Proponents of open carry often joke, “A liberal is simply a conservative who hasn’t been mugged yet.” I disagree.
I work in downtown Houston. One morning, I was walking to a client’s office, using Clay Street. Clay is a one-way street that starts at West Dallas and runs to the Toyota Center. If you’re walking northwest against traffic starting at Root Park across from the Toyota Center, you will pass Athens Hotel Suites, AT&T, South Texas College of Law, Crème de la Crème Childcare Center and First Methodist Houston.
Don’t Feed the Homeless
First Methodist Houston has a great Thursday noon-Bible Study taught by Allen Houk. He provides both theological and historical context and brings the Bible to life as a modern-day guide to live by – something that is sorely lacking in most of what professes to be Christianity today. The church is also a gathering place for some of Houston’s forgotten people – its Downtown homeless.
There is a lady with the big red suitcases who talks to herself in a loud voice; a couple who sits on the stairs nodding to passersby; a group of men who line up along the Main Street Rail line at what I assumed was a Soup Kitchen door. That is until I found out said Mayor and City Council enacted a City of Houston Ordinance a few years ago to make it illegal to feed the Homeless, punishable by a fine of $2,000.
A lawyer friend of mine tells me the ordinance passed as an “Emergency” during Holy Week, and gave no opportunity for public comment. Her take on it was that this was at the behest of a few Downtown Luxury Developers – because Homeless tend to discourage yuppies from plopping down $1,600 a month on a 500-square foot Studio Apartment – no matter how inviting the rooftop saltwater pool with outdoor fireplace, lounge and built-in gas grills might be.
Or You Might Get Mugged
But back to my walk. I know a post is due to publish that morning and it has not. So rather than paying attention to my surroundings I am looking at my phone, texting Joe to get the post live. As I cross Clay at Fannin and start past GreenStreet parking garage I hear voices to my right. Then a voice behind me is leering, if voices could leer: “Mmmmm hmmm. Let’s see what she got…”
I look to my right in the reflection of the Pitney Bowes window and see a guy approaching quickly behind me. I hear more voices shouting, “Ma’am! Ma’am! Watch out.” I feel a tug on my back pack. And I react.
Another voice comes out of me that I do not recognize – and it is not very lady-like. “Get the fuck away from me,” I snarl, swinging my body left and my backpack right. The guy, bare from the waist up and beltless, with a red t-shirt hanging from his back pocket pulling his shorts down and exposing his blue plaid boxers, recoils from me, and with look of horror, runs away.
Later, a friend asks if I filed a police report. After all the Houston Police Department was just two blocks from the would-be mugging. The funny thing is, I had not even thought about that – because I did not see myself as a “victim.”
Don’t Be a Victim
The problem with the word “victim” is too many people use it to throw themselves a Pity Party. I abhor that. I grew up with that. I was raised by that. I still have a relative who lives off gullible women by playing on that. No thanks.
We all have that friend who is eternally the victim. The woman to whom everything happens. People say “mean” things to her on the internet. Her boyfriend breaks up with her. Someone calls her “fat.” Or someone refuses to give in to her petulant demands.
Then there is the guy whose girl cheats on him. And it is 100 percent her fault. You know this because he tells you so. You and everyone else. Every day for six months. To the point where you have expended almost all empathy: you want to take him aside and say to him, “For the love of God, it is way past the point where we feel sorry for you, and just want you to move the hell on!”
I say “all empathy” because I believe I was either born sympathy-impaired, or the years of having it demanded from me by the weaker members of my family used up my allotted quota.
Of the War on Christmas
Then there are the folks claiming they are victims of the “War on Christmas” which is primarily an extrapolation of their perceived “War on Religion.” They posit that somehow a person, place or thing that offers “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is a personal affront to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That a Starbucks cup devoid of Santa or Snowman — secular icons they may be — is in direct conflict with the Freedom of Religion so firmly ensconced in The Constitution of the United States of America.
While Fox Noise and the Religious Right were taking to twitter and Facebook and the Almighty Airwaves about Cupgate, an actual attack on freedom was underway in Paris. In multiple, highly-orchestrated attacks by suicide bombers and gun-wielding terrorists on restaurants, outside a sporting event, and in a concert hall where the American rock band Eagles of Death Metal had just launched into a song called “Kiss the Devil,” the every day people celebrating life had it swiftly taken from them. The group claiming responsibility sees itself as the victim in another War on Religion.
Pray for Paris
Social media response was swift and predictable. The Almighty hashtag to the rescue, #PrayforParis popped up on Twitter and Instagram. The Red, White and Blue flag of France followed, superimposed on Facebook “Profile” pictures. For many of us, who love France, who love Paris, who love the freedom from religion Paris represents, the French flag filter was a non-religious alternative to do something, anything, however insignificant, in response to the horror and shock of such unspeakable violence.
For others, as it seemed to one friend of mine, it was a chance for the more opportunistic among us to benefit. In disgust, he posted what he called Rules for November 14, 2015, which were to
“1. Take a picture of yourself where you look really hot.
2. Superimpose the French flag over it.
3. Go to bed knowing you did your part for solidarity while letting all your FB friends know how hot you are.
And much as they did and continue to do following the 9/11 attacks on the United States, some crass politicians exploited the Paris attacks to score points. Former Speaker of the House and Republican Newt Gingrich, whored himself for the NRA, tweeting:
Then Republican party Presidential candidate Ben Carson used it to further stoke fear against Middle Eastern refugees – hitting the two-headed nails of immigration and bigotry by suggesting that if he were a jihadist leader it would be near malpractice if he didn’t infiltrate the group with “his people.”
Carson seems to be preaching to a crowd. Just as swiftly as they posted #PrayforParis and donned the Temporary Facebook Overlay, the oft-claimed victims of the War on Religion posted calls to deny Syrian refugees entry to the U.S.
It seems it is not a War on Religion that many of those who #PrayforParis fight, but a war on One Religion. For them they are the victims of the War on the only religion that matters – theirs.
Here is the paradox: the Nativity scene in the very same homes of those self-identified victims of the War on Christmas depicts a Middle Eastern couple seeking refuge and shelter. It seems there still is “No Room at the Inn.”
It occurred to me after my ordeal with the hungry, aggressive, homeless guy that the difference between victims and victors, is how one responds to fear and violence. Except that it left me in fear, be assured that in no way do I equate my experience to those victims of terror in Paris or Beirut or Oklahoma City or New York City or Columbine or Gaza or Virginia Tech or Newtown or Boston or any other place where mass shootings and bombings occur.
We could all arms ourselves, deny those seeking refuge shelter, close our borders, and go shopping at Walmart on Thanksgiving to make sure we get the best deals for gifts for our children to help end the War on Christmas. Or we could teach our children not to fear. Like this father in an interview conducted by Canal+ TV show Le Petit Journal, and linked from The Telegraph on-line.
This Thanksgiving, while you’re looking for that perfect wine to pair with dinner, stop and be thankful you’re safe, that your loved ones are around you, that you have a roof over your head, and food on your table. Then extend that love to your fellow human beings. No matter what their faith; be it Christian, or Hindu, or Muslim, or Jew, or if they simply believe in the goodness of the Universe, the sanctity of life and have faith in mankind.
Peace be with you all.
Or as a friend said to me today, “Go and be good people out there.”