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Hate speech, love speech

So there we are in the van, cruising along Interstate 85 north on the way to listen to bells at the Cedar Creek Gallery in Creedmoor.

I like bells, I'm so easy: big bells, little bells, heavy bells, light bells, you name it. Bells of Narnia, bells of recycled propane cylinders, bowl-bells, aeolian chimes, earring bells, shop-door bells, liberty bells, bells of mindfulness.

Bells are the perfect sound, better than music because they so totally enclose the silence, or get enclosed by it like a picture in a gold frame. They call you like midwestern moms clanging outside the farmhouse on a Hallmark made-for-TV special, call you to dinner, call you back to yourself, to consciousness, back to right where you are, with your feet in the dirt. They say, "it's okay, buddy, take a breather, tune in, it's cool, it's tight, don't do anything, man, just stand there. Having a great time, wish I were here."

Cedar Creek has this big bell out front, tall as me, right there in the garden by the path, with a gonzo mallet. You stand there, and you notice bees on the flowers, kind of lazy in the sun, and an old dog, also kind of lazy, and this whonking great temple bell and this mallet, this invitation that you absolutely cannot walk past. But I anticipate.

And as we ride along I-85, I'm chanting softly to myself in Pali, or Sanskrit, I forget which, and James says, "have you looked at www-dot-God-hates-fags-dot-com?" and I go, "you're kidding," and he just looks at me. That was like a bell too, that look. So there's an actual church in Topeka-Westboro Baptist-whose web site is called, I kid you not, www.godhatesfags.com. Their site is nicely organized, their spelling is impeccable and they preach unmitigated, full-bore, unapologetic loathing. They don't just make Jerry Falwell look mild, they actually attack him for being mild. Under their "Fag Facts" page you learn all about stuff like the fag agenda (to turn people from Christianity) and about how fags prey on children (because they can't reproduce, they recruit). It's verbal violence in its most perfect form, a model for hate speech. Their hatred is so pure it's like the sound of a bell enclosed by love.

They picket funerals such as that of "the little dead fag, Matthew Shepard," the Wyoming college kid who was murdered by gay-bashers last week, with signs like "No Tears for Queers," and they issue daily flyers skewering everybody from Garth Brooks to Billy Graham (depicted complete with horns). You can download audio clips of their good reverend explaining why, for example, "White House = Fag House" and about how former Senator Nancy Kassebaum is a whore.

They have a Frequently Asked Questions page, too:

Q: Have any fags repented as a result of your picketing?

A: Who cares?

Q: Why do you preach hate?

A: Because the Bible preaches hate.

And so on. When you look at their site your heart gets to pounding very hard at first, and your hands shake a little, and you have to make yourself keep reading; but after awhile you start breathing again, maybe a little shallowly, and you think, everyone should see this.

You think, if we turn our eyes away, anything could happen. This energy, this conviction, this childish and irrational violence could go underground, and we might start censoring each other at every turn-tearing down posters, screaming down a speaker, impugning, undercutting, denying jobs, pistol-whipping, bombing clinics.

Question: If people say they believe in love, might their commitment be just as irrational as the commitment of the Westboro Baptist Church to hatred? And what if you're somewhere in between,? What if you want to believe in love but you goof up now and then? Does that count?

The bells, by the way, were excellent. We all stood around in a semicircle on the walk with the sun on our heads, the bees singing at our feet, and five of us were absolutely still while the sixth said something so softly that no one could hear it and then swung that sweet mallet in slow motion, and the sound went on and on and on. After, we talked in whispers for a minute, and later when we left we all touched each other on the arm, on the shoulder.

It was a good day.

Paul Baerman, Fuqua '90, is assistant director of the Auxiliaries Finance Office.

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