thinking about their answers for a long while now, and also talking to others about it and them, and Life, the Universe and Everything. I interrogated a friend who is the dean of a bible school about his take on their take on God, talked with my Lutheran host and discussed them over Mexican and Margarita's with two new friends and their church choir. I also relistened to the recording of the 90 minutes I spent at the home of Fred Phelps Jr. talking with him and his brother John, and looked up the bible quotes they gave me. And visited with two Patriot Guard Riders at Ft. Leavenworth.
So . . . thoughts on the WBC . . .
They're intelligent (most of the family are lawyers and one of Phelps Sr's daughters argued and won a Supreme Court case brought against them) and they know their bible. Much better than I, so I didn't even attempt to argue dogma with them.
They believe totally in what they are doing.
They are not interested in "saving" anybody. They believe God has already appointed an "elite" and you're either part of that or you're not. It's a done deal. They also believe God tasked them to help his elite come to him, and they believe publicity is the best way to do that. "God invented the Internet for us," was one of the quotes that stuck in my mind.
They can quote and manipulate scripture as well as anyone I've met, but scripture can easily be massaged to fit most agendas. They're also not the only Christians (or any other flavor religion) I've met who believe sinners (i.e. anyone with a different viewpoint) will burn in Hellfire forever.
Apart from the fact that John was wearing a godhatesamerica.com t-shirt, they seemed a perfectly normal all-American "mom and apple pie" kind of family. We had to move into the kitchen during our talk because it was time for a daughter's piano lesson. The community (there's less than 100 people in the church and most are family members) was building a house for a church member. They served me water, not Kool-aid, and admired the bike.
They know their First Amendment rights, probably much better than those who are fighting and dying for them to have those rights.
I believe they are essentially misguided. I believe they are wrong, I believe that if their view of God is correct, I want no part of him/her/it.
I also believe that everything has a purpose, whether it is the purpose we want or not. And I suspect that the purpose of the WBC may be exactly what I witnessed at the Great Lakes funeral. Their presence at such public events has so incensed middle America that it has made communities take note of the sacrifices made for them by the less than 1 percent that is the military.
The Patriot Guard Riders formed in response to WBC, and stand, non-violently, between them and the families of the fallen. Other ordinary Americans, who mostly have no connection with anyone military (it's a small world), turn out to show support and respect for soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and I wonder how many would be there without the abhorrence they feel at the WBC's actions.
I hate what the WBC does and the pain its members cause already suffering families, but I have to admire a country that allows them the freedom to do it, and the people who find a non-violent way to counteract their actions.