Along one of our morning walks, our dog Hobbes and I pass an old house with two-story-high wooden columns. Recent walks have given me an opportunity to really “see” the house, and in a kinder way than I have before.
You see, during President George W. Bush’s wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, the owner of the house nailed a large sign on one of those columns, declaring, “Thanks Pres. Bush & Our Troops for Kicking Ass!” For me, its angry tone disturbed the relative peace of our neighborhood. I’d prefer to see a yellow ribbon or American flag as a sign of solidarity with our troops and our leaders. Instead I felt a little on edge whenever I passed by.
It reminded me of the power of words to be violent, harsh, and violating. The words I most regret are those I’ve spoken or written in careless anger. (I say “careless anger,” because I believe anger can be good if directed, managed, and channeled properly and constructively.) Studies show that even raising your voice can elicit shame in others.
At the polls last November, I endured the toxic sting of just that, a poll manager who yelled at me, when all I was doing was looking to see if I was in the right line. I had not spoken, I had not tried to get ahead of anyone, but her blast heard round my neighbors in the social hall of my own church shamed me as if I had. When I returned to my place, two women in line with me who witnessed what transpired said, “We think you need a hug!” And though strangers, each one hugged me. Even the sympathy of other poll workers did not alleviate my desire to vote and get out of there as quickly as possible. And it took me several days to shake the venom the woman had injected.
The incident made me think of those of us who grew up with hateful language directed at us because of who we happened to be, the venom injected into our bodies by words that violated our souls, a toxin many of us carry within us to this day. It is hard not to repay evil for evil, a word for a word. A gay activist friend discovered that when he began writing diatribes against his evangelical world; someone from the King Center for Non-Violent Social Change called this to his attention, and now he is a devotee of non-violence in speech and thought as well as action.
When Barack Obama became president, the sign on the house briefly disappeared, and I wondered if the reason was partisan. But soon it reappeared, amended to read, “Thanks, Pres. Obama & Our Troops for Kicking Ass!” At least the homeowner was bipartisan! But it made me feel no more pleasure walking past it.
Now that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq is winding down, the sign has recently been removed. The house seems kinder and gentler as we walk past. And the neighborhood feels a little more peaceful.
Rev. Glaser will serve as one of two presenters on a panel, “Spiritual Journeys of Gay Religious Leaders,” at Berry College in northwest Georgia (near Rome) Tuesday evening, January 29, 2013, 7:30-9:00 p.m. in McAllister Hall 119, the science auditorium.
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Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal reflection, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes.