FYI: If You Vote For President Trump, You Are Voting for National Socialism

This blog is not for those who have made up their mind to vote for Donald Trump. You have decided that there is something in his Presidency that aligns closely with your vision of America that I can’t talk you out of if. You love him and support him in all of his policies. The rest of world has brought up the issues of his Presidency, the harm done and your response has either to minimize these issues or take them personally. You have a defence. I know I cannot add to what has already been said.

So this blog is not for you.

Also, this blog is not for those who are voting for Joe Biden. Fine, you have made up your mind and my blog cannot aid you anymore. I can’t hear myself think in echo chambers and I don’t want to wish that same effect on anyone else. So there’s nothing I can add to your position.

My blog is for that small, rare group who has a Christian foundation for their life and feels, in many ways, trapped in their vote for Donald Trump. They saw some benefit in voting for him and they also did not want to vote for a Democrat, so there lies the trap. But know something is wrong.

Here is the thesis to this blog: President Donald Trump is a National Socialist; to vote for him a 2nd term would be solidifying this thinking to the governance of the United States.

Nationalism

One of the key points of Trump’s Presidency is that he puts America first. There might be other things he is known for, but this idea would be on his business card (if President’s had one) and it’s certainly found behind the red cloth of the “Make America Great Again” ball caps.

Trump has declared himself a Nationalist, which is one who believes in Nationalism.

Here is a direct quote found in this article. You don’t have to read the text around the quote marks, just the quote marks from Trump himself:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/10/24/trump-says-hes-nationalist-what-means-why-its-controversial/1748521002/

What is Trump mean by being a Nationalist? Here’s a simple, textbook definition:

na·tion·al·ism/ˈnaSH(ə)nəˌlizəm/Learn to pronouncenoun

  1. identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.

Historically, those who claim to be Nationalists will take it one step further. They do not exist just for the benefit of their countrymen, but those they have defined as true countrymen. There are those who are the real citizens and those who have just arrived, outsiders, and those who are 2nd class or even 3rd class in the pecking order of the country.

It’s pretty standard to think in tiers and this is what his Presidency has demonstrated:

  • Trump withholds disaster relief funding from Puerto Rico and diverts the funding to those who are more favourable to his agenda. He does this partly because he felt slighted by the Puerto Rican government and partly because they are outsiders to what is considered “American”. (Further proof of this is during the RNC when Don Jr.’s girlfriend claimed she came from an immigrant family to American, their birthplace was Puerto Rico!). Here’s a link to this:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/house-democrats-slam-trump-admin-illegally-withholding-puerto-rico-hurricane-n1096421

  • Trump has a history of racist statements:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/06/trump-racism-comments/588067/

  • Trump seeks to make the US borders closed and separates families who seek asylum. This, by the way, makes the US one of the few countries in the UN who does not follow the Geneva Conventions laws about border crossing. Asylum could be still granted, but not before mass incarceration. This is not something he inherited from previous Presidents. Yes, President Obama was nicknamed the “Deporter In-Chief” and President George W. Bush created very strict border policies- but the whole “kids in cages” is directly from Donald Trump. He could have reformed the harsh regulations to have the match the Geneva Convention; he did not, but claimed to put America first.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/09/politics/fact-check-trump-claim-obama-separated-families/index.html

  • The United States has removed itself from may international communities and partnerships. This move is opposite to the Reagan Era idea that the United States is a “city on a hill”, an influence to the world on how freedom and democracy can make the world a better place. Despite Reagan’s flaws, he was not strictly a Nationalist and neither was his party, back then. Something has changed with Trump, feeling it acceptable to withdraw from WHO, Transatlantic-Pacific Partnership, and many aspects of the United Nations. To a Nationalist, forming partnerships would cost the country resources (and to many conspiracy theorists, these partnerships-all of a sudden- were out to exploit the US and that no other President noticed before). As a Nationalist, this makes sense to go counter to the traditions given by Ronald Reagan.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/09/1047252

What I’m proving here isn’t anything new: President Trump puts America first and above the safety, interests, and well-being of other people. More than that, his Presidency has sought to favour certain Americans over other Americans.

This is the issue: a small group within America benefits at the expense of other Americans and the rest of the world. I have only brought up what is measurable and can be counted (follow the links) and have left the inferences. Plus, my list is not exhaustive: there are plenty of other stories, links, and reasons to prove he is a Nationalist.

Socialism

The Dictionary definition of socialism is as follows:

any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

This is where the bog gets murky and sticky: President Trump has claimed to be an enemy of socialism. How then can he also be a socialist? Isn’t he the one standing against the “Radical Left”?

When we think socialism it’s not just a bigger government or the strong man who takes over the government, then we stray from the original idea: government owned, controlled, and aided business.

And Donald Trump’s Presidency has been very socialistic.

  • Trump has given $19 billion to bail out farmers. He did so after he got into a trade war with neighbouring countries. The trade war, itself, wasn’t socialist but the government stepping in with bail outs is a way to control/direct commerce. He did this, locally to me, with Canadian steel. However, this is an example of bailing out farmers:

https://www.vox.com/2020/4/18/21226253/trump-farm-bailout-food-stamps-snap

  • Trump’s CARES program that aided exclusively those in a wealthy tax bracket. This one matches the previous point: that his nationalism benefits only a select few of “true insiders”. The result is that the CARES program made a small percentage very, very rich. This is the danger of socialism: the majority is commanded to go without for the advantage of the few.

https://www.npr.org/2020/04/30/848321204/how-the-cares-act-became-a-tax-break-bonanza-for-the-rich-explained

  • 3 out of the 4 years of Trump’s Presidency has had Federal funding for Planned Parenthood. This was surprising to me because many Christians I know are Pro-Life and have declared that he is the most Pro-life President in recent history. However, this is not true. Recently, Planned Parenthood has refused funding from the federal government…but it wasn’t President Trump who cut off the funding. I cannot, here, weigh in on the abortion issue other than to say that Planned Parenthood is a prime example socialized medicine.

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/jan/6/planned-parenthood-reports-increase-in-government-/

  • When the US government separated families at the border, there was medical infertility procedures made available. Whether or not they were forced is now under investigation, but the fact that they were even part of the “care” crosses the line from government aid to something much more that just the government processing potential immigrants: it is the government imposing it’s will on women’s reproductive rights. This is a new story, so my guess is that more will come to light about this in the following months. Here’s a link:
  • The 2020 RNC was about a strong government fighting against those who disagreed with their power. It was curious, there wasn’t a plan given or an agenda set. The National Conventions are set up to encourage a base and promise what the next 4 years would look like under their leadership. However, if one is operating from a lens of socialism, you don’t need to do any of this. Instead, you need to be in power so you can protect everyone else from an intended enemy. When the power is granted, than you can regulate trade and power because the “bad guys are out there”.

https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/?fbclid=IwAR0NGLHcJ4DuEWziXoJIe0MwJPhQomPxGkHMmtEh6ypVKztQEqCmfh4PWEE

  • Trump’s tariffs. This is an example of a government regulated trade for purely political reasons. The tariffs were economic regulations FOR political reasons. Usually, tariffs are created to equalize a marketplace so there isn’t a monopoly/oligopoly controlling commerce. What Trump did, though, was fairly new: in order to punish or retaliate against other countries, tariffs were set. Again, this is not a leadership for a free marketplace but one with engineered winners and losers. Here’s a link on all of the tariffs:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trump_tariffs#:~:text=In%20January%202018%2C%20Trump%20imposed,4.1%20percent%20of%20U.S.%20imports.

There’s more, but I’ll leave it with a handful of bullet points and links. Yes, you might have caught CNN or NPR in the list. Please don’t dismiss these as “fake news”, but rather look inside of the quotations and the other studies. Trump is more than just a strong man, a “get ‘er done” President: he functions as a socialist. A National Socialist.

National Socialism

This is a historic example of the combination of Nationalism and Socialism.

It started as a joke- Godwin’s Law- that everything on the internet, inevitably, turns into comparing an opposing side to Nazis in Germany, the world’s most famous example of National Socialism. Then it became so regular on-line that it became as predictable as a rule. And here I go, fulfilling Godwin’s Law on my blog!

And yet, combining the agenda to serve exclusively a small set of Americans with the practices of high, governmental control of commerce…does spell out National Socialism.

Hearing this, one might contend: “What about Joe Biden? Isn’t he then a National Socialist too? And Harris? Isn’t she a far-left congresswoman who is also a National Socialist?”

Before I answer, I need to talk about where I live today: Canada. In Canada, both Biden and Harris would not be considered liberal enough for the liberal party; they wouldn’t even be able to touch the New Democratic Party, which is our far-left. In reality, Biden/Harris would be on the left side of the Conservative party.

Here’s another link:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/kamala-harris-vice-president-economy-1.5683974

However, we cannot overlook the Bernie Sanders influence: a senator and 2-time Presidential hopeful who has described himself as a “Democratic Socialist”. Surely, Biden would be lured left in this direction and become a socialist. I don’t see a problem with this, but I could see many would.

But there is a difference between a National Socialist and a Democratic Socialist.

A Democratic Socialist uses the power of the government to influence commerce ONLY when it is agreed upon by the majority of the voters. The Democratic process is maintained to empower government in places the influence and direction did not previously exist. The emphasis is representing the people instead of the controlling interest of a minority who feel they are the “real Americans”.

I’m not a political expert, but an Anglican Priest. My perspective will always be from the church’s windows. In this, I am convinced that there will never be a Christian leader who expressed the will of God 100% and if there was one, I don’t think anyone would vote for him/her. So we work in percentages. There is a danger in National Socialism that is far greater than potentially Democratic Socialism due to the nature of democracy, freedom, and allowing a difference of opinion. The odds are in the favour everyone if democracy is in the equation.

This election, it is about National Socialism or potential Democratic Socialism. And I realize, I lost many with just the word SOCIALISM.

The National Socialist Party of Germany.

I could list examples when Trump used a greater, Federal authority that went against the wishes of the majority of the local (IE. the Feds moving in to disband protests in Portland or Kenosha, the removal of protection for journalists at these protests, the conveniently timed removal of support for the US Mail, Trump not being questioned in the Russia Election Scandal even though 70% wanted him to be, etc.) but the strongest example I have is the tear gassing of protestors to do a photo op in front of a church.

For me, Trump went from doing what was wrong (IE. kids in cages) to embodying National Socialism. The Priest of the church was gassed because he was outside of his church, handing out water and granola bars to protestors. The photography and the gassing was not asked for by the church, the city, or any of the local law enforcement. It took place to please a small group of people in the US and used the force of the federal government.

And here’s the rub: what if it was me, handing out water bottles and I got gassed by the “Christian President”? I would have joined the majority, regulated by a National Socialist. The Christian Church does well when there is freedom and the church will not enter into the narrow, self-serving box given to it by National Socialists.

The issue, as many can see, is that National Socialism quickly can become Fascism. Whenever a leader seeks to please a small group of people over a greater good, there is an echo chamber created (a “it’s fine just with us” morality) where nothing holds a leader back. Democratic Socialism, has, at least, democracy to put it in check; National Socialism has only the leader’s singular idea of what is good his/her country as accountability. Trump soon (if not already) can become a Fascist.

What Can One Do?

I began this blog welcoming only those who were Republicans and hadn’t made their minds up yet. For those who follow Trump, no amount of facts and arguments will sway you from your commitment. But if you are a Republican, you stand at a crossroad:

Vote for Trump (National Socialism)

OR

Do something else.

I miss the old Republicans. As a UBER Liberal-Pinko-Hippy from California, I miss the Ying to my Yang of the Republican Party. I miss William F. Buckley, Thomas Sewell, and P.J. O’Rourke. The party of Reagan was about small governments, equality found in hard work, and fiscal responsibility. Gone is that party as the rise of National Socialism with Trump.

An old Republican has some options, though: you are not trapped. “I’ve always voted this way,” shows a lot of strength, courage, and willing to play the long game. I realize many have voted for less than best candidates because you held a strategy that wanted a party in a seat over just an individual. I get that.

However, perhaps it’s time to do something else?

  1. Vote Democrat. There. I said it. You could send a message that your party, the Republican Party, needs to reconfigure it’s values. In Alberta, our last election was won by an NDP candidate in a province that had a Conservative Premiere since 1972. Why? The Conservative Party did not release a budget before the election and figured they would draft one up once they won. Many Conservative voters changed parties to send the message, “Fix this and then we’ll vote for you. You work for us.” Jason Kenny, a conservative, when he was voted in had a budget submitted well before his election.
  2. Vote for Biden and Vote Republican for everything else. An ineffectual Democratic Socialist is less scary than an effective National Socialist. With Biden for 4 years, the US could just stabilize. Plus, if you are an Evangelical voter, most of your issues are decided on the State level (ex. abortion, religious liberty, poverty, etc.). Not voting for a Republican President would send a message that the party must return to it’s roots.
  3. Don’t vote. Voting is a freedom and, with all freedoms, you are free not to do it. Plus, I think our country misinterprets the citizens who don’t vote: they are sending a message. It’s not the fault of a citizen that doesn’t like the options given, but rather the system unable to provide better options.

These ideas are not original to me (in fact, most of this blog comes from other sources), but something you could consider as a Republican: The Lincoln Project. There is a growing number of Republicans who are taking a break from the party and distancing themselves from Trump (you might have seen 100 of them at the DNC). Visit this site and consider this an option:

https://lincolnproject.us/

Remember, you are not trapped; you have options reflective of your conscience.

Suddenly, I Became a Parent of a Jr. Higher

Suddenly, my eldest daughter became a Jr.High/Middle School student.

On the surface, this is not too shocking. I mean, it was bound to happen, right? Kids grow, change, and mature. Having a toddler means that-if everything works out all right- Jr. High is just around the corner. Childhood is just a hiccup of time, a blip in the saga of our lifetimes.

But for me, I became something at that moment: a parent of a Jr. High student.

Let me explain. For 13 years, I worked at a church as minister specifically to Jr. High students. I took a small break and taught English to 8th graders (this followed a brief stint working with teenagers at a summer camp). In 2005, I left to be a pastor in Canada and, during the summers, would tell stories as a speaker at a summer camp…for Jr. Highers.

The scariest people, especially in my twenties, were parents of Jr. Highers. The first church I worked at had a long history of extremely popular youth leaders being fired, suddenly, because specific parents-invisible to us-were offended and sought to make their church great again by erasing the youth pastor. The church was down the street from a seminary, so the youth pastor could be easily replaced. You couldn’t help but feel disposable.

The first Parent Meeting of my career, I remember dry heaving in the morning of the service. I then wore a mask of confidence, certainty that his a 24 year old who was terrified.

This is the problem with anxiety. Several parents were kind to me, patient, generous, and warm. I couldn’t enjoy that space in time because there were others that were scary.

I remember spending a 3-4 hour interview with one parent about my theology, including my views of the end of the world. The mother concluded, “We spent a lot of our time polishing the diamond that is our daughter and we don’t want her getting wrecked by the church’s youth group.”

I remember being yelled at by a parent of a Jr. Higher as he removed his son from our group because of our worship band. They attempted to do “Ska Worship” (It was the late 1990’s). He thundered while pointing violently at youth group’s building, “Are you going to tell me that people were worshipping God? With that kind of music!?!?!”

I also remember doing security at a Jr. High group, which was cake and fun except for Parent/Teacher night where we were asked to keep “911” handy because of the parents.

Yeah, parents were scary.

During my seminary days, I met an old youth pastor and I asked him when the switch happened, when he knew he was a career pastor. “Easy,” he said. Then he heard himself. “Well, not easy. But simple, how’s that? The moment came when I stopped looking over my shoulder at the parents of our kids and just started following God. I then was able to make long term plans.”

That happened to me and that was when I could enjoy myself in ministry. The parents of our kids were still scary, but I no longer was scared of them. And better, I could pick out the kind ones.

And now I became one. All of a sudden.

My daughter picked a Jr. High that had all of the programs she liked and loved. As a passionate musician, she wanted something full of the arts and we found a school kind of/sort of local to us. This morning, I drove her to her first day of school.

The school was located in a maze of suburban homes and community halls and stores. As I zigged and zagged through the streets, I feared I’d hit a minotaur as I’m delivering my kid.

I got lost which is the worst thing one could do. I had one job, just one: drive her to school! By Divine providence, magic, and/or karma, we found the school.

We found the specific doorway with the letter “L” on the front. We were silent as we pulled up. I growled at her for not knowing where to go, but apologized quickly: “I’m sorry. Just nerves.”

I then launched into an avalanche of words: “I just want you to know that you are a child of God! God will see you through this! He loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life! It’s Jr. High, I know: God will find a way! You are beloved! And so are your friends! And everyone! God’s got this! Look for someone to help! I love you! Your Mom loves you! It’s all good!!!!”

She patiently received all of this with the transparent wish I could could wrap it up so she could start school. I’m a professional priest: I’m familiar with the look people give when I preach too long.

She stepped out. First day of Jr. High. During a pandemic, no less.

She wore her brightly decorated mask next to another girl also with a fashionable mask. They stood, social distancing and in silence. For that matter, none of the students were talking to each other. They looked like a collection of mannequins in a department store warehouse.

We, the parents, were told to drop off our kids at “L” and leave quickly. But none of us did. We stayed in our cars, waiting for something-anything-to happen. And it didn’t. We watched our kids as they waited and they waited for us to leave as they watched us.

If we had any emotional health, someone would scream from their cars, “I’m freaking out!!!” But we didn’t. Instead, we did the next best thing and just silently stared at each other.

The kids were so well dressed. I mean, who would have thought we cleaned up so neatly. We lived in our COVID PJs for months and now, all of a sudden, we’re dressed and ready like nothing has ever happened.

But something did happen and is still happening. COVID is still here; it’s just now we have precautions.

A couple kids tried to shoo their parents away. My daughter just looked at me. And then, a teacher came out and walked them into the classroom. Without anything else, she turned on her heels and marched into her new school.

A friend of mine who volunteered in our Jr. High group described to me what it was like being a parent of a teenager.

We did a house boat trip in our Jr. High group and had docked by a deep watered beach near some cliffs. My friend talked our youth group into cliff diving. Most of the kids were scared until they jumped the first time. And then, they would do it again and again and again to relive the rush of their first dive.

As adult leaders, we were in the water and encouraged the kids to jump. My friend was the loudest voice from the water…until his 12 year old daughter climbed up the cliff to jump into the water. She, like all of the kids, looked scared to be up there.

“And I was too,” he said. “All of the other kids, I wanted them to overcome the fear of cliff diving. But for my daughter, her fear suddenly became my fear.”

Silently, he stood and watched her jump in. She jumped, trusting us that the water was safe. For him, he suddenly wasn’t so sure. Splashing into the water, she came up with a wide smile.

“That. Was. Amazing!” she declared and swam to the beach to jump again.

My friend asked if we could move on; perhaps we had spent enough time cliff diving.

“And that,” he said to me. “Is what it’s like having a teenager as your daughter.”

After I dropped off my daughter, I came home. My body couldn’t sit, so I paced. I paced and paced, so ready for something to happen. Anything to happen. Ready for the worst or the best. Ready to help, to be there, to leave alone, to engage, to pray, to…I was just so, so ready!!!

And yet nothing was happening. Nothing at all.

This, my friends, is what it’s like to have a kid in Jr. High. This is why parents of Jr. Highers are the way they are.

Once I became an Anglican Priest, I added a line at the end of my sermons, “And this is why we pray.” As Anglicans, we don’t confess what we believe or pledge it or confirm it or sign a dotted line on our beliefs. No, we pray what we belief. We ask God for help with our beliefs. This is why liturgy is so important: in life, at times, we don’t know what we need to say or feel or thing so we can collapse onto the Book of Common Prayer to guide us through. If it doesn’t help, fine; if it does, we’re glad to be in our story with the prayers.

Even a sermon is a prayer. It is a congregation saying, “May this be true with us.”

Standing in the kitchen with the left over energy to be ready for something or anything or everything is a posture of prayer. It’s not kneeling or Holy looking. Rather, it’s a posture soccer players have of standing on one’s toes, ready for a checkered ball to come near. However, I was in my kitchen and no one was going to lob a soccer ball at me.

My daughter was gone. After a 6 month Easter break filled with with pandemic, on-line classes, she was gone to school. Would she be all right? Would she make friends? Remain healthy? We didn’t know and suddenly, she wasn’t there. I liked my daughter and, suddenly, I felt lonely as a Dad. Not hearing her voice or not hearing her questions made the house a little less like a home. My wife and dog looked at me, wondering why I was pacing.

And my pacing was the prayer. Eventually, the paces turned to words. Sometime, I hope, those words would change reality and become character. In the meantime, I waited. Worried. And prayed.

This is why we pray. And in the middle of my “suddenly”, I have to remember: God knew this was coming. Part of the plan. And this is also why we pray.

Santa Cruz: Things We Lost in the Fire

A few days ago, lightening (without rain) struck Santa Cruz and it’s now on fire.

For those unfamiliar with this town, it’s off the Californian coast line. There is the Silicon Valley with San Jose (my birthplace) and then a series of very high mountains. On the other side of those mountains is Santa Cruz, the Boardwalk, the beach, and the ocean. Wedged in between the town and the mountains are large, expansive redwood forests.

I write that forest about here:

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/redwoods-abiding-in-the-coast-a-metaphor-for-incarnational-leadership/?fbclid=IwAR1Eq1EQX_qschFy3_1UhCxp-1YtDqLR83Rrz0dxWVJb9YvX-LSwcF7LD8Q

The Summer camps, the forest, the parks (like Big Basin) are mostly gone due to the fires. The city might be next.

I wrote to my brother, a fellow survivor of a shared childhood, and remarked, “It feels like everything we had when we were young is being erased.”

I had a friend who grew up in a small mining town in the Yukon. When the mine was closed, everyone relocated. The buildings were all whisked away, trees replanted, roads were buried, and now the entire town has gone back to the land. He’s wanted to go back to his childhood town, but can’t: it’s been erased.

Is Santa Cruz being erased?

When I was a kid, my dad would take us kids (my brother and me) over the mountain through Highway 17. It was a twisting, turning freeway that was essentially a two lanes of switchbacks…that someone decided everyone should drive 60MPH (100K). There would be charred stains along the dividers where motorists didn’t make it.

My dad would be blasting Wagner (I don’t know why, please don’t make sense of this part of the story) while driving well over 80MPH, dodging the slower motorists. He was a police officer and never quite understood civilian speed.

I would vomit, as a kid, every car trip over the mountain.

After the 45 minutes from our house, I would stagger out from our van weighing ten pounds less, a little greener, and with a haze of hunger and sickness to spend the day riding rollercoasters at the Boardwalk.

All of us in the South Bay were proud of the Boardwalk. It was the setting for the film “The Lost Boys”- a horror movie about teenage vampires running amok in the city. As well featured in the movie “The Sting 2”. One of the more famous stories was of Van Johnson who was so popular in his day that his life was almost threatened while visiting the Boardwalk. As the story goes, he dressed in an elaborate disguise and waited in line for the coaster “The Giant Dipper”. Someone saw through his disguise and they went all “Beatles Mob” on him.

The Boardwalk was where I overcame a lot of my fears. I was a terrified kid throughout most of my pre-teens. However, with a day pass, I could stare down a particularly fast moving ride for about fifteen minutes, muster up the courage, ride it, survive it, and then find another really scary ride to take on. By the time I was 12, I had mastered most of the rides.

Meanwhile, my dad would spend the day on the beach. He’d look at pretty girls as well as read through a massive stack of police novels. Very few of them did he find believable, but was always searching. This was 1980’s parenting, where kids were expecting to stay out of danger on their own. I guess I did because I wasn’t picked up by vampires or a mob mistaking me for Van Johnson.

My dad stuck around Santa Cruz. He separated from my mom after I graduated from University and lived in a cabin just behind Santa Cruz’ cemetery. The community, a retirement village for the Masonic Lodge, boasted in having one of the few, covered bridges in the west coast. My dad stayed there- Paradise Park- until his multiple strokes in 2014. Right now, Paradise Park is one of the many communities that is in danger of being burned to the ground.

As a teen, if you could beg/borrow/steal/sell a ride over the mountain to Santa Cruz, you made it to the promise land. A beach, teenagers wandering around, Tico’s Tacos, music, the forest…this was Pleasure Island without the bit about children being turned into work mules.

This began when I was 14. I had “made the decision” to follow Jesus Christ when I was 12. It didn’t really stick, mainly because I wasn’t particularly serious with my end of the newly found friendship I made with God. Smoking pot, being a punk, and really relishing in anger kind of defined me.

But I had a good friend who kept being my friend during these Jr. High days and invited me to “Boardwalk Blitz” with his church.

It was a bunch of churches and a bunch more Jr. High students that took over the Boardwalk. I was struck, at that day, how much kids could have fun while still interacting with things of faith and ethics and a religious identity. It’s the same wonder someone has when they stumble into a group of Buddhist monks playing badminton or Catholic nuns who take over the lane next to yours to play a round of bowling.

So the religious can have fun?, I wondered.

But I knew there wasn’t something right with me. I was having fun on my own terms and striking out. Lonely, angry, and unable to connect with the world around me: I needed help.

After a day of romping around the Boardwalk, we went to a church to hear a band and then a youth speaker delivered a message to his. His name was Rich Hodges and was dying of cancer. “If you were die today, would you be okay with that?” was the gist of his question.

This is an important question that one needs to ask a 14 year old. I’m serious. We often do our best to make things as much fun for our children and it takes an unplanned, unexpected wild man to pose such an important question about our own mortality and the quality of our life that can help us turn on a dime.

In that crowded gym, we were all asked that question. I wonder if that gym is still there? Or that church? Or was it gone with the fires? I don’t even know the name of that church. I had heard Rich Hodge had passed away and, from what I could tell, he had a peaceful answer to his question.

Luckily, I had some preparation for that question.

My grandmother lovingly worried about the immortal state of my soul as many of our grandmothers do for us. An army chaplain’s wife, she paid my way to go every year to a summer at Mount Hermon Redwood Camp.

It was a Christian ministry, but back then it was so sly, so subtle in the Christian aspect of the faith. There was never an altar call, I can’t think of a single cabin leader bullying me into some sort of commitment. But the offer to believe was there for everyone, free for the taking. By having us spend time with people who were perfectly happy with their decision in faith was how they decided to “spread the word”. Hell and Heaven were talked about, but as one staffer told me, “I’m kind of allergic to such future plans. I don’t want to wait to find Heaven someday because I think it’s here right now and I don’t want to miss any of it.”

That line stuck with me.

Redwood Camp was in and amongst redwoods. Growing up, I kind of took these trees for granted. I thought all trees were thousands of years old, full of brown fuzz, and their bark could survive fire. And yet, now that I live in Canada, I realize how rare, how special these trees were.

I kind of always wanted to take my kids back to Redwood Camp. Kind of like a historic tour of “this is where it all began”. We all have places where we didn’t realize it, but they were shaping and working on us so when a very difficult, life altering question is posed to us we’re ready and not left holding a bag full of doubt or insecurity.

But I never did. And I heard that Mount Hermon has just been evacuated.

When Rich Hodge asked his question, my response was to throw myself into the Christian faith. Luckily, there was a community around me who adopted me and took me under their wing. A church in Los Gatos that could see the Santa Cruz mountains from their window became that community.

I’ve been involved with churches in one form or another since that decision (around 30+ years ago) and I can’t impress enough that it’s not in how many people come to a service or an event or make a decision- all of those numbers lie and can’t be trusted. Rather, it’s the quality of care you have with those who are there, asking questions, and needing help. For those, that’s the real faith community.

I was adopted by a Baptist church. Went down south to an Evangelical University. Got involved with youth ministry at another Evangelical church. Got really, really hurt by that church. Left ministry. And then wasn’t sure what my life would like after exiting a faith community.

My story isn’t unusual and many share similar tales.

During that time of questioning, I did come back to Santa Cruz. It was 1999 and I write about it here:

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2018/07/20/its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-and-i-feel-fine/

Hopeful, I came back to the church. First in youth ministry and then as a Baptist Senior Pastor in Canada. Now I’m an Anglican Priest.

During these times of religious work, I kept a bumper sticker to remind me of where I came from. It read “Keep Santa Cruz Weird”. It was a movement to encourage, protect, and celebrate street performers. And yet, it was more than that. Santa Cruz never tried to be weird, but always kept it up because there was something in the air, in the land that made it okay to be so.

Santa Cruz was always a place our family, while living in Canada, would come back to. In October of 2019, we came back. My mom had passed away and we held her memorial on the other side of the mountain. Our final day of grief/vacation, we were in Santa Cruz. My girls were on the beach and I was in a law office, handling my mom’s estate.

We reunited and we hurried off to see a family member who still lived there. I saw the rogue redwood trees and the beach. My eldest daughter asked, “Can we explore the woods?”

“Some other time,” I said with the belief that there wouldn’t be a pandemic, a fire, and everything else that came with 2020.

But as I mentioned in a few places, did you know that the back of redwood trees are fire retardant? In fact, as conifers, extreme heat releases their seeds. The trees of Santa Cruz will survive this; perhaps, I think, the spirit of Santa Cruz will as well.

This land was always generous to me. A place of joy, fun, 2nd chances, and the spirit to “keep things weird”. A fire cannot kill this. Rather, it will bury it and allow someone else to find it later.

Whenever I despair about the fires, I turn to my friend- the literary optimist- Wendell Berry. “Be joyful because it is humanly possible,” he urged in his writing. With his thinking, I think of Santa Cruz.

The fires and everything else 2020 has brought, the old Santa Cruz can no longer be shown. That sleepy beach town of oceans, surf, and camps may no longer be there. But the spirit, the trees that brought those things about still are there. And I firmly believe that the Creator of those such things is still at work, still tilling the soil. A new Santa Cruz, discovered by my kids and grandkids, will come about some day and those new adults will be telling their own stories about the land.

Or as Wendell Berry writes:

Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.

My Green Machine

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In the late 1970’s, the standard wheels for kids was a Big Wheel.  Most of us weren’t riding bikes yet, so this was a standard in the neighbourhoods of San Jose, California.

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Except me.  My parents, for whatever reason, thought I needed to be different than the rest of the kids.  I got, instead, a Green Machine.  This thing was a beast.  It would take up the whole sidewalk (unlike the slimmer Big Wheels that would allow for other Big Wheels or bikes to drive around).  It was loud, with wide wheels that covered more pavement that a Big Wheel or a bike.  And it was unpredictable: you didn’t steer it with a wheel, but with breaks/levers much like a tank.

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At first, the rest of the kids allowed me to ride around the neighbourhood.  However, it soon became obvious that there was no passing the mighty Green Machine.  And no one could think, talk, or do anything with the roar of my machine beating down the pavement.

There was a game called gas station.  The kids on our street would ride up and down our/our neighbour’s driveway, circling endlessly with their Big Wheels.  To fix the problem of my Green Machine, I was elected to by the Gas Station Guy: filling imaginary tanks with my invisible gas.  That way I could play but my Green Machine was off the road.

The Green Machine was the perfect vehicle for an introvert.  No one came near you or attempted to talk to you.  You could just ride without any relational multi-tasking.

And then one day, I discovered something.  If I flew down a steep hill and broke suddenly, I could spin the thing.  Big Wheels couldn’t do this and bikes could, but no one dared at that age.  But a Green Machine could spin.

Here’s a commercial showing the signature spin:

I tried sharing this technique with the rest of the kids, but they weren’t terribly impressed.  So my Green Machine and I kept this secret that I was able to do things no one else could do.

This, I think, is what Christ meant when he says that He has come for us to have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10b).

We expect, when we come to God, that the life in Christ will be just like our ordinary lives…only better than everyone else’s.   We expect just faster and newer Big Wheels.  Instead, God gives us Green Machines-a vehicle bulky, strange, loud…and does what Big Wheels can’t.

We want bigger homes with neighbours who are just like us and look like us; instead, Christ calls us to care for the poor and visit the prisoners.  We want churches filled with people singing and great, feel good sermons; instead, the Holy Spirit gives us fruit like patience, love, and kindness.   We demand justice that most often is just privilege dressed up in loud sentences; instead, God calls us to speak for justice on people invisible, ignored, or exploited.  We ask Jesus for financial stability; instead, Christ calls us to be generous.

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God does not want us just be conquerors in the game of life; instead, our Creator equips us to be more than conquerors where we’re playing the game in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Years ago, my brother gifted me a 7-string guitar.

He couldn’t get this “Gypsy Guitar” to work.  It was from the Ukraine and there was a bit of historic rivalry between these 7-string instruments vs. the Spanish, 6-string ones that-evidently-won the culture war.  Dismissed to the back end of most acoustic music shops, this was a rarity.

It was tuned to the open G, like many bluegrass banjos.  However, it had 3 more strings to pluck and no high G string for rhythm.  I took it off his hands, not knowing the adventure in store for me.

Every time I played it, the minor strings and deep tones took over.  I used to play hymns in the local nursing homes and this would make some sad work out of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” or “Tell Me the Story”.  I couldn’t play this sad, melancholic instrument publicly for years.  The banjo- an instant crowd pleaser- was what I took with me.

Until COVID19 happened and we were all locked up in our homes.

The first four strings of the tuning were in the same keys and the last 4 years, just set several octaves higher…and happier.  My sheer experimentation, I suddenly was able to make this guitar sing.  And on top of that, I discovered the wonderful range of sheer joyful below the strings of brooding, melancholic, and Byronic.  This guitar, suddenly, could go in both directions.

Here’s a link to some of my noodling.  Now, bear in mind, it’s an imperfect recording done by someone who isn’t a terribly fantastic musician.  My love for what I do far more makes up the lack of talent, training, and discipline of my music.

Here:

 

A signpost that you are near, in, or beside the Kingdom of God is the fact that we can breathe life into the lost, the forsaken, the confused, and the discarded.  Some these things are things, some a people, and some are places.  This, I would argue, is the abundant life: we’re able to do what no one else can do with things no one else wants.

This is why the Holy Spirit in the great insurrectionist, shaking and troubling and smashing the ordinary, the common, and the entitled.  This also calls us to repent from the pining we have for the ordinary, for the better life we see in our neighbour.  It also causes to laugh when someone sort of close to the kingdom rails against things needing to return to what once was, to make something great again.

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Sorry, that ship has sailed; Christ is doing the work here, now by making something new and doing things that has never been done in us.

We are left with the call of Christ: “Don’t be ordinary, don’t upgrade your lives so that they only look like everything else only shinier.  Instead, drop the chase and follow me.  I’ve got some wild thing in store for you.  You’ll bend the rules, changing that which was overlooked into moments of Holiness.  Follow me.”

The Noble House of James Clavell

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In 1992, I was in New York’s airport waiting to fly home from Germany.  I had spent about 5 months studying abroad and I was headed to my parents home in San Jose, California.

I had a 6 hour wait for my connecting flight.  I looked around and I counted 7 copies of “Gai Jin” written by James Clavell.  Mostly white men were reading this book, deep in the story and doing their best to drown out the world with this story.  Only one of them looked up and saw me spying on them.  An older business men, he shot me half a smile.

“Good book?” I asked.

“There is so much I don’t know,” he said and continued reading.  That was it.

In researching this piece, I looked up Wikipedia and they claim the book came out in 1993.  I beg to differ (plus my copy in my basement dungeon/library was printed in 1992).  The book was everywhere in December of 1992.

My dad read everyone one of Clavell’s books.  In the 1970s, you were cool and smart and thoughtful if you finished Clavell, who would crank out phone book size novels with the cover art only being a drawn sword or a broken I-Ching coin.

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It was only in University that I started to read him.  He was a welcomed changed from all of the assigned text I was given as an English Major or the theology I had to get through in my ultra-conservative Christian school.

Clavell knew how to tell a story.  In fact, he knew how to tell many of them all at the same time.  There’s a phrase Stephen King uses called “The Ticking Time Bomb” in forwarding a plot.  It’s the idea that there is always a problem in the story and story needs conflict.  This problem- the bomb- must always have a countdown, alway be ready to explode.  And the audience must never forget the clock or they’ll stop reading.  For Clavell’s books, they were a time bomb shop in the mall….all about to explode.

When I was reading his books, I couldn’t help but sound half-mad.  “Oh they’re great!  You’ve got to read the first 200 pages to get hooked.”   My friends-who I was shoving a 2,000 page novel in their face, would just grimace and shrink away.  Looking back…I think I lost a lot of friends trying to get them to read Clavell.

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But he was more than just a good storyteller.  He was a bridge-maker: from white men in the west to the world of the east.  And this bridge making was his legacy.

 

James Clavell was born in Australia in 1921 to British parents.  He then served in the Royal Navy during World War 2.  Trained in desert warfare, he quickly took to the east when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

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His first voyage was lost and he was lost to sea, only rescued by a Dutch boat fleeing to India.  He was dropped off near Singapore and joined a group of British soldiers to fight the war.  During one of his skirmishes, he was shot in the face.  Wounded, he was taken as a POW camp.  During that time, he lived in a camp where hundreds died and only a few dozen survived.

Throughout his life, he never talked about his PTSD.  Instead, he would talk about how a sardine can keeps popping up in his pocket or in his car.  Even as one of the wealthiest novelists, he still would find a can of sardines near him.  Whenever he experienced stress or would remember his war days, the can would magically appear.  Never remembering that he purchased it or stored it, the thing would pop up.

After the war, he married an actress and began to write for movies.  “The Fly”, “To Sir, With Love”, “The Great Escape”, and the “The Last Valley” all have his name on the screenplay.  However, it was during the 1970’s that his large tomes popped up as bestsellers in airports.

 

 

“King Rat” was his book about being a POW, a much more grim and realistic telling than the edited and modified version of his script we saw in “The Great Escape”.  However, as a POW, was not where he found his fame.

His blockbuster- “Shogun”- was about a British sailor taken in by a Feudal Japan Lord.  This book chronicled the episodic adventures as the sailor sought to escape, leave this ancient world to his 1660’s England.

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A side story- everyone watched the mini-series when it came out.  There’s a scene, in the third episode, where a ninja tries to kill Richard Chamberlain.  The day after that episode, my elementary school was a buzz because a ninja was on tv!  A ninja!  We had no idea what people were talking about or what was going on…we didn’t care!  A ninja!!

Back to this blockbuster- it was his break-out story.

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What was shocking about this story was that the main character wasn’t a white saviour, the “Connecticut Yankee” that outsmarts all of the ancient people of King Arthur’s court.  No, he’s an observer.  The plot of the story is too much for him, so he rides the wave and swims around the ticking time bombs.  He attempts to help, but he makes it worst and all of the Japanese characters shake their heads, grumbling, “Were you paying attention!?!”

It captured the imagination of a whole generation who had no clue about Feudal Japan.  Clavell taught culture, but it was always because the plot required one to do so.

This was his 2nd book.  His first, Taipan, was about the trading company, Nobel House, in China.  It did modestly well until “Shogun” became a blockbuster and businessman had something else to read in airports.

“Noble House” and “Whirlwind” came out, fleshing out the world of this company with thousands of pages of intrigue, culture, story, and characters.  Again, you learned about China and Iran while running through the plot.

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His last Noble House book was “Gai Jin”, the beginning of this British company’s business in Japan as it worked from his home base out of Hong Kong.

These novels coincided with the mania for mini-series, so they all got adapted (except “Gai Jin”).   A spouse would read the book and then the other spouse would watch the mini-series.

The company, Noble House, was all set in Hong Kong and was British run, slowly being turned over to those who lived and loved in China.  The great ticking time bomb was that Hong Kong would return to those native and Britain would lose control.  This, of course, was to take place in 1999.  However, Clavell died in 1994 and never wrote the conclusion to this story of when the company ceased being British.

 

 

In the 1970s, if you were white and a male, it was clear you would be the main hero and chief problem solver of any novel set in China, Hong Kong, Japan, or Iran.  And yet, this is the farthest thing from Clavell’s books.

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Don’t get me wrong: there is plenty moments of sexism, exceptionalism, imperialism, and other such blind vices to the mind of a mid-20th century man.  However, there was this aspiration in his novels to understand, cooperate, intersect with the surrounding culture.  None of his characters were ever experts of the place they lived; they kept learning as the plot drove them to do so.  As a result, the story was the best teacher for those learning where they lived.

I keep thinking about the changing world of Canada.  In Edmonton-my home- there are growing populations of different ethnicities and cultures.  We’re no longer experts, no longer able to say that one way is the way and the way of culture.  Instead, there’s a story going on- taking us through the variety of time bombs- that might be teaching.  Maybe.  And that depends on if we’re reading the story right.

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In the meantime, cheers to James Clavell.  Thank you for telling us so many good stories!

My 2 Minutes with Ray Bradbury

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In 2005, I left the United States to pastor a small church in Northern Alberta (this is in Canada).   The summer I left, a good friend of mine invited me to the Comic Con in San Diego to collect autographs.

This was my chance to meet my hero, Ray Bradbury.

The best adults in the world of Middle Schools are librarians: quiet insurgents who know how to rescue bored teenagers by sly suggestions or gentle nods in the right direction.  When I was in 8th grade, I broke my arm and couldn’t participate in PE for two months.  I was told to study in the library during that month of healing and I was bored.  The kind librarian, seeing my listlessness and restlessness, teased, “How can you be bored?  You’re in a library.”

“I’m in a library!   Books are boring.”

“You haven’t found the right one,” she said.  She walked over to the shelf.  “Do you like being frightened?” she asked and that was, in my mind, the best lead question she could ask.  She didn’t ask what genre I would enjoy or tried to sell me something that could be exciting.  Her question was laced with a dare.   How could my 14 year bravado turn down this challenge?

She brought out a stack and then asked a series of questions, until it was narrowed down to “R is for Rocket” by Ray Bradbury.  “Read it until it gets boring.  Then stop.  And whatever you do, don’t write a book report about it.  Pay attention only to the things that are interesting.”   I read it and then she gave me “S is for Space”.   Then the stack continued.  “Don’t worry about running out,” she said with a grin.  “Mr. Bradbury has written a lot.”

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Every season in my life, I return to Ray Bradbury.  His voice was a constant whisper in my writings, my storytelling.  Sometimes, I’ll drop a reference and see who’s truly listening.  Some will see Bradbury in my comment, others might just guess I’m being clumsy with my expressions.

When Comic Con came onto the scene, I was ready to meet the Dean of Sci-Fi.

This was 15 years ago and Comic Con wasn’t the monolithic giant that it has become today.  In fact, it was a mess in 2005.  No one knew where things were, the venue was over-booked, and the Cosplay mania was just beginning.   “It’s as if,” I said to my friend who took me.  “It’s been organized by comic book store owners and artists who have no love for forms, lines, or engineering!”

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But I found Ray Bradbury.  He was with his friend, Harry Harryhousen, on a panel.  I joined the room to hear him reply to the Q and A and learned, in the middle, he wouldn’t be signing autographs at this venue but at another.

I ran across the expo and joined the back of a line spanning 3 hours.

The convention organizers let us know, every five minutes, that those in the front of the line were promised a signature but us, at the back of the line, would probably be turned away.   Yes, we were told to leave every five minutes.  Every five minutes.  For three hours.

I decided to stay in line because this was, really, my only shot meeting Mr. Bradbury.  If I was turned away then I would be just as close to him as I would be in Northern Canada: I had nothing to lose.

I made friends with those in line: a software engineer from Texas, a fellow cosplaying one of the killers from the movie “The Devil’s Rejects”, and a woman who had never read Ray Bradbury in her life but was getting a gift for her brother.

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For 3 hours, we waited and were told we were wasting our time: Ray Bradbury would never sign extra books.  About 2 hours in, my friend with the killer clown makeup got a call this his toddler, somewhere else in the expo grounds, needed her dad to calm her down.  He ran off and, three minutes later, we were allowed to come into the promised section that Ray would sign our stuff.

We were elated!  We beat the system!

And then out friend with the clown make-up and blood came running to us.  The organizers stopped him, demanding that he couldn’t cut the line and had to turn around.  We then created a small riot: “He’s with us!!  He’s with us!!!  Let the clown see Ray Bradbury!!!!”

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We made so much of a noise that the organizers relented, he joined us and we went wild.

I got to see Mr. Bradbury and have my 2 minutes with him.  I gave him a card basically thanked him for being Ray Bradbury and without him being Ray Bradbury, I would have had a harder time being Eric J. Kregel.  For you see, he was a wild storyteller and uncompromising in all of his robots, spores, rocket ships, martians, and dandeline wine.

And if he could be Ray Bradbury, then I could be Eric J. Kregel.

He took the card and said with a voice full of anointing, “Why, thank you!  Thank you, young man!  Thank you!”

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That was all I needed.  I left the US fully satisfied, ready to plunge deep into Canada.

Sadly, a few years ago, Ray Bradbury passed away.  But I hear his voice and see him around every literary corner.  And I keep thinking about him, especially in regards to a poem he wrote a while back.  Here is a link, where I perform this poem.  For with our joy with Bradbury, somewhere a band is playing.  Somewhere, a band is playing (It’s a reference to this poem):

Mr. Trump, Please Put Down the Bible

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On June 1, reportedly tear gas was deployed on a group of peaceful protestors (there is now a controversy on whether tear gas was used, however it is clear there was violence on behalf of the police) in Lafayette Park near St. John’s Episcopal Church. By inflicting pain upon a group of US citizens, the crowd fled. He then stopped in front of this historic church- a historic site as the “President’s church”- and held up a Bible. He spoke little, posing mostly for the press.

When he did this, I wish there was an aid, a friend, or a voice who could have whispered, “Mr. Trump, please put the Bible down. Don’t go near the Bible. Today is about you; it has nothing to do with you following God’s Word.”

These words could have been received, especially the part about “today is about you”. However, no one spoke up. Instead, I’m an American living in Canada and I’m wishing the Bible had nothing to do with that day. In fact, here’s my question: Why hold up a Bible at all?

What does a Bible mean to Donald Trump especially after his words, actions, and posture towards the peaceful protests and riots concerning the murder of George Floyd?

This is a fair question. The D.C. Bishop has denounced this action (https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/d-c-bishop-i-am-outraged-by-trump-church-visit-amid-protests-1.4964883). His photo opportunity was seen by many in the church’s leadership as trespassing (https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2020/6/1/1949565/-Trespassing-St-John-s-Bishop-says-Trump-was-on-church-property-without-permission). This was all done so there was a picture with a Bible (https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/peaceful-protesters-gassed-so-trump-can-do-bible-photo-op.html).

Why is the Bible so important to Donald Trump? Is it something that needs to be read, followed, and embodied? Or is it a symbol to cozy up to, with no real meaning and is a device to gain support from those who also see is as only a token, a totem from days ago?

If the Bible is to be read, followed, and embodied…what does it say? Jesus describes following Him by the Sermon on the Mount. To “get” Christianity, you need to look into Matthew 5. It begins:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Poor in spirit” is a pretty good description of people who see there is something wrong both with themselves and/or their world. This is the very message the peaceful protestors were communicating before they were tear gassed.  What is wrong?  The system works in favour of the few and the most are exploited, killed, and/or silenced.

Had the President listened to this message, he might have seen the Kingdom of Heaven. He did not. He gassed them (or had his people gas them, which is the same thing). When we ignore our engine warning lights, we cannot claim that the “car just broke!”

Plus, as the Bible says, when we listen to the voices warning us something is wrong, we have a chance to see Heaven on the other side.  But he gassed them thinking they were looters. Looters are looters; protest might be a poverty of spirit.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

Mourning is not just sadness, but it can be anger (especially if there is injustice). Adding violence to grief is robbing the moment of comfort. The Bible is clear: “Laugh with those who laugh, cry with those who cry.” Trump did neither.

Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.

The meek are those who share power, who hold just enough so that others may be empowered.

If a white woman with a dog in central park has more power than any other race, there is an imbalance of power. If armed white people can shut down a local government without any consequence, there is an imbalance of power.

Meekness is the opposite of these situations. This is what meekness looks like:

Does the story of the Sheriff match any of President Trump’s tweets concerning the protests?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Looters are looters and should be prosecuted. Those who demonstrate, however, are doing so to change the world for the better. When one punishes protest, the implied message is simple: “everything is fine, just sit up and shut up”.

But those who fight to make things better, who REALLY want it…they, as the Bible promises, will gain the apple of their eye. In this case, justice.

The Bible says, Mr. Trump, you’re on the losing side. Why didn’t you put down that Bible?

Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.

Ah, mercy.

Christianity, at it’s heart, is a story about forgiveness. Forgiveness is the greatest weapon (not dogs or other devices you used to protect yourself in the bunker) against violence. Violence is all about a spin. To keep the wheel moving, you’ve got to be more violent than the violent person that did violence to you. Mercy- forgiveness embodied- are those who “get” Christianity.

When we are merciful, we knock the spin of violence off it’s track.  How do you pay back forgiveness?  Where do you go when the debt as been paid, when the trespass has been erased?   

For those who walk in violence, this seems unrealistic and frightening.  However, we must contend that this is the core of who Jesus was and how He changed the world.  If it didn’t work for Him, than the Bible should not be read, followed, or embodied: it’s just a pretty book.  But if the claims are right, then you have the church trusting in these teachings.

This is why St. John’s Church was very angry for Trump to stand there with the Bible in his hand.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.

Those who are plain spoken, simple in their words, and clear with their intention get to see God. Those who seek to please special interest groups (IE. white supremacists, billionaires, foreign governments) will be confusing, unstable, and miss God as they journey from the Oval Office to St. John’s.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
A peacemaker leaps into the centre of the problem and seeks to restore all of those who have been injured. It also requires that rare talent of finding those who have been wronged most and allow them to be part of the redemptive solution.

Peacemaking is being a thermostat for justice, mercy, and compassion. When it is too hot, it cools the atmosphere; too cool, it adds heat. When the room is just right, those in the room can get to greater issues.

And how did President Trump accomplish this peacemaking job of a President?:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/trump-politics-protests-1.5591527

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

If I may, I’d like to lump 10-13 together. A question is being asked of me, again and again, in Canada: “How can American Evangelicals still support President Trump?”

My answer has been simple, with the simple understanding that Donald Trump seems to be on their side. If the President is on your side- so they believe- then nothing bad can happen to Christians or the church. In fact, it soon might become socially advantageous to be a Christian if the President likes you.

Being liked by President is believed to be a give/take relationship: he likes Christians and, therefore, Christians must like him back no matter what. Even if that includes-and not exclusive to- tear gassing a group of peaceful protestors.

And yet, this last passage has no promise that if you like your President good things will come to you. The opposite is true: those who get hurt doing what is right will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. So in order to be liked by a President, one must avoid doing what is right? Or calling what is wrong right?  What about those hurt for doing what is right?  In this case, those peacefully protesting?

Evangelical Americans, might I propose another model (from the safety of Canada)? What if President Trump liked you not because you agreed with him, but because he secretly was afraid of you? What if Evangelical Christians were so scary and so willing to call out the President that when he held the Bible it was with the shaken, wide eyed promise, “I’ll promise to read this thing!!!! Just leave me alone!! I promise I’ll be a better President!!!” I know this is a weird image, but it’s one that matches Democracy a bit better than what we presently have.

Until this happens, we are left with the President holding the Bible- the very book he has stood against. This matters only if the Bible is to be read, followed, and embodied. If it’s just a pretty trinket, than there isn’t an issue. As the world decides, the President should just put it down.

The Day I Became the Jabberwock

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My older brother had finished one year at an ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Christian school for Jr. High.   My parents thought it was a good idea for me to go, along with him, to their Summer School (By the way, when is Summer School ever fun?).

I enrolled in a drama class.  Our assignment was to memorize a poem and perform it.  Most of the poems were religious, moral, and/or opinionated.  Snuck in between these reams of poems was Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”.

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I picked it because I thought it was weird, campy, goofy, and absurd.  But here’s the trap: the moment I committed it to memory, I actually fell into the world.  My hands held the vorpal blade, I smelled the Tumtum tree, and I felt very beamish in the arms of my father’s approval.

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On the day of my performance, I delivered the poem as a true believer.  The classroom erupted with laughter, thinking I was “weird” and being silly.  I had a hard time to communicate to them, “No, it gets better.  I promise!”   The teacher cut me off and I didn’t finish the last stanza with a “that’s enough, Eric.”

The school, a rigid place then, I had learned years later became a kinder institution- so I’m happy with that.  But that the moment of reciting the poem, it still sticks like the memory of a bad date or discussion ruined by an ill-placed word.

The poem was written by Lewis Carroll who, my guess, was fatigued by scholars around him delighting in Old English and the great gap of the epic in British, Ancient Literature.  To lampoon such scholarly yearnings, he wrote this poem as parody to such works as Beowulf or Wulf & Eadwacer.

This, I imagine, was the longings of professors back then: let’s return to Ancient England!   This, I imagine, is why Dr. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings” to fill this ancient gap.

So Carroll wrote a poem that sounds ancient with words so archaic they’re a sing-song parody.  However, Dr. Carroll insisted through the scholar Humpty-Dumpty, that the poem actually makes sense.  Here:

Perfect sense, eh?

The poem was a parody and as a young boy I believed in the parody, entering into the emotion of the story and could not pull myself out of it.  Did that make me gullible?

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Decades later, I took a group of Jr. Highers to an ice rink.  We were standing around, waiting for the ice to be ready and the rink owner offered the microphone to me.  Suddenly, I remembered every line from the Jabberwocky.

When I spoke it, at first the group giggled and laughed.  I mean, this was so random: their youth pastor, rather than giving instructions, performs a poem.   And a weird poem!  But it was a sacrosanct moment: they quieted, the crowd hushed, and they wanted to hear on whether or not the Jubjub bird could be slain!

I ended the poem and they were silent.  Then there was applause.  “Okay?” the rink owner asked, not sure how to transition from that moment to Broom Hockey.

A young volunteer that night paid me the highest compliment: “You became that poem, Eric!”   Thank you, I said.  Thank you.   And I meant that thanks.

Our world, we are confronted with people and events and stories that come at us like parodies, like comedies.  For Jabberwocky’s case, it was originally designed as a parody.  And then it became something else.

When reading myths and stories and legends from other cultures, a knee-jerk reaction is to encounter something odd and giggle it away into the label of “camp”.

There’s a Norwegian myth of two daughters:

  • one golden haired girl who every time she spoke, butterflies flew out from her mouth.
  • a ratty haired girl who every time she spoke, puked dead rats and foxtails

Now, there was a young prince who had to pick one of these girls as his bride.  WHO DO YOU THINK HE PICKED?!?!!?

At first, this seems campy and simple and odd, doesn’t it?  This is how the tale begins and we laugh, roll our eyes, and remark how quaint ancient people were way back when.

But then you read on this story and start to believe it.  The monsters become real, the deaths tragic….the story takes hold.  At an uncertain moment, you understand why this story was saved and retold and believed for you now want to save it, retell it, and now believe it.

This is the mark of empathy of those who listen to stories told.

Empathy is not foolish, gullible, or the sign of a simpleton.  And empathy is what happens for those who collect stories and ultimately become the stories they tell.

It’s easy for us, today, to see other people as parodies or as camp.

As I write this, I am in self-isolation for the purpose of slowing down the spread of COVID-19.  I do this to support those on the frontline, the hospitals of Canada, and that we can buy time so that our system is not overwhelmed.

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As I write this, there are many who oppose social distance rules and have taken the streets to protest.   I admit it: I don’t understand their side.

When I don’t understand something, it’s easy for me to turn them into a parody, a camp that’s silly and goofy and deserving a good eye roll.  And the moment I do, I miss out on the empathy that could be in the moment.

What are their virtues?  What is the Jabberwocky in their tale that needs to be slain?  Who is the father who looks upon them as a beamish child?  And what is the chorus that commands their lay?

And do they know my poem?  Would they even understand it?

This, my friends, is one of the reasons why we tell stories.

Here I am, performing this tale:

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Eric’s Storytelling Mixed Bag Vol. 2

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Retelling these stories have felt like catching up with old friends.  I’ve really enjoyed recording this and sharing them with you.  Please, enjoy!

 

A Passion Play

This story is a favourite of mine because I actually see myself being a part of this mess.  It’s a comedy about a rural church putting on a passion play that goes horribly wrong.  I think anyone who “does church” professionally can fall into the trap of going through the motions, worrying about the production of worship and forgetting the reasons behind worship.

There are aspects of this story that really happened, while parts were lifted from a story a friend of mine heard from the International Storytelling Festival, back in 1996 from the town of Jonesborough, Tennessee.   In good conscience, I can’t tell you which is true and which was lifted: I swore secrecy to my friend who told me the true bits.

Anywho, when I was a young pastor, I would often do storytelling in schools for Language Arts classes.  This was always a crowd favourite:

 

A Poem  

Ah, T. S. Eliot!  I’ve often recommended him to people and then, after they checked him out, would experience social distancing pre-COVID19.   He’s weird, wacky, way too smart, and wonderful.

I was working at a fundamentalist church when I stumbled upon this poem and it fell into my lap right when I was beginning to sound out grace.  It’s an upsetting piece with an O. Henry twist at the end.   Enjoy!

 

A Ghost Story 

This last story has kind of a long and complicated history to it.   Back in 1999, I was on staff at Wolf Mountain Christian Camp.  It was, then, a sprawling, multi-site camp.  The camps would all gather together, on Sunday nights, to be one, large gathering for skits, singing, and a message,  They trusted me with the story.  For 9 weeks, I told the stories of camp.

I always came back to this one, although I would tell sequels and prequels to this story for the benefit of my fellow staff, so they didn’t hear this story 9 times.

I’ll tell no lies: the lizard people really freaked out the younger campers.  And I could not, try as I might, water down the horror of the invisible lizard people.  For the camps filled with younger kids, the directors would plead with me to skip out on the lizards altogether.  However, I had the support of our head director, “Sometimes, evil is scary.  They need to learn that.”

After camp, it came back around whenever I was invited to speak at camps.   I delivered this once at an ultra conservative, fundamentalist Bible camp.  The campers loved it, but there was a staff member who felt I was being of the occult and an ambassador of the New Age with the image of invisible lizard people.

I couldn’t satisfy him until, the next morning, I said to the campers, “Last night, it sounded like I talked about magic.  It wasn’t magic, but high science that looks like magic.  Consult Asimov’s Law of Magic and Science.”  The kids were confused; my critic was satisfied.

And here it is, the last story:

Bicycling the Magic of Kiddom

(For those who are little more literal than most, please take this as a work of imagination.)

It was a cool, Saturday morning when the Green Hornet stood tall and proud, waiting for me to discover him.  Like a dark palladium warrior protecting the tools, lawn mower, and tires from the shadows, the Green Hornet almost beamed with too much potential energy.

There were other birthday gifts to open; I didn’t care.  I knew, immediately, the Green Hornet needed flight.  A fast bicycle in the hands of a ten year old boy was a thing of ancient, pure magic.

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Taller than my black Huffy road bike, it’s monkey bar handlebars waited for my hand’s weight to be placed upon it, as if I could summon Ammon-Ra into the world of kiddom.  Sleek, elegant, green: this 12-speed needed to be out in the neighbourhood.

There’s a childhood joy that some find in riding their bikes.  I’m a child of the 1980’s, where kids roamed the streets feral and only had one rule: make it home in time for dinner or before the sun set.

A boy’s bike was his horse, his noble steed.  I can imagine, this was true for girls too.  The problem was that I never saw this because I was terrified of girls until College.  But back in my days, you named your horse, took care of it, always locked it up, rode it fast, and it went with you everywhere.

It was a 12-speed, not a 10-speed.  I can remember correcting adults who offered olive branches of interest, asking, “Is that a fast 10-speed? It’s a dark black machine!”

“Sorry,” I would say politely.  “But it’s a 12-speed.  And the colour is forest green.”

Your bike was your calling card.  If you rode to a friend’s house, you’d see other kids’ bikes out front and knew who was over.  When you went to school, if there was an empty spot in the bike cage- you knew someone was sick with the flu.  And if you bike was stolen, everyone knew this was probably the worst thing to happen.

I rode Green Hornet for a few years until, as I mentioned, he was stolen.  A thief used a pair of bolt cutters to break through my chain lock.  It was terrible.  My parents, when first heard, had all of those things parents feel they needed to say: “You should have locked it better”, “Why did you park it in that neighbourhood?”, or, “It was asking to be stolen.”

My parents went through their litany and I took it.  After they exhausted it, I waited for them to realize that sometimes bad things happen, there is a reality of gratuitous evil, and that nothing is tragedy proof….including bikes.

My dad gave me another bike when I was in High School.  It was neon red with a design of hot lava (again, this was 1988).   A mountain bike, with handle bars stretched out like an eagle’s wings.  Secretly, I named him “Patchy”.  I whispered the bike’s name.  It whispered, “No, I’m Green Hornet.  Shhhh…”

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Throughout High School and University, Patchy took me everywhere.  I didn’t have a car, but I had a bike.  In University, I rode Patchy around everywhere.  He slept by my dorm bed, rode with me when I left my school, and got me everywhere I needed to be.

I attended an ultra-conservative Christian University and there were rumours that the security guards would throw batons at you if you rode your bike on campus.  They were graduate students studying either theology or psychology, so depending who ran into would whether you’d be entering a high level of existential angst or not.  My bike, therefore, was the only an escape from the University.

Patchy was stolen.  I kept it at a church where I volunteered to work with their youth.  It, this time, didn’t feel like a death; more like a murder.  It was kept in a locked room, hidden from any windows.  Gone like a really good, early morning dream.

When the bike was stolen, I asked one of the parents of our Jr. Highers that Patchy rode like my childhood bike, despite being a 12 speed rode bike.  I then blurted out, “Do you think bikes can be reincarnated?”

This was probably the wrong question to ask a conservative, southern California Christian.  He was kind.  He said a quick negative and never spread any gossip that the youth director might be turning Buddhist.

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I saved up my money and purchased, while in Seminary, a Gary Fisher Mountain Bike.  I rode it on a four day ride along the southern Californian coast line.

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I took in around the fire trails and pathways of Grass Valley, California in the central valley gold country.  I met my wife while journeying around with that bike.

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It saw the back, wooded paths of Escondido and the streets of Long Beach.  I shopped for groceries on that back, took it to work, and fought monsters with it on weekend rides.

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One night, when I was riding it through the streets of Whittier, I asked, “Are you Green Hornet?”

“Shhhh…” the gears whispered.

And again, it was stolen straight out of our backyard when I was moving into a new apartment.  Gone.

A had a couple more bikes, but they never talked to me.

I lived for about 9 years in a small town located in northern Alberta, Canada.  It was a town of three thousand people, an island surrounded by an ocean of prairie.  Every month on our local radio station there would be reported a death of a cyclist who was run over by an truck carrying oil.  I got the message during that first year: don’t bicycle.

Instead, I ran.  I loved running.  Through the canola fields and the dugouts and the rivers and the poplar trees, I ran.  I heard Green Hornet whisper, but only vaguely.

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I left the small town to live in Alberta’s capital, Edmonton.  Arthritis took my left hip and I couldn’t run anymore.

A friend of mine had prayed for me to have a bike and she saw the colour red.  Sure enough, luck would have it: a red bike miraculously ended up in my life.  And then it got a little more rough to ride and more.  I needed to replace my hip.

After a hip replacement surgery, I wanted to do something, anything active.  Bicycling came back into view.    I couldn’t ride my red mountain bike for it broke all of my new rules for living with an even newer hip.  So I went to a bike store for a new bike.

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I would call the cruiser “Greta”.   Inspired by the teenage activist for a better world, I figured the more travel I did without a gas engine, the better.  I joked with my daughters that I wanted a bike horn that tooted, “How dare you!?!!?”

I tried my first cruiser and my body fit.  I rode.  And suddenly, a whisper came, “I’m Green Hornet.  Don’t tell anyone.”

“But how?”

“I can’t explain the science.  Just ride.”

Now I ride Greta, my new steed.  I ride her with my daughters, to work, and around my neighbourhood.  As a grown man, I feel the speed and wonder and magic of a good bike ride.  With my girls, I tell them how to lock up your bikes, how to care for your ride, and how to ride really fast.

I believe in Heaven.  I also believe our pets will be there.  And, to push the envelope, I expect all of my former bikes to be there.  Don’t ask me to defend this believe. I won’t because I can’t explain the science.  Just ride.