Archive | March, 2014

Love All Hate None (my thoughts on Fred Phelps)

18 Mar

You may have heard by now that Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church is in ailing health and presumed to pass soon. You probably are familiar with Fred and Westboro because of their penchant for picketing funerals, gay folks and soldiers are their favorites. They also like to picket productions of The Laramie Project which is a play written about the hate crime death of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Fred and Co picketed the funeral with their ‘God Hates Fags’ signs and by doing so, Fred became a character in the play.

Eleven years ago I was the stage manager for one such production at Central Washington University. The Laramie Project had been submitted for the season and not chosen by the committee who chooses such things. The students put together a petition to have it included, and it was. So there I was, 23, Stage Managing this powerful show with a zillion cues (ok, over 600) and we get word that we will be protested. Now their purpose is to get people to not do the show, but we had already fought for it, and we were committed. So we set up security protocol and what if procedures. Not really concerned that the Westboro folks would do something other than protest, but that some person influenced by them my go lone wolf.

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It’s not who you love… it’s how. Kevin Bacon

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All you really need to know: Love all, Hate none

As word spread, the Gay-Straight alliance started selling tshirts in support. The University had Love All Hate None shirts made up and the counter-protest was planned. The local ecumenical group wrote a letter to the editor that they didn’t condone hate, and that Westboro did not reflect their values. The first day of the protest arrived. Westboro had about 10 people on their corner. The folks under the ‘Love All Hate None’ banner? There was about 300. The wellness center had set up hydration stations, folks were drumming and hanging out. And then it happened again with about the same numbers the next night. Oh and we sold out our shows, which for a drama is quite something. One night, I swear half the audience was a sea of red wearing the shirts from the Gay-Straight alliance.

I know that our story is special, but it is not unique. I have heard countless stories about communities coming together to stand for love. In Shawnee Mission Kansas, just down the interstate from Westboro HQ, a high school turned their counter-protest into a fundraiser for AIDS. Recently a football player from the University of Missouri came out and 2000 students and supporters formed a human wall so that the player, Michael Sam, and the campus would be shielded from the Westboro protest. Motorcycle guards and more human walls are created around the country for soldiers funerals. The stories like this go on and on.

But why do I tell you all this?

Some have said we should ignore Fred, others have said we should love picket his funeral. Even before I heard that they don’t have funerals for Westboro members, making attending his funeral not a possibility, I was uncertain of what to do. (And I do live close enough to attend such a thing if I wanted to)

Ever since my experience back in 2003, I have felt that while the words and tactics they use are horrible and hurtful, there is some good in what they do. Now give me a moment to explain before you get out the tar and feathers. When you look at the countless stories of communities coming together for the common goal of respecting the fallen, standing up for love, or simply saying no to hate, can you really say there is no blessing there? The level of compassion and connection that happened in my college town was electric. Our town was rural, a cowtown, it was not liberal, and there was probably plenty of anti-gay sentiment under the surface. This brought people together like never before, to say hey, this kind of bullying is not acceptable. Not in my town. I know that this may not be the universal experience, but I have heard enough testimony to know it has been a common theme.

So no, even if there was a funeral to love picket, I would be staying home. It won’t be changing anyone’s mind. Westboro may be losing it’s founder, but it doesn’t show signs of slowing down it’s work. And to that, I think of a verse from the bible, Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” I know it wasn’t your intention Fred, but you have brought together many people in compassion and in a search for greater understanding. Godspeed and may you finally find the peace you have so vigorously been searching for.

PS Let us all continue the work of acceptance, compassion, and standing up for others. Let’s make sure our own legacies deserves a love parade.

Changing the future to be different than the past

6 Mar

“I’m not listening to the people who say I can’t because of my past failures.” 

I overheard someone say that recently and while it was not appropriate for me to comment directly, I had some things to say about it. 

First of all. Right on sister! Go for it!

And at the same time, most of us have heard a version of this quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” by George Santayana. We’ve heard it because it has many elements of truth. 

If, you think that continuing on the same path you have been on and acting in the same ways is going to get you somewhere different than where you have already been, you are sadly mistaken. 

I have been in the position, and dear reader, you may have too, where you see a loved one jaunting down the same road you’ve seen them head down before. The road that ends in all sorts of heartache and chaos. Do you warn them? How can you? It’s different this time they say. You are being silly and unsupportive. The answers aren’t easy and there isn’t one ‘rule’ that can sum it all up and apply to every situation. 

My general strategy is: I remind myself that while I can hold the highest vision for this person, they are on their own journey. Every journey has hiccups and detours, sometimes they look darned familiar. But I can’t fix it for them and I can’t make the timeline look like what I want it to be. I say, “I’m cheering you on dear one, and I hope that you can have a happy successful journey. If you fall, I will still be cheering you on, but I’m not gonna fix it, only you know how.”

But back to you, you bucker of history, ready to conquer the world and change your destiny.

Let’s say the change you are making has to do with an unhealthy relationship, (which could be a person, substance, idea, pastime…) you have been in and out of relationship with this person (substance, idea, pastime…) for a long time. You have declared your freedom, you have shouted from the rooftops and taken a victorious step in your ability to be free from that blankety blank. But then something changes, they do something nice, you cave to temptation, the people around you try to have hope that it’s different this time, because you say that it is. But eventually you realize that it’s not and you end up back at the beginning of this paragraph. 

Then you are back to those people saying your history shows you can’t make the change. Well, that’s the thing about the past. It happened. Instead of putting your energy into convincing others that it’s different, put your energy into examining what the triggers were that caused yourself to get where you are. Then do something different!

Were you participating in an activity or group that was keeping you engaged and then stopped? Were you supporting yourself though a more healthy living practice (food, exercise, sleep, laughter)? Who are you spending your time with and are they influencing your behavior towards your independence from this relationship or towards your dependence? 

These can be hard questions to ask and harder questions to honestly answer. To really be honest about the situation is a first big hurdle, and then you have to make the changes which takes a lot of courage. Doing it once isn’t enough of course, that is where so many of us have fallen down before. The tenacity to stick to it, to believe that something better is possible, and attainable, and worth it.

Because you dear one are worth having an amazing, healthy, successful life. You deserve to be in relationship with people who care about you and encourage you to have that wonderful life. You have the right to be safe. You have the power to create the life of your dreams. (which will require hard work, belief in yourself, time, and lots of help)

Like I said before, Right on sister! (or Brother) Change your future so you won’t be reminded of your past failures again.

For those of you holding the high watch, keep up the cheering!

Rachel

PS Remember, history give us lots of data on what doesn’t work, inventors don’t keep trying the same thing, they use the info they have to try something better. Reinvent your life!