The Dirt Road

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 What’s that sound? I thought as I walked home one summer day after Little League practice.

It was faint, but as I stopped and listened I could hear a whimper coming from the cornfield next to the dirt road that led to our house.

Corn

Hopping the barbed wire fence, I made my way through the field toward the whimpering. As I approached the sound, several cornstalks began to rustle briskly. I stopped, reached out with both arms, cautiously parting the giant stalks, and discovered a young black Labrador dog. Its leash was tangled up in the field corn and it was sure glad to see me. As I tried to free it, the dog kept jumping around, wagging its tail and licking my face.  Finally, I was able to open the clasp on the leash and the puppy darted away down a narrow path between the high corn-rows, stopping briefly to look back at me and wag its tail a few more times. I took it as a “thank you”.

That dirt road has a signpost now: Tiptoe Lane. Although it had no name when I was growing up, some of the locals called it Gauper Lane because our family lived at the end. A former volunteer with the Linda Fire Department remembers that their map once listed it as Gauper Lane. Too bad the name didn’t stick; having a road named after our family would have been an honor, even if it was only dirt.

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Tiptoe Lane is perpendicular to Griffith Ave., parallel to Hammonton and Beale Roads in Linda. It’s about a quarter of a mile long and, as dirt roads go, has never been in the best of shape.  During my childhood it was scarred with pot holes which filled with water during the rainy season.

About two-thirds of the way up, where the road made a ninety degree turn to the left, an especially large hole obstructed the entire bend.

When that hole was full of water it was nearly impossible, even for the most intrepid dirt road navigator, to continue down the lane on dry land.

For pedestrians there was some relatively dry ground next to the fence where a person could hold onto the fence, and carefully side-step to the corner post. Once you made it to the post, you could grab it with one hand then swing your body around the corner.

One frosty morning I was in a hurry to catch the school bus, so I quickly scuttled along the fence line, carefully grabbed the post (making sure my manhood didn’t smash against it), and swung my leg around; but when my foot hit the frozen grass, it slipped and I fell backwards. Plop! I landed in the large pot-hole, now a frigid mud puddle, while thin pieces of ice floated around me. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry, but in any case, I missed the bus.

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There are good points about living at the end of a dirt road.

We always knew when someone was coming to visit. Our dogs would bark, and if the corn wasn’t too tall, you could look out across the field and decide which course of action to take. If we didn’t recognize the vehicle, it was usually the Jehovah’s Witnesses and we had time to run and hide. Likewise, if it was Mormon missionaries on their bicycles, sometimes I would climb out a back window to avoid them.

You also got a lot of exercise walking to the bus stop or visiting a friend’s house. Even if we got a ride home from someone, since most people didn’t want to get their cars dirty, they’d usually drop us off where the dirt road met the pavement. (Speaking of dirt meeting pavement, my wife says that could be a good metaphor for our marriage, but that’s another story.)

Attempts at keeping our own vehicles clean were futile. I found it especially challenging to maintain the shiny chrome of my chopped Triumph motorcycle. I should have stuck with the Volkswagen Beetle my sister sold me.

The Beetle was a faded red color that complemented its rust spots. The floorboards were especially rusty, and you could see the ground in some places.  Dust and water would creep through the floor and somehow a weed seed found its way into the passenger side, sprouted and started growing. I grew fond of that plant and would admonish passengers to take care around my unique vehicle accessory. Sadly, the car-plant started dying as summer approached and the mud puddles on the road dried up. I briefly contemplated prolonging its life with supplemental watering; but it was getting big and I didn’t want to risk having to explain to a police officer why I had something growing in my car. So I let my plant friend dry up and die a natural death, which didn’t take very long, since the summer sun made the inside of that Volkswagen like an oven.

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I decided to remove the caked dirt from the floorboards after that foray into mobile horticulture; in doing so, I noticed I could no longer see the ground. My Volkswagen Bug now had custom- made adobe flooring and I decided to keep it that way.  Bet you won’t find that in J.C. Whitney’s automotive accessory catalog.

There are so many more memories connected to that dirt road: the talking crow, Oinky our pet pig, and even a time when I feared for my life; but I won’t share them now. After all, I have to save some stories for my book.

 

 

 

Sikh the Kingdom

 

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“It’s like we’re in a foreign country”, my wife commented as we stood inside the dining hall of the Sikh temple in Yuba City, California on Sunday afternoon, April 17, 2016.

As far as I could tell, we were the only white people, or as Dr. Shumate from the Sutter County Library might say, “Caucazoids”, in that room of well over two hundred people.

We were visiting the temple because the Sikh Community Outreach of Yuba City had invited the public to join them in celebrating Family Day, and to learn about the meaning of Vaisakhi, or the birth of Khalsa.

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This was not our first visit. On one earlier occasion an official of the temple had asked us how they could get more people like us to come.

“You mean white people?” I commented.

“Not just white people, but people that aren’t Sikhs”, he replied.

I didn’t have much to say at the time, but since then I’ve visited a multitude of places of worship while researching material for my blog, LeavingLinda.com. In doing so I have observed how other groups handle their new guests. Hopefully I can offer some insights into how the Sikh temple can get more visitors, and also enable those visitors to gain more from their experience.

Gol Stuff
Golgappa, deep-fried pastry ready to be filled with flavored water and desired filling.

On our recent visit, after parking our car, we walked over to where several canopies were set up, and looked around. We were treated to some servings of “golgappa” at one booth, where the mostly young volunteers were friendly and informative. We then passed the “Pagh Project” where a turban-tying demonstration was taking place. After visiting a few more booths and wondering what to do next, I happened to recognize a temple member, whom I know from my Toastmasters Club, walking by.

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“Inder!” I called out.

“Bob! what brings you here?” she replied.

“I heard there’s free food.” I chuckled.

“Did you go to the dining hall?”

“No I didn’t. I’m really not here just for the food, I like to visit places of worship and write about them for my blog. I would like to visit the dining hall though. How do I get there?”

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After getting directions my wife and I began walking towards the dining hall and knew we were close when we could smell the pleasant aromas of Indian food cooking. We walked inside, stood in a short line and, after having our Styrofoam plates piled generously with naan bread and other items, we looked for a place to sit. The right side of the room was lined with mats where mostly women and children were sitting. I opted to sit at the cafeteria style table and bench at the left side of the hall, and my wife followed. As we started to sit down, my wife noticed that only men were seated at those tables and, anxious to comply with temple etiquette, she asked if it was alright for her to join them. Several men nodded their heads yes, assuring her it was fine.

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Even without knowing the name of anything we were eating, we agreed that the food experience was outstanding. (This colorful vegetarian feast, combined with delicious memories of Punjabi Pizza at Dhillon’s, also in Yuba City, inspired an Indian food cooking phase in the Gauper family kitchen, which is still in progress. More about that in future posts.)

After eating, we weren’t able to linger much longer because of another commitment. While our overall temple experience was pleasant and memorable, I believe it would have been even more valuable if just a few features were in place to aid newcomers, e.g.,

  • Visitors Parking Area
  • Information Booth with maps and brochures about the temple and Sikhism
  • Docents to answer questions and guide guests around the temple
  • Recipe cards with details about the food being served

During my brief visit to the temple, I didn’t get a chance to discover the meaning of Vaisakhi and what the birth of Khalsa was about. However, subsequent research revealed that Khalsa is essentially the tenets of what’s required to be a true Sikh. http://www.sikhs.org/khalsa.htm

A true Sikh is required to worship one god, give to the poor, abstain from drug and alcohol use, never commit adultery and live by many other noble virtues.  The Christian Bible tells us you can know people “by their fruits”. Personally, I never doubted that the Sikh religion was inspired by God; my visits to the temple and interactions with local Sikhs have only confirmed that.

 

Back on Track

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“But there never seems to be enough time, to do the things you want to do, once you find them,” sang Jim Croce in Time in a Bottle.

I’m not sure what derailed my writing. I definitely have too many projects and not enough time. My wife occasionally calls me “Crazy Old Maurice” (absent-minded inventor from Beauty and the Beast) probably because I’m so scatter-brained and I’m constantly mumbling or humming to myself while frequently losing my glasses, tools, bicycle and so on. One time I even lost my car for a week.

But anyhow, as I get back on the blog track, I want to thank the people who have encouraged me to continue my writing. It means the world to me.

Although I haven’t been posting much, I have been researching and preparing for future blog-related activities. I even purchased some video-editing software and a used camera to enable me to add what I hope will be entertaining and enlightening video clips.

Speaking of cameras, I marvel at how much they’ve changed since I was a contributing photographer for the Washington Times back in the 1980s. Admittedly, I had to run back home and grab my old camera to take photos at Wheatland’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting because I couldn’t figure out how to turn on my new camera’s flash. (In my defense, the reason the young man gave for selling me his camera was, “It’s too complicated”.)

Another project I’ve been working on is a new website that will be taking a satirical and humorous look at the people and groups who support “deprogramming”. I’ve already written several blog posts on this topic and staged a couple of protests against TED Talks for their promotion of faith breaking. People have asked me why I bother, and I have often asked myself the same question.

My source of inspiration.
My source of inspiration.

Admittedly, it’s easy to get discouraged in my David-versus-Goliath confrontation with a popular and well-funded a group like TED. However, whenever I feel like giving up, I turn to such inspirational books as Let our Children Go in which retired deprogrammer, Ted Patrick, claims that Unification Church members practice sinister things like on-the-spot hypnosis; or to Diane (“I didn’t know I was with the Moonies”) Benscoter’s “Poor Me” memoir In the Shoes of a Servant where she outlandishly says we believe in talking snakes, Reverend Moon is God and his children are perfect. Such distortions of our beliefs, and who we are, really get my blood boiling. If I don’t do something to expose these libels, who will?

Recently, I took a short drive into the countryside in search of a photo I could use as the background image for my new website. The scene I found of the sun beaming behind magnificent cloud formations while Canadian geese gathered by a rice field nearly took my breath away. Maybe God was trying to tell me something.

fly high

As 2015 comes to an end, I sincerely hope that at this time next year we can look back and know that our hearts have grown and we have come to love and appreciate those who are different from ourselves. As a wise woman from the East once said:

As we stand before God, we are not evaluated by our title or the name of our religion, but by the quality of our hearts.” Hak Ja Han Moon.

In closing, I would like to especially thank my wife for her editing, drawing and continued support. Speaking of her, where is she anyway? Oh no! She’s still down at that rice field. I forgot she got out of the car to go pick some flowers and I must’ve driven off without her. Boy, am I in trouble!

 

Striking it Rich in Las Vegas

jackpot!! by beckyb, on Flickr

“Hopeful! Enlightening! Inspiring!”

It must be the skeptic in me. Nearly every time I read a testimony about a workshop, camp, retreat or similar event hosted by my church and nearly every word is a superlative followed by an exclamation mark, I can’t help thinking: Yeah, but what was it really like?

While I may not be one to get overly excited about stuff, I really did have a hopeful, enlightening and inspiring experience at the Divine Principle 7-day workshop held in Las Vegas in late May 2015.

While driving to Vegas from California, I received a text message from the workshop staff, asking me to be a group leader. Normally I would have declined such an offer, but I had made up my mind to be positive and supportive so I replied yes, I could do that.

I got really lost on the way, and ran into a huge rock that scraped the underside of my car, all of which made me tired and irritable. But I kept my cool and before long I reached my destination, the Mount Charleston Resort, in the mountains a little north of downtown Las Vegas. I picked up a room key at the front desk and walked upstairs.

Mt. C at night

Mount Charleston Resort

When I saw my room and roommates I was really grateful that I had brought along a sleeping bag and pad, because there was only a queen-size bed and there were three of us; and even at two hundred pounds, I was the trim guy.

After an anxious night of trying to sleep but worrying that the combined snoring of myself and my co-tenants might trigger a major earthquake, I went downstairs to the lobby and found my way to the large room where most of the workshop was to take place.

I’ve been to quite a few church workshops and marriage enrichment seminars held in a variety of locations, from barns to first-rate hotels, but this was the first time I attended an event in what appeared to be a large cocktail lounge.

Cocktail Lounge Kumbaya
Cocktail Lounge Kumbaya

(Maybe it’s a trend, because recently I visited the Gospel Christian Center that used to be the Royal Oak Tavern in my old neighborhood of Linda, CA.)  Gospel Christian Center

The room, with its multilevel seating, bark-coated logs supporting the roof and a large bar, was a welcome change from the average featureless hotel conference room.

After an introduction by the workshop organizers Naokimi Ushiroda and Terresa Ferrete, the group leaders introduced themselves to the crowd of about one hundred and fifty participants, who then had to choose whose team  they wanted to be on.

What if no one picks me? I worried. But luckily, quite a few people, young and old, asked if they could join me. In fact, I had to turn some folks away because my group was too large. I was especially happy to see our ethnic makeup would be quite diverse.

Part of my group. *
Part of my group. *

Throughout the week we heard from various speakers whose  styles ranged broadly, from Gerry Servito, with his heartfelt and emotion-filled talks about God’s grieving heart, to Pastor Kevin Thompson’s often humorous but deep presentations on the root of sin.

Dr Michael Balcomb, Teresa Ferrete, Reverends Andrew Compton,   Miilhan Stephens and Mari Curry also gave presentations on various segments of Divine Principle (DP) such as Resurrection, Predestination, Christology and The Purpose of the Messiah.

After each twenty to thirty minute talk, we studied the DP within our small groups and discussed its contents and the gist of the lecture.

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At the end of each day, the group leaders gathered to share their experiences, offer advice and reflect. Each person was asked to say two words about the day. One word I often chose was “hopeful”, because I was consistently impressed with the people I met, young and old.

During mealtimes, I made special effort to always sit near someone new. I found the young people to be articulate and engaging, which gave me hope for the future of the Unification Movement.

I also enjoyed talking with many of the older members and hearing about how and why they joined the Unification Church. When someone with a Ph.D. in history told me he was so intrigued when he first heard the “Parallels of Human History” that he eventually joined the church; or when an engineer explained how “The Principles of Creation” presentation helped him to believe in God, it affirmed my own decision to embrace the teachings of Sun Myung Moon.

The spiritual education, social interaction, morning exercise on the cliff-side deck, inspirational music, good food, time in creation and other joyous activities made for a pleasant workshop experience. However I did have a few reservations.

For one, I found it a bit too “Kumbaya” for my personal taste to embrace shoulder-to-shoulder whenever a slow song was being sung, and preferred standing in the back of the room until the music was over. Although I did join in a few times, inevitably I felt uncomfortable, which might have something to do with my Norwegian/Lutheran ancestry.

The Master
Martial Arts Master, Gerry Servito.

I also felt kind of judged when sprightly sixty-three-year-old Gerry Servito jumped up onto a four-foot-high wall and started dancing around. If that wasn’t enough, while he was teaching us some martial arts exercises, he stood straight up from a lotus position, without help AND without using his hands. Sheesh!

One thing that seemed a little out of place was the presentation given by the Universal Peace Academy (UPA), which is headquartered in Korea, and is a graduate program for educating future leaders of the Unification Movement and other organizations. Personally I would have preferred an option to learn about UPA  in a break-out session. Just having Yuri Sato, a UPA student, on my team and seeing the enthusiasm of Takakuni Onozawa, another cadet, was plenty of advertising for the benefits of such training.

But all-in-all, the workshop definitely was good. Pardon me, great! I’m not sure what inspired me to attend but I’m certainly glad I did.

Unfortunately, I had to leave a couple of days early because of my dad’s ill health. As I drove north on Hwy 98 in the early morning darkness and looked in my rear-view-mirror at the bright lights of Las Vegas, I thought back to nearly forty years ago when I was preparing to move to Vegas. I was sitting in another cocktail lounge, in South Lake Tahoe, while friends threw me a going-away party. A band was playing the song, Las Vegas ain’t no place for a poor boy like me, which was appropriate because back then, Vegas was no place for me.

However this time, even though it was short, I felt I was meant to be there. I hope everyone else at that workshop felt the same.

DP Group
Best group at the Divine Principle Workshop. *

Jackpot
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  beckyb

* Photos courtesy Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

 

Roads less Traveled

Lluvia by Christian Frausto Bernal, on Flickr
A foreign substance coats the windshield.

Rain? I really hadn’t expected that.  Probably should have checked the weather forecast before driving over the Sierra Nevada Mountains; but it had been so long since we’d experienced rain during California’s extended drought, I just didn’t think about it.  My windshield wipers  groaned to life after months of non-use, their steady beat contrasting with the tempo of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony playing on the CD. (Yes, I had to look that up.)

It was nice to have the rain, but after such a long dry spell the roads can be slick and quite treacherous, so I made a mental note to drive extra carefully, as I passed Nevada City and continued east into the mountains on Highway 20.

Soon I was on Interstate 80 and  briefly visited the Donner Pass Rest Area.  Afterward I noticed the traffic was barely moving as I slowly merged back onto the freeway.  About twenty feet further I was stuck in stationary traffic for nearly three hours. There had been an accident; a semi-truck had spun out on the rain-slick road, flipped over, and was blocking the interstate.

I must have just missed that accident, I told myself. Although the long wait was a major inconvenience, I was grateful to be safe. Sitting in my car I contemplated what it might have been like to grow up in the nearby town of Truckee, where  my dad, mother and I had lived when I was a toddler.  Dad helped to build the freeway I was currently stranded on. He had been a Grade Setter for Caltrans. If it hadn’t been for my mother being pregnant with my brother, or if Truckee had a hospital back then, we might have planted our California roots in that small mountain town.

I was currently heading to Las Vegas for the grand opening of the International Peace Education Center (IPEC) and to attend a 7-day Divine Principle Workshop hosted by the Unification Church (now officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, or FFWPU). Originally I wasn’t sure I would be able to afford the time or money for the workshop but I told God that if I could sell my truck and trailer, I would go.  Thanks to Craigslist, they did sell, and I had to keep my promise. I chose to drive through Nevada because I had already driven many times to Vegas through California and  wanted a change of scenery. Also, by traveling through Nevada,  the “Sekhmet Temple of Goddess Spirituality” would be on my route and I wanted to stop by.

While most people seem to think the journey from Reno to Las Vegas is rather boring,  personally I find the solitude and open spaces of the Nevada desert to my liking. The drive gave me welcome hours of quiet and peaceful meditation.

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A welcome sign along the way.

Many miles and several naps later, I approached the small community of Indian Springs, which is home not only to Sekhmet Temple, but also Creech Air Force Base. Currently, the base’s main activity is “to engage in daily Overseas Contingency Operations [7]…of remotely piloted aircraft systems which fly missions across the globe.”[8] Its mission has also included support for nuclear testing at the nearby Nevada Proving Grounds.

Following the map sent to me by Candace,  resident priestess of Sekhmet Temple,  I found it with no problem, parked my car and began to walk around the well-kept grounds.

Marde De Mundo: Mother of the World
Madre De Mundo: Mother of the World

Approaching a small building, which I assumed was the temple, I was startled by what appeared to be someone inside. However, that “person” turned out to be a stone statue of Madre De Mundo, Mother of the World. Inside the temple and around the property were various statues and depictions of what appeared to be goddesses, and an altar for Our Lady of Guadalupe.

After taking a few pictures, I walked toward a nearby house, hoping to find Candace. As I neared the residence, I could see someone watering plants.

“Are you Candace?” I asked.

“Yes, I am. You must be Bob. Welcome,”  she replied.

I didn’t talk with her a long time. I could have asked a lot of questions about theology, or what they hoped to accomplish at this oasis in the desert, but their website already explained a lot.
www.sekhmettemple.com

Before I left, Candace told me that before moving the training elsewhere, Creech AFB used to send their assistant-chaplains-in-training, to the Sekhmet Temple for a walk-through and to get information. With the exception of one rabbi, who refused to visit, I imagine these future chaplains might have found their visit educational and enlightening, even if only to experience a different faith tradition.

As I was leaving, I took a few more photos and realized this was the only religious site I’ve visited where a worship service wasn’t taking place at the time. It would have been nice to see people gathered at the temple, walking the labyrinth, or simply doing whatever they do.

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Sekhmet Temple

After depositing a small donation in a  box  near the parking lot,  I walked back to my car, leaned against a fender and looked back at the temple grounds.  As I stood there enjoying the beauty of the nearby mountains (which I later realized was the Spring Mountain Range where my workshop would be held), I could understand why someone would want to come here to escape the stresses of modern life.

On the Sekhmet Temple website I had read about their passion for peace and social justice, which reminded me of the time  I was threatened by “peace activists” while taking photos at a “peace rally” in Auckland, New Zealand. Those peaceful folk went ballistic when they saw The Washington Times (conservative- leaning publication based in Washington D.C.) emblem on my photography bag and ID and wanted to beat me up.

Well, Candace didn’t seem to want to beat me up, and I believe our encounter was beneficial. In fact I’d like my wife to meet her someday, they probably have a lot in common.

I’m not sure what to think about a temple dedicated to  goddess spirituality, although I definitely believe in the concept of a “sacred feminine” and that for too long God has mostly been depicted as all-male. The Bible does say in Genesis that God made man in His own image, male and female He made them.

”Male and Female He created them...” by Art4TheGlryOfGod, on Flickr

 

The Divine Principle of the Unification Church describes God as a harmonized being of dual characteristics, masculine and feminine, just as all creation is also made up of those characteristics.

Judging by the kind of reception The Da Vinci Code novel received in certain quarters, the promotion of God’s feminine aspect is not yet a majority view.  Like my journey through Nevada, it is a “road less traveled”, in the unforgettable words of Robert Frost.  And as he well knew, those less-trodden paths can end up making all the difference.

 

Windshield in the Rain
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Christian Frausto Bernal 
Gen 1:26
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Art4TheGlryOfGod 

“God Bless America!”

In Jail

“God bless America,
land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
through the night with the light from above!”

The irony was as thick as the packed Minnesota snow outside our building. Those words filled the stark room and echoed off the concrete walls of the jail house as Danny and I sang out and some Native Americans from the Drunk Tank joined in.

A metal door unlatched across the hall from my cell and eerily squeaked open as a middle-aged woman, dressed in a jailer’s uniform, stepped inside and walked over to me.

“You boys responsible for this?” she asked as I stopped singing and sheepishly nodded my head.

She looked down the hallway and then back at me. I could hear the sadness in her voice as she gently shook her head and said, “What’s wrong with our country? You boys don’t belong here.”

Danny repeated another stanza as the jailer stood and listened.

“God bless America,
land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
through the night with the light from above!

From the mountains, to the prairies,
to the oceans, white with foam,
God bless America, my home sweet home.”

The jailer started to leave as the patriotic song appeared to end, but Danny sang the last line again and I joined in.

“God bless America, my home sweet home.” A loud clang rang out, almost like a cymbal, as the jailer shut the metal door and the song ended.

Maybe Danny just liked the acoustics of a jail cell, because he was always singing every time we got arrested. The first time he did it we were occupying the same cell and he stood up on the stainless steel commode and started belting out Frank Sinatra songs. I wanted to tell him to stop because I needed to take a nap. However, it looked like our fellow inmates were enjoying his singing and I did not want to get on their bad side.

VultureMine-121 by dagnyg, on Flickr
Example of a window at a cross-bar hotel.

Danny and I had been spending a lot of time enjoying the amenities of America’s “cross bar hotels” because we were out raising funds for our church and some people were not happy with that.

I really wish I would have paid more attention to where I was at the time, how I was treated and the range of accommodations while being housed and fed courtesy of America’s taxpayers. That way, I might have been able to publish some type of guide about our country’s police departments and the quality of their lodgings. You know, like a Michelin guide of America’s jail houses with ratings for how tight the handcuffs were, what the ride in the police car was like, quality of food, friendliness of the staff and customers and the ambience of the jail cell.

Admittedly, it appears that most jails might have been designed by the same person. For the most part, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. However, one thing that often separates a mediocre forced vacation from a great one is the quality of the staff. That said, my vote for my best jail-house experience goes to Ogden, Utah.

Ogden Through the Winshield by arbyreed, on Flickr
Welcome to Ogden.

Now please, please, do not travel to Ogden and get arrested just because of my recommendation. That was a long time ago, and things might have changed. I should also add that my arrest had nothing to do with my religious affiliation. In fact I had been warned by the police that if I continued to try and peddle my wares, especially on a Sunday in Utah, I would be arrested. I explained the situation to my team leader, but it was like talking to a brain-washed cultist, if you know what I mean, and he told me that as long as I kept the right attitude, the “spirit world” would protect me and everything would be just fine.

Well, I guess my attitude was pretty lousy, because after knocking on just a few doors, Ogden’s boys-in-blue were taking me for a ride.

“Why didn’t you stop selling when we told you to stop?” One of the officers questioned.

Although they were probably Mormons, I doubted they would sympathize with my “spirit world should’ve protected me” angle and I simply told them my team leader made me do it.

It was pretty obvious that one of the reasons Ogden was a good place for a forced vacation was because they didn’t have many customers to deal with and they could spend more time with their guests. When I was jailed, there were only two of us incarcerated: me, and a wayward teenager that got busted for stealing a car. The place was super clean, we got fed McDonald’s for dinner and breakfast, and the staff was quite friendly.

God bless America. My home sweet home.

I do believe that God has blessed America and I am grateful that it is “my home sweet home”, because although I was arrested more times than I can remember, I was always released the next day. For the most part, unless you’re a foreign national leading a new religious movement, it is still, as sung in another patriotic tune, “the land of the free, and home of the brave.”

Land of the Free Because of the Brave Pa by Lynn Friedman, on Flickr
Land of the Free

Cross Bar Hotel Window
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  dagnyg 

Ogden Arch
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  arbyreed 

Land of the Free
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Lynn Friedman 

Vegas Bound

International Peace Education Center - Las Vegas, NV
International Peace Education Center – Las Vegas, NV

Since I’m heading to Las Vegas for the grand opening celebration of the International Peace Education Center and I’ll also be receiving some spiritual education at a retreat, I won’t have much time to write. So I’d simply like to post a letter I recently wrote to the Appeal-Democrat newspaper in Marysville, California. Thankfully the Appeal-Democrat always prints my letters, no matter how controversial, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Letter to the Editor. Appeal-Democrat, May 18, 2015:

Well over twenty years ago, while living in St. Louis, I tuned in to a Christian radio station and I still remember the amazing testimony I heard that day, of faith, perseverance and ultimate triumph from Vietnam Veteran David Roever. In fact, I was so inspired I would often share his story with others. Years later, after moving back to the Yuba/Sutter area, I read in The Appeal-Democrat that Roever would be speaking at the Calvary Christian Center in Yuba City, and I convinced both of my then teen-aged daughters to join me to hear him speak.

Dave Roever DSC_0325, 3e by heraldpost, on Flickr
David Roever (1.)

Although I had already heard most of his stories, I still found them humorous and deeply inspirational, as did my daughters. However as Roever’s presentation was coming to a close, he started spewing out anti-Muslim rhetoric and proclaimed, “Our God is better than their God!” Not wanting to hear more of his vitriolic speech, my daughters and I walked out of the sanctuary.

Fortunately, as I visit and write about places of worship throughout the Yuba/Sutter area, I rarely find such backward-thinking attitudes in our diverse community. Hopefully, we are, as Father George Foxworth stated in a recent sermon at Grace Episcopal Church in Wheatland, “…looking to find what we have in common instead of focusing upon things that divide.”

Thank you for visiting my blog and please continue to do so. I’ll have a lot of material to write about once I get back from Vegas. Heck, I even plan to visit a Temple of Goddess Spirituality at Indian Springs, Nevada on my way there. (A certain extreme faction of the Unification movement has been calling my wife and others “post-modern secular goddess-worshiping feminists on a power trip to hell”, so I thought I should do some research. ) Wish me luck.

Temple by Freaktography, on Flickr
Temple of Goddess Spirituality. (2.)

 

(1.) David Roever
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  heraldpost 

(2.) Temple of Goddess Spirituality
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Freaktography 

Good Religion/Bad Religion

Bad Religion @ The Ritz 3.16.13-1 by elawgrrl, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  elawgrrl 

 

“Bullshit,” shouted Fred’s widow in her Oklahoma accent,  as she sat next to my dad  in a church pew.

She was responding to a statement made by the pastor at Fred’s memorial service, “Fred was such a great guy, always serving others and helping out at the church. He was also a loving husband.”

Many of us know people like Fred, who appear to be deeply religious, go to church on a regular basis, study their bible and whenever they get a chance, ask us if we know Jesus.

One time when I was a young boy walking home after Little League practice, Fred offered me a ride after I ran into him at the old Linda Market (where you can still see the steel pillars erected after my mother tried to turn the store into a drive-through). It wasn’t anything Fred said that got me thinking about Jesus, it was his driving.

Store across from Linda Elementary. Metal pillars placed after my mother smashed into the store with our pickup truck.
The old Linda Market with steel pillars erected after my mother drove into store.

I should have known better. My dad had warned me not to ride with him ever since that time he was with Fred when Fred drove through a stop sign.

“Why didn’t you stop?!” my dad yelled.

“It’s the law. The fourth car doesn’t have to stop,” Fred countered.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” my dad responded sarcastically as he worried about making it home safely.

Luckily, on my ride home from the Linda Market there was only one stop sign, we weren’t the fourth car, and we made it safely to the driveway of Fred’s ramshackle homestead. However, just as I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked Jesus for my life, Fred jumped out of his pickup as it was rolling down the driveway! As I sat there in the passenger seat in mild terror, and later amusement, the truck smashed into Fred’s barn and stopped. I could tell by the barn’s losing battle against gravity, he had done this many times before.

Fred's Truck

Although Fred was a great source of amusement and future blog posts, because of a series of moral indiscretions and an anger problem, he was not a very good advertisement for Christianity.

Sadly, religion does not guarantee that someone will be a good person.

Respected columnist and radio talk show host, Dennis Prager writes about a kind and non-judgmental young man who joined a Jewish Institute that Prager once directed. After a month of studying and living Judaism the man decided to become a fully practicing Jew. When he met the young man about a year later Prager says he was judgmental and very critical of his fellow Jews. Unfortunately it appeared that he was using religion as a tool to measure other people by, instead of a vehicle for his own self-improvement.

Prager has often stated that one of man’s greatest sins is to make God look bad. How sad it must make God feel if the people that believe in Him and proclaim His love aren’t very loving.

While shopping at the Grocery Outlet in Yuba City, I often chat with   Miranda, one of the cashiers, about visiting local churches and writing about them in my blog. She invited me to The Bride Church several times. Before I had managed to go there my wife and I were driving on Highway 99 and passed a yellow food truck on which we could see the words “Mobile Meal Ministries”.  There was also a small picture of the Blues Brothers on it and the words “On a mission from God”, which made us chuckle. After my wife commented, “There’s some good religion”, then I really knew I had to stop by The Bride Church since  I knew that  Mobile Meal Ministries (3M), an outreach to the homeless, was associated with it.

Bride

Not long after I entered The Bride Church and the service began, I could tell they were running out of room. The sanctuary was filled to capacity. The pastor, Bob Ouzts, addressed their space problem in his sermon and definitely caught my attention when he mentioned their church might be expanding into Wheatland, which is where I live.

The primarily Caucasian congregation consisted of a good variety of young and old which was impressive. I enjoyed the music the small band played and I noticed that many people joined in the singing, which is often not the case in many of the churches I’ve visited. I was intrigued by the custom-built plexi-glass enclosure built upon the stage to contain the drummer and his/her drums and assumed it was to tone down the loudness.

Drumcage
Custom enclosure minus drummer.

What especially impressed me about this church was their good works. The pastor, Bob Ouzts, founded the successful service group, “Craftsmen for Christ”, which utilizes primarily Christian volunteers to help low-income people repair and modify their homes, particularly if the resident is disabled.

A short presentation was given by church members Dr. Frank Smith and his wife about how they have been able to help facilitate the installation of water wells, promote entrepreneurship and work towards improving cocoa production in Ghana through the group Afrihope.

The brochure given to people entering the church listed many of the church’s activities, which included a marriage-changing seminar, a mission to South Sudan and various programs for men and women of all ages. And of course, the Mobile Meal Ministries (3M).

Pastor Bob certainly seemed like a very sincere man and after telling the sad story of a young man who recently died of a drug overdose, he tearfully shared,

“I don’t understand how a man can go before the Lord and ask for help and appearingly on this side of heaven not get it. ….Hurts.”

Pastor Bob shared of how when he was ten years old and on his first at-bat of the season in Little League he hit a grand slam homer. Unfortunately that was the last home run he ever hit because he lost his confidence and was afraid of failing.

SAM_0792
Pastor Bob Ouzts

Later on, he continued that most of us are on this side of what God has asked us to do and we’re sitting there in fear.

Trust me.” God is saying, “Will you trust me?”

In short, it certainly seemed to me that The Bride Church represented good religion. Of course I have no idea how many people like my old neighbor Fred, or Dennis Prager’s former student, belong to The Bride Church congregation, but I can imagine that the lives of many people might have improved because of their association with the church. However, as I was about to finish writing about my enjoyable visit I discovered something rather disturbing.

I wanted to clarify something about the April 19th service I attended and proceeded to watch the recorded service online. However, I accidentally downloaded the April 12th 11:00 am service and stumbled across a skit claiming that Buddhists, Hindus, and especially Muslims are essentially Satan’s buddies. I respectfully disagree with that narrow viewpoint.

Meanwhile:

Truelove
My daughter enjoys lunch with one of “Satan’s buddies” in Malaysia.

In a similar vein, a few years ago, another church decided to set up shop in Wheatland and to introduce themselves, mailed out a flyer educating my fellow Wheatlanders about the evils of Mormonism.

I find it terribly sad when religious people, primarily through their ignorance, attempt to build themselves up by tearing down the faith of others. If we have confidence in our own beliefs, and if the religious group we are associated with has “good fruits” we are proud of, we should be able to stand on our own merits and not need to disparage others.

That said, all in all, I guess I would still encourage people to experience The Bride Church at 655 Colusa Ave, in Yuba City and to visit them in Wheatland if they expand. Although, unless you have a desire to perform in a skit, you just might want to leave your, turban, skull cap, head-scarf or other non-Christian paraphernalia at home.

 

 

 

 

Dying of the Light

 

“Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.”

I’m not sure how I came across that poem by Dylan Thomas to his dying father, but there it was, on my computer screen.

“Rage, rage, against the dying of the light,” was Dylan’s advice to his father. As my own father edges closer to his final time on earth I contemplate the best advice to give him. I doubt he’d listen, but instead of telling him to rage against the dying of the light, I’m wondering if he should embrace it.

I never expected my dad to live to be ninety years old. As a young man he got the tropical disease filariasis while trying to rid the Philippine Islands of the invading Japanese, along with his fellow Marines. Most of his life he smoked, drank and was fond of junk food. He loved Hostess Sno Balls, Danish pastries, sugary cinnamon rolls, fudge and all kinds of candy. In his late 60s he weighed nearly three hundred pounds; but that was before he was diagnosed with colon cancer and also congestive heart failure. He weighs about one-third of that now, but clearly, this cat has more than nine lives.

For over twenty years Dad lived in a single-wide mobile home that was next to his fruit stand in Wheatland, California. I lived nearby and would often check on him. Many times, I would anxiously wait for my dad’s response after I had knocked on his custom-made, not-so-great-at-sliding, Oriented Strand Board (chip-board) door, which replaced the really-not-so-great-at-sliding glass door that crashed into the living-room one day after years of abuse. That OSB door did not look too out of place however, because it matched the OSB “window” at the front of the trailer.

Close-up of Oriented Strand Board. Great for cheap doors and windows.
Close-up of Oriented Strand Board. Great for cheap doors and windows.

If Dad wouldn’t answer the door I would then grab a small tree branch and walk over to his bedroom window, which was, believe it or not, a real glass window, and start tapping on it. Luckily, he would then wake up and I knew he was still alive.

My wife and I purchased a house in Wheatland which had a small “granny-flat” in the back which we hoped my dad would move into. However, although his trailer was definitely falling apart, he fought the idea for years, but finally moved into the granny-flat on the day a couple of scum-of-the-earth so-called men, staged a trailer-invasion-robbery against my then eighty-year-old father. They pushed him down, held a gun to his head and shouted, “Where’s all the money?!” somehow thinking that peddling tomatoes and cucumbers would yield more than around a hundred dollars for a day’s work.

008
Granny Flat

Sadly, years later, my dad is still super paranoid after that assault, and is often worried that someone will attack him again.

“That robbery took the wind out of my sails. I lost hope in humanity when that happened,” he often says.

Recently I began to feel that the wind of life in my father’s sails has definitely started to fade, especially when he calls us in the middle of the night and talks about people in his bedroom that aren’t there. Or when he tells us that his old friend Dan Pingle stopped by and sold him some tomato plants and that Victor from the trailer park had just visited and that Victor didn’t want to buy any patriotic beans from the cart-pulling bean seller that somehow made it into my dad’s room.

Worried, I often look in on him while he’s lying on his adjustable bed, see his blanket moving with signs of life, and feel relieved that he’s still with us.

A few days ago on April 19, our family celebrated True Parents’ Day, one of the Unification Church’s major holy days. My wife found a suitable quote about parents from the Quran (in World Scripture, a Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts) and wrote it on the chalkboard in our dining room:

The Lord has decreed . . . that you be kind to your parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your lifetime, do not say to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say, “My Lord! Bestow upon them Thy mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” Qur’an 17:23.

SAM_0799

“I hope our boys read that,” I commented.

“It’s good advice for us too,” my wife clarified.                       

She’s right, you know. I told myself as I thought about how difficult it had been dealing with my dad that week. Somehow, I’ve got to be more patient with him.

“Call 911,” my brother-in-law, who works as a court-appointed conservator of the elderly, told my sister when she asked him about our dad.

He had taken a turn for the worse and was falling out of his bed, but wouldn’t let my sister and me help him. He’d been having hallucinations, or perhaps he was seeing spirits waiting to take him home with them. My sister phoned 911 and soon around half the population of Wheatland (or so it seemed) showed up to help my dad into the awaiting ambulance.

SAM_0812

My dad’s in the hospital now. He’s getting better and may even be coming back home or be taken to a nursing home for some skilled care. My sister was asked by the hospital to set up an Advance Directive to help decide what they should do if our father is incapacitated and can’t make his own decisions regarding end-of-life issues.

“How much effort should the doctors make to keep you alive, even if you’ll remain unconscious?” My sister asked Dad.

“I want them to do everything they can to keep me alive,” he responded.

It looks like he’ll be “raging against the dying of the light” after all. Who am I to suggest otherwise?

 

 

Wisdom of the Aged

Don’t forsake me when I’m old by Martin LaBar, on Flickr

“Will you pray for me?” the elderly woman asked somberly as she grasped my hand and her eyes began to water.

“Of course, what would you like me to pray?” I responded.

“I’m afraid my family wants to stick me into an old folks’ home. They think I can’t take care of myself. I’d rather die than move into one of those horrid places.”

I held her hands and we prayed as we stood together outside on the sidewalk near her apartment amongst the small retirement community.

I was often amazed at how someone would open their hearts to me, a complete stranger out hawking candy, flowers, or trinkets for my church. Usually it was an elderly person who would look beyond the unfavorable media portrayal of me as a brainwashed member of the Unification Church, and see me as a sincere young man that loved God and wanted to help people.

When Reverend Moon first came to America he was saddened to see so many elderly people set aside and forgotten in nursing homes. He shared many stories of how wonderful it was to have his grandparents close by while he was growing up in a small village in North Korea. He has also expressed that ideally households should be made up of three generations.

GP&CB
My dad sitting inside his trailer, parked on our property, celebrating his 90th birthday.

Although my mother died before my children were born, my dad is still around and in the last twenty years he has never stayed more than a block away from our family. For the last few years he has been living with us. It has often been quite difficult taking care of my dad, but I do believe my family has benefited from his presence. It’s especially rewarding to hear my kids defending their grandfather if I complain about him.

Some of my favorite places to visit when I was fundraising for my church were the apartments above shops in the downtown areas of towns and cities.

Marysville, CA by SharonaGott, on Flickr
Apartments above businesses in downtown Marysville, California

“You’re the only person that’s knocked on my door in over a year,” the startled elderly woman told me as I stood outside her apartment above a business in a small city in Iowa.

She invited me inside and asked if I would like some lemonade, and when I said yes, she also brought me some cookies. She then shared with me how much she missed her family members who had left Iowa. I didn’t say much but just listened as she talked about her life. I wasn’t in that tidy, memento-filled apartment very long and can’t even remember the stories she shared, but I still remember her kindness. I’m quite sure that I also brought some joy to the little old lady at the top of that lonely staircase.

Sometimes I could spend weeks never hearing a kind word or any shred of encouragement from anyone, so when it did happen it was immensely memorable.

It was late in the evening when I walked up to the gentleman filling up his car at the gas station. I asked him if he could give a couple of church missionaries, me and my friend Tom, a ride to the next small mid-western town. He said he’d love to and soon we were heading down the highway with this kind man and his wife.

We hadn’t gotten very far when we became aware of the siren and flashing red lights of a police cruiser which overtook us and pulled us over.

Police Lights davidsonscott15 flickr by Provisions, on Flickr
An unwelcome sight.

“Don’t worry,” the officer told our driver, “we’re just after those boys in back.”

“What did they do? Aren’t they missionaries?”

“Yeah, but they’re with a cult, and we don’t want them in our town,” replied the officer.

“But they’re leaving your town!” the Good Samaritan countered as Tom and I were asked by the officer’s deputy to get out of the car.

The police officer, whose uniform consisted of jeans and the word “Police” spelled in glitter across the front of his T-shirt, patted us hardened criminals down and then arrested us. Much to my surprise our driver hung around even though he was told he could leave. Obviously he wasn’t scared of us because he walked up to us and said, “I can still give you guys a ride if you need it.”

“Thank you so much for that offer,” I replied. “I don’t think we’ll need it because it looks like we’ll be spending the night in the local cross-bar-hotel (jail). You’re a good man. God bless you.”

There are so many stories I’d like to share about the elderly people that have touched my life and inspired me but it would take too long. However, I would like to end with a story which still causes me to chuckle. It’s about  a decrepit old man sitting in a wheelchair in a convalescent home…

I was traveling on my own throughout the country selling pictures and living out of a van. I would often make my best sales at convalescent homes because the pictures were safe and durable.  Often employees at the facilities would also buy. At one of those homes I had set up pictures in the lobby and many people were admiring them, especially the picture  of a Siberian tiger. As my potential customers started to comment and ooh and ah about the tiger, an old man who could barely sit up on his own, and looked as if he didn’t have much longer to live, cried out in his crackly voice, “Why’s everybody talking about me?”

Male Siberian tiger walking with open mo by Tambako the Jaguar, on Flickr
“Why’s everybody talking about me?”

 British historian Arnold Toynbee made the following observation after studying the world’s civilizations:

“…a society’s quality and durability can best be measured by the respect and care given its elderly citizens”.

We have much to learn from our elders. Hopefully their wisdom and understanding will not go to waste.

( Sadly, my dad  passed away in January, 2016.)

 

 

“Don’t forsake me when I’m Old.”
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  Martin LaBar 

Downtown Marysville, California
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  SharonaGott

Police Car
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Provisions 

Male Siberian Tiger
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Tambako the Jaguar 

 

Stories about growing up in Linda, California, my life in the Unification Church and..other stuff..