Beyond the Comfort Zone

 

Although that room in Lincoln, California, was filled with around forty men, it was so quiet you could’ve heard a pin drop. I’m not sure I would have heard that pin drop because my heart was beating so loudly. Those men were staring up at me, waiting for me to start singing a song I had written. Boy was I ever nervous!

Minutes before I was introduced to the small crowd, I was sitting in my chair thinking I was going to get sick. What was I thinking? How’d I let myself get into this situation? Then I realized it was all Mrs. Blackwell’s fault.

I first met Mrs. Blackwell when my wife started playing piano at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, which is a primarily African-American Church in Olivehurst that can trace its roots to 1852. My wife also played at the Chapel at Beale Air Force Base. Now I can’t remember how it happened, but somehow I ended up in the Base chapel choir for their Christmas Cantata. I think they just needed to fill a spot because they never even heard me sing. If they had, perhaps they would’ve realized why I was told many years ago by a Japanese musician friend that I was “tone blind”; I knew he meant “deaf” and I got his not-so-subtle hint.

Anyhow, one day I walked into an office at Beale to update my contractor identification and one of the people working in that office was Mrs. Blackwell from Mt Olivet Baptist. We chatted for a bit, and I told her I had recently joined the choir at the base chapel.

She gave me a mischievous look and said, “I’ll have to keep that in mind.”

Why’d she say that? I thought as I walked out of the office. About a week later I got my answer when I received a phone call.

“Hello?”

“Is that Bob?”

“Yes, this is Bob.”

“Bob, this is Mrs. Blackwell from Mt. Olivet.”

“Well hello, Mrs. Blackwell. What can I do for you?”

“Well Bob, I was wondering if you might be able to help us out with our entertainment for our Christmas program.”

“What do you want me to do? Join the choir or something?”

“No. I was hoping you could sing a solo.”

“Say what?”

“Sing a solo.”

“Mrs. Blackwell, you know I did join a choir, but I stand way in the back where I can hardly be seen, or heard. I…I… don’t know about singing a solo.”

“Oh don’t worry. You’d be fine. We’d love to have ya.”

“I’ll tell you what. Let me think about it for a few days, and I’ll get back to you.”

“Okay, I’ll be waiting. Bye now.”

“Bye.”

Once I hung up the phone my first thought was, how am I going get out of this?

However, that same day I started listening to a recorded sermon by Pastor Kevin Thompson, of the Bay Area Family Church in Hayward, California. In his sermon, Pastor Thompson encouraged his congregation to challenge themselves, to go beyond their comfort zones.

Wow. Singing a solo at Mt. Olivet would certainly put me beyond my comfort zone, I thought. Heck, I might be able to make a lot of people uncomfortable just by hearing me sing!

Daisys
Field of sunflowers at Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm, Wheatland, California. Photo by Maree Gauper

It just so happened that during this time I was also attending a Bible study organized by Heritage Church in Lincoln, which unlike Olivehurst, is a relatively well-heeled community a little south of where I live. During the study I was so inspired by Romans 1:20 that I wrote a song about it.

Maybe I could sing the song I wrote? That way, no one would know if I was singing it wrong. So I gave Mrs. Blackwell a call and told her that I would sing a solo for their Christmas program.

And that’s exactly what happened. Christmas week arrived and I sang my song at Mt Olivet. The congregation was warm, enthusiastic and supportive. They clapped and sang along and I felt rather proud of myself. But then I wondered if maybe this African-American congregation was just enjoying the novelty of a red-headed white guy singing in their church. And would they have been just as supportive, although confused, if I was up there singing “Row, row, row, your boat”?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Inside Mt. Olivet Baptist Church years after my solo singing debut. This time I’m the emcee for an interfaith musical event. Funny, but no one asked me to sing ……. Photo:Elenore de Watteville.

Meanwhile, the Bible study in Lincoln had taken a break in December and reconvened in January. The leader of our small group, Tim, asked us to share stories we had about our Christmas and I spoke about writing a song and singing it for a congregation.

“Wow, Bob, that’s great. Do you think you could sing that song and give your testimony in front of our larger group sometime?” asked Tim.

“Uh, yeah, I guess”, I responded, feeling rather surprised he would ask me to share my testimony.

After our meeting, I approached Tim and asked, “Are you sure you want me to give my testimony? You do remember that when I introduced myself to the study group I explained I’m a member of the Unification Church founded by Reverend Moon?”

“Oh, yeah. I guess I forgot.”

As I was later leaving the study room, I glanced behind me and saw Tim speaking with the church’s pastor.

Eventually weeks went by, and I was never approached again about singing that song, so out of curiosity I asked Tim about it.

“How ‘bout you sing your song, but don’t give your testimony?” Tim suggested.

“Okay. I can do that,” I said, thinking, whatever.

???? by ohayo2007, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  ohayo2007 

 
And that’s how I ending up standing in front of a bunch of WASPs. And I’m not talking about the insects. I’m talking about White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. I wasn’t quite sure if it was because of my religious affiliation, or because they were just a bunch of white guys, but this crowd wasn’t nearly as supportive as the one at Mt. Olivet. In fact, the difference was, well, black and white.

Come on you guys, loosen up a bit, I wanted to tell them, but I didn’t. Instead, I simply took a deep breath and began singing:

Somebody told me,
Someone said,
Somebody told me that God was dead.
But I didn’t listen to a thing they said,
‘Cause I knew it was just a lie.
I said, oh, won’t you listen,
‘Cause I’m ‘bout to tell you why.

 You see, I saw my babies
when they were being born.
And I watched the sun arising
In the early morn,
And I heard a song of a whippoorwill,
Saw flowers growing on a distant hill,
Tried counting all the stars up in an endless sky,
Saw a flock of birds as they flew by.
You know that’s just a few of the reasons why
I say, oh my Lord, you’re everywhere I go.

 ‘Cause everywhere I look I can see you Lord,
Everywhere I am I can hear you Lord,
And everywhere I am I can feel your love.

 You’re in the mountains, way up high,
In the desert dry,
In the country, and the city,
In the ugly and the pretty,
In a forest and a stream,
I say…up….down…and in between.
I say, oh, my Lord, You’re everywhere I go.

 ‘Cause everywhere I look I can see you Lord.
Everywhere I am I can hear you Lord.
And everywhere I am I can feel your love.

 You’re in the black and in the white,
In the day and in the night,
In a servant and in a slave,
In the righteous and in the brave,
In the humble and the meek,
In the strong and in the weak,
I say, oh, my Lord, you’re everywhere I go.

 But I’m not a blind man, for I can see.
I know there’s a lot of pain and misery.
And sorrow may be your friend.
But if you can trust in the Lord,
Your heart can mend, and then…

Everywhere you look you’ll see him,
Everywhere you turn you’ll hear him,
That’s because everywhere you go,
You can feel His love, that’s because
He’ll be everywhere you go.

 When I finished singing, the room was still rather quiet, and some of those guys looked like they were in shock, at least for a short moment. And I thought, that wasn’t so bad after all! It fact it was quite exhilarating standing there, beyond my comfort zone.

 

 

 

The Yellow Peril?

PC71 - Copy

“Chink Rink?” No, that can’t be right. Chink Rink? I’m going to have to take a closer look, I told myself as I stopped my car, turned around and then pulled into the parking lot of the skating rink on the outskirts of Pekin, Illinois (reportedly named after the Chinese city of Pekin, which was the common spelling in the 1800’s). Unfortunately, my eyes were not playing tricks on me because there it was: a sign with the words “Chink Rink” and a caricature of a person dressed in Chinese garb wearing roller skates. And it got worse. I would later find out that the Pekin High School mascot was the “Chinks” and that during their homecoming celebrations they would crown the head Chink and Chinkette.  http://www.ccamuseum.org/index.php/en/research/research-1900-1949/128-1981-the-pekin-chinks-high-school-team-becomes-the-pekin-dragons

Fortunately, not too long after my visit, the Chinks were renamed the Dragons, in 1981; but unfortunately, America has a shameful history of mistreatment of Asians, which in some instances continues to this day.

I visited Yuba College, my alma mater, on February 19, 2015, to hear two elderly Japanese-American brothers, Jim and Mori Tanimoto, tell their stories of  being forced into internment camps as a result of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066. That order, signed on February 19, 1942, authorized the incarceration of tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry.

 

Tanimoto reads
Mori Tanimoto reads his account.

Ninety-four year old Mori Tanimoto of Yuba City, California, stood at the podium and read an account of his forced relocation to an internment camp in Tule Lake, California. And even though seventy-plus years have passed since Mr. Tanimoto was incarcerated, I could still hear the anger in his voice when he exclaimed, “I had no freedom! I had no justice!”

Both brothers told stories of camp guards roughly removing them from their internment barracks in the middle of the night, and blinding them with bright spotlights when they went outside. As they struggled to see, the sound of loading weapons pierced the night air.

“I thought we were facing a firing squad and we were all going to be killed”, said Jim Tanimoto. Thankfully nobody was murdered, and it appeared the Camp Commander was just trying to scare them.

Eventually, The U.S. Government recruited many American-born Japanese to form the 442 Regimental Unit. These soldiers fought bravely on the European continent. The 442 combat team received eight Presidential Unit Citations and became the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare. Despite these accomplishments, when the war ended and New York City held a massive parade to welcome home the troops, the Japanese-American soldiers were made to march last in the parade.

As the war drew to an end, internment centers began to close and Japanese-Americans tried to return to their old ways of life. But for many, their homes and businesses were no longer there. And in many cases they were not welcomed back.

(For photos documenting the internment of Japanese-Americans visit: http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2011/08/world-war-ii-internment-of-japanese-americans/100132/ Photo #41 shows a photo of Mr. Yamamoto of Marysville, leaving the Granada Relocation Center, Amache, Colorado.)

 

Austin Amson, the managing-secretary of the Salinas Vegetable-Growers and Shippers Association proclaimed in a 1942 issue of the Saturday Day Evening Post, referring to the interned American citizens of Japanese descent, “…we don’t want them back.”

Fortunately not everyone in America shared those negative sentiments. While the war was still raging, aboard the naval destroyer the USS New Mexico, a young Marine was ordered, “Hit him where he’s injured and don’t let him sleep!”

“But I couldn’t do it,” my dad recently told me when he was recollecting his experience of guarding a Japanese kamikaze pilot who survived a suicide attack against the ship.

“I ended up spoon-feeding the guy because he was so injured. At first he wouldn’t eat what I was trying to feed him. Maybe he thought I was trying to poison him. To show  it wasn’t poisonous, I ate it too.”

After the war was over, and my dad eventually settled in the Yuba/Sutter region of California, he became close friends with Frank Itano, a Japanese-American who had spent years in an internment camp.

With the exception of my dad complaining about Chinese food because “they don’t cook their vegetables”, or his racial-profiling of Asians who would pull up to his fruit stand in Wheatland, to ask directions to the Thunder Valley Casino (and he would tell them how to get there, even before they asked), for the most part, he really didn’t have too much prejudice against Asians, or anybody else, as far as I could tell.

Wheatland Fruit Stand
Wheatland Fruit Stand

He always did have a soft spot for the underdog. I guess that’s why he was willing to marry my mother, even though she had tuberculosis. Or why he gave up fur-trapping when a fox had chewed off its leg to free itself. Or why he was always giving produce away to those less fortunate than himself.

Apart from Michael, a Chinese-American who helped me keep the bench warm for the Marysville High School sophomore baseball team, I never really knew any Asians while growing up. However, since I was so shy and quiet, it wasn’t just Asians I didn’t associate with. It was anybody. But that began to change when I eventually moved to Las Vegas to attend college.

Man, I don’t know if I want to live with those Chinese people, I told myself as I left the apartment I had just checked out near the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus. I need a place to stay, but that place smelled a bit funny. It must’ve been that squid or octopus, or whatever that was they were eatin.’ Maybe I’ll have better luck at the next apartment that’s looking for a roommate.

I walked down the stairs, and started to walk away, then suddenly stopped. What’s wrong with you? You shouldn’t be like that! You didn’t even give those people a chance. I turned around, walked back to the apartment and knocked on the door. “I’ll take the room,” I quietly offered, as the unfamiliar cooking smells wafted past me and into the desert air.

Las Vegas roommate with his girlfriend.
Las Vegas roommate with his girlfriend.

“Lots of people came for room, but only you took, how come?” My new roommate asked me after I had moved into the apartment.

“I don’t know. Maybe I was hoping you could teach me how to cook some of that Chinese food I smelled,” I responded.

“That’s not good.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’m terrible cook. My girlfriend was cooking for me. I can’t teach you.” He answered back thinking I was serious.

“Don’t worry, I’m just joking. I can take care of myself. In fact I’m a pretty decent cook. Maybe I can teach you.”

“Instead of cooking, could you help me with English?”

“Yeah, I could do that,” I replied.

As I got to know Li better I learned that his father had been a famous General in China, but when the Communists seized power, he fled to Taiwan with his family.

“Our escape was very dangerous. There were posters everywhere offering a reward for my Father’s capture,” he told me.

Li shared about his life as a young boy growing up  relatively privileged in China and how his family lost everything during the Cultural Revolution.

Cultural Revolution-Era Clip Art Book, P by Oldtasty, on Flickr
Long live Marxism! Long live Leninism! Long live the theories of Mao Zedong!

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License

   by  Oldtasty 

 

“Many people died. At least we lived,” Li recalled somberly.

Li spent very little time at the apartment since he was working on his PhD in Physics and also taught at the university. Our English lessons primarily consisted of me explaining American slang and what swear words meant.

“What’s shit mean?” Li asked one Sunday morning.

As I proceeded to define one of America’s favorite old swear words, he wrinkled his nose and looked bewildered.

“That doesn’t make sense.” Li remarked.

“Why’s that?”

“Sometimes, when I explain something to my students they say: “You’re shitting me. I’m not doing that to them.”

I chuckled softly as we went on to the next word.

“Why do some people say to me, ‘Don’t be a pussy?’ They don’t want me to be a cat?”

H1ontoilet

As I began to explain the difference between the feline pet and a part of a woman’s anatomy, I realized that living in this apartment was going to be very interesting. And although teaching a foreigner about swear words may be of dubious merit I was happy to be helping my new Asian friend. However, never in my wildest dreams could I have believed that in less than a year’s time I would be standing in a rundown bar in Seattle, Washington defending a Korean religious leader.

“Joe. Do you want me to punch this f…ing Communist Moonie in the face?” the burly redneck shouted as he cocked back his arm and shouted to the bartender.

“Why you out begging for that Chinese guy from Hawaii?” the scholar slurred.

Since this was the first bar I had ever walked into while fundraising for the Unification Church I was not expecting such a negative and uninformed response.

“You must have us confused with someone else,” I countered. “We hate Communism and Reverend Moon’s from Korea.”

“I don’t give a damn where he’s from. Those gooks are all the same. Get the hell out of here!” the inebriated bar patron shouted as he stood up and another man joined him.

I turned around and quickly headed for the door. As I opened the door, someone pushed me from behind and I tripped on the threshold. Luckily my flower bucket cushioned my fall as I fell onto the cement outside, but most of my flowers were ruined. As I brushed myself off and started to gather up the flowers, I began to doubt if I could continue.

Is it always going to be this tough? Why do people hate us so? I wondered. It just doesn’t make any sense.

I would later realize that much of the negative attitude towards my newly found religion was not simply because we were the new religious kid on the block, but because of the anti-Asian attitude of many Americans.

The racist encounter I experienced inside that bar in Seattle would occur again and again, hundreds if not thousands of times, in various forms, as I continued to work for the Unification Church throughout the years. Even Spider-man joined in the racist mania.

A young man invited me into his home to look at some pictures I was selling and told me to make myself comfortable. I sat down on a couch and when he excused himself for a moment to use the bathroom, I picked up a Spider-man comic book lying on a coffee table and started to read it.

In an obvious spoof of the “God Bless America Festival” held by Reverend Moon at Yankee Stadium to honor America’s 1976 bicentennial anniversary, Spider-man was called upon to save the easily-duped young people of New York when they were held for ransom by the notorious Reverend Egg Foo Yung and his henchmen: 3X Moo Shu Pak, Number 1 son Egg Drop Stoop and Won Ton Dupe. http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix5/reveggfooyung.htm

Reverend Egg Foo Yung
Reverend Egg Foo Yung

Is it unreasonable to assume that if a comic book had vilified someone like, say, Argentina born Luis Palau and portrayed the evangelist as Reverend Em pu nada and his henchmen as Chorizo Sausage Plate and Tortilla Dupe there would have been an outcry? I think not.

As the presentation at Yuba College drew to an end, the current Executive Dean for Yuba College’s Sutter County Center, Walter Masuda, spoke about how his grandparents were forced to live in an undesirable area of San Francisco because of their Japanese heritage.

I may not have been forced to live in an undesirable area of a city, but when Masuda spoke about the tribulations of his grandparents, I thought back to when I was living in New Zealand and a neighbor put his home of over twenty years, up for sale because the “Moonies” had moved in next door.

My neighbor confided in me that he changed his mind after I gave him a bottle of whiskey which a supplier had given me when I was  managing a seafood business. Since I didn’t drink, I asked my neighbor if he wanted it.

I’m taking this bottle of delicious @Tee by Lesage Stefaan, on Flickr

His eyes lit up as he said, “Yeah, I’d love it. Good on ya.”

Funny how the simple gestures of spoon-feeding your enemy, renting a room or giving away whiskey, can help break down prejudices.

When my dad told me those stories of what it was like to be a Marine aboard the USS New Mexico, he also informed me he had a bottle of Crown Royal whiskey someone had given him months ago for his ninetieth birthday. Since he didn’t want it, he wondered what he should do with it.

“Maybe I should send it to 250 Hudson St., Suite 1002 in New York City,” I commented.

“Who’s there?”

“That’s where TED is, it’s a long story Dad.”

(Read “Tiff with TED”: http://www.leavinglinda.com/?cat=8)

 

 

 

 

 

Am I my Brother’s Keeper?

Am I my brother’s keeper? by Morgana Wilborn, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License (1.)

(I also presented a longer version of this as a Toastmaster speech. Best when read aloud, in a hillbilly kind of voice.)

*  *  *  *  *

 I was feeling rather proud of myself. I was finishing up my second year at Yuba Community College and I had just been invited to a party in Marysville …..Marysville, California. Now Marysville has definitely seen some better times, and if you know the area, you might be thinking: what’s so special about that?

You see, I grew up on, well, what some people might say (and I’m not going to argue) was the wrong side of the Yuba River, in a place called Linda, California. Some of the people I occasionally hung out with would make fun of me because I had never been in Juvenile Hall. Imagine that.

But there I was, in the back yard of a really nice place in Marysville. And this place was nice! In fact, they had beautiful cut green grass, not only in the front yard, but in the back yard too! That grass looked nicer than anybody’s carpet I’d ever seen.

I was holding a bottle of imported beer I had brought for the occasion. Well, the bottle was imported. I had snagged some empties from a nice restaurant I used to work at, and I had filled some of those bottles with some cheap beer I bought at the grocery store. But no one else knew that.

Green Glass Bottles by John_X, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License                                                                   (2.)

I was holding that bottle so that everyone could see the label and know that I was sophisticated!

All of a sudden someone yelled, “Fight!” and I jogged over with the other looky-loos to see what was going on. That so-called fight consisted of the host of the party yelling at some teenager that was so drunk he could barely stand up, let alone hold up his fists.

Trouble was, I knew that kid, and I knew his family. He was from my side of the river.

Now if that kid hadn’t been so drunk, my moral obligation might have been simply to warn the other guy, since I knew what that kid was capable of. However, my conscience drove me to do something to save the kid from himself.

So , putting my hopes and aspirations of upward social mobility to the side, I ran up to the kid and pretended I was going to punch him. He flinched, and I dropped to my knee and lifted him up onto my shoulder, all the while feeling thankful that I used to be a wrestler in high school.

I carried him down the street and around the corner to where I had hidden my beat-up old pickup truck and threw him in the bed. Then I ran around to the cab and jumped in. I had always left the keys in the ignition, and if you’d seen that truck, you’d know why I never had to worry about anyone stealing it. Besides, you had to use your foot to engage the starter and I figured most people wouldn’t know that.

Homestead
Pa, sisters, and truck

I took off out of Marysville across the Yuba River on that moonlit night and headed down Simpson Lane. I could hear some commotion in the bed of the truck and I looked in my rear-view mirror and could see that kid was trying to climb out of the bed while I was driving down the road! I jerked the steering wheel and he fell back into the bed. I had to keeping doing that as I drove down Simpson Lane and onto Hammonton Road in Linda; and then I thought, man, if the cops see me driving like this, they’re going to think I’m drunk! Then I realized I had spilled beer all over myself and I had a bunch of those imported  empties sitting on the floorboard. So, if I did get stopped for a suspected DUI, I could get cited for dangerous driving and having open containers.

But luckily, I made it to the end of a dirt road where I knew that kid’s parents lived. I stopped the truck, jumped out, ran around and opened the tailgate, then ran back into the cab. When that kid crawled out, and his feet hit the ground, I took off. As I was heading away, I looked into my mirror and saw the front porch light turn on, and that kid’s daddy stepping outside.

That was many years ago.

Am I my brother’s keeper? I’ve read different viewpoints. Yes. No. Maybe. Sometimes. Many arguments for and against being our brother’s keeper.

However, one thing I do know is this: if I hadn’t done anything to help that kid, I’d have felt pretty bad about myself. Maybe it’s a selfish reason, but it’s a reason just the same. That said, I do believe that, yes indeed, we are our brothers’ keepers.

Oh, by the way, that kid I threw over my shoulder in Marysville? That was my brother.

Baby Brother

 

 (1.) Am I my Brother’s Keeper?  by    Morgana Wilborn 

(2.) Green glass bottles:
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License by John_X

“I have a dream”

SAM_0443
Inside Mt. Olivet Baptist Church

I was afraid this was going to happen.” I told myself as I began to choke up and my eyes began to water as I looked out into the singing multi-racial crowd packed into Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Olivehurst, California to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 18th, 2015.

Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on.”

The voices of Mormons, Baptists, Episcopalians and Unificationists echoed throughout the small church as the words from  Battle Hymn of the Republic rang out.

Mt. OL1

It was in 2001 when my wife, Maree, first entered Mt. Olivet Baptist Church to play the piano for their church service. Although she had played for many different churches, this was the first time she had ever played in an African-American church and she was nervous, but the warm-hearted reception from the congregation, charismatic preaching and powerful music soon calmed her fears.

Maree, who has played in an assortment of churches throughout the years, realized that many churches sing the same songs, and believed that music could help break down cultural and religious differences. In 2013, she mentioned her dream of a choral festival in honor of Martin Luther King to Mary Capps, wife of Bishop Arlie Capps of the Wheatland Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to Amanda Johnson, Senior Warden of Grace Episcopal Church in Wheatland; and both were very supportive. Ultimately, in January of 2014, the First Annual Community Choral Festival was hosted at the LDS chapel in Wheatland with Rev. Carl Dorn of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church as the keynote speaker.

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Wheatland LDS Church

Choirs from Rev. Dorn’s church, the local LDS ward and Grace Episcopal Church performed. One especially moving moment during that event was when the Grace Singers started singing the historic Mormon anthem, Come, Come Ye Saints, and the entire congregation joined in, much to the surprise of Bishop Capps. That successful inaugural event paved the way for this year’s celebration at Mt. Olivet Baptist.

Deacon Bill Blackwell of Mt. Olivet asked if I could be the emcee this year. I said yes, but I was worried that I would get too emotional. Sometimes when I think of the past I find it hard to control myself. I still remember when I was attending Marysville High School in the seventies and riot police were at my school because of racial tensions. It is just so sad when God’s children can’t love each other.

I took a deep breath and then joined in the singing. It was such a happy occasion and I’m sure Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been glad to see such a diverse group worshiping together and singing praises to God.

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LDS member Arlie Capps gives the message.

Good food, fellowship, hospitality, praise dancing, singing, poetry and a great message of God’s love for his children from LDS guest speaker Arlie Capps made for a truly awesome event. I even heard the emcee did just fine. Whereas the first year, three churches were represented; this year there were five. Next year, I believe we’ll need an even bigger venue as we work towards Dr. King’s dream that all “God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!’”

Flyer for this year's event
Flier for this year’s event

It’s amazing how music and fellowship can help break down barriers and misunderstandings. Maybe TED could even put together a choir made up of the people I write about in my Tiff with TED blog posts and join us next year. If they do, I just might have to forgive them for their intolerance of the past.

The Appeal-Democrat published an article about the event on their front page. To read that article and see more photos visit:

 http://www.appeal-democrat.com/news/churches-join-together-to-sing-the-praises-of-mlk/article_67e23772-9fae-11e4-ae71-a7a38254c016.html

How big is your God?

 (Guest authored by Maree Gauper. Also appeared in the Appeal-Democrat’s: Message of the Week, Jan. 16, 2015.)

Jesus said the two most important commandments were to “Love God with your whole heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself”.   He didn’t say, “Love your doctrine as yourself” ,“Love your denomination as yourself”, “Love your own religion as yourself” or “Love only your own race as yourself.”  He meant us to love our fellow humans, whoever they might be.

By emphasizing those two commandments, Jesus revealed a God whose heart is not small. “God so loved THE WORLD…” ( John 3:16).  He didn’t just love the Jews or the Christians. He loved, and still loves, the whole world, with a heart so deep, wide and large that it is difficult for us to fathom. But the rulers of that time did not understand Jesus. Their God was too small. They charged him with heresy and had him publicly executed.

 The year 2000 marked the 400th anniversary of the untimely death of Giordano Bruno, an Italian priest  who thought deeply about God and the cosmos. Bruno had a large, expansive view of a vast, infinite universe where the earth moves around the sun, not the other way round. This brought him into serious conflict with the authorities of his day. Their God was too small. They had Bruno imprisoned, charged with heresy and burned at the stake.

Martin Luther King had a dream.  His God was not small, and neither was his dream. The dream was as big as God’s dream, that all people could live in peace and that there would be an end to racial injustice and all forms of bigotry.  He was also misunderstood in his lifetime, served time in jail and became the victim of an assassin’s bullet.

If we believe in God, but we only love our own kind, our God is too small.
If we only love our own family, our God is too small.
If we only love our own denomination, our God is too small.
If we only love our own religion, our God is too small.
If  God loves the whole world, He expects nothing less from us.

This year in memory of Dr King, and in praise and thanksgiving to the God who inspired his message and his dream, let us put aside whatever man-made barriers have divided us from one another, and worship together as one family under one God.

 

A Changed Life

ChRM - Copy

It was a dark and stormy night. (Really, it was!) I had already attended a worship service at the Christ Has Risen Ministries at 1225 Pasado Rd. in Olivehurst a few weeks previously, and now I was driving through a December storm to attend a weeknight Bible study.

I had told my brother, Greg, about my earlier visit, and he informed me that he and the pastor used to run around together years ago. My brother also told me that his ex-sister-in-law, Deedee, attends the church. I wanted to speak to both of them before writing this post for my blog and thought that a weeknight would be a good time to do so.

Since the weather was so bad, and it was a Tuesday night, I fully expected the Bible study to be sparsely attended. Much to my surprise, there were quite a few cars in the parking lot and when I walked into the sanctuary there were around forty people, young and old, inside the church listening to their pastor, Leonard Self, lead the Bible study.

SAM_0116
Pastor Leonard Self

If he would let his beard grow longer and bleach it, Pastor Leonard, with his stocky build and joyful countenance, could probably get gigs as Santa Claus during the Christmas season. When I first entered Christ Has Risen Ministries and sat down to listen, I was quickly impressed by his sincerity, especially when his voice quivered and his eyes teared up when he spoke about his love for Jesus and how the spirit of God set him free.

“When you step into Christ, you’re a new creation…Christianity isn’t for wimps, but God uses wimps…If you think Christianity is easy, you’re wrong!” were just some of the memorable words I had heard from the pastor on my first visit to his church. However, when he explained to the congregation about how, when people accuse him of using Christianity as a crutch, he responds, “No, it’s not a crutch, it’s a stretcher, it saved my life”, I knew that his was a changed life, a life now dedicated to helping others.

As I sat near the back of the church on my return visit I could hear the wind rattle the doors on that blustery night as I surveyed the congregation. I saw a Native American woman, about my age, and knew she must be Deedee. I saw bikers wearing leather jackets with the words “Christ Has Risen Ministries” embroidered on the back. I sensed that this was a congregation that had weathered many personal storms in their lives and you could see it on their faces. But they had found a place of refuge.

“I used to be so angry”, a younger man wearing one of the leather jackets testified. “I was always looking for a fight, but now I’m not. I’ve found peace.”

SAM_0123
Sunday morning service

As the testimonies and personal stories continued, Pastor Leonard reminded the group that they were a family, and that families look out for one another and that people could share their troubles and triumphs because everything stayed in this room.

When the study was over I approached the Native American woman and confirmed that she was Deedee. She introduced me to her husband and children and we talked briefly about my brother.

I then talked to Pastor Leonard and told him that my brother was an old buddy of his. We also talked briefly about my blog and I told him I had just written a post about Alicia Intermediate School, which used to stand across the street. We spoke about Peter, my fellow sixth-grader, who had stood up for me in the boys’ bathroom many years ago.

“Peter lives a few blocks from here,” Pastor Leonard informed me.

“That’s good to know”, I said, thanking Leonard and making a mental note to look up Peter some time.

I held tightly to the doorknob as I opened the door to exit the church and then walked across the street to my car. I zipped my jacket tighter to protect me from the wind as I stood there and watched the taillights of the cars that were leaving and I wondered about the lives that must have been changed in that church across the street. Theologically, I still have issues with certain aspects of traditional Christianity, but it’s hard to argue against the miracle of a changed life.

high street dreaming #2 by mugley, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License
   by  mugley 

Hugged by God

TED

It was 4:00 in the morning and I couldn’t sleep as I anxiously thought about what I should wear.

Is it going to rain? Should I bring an umbrella? If I bring an umbrella, how am I going to hold it and a placard, and hand out fliers at the same time? Maybe I should just stay home.

But I knew that wasn’t an option; my conscience would bother me too much if I didn’t go. Even if I only got a picture of myself holding up my “TED Enables Defamers” sign in front of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, it would be worth it.  Besides, some people had already heard I was planning to be there to protest a TED event at twelve noon on December, 12, 2014, so I needed to show up.

Since I couldn’t sleep, I got up and worked on some signs and fliers. After my son woke up, I talked him into going to Sacramento with his sixty-year-old rabble-rouser dad, so that he could be my driver, photographer and bodyguard.  We loaded up the car and, although the sun was out, I grabbed a rain jacket. Soon we were cruising past walnut orchards and the welcome sight of over-flowing creeks and ditches, hopefully a sign that California’s long drought might be coming to an end. As we drove between some rice fields I watched in awe as copious flocks of waterfowl flew near us and landed nearby. I then rolled the car window down a short way and listened to the music of ducks, geese, swans and other birds as I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths of the rain-washed air to calm my nervous spirit.

Snow Geese in flight near Liano Seco wil by lamsongf, on Flickr
Sacramento Valley Waterfowl.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  lamsongf 

Before long my son was practicing his big-city driving in downtown Sacramento. After some difficulty, he soon had the car parked.  I grabbed my four signs, to give to any others who might join me in my protest, and we walked a couple of blocks to the museum entrance.  I held my “TED Enables Defamers” sign under the words “Crocker Art Museum” as my son took a photograph.  However, he missed the words “Crocker Art Museum” and someday maybe I’ll return for a reshoot.

I had already checked out the museum on Google Street View and had toyed with the idea of standing near the entrance and giving a speech condemning TED’s support of forced thought reform. I’m a member of the Toastmasters club, Peach Bowl Dawnbreakers (meetings are 6:30am Fridays at the Dancing Tomato in Yuba City),  and I would have been quite comfortable doing that; but since there wasn’t a captive audience waiting in line at the door, I nixed my public speaking plan, held up my placard and started handing out fliers. The fliers read:

“Who’s in bed with TED? You might be surprised! Find out @ LeavingLinda.com”.

Thanks to a suggestion from my son, I had added a QR code (all by myself, I might add), that linked to my recent blog post which details some of the history of forced thought-reform and questions why TED would support such sordid activities.

Welcome to TED.
Welcome to TED.

In a short while, as expected, museum security was telling me I couldn’t be there and that I needed a permit to protest. I informed them that it was my constitutional right and they would need to have me arrested if they wanted me to stop. I then threw my car keys to my son and told him to make sure he took lots of video if the cops came. The security guards, a lady and young man, then left me and went back inside.

Sadly, it appeared no one else would be joining me in my protest and it was going to be a one-man show, so I decided to put down my placard with the other ones I had made and focused on giving out my fliers. I simply welcomed people to TED and handed them a piece of paper. I guess everybody must have thought I was with TED because nearly everyone took one. People were even asking me what entrance they should go into and I was happy to direct them.  However, before long, Mr. Head Security Guy was telling me to get off the museum property and forced me into the street, which wasn’t all that bad, although I did have to loudly explain to passers-by that I was banned from the sidewalk and that if they wanted to know why, they should come over and get a flier from me.  That seemed to work, because most people took the extra effort to get a flier. (A few times I did disobey my orders and quickly jumped over to the sidewalk, handed out a few fliers then hopped back into the street.) But if there’s a next time, I’m just going to ask my ninety-year-old dad if could borrow his picker-upper thing which he uses to pick up stuff from the floor without bending down. That way I could extend my reach from the street all the way to the sidewalk and keep everyone happy.

Practicing for next time.
Practicing for next time.

The last time I was doing this at a TED event, my wife joined me,” I told the young security guard standing near the door keeping an eye on me. “She’s a piano teacher and has a recital tonight, so she was too busy. She was kidnapped and held against her will by hired faith-breakers years ago because her parents were upset she left the Catholic Church, joined a different church, and married me, a non-Catholic. We do what we can to let people know that TED supports kidnapping and forced thought-reform.”

Where does she teach?” the guard asked.

In a small town about fifty minutes north of here,” I responded.

Z2
Run for your lives! Brain infected zombie piano teacher!

It started to rain softly and I was glad I brought my rain jacket. More people walked by and I continued to joyfully welcome them to TED and hand them a flier. At 1:00pm I had ten fliers left of the original stack of 139 (I had given one to a curious Staples clerk).  I wished the friendly security guard a good day and walked away, jumped in the car and soon we were heading home.

I quickly checked my blog when we arrived home.  Fifty visits to “Who’s in bed with TED?” between the time I left home and came back, which was about three hours. Not bad, I thought, and I’ll probably get even more visits later. Little did I know,  another very special moment of validation was yet to come.

The next day, my wife and I attended a Christmas concert by the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra. I don’t often go to such things, but as mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I’m attempting to acquire a little more culture, besides the “agri” kind.  So there I was, traveling to the big city again, this time with a car-pool of friends from Grace Episcopal Church.

The five of us, having left our vehicle in a downtown parking garage, were walking toward the Memorial Auditorium, where the concert was to take place. As we drew closer, the muffled sound of a megaphone pierced the night air. When we rounded a corner we saw police cars, flashing red lights and a large group of people chanting loudly and holding placards that read “Black Lives Matter!” All of this was being closely watched by a small army of uniformed police officers. What we were witnessing turned out to be a protest and “Die In” against the recent shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  The protest was taking place right outside our concert venue.

Memorial Auditorium by thephantomlio, on Flickr
Sacramento Memorial Auditorium
 The atmosphere was tense, as a long line of concert-goers snaked into a side entrance, while a much shorter line filed toward the front of the Auditorium, right past the protesters. I encouraged our party to head over the lawn and to the short line in front.  Soon, there we were, standing a few feet from the noisy crowd. Close by, a young African-American man held his arms high while shouting, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” It was the security guard, now in street clothes, that had been keeping an eye on me while I was at the Crocker Art Museum! We recognized each other instantly.
 “You the man!” he shouted happily. “You were out there protesting all by yourself. He was doing that for you, right?” he asked my wife and she nodded yes. “By the way, how was your piano recital?”
Infecting students with the joy of music.
Infecting students with the joy of music.

He then took a short step and gave me a bear hug. And there we were: a graying red-headed, brain-infected white guy and a young African-American male, embracing as shouts for justice rang out from the crowd and echoed off the Memorial Auditorium walls. I felt like…..like God was giving me a warm hug. And all of a sudden, the restlessness and loneliness of the previous day washed away, like the fading quack of a lone mallard as it flies desperately to join the flock.

 

 

 

 

Who’s in bed with TED?

Who’s in bed with TED?

Besides being human, what do St. Thomas Aquinas, an Old Order Catholic monk, a suspected lesbian, a Marxist college professor, an anonymous thirty-one-year-old woman, my wife, Toro Gotu and thousands of Japanese citizens have in common? Answer – their parents were not happy with their chosen religion or lifestyle, so they were kidnapped and held against their will for the purpose of thought reform or, to use the loaded modern-day term, “deprogramming”.

Thirteenth-century Catholic priest and theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, whose writings have deeply influenced Western thought, was held against his will for nearly eighteen months in a family castle, while his family tried to pressure the young Thomas to give up his chosen religious vocation. His brothers even brought Thomas a prostitute whom he quickly chased out of his room with a flaming stick of wood.

Denise Melinsky writes in the August 9, 1982 issue of News Oklahoma about how the parents of a monk with the Old Catholic Order paid deprogrammers to try to coerce the former Walter Robert Taylor to give up his new-found faith: “Six years after what he describes as an ordeal of kidnapping, torture and false imprisonment by ‘Gestapo-like’ deprogrammers, an obscure Oklahoma City monk named Father Philaret continues to wage a religious battle reminiscent of one almost 2,000 years ago.” [i]

However, deprogrammers have not limited their kidnappings and forced de-conversions to religious converts. An article in the September, 1982 issue of MS magazine details the bizarre abduction, verbal harassment and rape by deprogrammers of Stephanie Riethmiller, who was suspected of being in a lesbian relationship of which her parents disapproved. In the Cincinnati trial of her captors, Riethmiller testified about her rape. She insisted that everyone in the house was fully aware of what was happening, and described her mother’s attitude being that “it was all right I was raped and anything was better than what I was doing.”[ii]

Wikipedia offers some disturbing facts about deprogrammer Ted Patrick: “In 1980 Patrick was paid $27,000 to carry out the deprogamming of Susan Wirth, a 35-year-old teacher living in San Francisco. He was hired by her parents, who objected to her involvement in leftist political activities. The process involved handcuffing her to a bed for two weeks and denying her food.”

Plus, in the Washington Post, Feb. 15, 1982, A Question of Will: “A Roman Catholic priest, a lesbian, even a thirty-one-year-old whose mother did not care for her fiancé, have been targets of deprogrammers.”

My wife was kidnapped and held in 1983 against her will for ten days in New Zealand while hired American deprogrammers tried to harass, harangue, bully and manipulate her into giving up her newly chosen religion. “I felt like an animal in a cage,” she said after her ordeal.[iii]

But perhaps the most egregious attack on modern-day religious freedom has been occurring in Japan. Toru Goto recently won a landmark court decision against his relatives, a professional deprogrammer and an evangelical pastor for depriving him of his freedom for over twelve years. [iv]

Over 4,000 Japanese citizens, primarily women, have been kidnapped and held against their will for the purpose of forcing them to give up their religious beliefs. An article written for The International Coalition for Religious Freedom details the abuse by faith-breakers and how, unlike the U.S. and Europe, Japanese authorities turn a blind eye to these abuses of religious freedom. “In fact there is significant evidence of the implicit, and in some instances explicit, support of the deprogrammers by authorities. Cases are routinely dismissed as mere ‘family matters.’ In some instances, victims who have escaped are returned to their captors by the very police from whom they had sought help.” [v]

The American Civil Liberties Union in 1977 released a statement against incarceration for the purpose of religious and ideological thought reform: “Parents have the right to attempt to influence their children’s religious affiliation. It is when these children are adults and the influence is forcible that the ACLU objects, particularly when such coercion is aided by the power of the state.” [vi]

The National Council of Churches writes in its resolution on deprogramming: “Kidnapping for ransom is heinous indeed, but kidnapping to compel religious de-conversion is equally criminal.”[vii]

Professors David Bromley and Anson Shupe write in their book, The American Cult Scare: “Deprogrammers are like the American Colonials who persecuted witches.”

Professor Saul Levine in his paper The Role of Psychiatry in the Phenomenon of Cults recorded: “Fundamentally deprogramming diminishes and creates dependency. It robs people of their responsibility. Instead of encouraging people to accept they made a mistake, it encourages people to deny their actions and blame others.”

In a similar vein Dr. Lowell D Streiker, former executive director of Freedom Counseling Center in Burlingame, California, writes in The Christian Century, August 2-9, 1989, “Not only does the anti-cult movement give parents a point of view that makes them totally right and their wayward children completely wrong, but it provides an ideology which explains why their children are wrong, excuses their children of culpability and offers a form of intervention to restore the children to their right minds.”

Princeton educated Methodist Minister Dr. Larry D. Shinn: “In the conclusion of my book, The Dark Lord, I argue that anti-cult views are fundamentally anti-religious. They are suspicious of, or opposed to, a faith that requires religious commitment or surrender and that appeals to youthful idealism. Such standards would have deprived the world of Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi.”

In September of 2014 I held a protest against TED, the “Ideas Worth Spreading” people, because of their promotion of the scurrilous presentation given by Diane Benscoter, “How Cults Think”. Where she compares members of the Unification Church to Hitler Youth and suicide bombers and insinuates that their brains are infected. http://www.leavinglinda.com/?p=416

After contacting TED a couple of times, they finally got back with me to inform me I could write a comment on Benscoter’s video and that I should nominate a speaker who could give a presentation with an opposing view. I wrote back to TED and explained I had already done that but it wasn’t enough, and I continued:“Basically, I will continue to protest, blog, speak, and write about TED’s unconscionable act of promoting Diane Benscoter’s presentation until TED removes it and publicly apologizes or a speaker with an opposing viewpoint is given equal time and publicity.”

Would TED allow a member of the KKK, or a homophobe, or a misogynist, or any other like-minded person a stage where they could spout their bigotry? And, if someone complained, would they be told to write a comment or suggest a speaker with a different point of view? No! They wouldn’t allow the intolerant presentation in the first place.

Benscoter, in her TED appearance, deludes herself by comparing herself and her fellow deprogrammers as part of an underground railroad of sorts. Slaves were fleeing captivity, not the other way around. Also, I’ll bet those brave Americans, working in the Underground Railroad, weren’t charging exorbitant fees for their services.

Benscoter also informs the TED audience that after her arrest for kidnapping, she decided to turn her back on her deprogramming work. Of course she turned her back. Her employer, the Cult Awareness Network, (CAN) was forced into bankruptcy because of the multitudes of legal judgments against them. The demise of CAN also opened the door for public access to their records which included an almost comical list of over 1,500 groups they were keeping an eye on. It included such diabolical groups as Amway, the Amish, The Grateful Dead, and Promise Keepers. [viii]

One of the most interesting characters in the CAN comedy, or should I say tragedy, was a fellow deprogrammer who often worked with “Deprogrammer Diane” named Gary Scarff. Gary had met the Reverend Jim Jones, founder of the ill-fated People’s Temple cult, a few times in Los Angeles, and in a sworn statement said he was never a member of the People’s Temple. But that didn’t stop Scarff from travelling throughout America as the featured act in CAN’s dog and pony show. Scarff, also in a sworn statement, said he would often have packed crowds in tears as he told his fabricated tale of losing his son, girlfriend and father when they killed themselves in the Jonestown mass suicide/massacre.   Also involved in this charade was Catholic priest Father Ken Burns, who Scarff declares, “…knew that my stories about the People’s Temple were made up”. [ix] [x]

Years ago my Sociology Professor at Yuba College read his class a chilling tale of torture. The talented writer of the story wove an account of horror about the ordeal of a young woman at the hands of masked strangers. The description of odd smells, strange sounds, and screams from a nearby room had the class enthralled. When the professor finished reading the story he then asked his students what we thought about it. Everyone was horrified that the woman was treated so badly and wondered aloud where this person was tortured and by whom. The professor then informed the stunned class that the story was simply an embellished account of someone’s trip to the dentist.

Likewise, the anti-cult cult of jealous religious leaders, apostates, profiteers, naïve parents, anti-religious zealots and the like, with the help of organizations like TED, are a kind of fear-mongering machine. They continue to distort the truth and fabricate stories about brainwashing, danger, mind-control, brain-infections and suicide. They repeat their “cult…cult…cult” mantra against any group they disagree with or feel threatened by. As a result, the phenomenon of irrational “cultphobia” is a surprising reality in our modern hi-tech world.

Some might be shocked to learn there are many parents who are quite happy that their children joined groups like the Unification Church. For example, a good friend of mine told me that Reverend Moon came up to him one day and showed him a letter he had received from my friend’s father. In that letter, the father thanked Reverend Moon for saving his son’s life.

Given that groups like the ACLU, the National Council of Churches and an increasing number of religious leaders, freedom defenders and mental health professionals have condemned the practice of kidnapping and incarcerating someone for the purpose of forcing them to change their religion, politics, or mate, it’s hard to understand why TED would jump into bed with such a ragtag group of ex-felons, documented liars and freedom deniers. TED needs to be more careful of who they sleep with.

Well, that’s enough writing. There’s a storm a-brewing. I have a placard to make and some flyers waiting to get printed. There’s another TED event I’m planning to attend.

[i] http://newsok.com/monk-praises-ruling-granting-new-trial-in-deprogram-case/article/1992651

[ii] http://bernie.cncfamily.com/acm/rieth1.htm

[iii] http://www.leavinglinda.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Maree-Ryan.png

[iv] http://foref-europe.org/2014/11/18/japan-a-landmark-court-decision/

[v] http://www.religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=470&Itemid=442

[vi] http://bernie.cncfamily.com/acm/aclu_statement.htm

[vii]Resolution on deprogramming: Religious Liberty for Young People Too.”Adopted by the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches of Christ

[viii] http://www.religioustolerance.org/acm2.htm

[ix] http://www.religiousfreedomwatch.org/extremists/scarff/news-article.jpg   (Article in Chicago Defender that has been publishing since 1905)

[x] http://www.religiousfreedomwatch.org/extremists/scarff/declaration/lrg/scarff-declaration-04.jpg

I want Jesus on my team

Alicia 2
Alicia no more

I stood where Alicia Avenue ends at Pasado Rd. in Linda and leaned against the chain-link fence, staring out into the open field where Alicia Intermediate School used to stand. The school was demolished in 2013 because of its proximity to the airport and a natural gas line, so there were no classrooms left to jog my memories of when I was a student there; but still they came.

I remembered what it was like to attend classes with a deep pain in my heart because I thought my dad had left the family. His in-laws were visiting and he was tired of their nagging, so he left. Thankfully, once they departed, he returned. But I knew that wasn’t the case for many of my fellow classmates. Maybe that’s why Billy was a bully. He couldn’t get over the pain of his dad leaving and never coming back.

Alicia
My old school

Billy was my friend for a short while, but something changed. Maybe he was jealous of me for having a dad that was still around; but for whatever reason, he started picking on me in wood shop, by making fun of things I was making, or by throwing small pieces of wood at me when the teacher wasn’t looking. There wasn’t much to Billy; he was short and skinny, so I wasn’t really afraid of him, but he was so annoying. I thought about punching it out with him, but I was worried I might accidentally punch him in the mouth and hit his teeth that stuck out so much and were spaced so far apart he could have flossed with shoelaces. I also didn’t want to get in trouble for fighting. But still, going to wood shop, a class I really enjoyed, was taxing. I had to do something, but what? I needed a miracle. That miracle came when I met……Jesus.

There it was, written on the blackboard amongst all the other names…… Jesus. I looked around the room of my seventh-grade physical education class but I didn’t see anyone that looked like Jesus. The teacher had written the names on the chalkboard so that he could organize soccer teams. I want Jesus on my team, I thought as the teacher wrote numbers next to the names. I got the number three, and so did Jesus. He was on my team! But when his name was called, the teacher pronounced it “Hey-Zeus”. Jesus wasn’t what I expected, he was a stocky Mexican kid that struggled with English, but he sure knew how to play soccer! It was on the soccer field where the accident happened.

Ouch!
Ouch!

Billy the bully, who was on the opposing team, ran toward the soccer ball as Jesus and I hurried toward him from opposite sides. He was aiming towards the goal! The three of us kicked toward the ball but Billy kicked it a split-second before us. Goal! Billy didn’t get to see it, though; he was writhing in pain on the ground. Jesus and I had missed the ball and kicked Billy’s leg, both of us at the same time. The school nurse was called and Billy was put onto a stretcher. His leg was broken. I took no pleasure in Billy’s pain and was sincerely sorry; however, he never did bother me again.

Someone else of Mexican descent had helped me a year before, in sixth grade. It was in the boys’ bathroom, where middle-school conflicts often take place. I had walked in to use the urinal and when I had finished my business, an older student asked me if he could borrow my comb. Yuck! I thought as I looked at his greasy hair. But I wasn’t about to tell him no. I handed him my comb and cringed as he combed his hair. The Fonzi wannabe then took my comb and threw it in the unflushed urinal. Luckily, it was right then that Peter, a fellow sixth-grade classmate of mine, walked in. Now Peter was no ordinary sixth-grader; he was feared by many and had older brothers that were feared even more. He even had a girlfriend who was an eighth-grader.

Peter saw what was going on in the bathroom and grabbed the soon-trembling eighth-grader by the front of his shirt collar and held him against a bathroom stall.

“When I let go of you, I want you to grab that comb, comb your hair, wash it off, and then give it back to my friend Bobby. You got that?”

The pinned eighth-grader nodded silently, and when he was let go, walked over to the urinal and grabbed the comb, shook off some of my pee and combed his hair. He then rinsed off the comb at the sink, wiped it with a towel and then handed it to me.

Punk
Mi Salvador

The school bell rang and the three of us walked out of the bathroom and into our classrooms. After sitting at my desk for a short while, I glanced behind me and across the room to where Peter was sitting. As usual, he was talking to a girl. He noticed I was looking at him and he smiled a quick smile and nodded slightly. I then turned back around and stared wide-eyed at the front of the classroom. Peter called me his friend! I was amazed and found it hard to believe. But word must have got around that I was Peter Garcia’s friend, because no upper class-man ever bothered me again at Alicia Intermediate.

I started to recall more memories of my time at Alicia as I stood at the fence that early Sunday morning, but the near-silence was soon disturbed by the familiar rumble of Harley motorcycles stopping nearby. I watched as the riders parked their bikes, and with Bibles in hand, walked across the street and into the building marked “Christ Has Risen Ministries”.

That’s enough memories for now,” I told myself. “It must be time for worship.” I took a few photos of the open field, locked my car, and then walked across the street and into the church.

SAM_0118
Getting ready for church

Healed by Grace

 

Pioneer Hall
Pioneer Hall

The searing pain from the gashes on her back was almost unbearable,  while unseen hands continued to lovingly apply ointment and bandages on her wounds.  She lay motionless, face-down, on a hospital bed in Pioneer Hall, wondering who might be tending to her so carefully; and looked up to see that it was Father David Clemons from Grace Episcopal Church.

That was a dream my wife had, after she had been the organist at Grace Church in Wheatland, California for some time.  Pioneer Hall, which is owned by the church, was where services were taking place while the main church building was being renovated.

SAM_0066
My wife at the Grace Church organ

In 1992 a trend toward decentralization took place within the Unification Movement. The founder, Reverend Moon, encouraged members to return to their hometown areas and, in connection with that mobilization, also urged them to adopt and serve established Christian churches in their neighborhoods.

When we first came to town we had attended a certain local church where my wife had also helped out with the music. However it had come to our attention through the neighborhood “grapevine” that that particular pastor and his wife had been warning local residents to beware of associating with us. Because of that and other hurtful incidents, which I would love to explain in detail but won’t just yet, my wife was ready to give up on dealing with Christians; she even spoke about wanting to leave Wheatland altogether.

However, her experience while playing piano for the chapel at Beale Air Force Base, her loving acceptance by the mostly African-American congregation at Mt.Olivet Baptist Church in Olivehurst, and her relationship with Father Clemons and Grace Episcopal Church all combined to help heal her heart.

July, 6 009
Inside Mt. Olivet Baptist Church

Since my wife was raised Catholic, she was quite comfortable attending services at Grace. “Catholic Lite” they term it, and she agrees. However, with the exception of attending the occasional service at Faith Lutheran in Marysville, when my grandparents were visiting from Minnesota, and praying or taking a short nap inside many of the unlocked Lutheran churches throughout the Midwest, when I was on MFT*, I had seldom been inside a “mainline” church. But it wasn’t long before my children and I felt at home at Grace.

Well-kept grounds
Well-kept grounds

The church is a quaint building with well-kept grounds on Third St. in Wheatland. It has been a meeting place and refuge for local families since 1874. The sanctuary with its stained-glass windows, high ceiling and beautiful altar can quickly fill a person with a sense of holiness, especially if they enter the church during “quiet time”, which is a fairly new tradition of dedicating a period of prayer and meditation before the official service begins.  http://gracewheatland.org/

There is no band playing contemporary Christian music, but many in the congregation are accomplished singers and the small church often resonates with heavenly music. When I am standing there singing, following along in a hymn book, I often notice that many of the songs were written in the seventeen or eighteen hundreds, and I think of the congregations of the past that would have gathered to sing those same songs, not only in Wheatland, but throughout America.

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Come thou fount of every blessing…

Grace Church doesn’t have a full-time priest and nearly every week there is someone different leading the service, which has brought an interesting variety of personalities throughout the years: Father Art, who grew up in Manhattan and was blind for many years until the modern miracle of cornea transplants, with his stories about the trials of working as a hospital chaplain in Sacramento; Dr. Dave, the shrink, with his deeply thoughtful and intellectual sermons combining the practical wisdom of a Jungian analyst with his understanding of spirituality; or Father John who inspired me to visit and write about places of worship when he told the congregation, “It’s not good to be comfortable in church”; and many others.

 

Father John gives a sermon.
Father John gives a sermon.

Jesus told his disciples, “You can tell by their fruits….” when warning them about false prophets. Good advice, not only for discerning false prophets, but for deciding the type of people to hang out with. The fruits of the congregation at Grace are many, for example, their extensive volunteer hours in the local community. They are involved in just about every good thing from Girl Scouts, tree-planting, Lions Club, Spiritual Needlework, Fire Department, Parents Day, and the Martin Luther King Music Festival, to opening up the fellowship hall weekly for AA meetings. In addition they hold a public pancake supper on “Shrove Tuesday” each year and co-host an annual Memorial Day luncheon.

Grace Cathedral
“Grace Cathedral”

These accomplishments are even more remarkable considering the small size of the Church’s congregation. On a typical Sunday there are fewer than twenty people in attendance. You could call it the little church with a big heart. Some locals affectionately call the tiny building “Grace Cathedral”. In any case, the members of the church certainly have a heart of service to the wider community.

For Lent, Grace church held a study group based on the book, “Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith”,  in which the author, religion expert Diane Bass, counters the accepted wisdom that the mainline church is dying, with her discovery that quite the opposite is true. Many of these churches through their consistent practice of contemplation, service, diversity, and worship are indeed growing, and are helping to fulfill the practical and spiritual needs of the community.

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On your first few visits to Grace Episcopal Church in Wheatland, it might be hard to figure out what book you’re supposed to be reading from, or when you’re supposed to stand, sit or kneel. You might wonder why ancient rituals are still being practiced at all. Or like me, you might literally or mentally be crossing your fingers when the Nicene Creed is read; but don’t worry. No one will judge you. Be patient, prayerful, and trusting, and there’s a pretty good chance that you, too, could be “healed by Grace”.

 

*MFT – Mobile Fundraising Team for the Unification Church.

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