Westboro Hate Group Targets Maya Angelou’s Funeral; Followers Deface Her Photos
Westboro — the Fred Phelps’ small family group– is listed as a hate group with Southern Poverty Law Center, a premiere organization in the USA which keeps track of hate groups, such as the Klan and others which espouse hatred of others by simple virtue of another person’s race, nationality, gender, disability, ethnicity, and all other ways of being a human that are protected under the federal Civil Rights Act and the American Disabilities Act.
Westboro’s head guy, Fred Phelps died last year, and here at TMV, the response was moderate and low key. Fred had in his last year of life been mysteriously ousted/excommunicated from Westboro, he who had led the group in desecrating the funeral services of fallen soldiers nationwide, he who came to desecrate the memorial for the Columbine High School children and teacher who had been murdered, he who forced himself and his small family followers into the limelight as Mathew Shepard was laid to rest after being murdered by two men who beat Mathew [he of such sleight height and weight]– and tied him to a fence on a lonely road in Wyoming and left him to die. Fred Phelps, claimed his group a church, but the Southern Baptist convention say they in no way endorse the Phelp’s family group.
I was at the Columbine Memorial, a gathering of ten thousand, held in a huge parking lot of a shopping center just a few days after the horrible massacre. On the dais was a bishop, a rabbi, an immam, a preacher, a Christian singer, a local band, people who spoke with such grief and otherworldliness. And suddenly. Fred Phelps and his gaggle of people holding hate signs, ‘God Hates Columbine.’.. walked up right behind my friend and me. They were jostling and pushing to try to get in a better position so the many cameras from every cable company, every network, every foreign news source, would photograph Westboro and their huge hate placards.
We were on a slight rill and the cameramen and camerawomen, slightly downhill. My friend and I just looked wordlessly at each other, and would not cede the ground. Instead, we both lifted wide our full skirts on our long dresses, and held them out so that Westboro for the time being, was occluded, as were their signs. It was a good action on a very bad day.
Which brings me to asking myself, what is the right action re the defacing of Maya’s photos by various… I’d just say this, being a friend of Maya’s for more than two decades, sitting on her Minority Equity Foundation board at Wake Forest Medical School with Coretta and other giants of our times… Maya was a member of her church for many decades, and there is no question, she is a woman of such talent, as well as Faith. No question she would want a response of SPEAKING OUT and of balance.
So. I’ve an assignment I find [and if you should choose to join in, I am made happy in my heart.] As I note and know you do too, that even as X dies, Z rises to replace… whether good or evil. This is so, has been so, and I sense that reacting to meet rage with rage, is not the call in this case. But never underestimate people who lean into kindness, for they are more strong than the rageful.
Thus, I find this in myself and others whom I know well… When there is sarcasm in us, it is our idealism that is wounded. And we take on sarcasm as a defense. Where there is cynicism, there our highest ethic has been wounded. The response sometimes nowadays, is called ‘snark.’
I can see, continuing to grow over the years, and I suggest this as remedy of strenth:as we find ourselves in ‘I give up-ness’ or in ‘figures for such as those,’ or in ‘man the torpedos’, or in ‘waddayaexpect’… I think these are signals– to act in opposition — to act in goodness to balance/help the goodnesses come that are needed, and the goodness that exists in our time… and within our reach.
In my tradition as a cradle Catolica, we ‘offer up’ our sufferings as a sacrifice we make– this is no small thing, no lip service. It is painful sometimes and often to show that we are rooted in Source without source, that we are dedicated, that we will not waver. It is painful sometimes to say, ‘we shall bear this pain,’ for the sake of laying down even more goodness, ever more love and tenderness and strength and evolution of decency into the world– not despite this insensible vitriol from some, but because of it.
It is not easy to do. Most of us are still striving to learn and to enact. Meaning, the assault to humane decency is the signal to us and a demand on us… to undertake acts of balance, to add as much clear water to the inky spill, to keep adding clarity and decency, to strive hard to help in some way those who feel frail because they are surrounded by a dark, to aereate one might say, so that more might live in health of spirit, mind, heart, soul, and body– which is ever going to be love, acceptance and strength in goodness rather than in rages, denigrations of others’ souls.
In that regard, in the spirit of my Maya, but/and as much for those still trapped behind walls of hatred, especially in malevolent groups that claim the rest of the world ought be flogged and crucified because the hate-filled deem so– I hope you will find the ‘still small voice’ that calls to something new, or more, or different that is steeped in love and fierce /gentle action.
I feel one of my new assignments since Maya’s gigantic, for many of us, wake of her passing… and precisely since I saw the defacement of her photos and that Westboro is involved– for me, I know Maya would never espouse violent response… but I think I can now see a faint pathway, that I think will become more clear, so that I can turn now to give support to those I know who have left abusive ‘churches’, encouraging those still trapped, to free themselves, and I feel called to write a book to help to effect that.
The book will be, I think, on how decency and love of creation, creatures and animals, is inborn in love– no matter what one believes, no matter what words one uses to describe the root of their best ideals. That any group that preaches hatred and degradation and condemnation of the souls of others, is not a ‘church’. That love and devotion are in the heart… the little red church/ little red treehouse/ little red temple/ little red tent of such feeling and devotion, such protection of the soul, that everyone carries with them everywhere.
I know many good persons believe x and some others find y to be true. I dont differentiate about that, only about kindness, devotion, protection of the vulnerable, with an occasional giving conscienceless politicians ‘what for.’
On a practical note: Donations to Southern Poverty Law Center is but one immediate option we might take, as they legally help to impede hate groups– and take the very real risks of doing so, often too. There are many others at work to balance our world into one that is better fit to live in, even if for a time before it has to be fought for/balanced again and again.
I hope whatever you might do to balance this poor old world, fits for you, as you see fit, in your own ways. To each her own. To each his own. If possible, let it be beautiful.
And this blessing way for us all, I offer to you…
Happily may their roads back home be on the trail of pollen.
Happily may they all get back.
In beauty I walk.
With beauty before me, I walk.
With beauty behind me, I walk.
With beauty below me, I walk.
With beauty above me, I walk.
With beauty all around me, I walk.
It is finished in beauty,
It is finished in beauty,
It is finished in beauty,
It is finished in beauty.
‘Sa’ah naaghéi, Bik’eh hózhó
—from a Navajo Ceremony (Four Masterworks of American Indian Literature, ed. by John Bierhorst, 1974)