A little man passes from the scene

June 11, 2009

STEPHEN T. JOHNS

STEPHEN T. JOHNS

So James von Brunn finally got what he wanted. After years of sitting around drinking red wine and spouting anti-Semitic and anti-black rhetoric, the little man made himself important. The only justice in the matter is that von Brunn is nearly dead and that most of us will soon forget his name. Like the melting wax the psalmists liked to write about, he will be unimportant and useless – a fate that probably would have annoyed the hell out of him. It’s tragic and sad that Stephen Johns, a man who mattered, had to cross paths with von Brunn at the Holocaust Memorial Museum just when the non-entity was being important.

But long after we have to ask each other the name of the jerk that shot Stephen Johns, the more insidious purveyors of anti-Semitism and racism will be doing their work in deserved but dangerous obscurity. Like the priest I once knew who told another priest in the presence of two young altar servers that the actor Mickey Rooney wasn’t a “Mick” but had changed his name to hide the fact that he was a “Hebe.” Rooney did change his name from Yule, but I don’t know that he was Jewish. He’s been a Christian for many years. But whatever the facts about Rooney may be, it was an offensive way to refer to Irish and Jewish people and an offensive imputation about Rooney’s motives. When I asked the priests if they realized the boys had heard their conversation, their rationale was that the kids wouldn’t know who Rooney was and probably didn’t understand those terms.

A neighbor recently was explaining at a party how Jewish people were responsible for a lot of the current economic difficulties because, as we all know, they control the wealth. Apparently because he knows I’m a clergyman, he leaned toward me and asked, “That’s what Jesus had against them, isn’t it?” “Jesus was Jewish,” I said, “and most of the people he spent his life with were Jewish.” And my neighbor blushed a little and scratched his head and said, “Oh yeah. That’s right.”

In the long run, people we meet in everyday situations, people who go around confirming in casual conversation age-old stereotypes, often to willing or indifferent audiences, are at least as insidious as people like von Brunn who nurse the same mindless errors until they blow their tops.

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One Response to “A little man passes from the scene”

  1. Michele Walsh Says:

    Great post Chuck.

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