An Open Letter to the President of the United States of America

Dear Mr. President,

Hi!  How are you?  How are your kids?

Right now waiting for a parade to start in Downtown Edmonton and I thought I would drop you a line.

I am a citizen of the US but I live in Canada.  It’s a long story, but I live in Canada due to a series of adventures.  I’m not protesting anything nor have I fled anything.  I have nothing but love for our country and for the people of our country.

I am writing to you because of my love for our fellow country people, specifically the Evangelical Christian.  I used to be one; I still am, despite my ordination into the Anglican Priesthood; and I have fond memories of working with Evangelical Christians.  Many of them are still my friends.  They were kind to me when I needed kindness, forgiving to me when I was in the wrong, and did a lot of good around me.

However, I can’t talk to them anymore.  They will do what you do and will defend what you say.  I can only agree with Evangelical Christians if you have said it first.  I wish this wasn’t the case, but many of them trust you over their pastors or their youth pastors or those who went through the hard work of study, experience, and affirmation from their community to be in leadership of their churches.  They will follow you no matter what anyone else says.

To speak to their hearts, I feel like I need to speak to you.

Simply put, no one wants to be a Nazi.

Calling someone a Nazi, in this day and age, is a knee jerk reaction.   Whenever we see someone with a too much swagger or seem to disregard the pain of others, we call them a Nazi.  I am not calling you a Nazi, Mr. President.  I am just beginning with the statement that no one wants to be a Nazi and that might be the beginning source of our problems.

You see, if someone brings up a problem that is Nazi-like, it gets one defensive, angry, and combative.  We all want to be on the right side of history and we can’t think of a people group on the absolute wrong side of history than the Nazis.

Dialogue ends and we don’t get to learn from each other.   The divide continues.   And we end up calling each Nazis.

Or Socialists.  Or whatever insult we can pick.

And yet, your behaviour is against the American dream.  Let me explain.

Your followers, whom I love, are defending you.  Soon they will mimic you.  Churches will lose their witness and influence, which is ironic because this is one of the main reasons why they follow you without question- you have promised them more power and influence and street credentials.

But what mistake am I mentioned to you?

Your tweet towards the four congresswoman.

This is the tweet:

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Many people have deconstructed this tweet, so I won’t go into the finer points.  Instead, I just want to speak to you about the essence of this tweet.

In essence, you want people to leave the country you are President of because they disagree with you.

Nothing makes American Apple Pie and burgers on a Fourth of July taste better than a heated row about politics, sports, or the Oscars- this is America.  It’s also the American dream to have such disagreements and have them cut short because Grandma wants to say grace over the meal.  You fight, you stop fighting because we’re all part of the same, combustable family.

The American family will never leave you, like it or not.

As an Ex-Pat, I feel this keenly.  I’m still an American, despite my weird Albertan accent or my love of poutine.

I don’t want Evangelical Christians to think this is an acceptable way of handling disagreements and they will follow you, without question, in this new way of handling conflict.   They used to believe that disagreement made us stronger, that one had to work through issues…but now, I’m not so sure.

You may noticed, Mr. President, the country has grown farther a part.  The solution is not winning more arguments or creating more losers or getting rid of those who stand to disagree with you.  The solution is embracing those who disagree with you, work through the issues.  Rather than deporting conflict, a leader embraces such things.

When you run from conflict-as this tweet demonstrates- it opens the doors for all kinds of interpretation.  A familiar one that you’ve heard is that you are a racist.   This would be a jump in conclusions if there wasn’t all sorts of stories about you in this department.

I’m not saying you are a racist.  But I bring this up because there has been many stories that have been interpreted racism in your past.  And now, there is this tweet.

“I am the least racist person I know,” you have said as a defence.

Here’s the problem with that defence: you do not get to decide if you are a racist or not.   This is a lesson I learned from Canada through the many “Truth and Reconciliation” projects between the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and those whose heritage came from Imperialism.  As a descendant of a White Imperialist, I don’t have the right to decide how bad someone else’s suffering was, when they should “get over it”, or how racist I am now as my present power and influence systemically grows from historic exploitation.

My response is to allow those who were hurt by my advantage to control the dialogue and set the terms of the solution.  My job, simply, is to ask, “What can I do to make this right?”

I’ll admit, it’s scary: I can’t be in control of the outcome.  It also takes a long, long time.   But it is working (present tense) here in Canada.    And it only works if I allow those wronged to set the stage of the dialogue, not me.

In other words, it is up to those wronged by me who will decide if I am a racist or not.

This dynamic works in most areas of life: those who perpetrate crimes and offences are not the ones who get to assess the damages.  If I rob a bank, I can’t decide if the money stolen was a big deal or not: that is for the government, the judges, and the victims to decide.

You have decided you are not a racist but the proof is that you want a specific kind of people (who, in this case are all women of colour) to leave your America.  And now you do not want this to be a racist comment.  It has become, like it or not, about race.

My fear, which is why I write to you, is that the Evangelical Church will copy your posture and they will decide if they have done anything wrong, independent of the assessments made by their surrounding community, those in authority over them, and, ultimately, God.

No one wants to be a Nazi.   And yet history is giving you and your supporters an advanced notice: stop trying to get rid of people who disagree with you and who are not like you.

Here’s what I propose: you call a meeting with these four women.  They can invite someone they trust as a mediator, to keep things fair.  Likewise, you can bring some people along who will keep things pleasant.  Have coffee.  If this was Alberta, I’d say you should bring some squares or coffee.  Maybe doughnuts.

Sit and talk.  Fight, if needed.  “Go for a rip,” if you must.  And keep telling each other no one is leaving or being kicked out, because that isn’t the American way of doing things.  Listen.  Repeat back to each other what you think the other person is saying.  Make some resolutions, if needed.  Apologize for the real stuff that was said and done.  Disagree.  Fight again.  Take a ten minute break for coffee and doughnuts.   Do this again and again until there’s something that happens between the both of you:

Peace.

If this happens then, maybe, Evangelicals might copy this behaviour.  They, in fact, might do it so often they get good at it.   So good at it, in fact, they might get a reputation.  It’d be nice if they did it first, but they are going to need some leadership.  YOU could be that leader, Mr. Trump.

I mean, think of how amazing the nation would be if we listened to each other and worked out our problems?  If we visited and listened to each other?  We had coffee and doughnuts instead of rallies?  Our list of enemies got smaller and smaller?  What if we measure greatness not by who likes us and who agrees with us, but how we work together with those different than us?  We were defined but what we want, what we’re for instead of who are against?  What if…

Now I must stop.  I’m assuming this is the America you want, but is it?  I’m also assuming this is the kind of America Evangelical Christians wants. I’m not sure.

Perhaps I’ve said too much.

I shall return to my rainy day in Edmonton, as I sit in a coffee house run by a Lebanese immigrant who makes the best Chai I’ve ever had as I watch a parade in our downtown sector.  It’s Kondike Days, here in Edmonton.  The parade is made up of marching bands with white cowboy hats, an LGBTQ float, a Highland pipe band, mounties in bright red, Sikh dancers, floats from some of the nearby mosques, a Gospel choir, some 4H club kids, a Chinese dragon, Girl Guides, and some dancers from Northern Africa.

I’ll go back to the parade.  Keep working hard on America, Mr. President.  And if you need any help, we’re here for you.

Sincerely,

The Ex-Pat Priest Located in Canada

 

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The Silent Back Pew

Another thought experiment:

Years ago, there was a struggling Baptist church in the country.   For decades, they used the same hymnal and had the same 7 families attend their church.  However, at they faced the close of the 20th century, they realized the great grandchildren were no longer coming to this country parish.

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They hired a new pastor.  She was kind, she listened well, and seemed to be respectful of the church’s traditions and ways.  But trouble came in the form of a newcomer.

A family came made up of three teenage boys who liked to play Ska.  Their friends played in the town’s marching band and on weekends, they would practice in each other’s garages.

The eldest from this family approached the new minister to see if they could play in the church for a Sunday.  The minister had a bunch of rules: the songs must be taken from the Bible, no dancing, no swearing, and it would be within 7 minutes.  The band agreed and were faithful to their promise.

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On the “Ska Sunday”, the church welcomed them.  Families rushed up to the band and thanked them for playing.  Some of the moms asked when they would come again because they wanted to invite their neighbours.  One old farmer, came up and slapped the ringleader on the back.  “You can do every Sunday, son!”

Only a silent row of people sitting in the back pews were the ones absent from congratulating the kids.  They sat, fixed as a back row of crossed arms and tight expressions.   Silent.

The kids in the band were more than willing to take over Sundays, but the new minister was smart.  She used words like “transition” and “process”, knowing that if the style on Sunday went Ska suddenly then they might lose half of their people.  “Give them time,” she said.

However, the back row listened to her leadership and knew for every time she said expressions like “slow change” or “ease people into it” there was an inevitability to her words.  They remained in the back row and silent.   And waited.

The hymn leaders grew old or got tired or lost interest-no one knows what really happened, other than worship spots were needed to be filled.  And the Ska band from the garage was more than happy to fill it.

The change of the church seemed almost inevitable until one Sunday when an elderly man, who hadn’t been at the church for ten years, came on a Ska Sunday.  He heard the band and the stood up during sermon.

“Sad times!” he began.  “These are sad times!  We have lost our faith!  This church is more of a rock concert than a place of peace and shelter from the world!  We’re too worldly!”   The man turned and pointed at the Ska band.  With his finger sharp and shaking, he looked to the pastor.  “Tell me!  Did they just worship God?!?”

The Pastor nodded and the man stormed off.  She looked around and saw the shock. Months of slowly getting them on the stage resulted in a settling of this change.  She was surprised: hadn’t we already dealt with this issue?  

The elder board met for an emergency meeting after the service.  “We don’t want to lose any more people,” the chair said although the pastor was confused: who was this angry person in the first place?

The elders used brand new language to the minister.  “We are a divided church,” one man said.  “We have been moving too fast,” another commented about the Ska band.  “There are those in the church, who are very good and strong Christians, who don’t believe the Bible allows this kind of music,” was another.

Who are these good and strong Christians?, she thought.  And why haven’t they talked to me?  I have the facts, the Scripture, and the reasons: if they just heard my arguments, they might agree with me.  

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The elders decided to have a congregation meeting a week from this outburst.  At this meeting, the back row was now moved to the front row.   Some of them brought cakes and squares for the reception afterwards.  One man, who was neither an elder or a deacon, took to the floor to moderate the discussion.  The pastor asked him to sit down and she took the microphone, earning a bristle from the new, front row.

It was a time of prayer which most of the prayers were about love, unity, and hearing each other.   Then came the sharing from the microphone.

The crowd was in favour of the Ska band, with many people praising the kids and loving their church.  “I feel proud to come to this church which is a new and strange feeling,” a mom shared.  She then concluded that she didn’t understand why they were meeting in the first place.

One of the elders stood up and gave the only dissenting voice.  “There are many who are hurt by the changes that happening to our church.  For the purpose of unity, we need a vote.  The members will vote and the elders will vote.  We’ll average the two together,” he said.

The motion of the floor was that the worship service could use other music outside of the hymnal.   Another meeting was scheduled to vote and everyone was dismissed, to go home and pray about their vote.

The pastor, during that week, hardly slept and rarely ate.  What church am I serving?, she thought.  I thought we could change.  I thought they were open to change?  I did everything right: I listened, I prayed, I moved slowly, and I was respectful.  Plus, they seemed to not mind the changes.  How did I get this wrong?  

And during this time, not a single member visited her.

The day of the vote came, there was a time for discussion before the vote came.  “I can’t believe you’re trying to get rid of our hymnal,” one woman cried.   “It’s good.  It’s fine.  It’s part of my story.  Where am I going to go if I can’t sing from the hymnal?”   This set the emotions for the whole meeting.  Every comment, after hers, was a lament from the damage due to Ska Sunday.

The Pastor spoke once.  “I am hearing your comments and they are good because they express emotion.  But if we’re going to vote on this, we’re going to need more than feelings.   What does the Bible say?   Please use the Word of God in your response.”

This killed the crowd.  Since they couldn’t use the Bible in their responses, they went silent.  And two families moved to the back row.

When the vote came, 85% of members were fine with using music other than hymnal; 70% of the elders only wanted to use the hymnal.   When the average was made, it was decided to keep exclusively to the Hymnal.

The elder board after the meeting was a somber victory.  “We must have consensus,” the chair person said.  “We can’t afford to lose any more families.  Everyone must agree.”

The ska band offered to play the words of the hymns but with their rhythm.   The pastor offered this to the board.  The Finance Officer just shook his head.   “Not at this time,” he said with a fatherly grin to the pastor.  “I think we need to focus on what makes us good. Too fast, too soon.  We need to quickly get back to what we once were.”

And that they did.

Today, the building is empty.  The Pastor is serving in another party of the country with the skill under her belt of not changing, keeping congregations the same.  The families of this Baptist church have gone to other places, other churches.  And the Ska band, since that congregational meeting, has never gone back to church.

 

 

The is a thought experiment about American Politics.  Also Canadian.  Also about church.   Also about families.   Mostly, it’s about change.

We know change is needed and there can be great reasons given for change.   But then, at the last second, the back row speaks up.  They share what they were really thinking.  And they know how to win.

I’m from the church world, so my metaphor matches my background.   You’ve heard the phrase, “You are preaching to the choir.”  Indeed, that is true.   But choirs don’t run churches (or countries or families or businesses) as well as those in the back rows.

The question I leave with you is this: how does one preach to the back row?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Excerpt from a 17th Century Duel: You’re Welcome.

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           (This is an except from the novel “The House of Bones”).   

            A duel was the farthest event in Edmund Canin’s plans for that morning.

Edmund arrived in Stralsund moments after sunrise.  He woke up early in the morning, broke his camp, and hiked into town, believing he was farther from the city than actuality.  As he wandered through the cobble stone streets and amongst the town waking up, he hoped he could find a bakery or café opening for breakfast.  The Mercy Tavern, where he was sent to go, wouldn’t be open so he decided to take in the sights of Stralsund.

The city awoke somber and silent.  Few made eye contact with him, as it awoke.  The crowds of gray people did their chores quietly, and tended to their business without much attention to the world around them.  One of the first streets Edmund walked down was silent, the weight of sadness hung heavily in the air.

Edmund couldn’t tell how big was the city, since it was relatively flat and every other building was tall, with a point.  Is it a law in Stralsund that every building has it’s top sharpened like a sword’s point?, he asked himself.

He wanted to believe it was some pagan superstition, making the town a bed of spikes as a defense against storming dragons. Foolish to believe that superstition, since the city was held tightly by a Catholic Church and was close enough to feel the hot breadth of Protestant Germany.  He figured both sides of Christianity would band together against the common enemy of dragon worship.

Then why the points?

The more the sun rose, the more people came out to do their silent business in Stralsund.  More Swedish soldiers came out, all sharing an alien confidence as they laughed, joked, and chatted amongst the Germans.  One of them even wished Edmund a good morning.  It took him a few moments to recognize the greeting and he chirped a “good morning” back.

He rounded a corner, finding a small tavern in between a shoe cobbler and an apartment building.  He stood in the front, fists on his hips, reading the sign hanging above the door:

The Sad Pony

He chuckled at the name, finding it the worst name for a bar he’d ever heard. Through his playful sneer underneath his thin moustache, he whispered to himself, “It’s hard to find Mercy in this town.”

As if answering his call, the double doors crashed open.  Erupting from the bar marched a Swedish Officer grasping the hair of a serving wench.  Immediately, Edmund’s eyes were drawn to the woman’s eyes, tearful and shaking with fear.

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“And now that we’re outside, I’ll show you what proper service looks like your forest creature,” the officer said with his spittle flying towards her face.

“Please don’t hit that woman, I’d hate for you to hurt your tender hand,” Edmund, fists still on his hips, said in German.

The officer, standing feet from Edmund, twirled around to face him. “This doesn’t concern you.  Run along.”

“Of course it concerns me, it’s in my field of vision.”  Edmund didn’t move.   “Let go of the maiden.”

“Walk away.”

Lifting his foot slightly, Edmund’s foot tapped the Officer’s right foot slightly as it was off balance.  Within a flash, the Officer let go of the girl and fell to the ground.

“Run inside!  Quick,” Edmund said to the trembling girl.

Without moving, he stood with his fists on his hip and watched the Solider rise. They were of equal height, as the officer stood inches from Edmund’s face.  The white, pink skin of the Officer’s face turned beat red within a seconds.

“You ought not have done that.”

The playful sneer returned to Edmund’s smile.  “Quite right.  Please forgive me.  I didn’t mean to soil your costume,” he said.

“It’s-a-uniform-I’m-an-officer!”  The officer could barely speak, standing as rage shook his whole body.

Edmund flashed a quick look to the officer’s saber.  His eyes returned to the Officer.  “Might I interest you in a life of pacifism?”

The officer lifted his index finger to Edmund, readying to give him a speech. But he as he began to speak, Edmund grabbed his saber’s handle as quick as light, unsheathed the sword, struck the soldier in the nose two times with the handle, and put the sword back in the sheath.

Edmund recoiled back and smiled at his work, pleased with himself.

The Officer quickly held his nose, took two steps backwards, and let out a shrill cry.  The crowd snickered.  Edmund placed his fists on his hips.

“It’s an easier life, that of a pacifist.”

The Officer returned to Edmund’s space, inches from his face, and rose his quivering finger at Edmund.  And like before, just before he spoke, Edmund grabbed the Officer’s own sword, again, and gave two quick taps to his nose.

The Officer recoiled, grabbing his bleeding nose and growled.  Blind with rage, he lunged at Edmund for the purpose of tackling him to the ground.  Edmund pivoted to the right, allowing the officer to trip over his left foot firmly planted to trip his attacker.  The officer hurdled to the ground, face in the cobble stone.

“Any time you’re ready to end this, let me know.  I’d hate to drag this thing out.”

Face in the ground, bottom to the air, the officer didn’t notice Edmund reaching for the saber on his side and taking it from him.  The officer rose on all fours, oblivious to the swipes Edmund swished through the air and around his leggings.

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Within a few seconds, the officer’s breeches were to his knees free from the support of his belt.  The crowd laughed, sounding like a gaggle of geese.

“This is a fencing technique called ‘tagging’.  It is meant not to harm, but to demoralize the opponent,” Edmund said. Cat-like, he spun around to the officer’s front.  With swipes of the sword, he cut the fabric in the shoulders of the officer’s coat. “Any time your ready to quit, let me know.”

“I shall beat you with an inch of your life!”

“You have a long way to go in order to beat me with an inch of my life,” Edmund said as he pointed his sword in the air.  “I intend to live forever.”

The Officer rose, shaking with rage.  He didn’t notice his leggings and jacket falling to the ground.  His eyes burned with hate as he stared at Edmund. “I did not come here to be humiliated!”

“Where do you usually go to be humiliated?”

The man swung at Edmund’s face.  Edmund jerked his head back, missing the punch by inches.  And with the Officer’s saber, Edmund swatted the left side of his opponent with the flat part of the sword.  Another punch, another miss, and another swat.  The third and final punch delivered the same results: the crowd thought this was hilarious.

“Stay still!”

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Edmund chuckled.   “What good would that do me?”   Edmund, with a couple of quick swipes, cut the buckles off of the Officer’s boots. Now his boots flopped around his ankle, slowing his otherwise drunken reactions.  Edmund sidestepped to the left, allowing the officer to scramble around with his uncertain footing.

Edmund, for good measure, slapped the backside of the soldier with the flat side of the sword.

The soldier spun and charged at Edmund. Edmund quickly stepped out of the way of the Officer’s charge, allowing him to crash into a wooden crate full of water left out in front of the cobbler’s door.   The wooden planks broke, flooding over the officer’s head and back.  The soldier went limp from the blow to the head, as all of the water drained out of the bucket.

Edmund returned the saber to the unconscious soldier’s scabbard.

He looked around, seeing a cheering crowd of soldiers and villagers.  He didn’t notice, behind them, was a carriage, bearing the seal of Bavaria.

The Engineer Inside My Head

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The Engineer inside of my head, he runs quickly,

Running my body hard, filing my thinking for me,

Keeping dates and times and tasks in front of daily routine,

Without break or rest, for either coffee or poutine.

 

What does he want?  Where does he go?  I’d like to ask him,

He drives straight to you, my beautiful hazel eyed hymn.

What does he want?  Where does he go? God only knows,

To my wife, my cherished song: where beauty does grows.

 

He pulls levers, presses nobs on my computer brain,

Speeding, racing, crashing, barreling on a wild train,

He drives me much faster, a hundred places is my fate,

Sometimes I wish he’d slow down, there’s too much on his plate.

 

What does he want?  Where does he go?  I’d like to ask him,

He drives straight to you, my beautiful hazel eyed hymn.

What does he want?  Where does he go? Our God- He shows,

To my wife, my cherished song: where beauty does grows.

 

Remembers appointments and people’s names, that’s quite a lot,

Recalls textbooks and plots of my shows, all that’s been taught.

As to what is to be done today, sometimes that too,

Always finds my way home, so I can come back to you.

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What does he want?  Where does he go?  I’d like to ask him,

He drives straight to you, my beautiful hazel eyed hymn.

What does he want?  Where does he go? God truly knows,

To my wife, my cherished song: where beauty does grows.

 

Keeps eyes open, most of the time, alert some moments,

Runs fantasy games while idle, gets us stuck and then repents,

Eighteen programs, Twenty machines run: a short possible,

Because of you, steer me straight the engineer is able.

 

What does he want?  Where does he go?  I’d like to ask him,

He steers me straight to you, my beautiful hazel eyed hymn.

What does he want?  Where does he go? God truly knows,

To my wife, my cherished song: where beauty does grows.

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The man inside my head, picked a shirt this morning,

I wish his small, colored monitor was working,

Tiny man with tiny tastes, he does his very best,

He’s got a lot and most of the time he needs a rest.

 

What does he want?  You, you, you, you: I’d say to ask him,

He steers me straight to you, my beautiful hazel eyed hymn.

What does he want?  Where does he go? You kinda knows,

To my wife, my cherished song: where beauty does grows.

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To My Mother, the Flight Attendant

On Monday night (June 9th), I received an 11:45pm call from my brother that our mother, Marilyn Kregel, breathing had changed: shallow, less grounded.  I shared this with my wife and we, in bed, prayed for her.  The prayer was simple: I asked that Christ would receive her spirit and the journey would be full of love.  As soon as we ended the prayer, my brother called back to let us know that she had died.

This phone call was not a shock.

Her body, for the last couple of weeks, had been shutting down slowly.  Plus, about two years ago, she had demonstrated signs of an accelerated dementia.  My Mom was fading fast.  That Monday night, she slipped away.

I said it wasn’t a shock, but I also wasn’t prepared for her passing.  Honestly, who is ready for the passing of a loved one?  We’ll say labels like “relief”, “a good end”, or a “gentle passing” but that is to describe the journey of the deceased from this world to the next; it does not describe the what it’s like for those of us left on planet earth.  Yes, it was expected but I wasn’t ready.  Nor should I be, otherwise grief wouldn’t be grief.

She was ready to leave; I wasn’t prepared for her to go.

For those who knew my Mom, this fit her like a pair of comfortable runners.  She left this Earth when she was ready.  For me, getting her to do anything outside of her will was next to impossible; including dying.  For most of the time, this worked; including her passing.

 

 

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Marilyn Antoinette Kregel was born on June 13th, 1936[1].

She was born in Flint, Michigan.  This was the Flint before the government poisoned the water, before Michael Moore, and before “Roger and Me”.  For my Mom, Flint was a mythic place where kids ice skated to school in the winter.   During the summer she would ride horses through the rain.  Flint was where immigrants could come and work hard and own a middle-class home. Flint, for my Mom, was a good place, a model city for America in how to live well with your neighbor.

Her childhood was similar to that of whenever the writer and radio personality Jean Shepherd would talk about his childhood[2].

She grew up during World War Two.  Her parents left their Polish village Roswodow to live and work in America, before the Nazi invasion and Poland became the playground for the War.  Not much was said about their village, other than the guess was that Jews and Polish and Germans lived together in peace.  Mom’s parents left for the opportunity of America, with fond memories of their village.  My guess, as history suggests, things changed with the rise of Hitler.

Mom was embarrassed, often, by her parents who spoke little English in the home.  This is a normal impulse with teens seeking to be as American as possible while their parents transition slower from their old world.

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Her father worked for General Motors, mounted his American flag any chance he got, and did everything to be American.  And yet he was Polish.  She  remembered him as a kind man, who was strong enough to cry when he was happy and didn’t give himself to the American bravado of his day.   His hobby was playing drums in a polka band at Flint’s Polish Hall, until he came home one too many times a little too tipsy from his gigs.

My Mom’s Mom was a seamstress.  Rumor had it she was jailed for going on strike and protesting the unfair wages given to women.  As the story goes, she and her fellow seamstresses were striking outside of their business and the police came.  They threatened to turn the hose on them.  My Mom’s Mom stood up front and center, chanting the protest to the police and the hose went off by accident.  It knocked her over.  She rose to her feet (in heels) and the crowd was silent. She then looked down the police officer and yelled, “Is that the best you can do!?!”

She was arrested and then released.

I have no idea how factual this story is, other than its one of many stories so true that it’s beyond real.

 

 

When I was ordained as a Baptist Minister, my Mom called me and wondered if pastors or priests had a union.  I told them churches didn’t work like that.

She grew nervous.  “People have to look out for each other.  Who looks out for pastors?  If you don’t have a union, you’re by yourself.  You can’t trust any companies to watch out for you.”

I asked her about her parent’s pride in working with General Motors or her love of working with TWA.   As a member of the Silent Generation, she quickly grew quiet.

After the long pause, she just reaffirmed, “You work together.  That’s what unions do.  They help us to be kind, if done right.  I’m sure there are unions that don’t work.  But the ones that do make kindness happen.”

I then told her there was no such thing as a pastor/priest Union.

 

 

 

My Mom spent her childhood in Flint.  She spent her Saturdays watching the double feature matinees at the local theatre, except when there were ringworm outbreaks spread by the headrests of their seats.  Her older brother, Richard, played baseball and rode his bikes with his gang of friends, keeping the neighbor safe from Nazis, pirates, and Vikings. She attended the local Catholic church, being brought there by her favorite Aunt.

And then, in a moment during her teen years, her mother decided she was tired of being around the Polish people of Flint. They packed up and moved to La Habra, California.

My Mom graduated from High School and did a stint of Jr. College before she found her true love: flying.

She became a stewardess (they didn’t have Flight Attendants back in 1963) for TWA.

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These were the days of weight, height, and waist measurement requirements.  TWA was the pinnacle of sophistication, run then by the socially agile Howard Hughes. The rules were many: stewardesses were not allowed to be seen in their uniforms near or in bars or doing anything socially questionable.   She, when in lay overs, were to be incarnations of the greatness of TWA.

Her father was proud to be an American and an employee of General Motors; my Mom was proud to be associated with TWA.  Both generations, back in the 1960s, believed that if you worked hard and obeyed the rules, the company-in turn-would take of you.

She worked the lines that took the GI’s back from Vietnam to home.  The hurt, the sick, the wounded, the fed-up, the traumatized, and the broken all rode her flight back to America.  This, I think, instilled an idea that she wasn’t just a pretty thing serving drinks to globe trotters.  She served drinks, flirted, smiled, and was kind to soldiers who needed to see goodness in the world again.   Flying became her mission.

She was always proud of TWA.

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She met my Dad while gearing up to fly.  When she met him, she wrote back to her mother that she met her first hippy[3].   This was when they lived in San Francisco.   He became a police officer and my Mom continued to fly.

When she became pregnant with my older brother, the company fired her.

Being a pregnant woman, the official reason was that one who was pregnant would weigh down the airplane and make it dangerous for everyone. But we all know the real reason: it did not fit the 1960’s glamour of the stewardess.

From 1970-1983, she stayed at home to raise my brother and I.  She worked at Alpha Beta Supermarket and as a receptionist at our local hospital. Growing up, TWA still cast a shadow over our family.  She couldn’t fly, couldn’t leave San Jose, and remained as a Mom.  She was sad.  For those who knew her since the 1980’s, you would know that her stories were all about flying.

As a stewardess, she could calm down the world of the plane’s cabin.   She could smile, joke, listen, and most problems could go away.   Planes go to the best places: exotic locations or home.  Most everyone liked the girl who brought meals and/or drinks, unless there was something deeply flawed with them.  As a Mom, life was less certain.

I flew on a couple of flights where she worked.  This was her identity, her story. There are places and moments in our lives when we are most ourselves.  They are “Jacob Ladder” moments, when Heaven and Earth connect in full HD vision.  The inside of the plane’s cabin was my Mom’s holy moments.

And in 1983, she returned to TWA.  She joined a class action lawsuit against TWA for wrongful termination and won.   She returned, but not welcomed warmly.   In order to receive the labor force of the “Remos” (returning mothers), wages had to be cut.  During that first year, he luggage was “lost” twice and experienced a barrage of hostility from her flight crews.  But she flew and soon it became a passing storm.

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In the mid to late eighties, Carl Ichan[4]purchased TWA and decided to cut wages almost to half.   My Mom, along with the majority of Flight Attendants (no longer stewardesses) rose up and went on strike for three years.  She never was struck down by a fire hose, but her part time job was picketing TWA.

After three years, a settlement was made and she returned and worked with “Scabs” (those employees who flew the routes while the previous employees picketed).   Returning, she flew again.

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In 1992, my Mom survived an airline crash[5].   It was out from New York and the pilot, lifting off 30 feet in the air, realized they couldn’t make it and returned to the air strip.  The flight crew got all of the passengers off without anyone getting hurt.  Minutes after the evacuation, the entire plane was engulfed in flames.

After the trauma of surviving this crash, she returned home and received a chilly reception from my Dad.  She came home, met him at the doorstep, embraced him, and said she was happy to be home.  He shook her off and said he needed to go back to bed because he had to get up for church the next day.   For Mom, this was the moment she realized her marriage was over.

 

 

 

My brother called me, about two weeks ago, with the news that a fever had sent my Mom to the hospital and she was no longer talking.   My Mom wasn’t talking?, I asked with shot.

For me, that was when I knew she wasn’t much longer for this world.   For Mom to lose her speech was like Superman losing flight or John Henry losing his hammer.

I sat down my girls and told them the news.  Tears came as we told them that Grandmother Kregel was going to die soon.

I pulled out my computer and opening a picture of my Mom, one that was taken recently and one they would remember.  I then said we’d play a game, “Let’s pretend whatever you say to the picture, Grandmother Kregel can hear and understand. Say whatever you want to say to her.”

Our youngest and I said our wishes aloud; the rest of the family thought them, using the time to give a silent prayer. After we looked at the image of my Mom, we left the computer and continued on with our days.

A few nights later, I got the near midnight call from my brother that she had passed.

 

 

Mom’s stories were light, fluffy, made you feel good about yourself, and let you enjoy yourself.  She learned this by being a stewardess (and then as a Flight Attendant): laugh, giggle, listen, and then put your seat in its upright position. Through chuckling tales, she could get you to do what she wanted you to do and you didn’t mind.

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Her stories were about life and had simple morals. One time- when she was young and living in La Habra- she had to transport a Tikki statue from a joke shop to a Luau party in her friend’s back yard.  With this plaster god dangling out of her back seat, she drove down the Californian freeways.  Moral: every adult, at some point in their lives, should own a convertible.

Mom’s favorite celebrity was Peter Sellers. She never wanted to hear about the real man behind his persona, rather she just loved him in his movies.  Other than a few rare films, Sellers never challenged, confronted, or menaced the establishment.  He made movies perfect for airplanes: light-hearted romps that caused you to forget you were on a flight going for an intended destination.

My Dad also told stories too, but they were different.   I am my father’s son and I suffer from the same malady he had which I call “The Nathan Delusion”.   This delusion is that you can get away with saying anything as long as it’s told as a story.  As a Priest and a communicator, I have come the painful realization that people can see exactly where you’re going and if they disagree with your proposals, will be 3X as angry.

My Dad’s stories were dark, full of anger or shock or horror against the known universe.  There were villains in his stories- sometimes races or whole people groups- and the good didn’t always survive.  They taught but also provoked.

My Dad once came to a Parent Weekend at my VERY conservative Christian University.   For lunch, I left him just long enough to refill my drink and when I came back, he was winding down his story: “And then ol’ Jimmy received 30 rounds in his chest and it took his body to unload all of the pints of his blood to die.”   The table who heard this story were missionaries, southern Baptist ministers, and stay-at-home Moms.   My Dad also had moral to his story: When all of United States tells you to put down your gun by San Jose’s Finest, put down the damn gun!

I could talk to my Dad about my faith.  We wildly disagreed and would fight. However, fighting with my Dad over religion was kind of like wrestling with a beaver in a bog: you get dirty, you do things you weren’t going to do, and half-way into the fight you realize the beaver is enjoying himself.

I could never successfully talk to my Mom about my faith.  Her stories about being Catholic were about the smells of incense, the shape of the rector’s nose, and the lunch she had after Mass.  For her, Christianity was about making her do things she wasn’t going to do.  And Marilyn would only do what she chose to do.

My Dad told stories to pick fights; my Mom told stories to avoid fights.

My Dad was Wagnerian in moods, Byronic with his plans, and Faustian in his meanings.  And he married a stewardess (who became a Flight Attendant).  They were a cocktail of gas and Gatorade in the making.

Plus, there was Mom’s then partially diagnosed alcoholism.

They kept the ending of their marriage silent from everyone.  They were part of that generation that never said their marriage was in trouble for fear they might look like they need help.  My parent’s generation always confused me: none of them ever wanted help but were always willing to help others.  I mean, how did anything ever get done?  If no one got help, but only helped…that’s just bad math.

My parents waited for me to graduate from University to separate.  When I asked my Dad why they waited so long, he told the joke: “One day, an elderly couple faced a judge to end their 76-year marriage.  When asked why they waited so long, their answer was simple: ‘We had to wait for our kids to die first.’”

Like the elderly couple in the joke, they waited as long as they did because of their love for me and my brother.

 

 

I have a tradition that on most nights that we end our day as a family by me telling stories to our daughters.   One night, my eldest daughter asked me if my parents ever told me stories.   “They were amazing story tellers,” I said.   They asked for some of them and I launched into a sort of “greatest hits” from my childhood.

Looking back, I think I only told them my Mom’s stories.

I’ve done that a couple of times since that night.  After most of the stories I heard from Mom and told my girls, the youngest of my daughters remarked, “It sounds like your Mom was a really kind woman.”
Yes, she was.

 

 

Newly separated, she flew.  TWA was absorbed by American Airlines.  She was welcomed into the new system, but found as a woman just turning 60 (it took Marilyn many years to turn a decade) this was a difficult transition.   Plus, her hub was New York (the same hub the four flights had that were lost in 9/11).

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She retired.  Confronted with an empty house and the inability to fly, a painful truth came before her eyes: ever since she was a teenager, she needed to drink.  She could make the world feel comfortable about themselves, but drinking allowed her to feel comfortable inside her own skin.

And she couldn’t stop drinking.  She would try and then it would cause her stress and then she would drink again.  After a terrible mix with her wine and some new medicine, her physicians told her the change she did not want to make: quit drinking.

This news from this appointment caused her to march over to the substance abuse ward at her local Kaiser Hospital.  She asked the receptionist where the latest recovery group was meeting and the receptionist said there was already a meeting in progress.  So, purse in hand, she barged into the meeting.

The meeting in a round circle were people sharing when they had their last drink.  When it came to Marilyn’s turn, she declared, “This morning.”

“A relapse?” the facilitator asked.

My Mom then realized you can’t relapse from something you never started, so she had to say some of the most painful words in her life: “I need help.  I need to quit drinking and I don’t want to.”

Detox was the next step.  She entered the process and, in her mind, it was the closest thing to Hell she had ever experienced.  And she attended AA and came to another painful realization: she couldn’t quit on her own and she needed help.

The God of her childhood and her former Catholic faith came back to her through AA.  She prayed, she surrendered she changed, and she did things she never wanted to do…all for the first time in her life.  And this God, this Higher Power helped her.

Mom always believed God was a kind and loving God, but not one she would willfully follow.  With AA and her meetings, the path of sobriety was one where changes were full of the kindness and love of God.

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Instead of cocktails at the hotel bar of her lay over, she would go to the Apple store and learn how to use her computer; instead of sitting at home with a drink, she took trips with her fellow retired TWA crews (she even flew in a hot air balloon and travelled the country); and instead remaining the same she discovered the redemption of change.

Marilyn Kregel flew again without the aid of TWA.

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When I moved to Canada, I saw her less.  We would do our weekly phone calls on Monday, but her life was full as a retiree.  My Dad would make appearances in her life and their friendship grew, not as lovers but fellow survivors of this harsh thing we call life.  “Separating from your Mom was the best thing saved our marriage,” he remarked to me.

Slowly, over her last decade as she took several years to turn 80, she slowed down.  Memories faded.  She could no longer be the Flight Attendant she once was, the good neighbor, or the storyteller.  We made the painful decision for her to live in a care facility and she grew to love this as her new home.

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I am a firm believer that what lasts the longest in our lives are our core virtues or vices.  If we are anxious our whole lives with moments of calm, when our memory fades we will end our times in fear; if we are generous with moments of greed, we will keep only the memories of other people’s successes; and if we are loving, love will survive no matter what our brain does.

The night Marilyn passed, the last willful action she did was smile at the care workers.  For Marilyn in the midst of her dementia, kindness survived.   Kindness and her exit was on her own time table, not anyone else’s.

She flew away from this world as a Flight Attendant.

 

 

We are planning a Memorial Service, but it will be in the Fall.  For those who wish to come, please stay tuned on social media.  We, as a family, really appreciate the prayers and support we’ve received.  Thank you. This will take a while for grief leaves when it’s good and ready.

 

[1]For those who are good at math, you can deduce she missed her _____ by four days.

[2]See the film A Christmas Story.  

[3]I kid you not!!!!!   He wore sandals, braids, and quoted weird authors.

[4]Here’s a quick note.  Ichan is one of the villains of this story.  He made his millions by buying weaker companies, selling them off in cheap parts, and displacing thousands of workers.  He did this throughout the country, getting wealthier at the expense of other companies.   Presently, he is now an economic advisor to President Donald Trump.

[5]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TWA_Flight_843

Flash Fiction: I Be You

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You rush to the rooftop and see me standing along the edge.  The rest of the police are behind you by fifteen minutes, making you the quick one.

All I want is to be left alone.

I turn and smile, moving away from the 200-foot jump onto the city’s street.  The flying cars scream below, darting and jostling and shooting around to make what is called traffic.

“Move away from the ledge,” you say, trying to sound like a commanding and full of authority Police agent.   You try, but it’s me you’re talking to.  “You are coming with me.  There’s whole group of people that want to talk to you at the Agency Station.”

“I know,” I say and I really do mean it. “I’m the most dangerous person in this region of planets.  I’m dreadful.”  I say this with a smile and I know it confuses you.  You really don’t know what you’ve walked into.

“I don’t see how,” you say and you’re keeping the tough act up.  “But come with me.”

I close my eyes and suddenly, everything changes. We both move, trade if you will.

When the eyes open, you see your face, your body, your photon gun, and your Agency Uniform.  You see them through my eyes.  When this first happened to me, I panicked as well.  My gift- it’s not normal or natural- and it takes a while to get used to.

For you, it is pure, white fear.

You assume that I am looking at you, through your eyes in your body at my body and look you at my eyes.  You are right.

“I am you and you are now me,” I say in your voice.

I can tell you are afraid.  You gurgle, your eyes want to bulge out of my skull.  But I smile back you with your mouth. This does not calm you down.  You make my hands into fists and shake.

“At first, it sounds like a bit of empathy- ‘Walk a mile in someone else’ shoes’.   But then, think about it: what would it look like if there was a criminal who could swap bodies with anyone trying to arrest him?”

You quake in your new, ill-fitting body.

“Here’s what you are going to do: walk away and let me disappear.  We will switch back and you can let me vanish.  If you don’t, imagine your world where every person I can think about will be able to switch places with me?  As I said, I am dreadful.”

You shake my head.  I turn around in your body and walk away.  After the fifth step, I close my eyes…and return to living under my own skin.

I hear you continue your steps away from the rooftop.

“Do well,” I whisper to you, although you cannot hear it.  “And enjoy the rest of your life being you.”

Eric J. Kregel

ericjkregel@gmail.com  

(780)341-4999

I’m Often Surprised When I Arrive Anywhere

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There are three kinds of people.  (Well, there are more, but stick with me for this thought exercise.)

The first are people who are show up on time, perhaps even early.  They are best friends with LEXA or their GPS, they have a map in the car and a map at home to study.  If they were around in the 1980’s, they would curl up next to the fire place and read their Thomas Guides.  They arrive on time, in perfect control of their world.  And worst of all, they can’t understand late people.

A friend of mine’s wife is one of these.  She’ll be driving and her GPS will say: “Turn right, 50 meters.”

“You’re wrong!” she’ll retort back in a commanding voice.  The computer will apologize.

The second group is one we never see and won’t talk much about.  Why?  They never show up anywhere.  They intend to go somewhere but get lost in the process.  Woody Allen once said that half of life is just showing up.  This second group is still working on the first half of that statement.

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The third group is the one I belong to.  Perhaps you.  It’s the type of person who intends to show up to a place, gets lost along the way, shows up at the nick of time, and then everyone congratulates for making it.  The thanksgiving is received openly: we’re surprised we made it ourselves.

This group wanders through life, wondering if there might be an enchanted animal around the corner or wonders why a cloud’s shape looks like the face of William Shatner.    In history, they were the soldiers in the Norman Conquest who, just before raiding a castle, stopped at the draw bridge to see if the moat had any fish (Thank you, Gary Larson).   These are the folks who missed the turn off on the expressway because they were trying to figure out what shape their robot body would be if there was, indeed, a robot-rebellion that rendered all organic material illegal.  These are the types that expect, any day, for a unicorn to wander into their garden (Thank you, James Thurber).

When a member of this third group comes to a party, there is a shock and awe in their expressions.  The host of the party asks, “You found the place all right?”  The member has to seriously think about their answer.    “Did I find this place all right?” they’ll ask themselves.  “I’m here, aren’t I?  And, by dumb luck and the Universe working overtime, I’m…here.  Really here.  And I shouldn’t be.  I really should be still on the streets, looking for here.”

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This third group of people know what it’s like to be the second group and have plenty of memories of being lost, missed appointments, and holding people up.   This third group is most generous when someone calls them with a quick, anxious apology, “I am SO sorry!  We were supposed to have lunch and I got lost!”

Their reply: “No worries: I’m off to dinner right now and I can’t find the urban Bistro.  Instead, all I see are oil refineries and train tracks out of my car’s window.”

The Lost people-this third group- make the best managers.  Not only do they know how to forgive and work with the 2nd group-the No Shows- but they also know everything that is in-between the destination and the starting point.  The Masters of Space and Time- the first group- know only results.

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If a member of the first group were to be promoted to management, it would be over some area those who run the company do not want to go and would cast employees their they couldn’t fire and would allow insane rules of scheduling to exist and nickname the place, perhaps, such Jewish terms like “Sheol” or “Gehenna”.

The Lost People-the third group- also make the best actors/actresses.  Watch any awards show.  When the award given, our favourites are usually the stunned ones.  They stammer and stumble on stage.  They’ll read an acceptance speech written on the back of their kid’s colouring pages.   God is usually thanked because a deity is the most obvious person to think of.  And then they need a pair of supermodels to show them back to their seats because they are thoroughly lost.

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It’s not gratitude for that particular award which is the only thing in their mind.  Sure, they didn’t expect to win.  They also didn’t expect to find the location of the award ceremony.   Their drivers, probably also another Lost Person, was just as happy to find the place as well, loving the job security they possess because being lost- the pair of them- is how they roll.

Life is a journey, sure; but when one is lost and then finds where one needs to go, take it in stride.   The stride is not dishonesty, it’s not bluffing your way through your arrival like you meant to show up when you did; rather, it is the clever secret understanding that being lost is part of the journey.

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The Curse of the Monkey’s Claw

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In the 1990’s, I was in High School and a full fledged Drama Nerd.  Our teacher, Mr. Reed, had introduced us to old time radio drama as different, alternative art form beyond the stage or TV.  As a kid, I loved the old time dramas and would listen to them on cassette tapes (anyone remember those?).

So a group of us were game to recreate this for our final in our Drama class.  And, try as we might, we couldn’t get the project off the ground.  Our production was called “Javaman” and we recorded maybe about 12 minutes of it before summer began.

From that point on, it hung in my mind as my “Kubla Kahn”: the great, unfinished story.

Flash forward 15 years.

I was a Jr. High/Young Life/ College and Career/ Generation X. Pastor at Chino Valley Community Church (they were quite generous and gave me lots to do and I was forever grateful to them).   Our Jr. High group was staffed with a bunch of hyper-creative, wonderful story tellers that could jump at any chance to do something weird.

While working with them, I also ran our College and Career group at the church (it was a Californian “Big” church, for my Canadian friends).   Our church was going through a building project and a couple, by faith, donated a little under $2,000 to the College group to “do whatever we wanted to do to help out with the building project”.

I tried an idea I had heard from other churches.  We divided up the money to each member of our college group so everyone got $100.  Then we were to invest that money into some fund generating scheme.  They could use the money for raw materials, assemble whatever, and then sell it.  The point was whatever you did, pray first and work with God in whatever project you thought God called you to do.

Some pooled their money together, bought a beat-up car, fixed it, then resold it for a higher value.  Some bought candy, put it in jars, and then sold it for $8 a jar.  A group of folks made a movie for the Jr. High Students and then sold the DVD.   One of our leaders used the money to buy supplies for decorative napkin holders and sold them to her friends.

I was stuck.  I also had $100 and I didn’t know what to do with it.  I mean, I wasn’t crafty.  And our college students were turning the front of our church into an outdoor market with far better stuff than I could come up with.

Then I remembered the old radio drama idea from High School.  With the help of some of my hyper-creative volunteers in the Jr. High group, I wrote a script and cast them (Andrew Kenny and Lisa Laufer) as parts (along with our then Children’s director, Kelle Farrell).  Two of my musician friends- David Maust and Larry Briner, provided the music (cello, organ, and ukulele).  Another one of our staff members, Monte Macias, was our sound technician.   My wife, along with the musicians, were our sound effects crew.   The CD’s jewel case was made by a college student who was studying graphic arts, Ben Horak.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, we performed “The Curse of the Monkey’s Claw”.   We called the studio “Black Gong Productions” named after one of our favourite games from the Jr. High group.  We recorded it in the then sanctuary of the church.

The project to raise money was successful and it became a vivid, real example of the parable where all of the good servants invested their money and brought back extra for their king (Matthew 25: 14-30).   I sold all 16 of my CDs which gained a profit of $60 which was dwarfed by the success of many other students and leaders.  Still, it was neat having this dream get finished.

The lesson stuck with me and I took it with me when I came to Canada.  And then I forgot all about the drama.

Until a few months ago, my girls found the CD and asked, “What’s this?”  They heard it and said it was worthy of Youtube.  So now I’m sharing it with you (By the way, thank to my friend Alan Chettle who uploaded this for me on Youtube).

Follow this link to hear the complete “The Curse of the Monkey’s Claw”:

 

The Red Button: Pass the Test To See if You are an Alt. Right/Alt. Left

Let’s pretend!  One night, you feel tired.  You have spent several hours on-line, debating with people who don’t understand, don’t get, don’t agree with your politics.  Try as you might, they don’t perceive the facts you’ve given them. They’re angry; you’re angry.  You take a break and watch the news, where more of these kind of people are there espousing the black noise that is their politics.

You have lost friends, relatives, and co-workers to their way of thinking.  And it seems to be growing.  “How could my home country be lost to this kind of thinking?” you muse.

And as if that thought was an invite to an exclusive party, a man appears.  Wordlessly, he produces a solid black box and places it on a desk in front of you.  He opens the box to reveal a simple, red button.

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“My friend, I am your genie.  Here is a button and, if pressed, you will have your heart’s desire.  For if you press it, all of those on the ‘other side’ of your politics will disappear.  Simply, they will vanish.  No one will ever remember them or their ideas or their laws or their policies.  They will cease to be,” the man says.

He leans in.

“And the best part about this is that no one will know it was you who solved this problem. No one will know you pressed the button.”

He straightens his back.  “Oh and it wouldn’t matter, anyway.  People, when the ‘Great Vanishing’ took place, would probably say that if not you pressed the button, someone else would have.  Some would argue they deserved it.  Or they would express the feeling that they wished they had done it.  And some, after thinking about it for hours, would say that the other side would have pressed the button themselves.”

“So,” he asks.  “Will you press the button?  Will you free your country from those who do not think like you?”

If you press the button in your mind, you have passed the test: you are Alt. Right.   Or you are Alt. Left.   Your politics matter most.  Your beliefs have become a means of victory where there are winners and losers, culminating in this single, red button.

Some, at the end of this thought exercise, are asking, “What’s wrong with pressing the red button?  I wish it was more than just a thought exercise!  So many problems would be solved if there was such a thing!”

Red button pushing.  An example of this thinking is here:

https://psmag.com/ideas/the-far-right-doesnt-want-to-beat-the-left-it-wants-to-eliminate-it?fbclid=IwAR3IdT0Hv_6t1Wfu5QknzgyykhdBUQbuxEhpgiQVgbWqDIpABvUVetea6u0

 

Please, let me talk you from pressing any kind of button.

 

  • The Red Button is against democracy.

Democracy requires opposition.  Not polarity, because there are many great democracies in the world that have more than two parties or voices.  As well, there are many workplaces that batter around ideas with more than (2) sides.

Right now, in North America, we have essentially “Us Vs. Them”.  There’s a lot of weakness to this kind of polarity, but at least there is an opposition: a side that examines the other, questions, counters with a rebuke if there is any perceived danger, and a compromise that, potentially, could find “the truth in the middle”.

The problem with “us vs. them” thinking is that we vote not for ideas or a vision, but because we are anxious that the other side might be in power.  Many Americans voted for Trump not because he espoused a view of America they liked, but that he wasn’t Hillary Clinton.

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Local to me, four years ago the ultra-conservative Alberta was so mad at their party that they voted for a premier that was NDP (a party so liberal that it could not exist is the US).  And for four years, they got a government that was really different than what they were used to.  Why? They were voting against “them”[1].  There was a change in this last provincial election where a candidate was voted in who is now ultra-ultra-conservative.  Why? He wasn’t NDP.  Both examples are people voting not for a vision, but to eradicate the opposition.

Without opposition, you have a theocracy.

The basic assumption behind a theocracy is that everyone believes the same thing- politically and spiritually- so you need one only person (King, Mullah, Prophet, President) to lead in the direction all have agreed upon. Foreigners, outsiders, dissenters, radicals, and “the weird” are liabilities to a theocracy: they get the Red Button. And theocracies work only if the single leader is correct always (and, equally, the country submits to their leader 100% of the time).   If not, things fall apart quickly[2].

Democracies need ideas and differing opinions and lots of sides. Families cannot have one member deciding everything for all other members, otherwise the thinking within that family becomes cock-eyed, skewed, and, ultimately, self-serving.

Leadership is influence, not control.  Democracy, believing that influence is the road to reality and truth and problem solving, needs leaders.  A leader who yells, “I am the Senate!”, is a red button leader[3].

It’s an unpopular idea right now, but what if your country needs the people who disagree with you?  What if you need them?  And if you need them, how do you seek out “the other side” to learn truth?  How do you engage with them as if they are needed, important, and you wish they would never go away?

I know what I’m proposing especially because the other side could be wrong, toxic, full of evil, and a bunch of red button pushers.  Yes, that may be the case.  However, another red button does not solve the problem of a red button.

Red buttons shape the language, the thinking, and the ways of engagement so that if you have something toxic, evil, and are just wrong you have no way of considering this in yourself because you are more focused on “winning” rather than discovering.

 

  • It’s not gracious.

 

I write from a Judeo-Christian perspective (being an Anglican Priest does do that to someone). The essence of my religion is grace. The foundation of Christianity is not moral correctness, public policy, political advancement, the safeguarding of a certain people group, acquiring benefits and blessings the rest of the world doesn’t have, or advancing a particular cause. It is grace.

I’ve written a lot about this here:

 

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2019/03/23/the-riddle/

 

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2019/04/10/the-story-of-the-two-patients-the-lens-of-grace/

 

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2019/03/29/1353/

 

 

Grace is God’s unmerited approval given to those who receive it.  From God’s grace, we then can follow God by leading better, kinder, and happier lives (it doesn’t work in reverse: you don’t follow God and then get grace).  Christianity is about receiving approval (the sense that you are “good enough” or that those in cosmic authority likes us “just the way we are”).  From receiving grace, one then can share this grace with the rest of the world.  As freely given to people, those people can freely give.

Red buttons, on any level, are anti-grace.

I have winced at times when I have seen Christians post red button memes, links, jokes, and statements about those who disagree with them.  The great passive-aggressive excuses are made: “I’m only joking!”, “But it’s satire”, “They do it and its worst when they do it”, or any other line where the content of the Gospel (grace) is compromised by the process of the believer’s life (“Let’s kill Liberals…ha-ha”)[4].

Those outside of Christian beliefs have been gracious.  In fact, many times when the church stops behaving gracious, for whatever reason, the “secular” world rises up and does the work needed for grace.  Why?  I don’t know.

Grace is essential, however you get it, to see and gain truth.   And truth is at the heart of politics, not power.

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Of course, there are exceptions to what I’m saying.  Sometimes the red button becomes so ingrained, so present in a political thinking that you can’t treat it like an equal peer to everyone else’s views.  The Nazism that grew from Germany was not an equal, similar view of governance to Monarchism, Democracy, Democratic Socialism, or Republicanism.  Why? Too many red buttons.

You can have grace for those who have red buttons in their politics and still say that red buttons are horrible.

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Grace is not the same as relativism.  Relativism is to say your view of truth is different than my view of truth and both are equal.  When this takes place, truth is no longer important; what is important is power. And power begets the red button.

Evil exists within gracious pursuit of truth: grace is just a way to navigate through the evil in our views as well as to address the evil in others.  When you cannot do this, then all that remains is the red button.

Grace also doesn’t say that truth is nothing more than mere compromise.  Compromise exists only when there isn’t truth and so, to make your own version of reality, you mix in everyone’s delusions so that it includes everything: kind of like a cocktail of one’s little talking points and slogans.  Grace is the opposite: it’s to say the truth is not in us, we are still good enough, and now we can look for the truth together.  This makes enemies friends because people are not the problem.  Without this is just a red button.

Simply put, if ever a strange man offers you a red button in the middle of the night that will destroy all those who disagree with you, just say “no”.

 

 

 

For further proof, here’s a clip from Doctor Who:

 

[1]This, I admit, is an over-simplification.

[2]An example of this is Israel in the Bible, a theocracy, took place and the result was political corruption, social degeneration, genocides, civil wars, the country being split into two, invasions, and all of the citizens becoming slaves to other Kingdoms.

[3]Movie trivia: Who said this line first?!?  What movie villain said this in a rage?

[4]This is my issue with the website “Bablyon Bee” which many Christians love, share, and adore.  While there has been some good nature ribbing within Evangelical sub-culture, I have also read many red buttons written in between the lines of passive-aggressive “satire”.

Good Friday: The House Always Wins

Once upon a time, a frustrated pastor had an 11am meeting with the Devil.

Normally, he wouldn’t take such an appointment, but he was desperate.  His elder board was putting pressure on him to grow the church, two of his members just left for the mega-church down the street, everyone in the church wanted more young people to come, and he was running out of ideas.

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He expressed his concerns to the Devil and Satan heard him patiently.  When it was the Devil’s turn to speak, he asked a seemingly off-topic question: “Would you like to have my office?  Become me?”

“You mean it’s an office?  You rotate positions?” the pastor asked.

“Absolutely.  The trick is you have to solve a riddle that was given to me.  Come upon with the right answer, Hell is yours.  Here’s the riddle: ‘What is the source of the devil’s power?’”

The pastor went through a battery of questions about the Devil’s powers: “Can you make fire attack anyone at any time?” No.  “Can you hypnotize people?”  No.  “Can you become a horrible beast and eat people?”  No.  “Do you travel through time?”  No. “Do you possess people?” Depends.  “Can you be everywhere and anywhere at any time?”  No.

The pastor thought long and hard before he came up with his answer.  “It seems that any power, any belief is given to you.  People think you are all-powerful and equal to God, so that is your power.  Whether you are or not is a different reality.  Whatever power you have is we what we believe to have or be.”

“Precisely,” the Devil said and there was a switch. The Devil became the pastor of a small church and the Pastor became the Devil.  And they both lived happily, ever after.

A theologian, most certainly, can deconstruct this little tale and that is the risk whenever you try to condense truth into a parable.  But the main point of this little tale is at the heart of Good Friday: one of the Devil’s greatest power is in public relations.

The message delivered on Good Friday by the Devil, the world, Rome, and the whole religious system was a simple PR release: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

            This is borrowed from the implicit message of Las Vegas, where billions of $$$$ go in and only thousands come out.  You can play and you can win, every once in a while, but at the end of the day the only victories you have were given to you by the greater winner: The House.  The only way you can beat this, of course, is to not play and not gamble.  But who goes to Vegas to do that?  Even if you came to see a show, there is a systemic gravity to play the games of Vegas.  And when you do, you see quickly: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

In the times of Jesus, this was the PR message of his day.

The Jewish leaders wanted you to go to the Temple, attend it’s services, do your sacrifices, allow them to decide what is healthy and unhealthy, and, for God sakes, keep the Sabbath!  If you didn’t, you’d quickly become like the secular, heathen, awful Romans who were in charge.  The Jews had plenty of bad guys to point to so that you had someone to be against, hate, and fear that you might become, if not careful.  All of this was for one purpose: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

The Romans didn’t care what religion you were as long as you paid your 33% of taxes to them and worship their Pantheon.  The rest was on your time, your dime.  Don’t step out of line.  Don’t dream of getting beyond your station.  Just follow Rome, Pax Roma!, and everything would work out. If you step out of line, there’s a row of crosses and the Hill of Skulls to remind everyone: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

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And in the center of all of this was the Patron Saint of Pessimism: The Devil.  His corporate jingles could be heard in the heart of all Jerusalem:

NO ONE CHANGES.                 NOTHING EVER GETS BETTER.           NO ONE LOVES YOU.

YOU GOTTA KEEP PLAYING AND WIN TO BE ANY GOOD!      OBEY.             CONSUME!

EVERYTHING WILL ALWAYS BE THE SAME, NOTHNG EVER CHANGES!

WOMEN ARE TO BLAME FOR OUR PROBLEMS.

EXPLOIT THE POOR, IT’S THEIR FAULT.

IF YOU’RE DIFFERENT, THEN YOU ARE RUINING OUR SOCIETY.

STAY IN YOUR PLACE!             DON’T QUESTION AUTHORITY.

            And yes, one last corporate jingle: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

Along came a carpenter from Galilee who, it seems, his teaching was all about change and hope and people getting better.  People who were on the outside of the HOUSE was now in this teacher’s inner-circle.  Justice, from his perspective, was less about punishing the bad people but about transforming the hearts and minds and “making things straight”.  He got angry at the moral and the powerful; he comforted the sinners and the disgraced.  Everything he did undermined Satan’s great PR plan.

As a result, on Good Friday, he was crucified. The teacher’s public ministry came to an end by all of those in power.  It was a firm, strong message to all of those who followed this Rabbi: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

This was the great moment where every pessimist, every bully, and every person who resisted change could give the triumphant whisper, “I told you so.”

The carpenter/rabbi died.  Didn’t swoon.  Didn’t escape from death.  Didn’t pull a magician’s trick worthy of Vegas by faking his death.  No, the carpenter died.

With a sign that read on his cross: “Here is the King of the Jews.”  The sign could have read: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

And on Saturday, the main message remained: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.  Quit dreaming, quit planning to make things better.  Nothing ever changes.  No one ever gets better.

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I love the lyrics from the band Boingo that describes the jingle of Saturday after Good Friday:

Change-

Don’t you ever wonder why, nothing ever seems to change
If it does it’s for the worse, seems it’s just a modern curse
Sometimes when I take a peek outside of my little cage,
Everyone looks so asleep, will they die before they wake 

And, hey. . . Don’t you know? We’re just products of our time and Hey . . .
What d’ya say? Show me yours, I’ll show you mine 

Better dumb and happy than smart and without any friends
Better cute and better loud, better join up with the crowd
Keep up or be left behind, there’s a dust storm in my mind
Seems I can’t see straight these days, doesn’t matter anyway
Hey . . . Don’t you know? We’re just products of our times and
Hey, what d’ya say? Show me yours, I’ll show you mine 

Hey, what d’ya say? Hey, what d’ya say? Please don’t ever –
Oh God, here’s that question now. The one that makes me go insane
I’d gladly tear my heart out if you never, never, never, never change…

 

This is the Song of Saturday: Nothing Ever Seems to Change.

Then the sun sat on Saturday.  Darkness reigned.  And then on Sunday, the sun brought light to the world.

I don’t do practical jokes, but I can appreciate this one on Easter because it was the greatest prank in the History of Creation.  On Sunday morning, Satan’s intern is bringing her supervisor the morning coffee.  The intern stumbles over her words as she shares with her boss, “Uhm, Satan, a memo just came in that Christ is no longer dead. He didn’t stay dead or defeated. He is risen, sir.”

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What office meltdown would that have been?

The Tomb the Carpenter/Rabbi was empty.

Angels stood guard, gently laughing as they told the followers, “Fear not!”  No one ever listens to Angels, so the followers had plenty of anxiety.  What was happening?, they asked themselves. This shouldn’t be happening!, they told themselves.

The House always wins…or does it?

Jesus, on Easter Sunday, appeared to them, again and again.  Walking through walls, visiting in the guise of a Gardener, popping up here and there. And with every guest appearance to His followers, He delivered the implicit message: “The House just lost!”

Jesus, the Carpenter/Rabbi, destroyed all of the power, belief, and authority that was previously given to the Religious System, Rome, and the Devil.  On Easter, the House lost; on Easter, everyone else won.

And Jesus keeps winning today.  It’s the power of the Devil’s PR that he has convinced us that he is in power.  It’s a crazy idea, but it’s one that works: the Devil is the loser of the war that everyone believes he won.

Satan, today, is still spinning his PR, but it’s now insane.  Why? It’s still selling the idea that he is always winning and in charge.

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It would be like Germany convincing the world they won WW2; the South claiming they were victorious in the Civil War; or Texas hadn’t lost the Alamo to the invaders.  (I wrote, as a comedy piece, how I would fight wars as a world leader. My proposal was just to pretend like you fought and pretend like you won. Here: https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2019/03/08/how-i-would-fight-a-war/ )

Easter proved to the world that Jesus Christ is the one who is truly in charge.  And from Easter to this present day, we sing and worship and take the Eucharist and stand up for justice and forgive one another and break bread and reach out to our neighbor and do everything else to undo the Public Relations of the Devil by refuting: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

The House does not always win; it lost on Easter. The Kingdom of Christ is here and it is a far greater manager.

Or, in other words: He is Risen!   He is risen, indeed!

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