A Humbled Man

Things have been rough this year.

My wife died giving birth to a stillborn child.

I lost my job to a younger man.

The earth shook and things went wild.

Alcohol became my best friend

Keeping me warm on cold winter nights.

Teeth fell out and tongue turned brown

And vagrants challenged me to fights.

One rainy night, down on my luck,

No nickel to my tarnished name,

I stumbled into an empty house

Where I could hide in shame.

I searched through cabinets covered in dust

And looked under every loose board

Hoping to find a morsel to eat,

A blanket, a shirt, anything to add to my hoard.

Upstairs in what was a little boy’s room

A magical things I did find.

Buried beneath a pile of rags,

A book to challenge my mind.

A stubble of candle sat on a shelf

And so I quickly lit it with glee.

By the flickering light I eagerly read.

A realization soon came to me.

The story spoke of a man long ago

Who owned very little but love.

He roamed his world bringing peace,

Goodwill, a message from God above.

I am like He, I began to think,

With nothing to lose nor fear.

Resolved to act I fell asleep

Like a child, both loved and dear.

When the new sun brightened the world

I stumbled, confusedly, into the hall.

For there surrounded in unearthly glow

Hovered the Man to whom I did fall.

“My Lord, forgive this humble man

who long ago fell out out of Your grace.

Today I beg you, I am renewed

And ready to take my place.”

A breeze arose, tore off my rags

And dried the tears from my eyes.

Gentle fingers brushed my cheek

And lifted away my cries.

That was the day when I took control

And rejoined the human race.

From that day forward I was His man

And walked with smiling face.

I now believe that my wife and child

Truly did not die in vain,

For their sacrifice brought me back to God

And to feel His love again.

Testimony

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m here to testify.

“Amen,” you say, “Amen.”

I cross my hands and cry

The Lord, our God, is here

I see Him in your eyes

with a fire hot to sear

and drown out all your cries

He loves us, don’t you know

He calls us to follow

His straight path and to grow

in love.  He brings a glow

a radiant glow of love

so pure, so strong, so fine

that we look up above

and are blind by His shine

but don’t worry, my friends

for we can easily

cross over, make amends,

climb the heights, dizzily

basking in His wondrous

gift of spiritual life

spreading a bounteous

blessing to man and wife

children, bow down, I pray

I place my hands and sing

calling His love your way

and the joys He will bring

Halleluiah, Amen

Halleluiah, my friend

Halleluiah, again

Halleluiah,  the end.

Missing Him

           

I wonder where my dad is now?

What country or what town?

Do the people even know he’s there?

And care about his men?

I wonder what he’s thinking of?

While I stare at the clouds?

Does he see the same sky that I see?

And smile at the bright sun?

I wonder if he questions

What the war is all about?

Does it make a difference what he does?

And how will it all come out?

I wonder when he does come home

Whom he will smile at first?

Do you think he’ll even recognize me?

And know that I’m his son?

I wonder if he wonders

What I’m thinking of today?

Does he pray for me on bended knee?

And whisper I love you?

Talk to Me About God

Let’s not argue about God.

Whether you believe in a He

     or a She,

Buddha, Yahweh, Christ,

or the words of Kahlil Gibran,

or maybe no god at all other

than the inner workings

of your soul,

matters not.

Why waste our time discussing

the merits of one or the other,

when all speak a common

language?

Tranquility, peace, love,

care for humankind,

trust, giving from the heart,

faithfulness

and honesty,

are more important than

whose “god” is holier.

It makes no difference if you are

born again, or

newly discovered,

a long-time believer,

or a thinking-about-it

skeptic,

for we all approach faith

in our own way,

in our own time.

Tell me about your God,

for I truly want to know.

Show me, not with words,

but with actions,

what it means to follow

His/Her way.

I’ll listen, with open mind

and heart,

for who’s to say

which way of believing

is better?

Not me.

Faith: a Personal Definition

One aspect of faith is the belief in the inherent goodness of humanity.  It may be a naïve way of thinking, especially considering these troubled times.  It may be a bit misplaced in terms of focus considering the quantity of murders, robberies, beatings, and home invasions that take place every day.  However, if we cannot believe that the bulk of those traveling through life with us do so with goodness as a driving force, then we cannot live as faith-filled people. 

Back when I was still teaching something occurred at my high school that challenged my faith in humanity.  An article appeared in the school newspaper referring to a group of students as “Tard Kart.”  In itself, the label does not seem offensive.  However, the members of this group described themselves as crazy misfits who were not accepted by the school population at large.  Hence, to them, “Tard” was a derivative of the word retard.  Kart referred to the food carts which were staffed by Special Education students, the connection, to me, was quite obvious.

Believing that it was a simple mistake, I contacted the teacher who oversaw the Journalism students.  The teacher found nothing offensive about the inclusion of the name in the article.  When I asked her what she would do if a group called themselves “Spics” or “Wops.” Would she print that?  Of course not, she said, as those are ethnic slurs.

The teacher herself had been subjected to ethnic slurs over her entire teaching career.  She had been found crying, many times, over the cruelty of students who mimicked her accent and who left insults on the white board in her classroom.  One would think that if anyone would be sensitive to negative stereotypes, it would be she.

Earlier in the same week a student was attacked outside my classroom.  He was a relatively small freshman compared to others in his class. When I heard loud thumps outside my room, I went outside to see what was happening. My student was on the floor curled up in a fetal position, holding his groin area.  Large tears coursed down his cheeks.  He was unable to speak or move for more than thirty minutes. When I found out what has happened, I was horrified that two very large seniors had slammed the smaller boy against the wall and kicked him when he was down.

I believe that it was a prank that got out of control.  Yes, the students involved tended to be aggressive, defiant, and general malcontents.  Yes, they were not on track to graduate in June.  Even so, my faith tells me that this “beating” was not a planned act of violence, but rather an opportunistic reaction.

In my seventy-one years of life, I have not only witnessed, but also been a victim of comparable events.  As an abused child, I grew up in an environment that was not conducive to the development of faith.  It’s hard to believe in a God that allows physical beatings, verbal harassment, and emotional debasement.  I prayed, every day, for salvation.  My prayers went unanswered, or so I thought.

It was not until I went on a trip to the mountains of southern California with a Catholic youth group from my university that I understood faith.  Looking at the towering mountains and walking amid the amazingly tall trees, I realized that there is a God who loves the world so much that He gave us places of solitude and introspection. 

God does not always our wishes for He knows that we need to be forged by our experiences.  We may not want to walk our given path, but we have to believe that the journey somehow leads us to a clearer understanding of who we are meant to be.

When I stood in that forest I knew that I was not the horrible child that my parents saw.  Faith allowed me to witness the goodness inside myself, the goodness inside my parents, and the goodness in those sharing the moment with me.  It sounds like a cliché, but I truly felt a golden glow spreading through my body.  That glow was faith.

Since that day, my faith has been my rock.  It gives me the strength to transcend the travails of daily life.  It opens my eyes to the good intentions of others and allows me to feel generosity of spirit.  When disheartening or disturbing events rise forth, it is through faith that I am able to process what is happening.

I do believe that all humans are capable of living lives ruled by basic tenets of kindness and generosity of spirit.  Even when the news is filled with stories of turbulence, I do not let my belief waver.  That is my belief in the goodness of humanity. That is my faith.

God’s Face

Desolate cliffs stand at the place

Where first I gazed upon God’s face

No shrubs or grass to brighten here

No rabbits, birds or white-tipped deer

Sadness reigned throughout my being

Blocked the sunshine from me seeing

Clouds above, below and within

Blackness covered every inch of skin

Upon the edge I placed my feet

Willingly admitted defeat

Dreamt of freedom’s staccato beat

Thought of God whom I soon would meet

When birds did fly into the scene

I wondered what it all might mean

Did He expect me to believe

Relief would help me not to grieve?

As icing on my private cake

A rainbow appeared that did remake

Lifeless soil into softened down

As comfort for my furrowed frown

With crash of waves upon the shore

I realized that I wanted more

Than living life like troubled boar

Whose blackened heart on shoulders wore

The sun burst forth upon a wave

Strode to my heart; pierced with a stave

Releasing sadness, doubt and fear

Then my savior, God, did appear

Now rabbits, birds and white-tipped deer

Frequently to this place appear

Marvelous cliffs to mark the place

Where first I gazed upon God’s face.

Hood Bros

            

I claim blue, the color of true blood,

the color of the maximum flood

of brains, guts and brawn

spreading across city and lawn.

My world filled with violence,

not love or calm silence.

Living and dying young.

Treated much like dung

by outsiders, the reds,

whose hatred blocks heads

from thinking about me

as a man, to be free.

I proudly claim blue

to whose bros I am true.

In my hood we proudly sing

of the joys members bring

to our strong gang and streets

and to each brother who greets

the day alive once more

in whose love I place store.

So watch out, you reds.

Don’t get out of your beds

on my streets or you’ll cry

blood into the sky.

I’m watching.

To be Yours

God came to me today

In the form of a tiny child

Whose fragile hands

Reached up to mine

Crying

Love me

Care for me

As if I were your own

Mary walked with me today

As a lowly washer woman

Whose wrinkled hands

Caressed my soul

Weeping

Help me

Touch me

Stay with me

As if I were your own

Jesus spoke to me today

Through the eyes of a blind man

Whose stumbling walk

Came near to me

Calling

Guide me

Trust me

Worship me

As if I were your own

Take time to see

To truly see

The Spirit deep inside

Of every man and woman

Walking by your side

For Jesus Christ may

Come to you today

Election Day Thoughts

            I still recall my first opportunity to vote for a president. I was not a political activist, but I became one because I wanted to make what I thought was the right choice for all Americans. I attended rallies, workshops, seminars and listened to countless speeches. My university was predominately liberal, but all voices could be heard. And listen I did.

            When it came time to vote, I did so with great pride.

            My candidate won and went on to become a good president, a good leader. He lead with compassion and thought.

            I never regretted my decision even when I changed political parties for the next election.

            In over 50 years I have never missed an election cycle because I feel it is my civic duty to vote. When I study the issues and the candidates I am constantly aware of how, many years ago, not all Americans had the right to vote. If you weren’t a white man, you had no voice. When women finally won the right to vote, many chose to vote as their husbands, fathers or brothers told them to do. Politics was considered above the head of women and discussing political ideas was considered unseemly.

            My candidates didn’t always win, but I told myself that the winners would still represent me, would still keep me in their minds as they brought forth bills. At times I was sorely disappointed. Decisions were made that angered me or negatively impacted me, such as when taxes were increased or boundaries were gerrymandered to enhance the strength of a different political party than mine.

            For the most, part, however, I understood that the voice of the many was what drove decisions, what won elections, what dictated how laws were interpreted and enforced.

            Until 2016. My candidate did not win, not because of popular vote, but because of an archaic system called the Electoral College. I understand why the founding fathers established the College many years ago: it was to make sure that all states had equal voice in choosing who would be president. However, at that time, much of America was rural, with people scattered across vast swaths of land.

            Those “fathers” most likely didn’t expect things to remain static, that America would remain mostly rural. They also probably expected change to take place as time and circumstances dictated. There has been no change. So what we have is a system in which a wide-open mostly rural state has the same two votes as a densely populated state. Essentially this means that not all voters are equal, not all votes count.

            The current president won because of the Electoral College. His “two votes” came from predominately rural states, states that for the most part are mostly white, run by white males. His victory represented those white ideals, not the majority of Americans, not the majority of women or people of color. We have seen the results, over and over as mandates have been signed and laws have been passed or rules have been challenged which weaken the voice of anyone who is not white male.

            The importance of voting has become more and more apparent as the years have passed. During 2016 many sat out the election because they didn’t like a particular candidate, sort of a protest non-vote. There were Independents who chose to vote for candidates who stood no chance of winning because of our primarily two-party system. Because of the many who chose not to endorse the candidate who did win the popular votes, our country ended up with a president who represents a narrow spectrum of America: white males.

            By the time you read this, it will be too late to vote. Hopefully you did turn in a ballot. Hopefully you chose wisely after much thought and research. Hopefully you are pleased with the outcome.

            After the results were announced in 2016, many across America mourned. Hopefully the same will not happen again.

            Americans have always been proud of how we come together, regardless of many diverse circumstances, in pride in our country. We are not perfect: far from it. We make mistakes. Often we learn from those same mistakes, but it sometimes takes many, many mistakes before we do something about it.

            We need to understand that choices have consequences. Just as when one buys a particular brand and model of car after much research, choosing a political candidate requires the same amount of careful research. The difference is that car buying affects only one family while the political candidate affects thousands, millions, billions.

            My hope is that Americans who chose not to vote last election, Americans who chose to vote for a third-party candidate, have awakened to exactly what that wrought.

Reflections on Being Obese

No one ever gets up in the morning and says I think I’ll get morbidly obese today. It’s not like deciding one day to learn how to ski or ride a bike. Those take intention, practice and skill. Becoming obese isn’t intentional, it takes no practice and requires absolutely no skill.

 Many obese people begin life that way. My mother believed that a fat child was a healthy child. She wasn’t a great cook and knew nothing about balanced meals, so much of what we ate was battered, fried or boiled to a mushy mess. Fruit was a treat.  Cookies were available at all times.

Mom made excellent pies and apple dumplings. Her homemade noodles were delicious. Her concoction of sauerkraut, polish sausage and drop dumplings was to die for. I hated her fried chicken. The top half was crispy but the bottom half was drenched with oil. Mom’s bacon was inconsistent: sometimes it was done to a crisp but most of the time it was limp and soggy. I still dislike friend chicken and bacon!

So, if you believe that being obese is a learned condition, then I learned from my mom that I had to anything and everything that was put on the table. It made no difference whether you liked it or not: you were watched and monitored for food consumption. I never saw my mom write it down, but somewhere in her head she stored how much of what we had eaten.

If you believe that being obese has a genetic connection, then I am my Grandma Reiske’s relative. She was short like me and quite round. Grandma was not a good cook so she snacked. A lot. She loved cheese and crackers (so do I), chocolate (same here) and cookies (yep!). She could make a meal out of those items and feel quite proud of herself.

If you believe that becoming obese is inevitable for some of us, then that’s also me. When your diet is not balanced as a child, you put on weight. When you’re not allowed to play outside as much as you’d like, well, that’s what my life was like. When you spend most of your time in your room, alone, imagining happy scenarios, that was me. Without healthy food and limited activity, I was doomed from the start. Years of that set my body on a weight-gaining course that was hard to stop. I’d have “lean” years for me, but then more and more weight would pile on.

If you believe that morbidly obese people really like how they look, then you’re an idiot. Imagine standing naked in front of a mirror and seeing rolls of fat. Imagine watching your blubber jiggle with the slightest movement. Imagine taking a hand and pushing those rolls up and down. Then think of the clothes you have to wear: saggy, baggy plain, unattractive outfits designed to sort of mask the fat beneath.

No one gets up in the morning and tells themselves that they’d love to be puffy like the Pillsbury dough boy. No one revels in having a body that resists all movement except for down. No one wants to wobble like a duck when they walk through a grocery store, especially knowing that people are going to be checking out what’s in your cart. No one wants feet so bulgy that you can only wear slippers.

Your response is to say, then quit eating. Nice. If only it were that simple. I have a friend who records everything she eats and tries to stay at 1800 calories per day. You’d think she’d lose weight, but she doesn’t. Monitoring and maintaining is all she can manage.

You can eliminate all sugars from your diet. However, when you do, that oatmeal raisin cookie hollers your name so loudly and so persistently that you cannot block it out. Unless you’ve heard that call, you have no idea how powerful it is. It’s like being pulled by the largest magnet on earth, a magnet with so much leverage that you cannot fight it no matter how hard you try.

That’s what life is like for the morbidly obese: day after day that magnet pulls, your name is called, you resist and resist and resist until your willpower is weakened. And when you give up, you can either consume everything in sight or portion things out. The problem with portioning is that the other half is still there, still calling your name.

So when you see a fat person, instead of staring while you shake your head in disgust, stop and think about what that person’s life is like. And then remember that no one sets a challenge for themselves to be obese.