Category Archives: People

Where Do Babies Come From?

While visiting our in-laws in Montana and patiently awaiting the arrival of our newest tribesmen, Jade and I decided to dip out and take a walk with the kids. Turning the corner on an overcast day, Quinn asked me, no doubt with thoughts of pregnant women on the brain, “How do babies get inside the mommy’s tummy?”

This train of logic makes sense. We show up to Montana, telling the children that Aunt Katie is going to have a baby. We tell the kids that there is a baby in her tummy. Green light, green light, green light. Who the heck put that thing there?

Gotta be honest. I was a little caught off guard with that one. I had certainly thought about what it would be like having that talk with my daughter and I’ve thought about what I’d say but I’d never actually come to any kind of conclusion. I’d never thought I will say THIS. I mean, even if you’re going to shoot totally straight about it, there’s no clean way to say, “A man gets an erection – uh, that’s when his penis gets really hard, and then he sticks it into a woman and rubs it until he ejaculates inside of her – oh, ejaculate is like this creamy puddy stuff. Yeah, it’s pretty gross. So anyway, the man shoots this creamy pudding stuff into the woman’s vagina and then badda-bing, bodda-boom, the baby is there.”

It’s gross, right? You’re cringing. No way am I saying that to my five year old. No way am I playing this one straight.

Not yet, anyway.

I just imagine that I damage them so irreparably that every sexual experience they have for the rest of their lives both begins and ends with spells of shivering and vomiting.

Anyway, I’m like, “You know our garden and how we pick vegetables?” “Yeah,” “And you know how we plant a seed and then a plant grows?” “Yeah,” “A daddy plants a seed in the mommy. And the seed grows into a baby and when the baby is ready, we pick it.”

I say, “Does that make sense?” and she says, “Yes,” and then peddles away on her big wheel. What is happening? I’m having sex talks with my children. I was in high school yesterday. How did I get here?

Well, as it turns out, who the heck put that thing there turned into who the heck put me here which turned into who the heck put us all here?

This is a process of several days, understand. She’d ask a question and it would seem to percolate with her for 24 – 48 hours before she’d come back with the raised ante.

So we’re driving home from Montana and Quinn asks me from the backseat, “Daddy? Where do we come from? I mean, all of us? Did God put us here?”

And this is a role defining moment for me. I was raised in a very traditional Catholic household before leaving the Catholic church and rolling “straight Christian.” My faith has gone through a number of peaks and valleys – or rather, my faith has always been what it is but it is my actions that have seemed to falter. The spirit is strong but the flesh is weak, you know?

And it wasn’t until recently, and probably I could write an entire piece on this, that I’ve begun to seriously question many of the tent pole beliefs of my faith. Was Jesus actually the son of God or was he simply one of the most amazing teachers history has ever seen? Did Jesus resurrect after death? Is God real?

I won’t get into the minutia of it here – perhaps another time – but I’ve found this really divine peace that I’ve never experienced before. I feel free.

My faith was chaining me to the ground. My blind faith only made me blind.

And so I don’t want to tell Quinn that God is real and that she should believe XYZ simply because I’m telling her that it’s true.

And so I let her wonder. So that when she does look for God, it is her own journey and it’s not crafted by me and it’s raw and rich and experiential. Instead of telling her what happens in the movie and how awesome it is, I’m just going to let her go see the movie herself.

I believe that there probably is a God. I believe that it probably isn’t the one that modern Christian culture is having us believe in. I think our perspective of God is disgustingly warped and perverted and I think the Christian faith, overall, is absolutely grotesque masked hatred. While most of the followers walk around preaching peace, they’re sitting on their hands at home, blasting pornography and talking about how important it is to keep men from loving men and how to best keep families that are in desperate need out of our country. Basically standing in direct opposition to Christ’s teachings.

By opposing gay marriage, they are saying, in short, that love should not happen. And by keeping out the Syrian refugees they are saying, in short, that empathy should not happen. They will tell you all day long that they don’t think this but words are wind.

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” That’s James. From the Bible. Calling this brand of religion worthless. 

“And you will know them by their fruits.” That’s Jesus.

Christian church, we all know you by your fruits. And your fruit is rotten and disgusting and it turns the stomach of the world. Your faith is off-putting. It is not attractive. You are not the victim. You are the predator.

Christianity as a whole is very wonderful. The teachings of Jesus can change your life and can change the world. I don’t want what I’m saying to be confused with modern day Christianity, which is – for the most part – just a stiff-necked mannequin. An imposter. A copy of the real thing.

It is a giant, rubber dildo. A phony.

Most (not all) modern day Christians are so consumed with the laws of their faith that they’ve lost the lessons. Modern day Christianity has come full circle and the practitioners are the very Pharisees that crucified Christ.

When the Bible says that you’ll call to God and he’ll say he never knew you, it’s talking about those people. When the Bible says that many are called and few are chosen, it’s talking about those people.

If you believe in the devil, you can rest assured that he’s just kicking back and watching Christians do all his work for him.

And I can’t get behind that way of thinking. And I don’t want to associate myself with any group of people who lead their lives with such fear. I believe in a God that kicks ass in peace. A God that lives inside all of us and in everything. A thing of beauty and love and a thing that we can each connect with in that beauty and love.

And I found this raw experience because I was willing to let go of everything I knew and I would have missed it if I had refused to let go of things that people taught me instead of the things I had experienced for myself. Who God was to me was always who God was to my parents. Does that make sense? My perception of God was crafted by other people.

And I don’t want to craft Quinn’s perspective of who God is. When the Bible says seek and you shall find, I believe this is what it’s talking about. You come look for me. And I’ll be here. I truly believe that. And if you believe that, then cutting your children out into the world shouldn’t be a problem. If you believe that God is great and God is the Ultimate Truth, then if your children seek the Ultimate Truth, they will find your God.

But we’re all afraid they won’t find God. We’re all afraid they’ll find something else. Because when it comes down to it, we have no faith in our faith. And so we nurture our beliefs into them. Better to keep these things in our own hands. Spoon feed them religion.

When I told a number of my Christian friends and family that I was speaking with the door-to-door Mormons and was reading The Book of Mormon, I was told that I should quickly run the other way. When I told a number of my Christian friends and family that I was reading Dianetics, I was told that I should drop it and run the other way.

Never trust an organization, institution or group of individuals, whether that be political, religious or otherwise, that demands you to not seek knowledge elsewhere. When someone suggests that you not look for true knowledge outside of the presented box, they do not have your best interest at heart.
Fear of knowledge is a fear of reality. And a fear of reality leads to a very limited understanding of the world. And a limited understanding of the world leads to a limited understanding of people. And a limited understanding of people leads to fear. Oh, my. That’s certainly cyclical. Look at your people group. Look at your friends. Is it the same people that would tell you to hang tight to your beliefs that would tell you to keep the Syrian refugees out? Is it the same people that would tell you to hang tight to your beliefs that would tell you that gay marriage is an abomination but not be able to tell you why?

Are the people that tend to fear the world the same people that tend to fear knowledge?

When Quinn experiences God, I want her to experience the closest thing she can. And when she looks for God, I want her to look on her own. I want to instill in her a sense of raw wonder of the universe. I love that she’s asking all these questions at five. I love that she’s already seeing the world and going, what is this? What is this? What is that thing? How does this work? She asked me about the sun and planets and outer space the other day and now she’s memorized what most of them look like – she knows that Saturn has rings and Neptune has rings (that go the other way) and Pluto is tiny and Jupiter (which she spells Gupiter) has a big red spot on it and that our planet is blue and she understands that the planets work on a “big loop around the sun.”

I’m like, excuse the French but, what the fuck?

Is this child freaking Carl Sagan reborn?

“Well, Quinn. We came from amoebas.”

Amoebas?” really, truly shocked. “What’s that?”

“It’s like a small thing that’s even smaller than you could ever see. You’d have to have a microscope to see it. It probably traveled here on an asteroid that contained ice when the world was forming.”

“Is it like this small?” and she holds up her fingers pinched almost together.

“Smaller. Way smaller. Like nothing at all.”

And then I try to explain evolution to her but quickly realize that there is just no easy way to explain this to a five year old. You try to talk about things changing and it doesn’t make sense to them and you try to talk about natural selection and it’s just too big an idea because they don’t really understand breeding and passing of traits. Is there not a children’s version of Darwin’s Origin of Species?

So I’m left to try and simply draw connections between monkeys, apes, Neanderthals and modern man. “What animal do humans look like the most, Quinn?”

“Uh… monkeys?”

“That’s right! I’m very impressed that a five year old noticed that.”

 

Crickets.

 

“Over millions and millions of years, monkeys slowly became man.”

“God did not put us here?”

“Well, some people believe that God put us here and some people believe that God put the amoebas here and some people believe…

Are you sure you want to say this? Once it’s out of your mouth, you cannot take it back. Is this a seed you really want to plant? You are about to make a major life decision and this may affect her faith in sweeping ways – in large ripple effects.

“Some people don’t believe in God at all.”

WHAT?!”

She doesn’t ask me if I believe in God.

Sometimes I wonder what I would say if she had…

 

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TEARING OFF THE GIANT HOLY PENIS OF GOD

 Do we put God in a box?

 

The word God is a very heavy one and so let’s break it down a little before we move on. If I say the word dad to someone, they may get fuzzy feelings because their dad was amazing. The word dad has very positive emotional baggage for them.

 

Now, same word, different person. Dad can mean something vicious and upsetting to an individual that was sexually assaulted or abandoned by their father.

 

Let’s simplify this even further.

 

Wine Glass means something positive to an individual who enjoys the intricate tastes and aromas of the drink. However, I have a personal friend who sliced his hand so severely while cleaning a wine glass that he had to undergo extensive surgery and physical therapy before regaining the use of his tendons. He can’t hear the word without shivers running up his spine.

 

We each apply personal emotional baggage, whether that be good or bad, to every word.

 

For someone that received his or her first kiss in a movie theater, it’s a very pleasant thing. For someone who survived a mass shooting inside of one, the word elicits a very different emotional experience.

 

These are all very simple concepts that bring forward very complicated emotions.

 

Let’s try another word.

 

God.

 

Oooh, that’s complex. There are quite a lot of feelings coming to our minds right now and based upon the context of the last few paragraphs, you understand that someone else reading these same words is having a very different thought than you are. We are each experiencing God, in this moment, in very different ways.

 

Let’s mix it up a bit more.

 

Let’s take that idea you have in your head of God, whatever that is, whether it makes you feel nurtured or abandoned, and let’s add another layer onto it.

 

Bible.

 

I’ve written a couple paragraphs here that have made you, with your unique experiences, feel certain things. Just through a simple handful of words you and I have each come to different conclusions and emotional reactions. Now let’s look at a book that is filled with thousands and thousands of words. Some of them are poetic. Some of them are literal. Some of them are parables. Some of them are historical.

 

Now let’s apply each of our personal understandings to those words and you can see how this idea of God quickly spirals insanely out of control.

 

Should we complicate it further?

 

How about a multitude of holy scriptures? The Holy Bible. The Book of Mormon. The Apocrypha. The Gnostic Gospels. The Dead Sea Scrolls. The Torah. The Qur’an. This is to say nothing of the hundreds of scripture that exist outside of the Christian / Jewish / Islamic faiths.

 

Layers upon layers and words upon words written by people in different cultures in different eras that were influenced by different elements and then translated to other languages.

 

In fact, scholars believe that the pronoun Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit in the original Aramaic was feminine. SHE. And then it was lost in the Latin translation.

 

The image that I have in my mind right now is the world’s largest ball of yarn that has been knotted up to such a degree that it can never be untangled.

 

And perhaps that is exactly what God is. Something that can never be neatly laid out in front of us, dissected and examined.

 

How do we reconcile ourselves to this and find the true meaning behind anything? If I don’t know what you mean or feel when you say wine glass, how am I to know what you mean and feel when you talk about God?

 

The words of the Bible, even if you believe that they were inspired by the perfect hand of God, are still limited based entirely off of our unique interpretation of them.

 

Let that thought linger for a moment.

 

Even if the Bible is without flaw, our own unique flaws create problems where none existed because each of us interpret the words differently.

 

BIBLICAL MIC DROP.

 

So how do we come to know The Truth of God? How do we get to the pure emotion at the center of the words? An emotion carries so much weight. Explain love or fear in simple words. Use those grunts that tumble stupidly from your mouth to tell me what love does to your soul.

 

Perhaps we start this process by removing our labels. When we call God HE, we are applying thought and feeling to God based on our understanding of the word HE. Do we really believe that God is a male? That He has a giant holy penis? I mean, I’m being serious. Let’s talk this out. When we use the word HE, we are talking about a he / she scenario and we’re not ONLY saying that God is a HE but we are ALSO saying that God is NOT a SHE.

 

We have now placed a box around God. We have created parameters for God to exist within. Rather than God being big enough to exist outside of human sexuality, we have placed Him in a box that is human sexuality and then put Him over on the baby blue half. If we call God HIM then HE cannot, by nature of sex, be HER. We have now limited God.

 

Holy sausage party, Batman.

 

By doing this, we limit God through our label. And labels form expectations. When we call God HE we expect a certain type of individual. If nothing else, we immediately picture God as more of a father figure than a mother figure. That alone sends us spiraling into, what may be, a completely inaccurate understanding of The Immortal.

 

Just by the word HE.

 

Just by two simple letters pressed against one another.

 

Now let’s apply that understanding to something slightly more complex. Let’s try to understand The Holy Trinity. This idea that God The Father (male), Jesus The Son (male) and The Holy Spirit (once female, now neutered) are all single but different units. All separate but all together.

 

If that is our understanding of God, what word do we apply to it in our language? How do we describe that idea of three-in-one? A word must be attributed to it.

 

Alright guys, we are monks and we need a word to describe our understanding of God. God is all knowing and all powerful. God is within everything, dipped in our very existence. God is inside you and me and the air and our food and our thoughts and God has seeped into every nuance of our existence. God is both mortal and divine. God is both physical and spiritual. God is above and beyond our comprehension. God is outside of time. God is beyond form. God does not exist in many forms. God is above and beyond form. What word do we use to convey this sophisticated understanding? How do we convey a being that is above our understanding of shape? We need a word that means both all form and no form simultaneously.”

 

Trinity.

 

You can see how that word sort of works to convey that complex thought. You can see that they were trying to boil this very deep and sophisticated understanding of God down into this simple label. And you can also see that it’s a very bland word used to describe a very impressive idea. You can also see that the word Trinity is never found in the Bible and the concept was not created until well after the death of Jesus.

 

Another idea that was pitched and followed by the Christian church for a while was something called Adoptionism. This was the idea that Jesus was born a man, just like you and me. Absolutely no different. This is the belief that he was NOT born as the Son of God and that he didn’t become “divine” until his baptism later in life. An actual promotion from regular human to a God-figure.

 

And right now all the Christians are gasping at the heresy of… the Christian church’s early belief in the interpretation of the bible. This is our heritage.

 

These are just a few of the real beliefs that real Christians really followed based upon their very real personal interpretation of words. My, oh my, how we can pull so many conclusions from simple letters that have been mashed together to form words that are trying to explain emotions.

 

Words.

 

And so we start labeling God.

 

Even the word God is somehow limiting as to what we actually feel GOD to be. We see time and again in the Bible where it is clear that the authors were trying their absolute best to explain how massive this idea of God is while their words fail them miserably.

 

God is the Alpha and the Omega. Beginning and End. This guy is trying to say that God exists beyond and outside of time. He’s saying that God is not bound by our watches and calendars. Time has no bearing on God and means nothing to God. Time is a unit of simple measurement that creatures of this dimension are bound to. The way we can hold a film strip at arms length and examine both beginning and end simultaneously, God is not bound by our moments.

 

Whoa.

 

When Moses asks God what his name is and God responds with “I AM,” the author is NOT saying that God’s actual name is I AM. He’s saying that God cannot be bound by a name. God cannot be limited by a label. He’s saying that God IS. God is not a singularity with a face. God IS the breath of existence. The fabric of reality.

 

And perhaps through this understanding we also realize that even words like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, etc, etc, are all just more labels that we use to further ourselves from The Truth that is The Truth. Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran. Just more splinter cells that are drifting further and further away as we carefully craft more and more labels to dissect God, placing him inside smaller and smaller boxes.

 

By our labeling of God, we are limiting our own understanding of God. We come to the wineglass and we apply ourselves to it. We decide whether it is good or bad based upon our personal experiences but not upon a truth.

 

We come to God and we limit the absolute magnitude that is The Eternal. And by doing so, we choose to live in a muted world where we intentionally sell ourselves short.

 

We must remove the labels and forget the simple grunting words. God is more a piece of art than a diagrammed sentence. Or, as Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet ponders, “Silence is the language of God. All else is poor translation.”

 

If we put God in a box, we are putting God in a coffin and eventually He will become so sterilized and clinical that we’ll kill Him, bury Him and then kneel at the graveside and continue to mumble our empty prayers which are just words without emotion.

 

It is our overly simplistic, two dimensional understanding of God that destroys Him.

 

But maybe our understanding of HIM should die. Perhaps that spineless understanding of The Ever Present Always should be both castrated and killed. It is not until we tear off the giant holy penis of God that we stop picturing The Nameless Infinite as He. Perhaps The Real Truth is waiting for us to turn away from this mannequin we’ve been worshipping and come to understand that we will never understand.

 

Accept that the search is the answer because The Timeless Conscious has no end. God is not a math equation meant to be solved or a ball of yarn that is meant to be unknotted. We are meant to expand ourselves and mature our existence by experiencing God in our very lives.

 

We find God in kindness and compassion. We find God in empathy and sympathy. We find God in friendship and giving. We find God in a phone call or a smile to a stranger. We find God in holding a door for someone. We find God in helping a charity or doing dishes at a friend’s house.

 

That tingly sensation under our skin when we help an individual? That sorrow we experience when we see someone hurting? A high-five. An orgasm. Laughter at a birthday party. Tears at a funeral. Holding a new baby. Hugging your child. Laying in grass. A day off from work. A day at a job you love. A job well done. The smell of coffee beans.

 

This is God.

 

God does not exist in a box.

 

God does not belong in a coffin.

 

God is not a word. God is a poem.

 

God is the very beating of our hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sex Brain

There was a point in time, not that long ago, when our ancestors stood on the same ground that we stand on today, and they looked towards the sky and they pointed and they said, “There is the sun. It circles around us.” Today we know this to not only be false, but to be foolish. Today we understand that the Earth along with all of her buddies circle around the sun in a great big dosey-doe.

The sun sits at the center of our universe and burns bright. The sun does not set. The sun does not rise. The Earth spins, both on its axis and rotation. The sun rising and setting is an illusion. This is not news to either you nor I. I am not breaking new ground here. We were all raised in a world where we understand this to be true. We are operating out of fact.

And yet, at one point, not long ago, the whole of our planetary culture would have told you differently and some of them might have even used the bible as a resource to back their argument since Ecclesiastes says The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.

The sun hurries through the sky.

No, it doesn’t.

Everyone would have stood against you, hand in hand, and told you how absolutely ludicrous you were for believing in what I am suggesting above. There was a planetary belief held by almost every inhabitant of Earth that the sun spun around us in orbit.

Don’t just brush over that. Think about it. We did not understand how our universe worked and then we made very basic assumptions about the principles of it. We jumped to conclusions based off of pre-conceived notions. Those notions were that god created us and so we were at the center of the universe and everything revolved around us because we were the most important things.

This, for a person of that culture, of that era, made sense. And in some regard, I can appreciate their logic. Airplanes, televisions and calculators were not invented yet, let alone to say anything of space travel, quantum physics and DNA.

That’s very heavy. Their worldview was crafted more by what they did NOT know than by what they did. In other words, they were not operating off of a provable scientific platform. They observed with their eyes and then made a call without further research.

You can take this back a little further to discuss how the Earth used to be flat. Human beings, not that much different from you and I, believed that the Earth was flat and that you could fall off into some kind of dark oblivion if you got too close to the edge. Again, these are people speaking from a place of the unknown. This wasn’t based on any kind of proof but was rather based upon a kind of UNproof. A table is flat. If you push a bowl to the edge of the table, it falls off. This makes sense. The Earth is a great big table.

You can appreciate their viewpoint. You can say to yourself, yeah, I can see how they thought that. I don’t agree with it because I am smarter than that, but I can see why they would believe this with their limited view of knowledge.

So then, let’s turn the camera around and point it back at ourselves. What is it that we see in our culture that future civilizations will raise an eyebrow at? What will future generations give us the sympathy sigh for? Ah, simple people of the twenty-first century.

Right now we believe that beyond our galaxy is just more galaxies and that space continues on forever and I guess this makes sense. But maybe not.

Right now we believe that time travel is a near impossibility and that it’s something out of science fiction movies. But maybe not.

Perhaps the next level of science we’ll push into is not the cosmos nor time hopping. Perhaps the next level of science we’ll push into is the human brain. There’s this gray mass living inside of our skulls and we don’t fully understand how it works.

I want to reiterate that last line. We do not fully understand how our own brain works.

That thing inside your head that secretes chemicals that makes you happy and that thing that holds all your memories and controls your breathing. We have no idea how it works. It may as well be alien technology.

Just like the Earth circling the sun. Just like people falling off the edge of the planet. We do not fully understand how it works.

And sometimes we jump to conclusions based upon what we believe to be true over what is yet to be proven to be true. Even today we are not so different than the people of hundreds and thousands of years ago. We still make the same, short-sighted mistakes.

What does it mean to be a homosexual? Do you know? If someone asked you to describe why an individual aligns themselves with homosexuality, would you be able to answer in a way wherein you would not sound like a “Flat Earth” person? Would you be able to answer at all? Could you speak with a sense of truth that is provable – like the Earth revolving around the sun – or would you speak with a sense of belief?

We look at the world around us and we see male and female. We see the majority of people on Earth operating in a very specific fashion. Male paired with female. But because a majority of people do a thing, does that make it so? Does that make it the only way to experience life? Because most people do something, does that mean that the minority are not only marginalized, but cut out completely?

Perhaps science will one day dissect the human brain and it will understand how it fully works. Perhaps one day we will understand the homosexual brain and the asexual brain and the transgender brain and the unisexual brain. But until then, how can we speak with knowledge on these things without understanding the truth of them?

How can we, as people, make judgment calls, moral or otherwise, on a people group that we do not understand? This is to say nothing of understanding them emotionally or having empathy for their pain in a world that tends to shun them, but to speak strictly of the neurological ramifications of what it means to have a brain.

We do not understand the human brain. To make definitive statements about a person’s genetic make-up without understanding their brain is like making definitive statements about someone on trial without listening to their court case.

At one point in my life, not that long ago, I was a staunch opponent of gay marriage, gay people and the lifestyle that they represented. It was a sin against God and it was damaging our traditional sense of marriage. In the simplest sense, these people were wrong. About everything. Gay people either made a choice (probably subconscious) or were raised to be gay by either a lack of a parental figure (probably a father) or some kind of molestation event.

Maybe you think this. There are, after all, a considerable group of people that do.

But what if… (ah, two of my favorite words) what if someday we do understand how the human brain fully works and functions? What if someday we do learn that gender binaries (strictly male / female), are not the absolute end of the line in regards to sexuality? What if science expands our minds and our culture and we understand that people are born with a very specific bend and to go against that is to go against all that is natural for them.

What if we learn that your belief does not matter because it is definitively wrong? Imagine the mobs that must have occurred when the philosophers said, “We are not the center of the universe. God did not put us in the middle. We are circling around the sun and the sun is not god. We are just drifting in space.” BOOM. Their faith has been not only questioned, but crushed. They could still believe in god but they had to go back to the drawing board to figure out what the new model looked like.

Whoa.

They had to re-define how they saw and experienced god.

God had to change.

That’s a scary thing.

It’s scary to question our belief of how god relates to us, especially when we think we are in proper standing with god. Justice and justification are very dangerous things when we wield them ourselves. When we believe that god is on our side and that we are doing his work, they can become lethal.

Let’s each of us remember that the KKK is a Christian organization.

Let’s each of us remember that the Westboro Baptist Church, those fine folks that picket at soldier’s funerals and hold up the God Hates Fags signs, are a Christian organization.

Let’s each of us remember that ISIS, who is beheading children and raping infants, are an organization dedicated to doing god’s work.

You are probably not like any of these things. These are big picture problems. And I’m not suggesting that Christianity or other religious groups are all like this. They aren’t. People of all faiths do absolutely amazing works of humanitarian service. But remember that each of us are capable of being blinded by our own passion for justice by the almighty hand of god. And what we think that god thinks is right, is not always so. And we must question our own motives. It is imperative.

It is easy for me, for you, for all of us, to point at a minority and say, “They aren’t doing it right.”

But it isn’t very easy to sit in the quiet – to intentionally, literally, go into a room by yourself in the absolute quiet – and to think about our own shortcomings. It is very difficult to pick apart ourselves and accept how fucked up we actually are as individuals.

I’ll end with this. God is a tool. Like a hammer. And that hammer can be used for good things and it can be used for bad things.

In 1994 a hammer was used to build an orphanage in Kampala, Uganda that has housed over 3,000 abandoned children that would otherwise be dead.

In 2002 a man bashed his wife’s skull in with a hammer after he caught her having sex with one of his friends.

And keep in mind that the Bible condones this behavior. It doesn’t call it out with a hammer but it condones stoning your wife to death if you catch her in the act of infidelity (Leviticus 20:10). And guys, that one goes for you too. If you’ve ever cheated on your wife, the old testament god calls for your blood. You can make the argument that Jesus came (new testament) and all of those laws are now moot but once they did matter. Once god told a group of people to bury a woman up to her neck and smash her face with rocks. Once that is how people viewed god. God was on their side and their acts were just.

We can say “That doesn’t count anymore.” But it did. To someone who was placed in a pit and buried, screaming for help, screaming out to god to help, screaming at her husband to please forgive her before he splattered her brains all over the ground, it did matter. Because it happened a long time ago, does not negate its reality.

Even the holocaust is in the past.

But that shit matters.

Remember that our perception of god has changed more than once in the course of human history. Remember that the way you view god today is not the way people will view god in a thousand years. Remember that the way people viewed god in the past is not the way you do today. Remember that everything, including the unchanging god, does change. Or at the very least, our perception of god changes.

Remember that you are broken as well. And remember that you’ve done things that might require you to someday be buried up to your neck and have your face smashed in by rocks.

God is a hammer. Be sure you’re using it properly.

I hope your take away is this.

Our world changes (science, technology, war, peace, providential boundaries). Our moral code changes (as an adult I drink alcohol but don’t eat meat, the opposite of my childhood). Even our moral code in accordance to god changes (where it was once acceptable to kill someone for adultery, today we think it barbaric). Our science has changed. Our perception of the universe has changed. And even if you believe that god does not change, our perception of god does. And it is our perception that we act upon. It is our perception of god that gives ISIS their justification. It is our perception of god that gives us our bearing for right and wrong.

Everything changes. It is unstoppable.

And so let’s remember that human sexuality will also change. It will change. Or at least our perception of it will change. The reality is that it was probably always here, muffled and quiet and now we’re finally speaking about it. And the only thing that is in our control is how we handle it – how we perceive it. The LGBT community is a hurting and broken one.

I won’t touch on the current transgender bathroom topic because I believe it is one of simple logistics. There is a solution that will be enacted and then it will be over. This is not about the bathroom topic. This is about the heart in which we approach it. Our world is about the heart in which we approach it. God is about the heart in which we approach it.

This is our opportunity, as human beings, to pick up the hammer and repair or destroy.

How we use it is up to each of us.

 

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The Quenching Waters of Shame

 

Let me tell you about one of the most shameful moments I have ever experienced. Let me tell you about the awful time I wanted to disappear into nothingness because I was so humiliated by my thoughtless actions. Sometimes Truth is a venom and when it works its way into our hearts it hurts fiercely but it also helps if you let it. It can burn away all the fat of reality until we experience only the kernel of humanity that is left.

Let’s begin…

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The heat in Africa is like someone holding a blow dryer in your face on a July day. It’s like eating mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs in a Jacuzzi. It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire.

 

When you get a bottle of water, you don’t sip it. You slam it. You slam it if it’s cold and freezes your throat. You slam it if it’s room temperature and feels like spit. There is no casual thirst here.

 

And now, standing in the dirt, covered by the shade of our van and wiping sweat from my face, I see Ryan, a Ugandan who’s tagging along with us, kill an entire bottle in no time flat. He wipes his mouth and says, “I know dis guy named Geronimo – he’s a big guy. Will take a whole bottle and just drop it right down his throat into his big belly.”

 

I lift the piss-warm water to my lips as my mind wanders back to America where a faucet gives me ice-cold water and I don’t have to worry about microbes giving me diarrhea and headaches. I say, “How fast you think you can slam that bottle?” Ryan shrugs and I pull the stopwatch up on my phone.

 

“GO.” Ryan kicks his head back and goes bottoms up. The clear liquid birdie-drops past his teeth and he doesn’t spill a drop. “Eight point five seconds. That’s insane.”

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He grabs a second bottle from our stash in the van and hands it to me. “Ready, Johnny?” I nod and watch his thumb hit the timer. I flip the bottle up, trying to imitate his method, but instead water jets up my nose and covers my shirt. I cough and water sprays out of my mouth. Ryan starts to laugh as I go into a choking fit. “Haha! Twelve seconds, Johnny! I win!”

 

No! I can do better! I can do –”

 

But my thought is cut short and the contest is forgotten forever as I realize where I’m standing, as I realize where I am and what I’m doing. “Maybe . . . we shouldn’t . . . do this . . .”

 

Staring at us is a small group of Ugandan children, twelve in all. Some of them are barefoot. Some of them wear shoes that are tied to their feet. One kid has a hole in his pants so big I can see his penis hanging out. Their shirts are either too big or too small for their bodies. Their skin is as dark as a plum and the dirt they are caked in is like a powder. One child has a herniated belly button the size of a kiwi. Their white eyes look at me. Look into me.

 

I’m not just in Uganda. I’m in the slums. I’m down here shooting promotional videos for an organization that houses abandoned babies, an organization that takes infants who have been left for dead inside of dumpsters and places them with new mothers. I’m down here representing them. And I’m down here representing America. And I’m down here representing humanity. And I’m supposed to be helping. I’m supposed to be in the dirt with these kids, giving them the tiniest shred of hope in their day. Earlier I was doing close-up magic—making a small coin disappear—and teaching them secret handshakes and they were chasing me around and hugging me and laughing and shouting, “Mzungu! Mzungu!”— an African term that means white traveler—and a humbling happiness came over me wherein I knew I could not help them all and I knew I could only help in this moment.

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I look at their houses and I see mud walls with tin roofs. I see a canal, an undeveloped sewage system, that is one foot wide filled with human waste running in front of their homes. I see someone from my team open up a bag of suckers and I hear 30 children scream with so much glee that at first I think someone is being murdered. The children run around waving their candy in the air and laughing. I watch a two-year-old drop his sucker in some kind of dark brown mud. I watch him pick it up, wipe it on his shirt, and stick it back in his mouth.

 

I watch the mothers look at me and I know what they are thinking. They know where I come from. They know what I have. They know what they never will. Their mats in the dirt are as good as it gets and are as good as it ever will get. There is a quiet hopelessness that my presence rubs their noses in.

 

A drunken man wanders down the street and begins shouting at us in Lugandan, the local language. I ask Ryan what he’s saying. “He doesn’t want us here. He thinks you’re going to take his picture and make money from it and he will get nothing.”

 

“Can you tell him that we’re going to take the images to raise money for the babies?”

 

Ryan says, “He doesn’t care. Those babies are not in this village. Uganda is a big place. We might help someone but we won’t help him.”

 

We can’t help everyone.

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The man disappears and comes back holding an iron rod. He cranks the volume on his voice and begins waving it around. The man gets up in the face of a local girl and begins pointing at each of us wildly. Ryan translates for me, “Why are you helping them? They are white, and they don’t care about you! When they are done they will leave and forget about you and you will still be here, poor and broke!”

 

It’s easy to paint this man as the bad guy, but the truth is that he’s spent his entire life being treated like an animal as we all come from our homes and take pictures of him in his natural habitat. He feels exploited.

 

When he’s spoken his mind, he stumbles away.

 

In a place like this – where you have so much more than everyone else, where you’re the richest guy in the room and everyone knows it—it’s easy to start thinking of yourself as some kind of gracious Mother Teresa type. It’s easy to start believing that you’re sacrificing yourself for The Children. Vanity moves in fast.

 

“I’ve come from America to save you! Do not fear, simple African people, for I have brought you the best thing I can: myself!”

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I reach out and I take a child’s hand and I look into her eyes while I wonder how filthy those fingers are. How much human excrement is on them? I say, “How are you? What is your name?” while I scan her for any cuts that could infect me with HIV.

 

I’m down in it. For tonight only. And I am helping. But not this kid. Some kid somewhere will feel the effects of this video we’re making. It will raise awareness and it will raise money and that money will help some kid. But not this one. Not any of these. And the guy with the pipe is right. When I’m done here I am going to go back to America and you will still be here. And you will still be poor and broke.

 

But I won’t forget you. He’s wrong about that.

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The sun is dropping down, and this close to the equator it only takes 15 minutes to go dark. The kids chase after us, laughing and dancing, smiling and shouting, “Mzungu! Mzungu!” as we walk to our van.

 

We get to the lot and I’m sweating. Ryan slides open the door and grabs a bottle of water, “I know dis guy named Geronimo—” And that’s how it all plays out.

 

How quickly we forget ourselves.

 

And now here I am, my eyes connecting with each one of the twelve kids. I think I know who they are and what they are. I believe that I am deep enough to understand the sorrows of their culture. And with clean water rushing down my chin and into the dirt, pooling in the dust at my feet, I realize that I am filled with more shit than the ditches in front of their homes.

 

I feel my heart break. Not for them. But for myself. I am baptized in shame. I swing my pack off and reach inside. Please, please let there be more. Please. My hand wraps around warm plastic and I pull out a bottle of water. I push through the crowd to the tallest child and say, “Are you the oldest?” and he nods. I hand him the bottle of water and I point to the crowd. “Share.”

 

Half the kids get a sip as it’s passed carefully between them, and then it’s gone and is discarded on the ground before they all look back at me. Nobody is multiplying fish and loaves here.

 

Our driver hollers. “Suns down. We gotta go.” And he means it. This is no place for a mzungu at night. I jump into the backseat and the kids all press their hands to the glass. “Mzungu! Please! They babble in their native tongue, shouting pleas at me.

 

I can’t help you.

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The engine fires up and the van shifts into drive. “Mzungu! Mzungu!” I press my hand against the glass and we start to move. I thrust my fist into my pocket. Where is it? Where is it? Hurry up! Hurry up, you fucking idiot! You fucking selfish idiot! The pocket is empty. I go for the other one—just a bunch of wrappers and lint. Where is it!? Where did I put it? There! My hand wraps around a single coin worth 100 shillings or about 3 U.S. pennies – the one I was making vanish with my close-up magic.

 

I swing open the door and reach out to the smallest kid, front and center. “Here! Here!” He holds out his hand and I drop the coin into his palm. His eyes turn into saucers. “Thank you, mzungu!” They all see the coin and they look at me and they start shouting, “Mzungu! Shilling! Mzungu!” They reach out for me, 12 dirty hands asking for my help, as the van speeds up.

 

I do them the courtesy of looking them all in the eyes as I slam the door in their faces.

 

I’m sorry. I can’t save you.

 

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HOOTCH

 

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It was supposed to be over one hundred degrees when we arrived in Gulu, a small village in Northern Uganda but, as the locals say, “God has blessed us and brought the rain.” I’m standing on the lip of our cruiser, a ten-person bus that I’ve taken to calling The Iron Donkey, and looking down the street towards Gulu’s own miniature version of The Sunset Strip. The entire length of the block is made up of shanties and lean-tos. Instead of doors, there are curtains. Instead of cement blocks, mud and corrugated steel. Instead of shingles, tin. If the big bad wolf comes around, he’s going to blow this entire place down.

 

Men and women sit under eaves, trying to escape the light drizzle while they wait for locals to buy their merchandise – sweet bananas, passion fruit, yams, mangoes, live chickens, dead chickens, chicken pieces and fry bread. All prices are open to negotiation.

 

Looking down the street I see dark faces and dirty people, individuals that my mind immediately associates with unsavory characters. I brush the thought away, remembering that I’m seeing them through a perspective that has been spoon fed to me through media and pop-culture for over thirty years. This looks like a slum to me, by my western standards, but to them, to everyone here, to these people, this is not a slum. This is everyday. This is what they were born into. This is what their parents were born into. This is the absolute unfaltering reality of their world.

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Ten years ago the LRA was here recruiting children into the Lord’s Resistance Army and forcing them to kill their parents. They’d give a ten year old a gun and tell him to kill mom and dad. The soldiers would come in and cut off noses, lips and ears of children just so that, when they looked in the mirror, they’d remember their leader, Joseph Kony. This street was once ravaged by rape and violence so recently that George W. was still in office when it was happening. Most of the locals are now just happy that those days are over and they can now sell their wares in peace. They can feed their family without fear of a lunatic kicking in their door and making them choose which of their sons would be sacrificed to the LRA.

 

That 20-something guy with the mangoes spread out on the blanket across the street? That’s the world he grew up in while I was kicking back Bud Lights in college, cruising around on my Honda motorcycle in Colorado. I tell people I’ve never won the lottery but I gotta tell you, being born in America ain’t a bad runner up.

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From my vantage point atop The Iron Donkey I can see behind these shanties to the village beyond. This street might be where these people work but where they live is tucked away and kept safe from prying eyes. Over the tops of the tin roofs, I can see a collection of huts – true huts whose walls are made from mud and whose roofs are made from thatch. I try to decide if these people live beyond poverty or outside of it completely. It’s easy to call them poor but perhaps their lives are just simpler than ours, unbound by complications like rent control, electric bills and social media.

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A voice floats through the air and lands in the crook of my ear, “What are you thinking, Johnny?” I turn around. Noah, our Ugandan guide, is looking at me and smiling. I look back at the tiny strip and point to a bright red shack with people sitting out front. “What is that?” He answers, “A pub. You call it a bahrrr.”

 

I picture a bar as I know it – dimly lit, some tables, chairs. There is a bar up front, proper. A mirror, some bottles. Beer on tap, people sitting with their backs to the front door. Pool tables, darts, etc. But this red place – none of that is inside. It’s too small, too contained. I look at the people and judge them by their specific demographic. They’re not drinking Jameson. Hell, they’re not even drinking Black Velvet or Wild Turkey or the soup de jour, Bud Light – and not just because this is an impoverished community but because most places in Uganda don’t carry those brands. So what’s inside? My imagination tries to picture what this place looks like and my curiosity is peaked. Is there even electricity? Is there a refrigerator?

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There are certain places on Earth that I assume I’ll never set foot simply because I would be unwelcomed. You know the vibe – certain places in Detroit, those nasty neighborhoods in New York you’ve seen in the movies, Skid Row at night. We try to make a peaceful world but there are places where a certain type of person just doesn’t belong because it’s private. It belongs to a culture and by stepping foot inside; you are invading it, exploiting it, making a carnival ride out of their personal world.

 

I also assume that this red bar across the street or the huts behind them are one of those places. That is some raw humanity that my cowboy boots and sunglasses would never be allowed in.

 

Still, it doesn’t hurt to wonder. I ask, “What do they serve?” and Noah looks down the street and seems to judge it. “Would you like to go inside?”

 

There is a part of me, inside my head, that shouts, No! Stay here! Stay here where it is safe! Stay here where your group is! Stay here where the bus is! That is the village. Those are the real people of Uganda. Those are the locals. You will not be welcomed. Remember when you got mugged in Nicaragua while heading towards a local bar?

 

But then the other half of me screams, Go! Quick! Go where there is danger! Go where no one else has! Run from the comforts you know! That is the village. Those are the real people of Uganda. Those are the locals. They may embrace you. And you helped rescue a lady during that mugging. If you weren’t there, who knows what could have happened to her.

 

Ah, back and forth. Back and forth.

 

I jump down from the lip and say, “Noah. I would love that. Is it safe?” He shrugs and begins walking, stepping in front of a car that comes to a screeching halt. I jog to keep up.

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Across the street my boot hits mud. Deep mud. Sticky mud. Heavy mud that clings like little fingers that seem to say Now that you’re here, you’ll never leave. I look up and see a sea of white eyes lacking any casual sideways glances. They are staring, no two ways about it. And whether I am welcome or not, I can’t yet tell. I nod at them, give the cowboy quick-chin-down and nobody responds. I try the more street version with the quick-chin-up but still nothing. It’s very possible that people don’t do that here and have no idea what it means. They might think that my head nod is just a nervous twitch. Or they might think that I’m throwing attitude. This is how new cultures are – things you think are simple and straight forward sometimes get totally lost. I walk around a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) with its wheels ripped off, leaking oil into the rain, none of it mixing together. The mechanic sits on a bucket with a rusty tool in his hand. I lift up my arm and hold out all five fingers in a stiff wave. He stares at me, blinks, and then lifts up his hand in acknowledgment. No smile.

 

I tap my left and right pocket. Phone and wallet still there. Check and check.

 

I lift my hand to another person and they immediately respond, meeting my action with the mirrored version. Noah hangs a right and cuts across the street again, putting us kitty-corner from our bus and about a city block away. “Noah, I’m catching a lot of eyeballs here. Are you sure we’re cool?”

 

“We’re fine. Mzungus just don’t come down here.”

 

“Why? Why not?”

 

“They come to Africa but they want the safe and beautiful version from National Geographic. They want to keep their shoes dry and their hands clean. They’ll help as long as it doesn’t put them in an uncomfortable place.”

 

“And where are we going?”

 

“We’re going somewhere uncomfortable. When people look at you, you won’t be able to just drive by and take a picture. You’ll have to look back at them.”

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We approach a blue building and walk past a man sitting out front. Noah says something to him in Lugandan and the guy responds. Noah jumps up the single step and pushes the curtain aside that acts as a door and I lose him to the darkness within. I lift my hand to the man and he ignores me. Standing out here alone makes me feel exposed and vulnerable, like a snail in an atrium without its shell. I step up onto the concrete “porch” and push past the curtain, trying to look casual and confident, trying to look like I fit in, a white guy wearing a white shirt with a white hood and white sunglasses. Didn’t plan that one out. May as well drape Old Glory over my shoulders and sing the national anthem while I’m at it.

 

Inside the shack, the rain is considerably louder, slapping against the tin roof, and the light is almost non-existent. It slips under the sheet that covers the door and illuminates a bit of the floor. Inside, two young girls stand in haunting silence. There are no chairs or benches in the room. Noah says something to them in Lugandan and they mumble something in response. He says something again and the older of the two, maybe 13, shakes her head and points.

 

Noah pushes back past the sheet and steps out into the rain. He strolls past several structures made of rotting wood and tarps. Four doors down we come to the small cell with red walls that I’d spotted across the street. Sitting out front are a number of men, six on each side, lining the benches that lead to the entrance. “Mzungu! Ahh! Haha! Mzuuuungu!” (an African term for white traveler). Their eyes are bloodshot and their limbs are loose. They comfortably lean against one another, all of them drunk. We’ve reached The Pub.

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Noah and I push through another sheer sheet and into a dark red room, eight feet across and eight feet wide. Parting the room in half is a counter. Behind the counter is a heavy woman whose eyes are barely visible above the tall ledge. Noah stands on his tip-toes and says something to her. He points to me. Her eyes shift in my direction but show no emotion. She says something and, in English, Noah says, “How much?” She quotes a number and he pulls out a bill, handing it across the counter. Pudgy fingers reach out and gobble up yellow money. I hear a shuffling, a clinking, a pouring, and then over the counter comes a dirty cup about the size of two shot-glasses filled with a clear liquid. She hands it to Noah, who hands it to me. I’m suddenly reminded of the scene from The Goonies where Mouth orders water in the Fratelli’s restaurant before discovering Sloth.

 

It’s now that I notice another woman standing next to me with a wrap around her waist and a sleeping newborn swaddled into the backside. She smiles at me and I smile back, happy to see a friendly face. I smell the drink, breathing deeply. There is a hint of fruit and a punch of alcohol that burns my nose. “What is it?”

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Noah says, “Tonto. It’s made from sweet bananas – the little yellow ones.” It’s whiskey. Or moonshine. Or hootch. It’s made here. I take a little sip and the lady with the baby smiles. I smack my lips together and say, “It’s sweet. It’s like whiskey.” Noah smiles and signals me to shoot it. “Fast.” I pull in a breath and, on my empty stomach, begin to tilt the cup back. It takes me three drinks to finish it off. I pinch my eyes and pucker my mouth. I say, “Tastes a little fruity. It’s quite good,” and when I hand the cup back to the woman behind the counter, I see a small smile in her eyes. Is it pride? She takes the cup and places it back on the shelf behind her without washing it.

 

Noah says something to the lady with the baby and she nods twice before turning and leaving. Noah follows after her while I bring up the rear. The gray daylight cuts at my eyes and I squint, walking back out into the rain. The drink has gone straight to my head and I can already feel it loosening me up. The men outside again shout, “Yeah! Mzungu! Haha! Woo!” and I smile back and hold out my fist to one of them, not caring how it looks. Not caring about the social implications of lifting my fist or what that might mean here. The man stares at it, confused. Noah keeps walking. I don’t move. I just stare at him and wait for it to click. The drunk man laughs and lifts his fist in return.

 

Bump it.

 

I laugh and the rest of the men in the row immediately lift their fists as I walk past them. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Laughter chases behind me as I disappear back into the rain.

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The lady with the baby walks past six doors before taking a sharp left down a narrow corridor. I’m being led back into the quiet places. This is not the place that you see from the car. This is the internal. This is the inner circle. This is their community. Their private life. There is a sense of both fear and honor that mix around in my gut. The thought crosses my mind that it may have been years since a white man has visited. The thought crosses my mind that I could be making history.

 

I step out of the corridor and into a village where Africans in dusty clothes slowly walk back and forth. All eyes are on me, front and center. I lift my hand and say, “Hello. Hello,” being sure to hit each syllable hard. I feel like a visitor from outer space. I mean you no harm. Scattered abruptly around and seemingly without reason are huts. The huts. Real huts. That’s all I can think. These are huts. These are real huts. These are real huts that real people live in. I’ve seen them in movies and books but these are real. The real thing. This is what pre-civilization looked like. This is pre-brick and pre-commerce. I am in an African village. These are huts made of mud and thatch. People live here. This is raw humanity. This is pure. This is honest.

 

I want to pull out my phone and begin snapping photos. Look at me, Facebook! Look where I am! I’m at a hut village! But the idea immediately revolts me. A few yards ahead I see a small circle of people, eight in total. They sit in chairs around a small pot. Coming out of the pot are long straws that the people all suck on – it looks like some kind of water bong but there is no smoke coming from their mouths.

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Noah says, “Do you want to try?” and I say, “What is it? What are they doing?” and he says, “It’s alcohol. It is called Ajono.” We approach the circle and the people all look at me, each of them appearing more haggard than the last. Teeth are missing. Eyes are sunken. Clothes are torn and dirty. Hands are caked in age and filth. I look to my right and see another circle made of younger men, all of them sending me The Eyeball.

 

“Do you want to try it?” Noah asks again. I look down into the blue and yellow striped pot, the size of a basketball, and see a mixture that looks like water and sand and glue. It looks like chewed up sawdust mixed with spit. It looks like ground up peanuts and warm milk. An older woman stands up, pulls her straw out of her mouth and hands it to me.

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This is where the rubber meets the road. This is their culture. These are the hidden things that no one ever knows. You will not find this on a tour bus or a guided walk through a museum. This is a special moment. This is their community extending an olive branch to me. Welcome. This is they giving me a gift. The woman, mid-sixties, taps my shoulder and signals me to sit in her chair, a wooden contraption that’s low to the ground and, after I sit in it, I learn, exceptionally comfortable.

 

An old man across from me holds his straw in his hands and stares at me. Man, what have you seen? What things have you seen? Were you here when the LRA stormed in? What are those scars from? How long have you been here? What do you know?

 

I say, “Hello,” but he doesn’t respond. I look around the circle and see them all staring at me, waiting. Not pressuring me. Just waiting. Observing. Watching me take part in their tradition. There is something nearly spiritual about this. We are cultures combining, an unexpected exercise for both of us.

 

As with most of the monumentally memorable moments in my life, I never thought they would happen when I opened my eyes that morning. There is power in running towards fear. After all, can a true adventure be planned? Aren’t they, by their very nature, an exploration of the unknown?

 

I look back at the pot and the smell hits me. Rotten bread and moisture. I lift the straw to my mouth and think, Can I get Hep A from this? Hep B? I got my vaccines… Can you contract AIDS from backwash? I’m fairly certain that’s not possible. I pinch the straw between my lips and pull, pull, pull. The length of the straw is about three feet but the thick liquid comes up faster than I anticipate. It’s hot, like green tea that is just cool enough to drink without pausing. It doesn’t burn but it warms me. The taste is just bearable enough to take on, just awful enough to put my mind elsewhere while I swallow.

 

Sometimes taste is deceiving – sparkling water, curry and dark chocolate – sometimes you need a second taste to really appreciate whether you like it or not. I pull again and realize that this is not one of those things. This stuff just tastes like soggy bread with yeast. It is apparent that it will never grow on me.

 

I hear a laugh and when I look up, both circles, young and old, are watching me. A woman lets out a long cackle, which acts as a wick to the fireworks. The rest of the old people begin to laugh. They each pull their straws back into their mouths and begin to sip. Noah says, almost as a command, “Take more.”

 

I put the straw back in my mouth and pull deeply. Three, four, five, six drinks. The effect of the first shot is massaging my brain and I can feel this sludge caking my stomach like glue. The young guys begin to shout and I look over. A tall guy that would fit perfectly in the NBA yells something at me. I turn to Noah. “What is he saying?” Noah listens. “I don’t know. He’s speaking Acholi.” The NBA-guy yells something again and the woman with the baby says something to Noah, who translates to English, “He wants you to drink with him.” I say, “Should I?” and Noah tilts his head ever so slightly left to right.

 

No.

 

I don’t know why and later on I forget to ask. I stand up and admire the toothless smiles that shine up at me from these ancient villagers that have seen more tragedy than anyone on my block back home probably ever will. I stick out my fist to the oldest man and hold it. His smile grows ever wider as he pulls the straw from his mouth and bumps my fist. All the way around the circle I connect with each of them. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for this. Thank you.”

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I know, even as it’s happening, that this moment is unique and will play back through my mind for the rest of my life. I know that it will be rare to ever meet someone with a similar story who I can compare notes with. I understand how valuable this is. This experience is irreplaceable and will probably never repeat itself.

 

I turn to the eldest man, the leader, and I say to him, “May I take a photo? May I take a picture?” Noah translates and then the lady with the baby translates again and the man’s eyes shine. He nods his head yes vigorously. I pull out my iPhone, worth more money than they make in three months, and snap a photo of the brew.

 

I repeat, “Thank you. Thank you for this,” as Noah speaks over me, translating. An older woman gently claps her hands together. The NBA-guy yells again and then hoots. The mood is so good. So light. So pure. So human. There is so much awesome connectivity happening that I try to take it one step further. I don’t want it to end. I’m in The Current of All Good Things and I want to watch it all play out. My luck is ripe. I pull in a breath and look at the group of elders. And then I ask, “May I see the inside of a hut? May I look inside?”

 

Noah looks at me and then looks at the woman with the baby. The woman with the baby says something to an older woman. The older woman smiles and jumps up from out of her chair with more grace than I would anticipate possible. She says something that I don’t understand but waves her hand through the air in a follow me gesture. She leads us to her hut, signals one more time, and walks inside.

 

I watch the lady with the baby disappear. And then I watch Noah disappear. I turn my head back to the circles and the old man waves at me. I look back at the hut and realize that this woman is bringing me, accepting me, into the deepest part of her life. This is the deepest privacy this woman has. These huts are only ten feet across and everything she owns in the world exists inside.

 

The only place this woman has with more privacy is her heart.

 

I touch the soft fabric hanging in front of the door and push into the darkness and once again, out of the rain that is now turning my clothes damp. The humidity hits me first. It’s very warm – at least 10 degrees hotter in here than it is outside. It’s also dark. It’s very dark. The rain falls silent. The drape falls and the four of us stand in silence. Noah, the old woman and the lady with the baby all stare at me. To my immediate left is a small bench. At the back of the hut a small curtain hangs, blocking something. To my right another small curtain hangs, blocking something else. There must only be a foot or two maximum between the other side of the curtain and the wall. What are they hiding?

 

I look up and touch the ceiling. I want to say something profound, something that shows how thankful I am to be brought here, to be shown this, to have this shared with me, a stranger who is opposite in every way. The old woman says something, pointing to each area – the bench, the first curtain, the second curtain. The woman with the baby translates for Noah. Noah translates for me. He says, “This is her living room (the bench), this is her bedroom (first curtain), and this is her kitchen (second curtain).”

 

The only decorations are four pictures of Jesus hanging on the wall in the living room.

 

I don’t know how to feel. Sympathy? Pity? Envy? I reach out my hand and take hers. Her skin is paper-thin and she feels like an autumn leaf. Our hands are so different. Young, old. Black, white. She’s spent year doing heavy work and I’ve spent my time sitting at a desk and writing. Our fingernails tell the story of our lives. I stare into her eyes and say, “Your home is beautiful. Thank you for sharing this with me. I will never forget this moment.”

 

Noah translates to the lady with the baby, who translates to the old woman. She gives me a tender smile and speaks a simple sentence. The lady with the baby translates back. Noah smiles and says to me, “You are not like the other mzungus.”

 

I smile.

 

Outside, the same rain that falls on Los Angeles, falls on everyone.

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SYRIAN REFUGEES DO NOT DESERVE OUR HELP.

I was standing in an arcade last night, sirens and flashing lights drowning my senses. A friend of mine had just jumped into this Star Wars immersive pod and I decided to check out Facebook while I waited for him to emerge victorious after destroying the Death Star. Upon opening my feed, I saw this photo re-posted a number of times by various people. Clearly it was striking a chord in the populous. A real hot-button meme if ever there was one.

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We’re all constantly badgered by one another’s political opinions and we all live on opposing sides of the fence. We all believe something different and we all constantly have to hear about it from the Too Conservative or the Overly Liberal. We all have That Mom, That Son, That Uncle, That Cousin, That Friend From High School that we want to shake because they are so frustratingly stupid. People can complain up and down about how tired they are of their feed being filled with opinions that are in contradiction to their own but it’s like… I don’t know. Facebook is a social media platform where everyone gets to stand on a soapbox and type in exactly what they’re feeling. That’s what it is. That’s what this place is. I thought everyone understood that. Like, “I gave this guy an opportunity to talk and he told me his opinion. I was so disgusted by his audacity.” So it’s always so strange to me when people say, “I’m tired of hearing other people’s opinions. I want to discuss things as long as you’re a carbon copy of me.” Diversity is what makes our culture rich and it’s what expands our world view. We as a people have to understand that even the people that believe something on the very opposite end of the spectrum believe it because, for some inner-logical reason, it makes perfect sense to them. They are not just hate-mongers. There is a decisive purpose to their decisions. It doesn’t mean that they are wrong. It means we don’t understand them. It is a personal failure of ours to not see the point of view of another. And understanding that, I believe, is the first step to finding common ground. We need to understand where each side is coming from. Listen, Donald Trump is not filled with hate. He is filled with fear. And I don’t need Yoda to tell me how that turns out… but just in case you do…

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We all have something to learn from one another and I believe it’s a very dangerous practice to start blocking out the variety of life. I understand that certain people were raised in a very different culture, in a very different city, in a very different family, with very different opinions than the ones I’ve been brought up in. It makes sense that we all view the same object from different perspectives. That is what life is.

But last night I saw this image on Facebook and it struck me quite hard. Really made me question everything I thought I believed about myself.

I just stared at it and it all suddenly clicked into place for me. I finally got it. I finally understood the deep, unsettling kernel of truth at the very center of this current historical dilemma.

The Syrian refugees do not deserve our help.

And it is my basic right as an American Christian to deny that help.

It’s OKAY to tell people that they’re going to die at the hands of savages. We don’t need to feel guilt over that.

I understand that ISIS is doing bad things over there but that’s what those people do. Their entire culture breeds hatred and animosity and it makes sense that hatred and animosity rises up out of that. I understand that ISIS is pure evil. I mean they are really the closest thing to absolute pure darkness that I can imagine. If an army of demons were to crawl out of Hell and begin attacking the Earth, I would imagine the headlines and acts of atrocity would look the same. The inhuman brutality of what they are doing is reprehensible. And we can all agree on this, right? No one is questioning who the bad guy is.

We can all look at the group of men that rape children and lock people in cages and cover them in gasoline and light them on fire and cut the throats of men and women while they videotape it to share with their friends and the public. We all know those are the bad guys. The guys that are stomping in the skulls of infants and cutting off their heads and taking photos for their social media feed. We can all look at those guys and go, “That is so fucking evil I feel like “evil” is too kind of a word for it.” No discrepancies. It is the one thing we can all get on the same side about. Great. That’s progress! We’re all coming together on something and let’s not take that lightly. Dude, Christians, atheists, gay people, straight people, let’s all high five. We are on the exact same page!

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Now, there is currently a group of people in this world that are just wreaking absolute havoc on another group of people. They are not bullying them. They are not ruling them with some kind of tyrannical fist. They are capturing them like prey. They are torturing them. And they are killing them. And they are doing this on a massive scale. It’s like real life Hostel. I can only assume that there are no words, phrases, images or otherwise that could possibly allow you and I to know the concentrated fear that has been placed on these individuals. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to watch a large group of masked men break into my house, strip my children naked, sexually assault them in front of me and then murder them. If someone cut off Rory’s head in front of me, I feel like I would just lose my mind. Like, legitimately my brain would slip into a place where there would be no coming back from. Something inside of me would just break and I wouldn’t be a person anymore. If someone raped Bryce in front of me, I would just… it’s as though my consciousness would simply shut off.

Now, these victims. These people that these acts are being done to. It is my understanding that they feel as though their home life has apparently gotten so bad that they want to run to The United States of America for help. They’re so broken and afraid that they are taking makeshift boats blindly across a sea. They would rather slowly starve to death in the middle of a body of water before hunkering down and seeing this problem through. I guess that, to me, it just doesn’t sound very patriotic. On their part, I mean. These people were born in Syria – they knew what they were getting into. And now they act surprised when this kind of thing happens. And then they try to come over to our country and pollute us with it. Y’know, America has done a really impressive job of being the greatest nation on Earth and we didn’t get here by helping out every asshole running from their problems.

America has it’s short comings, I get it. We’re not perfect. We have a homeless veteran situation. We have an orphan situation. We apparently are going through some kind of gun phase right now that I’m hoping we either grow out of or grow into. We. Have. Problems. There are so many bad things happening over here that we should focus on, we don’t have any room to help these other people – very specifically this group of people – because of… well, what they are.

And when I say that, I mean that they are probably Muslims.

This is a safe spot and if I can’t say it here, I can’t say it anywhere. America is for Christians. That’s what we’re ultimately saying, right? America was built by Christians, for Christians and there is no room for Muslims. Their faith is kind of like Christianity – I’ve read that they actually stem from kind of the same belief system although I’ve never dug deep enough into it to give you the details – but it’s different enough to make them bad people. I’m not sure where the disconnect is but the Muslim faith teaches hatred and violence. Here is a brief list of famous Muslims I’ve compiled to show you what I mean…

ICE CUBE: This is not a joke. He converted to Muslimism in the 90s. He raps about killing police officers.

SNOOP DOGG: See ICE CUBE.

MIKE TYSON: Rapist. Has tattoo on face.

ELLEN BURSTYN: This woman looks gentle but you can see in her eyes that she contains a sparkle of hatred. She was in Requiem for a Dream. This movie has lots to do with evil. She was not in The Notebook – that’s Gena Rowlands and as far as I can tell, Gena is not a muslim.

MUHAMMED ALI: This black man made a living out of punching people. He also changed his name and that is suspicious.

CAT STEVENS: Another black man. I’m seeing a re-curring theme here.

Sorry for being long-winded and really driving the point home but I want to make sure I’m heard properly. Some people deserve our help. Some people deserve our attention. Those people are people who were born in our country. If you were not born in our country and you need to get out of a situation where you’re being hunted by demons, this is not the place you should come to. Our shores are filled with enough people begging us to save their lives. We don’t need anymore. Your children are going to have to just get raped. I’m sorry. That sounds a little vicious but it’s the unfortunate truth. You might be a Christian and you might be married and God might even have his gentle hand on your marriage but if ISIS is going to cut off the head of your wife, that’s just the way of it. You are a Syrian and that is your biggest crime.

You, as a human, do not deserve my sympathy. And you as a Syrian do not deserve my American soil. And you as a Muslim sure as fuck don’t deserve my Christian kindness. Sorry, brah. Better luck next time. I’m looking out for numero uno and I’m okay with your family getting the sharp end of the Tragic Stick if it means mine gets to eat at Chuck-E-Cheese without fear of being blown up by one of your brothers in God.

Let’s just call a spade a spade. We are afraid of all the Muslims coming over here and killing us. And if a couple thousand local yokels from The Middle East have to die so that we stay safe, that’s the ticket. I hope I’m not coming across as selfish or prudish. Because I have my own problems. I get it. Life is tough sometimes. Next week I’ve got to figure out how to get the drain from my shower re-plumbed to my rain barrel so that I can water my lawn with grey water. We had a consultation done and they quoted us 10k. That’s crazy. I simply don’t have that kind of money.

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Talking to Strangers: Mormons

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I’m lying on my front porch, the sun is beating down on me and I’m sweating. It feels good. Like a certain popular creation story, I’ve been working for six days straight with late nights and early mornings. I’ve finally hit a resting point and I’m taking advantage of it. My eyes are closed and my mind begins to wander. I let it go – I think it’s healthy to put the noggin on auto-pilot from time to time.

While my brain slips away, I open my eyes and stare into the blue, cloudless sky, wondering if God is staring back at me – if his Great Eyes are boring directly into my soul right now, reading my thoughts and seeing me naked. And then my brain wanders a little more and I imagine the big blue sky being completely and entirely empty and Nobody staring at me. I imagine my wife and I sitting on the porch and God nowhere in sight. Nowhere in existence. Nowhere.

I start to slowly turn over these questions, rolling them like a cigarette over the fingers of my soul. Is it possible for me to be sitting here and for God to not exist? Is it possible that God does not exist? Is it possible that I’ve spent my life chasing an empty faith? Bigger yet, if as an individual, I am full of love and compassion and kindness, is God necessary?

Is God necessary? That is a really big question for someone of The Church Culture. To put it into perspective for anyone NOT of The Church Culture, it’s tantamount to a male with children saying, “Is my dong necessary? Sure, I use it from time to time and I certainly like it’s company. It gives me a certain feeling of who I am and I have a good time with it – makes me feel good about myself. I would even say that I have a pretty nice relationship with it, albeit kind of a secret one that I don’t fully indulge the rest of the world to. But do I need it? The way I need food or oxygen? COULD I get by if it suddenly fell off and rolled down the leg of my pants?”

That’s a very crude analogy but I stand by it and give it my stamp of approval.

That is, for most of us, our relationship to God. It’s quiet. It’s tucked away. We don’t expose it to people. We only use it when it’s necessary.. like when we’re really sick or need money we unzip the church and say a prayer.

As a Christian, faith is so frustrating. It’s frustrating for two reasons. The first is that the large majority of people who claim to have faith, don’t treat faith as faith. They treat faith as fact and those are two very different things. Your faith is, by it’s very definition, an act of trust in something that you cannot prove exists. People approach God in the same way that they approach Mount Rushmore – like they can get in their SUV and drive there – get their photo taken with it.

The second thing is that I don’t understand WHY faith is important. I don’t understand why the Great and Powerful God of the Universe and of All Things Everywhere doesn’t tear open the sky, reveal himself to all of us and say, “HERE I AM! I EXIST! NOW BE EXCELLENT TO EACH OTHER ALWAYS AND FOREVER! I’LL BE BACK IN TWENTY YEARS TO REMIND YOUR KIDS!” and then the sky stitches back up and there is zero doubt about the existence of a celestial being that oversees our alien ant farm.

I stare back into that blue sky and now I’m thinking very clearly – my mind is no longer wandering – I’m thinking very intentionally to myself, “I have seen and felt the existence of God in one thousand small ways throughout my life. Little signs that could have been coincidence, things I’ve written off as well as things I’ve held onto. I’ve been very sick in my life and have felt the closeness of a divine being that I can’t explain. I believe in God. I have faith in God. But I’m always circling around it and poking at it and turning it over and trying to figure it out because… it isn’t tangible and I can’t prove it and it is a cause to wonder. But why does God have us dancing around with this faith issue? I don’t understand why it’s necessary to live my life in absolute blind belief. Maybe there’s a purpose I don’t understand. Maybe God keeps this from us for a reason… But I’m still going to ask and I don’t think there’s harm in asking so here we go!”

And then I pick up steam and really get on a roll.

“Why? Why? Why is this necessary? God, if you’re there, why aren’t you tearing open the sky and showing yourself to me? Why aren’t you making yourself known to us? Why aren’t you giving me a sign, something? Something that is more than the wind blowing or a bird chirping? Why does our relationship have to be like an affair – where I sneak away to talk to you and then you never call my house? If you’re real, I want to know it. I want to know that you’re real. I want to know that you’re looking at me and watching me and -“

I guess you could call this a prayer.

Jade cuts me off mid-thought.

She says, “Hey. Look who’s here.”

I sit up and glance over my shoulder.

Walking up my sidewalk are two Mormons. I lift my hand in the air in greeting and say, “You have got to be kidding me.”

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***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***

The guys are both nineteen years old and one of them is definitely a virgin. I don’t say that in a derogatory way because I believe that virginity is a shiny token that is very important… however, he did have this kind of gloss about him that made me think he’d never unsnapped a bra. The other one was the team leader but I suspect only because he was forced to be. It was clear that he didn’t like to hold the reins.

I offered them each a sparkling water and we sat on my porch for an hour and spoke. Mormon missionaries are truly fascinating creatures. Can you, Reader, imagine something that you’re so passionate about that you go door to door to share with strangers even though you know people cringe when they see you approach? Even though people run and hide in their bedroom closet when you step onto the front porch? Even when the doors slam and the porch lights go out, you keep going. Can you imagine having that kind of passion? For anything? I have a difficult time telling friends about a good book I’ve recently read.

We talk about a great number of things, spanning various topics. They tell me about how “disheartening and kind of humiliating” it is when people slam doors in their faces. Actually slam doors in their facesAH! Why do you have to do that to me? Give yourself human emotion? And such a strong one! You tell me that you can feel humiliated? All those times I’ve ran away and hid my children in the dryer to shield them from you. “But why, Daddy? Why must we be quiet?” Rory asks. “The Gestapo!” And then I slide the bookcase over the laundry room.

These guys are no longer just flat characters. They’re people. They’re humans. With their own stories. Their own faith. Their own lenses to view life.

I say to them…

“I was born into a middle class, white American Christian home – I’m about as super vanilla as you can imagine – so it’s not surprising that I’m a Christian. You’re born into a Mormon home so you’re Mormon. We’re products of our environments, right? Had any of us been born into an Islam nation, I would place a solid bet that our faith would be quite different. Now, I know you two don’t bet, so I’ll put enough down for all three of us. This is a sure fire thing and I’m taking it to the bank.

“My concern, guys, is this… Have I / you / we been raised up in a culture to believe a very specific thing and have we ever actually lifted our heads up to look around at anything else? I’m sitting here and talking to you today and I’m telling you that I don’t believe in the teachings of Joseph Smith but… I can’t say why. I don’t even know anything about him. And it concerns me that I’m so quick to put on blinders to something I know literally nothing about. The same can be said of my knowledge of all faiths. A couple of my friends are Jewish, I have a cousin who is a Muslim, and my best friend from high school actually joined a Hare Krishna commune where he dawns an orange robe everyday. I’m 110% certain that they are completely wrong in their beliefs and I am also 110% certain that I don’t know why I think that. And I hate that. I hate that I have such blinders on and I can’t seem to shake them off. What if I am being blinded by my culture and The Truth is just outside of my peripheral and I can’t see it because I am unwilling to look? WHAT IF the One True God isn’t the one that I subscribe to and WHAT IF the One True God is waiting for me directly outside my field of vision just waiting for me to shake off everything that man and culture has taught me and just look up.

“And so I’m sitting here right now talking to you two, not because I’m interested in the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith. I’m interested in The Truth. The Great Truth of The Universe. So here’s my question to you two… if a deity shows up to you one day – purple skinned woman with six arms and an elephants head – and she tells you that you need to leave your Mormon faith and come and follow her because she is Ultimate Truth and the god you’ve been following is built by man and completely imaginary – if that happened – if an actual Divine Celestial Entity came down and spoke to you and called you to a new religion… could you leave your faith? Could you leave behind the faith that has you so passionate that you knock on strangers doors? Could you leave it all if you knew it was built by man and was an imposter religion and that your belief was empty?

They both stare at me. One of them starts to say something about Joseph Smith so I put up my finger. “Why are you here?” I ask.

“On Earth?”

“No. At my house. There are a lot of houses on this street. Why are you here? Did you start at one end and work your way down?”

“We prayed about it.”

“You prayed about La Crescenta, California?”

“No. We parked down the street and we prayed and we felt The Spirit guide us to your house. Specifically this house.”

I take a drink of my now warm, now flat sparkling water and I say, “Here’s what’s happening to me right now, guys… I’m on a little bit of a Quest. I’ve been out looking for God and I want Truth. I’m not saying you have it and I’m not saying I’m interested in what you’ve got but I am saying I think knowledge is imperative to a successful quest and so I want to hear everything you have. Get out your pamphlets. Get out your book. Tell me everything you can.

They both dart to their backpacks and satchels with clumsy and nervous hands. Virgins.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

To wrap this up, there are no answers here. I didn’t have any hugely enlightening moment with two strangers and I’m not going to be knocking on your door to tell you about Joseph Smith. But I am looking for God. And while I look and while I pray and while I speak with people of all faiths and manner of upbringing, I want to be the best version of myself that I can be. I want to be kind and generous with my time, attention and resources. I want my family to know that I love them. I want my friends to know that I care. I want strangers to know that I will not slam doors in their faces. I believe that whoever and whatever God is, at the center of His / Her / Its being is Love. And more than anything, I want to strive for that heart.

Amen.

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First World Problems

Sometimes too many words are just too many words so I’m going to keep this one short.

While visiting Nicaragua I heard a man say, “If you can fix it with money, it’s not really a problem… if you can’t fix it with money, then it’s a problem.”

Really simple words that have stuck with me for the last six months and have given me a simple clarity to most of my everyday issues.  I hope you can take a moment to meditate on that phrase and then go have a GREAT WEEK!  See you next Monday!

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/101108613″>First World Problems</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user3183899″>John Brookbank</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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When Wives Go Wild

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There’s this old episode of The Twilight Zone where these two neighbors are super chummy with each other at a dinner party.  One guy says to the other that he just had a bomb shelter put in and the neighbor chuckles to himself and pokes fun at the homeowner; says he’s far too over prepared.  The gag in the episode, of course, is that the warning sirens come on moments later and suddenly the neighbor wants into the bomb shelter.  Sadly, there isn’t nearly enough food for both families so the guy that owns the place locks his guest out.  Well, the neighbor, not accepting death so nobly, decides that if he can’t be saved, no one will.  The man turns into an animal and just begins ravaging this door.  He’s going at it with an axe, he’s screaming, he’s losing his mind, his eyes wide in terror and rage.

This is no longer a friendly neighbor.  This is primal man.  Borderline animal.

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The episode ends when the door is finally kicked in and the two men are about to kill each other when the sirens go off and the, “This is only a warning” recording comes on.

Awkward. Situation. For. Sure.

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The men revert back to their civilized states, nod to one another and then sort of shift slowly towards the door as standard life has been restored.  BUT… it raises the question, what sort of animals are we?  What sort of beasts are lurking just under the surface?  Just behind the veil of security, the illusion of law, the commitment of marriage?

What I mean is this…

My wife left tonight.  Not left me, thank goodness, but left to head out with The Ladies.  She and three friends have gone to watch a Roller Derby Tournament.  Yes, you read that correctly.  That’s what type of woman I’m married to.  In her free time she goes to watch other women get beat up.  She’s like Patricia Bateman but in a good way.

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So I’m dealing with one of these circumstances where I’m on solo dad duty and everything moves sort of slowly but we get it done and we cycle the kids through the dishwasher and into the pajama machine and then tuck them away in the sock drawer and everyone is happy but then… the house is quiet… and there are no adults… and so I look around and try to decide what to do…

What to do…

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And the very first thing that comes to my mind, THE VERY FIRST THING, is to make myself a bean burrito at 9pm.  NINE PEE-EM!  I suddenly have a flashback of myself standing in a dimly lit dorm room ten years ago chasing a six pack and three unfiltered cigarettes down my throat with a can of cold refried beans; a diet my dog wouldn’t even touch…. if my dog were alive… which she isn’t… please see last blog…

Now, contrary to popular belief, I AM 30-something and so I actually DO try to watch what I eat from time to time and especially when I eat it.  Gone are the days of chowing down on Taco Bell at midnight.  I’m an adult.  I’m married.  I have responsibilities… and so I pick up my phone and I text The Guys.  I text the two gentlemen whose wives are currently out with my wife watching women shove elbows into each other’s guts and faces like a modern day Coliseum on skates.  I hear Shang Tsung shout, “FINISH HIM!” and then some roller derby enthusiast rips off her skate and crushes her opponents skull with it.  Blood spatters all over the ground and the audience golf claps gently.

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The first guy, we’ll call him Mickey, says, “I’m drinking.  I’m drunk.  I’m drinking drunk.  I’ve had five drinks.  I’m alone.  I’m drinking alone… and bisquits and gravy sounds amazing.  AMAZING.  I wish I had bisquits and gravy.  I only have two week old lasagna.”

I say, “Don’t do it, Mickey.  It’s too late and it’s too old.  Just stay away.”  He says, “I’ll be fine.  I’ll microwave it.  Heat kills bacteria,” and I say, “I’m not sure… if… that’s… trooooo…”

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ABOVE: This is what all microwaves look like in my imagination.  Just total last resort.

In another text thread I hit up the other guy.  We’ll call him Andre (just because I don’t know any Andre’s and so never get to tell stories about them).  I say, “Whatchyoo up to tonight?” and he says, “I just finished eating a Kung Pao 3 Musketeer,” and I say, “Is that one thing or two?  Is that like… an American-Asian candy bar?” and he says, “It’s just one thing.  It’s Kung Pao with chicken, beef and shrimp,” and I find that I’m thinking about that bean burrito again.  I’ve got some salsa in the fridge.  I’ve got some sour cream I bought for some kind of potato the other day… do we have tortillas?  Screw it… I’d eat it on bread if necessary… even just mixing it all up like a stew doesn’t sound terrible

Andre says, “This is what happens when girls aren’t around… just regret…”

I text him back and I say, “We’re never truly men.  We hit college and that’s full maturity for us – for every man.  Everything beyond college is just a mask.  Some guys are better at wearing it but it’s all just a chore to be civilized.  As soon as our wives leave, we immediately revert (just like the guy from The Twilight Zone).  It’s just masturbation and sadness and nachos, in that specific order.

He laughs but, as I’m opening up a can of refried beans at 11pm I catch myself in the mirror and I realize that if I ever lose my wife, I am totally and completely doomed.

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ABOVE: If she leaves me, everything in my life will immediately go wrong.  I am certain of this.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

To my wife, who I know will read this because you read all of the garbage I write, good or bad; thank you for making sure I’m not a slovenly maniac with an axe trying to chop down my neighbor’s door.  Thank you for making sure I don’t subsist on refried beans and Telemundo alone.

Please, please, please, go crush skulls.  Please, please, please, go absolutely wild.  Please, please, please, always come back to me.

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ABOVE: If this town isn’t big enough for the both of us, I don’t wanna live here.

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“How I Was Nearly Beaten, Mugged and Kidnapped in Nicaragua” … OR … “How I Spent My Wife’s 30th Birthday”

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For the longest time I’ve had this ridiculous hero fantasy wherein I find myself in a hostile situation with various other civilians – the two most used locations in my brain are a gas station robbery and an airplane during a terrorist take-over.  I hear stories about these things happening all the time; I read the news articles, I’ve seen the YouTube clips uploaded from security cameras, I’ve watched the Caught on Tape! TV specials.  Everything is calm and then, just like that, you’ve got a gun in your face, piss in your pants and the register is hanging open.

I always hoped that if I were to find myself in a real life crime-drama scenario that I would be the guy who Did the Right Thing.  I tell myself that I would act honorably and valiantly but there’s a little voice in the back of my head that says, “When sword meets steel, you will fold.  You will hide behind a rack of candy bars and sports car magazines and you will squat down and shiver and pray and wait for it to be over.”

I tell that voice that it’s wrong.  That I’m made of better material but… until it happens… you never know what you’ll do.

Two and a half weeks ago while visiting a foreign country, I finally got to see if The Voice was right…

***   ***   ***   ***

For my wife’s 30th birthday we wanted to do something exotic… something extravagant… something adventurous.  We talked about Red Lobster but said, “NO!  Bigger.”  We talked about skydiving but said, “NO!  Bigger.”  We talked about having a Latin American themed birthday party complete with pinata that looked like Jade but we said, “NO!  Bigger…. but let’s save that idea for 31…”

BELOW: A photo journalistic approach to some of the awesome things we thought about doing for Jade’s birthday…

Petting a camel.

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Having a staring contest with a seal.

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Going camping.

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Wearing masks.

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Breaking things.

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Around this time we serendipitously ran into a couple at an ice skating arena one night who told us they’d just returned from honeymooning in Nicaragua.  “Nicaragua?” I say, “Isn’t that a war-torn, poverty stricken, wasteland?”  The husband shrugs and the wife says, “Yes and no.”  They pull out their iPhones and show us pictures of an exotic paradise, photos of extravagant beaches, videos of adventurous hikes, swims and ferry rides.

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We were sold.

“The only thing you gotta remember,” they say together ominously, “Is that everyone there is really poor and they’ll steal things from you… not because they’re violent but because it’s a course of survival…”

Two weeks later we’d purchased our tickets and two weeks later again we found ourselves airborne, somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, heading for a land who’s foreign tongue we did not speak.  I felt like Indiana Jones and my wife was that short Asian kid that follows him around, always helping him out of trouble.

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Neither of us had experienced international travel before besides the one time my wife visited the Bahamas and the single time I was in southern Texas so neither of us really knew what to expect.  Everything was new and revelatory; virgin territory.

On the plane I sit next to a Jehova Witness who just retired two days ago.  To celebrate she was moving to Nicaragua for three months.  Thinking about her I realize that she’s still there now (at the time of this writing) and it makes me jealous.

The captain buzzes over the intercom and tells us we’ll be landing in twenty minutes.  Jade and I push up the window, expecting to see Strange and Foreign Nicaragua, a land covered in jungles and vines and explorers carrying machetes but instead we only see a phosphorescent orange glow emanating from the city; a color that screams the word “HEAT!”  Traffic slowly crawls below us, cars and trucks and motorcycles.  From above it looks like LA at night… or Miami at night… or New York at night….

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ABOVE: Nicaragua by day, which is more what I was anticipating when I opened the window.

The plane lands, everyone stands up, Jade and I grab the only thing we’ve packed – a backpack per each of us – and exit the plane.  It’s then, as I step into the terminal, that it all hits me very hard.  I am in a foreign land.  I don’t know anyone and, most noticeably, I can’t read any of the signs.  Letters that I have been familiar with my entire life strategically reorganize themselves to stand out like strangers on boards that might as well have been blank.

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ABOVE: Bookstore in the airport.

The airport is quiet.  There are few people and no security.

Outside we find a man that the hotel has sent.  He holds a sign with our name on it and, as we approach, he introduces himself as, “Mumble-Mumble, I speak very fast Spanish.”  I place my hand against my chest, feeling like Tarzan, and say, “Johnny,” and he says, “Yonni,” and I nod.  My wife says, “Jade,” and he, like everyone that’s ever met her, says, “Jane.”  It’s good to know that the mistake transcends language and culture, making us feel right at home.

He takes us to an unmarked car and opens the doors for us.  PS, we’d read stories about taxi drivers picking travelers up, driving them into dark alleys and mugging them so i was ready for his attack… if it were ever to come to that…

The man, Mumble-Mumble, drives us through a large city called Managua and it’s unlike any I’d ever seen.  Homes and businesses in various states of disrepair are found on every corner.  Domiciles that most would find uninhabitable are everywhere; we see toddlers walking in ruins, families eating in filth, couples enjoying the night air, surrounded by debris; corrugated steel, cracked wood and rubble.

We pass a street corner where a small gang of eight year old kids are washing windshields for money.  On the same corner are women covered in short dresses, long hair and thin sheets of sweat, selling themselves on a humid night.

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ABOVE: This picture was not taken at night… but all the pictures that were taken at night were dark… so you get some day time photos.

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ABOVE: For the low, low price of just 85 cordobas, you too could enjoy the processed goodness of a quesoburguesa doble!

Jade and I begin trying to converse with our driver.  The three of us speak slowly, trying to find familiar words and phrases; shaping things with our hands.  He tells us he has diez hermanos or ten brothers.  He tells us that the children working the streets are the children of drug addicts who can’t take care of them.  He tells us that Marc Anthony is playing a show in town tonight.  He tells us we should go.  He says, “Trabajo!  Trabajo!” and snaps his fingers and dances but I don’t know what it means.

He turns off the main road onto a dark street and the solitude of our situation creeps under my skin.  We pass abandoned garages and dark homes and broken windows; patched up fences and homes with no doors.  A group of six motorcycles blow past us, their engines tearing through the silence of the night and the driver tells us there will be a motorcycle convention in the center of town tomorrow but all I hear is “There are motorcycle gangs everywhere.  Watch out!”

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ABOVE: The outside of our room at Hospedaje Naranja.

He takes us to Hospedaje Naranja (Hotel Orange), where we’re staying the night, and walks us to the front door, who’s gate is locked from the inside.  A woman cautiously peeks around the corner before recognizing her friend, smiling and pulling the dead bolt.  Jade and I step inside and the woman quickly latches the door behind us with a nervous giggle.

She speaks fluent English, checks us in and asks if we’re hungry.  She suggests three restaurants and, little do I know, but this is the first of several choices that will ultimately lead me to an undesirable end.  We choose the closest; a Peruvian place three doors down the street and our fate is sealed.  The woman says, “Very close.  Very safe.”

We put our bags in our room and walk the half a block to the restaurant.  It’s now 9:30pm and dark.  Every car I hear approaching is a kidnapper, a thug, a villain ready to Do Crimes.  We enter the restaurant and order our food in the best Spanish we can muster.  Jade orders wine and I get a shot or trajo of whiskey.  We order a pasta plate and share it.

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The woman who owns the restaurant approaches our table and asks where we’re staying, asks what our plans are, asks how the food is.  She sits down at the table and tells us that her tablet (knock-off iPad) is broken and it’s erased all of her family photos.  She says something about batteries and RAM and wireless signals.  She asks if we’d like her to pull some herbs from her garden to make us a fresh and delicious tea but we decline.  Jade, because she’s genuinely not interested, me because I’m afraid she’s going to slip me some kind of date rape toxin that will render me useless before I wake up handcuffed to a bed with a man named Tony rubbing his dirties all over me.

The woman sighs, disheartened, and then we take another turn closer to the pit.

I say, “Is there a bar around here?”  The woman looks at me quizzically and says, “Bahr?” and I say, “Yeah, uh… drinks?  Beer.  Cerveza?” and she says, “Bahrr?  AH!  Pub!?” and I say, “Yes!  Si!  Si!  Pub!” and she tells us that there’s one on this very block.  She draws an invisible map on the table and says, “Go right and right and right.  Not far at all.”

The night is young and, maybe it’s my one shot of whiskey or the fact that I’m realizing that my fear of all Nicaraguans has been unfounded and that everyone truly is kind and gentle but the pub sounds like a good idea.  The taxi driver was friendly and helpful.  The woman in the lobby was generous and wonderful.  The restaurant owner and our waiter were both smiling and genuine people.

“This is Nicaragua,” I think.  This is how life should be.  I’m projecting my anti-trusting violent mindset onto these people.  I’ve watched too many movies.  Seen too much TV.  People are people and people are kind.

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The woman says, “I will take you there,” and we say, “Okay,” and she grabs her coat and then we’re in the dark street and then we’re walking towards her SUV and then Jade is saying, “Wait, what is happening?  I thought she was walking us?” and then I say, “Yeah, but she’s driving us.  It’s okay.  She’s nice,” and then the woman is on the other side of her car and Jade and I are standing in the dead street with both doors open and Jade is whisper-shouting, “We don’t know her.  She could take us to some factory and sell us into sex slavery and men will stick it to your maize-hole,” which of course is a Spanish joke if you can translate it and I say, “Don’t worry.  Everyone is so nice!  She’s just going to give us a little ride!” and Jade says, “I don’t want to.  I don’t want to go,” and, looking back… I’m really amazed at how stupid and careless I was about to be, crawling into a car with a stranger.

Luckily, we never saw how that story ended because, like all good stories, the unexpected occurred.

Suddenly, the woman, out of my line of sight on the driver’s side of the car, screams.  SCREAMS.  She hasn’t stubbed her toe or slipped or broken her ankle.  This scream tells you immediately that something nasty is happening.  Again.  SCREAMING.  In my mind, I remember it all in English, but I have no idea if that’s true or not.  It seems like she would have shouted in her native tongue but all I can recall is, “Stop!  Stop!  Stop!  No!  Stop!”

Jade says, “What-” and I begin to hesitantly walk towards the back of the car… and then from out of the darkness a man appears, slightly heavy set, Latino fella.  Late 20s.  The image is blurry and I’m having a hard time processing what is happening; everything has gone from calm and unsure to chaotic and unsure in literally seconds.  I see the man and I see the woman and they are struggling.  The woman is hanging onto something – her purse – and the man is pushing her away from it, trying to break free.  She’s struggling like it’s her newborn child he’s trying to pull away and, finally, he succeeds.  He grabs her dress by the shoulder and violently throws her to the ground.

The entire exchange happens in one or two seconds; I walked around the back of the van and then saw a man overpower a woman and throw her to the ground.  It was very fast.  Everything else moves at an incredible rate… everything else moves faster than I can process; faster than I can make decisions or weigh pros and cons.  It all just…. happens.

But this is my moment.  The one I’ve been waiting for my whole life.

And when it is upon me, I don’t think, “Here is my moment,” and The Voice never speaks up.  There is no internal dialogue of whether I will act or not.  Whatever is inside… just exists.

The man turns and begins to run and I immediately break into a sprint after him, my Dad sneakers slapping the hot concrete like pistons.  And then there is suddenly a motorcycle with a second man in the street, waiting, but I don’t slow down.  I don’t know where it came from or when it arrived or if it was there when we exited the restaurant but I am certain that my runner is heading straight for his getaway driver.

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ABOVE: This was not the robber… believe it or not, we did not pull out our cameras during this ordeal.  This is just a random man on a bike.  Although, the bike looks similar and the man looks similar…. so…. maybe…….

I’m out of shape but The Thief is even thicker in the center than myself so I’m able to close the gap between us just before he reaches the bike.  He pauses momentarily to skip and hop into the air; the plan to land on the back of the bike and his friend to, of course, escape into the darkness with their loot but…

…I don’t know where the truth is in this following section and I don’t know where my wishful thinking is – everything is a gray blur – but I’ll give it to you how I remember it and how I hope it happened.

The Man slows down to leapfrog onto the back of his accomplice’s bike and, as he does so, glances over his shoulder.  This is the first time, I believe, he realizes that he is being pursued… and it shocks and surprises him and causes him to stumble, foiling what would otherwise have been a practiced and flawless landing on the bike.  In the background, echoing, I can hear someone screaming.  Maybe it’s the woman from the restaurant, maybe it’s my wife, maybe it’s both.

The man stumbles and, instead of hopping smoothly onto the bike, lifts his foot up and catches it awkwardly after seeing me.  He lifts his foot again and lands half sideways on the seat, hop-hopping to keep his balance, the back of his left knee draped over the seat prematurely, the driver now struggling to hold things upright.  I catch up to him and, as I’m running, begin to pull my fist back.  I’ve never hit anyone in my life and it’s about to happen.  We are on an impact trajectory, folks.

The Man holds out his left hand, trying to block me and, with his other hand, pulls back his fist and begins to say, “No!No!No!No!” and then this is the first time that everything slows down.  Finally, the fast forward is done and a clarity rolls through my brain.

I see two men standing in front of me that are clearly capable of very dark things.  I see two women standing behind me, the latter of the two pressing 50.  I see myself stopping these two men and then me standing in a street with both of them coming towards me.  I don’t know if they have knives or guns.  I don’t know anything.  I don’t know anyone.  I’m in Nicaragua.

And then I see my children, in my head, clearly.

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ABOVE: The two things that I love most; my children and my hammock……… Oh, and Jade is nice too.

And then I realize that whatever is in that woman’s purse is not worth losing what I have at home.  I don’t care if she has a hundred thousand dollars in there and three gold bouillons and the Busch’s Baked Beans family recipe.  I suddenly realize that that purse is going to go away… and I am completely okay with that.

I pull my punch and take a step back.  The guy sees me hesitate and hops the rest of the way onto the bike.  I assume that our exchange, his entire pause, was roughly seven seconds.  Just enough…

The bike revs and the two men wobble and then take off into the darkness just as a third man appears over my shoulder; this one running directly towards the motorcycle.  Like the others, he too came out of nowhere and it only takes me a moment to realize that it’s the waiter from the restaurant.  He shouts and the bike revs and takes off but he doesn’t stop.  He cranks his arms and chases the bike for a solid 20 feet.  His arms outstretch… the bike picks up speed… he’s closing the gap… as the bike finds its balance… and then just before the bike is out of his grasp, he wraps his fingers into the shirt of The Thief and throws him to the ground, pulling the entire bike sliding onto the concrete with a bang and a hissssss.

Looking back, I wonder if the two criminals were thinking the same thing I’ve been thinking, which is…. seven seconds.  If we’d only had seven more seconds… if that stupid American hadn’t…

In those seven seconds they would have been able to ride free and clear.  As is, they did not.

Two, three, four, six, nine, twelve men suddenly come running from behind me; various restaurant workers who heard the ruckus.  The driver stands up, pulls his bike up, hops on and takes off, leaving his partner in crime lying in the street, alone, as the twelve men encircle him before dragging this would be felon to the curb and begin beating him mercilessly.

Jade and I slowly step backwards, towards the other side of the street and disappear into the shadows, retreating back to the confines of our hotel.  For the remainder of the night we lie in bed and slowly flip through 93 channels of Spanish television, hoping to learn a few phrases for the coming week but the only word I’m able to pick out is ayuda.

Help.

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At midnight I shut the light off and try to go to sleep but merely stare at the ceiling for what feels like hours.  My heart rate has long since returned to normal but I still feel as though adrenaline and fear are pounding through my veins and my brains.  I hear a noise outside and go to the window.  Nothing.  I crawl back into bed and hear a scamper from the room next door.  I listen and wait.  Nothing.  I get up and use the bathroom, make sure the window is locked and secure.  I double check the lock on the door and then peer out from behind the curtains slowly.  I hear a motorcycle approaching and wonder if it’s the same man, coming back to the neighborhood to pick up his limping and beaten friend.

I crawl back into bed, under the cold sheets and wonder what it’s like to live in a world where this occurrence does not throw you into a state of panic and fear and unease.  I think about the men that came running from the restaurants and realize that this wasn’t the first time this had happened.  This wasn’t An Event.  This was A Lifestyle.

This was Managua.

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