Clayton and his partner, Mike Gibson-Faith were both trained and arrested in Cleveland.
Please let me take a moment to share my experience vigiling with the Phelps’ this weekend. Those of you who don’t know me may have noticed me in my Soulforce t-shirt shivering between the Phelps’ and the kiss-in at the U of M Diag yesterday. I was doing a "transforming hate into love vigil," breathing in my and others’ negative reactions to the anti-gay protest and exhaling peace and spaciousness and love. I did this meditation for the Phelps group as well, acknowledging with my meditation and prayers that they are equally victims of the misinformation and hatred that, now, they return to the world.
I was surprised when suddenly, working deeply with one of the Phelps women, I realized that she and I would be great friends if circumstances were different. The image of her and me laughing hysterically over a beer popped into my head!
Later on Friday, when the Phelps group protested at the Cube outside Michigan Union, I went out to sit near them again, intending to do the same vigil. While breathing and praying, I suddenly had the realization that all violence begins with the perception of "us" and "them." I knew that I needed to go and sit among the anti-gay protesters–in solidarity with their humanity, not their rhetoric–lest I fall into the trap of thinking "I/It" instead of "I/thou." That is, in order to genuinely work deeply with them, and to interact with them as individuals, I had to overcome my internal feelings of separateness from them. Because I had already done meditative work with my own anger and pain and frustration, I felt comfortable joining their group despite my "Stop Spiritual Violence" shirt.
The Phelps group was very hospitable to me, engaging me in small talk and Marge (Mrs. Phelps) and her 17-year-old son Jacob politely answered my questions, although they were very unkind to others. A Peacekeeper even heard my ‘beer-sharing friend’ comment that "she thinks s! he likes that guy [me]!" At the end, some shook my hand and said it was nice to meet me; that they hoped to see me later. I feel these were genuine expressions; that we were able to begin to communicate through such small niceties.
My experience today at the Aut Bar was similar. They did not accept the hot chocolate I offered them (it was very cold outside!), but they did thank me for the thought. James Leija, who was helping me carry the drinks, told me later that he perceived that the little girl with the Phelps’ really wanted to take the hot chocolate, and looked fruitlessly up at her father for permission, poor thing. Zach, the little boy, looked at me in confusion while I sat among them today, and tried to say something to me that I couldn’t hear and he wouldn’t repeat. It was very difficult watching the pathology of their family mission being passed on to these children.
In closing, thank you all again for your friendliness and hospitality to me this weekend. I cannot measure whether my transformation vigil had any broad metaphysical impact, but I know that I was transformed by my experience. My understanding of the interdependent nature of our being, of the inherent humanity and suffering of our ‘enemies,’ is deeper and more solid to me. I believe even more strongly that the Phelps’ and our other opponents are not our real enemies. They are just people, like us, who have been hurt and malformed without their consent. The ideas they espouse and the abuses they perpetuate are our enemies, but I believe that the path to real dialogue, and then, real peace, begins by acknowledging and honoring our mutual humanity. Turns out that was my work this weekend.
Thanks for listening.
"Our comfort zones are the limited areas in which we find it easy to love. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job not to respect those comfort zones, but to bust them. We’re not at the mountaintop until any zone is comfortable. Love isn’t love until it’s unconditional. We’re not experiencing who we really are until we experience our perfect love." — Marianne Williamson