WEST BRATTLEBORO — My friend Stephanie recently took a photo of the truck in front of her. Its rear window decals included “Trump,” “Brothers in Arms,” a graphic of an AR-15 rifle, and the message “White, Straight, Armed, and Pissed.”
That was her view during her commute as she listened to radio coverage with interviews of students who survived the latest mass school shooting in our fair land, and stories of those who didn't.
My first reaction to seeing her Facebook post was to feel deeply disturbed, although I suppose there's something to be said for rage that is so right out there. Maybe that's better than the same rage hiding behind politeness?
My next thought, though, was this: “What on earth does the owner of this truck need to feel so pissed about?” He clearly has the money to buy a truck and weapons, which don't come cheap.
I know nothing about his particular life, but I do know that there still are undeniable advantages in being white, male, and heterosexual. Why is this guy so angry?
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But here's what: someone who has been so steeped in our culture of toxic masculinity may never have been taught to examine his emotions. He may have been trained so fully to never admit vulnerabilities that he is incapable of correctly labeling what's going on inside of him.
Yes, I suppose he really is pissed at the world. But, more than that, I suspect he's afraid.
And fear does terrible things to people.
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As a minister, as I work my way through the scriptures each year, I'm always struck by the frequency with which angelic messengers begin pretty much every single interaction with humans in the same way: “Fear not!” (Okay, sometimes they go with “Behold!” But most often, they're put together: “Fear not, for behold!”)
While I am not a biblical literalist, I take seriously the fact that we can learn a great deal about God and humanity by studying what's in the books of the Bible.
One thing I have learned: over the millennia that the stories cover, a whole lot of humans were fearful enough to warrant being addressed with words designed to minimize fear.
We humans are prone to fear, it would seem, and the divine forces of love (epitomized by the angels, I suppose) want very much for us to be free of that fear because it clouds our minds and clenches our fists and upsets our stomachs and hardens our hearts.
I suspect the owner of this truck is afraid.
He's afraid of suddenly living in a world where his power is disputed. He's afraid of people taking what he feels is rightly his, be it his guns or his position in society. He's afraid that the economy won't have enough room to support him and the people he loves. He's afraid there won't be enough: enough jobs, enough land, enough meaning, enough security.
He's not the only one who's afraid, of course.
I am, too.
Far too many of our young people are, too - literally afraid to go to school.
We're all caught in a terrible cycle where fear begets anger, anger begets violence, violence begets more fear.
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I admit that I don't know the way out. This culture of toxic masculinity is a big part of the problem, but the men I know haven't given in to it, by and large. The men I love (my husband and sons, my father, brothers, nephews, and in-laws, their teachers, our neighbors, my parishioners ... so many wonderful men!) have managed to come through life without being stained by that poison, so I know it's possible. I just don't know what to do about it.
That's right ... all of this rambling, and no real solution.
I just think that if we could edit the dude's window sticker to read “White, Straight, Armed, and Afraid,” we'd be a lot closer to a solution.