I went with my family to Salem for a women’s march a few weeks ago.
There we were, with thousands of people right in front of the state capital.
Across the street, on the left, immediately across from us was a man with a little p.a. system preaching that we were all sinners, we were going to die, and God would be angry at us. Further down on the right, also across the street, there was a man waving a Nazi flag.
I felt a compulsion to go over and talk to them. Before I did so, I wondered to myself why was I, a cis-white-straight married guy with kids feeling emboldened to talk to these seemingly cis-white-straight guys?
While I was admiring clever posters and signs, Jane witnessed somebody walk up to the man with the Nazi flag and shove him to the ground. Shameful. Just shameful.
Somehow, this inspired me. I crossed the street to address the fire-and-brimstone megaphone evangelist. As I was doing so, his amplified, slightly tinny voice says, “There’s not even a preacher here besides me.”
So I saw that as my entrance. I said, “Brother, you’re not the only preacher here” And he moved the microphone up from his mouth so that he and I were talking man to man. I said, amazed to hear the words coming out of my mouth, “It must be really scary where you are right now”
He looked at me with hesitation in his eyes, and he said, “It is scary. This is not what I like to be doing, but it’s what I need to be doing.”
We exchanged names and handshakes.
“Can I help?” I asked, earnestly, not certain even what I was offering. And he said, “Would you pray with me?” I said, “I will be glad to.” And I was trying to think of what prayer I would say. I thought of “Oseh Shalom” – a daily prayer for peace, Biblically based (Job 25:2), but then I thought the better of leading with Hebrew.
“I come from a slightly different tradition than yours.”
“That’s not a problem as long as we’re both Christians.”
“Well, I’m Christian enough.”
He looked at me hesitantly. “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the only God?”
I quoted William Blake’s letter to Crabb Robinson in 1825, “I believe Jesus Christ is the only true God, and so am I, and so are you.”
He turned from me. His eyes no longer met mine. He flipped his microphone back down and went back to his diatribe.
“We are not gods,” his megaphone voice intoned.
“We are not gods,” his megaphone voice echoed again. “We are not gods.” I realized that he was repeating himself because he didn’t know how to get back to his script.
I said, “Brother, I’m gonna pray with you. I’d like to pray with you”
I almost begged, “Brother, if you won’t pray with me, I’ll pray for you, brother.”
He said, but not to me, “You are not my brother.”
“You might wanna check your Bible again, Jason, I sure am.”
He continued to shout.
I said, “I’d like to talk with you.” He didn’t want to.
I went back to “my” side of the street.
About 15 minutes later, I heard a man, unamplified, shouting at Jason. Vehement shouts, the type that comes with some inadvertent spit. The shouts were as loud as the amplified Jason, who was, not surprisingly, arguing back.
I felt responsible for Jason. Somehow.
I couldn’t stand as a witness to his abuse.
Here is a quote I learned later, “There is no righteousness in loving those we love and who love us, even the hypocrites do this.”
I noticed some other people standing near Jason and the red-faced shouter, also not knowing what to do. I offered to the group, “Why don’t we make a love circle around Jason?” And so we held hands around him, pushing out the man who was shouting. He was out of air anyway. It gave him an excuse to walk off.
The march happened and thousands of us walked around Salem.
When we returned, I saw Jason walking off. There were police on either side of him. Was he being escorted off? What happened. I ran over to him and said, “I hope you’re not feeling like you were thrown outta here” He said, “No” And he met my eyes. I could see his beautiful, beautiful soul.
The police fell back as he and I walked together, but separated by more distance than is normal. He said, “I’m just done.”
We moved at the same pace, away from the Capitol building.
“I don’t even like doing this,” he told me, “I’m a shy man.”
We talked some, and I said, “Well, I’m really glad you are here. I’m really glad you were here to express yourself”
He said, “Look me up on the internet: Oregon Jesus Preacher.”
I said, “I will.”
And during the long minivan ride home, I looked him up; I saw that at other protests, he’d been knocked unconscious. And that’s unconscionable to me.
How can anyone fight hate with hate? It just doesn’t make any sense.
So I left a comment on his YouTube channel, “Brother Jason, it was beautiful to get to meet you in Salem. It was a highlight of my trip”
Later I saw that he hearted my comment.
Not only that, but he wrote, “I looked at what you put up on the web, and I think you have some interesting things.”
And, well, that’s it. That’s the end of the story. Almost. I looked at Jason’s YouTube page. My comments and his YouTube and his responses aren’t there anymore. Oh, well.