June 24

More Places Where I Don’t Fit In

As is the usual course when tragedies happen in the US the recent tragedy in Orlando has led to a lot of people waving the bloody shirt, vitriol, claims made of person X not caring because they believe thing A, and so on. I don’t really fit in anywhere in the debates so I’ve largely refrained as I am weary of the asinine responses from both sides. I posted a single thing on the topic and commented on two threads. However the more I think about this the more I want to evaluate my position on some things. This will likely be a rambling piece but I’ll try to keep things in some semblance of order.

First and foremost I’d like to address the assholes out there, claiming to be Christians, that are praising the attack in Orlando. What they are doing isn’t the least bit Christian. It’s as far from it as I think anyone can get short of actually committing this sort of atrocity themselves. Even if you believe that homosexuality is a sin, and there’s plenty of room for debate on that, then it’s just a sin and no worse than your divorce and remarriage, that little white lie you told your boss about why you weren’t coming in, or anything else that’s covered as “sin” in scripture. Christ was pretty specific about worrying about the beam in your own eye and only throwing the first stone if you are without sin. So these so called Christians, these ministers that are taking the pulpit to spew hate, they are not Christians, they do not represent the love of Christ. Hell, even if they consider the LGBT community to be an enemy, Christ was clear on that as well. There is absolutely no justification for the hate being spewed towards the LGBT community in the wake of this tragedy or any other time for that matter. I’ll gladly debate the sinfulness of homosexuality with anyone who wants to go down that path, as I am nowhere near convinced but rather quite the opposite, but even if you believe it’s sinful then that sin is between someone else and God and it’s none of your damn business. I abhor the ugliness that comes out after things like this happen and these so called Christians, and even worse the pastors, have made me so angry that I have to watch myself. Christ didn’t tell us to do anything but love, you arrogant idiots, so why don’t we get on with that and stop worrying about what other people may or may not be doing. You ain’t gonna answer for them, only for yourself.

What’s difficult about this position for me, well not really difficult but awkward, is that I am a Christian and some of my friends are fairly right wing. Now these two two groups aren’t a single circle on a Venn diagram but my right wing friends do mostly claim to be Christian, however I have a lot of left wing friends that are Christians as well. I don’t identify as right or left because things are much more complex than that so I rarely fit in to either crowd in a comfortable manner. My stance on these pastors likely isn’t controversial for any group of people I associate with. In fact, if you think that a pastor or any other Christian who is praising the Orlando tragedy is right then please let me know so I can no longer associate with you. Where it gets uncomfortable is that I always come down on the side of love and that’s not always the case with my right wing friends. It also gets uncomfortable for me with the left wing crowd because this is a free speech issue. These so called Christians and pastors have a right to say what they’re saying, as sick as it is. The answer to this hate, and make no mistake it is absolutely hate, is more words. The answer isn’t hate speech laws or any other restrictions on speech. Speak out, speak louder, speak often, and these things can be changed. These people with hardened hearts can be marginalized and eventually forgotten. Don’t post their videos, don’t name names, don’t give them the attention they crave. Speak about how wrong their ideas are, speak about love, write dissertations on how their actions are indeed hateful and the antithesis of what Christ taught, but don’t give them clicks to their websites, name recognition, or anything else. Take all of their notoriety from them, leave them shouting to an empty room and fill that void with love and words spoken in love. One of my biggest failings is that I have a hard time loving these people, but I try to do so, I try to see how that if they had their hearts filled with love their vigor could do so much good. Curmudgeon that I am, I have doubts as to whether or not it’s possible, but I gotta have hope.

Islam is another area where this all gets shitty really quickly. Something has to be blamed and for the right wing it’s Islam. The same people spewing the hateful rhetoric must have been on the verge of having their brains explode through the sheer force of cognitive dissonance. Islam is usually the right’s biggest enemy. It’s the boogeyman they use to scare the public and keep themselves in power. Now one of their other enemies, the one that will destroy marriage as we know it, the goblin the bathroom that wants to touch your kids in an inappropriate manner, those sickos who shouldn’t even hold hands in public, gets attacked by their biggest monster. This is a picture perfect case of the enemy of my enemy, well except they’re both still enemies. Out of one side its mouth the right is using this tragedy to prove that Islam is a threat and out of the other side gloating about the perverts that we no longer have to deal with. If this were anything else, any other situation, I would derive a lot of amusement watching the right try and work out who to hate more and how to couch their praise so they don’t legitimize someone who did what they actually want because he worships the wrong God and is probably too brown for any of them to have enjoyed having a cocktail with.

The right often asks “Why aren’t Muslims speaking out against this?” The fact is that they are, constantly, and en masse. The right either simply doesn’t see it or doesn’t care that it’s happening. Those in power know that most people live in a tiny echo chamber and don’t see what’s actually happening in the world. They can say that “Muslims never speak out about these things” and people believe it wholeheartedly. They follow that up with “And that’s because they all really believe these things, regardless of what they say” and the people in their echo chamber believe that. It’s a gross cycle that simply leads to hatred and fear. Otherwise caring people think we should turn away refugees, otherwise decent people are scared of their neighbor, otherwise decent people cling to the mistaken belief that we were founded as a Christian nation and that freedom of religion only applies to Christians, otherwise decent people protest the building of mosques in their community and all of this is caused by fear and ignorance, which the right stokes every chance it gets. In this case, considering everything that has been reported about the case, we have someone who was probably a closeted homosexual, which is an issue (the closeted part is the issue) in a religion whose extremists would outright kill him beholden to a father who would never accept a gay son who also likely had mental issues and had failed utterly at his desired career. This man lashed out at the most obvious target, the LGBT community, and that is probably due to being heavily pressured by online extremists, because if he did that maybe he could be a hero and not some gay freak that they’d want to kill. We don’t have the absolutely normal guy sitting in the cubical next to you who goes home to his wife and kids every night and simply worships differently than you on the weekends and probably doesn’t eat pork. The man, and no I won’t say his name, who committed the evil acts in Orlando doesn’t come anywhere close to representing Islam as a whole, in fact he represents than one percent of Islam and anyone who tells you any different is frankly lying. The fear is understandable when your echo chamber says nothing else, it’s entirely forgivable to want your family and everyone else to be safe, in fact that’ human nature. The fault lies with those in control of the echo chambers, the people who are in the echo chamber are working long hours, trying to feed their families, driving their kids to soccer practice, and generally not even getting enough sleep. At some point they chose to trust a set of sources for their information, in almost all cases those sources are horrible whether they are sources from the right or the left.

It’s hard to feel like you fit in anywhere when the media wants you to be afraid but you know their boogeymen are made up. It’s hard to watch the utter terror in your friends because they believe what they’ve told over and over again. It’s not easy to try and be a voice of reason in the sea of hate. When you add that to the first point it becomes hard to see how I’d fit in with anyone remotely right wing, but the truth is that I do, at least some of the time and my next point will illustrate that.

If Islam is the right’s boogeyman then guns are the left’s. That’s easy to see right now with both sides waving bloody shirts and trying to advance their agendas. The left is charting their usual course and trying to blame the tool that was used. They throw around meaningless terms like “assault weapon” and if you read FB then you’ll find a very surprising number of people who think an AR-15 is at least selective fire if not just pure full-auto. The ignorance is akin to the right’s ignorance when it comes to Islam. Most of the people out there follow the lead of their echo chamber and firmly believe that banning guns based on cosmetics, magazines based on capacity, or taking away rights without due process would change things like this. I truly believe the people here, not the government officials, are acting in good faith and not out of malice. They really want to stop all of the mass shootings and they see what appears to be a common sense solution and as such it’s quickly embraced. This notion is touted by those in control of the sources relied on to inform people. Everyone touting prohibition of any sort is forgetting US history. From prohibiting alcohol all the way to modern war on drugs we utterly fail to actually prohibit anything in a manner that could actually cause change. Gun crime isn’t a linear graph that correlates to gun ownership, it’s much more complex than that. I don’t believe that the US has a gun problem and in fact I think that looking at it like is dangerously myopic. I think we have a very deep rooted set of problems that lead to the situation that we’re in and that attempts to prohibit guns will only lead to a change in the tools used to commit evil acts. Make no mistake, it’s not hard to learn how to make improvised devices that will kill just as many, if not more, people than a gun. As long as we allow the set of problems, that are causing this situation, to exist and fester then no prohibition will fix things. We will simply change the column in which we write the number of people killed. Much like it’s understandable that right has a mortal fear of anything smacking of Islam the desire for a prohibition on certain weapons is understandable as well. Both come from an honest place in the hearts of those who believe them. I also think both are based in ignorance and don’t help anything at all.

It’s easy to see why I don’t jive with my left wing friends on that issue. In fact people have completely misunderstood me, very recently even, and think that I am clinging to my guns. While I’ve owned many over the years I currently don’t own a single firearm. This might change, it might now. I’m pretty ambivalent when it comes to my personal ownership of firearms. However I did agree with SCOTUS that the 2nd Amendment is a personal right. Now my right wing friends are probably pretty happy with this so far, except the ones who think I should be stockpiling weapons and ammo, but here’s where I part ways with them. Every single one of our rights that’s listed in the Bill of Rights is subject to reasonable restrictions. I see a lot of people comparing gun ownership to car ownership and that’s simply a horrible analogy. The personal right to keep and bear arms is just that, a personal right, whereas owning and driving a car is not a right. The two simply cannot be compared as they aren’t the same thing. However, if a police officer hears someone call out in pain the 4th amendment can be ignored, they can kick in a door and arrest someone that is assaulting someone else without ever being asked, merely on hearing a cry of pain. They can also use any evidence that is in plain sight once they’ve kicked in the door in this situation. You cannot stand up in front of a crowd and tell the crowd to grab whatever they can, march down the street, set fire to a building, and beat the occupants on their way out. You cannot offer a completely willing human sacrifice to any deity. You cannot print certain things in the news. Those simple examples of exceptions to the 1st and 4th amendments show that restrictions on our rights aren’t always unconstitutional. So I am, by no means, an absolutist when it comes to the 2nd amendment. I do believe that it is a personal right and currently SCOTUS agree with my stance but, as with any other amendment, restrictions aren’t automatically a violation of that right, or in different terms an acceptable violation, depending on your view. Now I won’t get in to what reasonable restrictions might be in this post, it’s already going to be quite long enough, and I haven’t even thought it all out yet. I just realize that in reality there are exceptions to pretty much everything laid out in the Bill of Rights and the 2nd Amendment is, and can be, no different.

And then there’s an issue where some of my left and right friends seem to agree that I part ways from both of them. The whole suspension of rights if someone is on a terrorist watch list. the no fly list, or any other list. I don’t care if it’s gun ownership for the purposes of this point, it actually doesn’t matter at all, what matters is the removal of any right without due process. One could stem the flow of recruitment by Daesh by censoring the internet, one could limit the ability to connect with jihadists by cutting off internet access to those on the terrorist watch list, we could implement random searches of the homes of anyone on these lists and possibly catch people before they acted, we could allow the police to kick in doors based only on 911 calls that accused someone of acting suspicious. All of those things have the possibility of lowering risk for the American people and all of them are equally sickening. It is just as sickening to remove someone’s 2nd Amendment rights for the same reason. If you don’t agree with 2nd Amendment then campaign to have it changed but as long as it’s in place then championing a removal of rights without due process makes you a champion for tyranny. If you want change the 2nd or even remove it, then that’s the debate. But it’s a personal right, whether you agree with SCOTUS or not, just like the LGBT community has the right to same sex marriage whether the right wing likes it or now. Both were decided by SCOTUS and both are the law of the land. Do not advocate for tyranny in the guise of safety and expect my support.

So my position on guns and even their use in these evil acts puts me at odds with pretty much anyone who has a black and white view on the issue, which is most people and it’s why I don’t talk about it much or get involved in debates about it. Add that to the other issues and I end up feeling pretty much alone when these things happen. Now, don’t get wrong, there are a lot of my friends who don’t want to turn things in to a political debate and do join me in mourning those lost to evil acts but they are vastly outnumber by those on both sides who are willing to wave the bloody flag in order to promote their political agendas. I have tried, and think I’ve succeeded, to not try and promote an agenda here. The fact is that I have seen so much promotion of all of these things in the past few days that it feels like the dead don’t matter as long as someone’s agenda can be served. Some of that comes from an honest place and some does not. What I think we should be doing is mourning the dead and seeking peace. We should be trying to find a way to love each other, all of the each others, and trying to find common ground on which we can build the foundation of community. I cannot stomach the sheep amount of flying the bloody flag that I’ve seem and will likely continue to see. Below are the names of the victims in this last evil act, I will continue to mourn their deaths and their injuries. I hope that I succeed in not promoting an agenda when discussing this tragedy. I am human, just like all of these victims.

orlando-victims-names-videoSixteenByNine1050

June 10

The Building of Walls and Why Pride Sucks

Maurice ChiltonIt’s been a long time since I’ve banged on a keyboard and put bytes in the ether in this space. I honestly didn’t know if I ever really planned to after the site got hacked. I have all of the old posts in an archive so I haven’t lost anything but the instant gratification of FB and Twitter seem to have replaced long form blogging. The problem with that is that you don’t really have an archive and the snippets are hard to sort through, hard to get an actual backup of, and usually fairly short form. Twitter is character limited and long form FB posts tend to just get scrolled past. In light of that I decided to write about this here, where I’d have a long term record, the space to ramble, and have everything under my control.

This post was inspired by my Grandfather passing just over a week ago. I did a lot, and I mean a lot, of thinking when he passed. A lot more than I did when my father died in January. The first road I went down was why I was more affected by Grandpa passing than by my dad and I realized that in some that wasn’t true even if it felt like it at the time and in other ways it was because my dad and I were good, we talked (less than I would have liked, but we talked), and I knew where I stood with him and he knew where he stood with me. I had seen my dad shortly before his passing, had spoken to him even more recently, and the kids had all got to put their arms around his neck and hear him say that he loved them. That simply wasn’t the case with my grandfather and that was by my own doing. It all boils down to the fact that I had a good relationship with my dad. Sure I have regrets but that’s a completely normal thing when someone passes, you could have always called one more time, said one more thing, hugged them more, or any other little thing. That’s how grief works.

The walls that I built with bricks made of nothing but pride started when I was a teenager spending summers in Arkansas. While idyllic and beautiful all of my memories aren’t good. The first brick was an instance of the telephone game. My granddad had let me drive the tractor back to the little barn after digging rocks all day and I was quite proud of that. I was over at a friend’s house for dinner, maybe spending the night, and I was talking about my day. Now my granddad would have a beer or two over the course of the day while we were out working. Let me be clear, he drank beer but I never once saw the man drunk. I mentioned what we had done and probably out of jealousy that he’d had some beer, and that I got to drive the tractor back home. This got back to him as me saying he got drunk and I had to drive the tractor back because he couldn’t. That wasn’t what I said, not by any stretch, but that’s what the neighbors thought and that’s what got back to him. He wasn’t pleased, and rightfully so, but in the end he chose to believe them and not me. Even if I was youthfully exuberant and embellished the story, which I don’t remember doing, I felt his reaction was overwrought. Now as an adult I can see why that would upset him, as it did, and today it doesn’t seem unreasonable at all. However he did choose to not believe that I hadn’t said exactly what we relayed back to him. On my side, I held on to that slight and am only dealing with it now. I honestly, in probably damn near twenty-five years, didn’t let that petty shit go. I help on to that pride, and laid the foundation that would create the wall that was still in place when he passed.

The next layer was a slight against my dad. I don’t know why, or that my dad had done to upset him, but Grandpa wasn’t happy with my father and I was in Arkansas staying with him. I don’t remember if he said it to me or I overheard it but he clearly stated that my mom could have done better than my dad. Like I said, I don’t know the circumstances that brought on the statement, and like the incident prior, I can understand popping off in anger and not meaning what was said. I never pursued anything on the topic, I didn’t defend my dad (or at least don’t remember doing so) and I let that little slight fester. I don’t know if that’s what he really thought or if it was just a statement made in frustrated anger. And I never will. I added that the foundation that I had laid and just added to the wall I was already building. I simply couldn’t let go.

Those two alone were enough to create a rift such that when I stopped being a kid and stopped going up for the summers I pretty much didn’t write or call. I wasn’t actively not speaking to him but I certainly wasn’t reaching out. I doubt he even knew why I wasn’t, I doubt he even knew I harbored resentment about those two things that seem so small today.

The rest of the wall was all me and had really nothing to do with him. As an adult, before I got my shit together, I borrowed some money from him. Like all of my borrowing back then I fully intended to pay him back. I never intended to be a complete flake but the reality is that I was. I didn’t give a time frame but I guess a three or four years make things pretty obvious and he was rightfully upset with me about it. When my grandmother passed 14 years ago I tried to mend fences and told him, in person, that I had changed and wanted to right that wrong. He told me that when they loaned me the money he knew I wasn’t going to pay it back and he told grandma that they’d consider it a gift before he even sent it and that he didn’t want the money. I accepted this and was glad to know that we had talked and that we were alright. Some part of me wanted the wall I was building torn down.

Unfortunately I heard through the grapevine that he later said I had taken advantage of him in his grief and was upset about it. I never even remotely thought that was the case and certainly was never my intention. However this didn’t make sad and want to fix the problem, this made me angry and my pride wouldn’t let me change things. When you say thing you mean a thing, goddammit! This was not the last brick but some of them I took offense for others and those aren’t my stories to tell. This was the brick that changed things from simply not seeking engagement to avoidance. There were other perceived slights along the way, but in the end these are the major incidents that I can chalk up to my pride being my worst enemy and that are my stories to tell.

To put things simply, I was wrong to not let go of things, I was wrong to take offense for others, and I was wrong to not be in contact with the man. I had mostly come to this realization before he passed as I tend to self evaluate and this had come to mind, but I hadn’t found that right moment, that perfect circumstance, to make things right. I didn’t want anything to seem contrived or forced, I wanted to make a gesture. That was pride as well and it was wrong. In the end my pride cost me years of being in contact with a pretty amazing grandfather. I watched all the birthday cards he sent my kids, I watched them open the Christmas presents he bought, I made them write thank you notes for them, I thought about the ones that never met them and how they should, and I didn’t pick up the phone and say “I’m sorry, I’ve been a jerk, I’d like you to be in my life”. It doesn’t matter whether he was ever right or wrong in any of the things I was so all-fired upset about, what matters is that I held on to that resentment and stoked those fires. I let pride rob me of this relationship and in the end my pride kept him from ever hearing me say that I was sorry.

It’ll never be the right moment to apologize, it shouldn’t be a gesture, and pride will rob you of things that you want. The lesson I’ve learned here, and am still learning is that there’s no time like the present, there’s no guarantee of tomorrow, and if you need to say that you’re sorry then pick up the phone, make the drive, write the letter, or however you want to do it but don’t wait, you might not get the chance.

Grandpa, you’ll never read this, but I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I said anything that could have been construed as you being drunk that day. I’m sorry I let a comment about my dad, obviously made in anger, fester for all of these years. I’m sorry I never reached out and payed back that loan. I’m sorry I was a prideful jerk that built a wall and excluded you.

I’m sorry.

Mark L. Potter

I Left My Heart on Cove Creek Road
I Left My Heart on Cove Creek Road