The story that hit me above the rest was about a young soldier, Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq a few years ago - and how his family had to hold his funeral service midst a group of zealous protesters, waving signs and spouting their hatred. The picketers are from the well-known, well-loathed hate group, the independent Westboro Baptist Church, out of Kansas. They're known for their protests and demonstrations where they spew their anti-American, anti-gay, racist sentiments. This particular funeral is just one in a long line of funerals they've chosen to target.
The father, Albert Snyder, sued the church for invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress, and he initially won. But when the founder of Westboro, Fred Phelps, appealed the verdict, it was not only reversed (freedom of speech), but now Mr. Snyder is required to pay $16,000+ to the church. The court is forcing this man to pay the court costs for the very group who gathered at his son's funeral, essentially crying out in celebration of his son's death.
Hearing Mr. Snyder interviewed over the phone, you could hear in his voice how upset he was. He said that on the day of the funeral, he tried his best just to focus on his son and not the madness taking place outside. I can only imagine how difficult that would be for someone. Getting reactions to the incident, they asked a young woman her take, who said that she thought it was sad that people could have so much hate for people they didn't even know, and that it just makes you want to cry. And that was my reaction, too. It's not only sadness, but anger - and disbelief.
It makes me want to take Humanity by the hand some afternoon, sit us down on a porch swing and have a long, serious talk, maybe over lemonade or Sun tea. "All this hate and violence. We need to talk about this," I'd say."What has become of you? There are so many people suffering and you're all inflicting it on each other. What the hell do you think you're doing?" Frustrated, I might even grab their shoulders and shake them, repeatedly, to get my point across. Maybe even a jolting slap! And in my vision, we'd chat long in to the evening, finally settling down, getting to the heart of the issue. Humanity would confide in me all of their darkness and with the perfect words of wisdom, I'd help them to see the error of their ways. My stern, no-nonsense, tough-love approach, in addition to my stellar insights and parental air, would help them to see that there is indeed a better way, restoring them to a state of mental health and emotional equilibrium. Humanity would walk home under the moon, feeling encouraged and inspired to act from now on with a dignity and goodwill towards all. But it isn't meant to be.
In the world of maya, separation is the way of things. The ego's very nature consists of thoughts that cause it to believe itself to be a separate something - and that sense of separation, that sense of "me against them" will always, always result in the experience of fear and the consequential reactions to that fear. Do I think that human beings are capable of change? Absolutely. But I think that Grace plays a pivotal role in bringing the certain elements needed, together. It's the movement of Spirit that moves things about, I think - not our individual, egoic efforts.
Until we've awakened to who we really are, I don't think that there will ever be any lasting peace. The Osama bin Laden's and Fred Phelps's of the world will continue to be. Maya allows the One to experience division, duality, and impermanence - and part of that duality is the insanity and pain that we experience in the world. How will it play itself out? I have no idea. What I do know, is that right here and now on this planet, despite the madness of groups like Westboro and terrorism in all its forms, people are waking up to the fact that we are all much greater than we've believed ourselves to be in the past - and this awakening is a sacred, blessed occurrence. The Mind is waking up to its own illusory nature and God is knowing Itself as God.
When I looked at that screen and saw images of that young soldier being driven in a hearse to his final resting place with picketers all around, it made me sad. I could feel sensations of defensiveness and anger begin to rise in my body. I watched the clips of their leader-man and I thought, "You fucking ignorant old man, how dare you rob these parents of the right to bury their son in peace? How fucking dare you judge anyone, condemning anyone to hell? Who are you and your brainless flock to say that anyone is inherently wrong and deserving of pain? How goddamn insane are you people that you'd say and do these things, let alone think them?"...and then...Presence saw Itself. "Jeff" could see what "he" was doing. I saw that my mental attacks on these people were just another stream of thoughts, no different whatsoever than the stream of judgmental thoughts arising in the minds of all those church members. I saw that my judgments were no different. My capacity for hatred and fearful acts are just as thriving as anyone elses. It's how you approach it and choose to see it that defines your power.
Our thoughts shape our seemingly individual universes. When we perceive something, it's filtered through our beliefs. We make sense of things based on our perceptions. I'd even say that we are literally trapped in our perceptual worlds until we are able to question the beliefs that our worlds are made up of. We believe our thoughts so resolutely, that unless we seriously question our thoughts (which I believe to be a matter of Grace), we have no doubts that our perceptions are The Truth. And we live our lives, making our choices based on that truth. And everyone thinks that their truth is right. But peace can only be found when it is unequivocally understood that NO ONE is right: It's simply a matter of neutral, harmless thoughts arising in the thought-stream, either being believed or not, dwelt upon or not, attached to or not.
Knowing this, remembering this, I could not stay angry at those protesters for long. Presence brought a stop to my mental tirade. I saw that they were acting the way they were, because they believed that it was the right and logical thing to do, convinced that what they are doing makes sense - because of course to them, it does. They are no different than anyone else, in the sense that they are convinced they know how things are and how they should be. The rapists, terrorists, abusers, even people who cut in front of you in line at the grocery store; activists and philanthropists of every kind; parents and friends. All human beings, whether seen as good or evil, have their reasons for what they do. Who are we to call any of them wrong? Had we grown up with their unique conditioning, had we been taught what they'd been taught, and if we believed what they believed, we'd be doing the exact same things.
I've not had a child killed in a war and then have to deal with protesters denigrating and disrespecting their funeral. I've not had a bomb blow my legs off. I've never been raped or tortured. I've not had a family member go to work one morning and have a plane fly into their building. I don't pretend to understand fully the sufferings of this world. I've been blessed with fortune that most of the world can't even imagine. Most of my encounters with cruelty have been from the safety of my home, through the television screen. I am not making excuses for the hurtful, and even evil, actions that people take. I'm just pointing out that there is a reason for them. I'm just saying that when we are faced with these kinds of people, we can use these encounters as opportunities to live from that space, transcendent of maya. We can use these experiences of hatred as the ultimate demonstration of who we really know ourselves to be - Love. Perhaps that's what they are here for.
Can we honestly hate others when we know that they are just confused, blind to other, more loving ways of approaching life? Isn't this what Jesus meant when he said, "Forgive them father, for they know not what they do?" People get so swept away by maya, they don't remember our Oneness; they are lost in their human minds, believing their thoughts, living in their own nightmares, actually believing that something could possibly be wrong with their fellow human beings, something wrong with Reality itself. Can we fault them for that? Haven't we been there?
When a person is looking you in the eye, believing in their heart that you are wrong, when a person comes at you with unbridled hate, even seeking to cause you physical harm for their own ignorant (i.e. unawakened) reasons, can we, at our core, truly blame them for not knowing what they do not know? Isn't this the precise time to remind them who they really are? Isn't this when they most need to be reminded? Is this not the time to see them through the eyes of compassion - now more than ever? If not now, when? I don't suggest we allow ourselves to be attacked. I'm not saying that we should just do nothing. And I'm certainly not saying that we aren't entitled to, or justified in, our anger. But can't we act intelligently and peacefully without carrying hatred in our own hearts as some sort of (weak) retaliation? Can't we protect our natural and divine right to inner peace, and not hand it over so willingly to those who attempt to steal it? To accept others, to acknowledge the Light in others, even as they refuse to see the Light in you...
A website has been set up to help the Snyder family with all of their court costs. There is still a chance the Supreme Court will side with Albert Snyder after their appeals, and that $16,000 won't need be paid to WBC, but with all the court costs so far, it's been difficult for their family. ($50 to $60,000 so far, is what I believe Mr. Snyder said.) If you feel inspired to help out, the website is www.matthewsnyder.org.