“There’s a fucking fine line between being funny and being a bully” –Marc Maron WTF podcast
My first inclination was to write a piece about nothing more than what the sign in the above picture said and whether or not its claims were apt. But when I started to write this it became more about my personal experience from a comment that I made about the sign. This feels more honest to me. This is obviously my side of the story (meaning: My explanation for my behavior both good and shitty); it’s also important to note that this is an interaction between myself and two of my friends, and we are still friends.
So it’s July 5th (it may have started on the 4th…), and I’m perusing the Facebook, as I am wont to do, when I come across the above image that was posted by one of my friends who has served in the military abroad. When I first read the sign I thought to myself: “This has to be one of the dumbest things I’ve read in recent memory.” I did not make that comment…I generally don’t make forward comments like that…they are more aggressive than I fancy myself, and they don’t really add to the discussion in any informed way. I think I commented with the phrase: “I love irony.”; which is not aggressive but also doesn’t add to the discussion in any informed way, and is probably a misuse of an oft misused literary term…who remembers? This first comment didn’t land me in any hot water. How could it? It committed itself to no world-view and was in no way a coherent statement. When I identified what in the sign’s text was causing me angst I became more coherent, and sometimes when I become coherent I find trouble…the aforementioned water. What really bothered me about the sign was its seeming comparison of sacrifices made by Jesus Christ and the American Soldier respectively. My immediate response (or reaction if you’d like…I’ll call it a response because I think that that’s what it was and, since this is my blog, my version of history wins here) was to bring up ways in which the sacrifices differed. This second comment was not received well. I’ll get to the actual comment shortly but first a little blurb in the interest of full-disclosure.
I’m a smart-ass, I’ve been that way for some time and as I get older I try to be a smart-ass who is careful about the feelings of others. I do this to the best of my abilities taking into account that I am also a passive-aggressive with an emphasis on passive. Because of that when I say something that offends someone it surprises me…their being offended surprises me. I don’t want to offend people, but I also don’t care enough about it to carefully guard my words against such a transgression. This is disingenuous, and I think we can all agree it is shitty behavior. It is who I am. I’m working on it. I’m working on it because I love people and am motivated to do so as way of worshipping God who first loved me. Some of my smart-assery is taken as being mean-spirited or acting a bully. Neither of which are intended, but nor are they actively fought against…at least not to any appreciable degree. When first I was accused of being a bully, I thought it laughable. I’ve never considered myself a bully because my posture has always been defensive and motivated by fear. I suppose all bullies tell themselves this lie.
The comment that I made was that only one of the two defining forces mentioned on the sign received a chance at a college education for their efforts. Again this started as me pointing out a difference in the sacrifices made. It was meant to be a smart-ass way of busting my friend’s chops…the friend who originally posted the picture of the sign. My friend’s wife, who is also my friend, and who has also served in the U.S. military abroad, did not like that statement…not even a little–I think. We have yet to actually talk about it… I was not trying to call into question the practice of giving service women and men a chance to go to college as part of the compensation for their service…I fully support that policy. If we as a people have decided that it is important to have a strong military presence in the world, and thus people that presence with folks who are of college age, we should be committed to helping them with education and the buying of a house and anything else that could somehow repay their sacrifice, a sacrifice that I recognize as being profound. I think the U.S. military is horribly over-funded. I think the people of the military are horribly under-paid. Especially when one considers that their efforts almost always result in someone getting very rich. Also, let it be known that I am against giving Jesus a college education, not because I’m anti-Jesus or anti-education…I guess what I’m trying to say is I wouldn’t want Jesus to be in my college class it would be distracting, Jesus raising his hand over and over again saying: “My Dad told Me it happened differently.”…we get it Jesus, Your Dad is God.
I started to get the impression that my off-handed remark/joke was being taken more seriously than I had intended, so I tried to make it clear that I was kidding. That was met with a comment about the sacrifice of the military who are charged with doing their duty regardless of their conviction about the specific task at hand. Which is a true statement. My friend told me that she was sent off to war while her dad was in the ICU. I couldn’t imagine what that must have felt like to her. It made me realize the sacrifice that she made even more deeply. I had never not valued the sacrifice…I understand that the people of the U.S. military make massive sacrifices, the likes of which I’ve never done (I say that without shame, I’ve never wanted to make said sacrifice, it is not my conviction to do so).
My intent was not to diminish the sacrifice. My intent was to diminish the claims of the sign, claims that I found hyperbolic. I was thinking: “What would a North Vietnamese Christian think if he read that sign? What of the citizens of East Timor? What of the Native Peoples of this continent who have entrusted their lives to Jesus?” I imagine they would be confused by the sign’s claims on both an historical and theological level. I also thought the sign was self-serving and wrong-minded; lots of people offer to lay down their lives for us as U.S. citizens: first responders, cops, people working in south-east-Asian sweat-shops, a significant percentage of people who happen upon a burning building…the list could go on, but you get the picture. On some level I think that I was confused by the use of Jesus Christ in a sign that was meant to promote American Nationalist propaganda. I could’ve handled it better…hell, I should’ve handled it better.
At the end of the day, I have a love for people not institutions, but here’s where it gets tricky: sometimes when I call-out institutions I hurt people who are involved with those institutions. I don’t want to be a guy who hurts people (I tried to come up with an interesting way of saying that last sentence…swing and a miss). I apologized in the same thread because I was sorry for not being careful with my words…I couldn’t ask for forgiveness for my words, I hadn’t said anything wrong and to apologize for that would’ve been insincere.
One last thing to consider: History is filled with strong-willed leaders who use force as a means to accomplish their ends and dopey smart-asses who are willing to question those ends as well as the means by which they’re accomplished. History is very clear about what happens to a society when the smart-asses are forced to be silent…