No More Fear

Of the stranger,
Of the friend,

Of the burning sun,
Of the moonless night,

Of the broken down minivan,
Of the billing department,

Of the pain in my back,
Of the ending of a beautiful day,

Of the end of joy,
Of the suffering to come,

Of the walk alone,
Of the crowded room,

Of the loss of life,
Of the future of what remains

I will not be afraid.

I will not live my life closed off from the other.
I will not close my hand into a fist.
I will not wrap that fist around the grip of a gun.

I will not hate.
I will not fear.

I will be open.
I will be vulnerable.

I will be trusting.
I will be hopeful.
I will be unguarded.

A life of fear is not worth living.

I choose a life of love.

Doing the Exact Opposite

Been missing dad for the past month or so.

He taught me the value of doing something with your own hands even though I rarely managed to get it just right.

He taught me how to debate with someone but still love them even though he was completely wrong all the time.

He taught me that respect, honor, and treating others the way I wish to be treated were crucial parts of living a good life.

Even though he’s been gone from my life for nearly as long as he was in it (dang, I’m old), I hear his voice nearly every time I open mine to talk to the kids.

I remember once on a band trip when I was feeling down, I went to find him. He usually left me alone on band trips to give me my space, but this time I sought him out. Seeing him in the stands that Saturday evening, I went and sat down beside him. He glanced at me but didn’t say anything. He just quietly placed his arm around my shoulders as we sat there watching the bands.

He took care of me and still teaches me how to care for others today.

Love you, dad. I often find myself wishing you were here so I could ask your advice . . . and then do the exact opposite.

Violence Is The Problem

After posting about the school shooting in Kentucky a couple of days ago, the eleventh such shooting in the country since January 1, 2018, I had a friend ask me a question that stuck with me.

(By the way, every time I think it’s time to walk away from social media altogether, someone posts some question or some expression of kindness that draws me back in. I suppose that’s the beauty of relationships and being willing to talk to each other.)

The question that my friend asked was as follows:

Russell, as an educator, what are you seeing from young people in regards to the sanctity of life? Have they become desensitized, or is this more of a mental health crisis?

I’m not sure that my response was really worth saving and reposting here. I’m not sure that I’ve captured what I’m really thinking, but I think it is a start.
And sometimes a start is enough.
I do not believe that young people are desensitized to violence at all.
Nor do I think this can be blamed on a mental heath crisis (although, the stress of this life and our complete refusal to fund mental healthcare certainly exacerbates that.)
 
In my experience, they’re all too aware of the unpredictable nature of the dangers surrounding them.
 
What has happened is that they are losing their sense of safety and security. There are few places in their world that are untouched by violence.
 
This doesn’t desensitize them. I would argue that it has the exact opposite effect of making them hypersensitive to violence and death.
 
And it’s this sense of an absence of safety that harms them and causes a lost sense of the sanctity of life.
 
If even school and church are places of death and destruction, life doesn’t seem sacred at all, does it?
 
America’s love affair with violence as a cure for what ails us, our insistence that violence is the only appropriate response to anything less than adoration, our love affair with instruments of violence as our only recourse, is what I see as the central problem.
The mere possibility of infringement buries the art of peaceable assembly, of petition in seeking redress of grievances.
We’ve denigrated the outstretched hand and replaced it with the fist.
And we’re passing it on, everyday, to our children.

What Will Happen to Them?

On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered what would be his final speech in Memphis, Tennessee to his friends, supporters, America, the world, and to history.

In this speech, he offered his interpretation of parable of The Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke 10: 25-37.

Here’s what Dr. King had to say about it:

One day a man came to Jesus and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus (That’s right), and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base. [Recording interrupted] Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from midair and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. (Yeah) And he talked about a certain man who fell among thieves. (Sure) You remember that a Levite (Sure) and a priest passed by on the other side; they didn’t stop to help him. Finally, a man of another race came by. (Yes sir) He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying this was the good man, this was the great man because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.

Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. (Yeah) At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony. (All right) And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association. [Laughter] That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect. [Laughter]

But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. (That’s right) I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. (Yeah) And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. (Yes) It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred miles, or rather, twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. (Yes) In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. (Go ahead) Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking (Yeah), and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. (Oh yeah) And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” (All right)

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” That’s the question before you tonight. (Yes) Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?” Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” (Yes) The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question. [Applause]

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. (Amen)

As we consider our relationship with others, with our neighbors whom we know and don’t, with the strangers in our midst, with the strangers coming to our shores, the example of the Good Samaritan teaches us not to ask, “What will happen to us?” but rather to ask, “What will happen to them if we don’t?”

If you ask, what Dr. King would do, if you ask, what Jesus would do, I think the answer is clear.

Why I Write

When I was a young kid, there were three channels on TV.

Think about that for a moment. No shows on your phone (which was hanging on the wall). No shows on your computer (which cost, if you were lucky $2,000, and displayed text in green on a black screen). No shows in your room (we had one TV in the living room, and you had to walk up to it to change the channel on the dial).

Three channels. And not one of them was showing Star Trek at a reasonable hour for a 9 year old to watch.

There were no Blurays, DVDs, or even VHS or Beta waiting on the shelf for you to embrace your hidden geekiness.

The only time that Star Trek came on was occasionally on Saturday nights, at 11:30pm, on a channel out of Augusta rather than Savannah.

Which was a problem.

Cause the antenna on the roof was always pointed toward Savannah, not Augusta. (We could kinda pick up one channel from Augusta rather than three from Savannah.)

To watch Star Trek, one had to go outside, take the pliers, and twist the pole to point to Augusta, all while waking the neighbors as you shouted in, “IS IT ON YET?”

So the only geek show came on once a week at 11:30pm (with church the following morning—and a mom who would beat you if you happened to drop off). It was a hard time to be a Trekker.

Whatever should a trekker do, but learn to write his own Star Trek adventures.

You see, if you really wanted to be Captain James T. Kirk, you had to write your own adventures.

And so, I learned to love words because they could take me to strange new worlds. Through it, I could seek out new life, and new civilizations. Through my pen, I too, could boldly go where no man had gone before.

That’s the miracle of words, sentences, paragraphs and stories.

That’s why I write: because I want to create new worlds to explore. I want to dream of new life, and build new civilizations.

Plus, as Stephen King likes to say, it’s still a good way to pass the time.

And that’s what writing can bring to you, too.

You see every one of us sees this world and this life and this civilization through different eyes. And the only way those worlds will ever come into existence is through the act of piecing words together into stories.

And that’s why we write: to bring life to the unique, individual ideas that are bouncing around in our heads.

To paraphrase, Uncle Walt, we are large, we contain multitudes. We simply need to let them out.

My Credo, 2016

From my Facebook post a year ago right after the nightmare election. I’m actually more hopeful today than I was when I wrote it. Love is the only weapon that we have against hate.

Thankfully, it’s all that we need.

I will continue to work my ass off for the poor, the sick, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty.

I will continue to attempt to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

I will continue to fight for the rights of minorities, women, and children.

I will continue to defend the my LGBTQ brothers and sisters against those who attack them in the name of whatever god they believe in.

I will continue to fight for healthcare for everyone regardless of their ability to pay for it because I’m convinced that’s what being pro-life actually means.

I will continue to fight tooth and nail for education for everyone because that, and that alone, is how we can defeat the darkness of ignorance.

I will do my best to make everything I do an act of love, but my primary focus will always be upon the least of these.

I will continue to stand up against hate no matter how powerful those spewing it may be.

I will, as Dylan Thomas wrote in the last century, continue to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I will have faith that humanity won’t give into its bad angels.
I will have hope that together we can make our world a place where I’m not afraid to raise my children.

I will have love because that is the ONLY weapon we have against hate.

Life is Amazingly Good

When I take a step back
away from the mess of my desk with the precarious pile of bills
away from the house with the leaky tub
away from the bosses who seem determined to make education meaningless
away from the fears of what this country is becoming

When I take a step back
and watch them together
walking together, arm in arm—

I’m reminded of asking dad one day, when I was old enough to have learned of the complete nightmare that was the year of 1968,
“What were you thinking bringing me into that world?” and his reply,
“Well, your mom worried about it, but I thought you’d be okay.”

When I take a step back,
I remember, and
I believe he was right.

I am okay.

In fact, I’m far better than that.
So, thanks for your calm self-assurance, dad.
And your belief in the future.

They’re walking together in your steps.

What It Means to be an American

I am proud to be an American.

Mr. Trump did not have my support during the election. His policies are often the exact opposite of what I believe the country stands for and believes in.

I have been “giving him a chance” since he won the Republican nomination in the hopes that if he were to win, I could find a pathway through the next four years that wouldn’t be damaging for my family.

I have certainly been giving him a chance since he became the President-Elect.

His actions, his immaturity, his selections for cabinet members, and his public statements for where he is planning to take the country have only increased my concerns for the direction that he and the Republican Party are heading.

His policies, his actions, his attitude are directly hostile to my family. And so, in the tradition of the protests that have long made this country great, I will protest against the actions of President-Elect whenever he attempts to take the country in a direction that I believe harms people.

This is, for me, what it means to be an America: To stand in opposition to oppression, hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, and fear. To speak for the voiceless. To give comfort to the sick, the injured, the homeless, and the hopeless. To sing of this sweet land of liberty and justice for all.

What I will not do is what Mr. Trump did for most of President Obama’s term in office. I will not attempt to delegitimize the person in the office simply because I don’t like the color of his skin, the name he calls himself, or where he was born.

In short, after Mr. Trump takes the oath of office today, I will be hoping for him to mature and lead this country in a way that would bring honor to us all. I will also be ready to stand and oppose his actions whenever and wherever I believe it is necessary to do so.

I will, however, respect the office of The Presidency even if Mr. Trump does not.

And so, Mr. President, it’s time for you to lead, and to do so selflessly for the good of all the country, even those you call enemies. If you do, you will have my support wherever I can give it.

If you don’t, I will stand, armed only with my reason, to oppose you. Because that is what it means to be an American.

A More Perfect Union

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

There is far more than holds us together than separates us.

We love our children.

We love our families.

We love our communities.

We care for strangers.

We care for the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, and those in need.

We believe that Freedom and Justice and Equality are far more than dead words of a past age. We believe these ideals are crucial to humans living and working together.

We believe that people matter, and that the ideas that people have matter.

We are not perfect, and frankly we never will be, but we believe that we are striving to form a more perfect Union than we had together yesterday. It’s the striving that matters.

We have to keep striving together.

The Blessings of Liberty are not dead. We will secure them for all of ourselves and our Posterity.

It is so ordained. It is so established.

We are the people of the United States of America.

Be Human

Today, Woody lost his head. Literally.

Woody has been doing his Nearly Headless Nick impersonation for the last day or so, but today, he lost it altogether.

I had been trying to substitute another Woody for the past day; we have many of them in our house. But none of them were the right one. And Woody lost his head before we made it to the store.

And when he did, my boy’s heart snapped in two.

Every time he tried to put Woody’s head back on without success, the boy’s heart broke again.

But he kept trying.

And he handed Woody to me about halfway through the car wash, and through his tears he cried, “I need help, please.”

So I tried. But Woody was as broken as the boy and his daddy, sitting there in the car wash crying together.

When we got home, I took Woody inside for a moment while the boy cried in the car, and Crazy-Glued his head back on.

But the pain was still there. And so for the next hour and a half, we mourned Woody together. One of us, at the top of his lungs, hands to his head, crying out the pain of losing his friend.

Eventually, the tears dried, and the new Woody had arrived home, and the old Woody’s head seemed to be holding.

But the loss of a friend still breaks our hearts.

I mention this not so you’ll mourn with us, but feel free to do so if you want. That’s what the boy wanted today, after all.

I’m mentioning this rather so that I can help you to see that kids on the spectrum are not cold.

They are not dispassionate.

They are not heartless, and they are absolutely not loners.

Yes, there are times when human company is overwhelming for the boy. Hell, there are times when human company is overwhelming for his dad.

But when your friend loses his head, no matter who you are or where you are on the spectrum, you still want someone there who will try and help.

And if help isn’t possible, you still want someone there who will cry with you.

My son wanted me to share his loss.

Cause that’s what it means to be human.

When there’s a story circulating out there that kids on the spectrum are loners and thus dangerous, I hope you’ll remember this. What my boy wanted was someone to cry with him.

Now that Woody is better and new Woody has found a home where he’ll be loved, all my boy wants is someone who will play with him.

Cause that’s what it means to be human, too.