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Nazis and Backpfeifengesicht

I'm going to admit I have mixed feelings about what happened this past weekend.

Not with the march. I'm all on board with that, and hope we can keep the momentum going and prevent Trump and the Republican majorities in Congress from taking our nation backward and ripping up the past 50 years of progress we've made on human rights.

I'm talking about the moment on Saturday when a lone protester decked Richard Spencer while he was being interviewed.

I am, for various reasons, committed to the cause of nonviolence. We have the historic examples of Mahatma Gandhi working to bring independence to India, and of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. working to advance human rights in America. For those of us of a specifically Christian bent, we also have the teachings of Jesus; for those of the Islamic faith, there have been leaders like Bāchā Khān and Nafez Assaily, and IIRC, a 13th-century movement utterly committed to pacificism. And so on. You get the idea.

We also have examples like Rabbi Michael Weisser, who in 1991 befriended Larry Trapp, the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Lincoln, Neb., and led him out of the KKK. Or there's Daryl Davis, a black R&B musician whose outreach to Klan members led to the collapse of a number of KKK chapters.

Based on those examples, I am personally not in favor of sucker-puncing even someone like Richard Spencer. I would not be able to do it.

At the same time, I don't really have anything to say against the actions of the man who did deck Spencer, nor of the people who have been expressing support for that man all across social media.

Our society relies on freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of thought; and that historically has meant that we allow a wide range of views, even views that we find distasteful. That view is illustrated perfectly in this panel from a 1980s Captain America comic, written I assume by Mark Gruenwald.

Nazis and white supremacists like Spencer, like Steve Bannon, like Hitler and yes, like Donald Trump, take advantage of our society's patience and stated tolerance for the broad spectrum of views, and they demand legitimacy. And because of the conflict that they create, they soon find a soapbox, and that soapbox attracts more disaffected people to their cause and then they begin to subvert the very strength of our society and undermine the social contract that made it possible for us to be one nation made of many.

If you've seen the video of Spencer getting sucker-punched, you'll remember the look of shock on his face that someone actually had decked him. It's a reasonable thought that he's going to think twice before spouting his white supremacy again on a street corner, at least at an anti-Trump rally; and if he does and someone else decks him, it's safe to assume he won't do it a third time.

I have to admit that I find it ironic that Captain America would espouse the views he does in this panel. Steve Rogers was a World War II veteran, a comic book character who shot to fame for punching Adolf Hitler in the face, months before there was even a declaration of hostitilies between America and Nazi Germany. In his earliest comics, and in successive treatments of his origin, he regularly beat on Nazi fifth columnists even before he was deployed.

So as I said, I'm ambivalent about what happened this weekend. On the one hand, as Dr. King said, "I remain committed to nonviolence. Through violence you may kill a murderer, but you can't murder murder. Darkness cannot drive darkness; only light can do that." A commitment to nonviolence and to welcoming a broad polyphany of views are two of the greatest moral strengths of liberalism.

At the same time, some views have no place in society. Philosophies and religions that disagree with one another, however sharply, should be welcome because their discussion can make us all wiser and better humans. But a philosophy that delegitimizes another human being -- be that persona a woman, a Jew, a black, a Hispanic or something else -- has no place in a civil society at all.

And maybe sometimes the person pushing that view will benefit from getting knocked upside the head.

Copyright © 2017 by David Learn. Used with permission.

The great divorce

Evangelical Church, this separation isn't working out. I think it's time we finalized our divorce.

It's not me, it's you. You just love this Baal guy too much. I know you think he's got your back, but all I see is a 70-year-old moral degenerate named Donald Trump

I cannot, do not and will not espouse a faith that considers President Obama evil and Trump to be God's anointed.

It is not in heaven.

I'd say it was nice, but lies are your thing, not mine.

It is not in heaven

Trump is in a class of his own. There's always room to disagree on voting for Clinton, or Romney, or Bush, McCain or Obama. There is not for Trump.

And it is beyond the pale for church leaders to laud him.

Trump promised that he'd overturn Roe v. Wade. That's a nice bauble for the Christian Right. We all know what an idol that has become.

But he also promised a wall.

He also promised to end insurance for millions of their countrymen.

He bragged openly about sexual assault, and brazenly mocked the disabled.

He spread vicious calumny about blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants and refugees.

He lied, and when he was confronted about it, he lied about lying.

He stole and extorted money from small businesses and bragged about that.

The evangelical church failed because it has a fetish for the unborn that is supported neither in scripture nor on science. The church sold out the country, and it sold out Christ, because it loves power and influence and was figured a little dalliance with Baal wouldn't hurt anyone, or at least not anyone who matters.

No one can claim that he fooled them. He was up front with what he is and they decided it was okay.

Everything since the election -- this bullshit about him being a modern-day Cyrus the Great, and nonsense about God choosing him to restore righteousness to our nation -- has been about guilty evangelicals reassuring themselves against their guilty consciences.
I cannot, do not and will not espouse a faith that considers President Obama evil and Trump to be God's anointed.

It is not in heaven.

Copyright © 2017 by David Learn. Used with permission.

My education continues

I'm reading right now about Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party. Ten-Point Program, Free Breakfast for Children. I'm embarrassed to say how much of this is new to me. Never heard of the Ten-Point Program, or Free Breakfast for Children until last night.

The Black Panther Party, I'd heard of. Knew nothing about it beyond the worst stereotypes, but I'd heard of it. Sometimes I wonder if I ever learned history at all.

I'm not sure how to describe what this sort of thing feels like, though I'm sure it's a common enough experience. I'm the college-educated son of college-educated parents. I'm not stupid, and I'm not ignorant. Yet as I've grown older, I've discovered how appallingly ignorant my education has left me, and how colossally stupid that ignorance has made me.

It's not going from misinformed to having the correct information, it's more like discovering how uninformed or noninformed I've been. Perhaps like I lived in a few small rooms of a house and then one day discovered that there were doors that opened up not just new rooms, but entire wings, floors, staircases and libraries of knowledge that I'd never even realized existed. I'd been living in the foyer all this time.

And yet that's not it either. There's also realization of how much my perception of history, current events, the humanities, everything, has been shaped by the narrowness of my own experience and perception, which in turn was shaped by that of my parents and of my larger society ...

And that realization has come mixed with the realization that other people's perception also has been hobbled in such a way, and that the way I've been (inadverently, I'm sure) taught to blame people for not advancing as far as they/we/I think they should is due in no small part to that hobbling. One of the reasons it never occurred to me before is because the narrative I have of U.S. history, the one that ostensibly teaches that anyone can rise up to be president, to be a millionaire success whatever they want, is a narrative that teaches that lesson most effectively to people who look like me.

Which I guess is just a really convoluted way of saying I'm still trying to come to terms with what it means to have been born on third base. And what that makes my social responsibility as well as how to handle that responsibility responsibly, without falling back into that trap of the Great White Man.

It bothers me how much American history I've not been taught, and how one-sided is the history that I have been taught. I shouldn't have had to wait until my late 30s to discover properly the lives of people like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, and the poetry of Langston Hughes, nor until my mid-40s to learn about the community building efforts of the Black Panther Party.

I remember the exact moment I started to appreciate just what "white privilege" is. I was in Haiti, standing in the chow line with a bunch of the Haitian volunteers and workers who predictably were having a field day with the American who thought he could speak Kreyol.

At one point they told me that I didn't have to wait in line with them, that I could go straight to the front and be served right away, because I'm white.

I could skip ahead of 30 or 40 people whose country had been shaken to pieces. Because. I. Am. White. In the first black republic in the New World.

I wish to God I could give more people the understanding that finally got through to me that afternoon.

It's my own fault, admittedly, for not being curious earlier; but heck, I'm here now, and isn't this what a midlife crisis is for anyway? You realize it all went wrong, so you tear it apart and put it together in a new way that hopefully is better than the first time around, and you try to pass these new lessons on to your kids so that they can make different mistakes on their way to midlife.


My dream journal: latest entry

Last night I dreamed that I was in line at the supermarket when I witnessed one of the cashier's co-workers groping her and using inappropriate language.

"You shouldn't tolerate that," my dream-self said. "You need to report him to the manager."

So she did. I spent the rest of my dream waiting for someone to ring me up so I could pay for my groceries and leave.

On the loss of a Facebook friend

Today I discovered that I recently had been defriended recently on Facebook.

I can't help but think what a loss it is for us both. I've known this person for about six years, someone I've always considered worth knowing better if the opportunity should arise. Unfortunately, it hasn't. Following that initial rush in 2011 when our paths first crossed, our social interaction generally has been limited to exchanging pleasantries after church and an uneventful Facebook friendship that apparently ended a few months shy of the six-year mark.

I know people can take it personally when someone defriends them. Some see it as a personal rejection, while others blame themselves for driving the other person away. The element of rejection is undeniable -- defriending someone on social media is an active choice, after all -- but my main reaction to this act is simple curiosity. Why this person, why now?

Was it simple housecleaning? Some people have hundreds, if not thousands, of friends on Facebook, including family, actual friends, neighbors, co-workers, teammates on Mafia Wars, and even former receptionists from the doctor's office. It'd be hard to fault anyone for wanting to cull the herd a little under those circumstances.

On the other hand, my former Facebook friend and I see each other almost every week and there are more than 400 other people who survived the great purge. A housecleaning doesn't seem too likely an explanation, all things considered.

Maybe it's politics. I'm usually content to live and let live, but I have been absolutely forthright in my denunciation of Donald Trump, and that's upset a few people. Maybe that was it. The election was a divisive affair, and while I wouldn't defriend someone myself, I wouldn't hold it against someone else who did.

Could it be religion? I've shared a few things over social media that disappoint me about the church, and from time to time I tweet commentary on the worship service as it unfolds. It's all in good fun, and the pastor takes it in good stride, but I can see how it could bother someone.

It's impossible to say what set the ball rolling without knowing the story, and no one has told me. That's what lends the whole affair an air of the surreal. When an actual friendship ends, there's something you can point to. There was a fight, or an act of betrayal, or there was a completely natural drift over the years as life and geography come into play.

With social media, there's none of that. There's a passive-aggressive decision to click a button, a sense of satisfaction that it's over. Except that its not. If you move in the same social circles, you're going to feel an odd sense of dislocation the next time you run into the person you defriended. Once they realize they've been defriended, that dislocation is going to get downright awkward.

Here's the cut and jib of it for me. I'm cautious about making friends, but when I consider someone a friend, it's solid. Friendship is a sacred bond, something we neither pretend to nor lightly cast aside. I'm a little looser about whom I'll identify as a friend on social media, but I don't add people just for the sake of it. They have to be decent people too, or it won't happen. And when I add someone, I don't remove them.

Why's that? It's simple. For one thing, the snub in defriending someone is undeniable. We may pretend it's not there, but it takes a conscious decision and deliberate act to defriend someone, and there's no way to undo that decision without drawing attention to its being made in the first place. Defriending someone on social media almost certainly is going to create ripples offline as well.

But just as importantly, defriending someone carries a cost for us as well. The differences in perspective and experience that different people bring to the table can cause a lot of friction and weary us, but they also enrich our lives.

Shutting people out of my life because I disagree with them will leave me – and possibly them – poorer for the experience. I'm a Christian, an identity that makes me treasure my Muslim, Jewish and atheist friends all the more.

In the same vein, I'm sorely disappointed in my friends who voted for Donald Trump, and I'm deeply critical of their decision; but that doesn't mean that I hate them or don't want to hear from them. We probably won't change each other's minds, but we can grow in understanding of and appreciation for each other.

There is a depth of perspective and a vitality of life that we get from interacting with people whose lives and viewpoints differ from our own. When we limit our time to people who only share our views, or when we silence voices that differ from our own, we rob ourselves of the chance to hear new ideas and to grow our roots deeper.

Did my former Facebook friend drop me from social media because I was too angry, too liberal or too disrespectful? I'll never know. All I do know is this: We'll see each other in church on Sundays, and we'll continue to be friendly to one another, but our ideas are less likely now to cross than in the past six years.

And we're both a little poorer for it.

Copyright © 2017 by David Learn. Used with permission.


Psst! I totally stole this from Brucker.

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