Saturday, April 27, 2019

New Story Festival Austin Reflections #1



Laura wanted me to take a picture of my name tag as soon as I got through registration. After walking across campus and receiving directions upon request, I found the registration line. The festival opening was still 2 hours off at 7:00 pm. I was happy to be early. The registration line was two people wide and maybe ten people long. As we approached the front, we could see two ballpoint pen signs designating the two lines as “Will Call” and “Will Call or Cash.” It took about fifteen minutes for them to get through the first eight people in my “Will Call or Cash” line.

Hannah, the young woman in front of me, approached and announced that she was a volunteer. “Oh,” said the registrar, “I don’t do volunteers. You’ll have to get in the other line.” Hannah dutifully stepped out of line, and I approached. “I’m a presenter,” I said. “Same thing,” said the registrar, “I don’t do presenters.” I looked up and saw that Hannah had walked to the end of the now longer “Will Call” line.

“Wait a minute,” I said to the registrar, “Does she really have to go all the way back there after waiting in this line for fifteen minutes?” The registrar shrugged her shoulders and looked at her work partner. They both looked dumbfounded. I repeated my question. Yes, I was picking a fight at a festival that promoted “community, creativity and the common good.”

Finally the “Will Call” registrar asked Person #1 in her line if Hannah could step in front. Person #1 said “Sure.” Person #2 said “No problem.” So Hannah got to the front of the “Will Call” line. Someone—I don’t remember who—then spoke up for me: “So where should he be in line?” Hannah answered, “He was right behind me, so…” I looked at Persons #1 and 2, and they nodded their heads.

So I got in line behind Hannah. I re-iterated that I was a presenter; I was so eager to get a name tag with a special ribbon or something. It took a while for the worker to find my name and confirm that I was paid up. Once she did, she simply said, “Okay, go get a swag bag. You’re good.” No ribbon, no name tag. In fact, only the exhibitors and volunteers (not including presenters) received name tags. So no picture for Laura.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent: A Home for Peace

Reflections from my book, 

So I am officially part of the genealogy craze. Well, sort of. A friend who is into those searches volunteered to do some work for my wife, who is trying to find a lost sister. The friend offered to pay to have both my DNA and my wife’s tested, through one of the popular ancestry search companies. We were surprised by some of the results, namely that I don’t have the Native American ancestry that I’d always been told I have. It’s all a craze now, but genealogies are nothing new. Even without the Internet, databases, and DNA, folks have been documenting and researching genealogies throughout human history.

In the Bible, the Book of Numbers is largely about counting people and documenting who came from whom. Throughout the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles we learn about the same things: Who was the father of whom? And then the books of Matthew and Luke trace the ancestry of Jesus of Nazareth. In ancient Palestine, that practice mainly involved tracing the men, not women, in Jesus’s line. But Matthew adds four women. And to some readers, these four are unusual choices.

Tamar is in the line. Tamar was the twice-widowed, and once-jilted Canaanite woman who ended up sleeping with her father-in-law and producing children. Tamar is a great grandmother of Jesus.

Rahab is in the line. Rahab is known for harboring spies and lying about it. Rahab is later mentioned as an example of faith and obedience. Rahab is great grandmother of Jesus.

Bathsheba is in the line. Bathsheba is known not so much for what she does, but for what others did. Kind David saw her one day, sent for her, seduced her and then had her husband killed, so that he could have Bathsheba for himself. Bathsheba is a mother to King Solomon and great grandmother of Jesus.

And Ruth is in the line. The story of Ruth and Naomi is the story of home on the run. Like me and my family, Ruth could not define “home” by a building or even a place. Her circumstances wouldn’t let her. Here’s what happened as recorded in the Bible book of Ruth, which could just as easily be called The Book of Naomi:

Naomi was from Bethlehem, the same town that Jesus would be born in centuries later. Naomi was married to Elimelech. When a famine hit Bethlehem and the surrounding areas, Naomi, Elimelech and their two sons set out as refugees in Moab. The Moabites were not always friendly to the Israelites. There was history. But Naomi, Elimelech and their sons settled there to escape that famine.

We don’t know how long they lived in Moab before Elimelech died. But we know that when he died his sons took Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth. Then the sons died, leaving Naomi, Orpah and Ruth all as widows. Naomi decided to go home to Bethlehem, and she wisely suggested—really ordered—her daughters-in-law to go back to their homes, each to their “mother’s house.” As Naomi explained it, “You can go back home, and you are young enough to find a new husband.” Orpah thought that made sense, but Ruth did not agree. She argued with her mother-in-law, and eventually said now-famous words: “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16, CEB)

She was saying, “My home is not where I come from, my home is not where I currently reside, my home is with my loved ones. And right now, Naomi, my home is with you.”

The homeboys and homegirls of Homeboys Industries can share that sentiment. Father Gregory Boyle likes to talk about “the power of radical kinship.” Former gang enemies have banded together and bonded into a family. Marcus found that family at Homeboy.

Once he started gang-banging in junior high school, Marcus never wanted to go home. He felt there was nothing for him. Often there was no food for him, and he felt like there was not much home. The father that he idolized had been shot when Marcus was eight. Already hope was dead. Once he began with gangs and drugs in junior high, it wasn’t long before Marcus was arrested. He found himself incarcerated for six years. When he came out, it took him awhile to take friends’ advice and check out Homeboys. But once he did, he felt at home. He felt like he had a family. He felt at peace.

From Jingle All the Way
A Home for Peace (Addendum)
I Googled it. It turns out there actually is a list of the most memorable fights in Christmas movies. I was looking for one in particular, but I stumbled upon a bunch. “Elf” has a fight. So does “A Christmas Story,” “Scrooged,” “Home Alone” and “Christmas with the Kranks.” Even that classic black and white film, like “It’s a Wonderful Life” features a fight scene. But the scene I was looking for shows up in 1996’s “Jingle All the Way.” In it, two rival fathers, workaholic Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and stressed out postal worker Myron Larabee (Sinbad), both want to get a Turbo-Man action figure for their respective sons.  It’s Christmas Eve, and both men are on a last-minute shopping spree. When you Google “Jingle All the Way fight scene,” what comes up first is a pretty violent scene when Schwarzenegger’s character gets into a brawl with a bunch of Santas. The movie is all fueled by the pressures of the holiday season. And it sounds familiar to us because so much of the season can be full of tension. Some of the tension can be avoidable, like by taking away the emphasis on getting things or by limiting the number of activities that have to fit into the season.

But other tensions are just there. They come from relationships broken or strained, or from bad memories or from hard-to-let-go-of expectations. It’s might sound a little strange that we emphasize the peace of the season just as those tensions are the hottest.

For many folks at Homeboy Industries, the seasonal conflict might be heightened by a history that has had no peace. The sweet peaceful home pictures that many portray around this time do not reflect the reality of these Homegirls and Homeboys. They have memories of anything but peace. There are memories of gang warfare, of insecure homes, of unstable relationships. Add those memories to the stress of the season, and the mixture can be volatile.

But at Homeboy, many have come to embrace peace. Some rival gangbangers have become best friends. Many from difficult homes have found family and home. Some who were away from their family members have been re-united.

For all of us, it is tempting to get caught up in the tensions and forget the season. But in every week of this season, on every day, in every moment, we can decide to embrace the peace as we anticipate the coming of the Prince of Peace.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Third Sunday of Advent: A Home for Joy

Reflections from my book, 
Home for Christmas: Youth Study Edition

I’m usually pretty good at finding things that I’ve lost, but, well, not always. On this one occasion I was feeling tense. There was a churning in my stomach, a restlessness in my bones. And my mind was alternately single-minded and scattered. Why? Because we bought three avocados in the last few days; they've been trying to ripen for guacamole. I finally decided they were ripe enough, and I gathered all my stuff. But I could only find two avocados! I REALLY wanted three.

I know what happened. "Somebody" (he was about 15 months old) thought the avocado was a "ball" and played "Put It in the Cabinet" or "Put It in the Drawer" or "Throw It Over There." No one was watching him that particular moment, and now somewhere in our house an avocado was rotting.

I know: one out of three avocados shouldn't have that much power in my life. For your information, I don't really think it was the avocados. I think it was Moby's CD "Play" (this was awhile ago and actually it's the two-CD deluxe set). Before I started looking for the avocado, I started looking for the CDs. It was an all-day search. I was actually looking for Moby for a work project. Since I had CDs both at work and home, I looked all day both places. Whenever I didn't have to think about something else, my mind was working on where Moby could be.

I asked the teenagers in our home. They all let me know either by words or tone that they were not really fans of Moby anyway. Not the point.

Maybe it was in that black bag I've carried back and forth from work. Maybe it was in that box, or that one, or that one, or the closet I've already looked in four times. Finally I told my wife, “If it's not in that black bag (wherever THAT is), I give up. I'll have to save my pennies and order another one.” I found the black bag. It was not there. I gave up. The churning lessened.

I shifted gears and started cleaning up my ongoing mess in the home office. Too much stuff, I know. I thought cleaning up a little clutter might de-clutter my mind. “Just empty this box and I can get rid of it.” I thought “There, it's emptied. And what's this behind it? Oh Moby!” Now if we could only find that rotting avocado.

Even without the avocado (we must have found it eventually), I felt that joy. And the search reminded me of the stories Jesus told about lost things. We mentioned one of those stories two weeks ago, when we focused on the love a father had for his lost son. The story goes on to demonstrate the joy the father had for the return of his son, even though his son had insulted and embarrassed him. The same chapter in the Bible talks about a sheep-gatherer who has lost one sheep, and a poor woman who has lost one coin. Like me, they dropped everything to look for their lost thing. Unlike me they never stopped looking. And then, the boy was home, the sheep was returned, the coin was found. And the searchers were filled with joy!

When we think about joy, we don’t always think about those everyday simple joys. We think maybe of celebrations or of something we are anticipating. During the Advent season, joy is often tied to those kinds of pursuits. But there is a deeper kind of joy that is longer lasting.

Father Boyle has seen it in his homegirls and homeboys. Many of them were searching for family, security, and survival. Joy was not on their minds. But in time, joy surprised them. Brandy is an example. Brandy found “happiness and contentment” in full-time work, but it was a long road. She was 17 when her brother was killed. That incident led her to join a gang and seek revenge. But her family members didn’t know how involved she was until her first arrest. Her troubles with the law ended after six years, when she was released from jail. But like most formerly incarcerated folks, she couldn’t find work with a record, even though she had already graduated high school and earned an associate’s degree in college. Homeboys took her in. She was seeking security and survival, not joy. But with relationships and with work advancement, with recognition, she found herself describing her life as happy and content. She was describing joy.