May 9-10 Narrative
I’m not really a church goer. Religion makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know if it’s religion that makes me squirm, or if it’s that many people in one place seemingly believing something that they can’t possibly all be feeling. It’s as if there’s an unspoken agreement to all ‘act as if,’ as they say in 12 step programs, but nobody admits it. I don’t know. It’s a feeling more than something I can prove. It’s as if we’re sitting in a church because we’re supposed to, and it’s what we do on Sunday morning, but we’re only skimming the surface. Clearly, so much more is possible with this many people in the same room wanting to experience God. Hoping God is really here, and placing our bets that something exists that’s bigger and smarter than we are.
But we won’t admit that we don’t know. Or that we have believed it for a long time and we are choosing to go on believing it because what else is there? If we don’t believe this, then what, right?
Why can’t we just say that? Why can’t we just say this is what I’m doing simply because I don’t know what else to do. I certainly don’t want to give up on believing in God, but I don’t really feel God either. Maybe I keep hoping that if I show up every Sunday that one day I’ll have that feeling, that knowing, or that experience that makes it impossible to deny that God exists. I know I’m not a mystic but who knows? It’s happened to stranger people.
Why not just admit it?
What do you get out of showing up every Sunday morning? Does it deepen your faith? Does the pastor inspire you to keep going for another week? Do you go simply to have the pastor say something that lights you up or depends your faith? How often does he?
I am the father and mother of the world. (Hindu here)
I am the wind that breathes upon the sea (Celtic)
Christ before, Christ behind me, Christ beneath me (Celtic I AM)
Julian of Norwich I am poems
Our Lord jesus oftentimes said,
“This I am….
2. God said..
“This I am….
Aboriginal poem p. 182
The soul, the true self, is eternal and part of the whole. We are an extension, a part of the I am. This is non-changing, forevermore. This is the part of us that was in the garden at the start. Without the ego….literally or symbolically.
Each one of us draws from a deep well within, and draws imagery on a timeless canvas in our heart that shapes how we receive God, knowledge, wisdom, and become willing and open enough to receive the Spirit.
You are not separate from God. You might also not feel connected to God.
I cannot stand the idea of being a Christian sometimes. It goes against everything my identity says I am. I can’t stand the idea of carrying a Bible from the car into the church. I hate thinking about how people talk about God when I’m there, as if God is their boyfriend. The thought of some friends framing me inside a view that says I’m stupid totally irks me. If I let myself think about how people probably don’t trust me, or feel they can’t be themselves around me because I might be uncomfortable if they curse or have more than one beer, I want to scream!
That’s the truth about me. It’s how I’ve felt for years. And sometimes it’s who I am through and through. But what I’ve discovered about myself is it’s not being a Christian that makes me feel that way, it’s how Christians act - and how I judge them. I am one of the least judgmental people I know, except when it comes to Christians. Anyone who is fear based, or acts like the church lady is a catalyst for me to mount my high horse. I want to yell to the high heavens, “STOP IT!”. But I can’t.
I also don’t know what the answer is, other than to share with you how I’ve resolved this inner conflict I carry between Christianity and Christians for myself.
If you are someone who experienced a powerful Christian experience at one time, a spirit filled moment that you want to connect to again but find you simply don’t relate to the Christian culture; or you went to church growing up and it’s the religion you most identify with but there’s something missing, you might want to read further. That’s me too.
It’s a hard place to be, isn’t it?
It has been for me. Some days it still is, but now, it works for me far more than not. Here’s why.
I’m smart. Not genius smart. Just normal smart. I’m also well traveled, educated, professional, and have experienced more of the world than most people I come into contact with on a daily basis. This doesn’t make a very good Christian in the Christian culture that operates from a Biblical perspective. Granted, there are certainly countless exceptions all over the globe, but it’s the rule, rather than the exception, that I feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I’m aware, for those of us who feel this way, that it may be our perception, but that doesn’t matter. The bottom line is we don’t feel free to be all of who we are - and that’s not helpful for growing spiritually or being all of who we are or who God designed us to be.
The possibility exists that it’s our way of keeping ourselves separate from them, instead of the other way around. Surely, their desire to love God is strong and real for them. So, why do so many people want to run when they head our way? Why do we find ourselves pleading with God in prayer that they won’t start quoting scripture or remind us how concerned we should be about eternity, rather than now? What really makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck is when a well-meaning friend goes on and on about the joy of Jesus, and how we can’t know real happiness without him? Is she saying my baptism didn’t count? If I accepted Jesus into my heart in one of those altar calls when I was 12, am I happy? Who has the happiness meter? And how do we all get to read it?
I’ve spent years trying to openly talk about this to others and it’s usually met with a blank stare. I’ve often wondered if anyone else feels like that.
When I was 19, my theme song was “Don’t Fence Me In,” which probably explains a lot. I’m reluctant to admit my high school yearbook song was, “Nothing’s Gonna Change My World,” by the Beatles too. You’re getting the picture.
Of course, many things changed my world since 1973, including God. If you consider my age at HS graduation, you’ve probably already realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t want life to be different, but rather, it’s a statement declaring I didn’t want to conform. I wanted to be who I was going to be, who God made me to be. Not some cookie cutter replica of everyone else. I had no dreams of a white picket fence and 2.2 kids, or the perfect husband. I was a free thinker and a dreamer, who was headed into the world to find out who I was. That’s all. Probably no different than most of us, other than those who do dream of the white picket fence, husband, and 2.2 kids. In 1973, my vision wasn’t as common as the white picket fence, however. Times have changed.
Religion has not been a big part of my adult life. But God has always been there. Whether as an idea, a given assumption, a dynamic experience or encounter, or as a belief. They say God doesn’t change which is easy to believe, but I sure do. And when I changed, my understanding or picture of God often changed too. There were times I thought this was a bad thing, but it’s clear to me now how normal this is. We are dynamic, as is the entire earth, and if we weren’t always changing, we’d be dead.
You and I and the earth and everything in it and on it and above it is the Word of God. Word means expression. That’s why you’ve probably heard that Jesus is the Word. Or the Bible is the Word. And you and I are also the Word. We are a living, dynamic word of God. You might be thinking we’ve got some work to do to measure up the word of god. Well, maybe so. And maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds.
It sometimes seems like I’ve spent a lifetime looking for a place where I feel as if I really fit in. There were some places that felt like a hand in a glove, but they were rare. There were certain 12 step groups in Manhattan where I experienced this, but as life does, things changed. It’s how it works.
But what was different at this 12 step meeting is I belonged. I didn’t feel judged, and even if someone criticized or disagreed with an opinion, we dove in and spoke our truth. In order to have a group of people that can discuss things that openly and frankly, there has to be trust. Trust had somehow been established at the core of this group dynamic, and everything flowed from there. But in order to grow trust, someone had to take a risk. There always has to be someone that’s willing to throw their hat in the ring first, and be willing to get it stomped on.
I am often that person. But I don’t always use great discernment where I throw it in. I’ll throw my hat anywhere just to see if there’s match. Over the years, I grew tired of spending time trying to assess a situation or group of people. There came a time I simply tested the waters at the start. It was much quicker, and even less painful that way.
When Christianity became more of an oddity than a cultural and social expectation, I gradually stopped going to church. Although I loved some of the spirited, charismatic churches of my teen and young adult years, it was always hard to find one when my career took me to a new place. As the years went on, weekend trips and morning walks became my church, and worship turned into a private affair. But the desire to connect with sincere, loving people; and experience the Spirit the way I did years ago always nagged at me. I wanted the freedom that came along with the surrender to God - to a higher power - again. But I didn’t want my social life to revolve around people who had limited and fear-based views of the world - especially of people different from us. Most importantly, I didn’t want my child influenced by that kind of thinking more than he would already be in general.
The human consciousness and twelve step movements have changed how people relate to one another in the world. The saddest part is Christians warned people to stay away from them. Twelve step groups were not Christian since they didn’t emphasize Jesus, and therefore, dangerous to the life of a Christian because evil could slip in and steal their Christianity. At least that’s how I heard it. The human consciousness movement was dangerous all around, according to most Christians. For many christians, it still is. Warnings range from yoga is dangerous because it stems from eastern religion to personal growth workshops are a substitute for God. The tragedy that unfolded is life and culture was moving along without Christian culture just fine, and eventually people chose culture, and substituted the human consciousness movement’s spiritual direction with religion. Unfortunately, a direction and a practice are two very different things.
The consciousness movement’s focus was spread very thin, however, and only skimmed the surface, introducing people to ideas or activities based in various traditions or religions, but didn’t delve into the mysteries of faith, or understanding of God that comes from an actual committed path that one follows and deepens in. Running parallel to the expanding of consciousness and understanding of human behavior was an increasing intolerance for Christianity as the only religion emphasized in schools and government. This may have been a good direction overall, considering the myriad of religions and traditions a country of immigrants hailed from. In a country whose foundational documents were based on the principle that people can practice religion freely, however, the emphasis upon a single religion in its primary operational structure was a conflict that was inevitable.
I am an active and dedicated product of the human consciousness movement. From the primal therapy of the 70’s, to a Shaman apprenticeship, and a Personal Actualizing Workshop Leader to a member of 12 step recovery groups, I ran the gamut. I practiced Transcendental Meditation, participated in Stan Grof’s Breathwork, attended Course in Miracles study groups, completed the EST Training and a handful of other intensive weekend personal growth workshops that taught me a great deal about life, love, and sex. I went to therapy, albeit to my therapists dismay it was only for a short time, and had acupuncture and alternative health treatments whenever necessary. When a speaker came to town who had a new way of teaching me how to free myself from any kind of baggage I wanted to be rid of, I’d attend.
Until I moved to the rural Idaho mountains. That’s when everything changed. Most of all, me.
He drove straight back to the paddocks and stopped. The peeling white paint on the old Chevy pick up showed the original blue peeking out, and made the truck appear to be 20 years older than it was. “Some days that’s how I look,” I remember thinking to myself. As he opened the pick-up door, a couple of beer cans tumbled out along with three black and white dogs who were, apparently, very excited to have arrived. The jumped and barked amongst themselves until he stepped out of the truck boots first.
My house was a mess and I had to be at the treatment center to meet with a client’s parents in an hour. I rushed around trying to straighten up and pick up Kyle’s toys, hoping I’d get it somewhat presentable by the time this unexpected visitor got to the door.
It was taking him forever.
I picked up my coat and keys, and headed for the door. I planned on checking on the guy in the truck on my way out. It wasn’t all that abnormal for people to just drive on the property around here. I was near the main road, and horse traders had lived here before I did. He probably thought they still did, I thought.
When I turned around from locking the door, a pair of cowboy boots stood where I planned on taking my next step. “Hi,” he said.
“Hi!,” I said in the bubbly, happy voice that said life is good. It was good then. Most of the time, anyway. The day to day stuff was really hard, in actuality, but I wasn’t about to let this old cowboy know that. He was obviously a local and a simple man. Simple, in a good way I wondered? There’s a lot to be said for noticing what kind of simple a man is.
He’s stopped by to check out a horse. Isn’t that what they all say out west? Back in Greenwich Village the good looking stranger in the black beret asked if you wanted to come see his etchings, but in Idaho, they didn’t draw, they rode. Phil met him somewhere he said, and asked him to ride the big black proud cut gelding in the first paddock. Phil was concerned he was too much horse for a green, Southern boy straight out of the Atlanta suburbs. The stranger agreed. He asked if he wanted me to shoe any of the horses while he was here. We exchanged numbers and I rushed off to work. It would be awhile before I saw the cowboy again. I hadn’t even asked his name.
Sunday was the day of the big ride with Peter Vandermullen and his gang from Power Engineers. I’d met them in the diner one day, and they must’ve noticed how out of place I seemed. I sat there in my straw hat with the green leather band and my horse necklace, feeling very western indeed. They exchanged horse talk, as men did in this new town when drinking coffee. It was that, or bitch about how the government was raping people on the land.
The one on the right, I think his name was Jack, asked if rode. I guess my new snakeskin cowboy boots gave me away. I nodded. They’d started a riding club, and met on Sunday mornings sometimes for a group ride. They invited me to come along. I nervously accepted the invitation, even though I knew I couldn’t ride worth a crap. I bounced all over the saddle like Billy Crystal in the movie, City Slickers. But I am what I am I thought, and mustered up all my inner Popeye, and said yes anyway. Now to get my horse shod so I wouldn’t look like I was the only one with new garb on their feet at my house.
I looked everywhere for that piece of paper. The one the cowboy gave me with his number scribbled on it. It was nowhere, not even in the bowels of my left over New York leather bag that contained my life and hid my chaos. Saturday afternoon, as Kyle and I were planting some tomato plants in our garden patch behind the old log house, I heard a loud rattling sound. It sounded as if someone’s truck was about to explode. Down the driveway came that paint peeling pickup with cowboy, dogs, and empty beer cans inside. “Think any more about whether you want your horses shod?” he shouted from the his half rolled down window. I wondered to myself if his window didn’t roll down all the way. It was 80 degrees, for goodness sakes, and that truck certainly didn’t appear to have been made after they put air conditioning in vehicles.
He was a knight in shining armor. I’d set my hopes on going along for that ride the next day, and I couldn’t show up without my horse shod. “Sure,” I yelled back. “Can you do it now?” He jumped out of the truck, grabbed his rasp and nippers, and headed for the corral. “These guys aren’t much for conversation,” I thought quietly to myself. Kyle’s 3-year-old eyes followed this Wrangler clad stranger as he meandered toward the horses. It wasn’t long before Kyle asked if we could go see what he was up to. I ran to the house and grabbed my straw hat. Surely, watching your horse get shod was as good an occasion as any to wear this cultural icon I was trying to get used to. Plus my hair was greasy.
He didn’t say much. He just nipped. Every now and then he’d call the horse a son of a bitch and tug on his halter to let him know who was in charge, but that was about all. I asked him a few stupid questions like, “Have you lived around here long?” I’d just get a ‘yep’ or a ‘nope,’ so I took it as a hint that he couldn’t multi-task and shut up. When he was done, Kyle asked him if he knew how to ride horses. His eyes seemed to smile even though his mouth didn’t move, and he stretched out his hand to Kyle, and said, “I’m Okie. It’s nice to know ya, pardner.” Kyle lit up, shook his manure stained hand and offered back, “I’m Kyle.”
Little did I know that, in this moment, our lives had begun to change in ways we couldn’t begin to imagine.
By the time I reached Idaho, I didn’t go to church much. Actually, I didn’t go to church at all. Everything was so squeaky clean here, and imagined church would be even squeakier. The New American Standard Bible Will gave me still sat by my bedside, and I opened it whenever I needed an infusion of the spirit or to be reminded from whence I came, so to speak. I rarely identified as a Christian anymore, but I was one.
Life was about raising Kyle, turning this treatment center around to a profitable and successful business that could simultaneously change lives for the better. I’d purchased 12-step recovery books that were Christian based so clients that chose to could reconnect with the tradition or spirituality of their childhood, as they recovered. Other than that, I didn’t force religion on anyone, nor did I try to convert any souls. I didn’t see that as my place, or my calling at the time. Not at any time, for that matter. Not even at this time. That’s the work of the Spirit, not mine.
God was. A given I guess. It never really occurred to me that God did or didn’t exist. God just was. God was the source of my being, the center. It had always been difficult to relate to God as someone out there, a being separate from me. It just never fully resonated, but I never argued or debated it either. I just let it lie, whatever it was that I was connected to, because I knew it was good, and it was of light. My sense of hope and vision had carried me to this point of my life, and it never really occurred to me it was in any way separate from the God of my understanding. As a matter of fact, I assumed it was the reason for it.
Jesus was the light at my center. It’s always been that way. Ever since I was a little girl. I knew all the bible stories - well, that’s not really true. I thought I did. I knew the ones I remembered anyway, and they comforted me even though I realize now I never fully understood the parables he taught, and the deeper meaning behind his message. I simply remembered Jesus as goodness, light, and salvation. Salvation had a different meaning to me than what people in church said, however. It always seemed a bit strange that saying a prayer would be a ticket to heaven and others would burn in hell forever because they didn’t happen to say the prayer. It was so distasteful that I just put it out of my mind, as I imagine millions of others who once recited it in a vulnerable moment did. It was a comfort, though, to know I’d be going to heaven if there was one, but I wasn’t worrying about that then or now. Not in the way some people did. I wanted to live my best life. For God, for humanity, for my family, and for me. That seemed a tall order all by itself, and I needed to get on with it.
Salvation didn’t make sense. Or should I say, it did and it didn’t. More and more, people raised in church felt the same way, it was divisive and selfish. Especially when others would go to hell. It didn’t compute. It was over-simplified and must be mis interpreted. Eventually, I stopped believing this was its true intent. God was love, and this was not. Period. And if it was true, I didn’t want to be part of it. Period again.
Doesn’t it suggest you are an accomplice if you’re not standing up for the weak among you? Aren’t you simply watching out for yourself if you let the rest of your tribe burn in hell? What about the deeply cherished values, religions, and traditions of those raised in different cultures from mine? Weren’t they loved and of value as well? Nothing made sense, especially Christianity as described by Christians I knew.
It was especially clear to me when I prayed, or asked for the Spirit’s guidance. No sense at all. I wondered if God’s complexity would allow for different people to have different callings, and that perhaps some people needed to believe this in order to experience God more fully. Perhaps their minds and way of thinking required a more black and white image to fully visualize or experience something as unknowable as God. It seemed possible, when so much of life was beyond our comprehension anyway. Why not this too?
My way of resolving this was to stay out of the weeds. When I kept my mind centered on first things first, like the love of God and the power of the Spirit and the humanity of Jesus Christ, it all seemed to make sense. Staying centered in those three energies grounded me in a way that nothing else did, as long as I didn’t allow myself to get in someone else’s business. When I compared myself to someone else, or worried about whether something was true or not, or tried to pick apart the meaning apart from its essence and experience, something got lost in translation.
Weeds are undesirable plants within a balanced ecosystem. They have shallow roots, and are mostly alive above ground. They spread faster than other plants, especially perennials, but don’t have much depth. Their fast growth chokes out what exists and contributes to healthy community dynamics. The healthy attributes of an ecosystem are diversity in age, species, and gender. Including healthy soil required to provide nutrition to the plant life it supports. The Christianity that seemed to be afoot, handing out tracts, converting thousands of people at one event, judging those who were different from them, and deciding what was sin and what wasn’t seemed like weeds in a healthy ecosystem. They were growing mega-churches, but it was very noisy and superficial inside. Just like weeds. All of these attributes weakened my idea of God, and my faith.
Especially when the very same people informed me I was making up my own Christianity, on my own terms. Their insistence that this isn’t what the Bible said made it even more curious when I just didn’t see what they saw. I heard the words, and understood their interpretations, but also noticed they weren’t willing to see/hear/feel any other way to hear it. They usually refused to consider Jesus any way other than how their tribe heard it, or told them to hear it. That was ok too. I let it go and moved on knowing we’d end up in the same boat somehow, someday. But I sure didn’t know how we were getting there.
Even if Jesus came to use the sword. (what are exact words again?)
PARADIGM SHIFT HM
I was so excited to be here. The room seemed to be buzzing. It was filled with ranchers, officials from the government, environmentalists, regular citizens, and a couple of Native Americans from the tribe near Elko. I’d been chasing Steve and Tommie around for the last two months. Like a baby bird still in its nest, I’d been eager and wide eyed with mouth open, ingesting everything they said and did. The idea that environmentalists could destroy a culture of people who’d spent generations on the land here seemed insane, even though I was one of those environmental city people.
When the Sierra Club guy came to the door each year asking for a contribution, I always got the checkbook out. I’d organized a successful fundraiser in Manhattan for the Peregrine Fund and Morley Nelson, to help save Peregrines and the Bald Eagle. I’d been one of the early members of The Hunger Project. Anything I could do to do good, I did. The environment was at the top of the list. Surely this is what God would want too. It’s his creation after all, even if Bible writers didn’t quite mean for us to take the seven day thing so literally. They knew there was no way to explain the time to a human, so they made it as simple as they could for everyone’s sake. Including their own. Sheesh.
Morley Nelson - SYNCHRONICITY
The house for rent was in a great part of Boise, just where I wanted to live and start this next chapter. The address in the ad seemed easy enough to get to. We headed out. Kyle was with friends this weekend so I could look for a place back in Idaho. When we arrived at the address, the house looked uncomfortably lived in. Uncomfortable as in nobody was going anywhere anytime soon. ‘This can’t be it,” I said to Okie, “We must have the wrong address.” He checked it again, and said, “No, it’s the place.” We walked around the place best we could, and came to the same conclusion. It can’t be the place unless there’s another one out back out of view. We decided to wait for awhile in case someone came home.
The car pulled into the spot in front of us, and an older man got out. He glanced at us, and continued to the door. We were clearly in his parking space, with California tags on the car - never a welcoming experience in Idaho. My three month stint in California was soon over, and I couldn’t wait to get back to Idaho, pickups, and wide open rangeland. “Is this your house,?” I asked. “Yes.” “Is it for rent?” I replied. “No.” he said smiling, probably well aware how lived in it looked, or how awkward it would be to have renters move in. “It didn’t look like anyone was moving out,” I added, and asked him if he knew of any other places for rent in this neighborhood.
He told us he didn’t know, and that started a conversation that ended when dusk fell. Morley had lived here for half a century or more, and wouldn’t be moving because he had a sanctuary out back, behind his place. He asked if we’d like to see it. I wasn’t sure what he meant by a sanctuary, but my curiosity followed him. I’d already learned not to ask Idaho men too many questions at once, especially in fast succession, because their brains explode. The less words, the better.
We made our way past the narrow passageway of plywood walls on either side, and instead of seeing fountains and rolling grass which I somehow expected, there were cages. Cage after cage, lined up until they hit the open land. This was in the city limits of Boise. Each cage housed a different bird, sometimes more than one. There were Peregrines, Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles. Raptors everywhere. It was blowing my mind, and I couldn’t think fast enough. This man began telling us the story of how he’d developed this love affair with birds, and working passionately to save the Peregrine and Bald Eagle. HIs life’s goal was to see them off the endangered list.
Meanwhile, Okie, who was a man of few words, especially in the company of new people, was giving me a wide-eyed look like he desperately had to tell me something. He even tugged at my shirt a few times. I didn’t know how to politely turn my attention to him while the bird man was talking. Finally, when he retreated into a cage to retrieve a bird for us to see up close, Okie excitedly whispered in my ear, “That’s Morley Nelson! It’s Morley Nelson!” I think he said it four times. “So?” I responded, “Who’s he?”
It turns out Morley Nelson was one of Okie’s few childhood heroes. He’d grown up in the Boise suburbs, and Morley had been a bit of a folk legend. It stood to reason that Okie was drawn to him too, knowing Okie’s love for animals. He’d give his life for his animals, and had that innate connection few are gifted with. The kind of connection I don’t think he’d ever experienced with human beings, other than his daughter, Misti, and for a long time, me.
I loved him unconditionally. Beer breath and all. It was the kind of love that even loves the beer breath. If you’ve ever known that kind of love, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a familiar aroma, like the smell of your grandfather’s pipe. Comforting and unique to him. Sick, I know. But true, she says smiling remembering him with love and affection. It’s hard to forget a love like that. Even if he wouldn’t marry me. Or I him.
JAMES BROWN - DUALITY
I knocked at the door and waited. Keith and I were right on time, and the hotel lobby had been empty so we made our way directly to the room. It was one of those perfectly romantic and timeless hotels. Right out of the forties. The carpeted stairs that seemed to roll downward. Grand and rich, almost carrying you down them. I imagined the paparazzi waiting out side. Papparazzi with big, round flashes and those hats with the feather in the band, a pen in their mouth, yelling questions and flash blinding us as we heard the bulbs make that popping sound.
But this wasn’t my fame we were celebrating. It was James Brown. We heard someone coming to the door, and I imagined his black curls and big smile at the other side of the door. It wasn’t him. It was his manager and partner, Jimmy ____.
“What do you want?” he asked us with a controlling tone.
“We’re here to see James Brown. We had an appointment at 2.”
There, about 20 feet behind him we saw a cluster of people. Some sitting on the couch, and others milling around it. In the center was one of those old hair dryers, the kind they put you under in the salon to get your highlights working faster.
“Turn this damn thing off,” someone said in a loud and firm voice.
The room turned quiet.
Big eyes looked out from under the dome. It was him.
He motioned for us to come in, waving his arm in the air.
“Come here! Come here! Sit down! Sit down!” he said excitedly.
He acted as if he was truly happy to see us although he’d never laid eyes on us before.
Then he motioned again, this time for everyone to leave him alone with us, and told his wife to stay. I still don’t know which wife, or if it was his only wife. It took everything I had to refrain from asking.
Under any other circumstances I would’ve too. But today we needed his cooperation for this project since was significant to the event that accompanied the heavyweight championship in Zaire, and Keith would probably kill me if I screwed this up.
It was called the Rumble to the Jungle, and the concert that brought 20 (?) bands to Africa for the concert of the century had been a real boost for Ali and Foreman’s championship match in the ring. Twelve cameras had shot the concerts, and all the footage had become the sole property of Leon Gast, the film’s director when he sued the legendary promoter, Don King, for unfair practices (?). Leon and Keith were working day and night to edit the footage and mix the music, with the hopes of making a feature film about the event. I was simply lucky to be working with them, even if I wasn’t part of the original team. It turned out that the rights to the many songs performed by BB King, The Pointer Sisters, Sister Sledge, James Brown and the rest of the now African American music legends were owned by a slew of different record companies and individuals. It was my task to sort them out, and secure rights to use the music in the film, even though Gast already owned the footage. A herculean, and impossible task as it turned out.
Nevertheless, the film that was eventually completed almost 20 years later did win the Oscar for Best Documentary in 1999 (date?). I didn’t get any credit, of course, but I was part of it nonetheless.
Brown proceeded to take charge of the meeting, asking us the expected and perfunctory questions about the film and how it would benefit him. Once we clarified that, he turned the conversation to what he seemed much more passionate about. Spirituality. He quizzed us about our heritage, and specifically, what part of the world our ancestors were from. I don’t even remember what Keith said, and I, of course, said Norway. He explained that we are made from the earth’s elements, and depending on what part of the world we originate in, we are predominantly that type of earth element. He determined, through his own mode of testing it seemed, that Keith was clay and I was ____, just like he and his wife. This was the perfect combination for a successful relationship, he assured us. I didn’t bother asking whether or not cocaine addiction could disrupt this perfectly balanced union. It’s just as well. I already knew the answer.
The following weeks were filled with either meetings, concerts, or phone calls between Brown and us. We worked to further negotiations, while Gast continued to edit, spending night after night in the editing room. He had more energy than anyone I’d ever seen. I’d spent many an all-nighter editing. Night was the perfect time to focus with no distractions. It was also the time last minute editing rooms were available, or cheapest. This depended on the client.
When our meeting ended, and Brown’s curls were set under the dryer, we headed out to get something to eat. He said his limo was waiting at the side entrance to the hotel. I wondered how he could afford this entourage of people around him, and limos, when the news reported he was broke. It was clearly none of my business, however. So out of my business it went.
We walked through the hotel lobby like royalty. People parted ways for us and stared at the rock legend who was as grandiose as I’d always imagined him to be. Somehow I thought he’d be more of a regular guy during an afternoon meeting. His grand entrancing and dramatic flair seemed like something that was reserved for his shows, but nope, it was who he was. This was his identity. When we got to the top of the stairs that led to 45th street, he fixed his hair; adjusted the long fur coat that was slung over his shoulder’s as if it were a cape of royalty and he proceeded down the stairs just as I’d earlier imagined one would exit the building awaiting an onslaught of papparazzi.
When he dramatically threw open the doors, we saw one thing.
A kid, about 16 or 17, staring at Brown with his mouth open, and simultaneously throwing a lit joint on the asphalt, trying to stomp on it and kick it down the sewer as fast as he could. That’s all. No fanfare. No papparazzi. Not even the limo.
But Brown wasn’t about to miss the moment for drama.
He caught what the kid was doing, and greeted him in only the way James Brown does. Dramatically.
Then he asked him what he was doing.
The kid said, “Nothing.”
Brown responded, “Pick that thing up now!”
The kid looked scared but scrambled to do what he said. Just as he was about to pick it up, he said, “No, Mr. Brown. I’m going to throw it away.”
“Im not reporting you, kid. I just want to have a little talk. Now pick that thing up and bring it here now.”
Brown walked over towards the kid and stepped into the street, with his fur coat following behind him. I half-wondered if one of those self propelled rockets hid underneath his coat, and whether he could take off at a moment’s notice. That said, I was liking Brown. There was something sincere under the showman he portrayed on the outside. Something told me he wanted to be a good man at the core of who he was. Even if he was clearly spoiled by being waited on hand and foot for God knows how long.
I remember wondering how someone like him became someone like him. Was it the fame that turned him into someone who wanted to be waited on hand and foot and accompanied by an entourage, or was it an illusion he created to bolster his image? It appeared to be a chicken and egg kind of thing, and I wanted to know which came first. His identity was completely tied up in it, but which identity?
The kid stood there in the curb on 45th street waiting as Brown approached him. Brown put his arm around him and said, “Boy, you and I are going to have a little talk.” He proceeded to tell this kid what happens when we smoke too much pot, and why he needs to quit doing it. He said it will keep him from experiencing what he really wants in life, and God made him for more than that. The kid, clearly overwhelmed and even somewhat moved, kept nodding and listened. They both seemed almost humble in this very private and special moment. Although I saw it for the grandstanding it was, there was a sincerity to the moment too. On both their parts. Perhaps it was something Brown wished had happened to him more as a boy, or perhaps it had happened and he was just passing it on. I’ll never know what his real intention was, but I do know it’s a moment that kid probably never forgot. To this day, I wonder if Brown smoked that thing later that night.
A few nights later, we went to a club downtown where he was performing as his private guests. The cocaine was flowing everywhere, and he was on stage doing his original breakdance that he proudly claimed as his, prior to Michael Jackson’s famous rendition. It was true that Brown originated breakdancing, and nobody could take that away from him even if Jackson took it to new heights.
These experiences with James Brown taught me something about God, drugs, and humanity. I was in the midst of my recovery, having been sober a year or two at the time. It meant everything to me, as did the friendships that had grown in the program. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was compromise or threaten my sobriety, but when you spend your days and nights with cocaine addicts, even if you’ve never been one, it doesn’t take long to break down and weaken. That’s just what happened, but happily, it only lasted a few weeks. You see, this is where God takes an active role in our lives - even if we don’t realize our relationship is active. It changes us, and when it’s laid hold, you can’t ignore it when it counts. You know it’s there, and you know where to draw strength from - if you remember how.
When James Brown sat on the couch talking about his understanding of God, and the complementary elements of the earth within us all, it fascinated me. Here was a man who had achieved greatly and been blessed by God, as he put it, and was still struggling to survive. At first glance, it’s hard not to see grandiosity, overspending, abuse, grandstanding, false perceptions, ego, greed, etc. But at the heart of this man was actually generosity, responsibility, weakness, love, expression, creativity, and determination. He was a contradiction, which is what we all are.
Recognizing the existence of light and dark forces, or if you prefer, energy, is critical to the spiritual experience. The important thing is not to deny it - don’t act as if it doesn’t exist. Denial is dangerous to the development of your true self. It’s not the false self that’s harmful, it’s denying it. Our judgments about each other come from our context, belief systems, values, and world views. If we’re sizing something up, that’s all we have to develop our assumptions and conclusions for decision-making unless….we are clear as to who we are in our true selves.
The time I spent with Brown revealed something I never forgot. He knew his true self. He simply didn’t know how to operate out of it. His ego/false self was stronger - as it is for everyone at different times of life - and they competed for center stage at the core of his personality. He knew he’d have to give his false self more power than it deserved in order to achieve his life’s goals. He knew that in order to ensure those he felt responsible for could sustain themselves, he had to keep up the charade of being bigger than life. This may have compromised his soul’s purpose, but it met his needs because of a responsibility he felt to those around him. His outwardly grandstanding and pomposity was, on the flip side, generosity and responsibility and love.
Our ability to see non-dualistically offers us sight grounded in truth, self-honesty and love. It’s not about the denial, it’s about the sight and the truth. It’s my guess Brown knew this too.
When he revealed his thoughts about God and his spiritual practices, I was struck by how vulnerable and transparent he was. When he talked about the earth’s elemental substances and how they played a role in our personalities, he spoke with the enthusiasm of a child. This was especially true when he referred to Keith and I, likening us to he and his wife. There was a camaraderie he felt that was demonstrably meaningful to him, even if we’d never meet again.
The same was true for the kid on the street who kicked the joint to the sewer. James Brown saw either his younger self, or an opportunity to do the right thing - even when he knew he didn’t always do the right thing. He fully understood the contradiction he was, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t still inspire someone, or do right by someone else. What we sometimes call hypocritical is actually our own psyche at odds with itself, playing out our own duality which is ultimately and ironically, our wholeness. For better or for worse.
The street kid struggled between his desire to be seen as his true self - doing the right thing as well, while simultaneously tempted to cling on to an identity that was being developed. This new identity was being shaped by his culture as he approached the gates of adulthood, but still walked in his adolescence. How we shape who we become, like it or not, is influenced by our culture and the values we develop, or identify with, there.
The good news is we are always on our way to becoming. Like it or not.
SPARKY ANDERSON - RESPECT
GLEN SECRIST - CHRIST LIKENESS OR THE ABILITY TO SEE
PETER TORK - LITTLE GIRL DREAMS
DAVID SANBORNE - ANONYMOUS KINDNESS
WALLY SCHWARZ - DESTINY
JODY POWELL - JOY AND COURAGE
I lived in Washington, DC where I ran treatment centers and regional offices for hospital corporations that owned inpatient rehabs around the country. In DC, I was responsible for numerous centers either responsible for all 13 hospitals on the northeast coast, or doing acquisitions, development, or marketing around the country, depending on the company I worked for, or the priority placed on me at the time. I’d been sober a few years, given birth to my son Kyle who was now 3, and was busy renovating a brownstone in an almost fully gentrified neighborhood on Capitol Hill with my partner Tom, who was Kyle’s dad but not his biological father. When I was almost 6 months pregnant, my fiancee, Will, decided he wasn’t ready for a baby and gave me the option of aborting or being left to raise the baby alone. I chose the latter.
I’m a city girl through and through. At least I was.
Raised in Brooklyn, New York among immigrants, and in Norway when the Norwegian Consulate sent us to my parent’s homeland for work or relaxation. They were both diplomats with the Consulate, although Mom quit to take care of us when my sister was born. Years later, when my father died, she returned to the Consulate to work and eventually retired. Their life’s work had been to help Norwegians in the United States, and to secure relations between the two countries. Over __% of Norwegians had immigrated, most of them settling in Brooklyn’s inner-city neighborhood of Bay Ridge or headed to Minnesota. A few had made it as far as Seattle, where it was most like Norway’s landscape, but the biggest cluster of Norwegians seemed to have stepped off the boat after crossing the Atlantic to cross the Brooklyn Bridge.
In one of my careers, I ran inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment centers for hospitals around the country, which eventually led me to own an inpatient treatment center in the Rocky Mountain states. This career move changed my life - and living in the west shifted every paradigm I had.
The word addiction is tricky because it sends out an inaccurate message. Most people who meet the criteria for being addicted are actually compulsively dependent. This is different than the image most people have of strung out addicts. Anyone who’s in a 12 step recovery program knows this, but I’d venture to guess that most people still don’t realize addiction doesn’t, for most people, look like the strung out metaamphetamine addict we see on posters. They look more like Betty Ford.
Basically, people just don’t stop when they promise themselves they will. This might not sound earth shattering, but it leads to death. That’s why denial is so rampant. It doesn’t look like life is so bad in most cases, other than the drinking or drugs or food - and how hard can it be to quit? If we don’t do it today, we’ll do it tomorrow. But tomorrow might be too late. Even if it doesn’t look like it.
MILT GOSSETT - BEING A CHAMPION
ALAN SAVORY AND SHANNON HORST -
CJ HADLEY - GRIT AND PERSERVERENCE
JUNE COHEN AND KRISTIN WINDBIGLER - FRIENDSHIP
MELODY MONBLEAU - SISTERHOOD
JILL STANGER -
KARI ALICE -
TONE LYSTRUP -
ALISON KIESEL - WORLD CUP BIATHLON
YURI HANIN - RUSSIAN OLYMPIC TEAM PSYCHOLOGIST
JOHNNY POWERS - AUTHENTICITY
Conservatory. boots, lamb shit.
DUGOUT DICK - REAL SUSTAINABILITY
CAROLE AND TOM BEYER - THE LOVE OF NON-JUDGMENT