Johnny Lee Clary was the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan’s White Knights. After spending his twenties terrorizing black people in his home town in Oklahoma, he had a religious experience that led him to renounce his racist past and become an evangelist for tolerance and respect. This video shows him describing his relationship with black pastor Wade Watts - and what he learned about loving enemies.
“Dear Lord, please forgive Johnny for being stupid. He’s a good boy.” Wow! How was it that Wade Watts didn’t loathe everything about Johnny Lee Clary? You would imagine that the very sight of Clary would make his skin crawl.
Did Wade Watts know something about Johnny that we don’t know? Maybe he did. Maybe Wade knew that Johnny had a dysfunctional family life and, at age 10, watched his father kill himself. Maybe he knew that Johnny was moved from family member to family member and had no stable adult influence. Maybe he knew that Johnny ended up in the gang scene in East LA and joined the Ku Klux Klan by the time he was 14.
When you think of the hateful things he did and said as an adult; it’s hard to love Clary. When you think of a ten year old boy trying to come to terms with unspeakable tragedy; it’s hard not to love that boy. It’s hard not to love a 14 year old boy who has lost his way. Without excusing what he did in the name of racial hatred, Johnny Lee Clary is a reminder that people DO change, that ALL people are capable of goodness and that EVERYONE deserves a second chance.
Wade Watts was a wonderful example of the teaching of Jesus - to love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute you. Pastor Wade’s love most certainly overcame the fear of Johnny Lee Clary. Maybe Clary came into Watt’s life to teach him something about love and patience and forgiveness.
Now bring this point closer to home. Glenn Beck epitomizes so much of what many people loathe in American media: fear, hatred and vitriol. Maybe the very thought of Glenn Beck makes your skin crawl. If you happen to agree with Beck’s views, then picture in your mind someone who makes your skin crawl. What will it take for you to love that person? What will it take for you to love Glenn Beck? Is it possible that Glenn Beck, or the person you loathe, has come into your life for a reason - maybe to teach you something about patience, understanding and forgiveness?
Did you know that like Johnny Lee Clary, Glenn Beck grew up in a dysfunctional family? His father abandoned the family, his mother committed suicide, his step brother committed suicide, Glenn is alcoholic and has ADHD. How can you not love the 15 year old boy trying to come to terms with his mother’s death? How can you not love the man trying to come to terms with his disease? That’s a start, at least, to grow into the type of mature love that Wade Watts manifested.
Maybe if you understand something of the fear Glenn grew up with, it puts his vitriol into a new perspective that makes it easier to love him even without agreeing with his views. More importantly, maybe there are times in your life when you have reacted with hostility and later realized that you were actually scared. You weren’t angry. You were scared. Can you face your own fears and allow yourself to heal? Can you forgive yourself? Can you make peace with all the parts of yourself that you have been at war with for years?
Halloween and Facing Fear
It was Halloween night in 1936. A group sat around a table holding hands, awaiting a message. They had gathered every Halloween night for 10 years waiting for the message. But the message didn’t come. Eventually, a woman stood up and made an announcement. “My last hope is gone. I do not believe that Houdini can come back to me or to anyone. The Houdini Candle has burned for 10 years. I now respectfully turn out the light. It is finished. Good night Harry.” The woman was Bess Houdini, wife of magician Harry Houdini.
ladderIt took her ten years, but Bess Houdini had finally come face to face with her fears and was able to let them go; let him go. Harry would not be coming back, but she would be okay without him. She was stronger than she thought. At Halloween, you come face to face with your fear of death, and your fear that you don’t have the strength to live without your dear departed. You face your fear and you survive it. You have looked fear in the face and survived. You know you can survive the next hard day or the next long night. You are a survivor. You are strong.
At Halloween we create a safe environment for kids to explore the dark; and dress up as their greatest fears. Hopefully they see that behind the grisly masks there are just other kids like them. Hopefully kids come to see that darkness has its own beauty; and hopefully they come to see themselves as powerful and courageous. What a joy if they come to see that behind the doors of neighbors there is kindness and love.
Best of all, kids get to confront fear on their own terms; around candy and make believe. Why not? An adult version of this is to write a list of all the things you have been afraid of in the past five years and all the things you have been told to be afraid of in the past five years. Put a line through all the fears that have never come to pass. Your world has not fallen apart. Muslims have not taken over the world. Barack Obama has not turned America into a totalitarian socialist state. When you finish and find yourself staring at a piece of paper with lines through it, smile at fear’s imagination and grab some candy. Laugh at the fanciful stories of fear and eat some candy. And in case you’re worried that the world will end, keep in mind that it’s already tomorrow in Australia and the world didn’t end.
The Illusion of Security
We need nights like Halloween. We live so much of life as if we have the power to cordon off danger behind a barricade of certainty. But there is no such thing as absolute certainty. To live is to risk loss. Life is an act of faith, and there are no certainties except change and death. The whole airport security trend is amusing to me. You know you used to have your razor confiscated while you were allowed to take your shaving cream on board. Now you can’t take shaving cream, but you can take a razor. You spend hours lining up to get on to airplanes while security goes through your luggage with a fine tooth comb. Then you sit on a seat and fly in the sky, putting your life in the hands of a couple of fallible human beings and a bunch of metal. Forget terrorists. Surely flying on an airplane is the ultimate reminder of the lack of absolute certainty in life. It is right to take precautions, but don’t let the illusion of security rob you of the joy of life’s adventures.
If there was ever a better reminder of the uncertainty of life it is the Swine Flu, the mobile fever that is taking the world by storm. The fear of the Swine Flu is real. It’s right to take precautions. But even with the most rigorous precautions, it could strike any or all of us at any time.
You think you can foil germs by furiously washing your hands. Washing your hands is fine but it also may create the illusion of security. You need germs to build your immune system. Comedian George Carlin points to the irony on death row in prisons: they swab alcohol on the arms of those who are about to be given lethal injections. Are they worried about infection? As Carlin says, “You wouldn’t want some guy to go to hell . . . and get sick.”
Here’s the point. We are all heading out of this world some time or other and in some way or other. Take your precautions, but don’t let the illusion of security ruin your enjoyment of the adventure of life. Overcome fear with a good balance of precaution and adventure.
Overcoming Fear With Love
There has been so much fear mongering in this country since 9/11. Orange security alerts have flashed off and on like a strobe disco light. We have been kept on a state of high alert, with a general wave of insecurity, but not with enough information to know what to do with the fear. Why?
As long as people fall for the illusion of security, preemptive attacks and eternal wars can always be justified. This is not new. Crush the enemy before they can crush you, even if we don’t know for sure who the enemy is or why we hate them. Crush Native Americans. Crush the Chinese. Crush the Russians. Crush black slaves. Crush Muslims. Get them before they get us. The paranoia drips like lost blood.
The illusion of security is preventing us from loving our enemies; because we are too busy crushing them. There was a tragic scene on Fox News recently when Movie maker Michael Moore was being interviewed by Glenn Beck’s running buddy Sean Hannity.
Michael Moore asked Sean Hannity what he thought of Jesus’ command to love your enemies, and how this related to Al Qaeda. Hannity replied, “I love them in the sense that I want to destroy them.”
Now I understand that there are many different meanings of the word “love” in the New Testament; but I don’t imagine that destroying people is one of them. We can do better than that. Maybe Hannity regrets saying it, and we can give the guy a second chance.
In the words of John 1: 4, “perfect love overcomes fear.” Another way to say perfect love is to say “greatest good” or in a personal context “doing your best.” If you know you are doing your best; taking all the precautions, forgiving yourself and others as much as you can for now, being mindful of dangers, then this effort will overcome fear. You will be free to live and take appropriate risks and dance in the adventure of your days.
As you do your best, and allow others the benefit of the doubt that they too are doing their best, you can stretch towards the end of fear. In the words of the Hindu scriptures, “The one who sees all beings in himself and himself in all beings loses all fear.”
Shaking Hands with the Enemy
When I had been in America for about six months, a man made an appointment to see me. I didn’t know this man and I didn’t know what he wanted to talk about. He arrived at my office and I met him in the foyer. I raised my hand to shake his, and he placed his hand behind his back. I thought to myself, “This is going to be an interesting meeting.” I set myself the intention of shaking this man’s hand before he left. When we sat down he told me that he had been told by a group of local pastors not to shake my hand when he met with me. They told him that it would defile him. When I questioned him further, it turned out that they thought my predecessor was still in the position. They didn’t even know that a new pastor had arrived. How petty and fearful! We chatted for a while and, while we never saw eye to eye on our beliefs, we did share a laugh or two. Yes, before he left, he shook my hand.
Glenn Beck is my brother. If I have the chance, I would like to shake his hand. I love him and pray for him even though I have yet to hear a word, that I agree with, come out of his mouth. He is a brother, and worthy of my compassion. He has a life story, and his own struggles, that I can’t begin to understand. Most important of all, I can transform my relationship with Glenn Beck. He no longer makes my skin crawl, as now I see that he has come into my life for a reason. He is holding up a mirror to my unforgiven parts. I see parts of myself in him. I see myself growing and still learning and know that I can give him what I crave most deeply in life; countless second chances.
Namaste. I honor a love so deep that there are no enemies; you are part of all, and all is part of you.
For Further Reflection (Questions that can be used privately or in groups)
1. Who are the people that make your skin crawl; and what is it that you find so difficult?
2. What do these people teach you about yourself?
3. In what ways has perfect love overcome fear in your life?
4. How do you prevent yourself from falling for the illusion of security?
5. Do you think that America has acted with “perfect love” since 9/11?