Earlier this week, I got in a heated debate with someone who was throwing around some rather disgusting racial slurs and spewing hateful comments about an entire group of people based on their religion.
That kind of crap always gets me fired up pretty quickly.
I’ll be the first to admit it…I have a pretty low tolerance for ignorance and blind hatred. I just can’t understand why someone would choose to condemn an entire group of people based on something like their religious beliefs, or their skin color, or where they were raised. To me, that’s like saying you hate anyone who chews watermelon gum. Just because you don’t have a taste for it, doesn’t mean that everyone has to hate it.
One of the things that I loved most about the time I spent in New York was the fact that I was fortunate to meet and spend time with people from different faiths, different backgrounds, and all different walks of life. I have friends who are Jewish, Christian, Agnostic, Atheist, Muslim, and just about every religion under the sun. I have friends spread out across the United States, South America, Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
And you want to know something interesting?
None of us are so very different after all.
Strip it all away, take away all the gods and the rituals and the differences in beliefs and languages and cultures, and we are all still human underneath. Unfortunately, these days, too many people have lost sight of that tie that binds us. I may not may not be a poster child for one particular tradition or set of rituals (though I was raised Lutheran), but there is one thing that I refuse to let go, and that is believing that all humans are connected by a higher power. Call it what you want–God, the Almighty, Allah, Yahweh, the Creator, the Universe–it is the reason we are even here and blessed with life in the first place. If I can spent my time here on earth loving and caring about my fellow human beings and doing what I can to make the world a better place, then I have done my job and I can be proud of the life I have led. Life is too short to spend it being miserable and hating people, and I am not going to waste my time doing that.
Unfortunately, some people use religion as a mask to hide behind to do some really horrible things to each other, and that goes for people belonging to all religions throughout history. Today, my family and I came face to face with such a group.
If you’ve watched the news or read a newspaper in the past 10 years, you’ve probably heard about the Westboro Baptist Church. The church is located in Kansas and is headed by a man named Fred Phelps. The small congretation consists mostly of Phelps’ family members and is known for its hatred of homosexuals and for its protests and picketing everything from school plays to military funerals. I am choosing not to provide a link to anything related to this group here on my blog, because I believe they are hateful human beings who thrive on attention, but if you’re curious to know more about them, just do a Google search.
Yesterday, my friend Nikki put out a call to all of her friends and family for support. Apparently, the Westboro Baptist Church decided top picket the funeral of Sgt. Patrick Hamburger, one of the 30 American soldiers killed in the helicopter crash in Afghanistan on August 6. My nerves still frazzled from my recent argument, I wanted desperately to do something to help. So, early this morning, Steven, Cadence and I headed to the church where Sgt. Hamburger’s family would be saying their final goodbyes.
I don’t think any of us could have imagined what we would experience there today.
By the time we arrived, just before 8:30 a.m., one section of the parking lot was already filled with people and motorcycles, and as Steven, Cadence and I walked up to the group, everyone was being handed an American flag. If you are not familiar with the Patriot Guard Riders click HERE, or the Combat Veterans Association click HERE to visit their webpages. I will gladly link you to this organizations so you can see for yourself some of the amazing work that they do. Hundreds of us–Combat Vets, Patriot Riders and local men, women and children–lined the streets and the entrance to the church, holding our flags and creating a buffer between Sgt. Hamburgers friends and family and the members of the Westboro Baptist Church who came to protest.
As luck would have it, the church owned a large chunk of property that led more than a football field’s length to a busy intersection, and the permit obtained by the WBC members stipulated they keep themselves another 600 feet from the property line, so we never even got to see them, hear them yell or read any of their dispicable picket signs. Rumor has it that at least one member may have gotten arrested after crossing the property line, but I have not been able to confirm it. Oh, how sweet that would be!
For nearly two hours we stood with our flags as the grieving family and friends arrived for the service. I was so proud of my little Cadence who spent her time playing in the grass and alternating between looking at books and digging in the dirt at my feet. Several Combat Vets and Patriot Riders walked up and down the lines offering cold bottles of water from coolers and asking if anyone needed a break. Each of them paused to give Cadence a high five and to thank Steven and I for coming, saying how wonderful it was to see all the little ones helping out too.
After the service had begun and the Westboro Baptist Church’s permit expired causing them to vacate the premises, everyone carefully rolled up their flags and returned them to the trailer, before heading over to the cemetery to regroup and greet Sgt. Hamburger’s family and friends once again with one final patriotic salute to the fallen solider. Unfortunately, Steven and I had one very tired little girl on our hands, so we had to head back home instead of following the group to the cemetery, but we are thankful that we did get to spend at least part of our day with such an amazing group of people.
These days, it is rather easy to become a cynic. With the endless barrage of negativity being shoved down our throats by the mass media, it’s a wonder there is any goodness left in the world at all. And yet, there is a whole lot more goodness that most people realize. We saw it today, up close and personal. So believe me when I tell you that there is an abundance of goodness out there, and also kindness and compassion and love and beauty and, perhaps most importantly, there is hope.
Tonight’s 365 Project entry is dedicated to Sgt. Patrick Hamburger and to all of our brave military members, both past and present, for their honor and dedicated service to our country, and to all of the Patriot Riders, Combat Vets and proud American citizens that took a stand against hatred today. Keep standing. Keep standing. Keep standing.