dren. Each family is involved in a particularrnchurch or temple. Each adult volunteersrnin church or community organizationsrnin some capacity. And each of usrnis highly opinionated.rnOnly once in a long while do we agreernon anything. One such extraordinaryrnevent occurred on Thanksgiving Day,rn1999, during a lull in the conversation.rnMy sister Penny looked around the quietrntable and asked with perfect innocence:rn”So does everyone think O.J. was guilty?”rnThere was a silence short as a breathrnwhile we tried to summon up O.J. afterrnthese several years, and then simultaneouslyrnwe burst into laughter. Guilty?rnO.J.? Did anyone doubt it? Not at thatrntable—not the theologically liberal p]piscopalianrnpriest, not the Catholic bookseller,rnnot any of the other five people.rnOf course, we disagreed on why he escapedrnjustice —he was black, he wasrnwealthy, he was a celebrity. “But atrnleast,” Penny said, “we agreed on something.”rnOur rare consensus, garnered from sornjumbled a set of religious and politicalrnopinions, led me into a reflective moodrnthat lasted the rest of the day. Listeningrnto the kitchen table talk, participating inrna half-dozen other conversations —thernpresidential election, homosexuality’ inrnthe Christian churches, problems inrnpublic schools, and so on —I was struckrnby our acceptance of certain events andrnpractices that would once have shockedrnmost Americans. No one appeared dismayedrnat O.J.’s return to society. We expressedrnno sense of outrage at the deathsrnof his victims. Later in the conversation,rnseveral relatives stated firmly that Christianityrnneeded to accept homosexuality.rnTwo of them defended both the silly ThernLast Temptation Of Christ and thernBrooklyn Museum’s portrait of the VirginrnMary, caked with elephant dung andrnsurrounded by renditions of variovis sexualrnorgans, against what they called “attacksrnby fundamentalists.”rnWhat we had done, I realized after severalrnhours of listening, was to confuse arnwillingness to tolerate with a willingnessrnto accept. Tolerance, which does notrnbind its bestower in any way except tornturn a blind eye, is no longer enough forrnour custodians; the grinding machineryrnof our society, the media, and the courtsrnnow demands that all of us embrace beliefsrnwhich we once might have spurnedrnor intently questioned, behavior whichrnmany formerly regarded as morally corruptingrnor obscene. To buck this prevailingrntrend is to be regarded as a hater ofrnhumanity and as a possible candidate forrnsocial and public excommunication or,rndepending on the case, for jail.rnThat day, I also understood for the firstrntime how these demands for tolerancernand acceptance are intimately connectedrnwith the impotence which so many feelrnregarding our government and society atrnlarge. My relatives center their lives onrntheir families, their work, their churches,rntheir communities. We didn’t need ColinrnPowell to tell us to volunteer; all of usrnat that kitchen table, inspired by the examplesrnof parents and teachers when wernwere children, work as Sunday Schoolrnteachers, soccer and basketball coaches,rnsoup-kitchen workers, scout leaders. Butrnthe dominant feeling at the table was thatrnour national government no longer listensrnto us, that our cities will sprawl nornmatter what we do, that our educationrnsystem is broken and can’t be fixed. Arnniece commented offhandedly that, inrn50 years, white people would be a minorityrnin our country.rn”Do you know why they’ll be a minority?”rnI asked her. When she shook herrnhead, I said, “It’s immigration. Legal andrnillegal immigration. Your own governmentrnis the cause.”rnEveryone at the table sat quietly forrnjust a moment, then switched to anotherrnsubject. So maybe it’s not just helplessness.rnMaybe toleration and acceptancernlead to a willed blindness, a closing of therneyes, a turning away from truthrnSuch insights may be collected by anyonernwho reads certain magazines. Whatrnwas new for me that day was that thernlessons were being taught to me by myrnown flesh and blood. We seemed to havernlost our foundations. Years of exposure tornthe media, to foolish professors and lyingrnpoliticians and sarcastic comedians in allrnwalks of life, had visibly impaired our criticalrnabilities and damaged our belief inrnour capacity to make a difference in thernworld.rnWere we powerless? Could we nornlonger make a difference? The lineamentsrnof my own life certainly seemed tornpreclude me from affecting wider debatesrnin our society. I am a husband andrna father of four, an independent bookseller,rnalways strapped for cash and forrntime, a hard worker, a man who sits onrnoccasion at a kitchen table in a little townrnmulling over the problems of the bigrnworld. Should I resign myself to thernforces of false toleration and bitter resignationrnthat seem to possess so many ofrnour citizens these days?rnNot at all. After mulling over my holidayrnobservations and my own peculiar involvementrnin the world, I realized thatrnthere are many weapons at the disposal ofrnwhat we might call “Kitchen Table Warriors.”rnThe following are my personalrnrecommendations for a “Kitchen TablernWarrior’s Manifesto.”rnRead, read, read. Read solid books.rnRead magazines like the one you hold inrnyour hands right now. Read magazine articlesrnin which you disagree with the author.rnMake connections. It is appallingrnhow little professionals, particularly men,rnread. They may talk a great game, but arnfew questions reveal their empty-headedness;rnthey live by opinion rather than byrnfact, by prejudice rather than by knowledge.rnThink. Consider seriously what yournbelieve and why you believe it. If you arerngoing to be a defender of a cause, thenrnyou need to articulate your defense. Whyrndo vou support the Second Amendment?rnWhy do you oppose abortion? Where dornyou stand on censorship? These questionsrndeserve your grave consideration.rnKnee-jerk conservatives deserve the samerncontempt as knee-jerk liberals.rnSpeak out and encourage others to dornthe same. Write a letter to a politician orrnan editor, but don’t stop there. Call arnfriend —call five friends, for that matterrn—and ask each to dash off a note asrnwell. Ever)’ additional letter adds amazingrnpower to the punch of your protest.rnTruth will out, the adage runs, but truthrnneeds voices to speak it.rnAsk questions. Last year, I heard a collegernstudent at the University of NorthrnCarolina, Asheville, ask author Os Guinessrnhow students could combat the leftwingrnpolitical agenda that dominatesrntheir classes. “Ask questions,” Mr. Guinessrnreplied. “Ask serious questions. Andrnkeep asking them.” If your parish priestrnbegins tinkering with the Mass, ask himrnwhy. If you object to the language orrnmorality of a book assigned to your highschoolerrnin English class, make an appointmentrnwith the teacher and ask questions.rnLeave your anger out of therndiscussion; simply ask.rnUse humor. Humor can reveal thernridiculous attitude of our opponents.rnMy brother Chris once took his daughtersrnto see Ringling Brothers in nearbyrnAsheville. As he approached the entrance,rnan animal-rights protester steppedrntoward him and said, “Don’t go inside —rnthey’re tormenting those animals.” MyrnAPRIL 2001/47rnrnrn