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.

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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.

Roll with the changes

I received a phone call last Friday from Twin Town pedicabs asking me when I was going to start going out again. I guess that is the first true sign that winter is on it’s way out. We’ve had a couple days now of above freezing temperatures so the snow is starting to melt. I don’t want to get too optimistic because I know it’s still going to be a bumpy ride but at least we are heading in the right direction.

Last time I wrote anything of substance I mentioned that I was helping a friend shop for a new car. At some point during the process I decided that a new car was probably the best option for me as well. I was looking at upwards of a thousand dollars worth of repairs to a van that is only worth five-hundred; a van I no longer needed or wanted. The more fiscally prudent thing to do may have been to get a two-thousand dollar car for cash but where is the fun in that. I also didn’t know if that would resolve my constant repair problems. Now that I’m driving my teenage daughter around everywhere, having a reliable, fuel efficient vehicle just seemed like the responsible thing to do.

It just kind of blows my mind. A year ago I was flat bloke and realizing that I needed to cut my expenses any and every way possible. With my vehicle being one of biggest expense I figured it would have to go. The only problem was that I needed it for one of my greatest sources of income. So I set out to create a job where I didn’t need to drive. I did that. I was still worried about how I was going to see my daughter but it was looking like she was moving back to the city. Back in September, the driving job ended and I was ready to dump the van. Then I lost all communication with my daughter. I held onto the vehicle simply because I had no idea what was going on.

Now I’m the proud owner of this…

New-2014-Ford-Fiesta-SE_ID20739620_o

 

It was really such a crazy decision. I never thought that I would own another vehicle again, let alone lease a brand new one. I feel like I’m going back on everything I believe but I’m really not. The only thing I truly believe is that I never want to be beholden to my beliefs. Well, that and love. I still believe in love and buying this car was an act of love.

I’m probably wrong but so what?!?

Yesterday could have been another boring day. It was really too cold to go anywhere. I had no reason to even get dressed let alone take a shower. I managed to write about two-hundred words for my blog. It was nothing that great but it inspired me to see if I could hammer out this song idea that had been floating around in my head for the past four months. I pulled out my guitar and started writing the words. I combined ideas expressed in yesterday’s post with one I made back in October, along with something from a meme I saw recently, added a melody and chord progression and I soon had the framework for a song. I had hoped that writing this blog would have inspired me to be a better songwriter but the reality is that I hadn’t written any music in over a year.

Half way through the song the words stopped. It was time to put it down and let it settle. Just then the phone rang offering me reprieve from the need to figure out what to do next. The following hour and a half were spent listening to my friend share the struggles and successes in her life while I barely uttered a word.  My head was spinning, running every situation through my own lexicon of problem solving strategies and world perspectives searching for tidbits of advice although never having a chance to share them. It wasn’t advice that she needed anyway. She was living her life and dealing with her problems her way. She just needed someone to share them with. When I finally had a chance to speak I chose instead to just share a couple of the situations in my life. There were many commonalities between our stories yet our perceptions of them couldn’t have been more different. I began wondering if my way of seeing the world was completely wrong. I have no problem understanding another person’s perspective but try as I might, I can’t seem to shake my own.

While on the phone I managed to polish off the half glass of wine that had been sitting dormant for the past week in the bottom of a box of Shiraz. After that I cracked the lone remaining tall boy of Grain Belt Nordeast sitting in my fridge. This was not nearly enough to alter my state of mind. I contemplated placing an order with the liquor store but instead chose to battle sobriety a little bit longer.

Nighttime fell and I began to pondered whether I could muster the energy to go see a friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in a while and was missing terribly when I recieved a text message from her. Hoping for inspiration in her words what I found instead was more despair.  She too was frustrated with the cold outside and while she wanted to go have some fun felt prevented from doing so. My initial thought was to offer sex as a good cold weather activity but for some reason thought that might be inappropriate.  Instead I suggested whiskey. Alcohol lowers the body temperature reducing the perception of cold and drinking can be fun.

I don’t think that she took my advice but I did. I mixed myself a strong gin and tonic and in no time sobriety had completely left my body. I picked up the phone and called her seeking the encouragement I needed to get out of the house. During our conversation I continued to poison myself with alcohol and she grew increasingly frustrated with my intoxication. I would not find what I was looking for and I would not be seeing my friend that night. I returned to my songwriting and quickly wrote the final verse.

Now bored and alone I decided to make a random post to facebook; a common strategy for me when I’m looking to stir up trouble. This led me into a chat with a friend who was going through a difficult time. Once again I found myself in a situation where my worldview seemed completely counter to that of someone else.  Still, we managed to find comfort and encouragement in our shared differences. After spending the day in bed moping he decided that he would get out of the house and surround himself with people. I decided that this would be a good idea for myself as well and set forth to try and meet up with him.

I hopped in the shower and got dressed. I decided that I could make it if I did a combination of biking and busing so I checked the bus schedule. The universe however, did not seem to be on my side with this plan. I managed to miss two busses; the first because I had forgotten my phone and needed to return home, the second because the bus arrived a minute early and in my struggle to get out the door I cut my timing too close. I was ready to throw in the towel but the thought of letting fate win seemed unbearable. Armed with liquid courage and the mantra, “never give up” stuck in my head, I persevered.

My friend arrived at the 19 bar shortly after me. It had been ages since I had been to what used to be my favorite bar but it still felt like home. My friend and I discussed many things but we couldn’t completely avoid the dilemma of day. His struggle, which from what I can tell seems all too common, is how to discern good people from bad people; how to avoid trusting the wrong ones. I wasn’t able to offer much insight into that but I was able to share my thoughts about how we all come off as assholes sometimes and also gave him some insight into how the process of adoption and that sense of abandonment can affect a person. Apparently he found this helpful.

Knowing that I would not survive the bike ride home I wandered down Nicollet Avenue is search of a taxi. With thoughts still burning in my brain I decided to pose a question to three young men that were standing outside Asian Taste. To my relief they also believe that there are no good people or evil people; only people. While this is still a fairly uncommon sentiment it does seem to be more prevalent among the Millennial Generation and that gives me hope.

As I approached the cab stand in front of the Millenium Hotel I became worried as there were no taxis waiting for me. Just then I noticed a cab driving towards me. I managed to get the drivers attention by slipping and falling into the street. I thought for sure that I had lost my chance as taxis don’t typically like picking up drunk people laying in the middle of the road.

But I was wrong. He did pick me up. He was actually very nice. Maybe there are good people.

On the ride home we discussed our kids. The cab driver like many cab drivers in Minneapolis was from Somalia. He has been separated from his kids for five years but now had saved up enough money to fly them to the United States. I’m always curious what it would take to get a man to leave his children and move to another country. In his case, it was for money. Even though Somalia has a wealth of natural resources, most of the money derived from it is not staying in Somalia. Much of it comes to the United States so here is where this man decided he needed to go.  He was pretty angry about this situation. He blamed George Bush Sr, the jews and white people in general for the problems in his country. I could understand why he was upset. Maybe there are evil people in the world. Maybe I am one of them.

Maybe my desire to believe that there are no evil people is because it’s a convenient belief for me to hold. I don’t want to be evil but would I know it if I was? Maybe I’m just too stupid to figure it out. I mean if I was stupid, would I know it? I make a lot of assumption. I hold a lot of beliefs. Do I believe these things because they are right… or only because they are right for me?

Are ideas really dangerous?

In a post I made last week I stated that “ideas are dangerous”. Even as I wrote it I had doubts about whether I actually believed it. It has been the number one question on my mind for the past week as I have been spending a lot of time reading, watching and listening to other people’s ideas. I love learning what other people think. I’m a huge fan of the Aspen Ideas Festival and TED Talks – Ideas worth spreading. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking them out.

What I have learned is that not all ideas are equal. Some are really good; some not so much. Some ideas are just downright stupid. Still, are any of them dangerous unto themselves? Robbing a bank is dangerous but so is shooting a manned rocket into space. Both of these dangerous acts began with an idea so perhaps it is fair to say that ideas are dangerous.  However, when I made that statement these were not the examples I was thinking about.

I wasn’t thinking about how an idea can lead to an action that is dangerous. I was actually thinking about how thinking can cause harm. I was thinking about how my ideas may conflict with other peoples ideas, or even my own ideas, and cause discomfort. Well, as unpleasant as discomfort may feel, it is not dangerous.  Experiencing discomfort can actually be very enlightening. In fact I’m hard pressed to find an example of how one can find enlightenment without discomfort or the more often used term; suffering.

Still, I did not start this blog to cause suffering, nor did I start it to find enlightenment. These are merely byproducts of documenting my journey.  As for enlightenment, while I have certainly found it, I see no evidence that it is a final destination. It is but merely a flower upon an endless path. The upside is that suffering is but a stone upon that path. Perhaps it’s the stone that you tripped on that caused you to notice the flower.

As for danger, all I can say is that life is dangerous. It’s probably a good idea to wear a helmet.

My therapy session

I arrived for my 2:30pm therapy session about 10 minutes late and discovered that my therapist had double booked and was already seeing someone. No big deal. This shit happened. It’s happened before. I’ve missed appointments before too. No one’s perfect. Anyway, if I had seen my therapist today it probably would have gone something like this:

My therapist would begin with his typical opening line, “So, how are you doing?”

“I feel like no one understands me, no one really gets who I am.”

To which he would reply, “How does that make you feel?”

“I feel sad. I feel lonely. It makes me feel completely alone in this world.”

“Do you really think that you are completely alone?”

“No, I don’t. I know I have people in my life. I know that I am not alone in feeling alone. In the broadest sense I feel connected to everyone on the planet. But what I want is for someone to really get me and I don’t feel like that will ever happen. I don’t think that it is possible. Not just because I’m not sure I even get me but because I don’t think that I am living in the same reality and anyone else. I don’t think anyone is living in the same reality as anyone else.”

Confused or intrigued, my therapist would ask, “What do you mean by that?”

“I think that they way we experience reality is an innerpersonal experience. That is to say that everyone experiences it differently. Of course I’ve had times where I feel like I am having a shared experience with another person but it’s probably a delusion.”

“You think that you are having delusions?”

“I think everyone is having delusions. I think that most of what we take for granted as being real is really just a shared delusion. Our entire economic system is a delusion. Our system of laws and government are a delusion. They only work to the extent that people believe they are real.”

“Do you mean delusion or illusion?”

“I don’t think it matters. I know that mental illness is real and that delusions are a symptom of mental illness but I’m not talking about that. I’m also not saying that delusions are the antithesis of reality. They are part of what makes up our reality. I’m just realizing that much of what we collectively call  reality is really just what we believe to be real and may not actually be a shared experience at all.”

At this point I’m sure that my therapist would have some pithy joke or ancient parable to share.

I would come back with, “I remember seeing this t-shirt that said, ‘reality is for people who can’t handle drugs’. I always thought it was funny because it was a play on the anti-drug campaign that stated that ‘drugs are for people who can’t handle reality’. I’m now understanding that concept in a completely different way. Many of the people I consider to have the best grip on reality are people who have done a lot of drugs. I’m mostly talking about hallucinogens but any drug can have this effect. Drugs, by definition are mind-altering chemicals. I think that we have to alter our mindset in order to see what is really real. I think that our brains are programmed to make sense of the world but the reality is that there is so much more going on than we can possibly understand. Our brains are programmed to see safety, consistency, connection and order even in places where they don’t actually exist.”

My therapist would probably have some words of caution about doing hallucinogens, “I’m not opposed to hallucinogenic drugs per se. There has been some interesting research into their ability to raise consciousness but they do pose some risks as well. You sometimes have a tendency go to extremes and if you are going to experiment with hallucinogens I would just want you to be careful.”

“Oh no. I’m pretty reluctant to take hallucinogenic drugs. I feel like I am about as conscious and aware as I can handle for the time being. What really gets under my skin though, is the attitude that people who drink or do drugs are escaping reality…as if that’s even possible. And it’s not just the hypocrisy that most people who espouse these attitudes drink alcohol or caffeine or are medicated or are addicted to money or power any number of things. It’s that they have deluded themselves into to believing that they have the foggiest idea what reality is. No one person really knows what is going on. Perhaps, collectively, as a people we have some idea but the hubris exhibited by people who think that they get it is beyond me. I’m not trying to understand it all. I’m just trying to do my part. I’ll let other people do the drugs and they can report back to me what they have learned.”

“So, how have things been going otherwise?”

“Oh, I’ve been busy, busy, busy. I went out to Chicago last weekend for a friend’s wedding. I saw a lot of other friends and had a great experience. I’m dealing with a conflict with my best friend. I tried to get together with her Wednesday and Thursday but I don’t think she’s ready to talk. I’m comfortable giving her all the time she needs. I have confidence that we will work through it. I took my son back to Morris on Friday. We moved him into his very first apartment. My daughter went to an LGBT prom on Friday night and had an amazing time. From 8pm Friday night until 8pm Sunday I did almost nothing but drive pedicab. I probably got 8 hours of sleep the whole time but I love it and I can do it which is amazing. I spend last night with a friend and her boyfriend out in the suburbs. We didn’t get to talk much last much last night but had a great conversation this morning.”

If there was still time on the clock he probably would have asked me about my relationships and sex life. That is something I want to write about but it will have to wait for another day.

Knowledge is power but belief is action

Yesterday was my first day as a pedicab driver. Tomorrow will be my second day. Today is hell.

Every muscle in my body aches. Even my brain feels fried. The important thing is I survived and I’m sure it will get easier. I like this kind of pain because it means I’m getting stronger.

I was telling my mom about the new job at Easter brunch today. She seemed surprised that I was trying to do it, you know, considering my age and all.

“You’re really going to see if you can do this?” she ask.

“I think I just proved that I can,” I replied.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the age of Star Wars and those immortal words of Yoda still haunt me, “Do or do not, there is no try.”

I never try to do anything. If I have doubts, I will surely fail. I only set out to do something when I believe with all my heart that I can do it. Secretly, I believe I can do anything.

Sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes I do something and I fail. I’m okay with that. I know that I can’t do everything. I know that I have limits. But in order to do anything I need to believe that I can. It is important to distinguish between knowledge and belief. They are not the same thing but they both have purpose. To put this in figurative terms, beliefs are thoughts we keep in our hearts, away from our brains where they can be killed by facts and logic.

I also know that I make mistakes but I believe in making mistakes. Making mistakes is how I grow and thankfully making mistakes never completely shaken my belief in myself. My second to last fare of the evening last night, I knew was probably a mistake.

It was almost bar close and I was heading down to the nightclub district to position myself for the hoards or drunken people that were about to spill out onto the sidewalk. Instead I found this woman stumbling down the sidewalk, all alone, talking on her cell-phone, and appearing to not have a clue as to where she was going.

I asked her if she needed a ride and she climbed into my pedicab. Then she handed me her cell phone and told me to talk to her friend. I’ll call him Michael. He lived about a block from my old apartment. It was maybe two miles away, which is a pretty long pedicab ride but not too far. It also meant going up the biggest hill that I had tried to conquer with a pedicab but I believed I could do it. This woman was in my care and I wanted to make sure that she got where she was going.

I quoted Michael twenty dollars. A taxi ride would have cost maybe ten but at bar close there was no way she was going to get a taxi. Who in their right mind would pick up someone who didn’t know where they were going and didn’t have any money? Clearly I was not in my right mind. I was following my heart, not my head. I was doing what I believe in.

I did make it up that hill, by the way. Sure, it nearly killed me and my passenger kept kicking me in the ass telling me to go faster. I told her, “Keep it up, it think it’s working!” Michael did pay me the twenty dollars we agreed on. He could have screwed me and there would have been nothing I could have done about it but I believe that most people aren’t out to screw me. I’m a pretty nice guy and we all know, nice guys don’t get screwed. I also made it to the 19 bar for bar close where I picked up another short fare. It was actually another guy who never screwed me although I think he would have if I had played my cards right. All in all, it was the best hour of my night.

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