What A Wonderful World.

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While I was studying to become a social worker I got to intern in a transitional corrections facility. It was a wonderful experience for me. I conducted biopsychosocial examinations on arriving inmates, conduct family systems assessments, and engage in supervised therapy. Alongside me conducting these operations I was under clinical and direct supervision in which I reported my activity and debriefed in regards as to how I treated clients and why I used the particular methods I did. I also was seeing a personal therapist on a weekly basis.

This was a deep and meaningful period of my life in which I did lots of work on myself and processed the baggage of my past. As I conducted biopsychosocial examinations on arriving inmates I had to submit to a biopsychosocial examination of my own. I was grilled like I was on Oprah and was challenged by my supervisor until I broke. This was painful for me. I was invited to deal with the growing edges of my life in order to better serve my clients. I had to get to know myself before I was able to guide these men and women towards a truer and fuller version of themselves. As painful as that process was it paled in comparison to me having to interview my family and conduct a family systems assessment on them.

This was agonizing. It bared all those deeply hidden secrets of my youth and shed light to the perspective of my parents. Up until then I have witnessed my parents as human only in the idea that they are aging (as am I) and the full faculty of vigor is waning. I have unjustly denied my parents full humanity.

I have been particularly hard on my mom for things I perceived to have gone horribly wrong and I have not questioned my father for his part in these same horribly wrong events.  This is the kind of shit that one wants to write about but waits until their parents die or that their own kids find tucked away in some half-ass leather bound journal filled with shaky, hastily written script. This is one boogeyman.

I had to engage this head on and write a paper about it. I put it off for as long as I could. Then at the 11th hour I made a phone call to my mom, she didn’t answer. I left a message. Then I called my pop. He answered.

I tried to explain to him what I was doing in a way that someone tries to explain away the fact they got caught masturbating to this year’s SEARS catalog. I stuttered and struggled through my words. Finally, I asked my father, “Could you tell me about the five years before my birth and the five years after my birth?”

My father retorted, “What?”

I explained again what family systems entails and invited him in to the conversation, again. I was silently nervous. I am asking my John Wayne, my Superman to engage the emotions around my birth. I felt like I was treading on holy group. I waited for God to strike me dead and send me to the place of Uzzah.

Silence slowly started to lift and my father told me that he and my mom had experienced several miscarriages and had all but given up on having children of their own. So, my parents entered in to the adoption process. They were knee-deep into the process and even had a little boy staying with them when my mother found out she was pregnant with me.

My father’s words were filled with sorrow, wonder, and reservation. It was like he had opened up a part of himself that he had long ago closed off and worked to bury. You see, when my mom found out she was pregnant the adoption process was going to end. This potential brother was removed and my parents were sent on their merry way. My father’s voice ached as he shared this with me.

The conversation flowed a little more freely after that. I seemed to have stepped upon a place in which my father no longer feared my questions and even welcomed having a safe face to explore these long forgotten memories. We talked for almost two hours and I learned more about my father than I ever had. My pop became Dorothy’s son, Karen’s brother, Liz’s first love, and Arlene’s soulmate. My pop was human. He has dreams independent on mine. He has a heart for others. He loves strangely and imperfectly.

When my son was born I remembered this conversation. I pondered how I would live in a manner that my son could know I am human, I have faults. How will I live so that my son will not suffer the fate of many of the men of my family? The longer I ran these scenarios through my mind the more and more I wanted to rest near my father as I did when I was a child.

Parenting is the hardest thing I have embarked upon in my life. Sometimes I feel like I am doing great and in other moments I worry that I am utterly fucking with the health of my child. It is in these moments I wish I could lay in my father’s lap as he strokes my head and we watch Elvira together. Most of all I pray that my son gives me more grace to me than I did to my parents. I pray he understand that I am human as well.

A Violent Him

 

He was yelling at her, “You stupid bitch! You always lie! LIE! LIE! LIE!” He slammed the car door, struggling to make his displeasure known. She was in the passenger seat of an old beat up late model sedan with out of state plates. Her head hung low with tears forming in her eyes.

 

He kept on going, “LIE! Why the fuck do you lie?!” He got back in to the car and the conversation was heated. The words were muffled. I could not really make them out. I knew he was angry. She was scared. He got out of the car and slammed the door, yelling at her some more as he walked away past my vehicle. Our eyes met. I stared at him and took off my sunglasses. I wanted him to see my eyes. I was angry too.

 

I rolled down the other window and watched him leave in my rear view mirror. I looked up to meet her eyes. They were swollen and full of tears. My internal thoughts were going a mile a minute.

 

I thought about the times when my mother suffered a similar fate. Her second husband would belittle here and “get rough” with her in front of us. It has been almost thirty years but I still can’t call it domestic violence. But it most certainly was violent.

 

Should I get involved? I wish someone had stepped in when I was younger and my mom was suffering indignity in public. Would things have been different if they had? I felt so powerless as I saw my mom’s tears. I could do nothing to stop this as a child.

 

I paused and let our eyes meet, trying to say I will not let anything happen to you. I twitted some thoughts. Mu mind raged on. My anger built. I wanted him to come back and piss me off. I wanted him to give me a reason, an excuse to kick his ass. I wanted to do to him what I wished I could have done to him, some thirty years ago.

 

The angry, yelling guy came back to the car and past my window. He startled me. He walked past me and looked in my vehicle. I thought to myself, “You do not want any of me.” He got back in to the car. She was franticly looking around the car. He set in to yelling again. I could not tell what exactly he was saying. She got more frustrated. I tried not to stare.

 

She was talking but it looked like pleading. He grabbed her arm by the wrist and pulled something out of her hand or hit her hand. I had enough. I got out of my vehicle and walked towards the car. He got out and went towards the school.

 

She was there in the car still. I asked if she was ok…no answer. I got back in to my vehicle. She grabed the keys and went towards the school after him. I grabed my bag and left to go to class. As I entered the school I passed her as she exited the building. Our eyes met and she looked down at the grond. Her eyes still swollen and her face puzzled.

 

I walked through the building and he approached me, “Sir, I know you were sitting in front of us. Did you see where a phone went?”

 

“No, “I said. “But I did see you grab her. You better be cool.”

“It’s been a tough day,” he said. He smelled very musky. He looked like it had been a while since he had showered or cleaned up. He was embarrassed by my comments and looked everywhere but at me. I stood well over a foot taller than him. I was anxious. I feared more confrontation. His face phased in and out with that of my mom’s second husband.

 

“I dig. You better be cool. She doesn’t need to be talk to like that.” I hope this is what I said. It was something like that. I doubt it was as cool or poised as it is here. I was shaking and far from composed.

 

He sort of smiled and I walked away. I was fighting with myself, “Do I contact security?” I walked to the desk and informed the woman behind the desk what had happened. I asked her to please have security swing by to check on the couple to make sure she was ok.

 

The woman called security and practiced anything but discretion. God and everyone within 100 feet heard her say, “We have a report of domestic violence in the parking lot! Get out there right now.” I wanted to hide. More conflict. I was embarrassed. Then I was mortified as I realized the woman that was in the car was standing right there, mortified. The man that had just been yelling at her was also standing there looking at the swollen eyes woman and then me.

 

The woman on the phone almost yelled n to the receiver. I tried to hide. I tried to whisper to the woman on the phone they are right there, please use discretion. I wanted to run out of there. I stood there with emotions and memories flooding in.

 

Then the regret arrived. Did I do the right thing? Was I overreacting? I began checking in with myself. I called my wife. I called my brother. I prayed. I tweeted. I reached out in to my world looking for assurance that I did not fuck up.

 

I left school without going to class. I went and talked to the professor. I was shaking. With the passing time I got real anxious. I needed to process what had happened. I wanted to go back and not get involved. I have violence, especially, violence against women.

 

With almost 2 hours between me and these events I am having a hard time accepting I experienced violence. This was a violent act perpetrated upon another human. I am certain I did the right thing. I am sure of my actions. I wish there would have been greater discretion in the part of the woman on the phone. I may store securities number on my phone and call directly next time.

 

I am further convinced of the need for men to take a stand against this kind of violence against women. I wanted to not get involved. I wanted to dismiss it as “just an argument.” I wanted to forget about it and mind my own business.

 

I am still feeling anxious. I will calm down. I am thankful that something moved me to get involved. If we all stepped in to pause and end this violence the women in our lives would not have to live in fear. Fear of violence that dehumanizes them. Too many women live in a state of anxiety in this world that sees then and treats them as property, objects, and anything but fully equal creatures of a creating God.

 

I hope she is ok. I hope she doesn’t have to feel in danger. I will pray for her and for him. Her for safety and for him the courage to not be an abuser and break this ugly cycle of violence against women.

Run Through The Hills

This article is featured on Jennifer Luitwieler’s website in a series called “Why I run.”

Running is in my blood. It is not a direct link but an ancestral one. I am a descendant of the Proud Kaw and Pawnee Nations. This makes me some sort of kin to the great Billy Mills. The blood that fueled his heart in 1964 fuels mine in 2012.

I can only remember the times before I ran as a hazed block of mistakes and gallant efforts to find peace in recovery from my addiction. I had a life prior to when I began running, I just think my life has more depth and meaning now that I run.

I wrote an article for RUNREVRUN just after I finished my first half marathon in Louisville, KY. In it I described my connection and affinity to Billy Mills. I fancied myself as the new Billy Mills and as a boy would run and pretend I was Billy running free on the Mid American Plains past buffalo and past the tall grasses that blanket the mounds of our ancestors.

I felt free when I ran. It has always been a way for me to escape my life’s problems and be near Tirawa, the Creator god of my ancestors. I did not know as a child that running was not the same as flying. It sure felt that way to me.

My first race I trained with my wife. We signed up for a training program at our local YMCA. We ran a 5K, a 10K, a 10 miler, and the half marathon in a group. I ran off over 60 pounds during those five months of training. I felt free. I felt liberated. I was Billy as I crossed that fist half finish line.

With the sense of freedom and liberation to my back I pressed on. My knees were sore and I did not run for the next couple of months. I kept up fitness with cross-training and some weight training. Then life got busy.

My wife and I are both pastors. My wife had put her career on hold for me to pursue my pastoral dreams. It was time to return the favor. We entered the search process and my wife found a call in Oklahoma City. This was just in time. My job (call) was rapidly deteriorating.

I began my career in ministry as a bright eyed creative young(er) pastor with energy, excitement, and passion for those I served. I ended my career in ministry wounded by disapointing pastoral relationships, horrified by relationships with office staff, and feeling let down by the seemingly different visions for ministry the congregation and I had. I gladly left Louisville looking for a change.

I decided to focus on training for two half marathons over the next six month period. This surely wound get my shit tighter and help me recover from the departure from ministry. We left for Oklahoma City with excitement, trepidation, and a plan.

On the way to Oklahoma we found out my wife’s grandmother (Maw Maw) died and we needed to get to Austin, TX. We made our way to Oklahoma and drove to Amarillo, TX for my wife’s ordination and then straight to Austin for the funeral.

It was there that I signed up for two half marathons. I was eager and hopeful. I was inspired by Maw Maw and hoped to honor her memory by training and finishing these races.

I did not run. I found excuse after excuse. There are no safe places to run in Oklahoma City. It is too windy and cold to run. I joined a gym and trained in doors. Then my depression hit full on.

I had not realized how dark and deep the waters had gotten. I was mired in the marshes of self-hate. I had a tremendous amount of hatred and angry towards the church. I loathed God. I cussed God up one-side and down the other. The very mention of church made me upset.

I needed help. Running no longer helped. I stopped running but kept up cross-training. I went and saw a therapist. I went every week in fear that if I did not go I would succumb to the dark voices in my head and “peace out” to this world. I desperately wanted to find that peace to run again.

Over the course of the next couple of months the darkness slowly diluted and the light shined through. I tried to run again but found out that the twenty-five pounds I reclaimed had put additional stress on my body and my knees could not take it.

The light was there but my knees were not cooperating. I kept up the cross-training in hopes to drop all the weigh I had regained. I had all but forgot about the races I had signed up for.

The first one came and went. There was no way I could have run it. I pushed it out of my mind and looked upon the next one some four weeks away.

Around this time I came across an article on Billy Mills in Runner’s World. I read it and got super excited about running again. I worried that I could not complete the half marathon on such little training.

I attempted a three mile run on the treadmill and did great. My knees were not so sore. I waited a week and ran seven miles. It felt great to run again. My knees were a little sorer than the week before. I waited a week before I ran another nine miles. These nine miles were a week prior to the half marathon. I was sure I could do it. I felt great and was sure I could do another four miles.

I rested the week before the race. On the morning of the race I got up earlier than a rooster and set out to downtown Oklahoma City for the race. I got little to no sleep but was pumped by all the excitement surrounding the race. It was celebrating and honoring those lost in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

I was alone, in the early morning darkness sitting on a wall waiting for the race to begin. I prayed, “God get me through this race. I am willing to die to finish this one.” I was truly willing to die. My plan was to run/walk the race and hoped to finish under 3 hours 30 minutes.

I walked to the starting line and realized that most of the runners had already started. I was the second to last person to start the race. The last guy to start was a solider carrying 168 pounds to honor those that died in the attack. I though to myself I hope to at least beat him.

I ran alone in my head. I prayed for others. I prayed for myself. I cussed at God. I enjoyed being out there. I ran so slow it might have been a brisk walk. It rained on us and it felt good. My legs felt great but my arms were heavy and I got real tired carrying them around. I wished I could detach them and pick them up later. I did not stop running until mile 11 or 12.

I sort of stumbled the last mile of so. It was sheer will power that I got to the end. When I got to the final straight away I mustered all the strength I had left and sprinted (this might have actually been the perfect impression of a Clydesdale horse) towards the finish line. I still had tears in my eyes. I looked to my sides and stretched out my hands to the imaginary Billy that ran on my left and to my wife who ran to my right and held their hands as I crossed the finish line. I was a sobbing mess as I crossed the line.

I wobbled and fell in to the arms of one of the volunteers. Crying I struggled to speak to them when they asked if I was ok. I was not but said I was. With his help he picked my up I wiped my eyes, received my medal and started to walk home.

I have never been more proud of anything in my life as I am for having completed that half marathon. In it I rediscovered me. I rediscovered than passion for why I run. In it I was truly liberated. Those 13.1 miles offered me the best therapy that I have ever had. Through every hill, turn, straight away, and cheering section I kept on keeping on. In the end I discovered I no longer needed to run from the man I used to be or the man I want to be. I can now simply run.

 

The Audacity of a Part Time Indian [Part 3]

Continued from part 2 & part 1.

The final years of high school came and went, as did a few years in community college, without a whisper of my “Indianness.”  Then one semester I decided to take a class on Native America history.  That spark inside me was set to roaring fire by the death of my grandmother.  It was her death that inspired me back in to the quest of finding purpose and identity within my part time Indian status.

It sounds crazy to me now as I write this, her death saved my life.  My grandmother was rumored to be some minute portion of Cherokee but she was a tall, lily-white farmer’s daughter from Missouri.  I am not really sure how she met my grandfather.  I just know that they meet before he went to fight in the war and they waited till he returned to get married, so if he died in the war he would not leave behind a widow.  There is that noble Indian.  My grandmother was the Ying to my grandfathers Yang.

Where my grandfather was big as life and loud as hell my grandmother was quite and meek.  Where my grandfather was full of vices my grandmother never smoked and only drank once that I can remember.  My grandfather was sort of religious where my grandmother was a devout Presbyterian Church lady.

Before she died I would spend every other week or so with her in Orange County.  I was still living in the Valley at the time.  I wanted to reconnect with her and with that family that I had grown up with.  I wanted to rediscover the part time Indian within and reclaim my “Indianness.”  It was shortly after her death that it happened.  She came to me in a vision.  In that vision she essentially told me that the road I was on was gonna get me in trouble and that I was to get back to my original quest, the one my grandfather had sent me on some 23 years earlier.

You see when my grandfather had died I remember having my first vision.  I was asleep and awoke to the sound of a drum and a flickering light off in the distance.  As I became aware of my surroundings the beat became louder and the light became clear that it was a fire and the flickering was dancers passing in between the fire and me.

I moved closer to the fire and found myself now between the dancers and the fire.  They were singing a song in a tongue I could not speak yet I understood what they were saying.  They were calling out to the Creator and giving thanks for the stars, the sun, the sky, and the hunt.  They moved the earth with their steps.  I was in awe of what was going on.

Out of the circle a man approached me it was my grandfather.  He was not the man I knew but younger.  I was not afraid at all.  He knelt down in the middle of the circle and spoke to me.  He told me I needed to go back.  That I was the protector now.  That I was to tend to the needs of my family.  That there was something inside me that would be a gift to those around me.  This was the vision my grandmother came to remind me of.

Home is…


You can’t go home again. I am not sure how many times this sentence ran through my head over the last eight years. I know that every trip I took back to the Southland I uttered some form of this sentence either out loud or in my heart as the landing gear stretched out towards the tarmac from underneath the flying tube I was seated. It was something that I pondered a lot prior to leaving for Kenya in 2004.

I had many dreams about death. I never really thought my departure was real, all the way until the point I awoke in a monastery in Nairobi. I figured “they” would find me out as a fraud and send me home packing. I was not sure what I feared. I knew that I was terrified. I knew my life would never be the same. My idea of home expanded, crumbled, and departed. It was renewed, transformed, recovered, and renamed. You can’t go home again.

When I was in late elementary school I had a wonderful imagination. I did play with others, when they were there. I preferred to be left alone. I was deeply introverted. I was tying to make sense of my world. A world turned upside down with the death of my grandfather and my parent’s divorce. My brothers and I were always the last ones in the schoolyard waiting to be picked up by our father, who drove from El Segundo to Westminster every weeknight. I would swing on the swings by myself and dream dreams.

I soared in the clouds looking for an escape. I desperately wanted to be anybody, anyone, and anything other than, Ryan. Inspired by the books I read I explored those places on the swing. I kicked my legs to the pyramids, along the Silk Road, and back and forth between time and space. I would get lost in thought and smile.

I had many homes growing up. I was born in San Fernando. I have lived in Washington State. I lived in Northeast Los Angeles. I lived in Westminster, California. I hit puberty in Westminster and fell in love in the San Fernando Valley. I love and miss them all for various reasons.

I remember my father telling me, “You can’t go home again,” for the first time just after he remarried and we all moved to the Valley. We were heart broken to leave our family and familiar surroundings. We harbored thoughts of breaking up our father’s marriage and then returning to Westminster. It never happened and we never went back home. We forged a new home together. A home I grew to love and miss when I departed across the ocean.

Again, I was on a jetting tube on its way to the Southland. This time I was with my wife. This would be our first trip “home” since we got married in 2008. This time my intimate worlds would collide. My homes would meet each other and I was not sure what would happen.

I have held on to the idea that one day we would return to the Southland, together. That my wife and I would eventually settle down in to our life together back home and then we could get to the real living. I think that is what streaked across my mind when I would travel to and from the Southland.

A part of me was taking an inventory of sorts. Sure it is expensive to live in LA, but you get much more in return. I found myself talking things up prior to our trip. I prayed on several occasions that God would clear the way and melt the heart of my beloved so that she could see this place I called home for what is was, “our predestined love nest of hope and glory.”

Then something happened on this trip. I drove around all the homes I known in my 33 years living in the Southland and with each passing building the memories flooded in and my heart did not budge. It was not a cold and isolating experience. It was more of a recognizing of old friends, old lovers that have moved on from each other. I tried to mourn or weep but it did not seem appropriate.

So much has changed. The mall where we would hang out and smoke cigarettes was now an upscale outdoor supercenter tied together by all your favorite eateries. Gone was the indoor wonderland and the center stage where we watched the parade of beautiful teenage women. Gone was the arcade where we school all takers on the craft of digital WWF wrestling. Gone was the storm channel we used to hang out in and drink beers.

We stopped at our favorite Taquería, El Tapatio. There we meet my oldest friends. The only friends I have know for longer than 22 years. We ordered a burrito. It was the same as I remembered. It was delicious and it made me feel 16 again. We carried on and caught up. It was awesome to be near these guys. I love them very much.

I prayed throughout the day for guidance, awareness from God. “Lord, make in me a new heart. Renew the right spirit within me…” There was not silence. God offered me physical evidence; the signs I used to pray for in abundance. It was not a mystery at all. You can’t go home again.

The Israelites wandered the dessert for 40 years. Jesus hung out in the desert for 40 days. The desert fathers and mothers vacationed in the desert for lifetimes. Countless souls search for the divine in a diversity of ways. I have been in the desert, searching for something. I have lost track of time. God has been calling me out of the desert for some time now. I want to go but I have grown fond of the desert. I am comfortable here. I am afraid to remove the mourners cloak and put on the wedding gown. I have been in a desert of abundance walking a path in hopes of bumping in to God as God has been waiting at the oasis until I got ready to leave the desert.

I am finally learning the never departing lesson; you are home. I no longer search aimlessly in any journey. I am hanging out where I am, trusting that God is searching for me. I will be found. I am not lost. I am found. I am home.

Don’t we are all search for home? Longing for that home we can’t go back to. The home that has keeps on living even as we have departed. A home that has transformed, renewed, reframed, and rejoiced in our departure. A home that fondly remembers us, even if we can no longer remember it’s loving cuddles.

Home is where the heart is. It’s cheesy. It’s true. Home is not a place as much as it is a state of mind. A claim placed upon ones mind and space as to say I am anchored to “_______.” Home, when tied to a physical location dims the divine light to which we truly hunger. You can’t go home again because you never truly left. I wonder if that really is not the Gospel in a simplistic, digestible pill. If I can’t get lost, leave, or return what does that mean for my relationships with God?

It is like removing the fires of hell and the glory of heaven so that all that remains in the pure joy of being in the presence of the Divine. In the end this is what I yearn for more than anything, to be squarely n the presence of the Divine and bask in her home.

Our House

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This past Saturday I drove to the home that I lived in from 1988 until 1998. My folks sold the house in 2006 and moved to Texas.

I attended high school, prayed to be black, found my first love, had my heart destroyed, dealt with addiction, found Jesus, lost Jesus, mourned my grandmothers death, attended college, dropped out of college, got sober, fell off the wagon, dabbled in poetry, dreamed dreams, and tried like hell to find myself in this house.

This house was my discovery zone. This house was my castle. This house was my nest.

When we first moved in my brothers and I slept in the closets of our rooms after my parents would not let us sleep together in the same room. We had shared a room with my father for 8 years. Three boys and one man in a 10×10 room. This house was a new beginning.

This house allowed me to awaken to the athlete within. This house dared me to embrace the fearfully, wonderfully made creature of God I am. This house is full of tears, smiles, laughs, fights, joys, and the remains of a few best friends.

I never got to say good bye to this house. A beautiful young family bought it. From what I hear they love it and she’s been good to them. On Saturday I pulled around the cul-de-sac and parked in front. I snapped this picture. I wiped the tear from my eye that was daring to form. I prayed a silent prayer and I said good bye.

This house is only a memory. This house will always be home to those firsts and the home for my youth. I will love her always. She is my first love. She is the one I long for. In her yard along with my best friends is part of my heart and many hours of sweat.

Thank you for being so kind to me.

Wednesday the 13th

Usually it is Friday the 13th that people fear. It has a bad wrap. Black cats. Voodoo dolls. No walking under ladders. All superstition rooted in fear. Somewhere in sometime these things begin with fear, disappointment, or bad news.

Wednesday the 13th will be a day I will no longer hold affinity for in any positive way. Today I called my mom to discuss my upcoming vacation. I was excited to make plans to hangout and have dinner. I have not seen my mom since June 01, 2008, the day after my wedding. I miss her.

We chatted a little. More small talk and then, “did you talk to your brother? Nope Why? I was thinking it was some drama about my trip. Someone was upset that I could not spend time with them. The pitfalls of having a huge family. I waited for the silence to clear and for her to tell me that one of my brothers was upset with me or that she was disappointed that I was not going to stay near her.

“I have stage 2 Renal Failure.”

Crickets…

Shit…I pretended like I did not hear. “I am sorry mom. My phone is breaking up.” If I did not hear it, it was not true. Please God, don’t fuck with me. Tears crept up behind my eyes.

“Mom, what did you say?”

“I have stage 2 Renal Failure.”

“Hmmm, that sucks.”

My mom is a nurse. She has been all of my life. She used to give us shots from medicine she kept in the fridge that she smuggled from the office. She was a tough one to trick to stay home from school. She would insist on taking your temperature from the backside. It was more accurate. I had perfect attendance for most of my elementary years.

My mom and I had a hard time growing up. My folks divorced when I was 5 or 6 and my mom was left in a condition that was not the best to raise 3 boys under the age of 6. We went to live with my father and my grandmother. My dad’s sister lived there too. Soon my aunt (dads sister) and her 4 kids moved in to the house. That was 4 adults and 7 kids packed in to a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom house. This was not easy on my mom.

We were my mom’s life. She ate, slept, and existed for us. She fought to get back on her feet and soon we would see her every other weekend. She was the one that cultured us. She took us to plays, museums, gardens, and anything that was free in the LA basin. She was the smartest and most cultured and creative person I knew.

My mom was not the mom everyone else had. She was not the PTA kind of mom. She was not there when we got home from school. She came to as many of our things as she could but missed more than I would have liked. She did her best.

I have not always seen eye to eye with my mom. For a while were where estranged. At odds over something that I can no longer remember.

Recently, I have been going to therapy. I have been going for the last 4 months. It has allowed me to reclaim the beauty and joy of my youth. For the longest time when asked of my childhood I could only conjure up pain and disappointment. These last few months have allowed me to remember the mom that pushed my on the swings. The mom that hid her homelessness from us. The mom that laughed and smiled when everyone else could only cry.

I have loved reconnecting with her about these things. Every phone call over the last few months have seemed to open up another beautiful memory that we get to share. My mom is a strong woman. She might be the strongest woman I know. She has survived breast cancer. She has survived domestic violence and an abusive husband. She loved disco when everyone else thought it sucked. She gave me my love of Motown Records and tried to teach me to dance while Soul Train was on. I was poor in many ways growing up but I was rich in mom.

“Hmmm, that sucks.” I wanted it to not be true. I prayed deep inside my heart, in a place that I have only been once before with my brother, Grant.

“I have stage 2 Renal Failure. It’s not the end of the world. It is not my favorite. But I will enjoy the time that I have.”

I wanted to cry. She wanted to make plans for next Thursday. “Why don’t we go to the zoo and have dinner”, she offered.

That sounds great, mom. My phone was about to die. I told her this and in a calm voice, holding back tears she said, “I’ll talk to you soon, honey.” Thursday cannot come soon enough.

Three Brothers [Kenya 2005]

I was a missionary in Kenya in 2004-2005. I was assigned to Church World Service, East Africa to take photographes, write human interest stories, and help with report writing. This photograph was taken at a primary school in Nairobi that butted up against a landfill.

There was some really big programme kick-off and all kinds of politic big whigs were to be there. I went to take photos for CWSEA. We have a programme that sought to mitigate violence and war by protecting schools and involving the community to invest in the protection of the schools.

As I was taking pictures the tall boy in this photo asked me to take a picture. When I set the camera on him he motioned over to the other two boys to come in to frame. The other children in the yard were kept at bay with glaring looks of promised whoopings.

Through an interpreter I found out that these three boys had come from Sudan and were living in a slum near the school. A local agency sponsored them to attend school. This was the first time the three had a photo of themselves. I promised to return with a copy for each of them.

I left the school and came back in the next few weeks to give the boys the photos. I could not find them and no one at the school could tell me what had happened to them. I often look at this photo and pray for them.

The Audacity of a Part Time Indian [Part2]

Continued from part 1

It was around this time that my questions about my grandfather gave way to bits and pieces of his story outside of the burrito eating, Red Man chewing hulk that I knew.  My grandfather was orphaned at an early age and raised in a government Indian school in Oklahoma.  He was taught how to be “white.”  His mother tongue was beaten out of him and Tirawa became a distant memory, replaced with Father God and his holy friends, a Ghost & a guy named Jesus.

Every day that passed my grandfathers memory faded and my “Indianness” was replaced with pop culture and the desire to belong and be cool.  I was raised to be an Indian but I had no idea what that meant nor did I look the part.

I watched movies like “A man Called Horse”, “Dances With Wolves”, “Thunder Heart”, and “Billy Jack.”  To me an Indian needed to be noble with a face that looked pensive and wise framed by long black flowing hair.  An Indian could live off the land if needed and his soul desired nothing more than to get back to his “ways”, the old ways that his ancestors practiced.  I had no idea exactly what the old ways were.

I joined the Boy Scouts in hopes I could connect with these old ways and learn how to live of the land.  This was a radical shift in reality for me.  I lived in Southern California and split time between Northeast Los Angeles and Far Western Orange County not exactly bastions of the wild plains.  My outdoor experience was limited to my time at Griffith Park and my sense of adventure ended at that little train you could ride at Travel Town.

In my time as a Boy Scout I learned how to forage for plants, sharpen knives, filter water using your bandana, start a fire, and shoot a bow & arrow.  I was eating this stuff up.  I was becoming equipped to become the Indian I had always knew was inside me.  I had a goal.  I wanted to become a part of this super secret order within the Boy Scouts that had cool Indian logos and other merchandise.  The problem was I was too young to join and they did not give extra credit or speed up the process on the account of me being a part time Indian.  I soon lost interest in this endeavor all together as the part time Indian within discovered a new identity and a new passion of wrestling.  The first in a line of obsessions that filled the hole of identity and clouded the part time Indian within.

This new passion for wrestling made me forget my “Indianness” altogether.  The likes of Hulk Hogan, JYD, The Road Warriors, Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Iron Sheik, & Andre the Giant became my heroes and it was these men I sought to become.  All the while the faint whispers of Chief Jay Strongbow and the emerging Tatank beaconed me to mind the winds of change.

When wrestling was not enough and the war games got to violent I discovered the peaceful ways of Shaolin. This was my brief encounter with Buddhism and my foray into Kung Fu Theater and my even briefer period as a Shaolin Fighting Monk.

A few years had passed since my grandfather’s death and his memory became a very private affair.  His memory became an annual moment that the adults in my life practiced most often with a six pack or bottle maybe even some tears.  For us kids this day came and went without any fanfare at all.  Wrestling was replaced with football and in 1988 my father remarried and we moved to the Valley.

With this move I saw the opportunity to redefine myself as something new.  I latched on to my football loving identity became an athlete and flirted with this cat Jesus.  It’s not that this was the first time I hung out with this Jesus.  I went to Catholic school and Lutheran schools my entire elementary experience and part of middle school.  I knew Jesus and lived in this sort of veiled reality where Jesus was there in the house but I had no room in my heart for this Jesus.

I remember thinking that I would get on the Jesus train at a later date as I was young and wanted to explore this life and did not want to get in line with all of those requirements that one had to fulfill before Jesus would call you his own.

I searched the sidelines at every football game looking for the “who” to my “what.”  I desperately wanted to figure out who I was.  The idea of Jesus crept in when a group of us prayed before the games for victory and after the games for girls.  At this point in my life my “Indianness” had no voice in my life.  I was too busy being “me” and the rigors of high school allowed me no room to explore the inner questions surrounding my part time Indian status.

 

Liberation in A Massage Parlor

This morning I went with my wife to get a massage as part of her last days of her twenties. She will turn thirty tomorrow. It was not one of those couple’s massages. I am not against those, it is just I wanted my wife to have her own thing.

We went to a national chain and were greeted with a marvelous deal. We endured the mild pressure tactics to supersize our experience with momentary and fleeting deals. It was almost like being on Deal or No Deal. We managed to escape in to the calmly lit relaxation waiting room. There were comfy sofas and a large plasma TV acting like a digital fish tank full of exotic fish.

My wife is called back first and than me. I go back to my room and take off my shoes and t-shirt. I lay on my stomach and the massage begins. My masseuse engages in a bit of small talk. “How are you today?” “Is this your first massage?” “What do you do for a living?”

I answered the first two questions honestly and with no haste. I wavered on the third. I thought do I really want her to know what I do? I weighed my options and calculated the risk and answered. I answered, “I am a minister.” I was fully hoping that would shut down all conversation and I could get in to the relaxing part of the massage.

It got quiet after my response. A couple of minutes passed by and I hear her say, “May I ask you a question.” If you know me you know I love to talk to people. I rarely turn down a conversation. Better yet meeting new people and holding court is my favorite pastime. So without hesitation I respond, “Sure. Go ahead.”

She asks me, “What do you think about Revelation? Are we in the end times?” BAM! I was floored by her question. So long relaxing moment. Hello, Mr. Lecture. I asked her if she wanted my opinion, beliefs, or what the church taught about it? She said, “I guess I want your opinion.”

I shared with her my past engagement of Revelation as a Conservative, Fundamentalist, Evangelical, and Charismatic Christian and how I literally interpreted scripture and sought to live it out militantly. Back then Revelation scared me and fashioned me in to a sin counting zealot responsible for everyone’s sins and had to “save” as many folks as I could to do right by God.

Then I told her how I see Revelation now. A book that describes a particular moment in time describing the horrors of Nero and the hoped destruction that would befall him and the empire he represented. I no longer felt responsible for everyone’s sin. Rather, I held on to the idea of corporate sin and worked to fight injustice and build relationships with a diversity of people.

She was sort of taken back by my answer. She inquired as to what sort of religion I practiced. I told her I was Christian, like her. She did not care for that much. She started in with an Apologetics trajectory. It brought me back to those days when I argued for people’s souls, wrapped with my Sword (my Bible), and cloaked in the unrelenting truth of God. I tensed up.

She shared with me her story. She had lived a tough life and found peace and salvation in Jesus. She left her spouse in Las Vegas to return to Oklahoma and that peace that God was calling her to.

I listened to her seeking to affirm her. She weaved in to her story solid truths and started to pick what I shared with her apart. She then blatantly offered I am not sure what you believe but I know it’s not the Christianity that I follow.

I tried to counter with, “There is room for many ways of being faithful in my understanding of God.” Then I offered up the story of the blind men and the elephant. The blind men focusing on their particular experience with the elephant in their declaration of what an elephant is. They were unaware that they all shared a particular glimpse base in their particular experience with the elephant that when shared together offered the vision of the whole. She would have nothing to do with it. She rejected my story as sounding Buddhist. She was Christian and not letting the devil tempt her with that sinful knowledge.

I lay there quiet, trying to relax. She struggled with words but she maintained the massage. She seemed to channel her frustration in to the knots on my back. I was not hurting; it actually was a good massage.

I remained quiet, determined to enjoy the waning portion of this experience. I was quiet for sometime and hoped she would be too. She returned to Revelation and what she thought about it. She expressed her desire to one day be a missionary and go to the “Third World” to save folks for Jesus. I did not want to challenge her paradigm any more. I just listened.

She went on for about ten minutes. I lay there and listened, trying to fill my peace. As I did I noticed in her words courage and a sense of daring. She and I were really saying the same thing but could not agree on the definitions, let alone the parameters of conversation. I would offer something and she would counter me with her perspective, unable to hear what I was saying.

I did the same to her. I heard the Conservative, Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Charismatic Christian buzzwords and I shut down. I was not really listening to her. I was trying to figure out how to “fix” her. I pitied her and her backwards, folky ways and beliefs. I thought myself to be better than here, more educated. I felt as if I was beyond this poor, simple woman’s capability to understand who God really is.

I really started to listen and not figure out a way to change her. As I listened this time her words sounded much like Gustavo Gutiérrez. She did not say the words “preferential option for the poor” but she spoke of it in her experiences and hopes for herself in the hyperpatriarcal religious world she was in. Her words begged for liberation. Her hopes called for justice.

I listened to her and when there was a silence I asked her if she liked to read. She said she did and was always looing for a good book to read. I told her about Gustavo Gutiérrez and my favorite book of his “The God of Life.” I gave her a quick synopsis of it and tried to relate what she had been saying to what I felt the book was speak to. She did not say a word.

The hour had passed my knots were sufficiently undone. Her “healing hands” had blessed me with health. I put on my shoes and t-shirt and proceeded to leave. She stopped me with a pen and asked me to spell the name of the book I spoke of and the name of the author. She wrote it down on the prescription she was supposed to give to me for the front desk.

We settled our debt and left. I sort of chuckled when my wife asked me if it was relaxing. I told her my masseuse and I talked theology the entire time. My wife smiled and said, “Only you would go to get a massage and turn it in to an opportunity to talk about God.” Yup, I learn a lot about God from everyone I met.