Why do I love Fred Phelps?

For those who don’t know who Fred Phelps is, I envy you. Fred Phelps was a preacher and head of the Westboro Baptist Church. He was best known for his adamant views against homosexuality and protesting at the funerals of US soldiers. He and his followers would show up with signs that read “God Hates Fags”, “Thank God For Dead Soldiers”, “America is Doomed” and other incendiary statements about what he believed God felt. He died last Wednesday and outside of his followers, mostly members of his extended family, it is hard to imagine anyone will be mourning his loss.

By all accounts he was a truly despicable man. He exhibited no love or compassion towards anyone. He would beat his children. He celebrated the deaths of people who were killed by anti-gay violence, people who died from AIDS and soldiers who died in combat. He caused tremendous hurt to countless people already dealing with great sadness and grieving the loss of their loved-ones. He fuelled the hatred that has caused so many young people to take their own lives and for others to act out violently against their peers. While he never pulled the trigger himself he most certainly has blood on his hands.  Perhaps worst of all is that he involved children in his salacious acts and poisoned their minds with his hateful rhetoric.

So why do I love a man who is so diametrically opposed to everything I believe in? The simple answer is because I love everyone. Still, simple doesn’t always mean easy. When I made a commitment to love everyone I knew it would be hard. I knew that there would be cases like this that would test my resolve. It would be easier to simply dismiss him as a crackpot and just not care… but I do care. Fred Phelps thrust himself into my world, into the lives of people I care about, into the media spotlight and into the national consciousness.  I couldn’t simply ignore his existence. If I was going to love EVERYONE then I was going to have to find a way to love him as well.

His beliefs about God and homosexuality are certainly extreme but so is the belief of loving everyone. Fred Phelps and I may be polar opposites but when it comes to holding extreme beliefs we have something in common. While I don’t share his views I can’t help but admire his conviction. I don’t know I could ever believe anything that strongly.

It’s not like he invented hate. While his particular verbiage in interpreting the Bible is unique he was hardly alone in his position on what the Bible says about homosexuality. If you believe as Fred Phelps did that God is omnipotent and the ruler of everything then what other conclusion can be drawn from the 9-11 attacks and dead US soldiers other than God hates us. It’s got to be troubling for those who believe that God is on our side. Most people can find some other explanation or rationalization for these events but if you take certain parts of the bible or certain beliefs about God to their logical conclusion, you wind up with Fred Phelps.

One thing I can say about Fred Phelps is he forced people to take a stand. You were either with him, or against him. Thankfully most people decided that they were against him. It’s hard to say what effect Fred Phelps had on the gay rights movement but he certainly helped our cause more than he did his own. He made people think. He caused people who were perfectly comfortable hating gay people to become uncomfortable with their beliefs. For the longest time I suspected that he was a one man false flag operation. Like a good conspiracy nut, I became obsessed with trying to find evidence to support this theory, but in the end I came up empty-handed. Fred Phelps really was the man he portrayed himself to be.

Fred Phelps was also a champion for the First Amendment although I’m not sure he saw himself that way. He was vehemently opposed to the freedom of religion part but he sure embraced the freedom of speech part. At least one case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. I had my doubts as to whether the constitution was strong enough to endure such an hideous attack but even Fred Phelps could not cause us to abandon our values. As a result, the people responded with their own brand of free speech showing love and respect for the targets of his hate. Gangs of motorcycle riders would show up at military funerals to drown out the protesters. Even the threat that the Westboro Baptist Church would be protesting would cause people in support of the event to turn out in droves.

During his time on this planet, Fred Phelps made a difference. He was fueled by the worst in himself but he brought out the best in others. When I look at my country today, compared to how it was before Fred Phelps began his picket line crusade of hate, I see a stronger and more tolerant nation. Obviously, I don’t give him all of the credit, but overall I believe we are better for having known him. He set an example by the way he lived, in his case, it was a bad example. We all have a role to play and this was his.

That is not meant to justify anything that he did. I still don’t believe that the ends ever justify the means. The means must be justifiable unto themselves and I don’t find anything to justify the means used by Fred Phelps; but they were not my means. It’s not up to me to justify them. Perhaps he will find his justification now that he is dead but I doubt it. From my perspective I see a lonely man who lived a life of anger, torment and fear. His actions caused him to become estranged from some of his own children, disbarred by the State of Kansas and later prevented by the federal court from practicing law altogether. Near the end of his life he was even excommunicated by the church that he founded.  It’s almost tempting to feel bad for the guy, but I don’t.

The only thing I can feel is love. There is no other emotion he can cause me to feel. He could not inspire me to feel hate, anger or disgust. He could only inspire me to shine light upon the darkness. The struggle to see his humanity has made me a more compassionate and forgiving person. For that, I do love him.

Why are single stall restrooms designated men and women?

I’ve always thought this was stupid. In Minneapolis there is a building code that requires bars and restaurants to have two separate bathrooms for men and women regardless of their size . There is always talk of changing this to allow for uni-sex single stall bathrooms but so far nothing has been done about it. Apparently people feel pretty strongly about this. I don’t know, it seems silly to me. Then again, I spend a lot of time with trans-people and gendered bathrooms can be a major concern for this community.

I was at a restaurant for dinner last night and I went to use the bathroom. There were three guys waiting to use the men’s room. One of the guys commented about how strange it was for their to be a line for the men’s room. Another mentioned that the women’s was available so the first guy used it. I see this happen all the time and I never have an issue with using the women’s room. We all pee so what’s the big deal?

The only thing I have to say is to the guys. If your going to pee standing up, please lift the lid. And if you miss a litte, clean it up. Then put the seat down. It’s pretty simple. Just leave things the way you found it. Is that so hard?

So not all of my posts will be about the biggest issues of the day but I hope you will still let me know what you think.

Why do liberals think they know what it’s like to be black?

… or what it’s like to be gay, or a woman, or poor, or an immigrant or anything that they are not? Really, why does anyone think that they know what it’s like to be anyone else. I don’t mean to pick on people who consider themselves liberals but that is the culture I grew up in and that’s what I know. I’m routinely amazed at the level of hubris exhibited by white liberals in speaking for members of other cultures. I would never try to speak on behalf of someone else; or so I would like to think. I’ve probably done it myself. We all have blind spots.

I’ve spent the last twenty years or so being pretty active in the gay rights movement. When I first started I took on a position of leadership but I haven’t since. I never felt like I had the right to speak for a whole community. I know what it is like to be me. I know what my experiences with homophobia are, but to be honest, they are pretty limited. I grew up in a liberal city as a musician and a geeky artsy type. I never felt that expectation to “fit in”. I don’t know what it’s like to be the gay quarterback of the state champion high-school football team. I don’t know what it’s like to be the lesbian prom queen from a small town. I don’t even know what it’s like to be a transgender art nerd from Duluth, MN and I play in a band with one. Being part of a community, being part of a movement, being part of a band you hear a lot of stories. You get a sense of what it is like for someone else but you can’t really know what it is like.

In a way I get it. It’s part of the liberal ethos to try and put yourself in another person’s shoes. To see the world from their perspective. We try to immerse ourselves in another culture. It can become all consuming and at a certain point you start to feel like you really understand what it is like to be black, or Hispanic, or deaf or a single-mother on welfare. But can you really? I applaud the attempt. I know that people’s hearts are in the right place but let’s not kid ourselves. We can use this experience to build bridges but we can’t rebuild the building that have crumbled under oppression. We can use what we have learned from these experiences to build better connections, ‘to understand and heal ourselves, but we can’t fix anyone else. I understand the desire to raise our voices to compensate for the those that have been silenced but we need to remember that they are our voices. We can’t speak for anyone else.

And even more than that, we can’t tell someone else what it is like to be them!

The other day I heard a white woman tell a black child that the world was unfair and that he would be judged more harshly because of the color of his skin. This child was in trouble and the woman was worried that if he didn’t change his ways that he would become another black male statistic. The boy is adopted and his white mother was there as well. I could tell that she had the same concern. I’m not saying that the concern isn’t warranted, I’m just saying that this woman had no authority to speak about it. This kid needs to know what it is like to be a black man in America but he needs to hear about it from someone who has been there. Even then, his experience is going to be uniquely his own. Times are changing and so is this child. No one can claim to know what his future will be like.

I understand the desire of white people to use their “white-privilege” to help those less fortunate but white people are not privileged. White people are not better. Racism and oppression are fucked up. They are corruption. We can’t use corrupt power to fight the power of corruption. All we have is love. All we can do is stand side-by-side in solidarity as one people. I understand the feeling of guilt about the injustices of the world but there is nothing to feel guilty about. There is no way to atone. All we can do is accept that we are who we are and that we are no better (or worse) than anyone else.

Okay people, use your voice. I’m sure I pissed someone off with this post. Don’t hold back, I can handle it.

Why do we have laws?

When I ask people this question I usually get a response along the lines of ,” Without laws we would have anarchy” to which I have to wonder if that would be so bad. It’s not like this highly regulated litigious world in which we live is paradise. Laws have not eradicated all of the problems associated with people living together. Also, law has not been a constant in human history but an invention which probably only dates back five thousand years and has changed dramatically over the course of history. There is no evidence or reason to suspect that the early, mostly egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies had a system of laws and some of these societies have still managed to survived until this day. Granted, they don’t have planes, trains or automobiles but they also don’t have war or crime.

Anyway, I’m not here to argue in favor of anarchy. I think that if we simply turned off the legal system one day that the results would be disastrous.  Laws may not be necessary but they certainly seem necessary in modern societies. I want to ask the question of why laws have become necessary, what that says about modern society and what are the benefits and consequences of having a law based culture.  Certainly this could constitute a person’s life work but it’s not my life work. I just have a few ideas that I want to get off my chest.

The first thing that comes to mind is that we have laws because, as a species, we kind of suck. We say that laws are the foundation of our civilization but the very fact that we need laws just tells me that we are not very civilized. If we accept that we need laws then we also need to swallow the bitter pill of reality and accept that we are not evolved enough to live without them. The fact is that human society has evolved far faster than human biology.

Certainly societal, as well as technological advancements, have been aided by the invention of laws but what if laws have also had the unintended consequence of hindering biological evolution. My limited understanding of evolutionary biology and natural selection tells me that over time desirable traits in a species will get replicated while undesirable traits will become muted. Is it possible that laws have allowed people to reproduce and pass along traites that if it weren’t for these laws would have been eradicated long ago? I know that is a dangerous idea and rings of Social Darwinism, but seriously, if murder was legal I’m pretty sure that the genetic trait causing someone to think killing a member of their own species is a good idea would quickly be removed from the gene pool.

Actually, that is a pretty sensitive subject for me. It’s not really something I can joke about so I will leave that to Louis C. K.

I don’t even think I could write a song about it but thankfully Soul Asylum has done that for me.

I certainly don’t need a law to tell me that murder is wrong. I have evolved past that kind of thinking as I think most people have. These laws really only apply to that class of people who are not as evolved as us. These are the people we call criminals. We need laws so that we can identify who the criminals are. That’s why I don’t understand the gun rights advocates who claim, “If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” That seems like a brilliant idea! We could eliminate crime by just rounding up all the gun owners and removing them from society. Problem solved. Of course I don’t believe that criminals are a class of human singled out and removed. Besides, we already have drug laws to do that.

And then there are the laws that have nothing to do with morality, identifying right from wrong and conveying it to the masses too unevolved to figure it out on their own. There are plenty of laws which serve the whole of society and allow us to function in this modern world. Traffic laws, food safety laws, building codes and environmental protections attempt to serve the common good by creating uniformity, predictability and by reducing the potential for harm. Still, in a more perfect world we could probably handle this through education with standards, guidelines and traditions.

The real reason why we need laws is because they are essential to enforce a hierarchical system. In order for the powerful to retain power they need to the rule of law. Historically laws have been written by the rulers to benefit the rulers. Even in our modern liberal democracy laws are written by the powerful and primarily serve to preserve the hierarchy while giving the illusion of equality.

This is not to say that human and equal rights protection laws are a bad thing. I’m just saying that they are only necessary in a hierarchical society. I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, obviously, but you only need to grant freedom of speech to people who are not free.

Ahhh… there is so much more that could be said about all this and I’m sure that I will in the future. For now I am hoping you will help me out by posting your thoughts in the comment section.

Why do people work?

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As I am awake as six o’clock in the morning preparing to drive pedicab for the Saint Paul, St. Patrick’s Day Parade this question is on my mind. I’ve received Social Security for my multiple disabilities for fifteen years now. There is no expectation that I have a job and for the first six years of being sick there was no way that I could work. My job was figuring out how to live but as soon as I could do anything I started working. One benefit to this is that I qualify for a Medicaid program in Minnesota designed for employed people with disabilities. Having medical coverage is essential to me and Medicare doesn’t really cover it but that’s another story.

Obviously the need for money is why many people work. It’s the driving assumption behind efforts to raise the minimum wage. People with a job should be able to survive in this modern world. For most people their job is their primary source of income but it’s hardly the only way to get money and perhaps not even the most efficient. You certainly can make more money panhandling than you can working at McDonald’s. The idea that if you work hard you will be financially rewarded for your efforts is a myth. In this modern age, for most people, working hard is essential for survival but it is no guarantee of great wealth.

Since money is essential for survival, if money is the only reason people work then the modern job is only one step removed from slavery. If money alone will get someone to do something that they wouldn’t do for any other reason, I don’t see how that is any different than bribery. That’s how I felt the other night when I had four stippers climb into the back of my cab all waving twenty dollar bills in my face. Believe me, I really wanted to help but as I explained to them, the law only permits me to transport three adults and even more important to me than the law was that I could lose my job. They were very disappointed that no amount of money could get me to give all four of them a ride. They also didn’t want to wait for another cab to arrive. They wanted what they wanted when they wanted it and thought that money was all they needed.

It is my belief that meaningful work, far more than money, is essential for human happiness. The work we do helps us form connections with other people and gives us an opportunity to make a difference in the world. Work is what gives us purpose.  Most of the work I do I don’t get paid for at all. Writing this blog is work for which I don’t get paid. Being a parent is work for which I don’t get paid. Being a friend is work for which I don’t get paid. I get paid for performing music but not any more than it costs me to be a working musician. Driving pedicab is the only work I do which makes money but if money was my only motivation, I wouldn’t do it.

So what do you think? Would you do the work you do if you didn’t get paid? If you didn’t need the money?

Things to come

As my life is becoming more structured I want to get back to trying to write everyday. There are so many thoughts and ideas floating around in my head that I really want to get out. I have an opinion about just about everything; I just haven’t felt that I have the  moral authority to speak about them. The more I read other people’s opinions the more I realize that I shouldn’t let that stop me.  It helps me to see that the crazy thoughts in my head are shared by great thinkers who have actually garnered respect for their ideas. When I find myself still disagreeing with people whose ideas I highly respect I come out thinking that I may have something original to offer. This doesn’t mean that I am right and they are wrong, only that I have a perspective which is uniquely mine. Some people will probably like what I have to say and some people might not. I hope you will let me know either way. I think the conversation is a good thing in and of itself. My thoughts and my beliefs are constantly evolving.

I want to try and tackle some of the big issues even if I can only do it in a small way. I want to share my musings on subjects like, god, meaning of life, good and evil, human evolution, fame and success, morality, inspiration, creativity, society, government, punishment and love. I also want to write my thoughts on the more mundane topics of the day like marijuana legalization, global warming, income inequality, gay marriage, the Arab-Israeli conflict, religious freedom and politics.

I’m sure that I will continue to intersperse some stories about my life but I don’t want that to be the focus. I’ve been using this in-the-moment memoir approach because my memory sucks and I wanted to have a way to remember what I’ve been through. I also figured that if anyone was going to be telling my story, it should be me. What I’ve found is that I don’t find my story all that interesting. I remember what I want to remember and the rest I am more than happy to forget. If someone else finds my story interesting, they are welcome to write about it. I need to write about what interests me.

My hope is that I will be able to develop a structure and framework that will make it easier for me to write. I also want to get to the point where I can write comfortably without the use of alcohol. I simply am not going to have the time to drink like I have been and there are some consequences to drinking that I would like to avoid. I know this will be a challenge for me. I’m much more self critical when I’m sober. I also have a hard time focusing on a single thought. I find my brain racing three pages ahead when I’m still struggling to find words to complete the sentence at hand. It’s really frustrating and time consuming but I need to find some other tools to help me focus.

Dirty dishes

I fancy myself to be an artist and a philosopher. I don’t have a degree in either art or philosophy. I’ve never made any money to speak of for my art or my philosophical thoughts but for some reason that doesn’t seem to bother me. I keep doing it because it is what I do. I guess that’s really all the justification I need. It would be nice to be taken seriously and perhaps even financially rewarded for my efforts but I find that when I place external validation as my goal, the creativity suffers. Still, I find it hard to believe that I would put myself through such hell if I wasn’t receiving some sort of validation. I pride myself on being a lazy person who only does what is absolutely necessary for survival yet I find myself doing all sorts of thing that are really very difficult for me. I must be getting something out of it.

Validation is one of the things that I get out of what I do but I’m starting to question if my motivation is actually external validation. I’m starting to think that it really comes from within me and I project it onto the world around me so as to feel less selfish.

So let me tell you a story…

I was at my friends house the other day. She informed me that she had some things to do and left me alone in her house. I have a key so there was not problem with locking up after she left. I didn’t have anywhere else to be so I looked around for something to do. My friend had recently had a party so the dishes had kind of piled up. I figured I could at least do some dishes while I was there. I like doing dishes. It’s an easy way to help and pretty hard to fuck up.

As I was washing the dishes I found myself thinking about how much I would be appreciated for doing this. I thought, what a pleasant surprise in would be for my friend to come home to find a nice clean kitchen. Certainly there would be some future reward in it for me providing such a valuable service.

Then I realized how ridiculous I was sounding. All I did was a few dishes. Even if it made things better for one day it would be completely forgotten by the next when a new pile of dirty dishes arrived. But it didn’t matter. In that moment I felt good. I didn’t even care if there was any acknowledgement of my actions. I had already given myself more validation than I probably deserved. I didn’t even do all of the dishes after all.

When my friends returned home she was pleased although by this time I had completely forgotten what I had done. When she sent me a text message which stated, “You little fairy” I thought she was referring to my sexuality. I still found it endearing but when I realized what she was really referring to I got to feel that sense of pride all over again.

And I’m pretty sure it was pride that I was feeling. I even took a pictures of my accomplishment.

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I could show you a picture of what it looked like before but I didn’t take a one of that nor would I post it because I wouldn’t want to embarrass my friend but I will show you a picture of my dirty dishes. 

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I like a clean kitchen but not enough to actually clean it. I clean when I have to. I clean when I run out of dishes or counter space. I cleaned my living room yesterday because a friend was coming over to give me a massage. There was no way she would have had room to work if I didn’t do some cleaning. My motivations are very practical; they are utilitarian. I’m sure that gives comfort to those who see me as a selfish prick and not the struggling soul on a path of enlightenment which is how I see myself.

I have no conflict with people who see me as a selfish prick. I also don’t consider enlightenment to be a higher form of being. I still think that we are all equal and we all kind of suck. The only thing that I think enlightenment offers is the understanding of how shitty we are and hopefully the insight to do better. But what do I know? I’m not there yet. 

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