Nazis in Canada

Flag burning in Canada? In a small town in Saskatchewan, Caleb Pelletier recently had enough of his neighbor’s Nazi flag, so he tore it down and burned it. The neighbor, being an equal-opportunity fool, also flew a Confederate flag, which apparently didn’t incur enough of Pelletier’s wrath to receive the same treatment.

Given that Canadians suffered nearly 100,000 casualties, including 42,000 deaths in World War II, one can imagine that the wounds might be raw when seeing that flag. But Pelletier’s reaction leaves me asking a question. What level of offense do we require before we have the right to tear something off our neighbor’s house and burn it?

The Confederate flag–which is a bizarre thing to have flying in Canada to my mind–apparently did not rise to that threshold, but perhaps someone else might have felt more strongly about it.

And what precisely factors into this offense? Was Pelletier driven by the local angle, knowing that Canadians died trying to defeat the forces who flew that flag? Was he motivated by the broader humanity of it, knowing that the Nazis led to the deaths of perhaps 10 million people total?

Would he have been justified in ripping down an old-school Soviet flag? A People’s Republic of China flag? What about a Japanese or Italian flag? How high does someone’s outrage need to bubble before boiling over into action?

I live just a few miles east of the Missouri-Kansas border, where a real-live shooting war was underway nearly a decade before the official beginning of the Civil War. Can I justify being triggered by my neighbor’s Kansas state flag because many Missourians in my area were deprived of their Civil rights under Order Number 11? Or might someone near my place of employment (in Kansas) look at my license plate and rip it from my car because of Quantrill’s murderous raid on Lawrence, Kansas? Of course that’s silly, right? The Civil War ended more than 150 years ago, but then World War II ended more than 75 years ago. How long do we get to hold onto our grievances?

Back in Canada, the mental midget who flew Nazi and Confederate flags over his house might reasonably argue, “What harm does a flag do?” And it really doesn’t do any harm, does it? Shouldn’t we be able to see offensive things without attacking them? And if not, then we’re back to deciding how big the offense needs to be.

This is a tough matter to solve. I want to respect the rights of someone I disagree with but I want to live in a non-hostile community. What’s a thoughtful person to do? I find my guidance from Paul:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.–Romans 12:17-18

While I hold some unpopular opinions and am offended by other unpopular opinions, I don’t think I’m justified in inflicting my ideas onto others. It’s like this blog. If my words offend you, then you can turn from them.

Netflix and the Problem of Evil

“Who are you fellas?” Ray Hamilton asks.

“We’re the bad guys,” answers Frank Hamer.

This exchange takes place in the Netflix film The Highwaymen as Hamer, played by Kevin Costner, and Woody Harrelson’s Maney Gault pursue Bonnie and Clyde.

There’s something fascinating about the saga of Bonnie and Clyde. This pair, both dead by 26, rambled around the central United States for two years, racking up over a hundred felonies and a staggering body count. Even in their lifetimes, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were romanticized and given the bizarre sort of celebrity treatment that America sometimes accords to those who are clearly not a benefit to society.

A great deal has been made over the years about the ambush that brought this pair down. When you cast a young Warren Beatty and a young Faye Dunaway, which was the lineup in the 1967 film, you aren’t looking to portray them as a true menace to society. Any realistic depiction of the shooting will look like overkill. The bullet-riddled Ford is a chilling icon, which some would present to suggest that the encounter was barbarous and excessive, but these were heavily armed people who had reportedly killed nine law officers already.

The Netflix film does not glamorize the pair. On the other hand, the two retired Texas Rangers, Costner and Harrelson, do not compare with Costner’s earlier role as Eliot Ness. These guys were not untouchable. Forced by circumstances and their profession to face the savagery of human life, they each managed to keep moving forward while haunted by past events.

Harrelson told of an encounter, early in his career, when he inadvertently shot a 13-year-old while confronting an incredibly dangerous gang of outlaws. “I still see his face,” Harrelson’s character says, yet he accepts that the violent encounter was necessary. Both men pursue the work because it has to be done.

In a sinful and violent world, somebody has to step up and do the unpleasant things that keep society from devolving into chaos. In saying that, I sound like Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men:

Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom.

Hamer and Gault are portrayed as guarding those walls. They do it well, but we shouldn’t for a moment believe that stepping up to do these things will leave the person unscathed. They put down a couple of dangerous characters but leave others running free. Still more will arise down the road.

The problem of evil, which The Highwaymen does an admirable job of portraying, is that it cannot be ended by human means. So long as we inhabit the flesh, we’ll be dogged by sin:

So then, brothers and sisters, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, because if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.–Romans 8:12-13

We shouldn’t be surprised that Netflix didn’t provide that answer for the problem, but at least they didn’t make heroes of the criminals.

Weeping with Christchurch

I’ll weep for the Muslims in New Zealand. I’ll weep with the people of that nation, Muslim or otherwise, who had their world shattered when some maniac decided that the way to effect change in his world was to go shoot up a mosque.

I will weep, remembering that, in Romans 12:15, Paul advised

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.

Scrolling through the Twitter thread on this topic, we see that, among the genuine outpourings of sympathy, far too many people are using this event to mount their hobby horses. “Trump didn’t say ‘terrorist.'” “If it had been a Muslim shooter in a church . . .” One tweet said the problem isn’t Muslims but Jews, while somebody blamed “immigration.”

This is not the time for gun advocates to gloat over this action which happened despite restrictive gun laws in New Zealand. It’s hard to weep while gloating.

This is not the time for gun opponents to make political hay or blame the NRA for the carnage. It’s hard to weep while politicking.

This is the time to recognize that the solutions proposed by humanity, whether they be politics or direct action, will not solve our problems, be they real or imagined. In Peter’s writings, we read words that seem utterly fitting:

Finally, all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing.  –1 Peter 3:8-9

Can I be like-minded with a Muslim? Yes, I can agree that it is better to live peaceably than to descend into violence. I can feel sympathy and love and compassion for that person. Such feelings do not require me to agree with them on their theology. They don’t even require me to wish that more and more of those people were living in my backyard. What they require is that I look at whoever is in my backyard and to live in peace with them for as long as I can.

One Tweet stood out to me:

I disagree. Terrorism does have a religion, a religion that goes beyond Islam, Christianity, or any other. Regardless of the professions of the terrorist, their religion is a manifestation of evil and their god is–well, you can connect the dots.