“It’s the only house I’ve seen,” Rev. Robert Maven had once said. “Where you more like the home is staring you down instead of you looking into it.”
This best captured the mansion on 15411 Helmock Lane: it focused on you, like one getting ready for a street fight full of wrath and violence and hatred. Yes, one felt hated when the mansion stared at you. And yet-which was the head scratcher in all of this- how can a building hate you? That makes no sense.
And yet everyone in the neighbourhood felt the same way and no one could put it into words or warning or give empirical evidence that there was a black hole-within walking distance of their kid’s school-of pure, angry evil.
A red mansion, yet the red was not the kind of red you buy at any paint store. A mansion full of points and peaks, yet all of the points felt sharper than needed to be and askew despite the work of any leveler. A mansion full of darkness, no matter how lights were on.
An angry, sharpened, dark house on 15411 Helmock Lane.
This is an except from a novel I’m writing about, as you probably guessed, a haunted house. As an Anglican Priest, I believe in the supernatural. And yet, are there such things as haunted houses? Empirically, we can prove they don’t exist.
But then again, ever walk into a place where you felt the presence of something horrible? You knew you were watched and yet you were quite obviously alone? And this uneasy feeling leaves immediately you step out from the space? These dark feelings, you swear, have a locus and inhibit some kind of land.
What do we do with spots in our neighbourhood that feel haunted?
Our brains are interesting for they are quite effective at storing trauma, yet may not be the most effective at labeling it. This is a grace: sometimes we must filter our trauma in order to continue with higher functions. (Ex. I will need to stop being scared over the spooky movie I saw last night in order to drive my kids to school the next morning, so the light trauma is filed away). When we file trauma and mislabel it (MISC.), those feelings can sometimes attach themselves onto something more tangible. Let’s say, an abandoned building on our street…
Or sometimes there is an event that has taken place somewhere, long ago that is part of our neighbourhood’s conscious memory. The event may be well before our time, but we hear stories…
Or perhaps there’s something at work, behind the veil of what we can perceive, that tips it’s hand to reveal something isn’t right, isn’t normal and…
For good Christian rationalists, the best argument for why something could feel haunted is not to talk about haunting, but redeeming. Mainly, if one place could feel haunted couldn’t another place feel…Holy?
Right now, many of us cannot fully experience worship like we used to-due to the safety restrictions we’ve assumed to combat COVID 19. We have met on-line for worship, come on Sunday wearing masks, there’s no potlucks anymore, we don’t hug, and we maintain social distancing measures. We do this because it is our Christian duty to “consider our neighbour” and work collectively to fight the virus. But still, something is missing, isn’t it? The “space” of our church is different.
An older woman shared that she can’t go back to her church until she can go back to the way it used to be. Why? Her little church was a holy place, a place full of redemption. Church was, to her memory, a place where one is hugged, loved, and you re-learn how to share. She couldn’t go back until the space could be honoured. She came with her church’s on-line platforms and still gave her tithe, but for her she was “in captivity”.
The idea of COVID19 being a sort of captivity is not unique to my older friend. Writer N.T. Wright, in his book “God and the Pandemic”, associates the church with that of ancient Israel during Babylonian Captivity. Israel, like today’s Christian, was/is separated from the very space that was Holy. As the space of goodness is no longer available, the Children of Israel (and the Christian) must recreate new spaces of worship.
The land of Israel itself was considered to be sacred and holy. Walter Brueggeman’s book, simply titled “The Land”, illustrates that the people of God was always tied to the land of God. The land itself redeemed, saved.
We feel this with our homes, more or less. If we love our home and we feel our home loves us back, the mere sight of the space gives us joy. As a kid away from summer camp, I longed to return to my bed, eat the meals my mother made for me, and see my dog. My home, my land: these were safe, warm, loving places.
And nothing is more warm and loving than that which is Holy.
Haunted or Holy?
If your brain is like mine, then question screams: “Is there a way to turn a haunted house into a Holy home?”
St. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:16, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Let’s substitute “time” for “space” in the most wibbly-wobbly sort of way. Redemption is at the heart of the Kingdom of God because, you see, this Kingdom took an enemy of God and redeemed him into a Canadian Anglican Priest.
This, I would argue, has to be done in the neighbourhood.
One story was of a church that saw, across from it’s street, an abandoned cement field. Once a gas station that the corporation who used to own it didn’t clean up sufficiently, it was always an eye sore. So this church decided to hold their outdoor potlucks in the space: replacing bad memories for good.
Another story was a youth group who decided to visit their local haunted house. Come to find out, it was in disrepair and abandonment because of the owner, a disabled senior. For the next year, until she passed, they did yard-work and maintenance on the house.
One final story. I work as a Chaplain for the Christian Organization “The Mustard Seed”. One of my jobs was to help run a drop-in centre for our homeless and vulnerable. It was in a space that was originally a Baptist Church and then a bar and then a warm space/day shelter. One afternoon, a new face came in and sat for a cup of coffee. The man was crying, but dutifully finished his cup. He then came to me and said, “I needed to come back here. 25 years ago, I was homeless and an addict and this church was the only safe space in my life. I’ve been 20 years sober now, I own a home, and I just retired from my career. But I had to come back, as the new ‘me’ to this space. I wanted to drink the old coffee, but take back some of the old memories.” In other words, he came back to scare aware some of his old ghosts and redeem the haunting.
Redeeming time and space, turning the haunted into the holy.
“He went to his own dark house and lighted the lamps and set fire in the stove. The clock wound by Elizabeth still ticked, storing in its spring the pressure of her hand, and the wool socks she had hung to dry over the stove screen were still damp. These were vital parts of Elizabeth that were not dead yet. Joseph pondered slowly over it. Life cannot be cut off quickly. One cannot be dead until the things he changed are dead. His effect is the only evidence of his life. While there remains even a plaintive memory, a person cannot be cut off, dead. And he thought, “It’s a long slow process for a human to die. We kill a cow, and it is dead as soon as the meat is eaten, but a man’s life dies as a commotion in a still pool dies, in little waves, spreading and growing back toward stillness.” ― John Steinbeck, To a God Unknown
On Thursday, October 22, just after midnight, my brother called me. Dad had passed away. We had been told by hospice care that his body was shutting down. He had a brief surge of energy the day before, but then everything slowed down.
Expecting sadness to come, I felt mostly relief. Yes, I was sad; but I’ve been sad for 7 years concerning my Dad. This had been a long, long journey.
My Old Man- a term he had for himself- was born 1935 in Holland, Michigan. He was one of three children- Karen was his older sister and David was his younger brother. John Henry Kregel (or Jack, as he was called by his family) grew up, mostly, during the World War Two and watched America, along with the rest of Western Civilization, save the world.
His father, Rev. Herman Kregel, was a Dutch Reformed Pastor. He aspired to have a congregation but couldn’t land one. One story was told that he candidate at a beautiful, mid-west church that had an elevated pulpit. It towered above the congregation. My grandfather preached a brilliant sermon, in his robe and stole, and asked afterwards if he had the job. They would get back to him, was the reply. Two months later, he received a letter stating that they hired another minister. His sermon was fine but my Grandfather was a short man and no one could see him in the pulpit: he literally didn’t fit the church.
Grandfather Herman joked about his height an awful lot. His best comeback: “They don’t store diamond rings in piano boxes.” Finding a church, for this witty pastor, was difficult.
To gain a calling, Herman took his wife, Hilda, and their kids to serve the Army where he was a chaplain during World War Two.
My Dad moved around a lot. He once told me he had probably about 20-25 different homes growing up. He mostly lived in the mid-west, favoring Iowa. He spent his summers with his grandparents on their farm and then be scooted around as an army brat.
When he graduated High School, he entered the armed service himself in Army Intelligence. A pre-Vietnam War, his job was to collect information by listening to Vietnamese radio.
His best friend then, Ed Tennant, would work hard in the language division and then, on leave, would buy alcohol through the officer’s store and then sell them on the street. Not technically a Black Marketeer, but close enough that I had to heard this story from Ed and not my Old Man.
John realized that his talents and genius would be wasted on the bureaucracy of the Federal Government so the first chance he could get an honourable discharge, he took it.
He enrolled at University of Iowa as a Political Science Major. Those four years, given to him by the G.I. Bill, were defining years. For decades after graduation, he would wear Iowa’s gold and black proudly, with the Hawkeyes’ symbol proudly flying in the centre of any flag, sweatshirt, or tie. College and football and fraternities and dances fitted him well.
Graduated, he did a brief stint as a bank examiner until Ed encouraged him to join the police force in San Francisco, mid-1960’s.
The last time I saw my dad face to face was back in 2013. It was a joy to see him. He was able to see my kids, his grandkids. We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium as a family. There was a bit of nostalgia because he had taken me there when I was a kid.
But he wasn’t himself. Gone was the rapid-fire thoughts and ideas. We didn’t banter like we normally do. He walked slowly.
Later it would be revealed by doctors that he had, recently, a stroke.
A few months after my meeting, he would have massive stroke. It was wild because he was in really good health. Before his stroke, he probably rode his bicycle the morning of to get groceries.
His stroke shut down most of his body’s movement, but he was still himself although he couldn’t speak. We rushed him to surgery to unblock his arteries, the cause of these strokes. A few more strokes took place in surgery which wiped most of his functions out.
My brother astutely described, “I believe our father died then, on the operating table.”
The result was, for years, when we would see him, the question hovered: “How much of my Old Man is there?”
When John entered the police force, he drove a motorcycle and wore braids in his somewhat longish hair. He would have been known to many as somewhat liberal, almost Bohemian.
At least, that’s what my Mom thought when she first met him. He was trying to help a buddy sell a Fiat to one of my Mom’s friends. They dated for a bit and then he disappeared. He reappeared and asked her out again. A long courtship that culminated in a wedding led by Rev. Herman.
Being a police officer shaped him into the man I knew and grew up with.
Wearing the SFPD blue shaped his self-concept as the “Blue Knight”, “The Last Centurion”, and “The Samurai for America’s Bushido”. For my Dad, western civilization worked if you worked hard, didn’t complain, and kept your place. He was proud of being a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) and saw that the status of this tribe must be protected and celebrated. As “The Last of the Good Guys”, his job was to keep the system alive and well.
You didn’t question the system or raise doubt or bring up the exceptions when it didn’t work or pay attention to those excluded by the system. To do so was a slow compromise of the natural order of things. You went to church, you provided for your family, and you helped your neighbour because that is what the system expects from you.
This was what ran through his head as he broke up anti-war riots in the 1960’s, arrested minorities, and kept his night stick handy.
He told me lots and lots of stories of these wild days in the bay area. My Old Man never had a filter with these stories, he would just let the stories fly. Once he told me they had arrested about a hundred “hippy freaks” for protesting and turning violent on the streets. They were in a holding cell and one young man screamed at a police officer, “Nazi!!”
The officer turned to the young man and, without warning, began to sing the national of Germany. The rest of the officers, my dad one of them, joined in the chorus. And, according to my dad, the male chorus of the SFPD wasn’t half bad.
John took his family from San Francisco to San Jose about the time my brother, Mark, was born. We moved into my childhood home just months before I was born.
His wishes, if ever there was a stroke, were that he would be returned to his cabin in Santa Cruz. When he had his strokes, my brother tried this. It proved to be impossible. Even with 24-hour care, the cabin was not set up for him. We moved him around for a while. On one of these occasions, we were told by doctors that our father would die soon. I left Canada for California to say my farewell. My brother and I visited some Santa Cruz cemeteries and booked a session with his Lutheran minister for the funeral.
My Old Man was staying in a nursing home next door to Calvary Church, a place in Los Gatos where I converted to Christianity. As a teenager, I always wanted my parents to attend the church home of my new-found faith. They resisted.
However, it was there that I said my good-bye. I told him I loved him and my one regret was that I never felt I successfully could communicate that to him in a way that he could understand.
Telling him that then, next door to the church that was my 2nd home, held a certain amount of irony. Doubling this irony, I wasn’t sure how much he understood what I was telling me. After the 2nd round of strokes, he would stare wide eyed at you despite what you said to him.
For the first year, he could understand certain words and phrases. He learned Spanish before his stroke and responded better with Spanish. He liked Telenovelas.
But when I saw him, those skills were erased. It was just me, telling him I loved my father with the belief this would be the last time.
It wasn’t. He bounced back. I saw him more. Physically, he got better and we moved him to another nursing home. And he was around for more years after.
As a parent, my father was socially Byronic, full of Wagnerian moods, Quixotic in politics, and Faulknerian is storytelling. My memories were that if my dad wanted, he could fill the entire house with his words, strung together like a bullet ribbon out from a Gatling gun. Or, if he wished, the whole house would be silent save the Opera playing from his radio.
There were three rules that were given to me by him.
Don’t be bored. Life was exciting! There were questions to be asked and if you waited, you get hear an answer. Read, learn guitar, go on a hike, travel the world…do whatever you want. Only boring people said, “I’m bored!” So that was off the table.
I won’t be here for you. If I wanted to talk to him, I realized I couldn’t keep up with him. So then, I would ask him questions. He then would march me into the family room where we kept our Family Bible sized dictionary or our Funk and Wagnell’s Encyclopedias. I would have to look up the answer and sound out the problem. At the end, he would tell me to search things for myself and that he won’t always be there. And I was never allowed, ultimately, to ask for help.
Finding truth must always be exhausting work. My dad would be part Rabbi in this regard, always taking the other side and trying to get me to fight for my answer. He loved a good verbal scrap and this was how he measured intimacy: Are people disagreeing with me?!?! His favorite memories during this time was Thanksgiving/Christmas, where he’d go to his parent’s home in the hills of Berkeley and they would argue over politics. For my Dad, he raised me to disregard any easy answer and that reality is only apprehended through an exhausting wrestling match. My Dad had a bit of the Old Testament Jacob to him, the youngest son who stole his brother’s birthright and walked with a limp because he tried to pick a fight with God. John (Jack) was a brilliant man and expected everyone else to be smart as well. He didn’t understand why people wouldn’t work for their intelligence like he did.
My childhood appeared to be normal for a 1980’s kid. My mom, the stewardess, and my Dad, the Blue Knight, gave the façade that were happy, functional, and brilliant.
I converted to Christianity in my early teens. My Dad, at first, didn’t mind this, but then always cautioned me not to take Jesus too seriously. We were WASP’s- we went to church but that was about it. The more I pursued this faith in Christ, the more distant he became. He did try to come into my world- in 2003, he attended my ordination service along with Ed. But when I grew up, we grew apart.
In High School, there was a youth evangelist, Dawson Mcallister, that encouraged the crowd I was a part of that if we were distant from our parents and we were the Christian, it was up to us-not them- to bridge the gap. I took this as my task to invade my Dad’s world.
As a teenager, I tried to figure out who this weird man was that I lived with? This man who would sit in his orange easy chair, read 4-6 books a week, and listen to classical music from NPR. Who was this guy? I tried reading with him, but that wasn’t much of a bonding moment. I then figured he really liked classical music.
One afternoon, I asked him if he would ever like to see a classical concert sometime. He grumbled something and continued reading. The next day, he announced that he bought two season tickets to the San Jose Symphonic Winds.
The first year was all 20th Century Composers. One of them was Bela Bartok and, for a 16-year old, he was the farthest thing from my imagination. One of the pieces required the pianist to strike randomly the keyboards in a 3-hour piece from the 1960’s of New York.
Then, in the Spring, came all 9 of Beethoven’s Symphonies. When we got to the 9th and the chorus came to “Ode to Joy”, I wept. I had never felt such feelings like that before, brought about by the choir and by Ludwig’s notes and the orchestra. Suddenly, I had a small window into my Old Man’s soul.
I left home to go to Biola University. It was a last-minute decision. He picked me up from a summer camp I was working at, packed my bag, and put me on a plane. His last words, as I left home, was, “See you in four years, son!” It was my Old Man personified: full of irony and distance belonging to the moment.
He wished I had gone to a Big 10 school or a University with a football team or even a fraternity system. However, instead of having those things I had…the Bible (it helped that Biola stood for Bible Institute of Los Angeles). He visited me about 2-3 times, bringing his cop stories and would fill my dormitory with his words.
He loved to tell violent, cop stories to me with these visits. Biola’s implied promise to most of the parents would be the students would be in a safe, kind environment. “But who is to protect them from the parents,” I said to him after a really sordid story he told me about a police shoot-out.
“That’s why you have me,” my Old Man said with a laugh. He was quite proud of himself at that moment.
Our family had a cabin in Mi Wuk Village. We would ski, hike, and relax. However, one of my favourite rituals would be hearing ghost stories before going to bed.
My mom would turn in early and my Old Man would be left with us. He would attempt to put us to bed early, but we’d ask for a story. He would pretend to relent. In truth, he had been working on this story all day in his head.
One story was about a little girl murdered in the woods near our cabin and was tapping on the door of a family’s cabin, only they were too scared to answer the door and she died. Another story was about a killer who lived in the upstairs of houses and would only kill you if you noticed him. Or there was the one about stretching hands that would grow from dresser drawers and grab children who made too much noise at night.
He sat in front of the cabin’s fire place with all of the lights out, a trick he learned as a cop when it came to conducting interrogations (control the light of the room). After telling us his police stories, he would send us to bed. And we would do our best to go to sleep.
My Mom and Dad separated just about the time I graduated. He left to spend most of his time in Central or South America. Retired, he would do jobs in real estate or with the U.S. Marshalls. But they would just be stopovers, as he would go back to being a world traveler. I would call him sometimes and, once in a blue moon, he would come see me. But the more I made my way as an adult, the less I saw him.
Once in a while, I would come and see him in his cabin in Santa Cruz. While I was still dating my now wife, I spent a weekend with him. I remember one morning, exactly at 7am, I woke up to Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyrie” at the highest volume possible. I staggered out of my room, seeing all of his speakers pointed at me door. I mumbled in the direction of the kitchen, “What in the Wide World of Sports is going on?”
My dad, sipping his coffee “made by Hippies from a downtown cafe” and a full breakfast on the table before him, looked up at me. He said coolly, “Oh good, you’re up. Breakfast is ready.”
We would have cigars together on his porch and I would work hard to mine him for stories.
He would often send me cryptic notes, sometimes written on the back of random postcards. “To My Beloved Son,” was how they began and they ended with “Your Sainted Father”. My dad, who owned nicknames and titles, kept this in his correspondence for years. Often, but not every times, his last line would be, “Unfortunately, we live in interesting times.” This was often his way of lamenting how the system was not being protected or honored or loved.
In his later years, he was a proud Mason and actively involved with his lodge. This was fodder for me and my brother for our conspiracy theories, that the world was being run by our Old Man and his retired Masons living in Santa Cruz. For a long time, he acted like he didn’t get these jokes until one day I received a postcard from him. It was a picture of the then President Bill Clinton hugging Monica Lewinsky. On the back it read: “To My Beloved Son, We disapproved of his actions. Your Sainted Father.”
About 5 months ago, we got the call that my father was going to die. Again.
Due to Lockdown, we couldn’t visit him other than Zoom. We called his Lutheran Minister and did a virtual last rites service. One of my daughters played the violin for him. He was in his home with his wide eyed, hollow expression. We all told him we loved him and good-bye.
He nodded and then wanted to go to sleep. He departed for his bed with the hospice staff taking him away.
We believed we said good-bye, but then he recovered quickly and was back to his normal level of health.
After separating from my Mom, they would still visit each other. He would break into her home and wait for her to get home, having made a pot of coffee and a box of store-bought cookies waiting for her.
“Separating from your Mom was the best thing for our marriage,” he said to me once.
He became a member of a local Lutheran church and began to invest himself in his Santa Cruz neighborhood. He came up twice to see me in Canada, two very short trips.
Then the strokes took place, bringing to mostly a shell of what he was once like.
Life is cruel-simply put- especially in regards to one of the smartest people I’ve ever known to lose their brain. My dad was the top percentile of Mensa and that was what was taken from him first, his intelligence.
He faded from us slowly, like an oranging picture left out too long in sunlight. My girls hadn’t seen much of him so I had to fill in a lot of the gaps of information about him.
But after his strokes, we started to get to know what his neighbors experienced of him as a kind, present, and joyful man. More and more stories emerged about my Old Man.
That’s the magic of my Old Man. For the times I did connect with him, it was when he turned on the storytelling machine that was in his brain. He filled my childhood with his stories. And now, with my kids, my dad has become stories for them.
He has now passed. And in dying, he has now become the fulfillment of what lingered around him; he has become one of his stories.
I began this blog with a quote from John Steinbeck. Death can be sudden stark, and unexpected, but in my father’s case, it wasn’t. A lingering, slow good-bye. The death took place, but he still hung around with a slow fade. And his good-bye isn’t finished. Memories will still pop up. Objects he left behind will be found hidden away. Stories will be told. It was my father’s slow, savored exit.
For he has now become the thing he gave the most: stories. Ending with the statement that we, as humans, all live in interesting times and that we remember John Henry Kregel, the Last of the Good Guys.
With COVID 19, we will not be holding a Memorial Service anytime soon. When we do, it will be a simple service when everything is safe and under control in the United States. Our family is available for any memory sharing, conversations, or virtual visits during this time as we remember John Henry Kregel.
Everything collapses. The centre is lost. The caterers have run off with the wedding cake. The world is burned. The Empire wins.
Virtue is in hock. You can find the nation’s soul on E-bay. Entropy is it. All is lost…or at least the best bits.
Heroes and heroines are not allowed anymore. Why bother? What is in it for them? And if nothing is in it for them, won’t they wreck the plot of our movie?
What to do?, I ask. What to do?
Alumni of any Sunday School, you all know about the Prodigal Son. He’s the punk kid who lost it all, bet the rest, ruined everything, went broke, got bent, stunk up the stage, lost the ring, crashed the car, had the affair, fell into the lake, and stole from the kid’s piggy bank. He’s the cheat who did one last wager: maybe-just maybe- I might be returned to the store for equal or greater credit.
That’s Prodigal Son. And yet, we have the Prodigal Father.
He’s the fool who loved big, forgot much, chose to be taken advantage of again, threw a party, turned into a madman in one evening, disgusted his reasonable and stable son, and gave up his signet ring.
The Prodigals of the world live big and wild and bold and beautiful.
With the laugh of Falstaff, they lean forward to deliver every syllable and cry at every tragedy.
The Prodigals are the one’s who is no longer at the factory setting, but on at maximum.
And it a broken, twisted, hollowed out world, what prodigal are we? Lavish with despair or abundant with grace?
I chose the path of prodigal grace.
To tip too much our waiters, to smile at the unkind, to wink at discarded toys, to fill a room with silence so others may speak, to tell stories of villains becoming heroes, to rally for the powerless, to stand in the gaps of those upper income tribes, to do things for free, to be kind without being hired, to mow a neighbours lawn in secret, to paint a fence everyone has forgotten, to be an invisible patron, to plant for someone else’ meal, to be good anyways.
Filling the world with satire and wonder and comedy and marvel and drama.
Tell stories with hope. Not everyone has to be right in the end, just that there’s a promise of a sequel with redemption.
I chose the path of prodigal grace.
We are all twisted, broken, dusted, used up, worn out, spit up, marked down, stripped, and thrown in the dollar bin. Grace, then, for ourselves; grace of the others in the bin; and grace for the bin. There is prodigal grace.
The notice will never come, permission will never be granted, the parade is not scheduled, the medals are on back order, and the day of triumph has been postponed. Still, there is prodigal grace.
No one earns it and no one thinks to ask for it and no one knows what it is when it’s given. Everyone will want to label it as something else, buy it from you, own it, market it, add it to their tribe, classify it, make it in their political party, and, eventually, turn it into a policy. Don’t bother. Just give and wink and serve and confuse. Our 5 year plan got us into this mess; another identical 5 year plan will not get us out of it. No one will understand what you are up to. Still, there is prodigal grace.
Reckless, lavish, bold, and mad…are we allowed to live like this way anymore? Doesn’t matter. Still, there is prodigal grace?
Why? Why this and not prodigal payback or prodigal pleasantries?
One day, long before you or I were ever around, someone bigger and greater than any of us not only chose to be prodigal…but had a prodigal moment, crashing into Bethlehem to be born.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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”.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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)
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.“
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the meantime, cheers to James Clavell. Thank you for telling us so many good stories!
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.”
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!”
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.
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!!!!”
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!”
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):
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?
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:
3 “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.
4 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.
5 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?
6 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?
7 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.
8 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.
9 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?:
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.