#40 – Dick Bernard: Dr. George Tiller May 31, 2009; Stephen T. Johns June 10, 2009: Some thoughts about a conversation

I think I might have a somewhat unusual “spin” on the tragic deaths of Dr. Tiller and Mr. Johns.
What Dr. Tiller and Mr. Johns have in common is that they were gunned down in public settings by cold-blooded killers who doubtless felt they were righteous in their deadly actions.
After Dr. Tiller was gunned down while ushering at his Lutheran Church in Wichita KS,  I heard a tidbit of information that I hadn’t noticed before.  The same tidbit was in the news again on June 10 when Officer Johns was killed at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.  It jogged my mind back to an angry  conversation a few weeks earlier.
More on the tidbit in a moment; first, a personal “back story” about the angry conversation….
Wednesday, May 6, the local paper in my town published a letter I had written, challenging my local Congresswoman’s deliberate lying about a simple fact relating to the outbreak of the Swine Flu.  I wrote on “the false “coincidence” connecting two [Democrat] presidents [Carter and Obama] to the Swine Flu.”  It wasn’t even a clever lie.  It was exceedingly easy to disprove. 
I closed by saying “Lies are no little deal“.  (The entire letter is at the end of this post.)
I have noticed that the more “local” the “politics” is, the more “down and dirty” it can be.  
The afternoon the newspaper arrived in our mailboxes I received a phone call from a neighbor down the block.  The lady – let’s call her Jane – is a prim, retired, church-going lady.  We know her.  She’s a nice lady. We knew her politics.  But, while firm, she was anything but argumentative.
This particular afternoon, though, was different.  She had read my letter, and she was outraged.   It took me aback, it was so unlike her.  I think I might have inadvertently set her off by saying, in my letter, that my Congresswoman spread “viral messages” which she hoped would “stick in the minds of gullible consumers“.  Nobody likes to be called “gullible”. 
The neighbor went on a rant, including being  incensed that Obama’s Homeland Security had, she said, a list of Christians they were watching, and that she’d heard that on Fox News.  Things settled down, but I wouldn’t call what we had a “civil conversation”.
There have been no followup calls, nor rebuttal letters to the editor on my topic.  Next time I see “Jane” we’ll get along just fine.
I was puzzled by her Homeland Security assertion, until Dr. Tiller was gunned down, and then Mr. Johns.  In the wake of both killings the Homeland Security Assessment, released in early April, 2009, became a topic of news commentators.   It created such controversy at the time that the Secretary of Homeland Security felt a need to apologize.  The problem, it is now clear, is that it was and is a very prudent document, no apology needed.
We will never get rid of extremists in this country.  We have a large population, and there are plenty of very well-armed and very angry folks who exploit their freedom, targeting people with whom they disagree.  Our domestic al Qaeda has been known and in existence for ages through vigilante and terrorist groups and individuals like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and their ilk which target certain “others”.  Most of the member of these groups seem a lot like me – almost all white men.  They would be outraged to be called “terrorists”, but that is what they are, and they depend on people like all of us to not take a stand.
I hope that the two assassinations, less than two weeks apart, are not harbingers of a trend.  At the same time, this is definitely a time to be vigilant and to be in dialogue about our own very real problems within our own society.
I take some lessons from the above recounted events:
1.  However “ragged” it was, my neighbor and I were in conversation, even dialogue, something not usual enough in our polarized society.  We were polar opposites, but we were talking.
2.  My letter to the local paper, and their willingness to publish it, helped facilitate the conversation that otherwise would never have happened.
3.  It is by small steps that big changes come about, but we need to take the small, sometimes frightening, steps.  My letter, and Jane’s phone call, were probably equally scary for us.  I appreciate her calling me.
We learn from those views we resonate with; we also learn by crossing boundaries, and listening to others with different points of view.  Make the opportunity to engage with others.   
The letter, published May 6, 2009.
“It would be nice to dismiss Rep. Bachmann’s assorted factual errors as amusing, but what she and her advisers are about is dead-serious: they wish to implant in the public mind sundry lies, such as the false “coincidence” connecting two Presidents to the Swine Flu.
Bachmann seems more than willing to carry these viral messages, which are then duly reported, hopefully to stick in the minds of gullible consumers.
I happen to be from a Christian tradition, where we were taught that one can lie either by omission (leaving something important out) or commission (telling a whopper).
It is my understanding that in the Jewish tradition, a lie was an even bigger deal: assassination of one’s character was a potential capital offense.
This is no laughing matter.
Three years or so ago my best friend in [this town] left town solely because his teenage daughter was being hounded by teenage “friends” who did everything in their power to malign her.
Lies are no little deal.”