Monday, June 29, 2015


    While summer visitors jam our coastal village, we can all find emotionally nourishing scenes, sounds and peace.

   The affairs of life can sometimes smack you in the jaw in one moment and in the next excite your most joyful imagination.  So it was a couple of days ago.
    He was wedged between his octogenarian mom and his wife, waiting for the concert to begin. One of the most popular guys in the village, a long time resident and respected craftsmen, there were a couple of people in front of me chatting with him. 
    "Hi Tom how are you. I saw Lana earlier," he said smiling sitting, his hand resting on a walking stick.
     "Last time we chatted you were waiting on a diagnosis," I prompted.
      "It's bad. I have ALS. Do you know what that is?"
       "Yes," I winced, "Lou Gehrig's disease."
      "It's awful. It's just a horrible disease, but right now I'm happy and enjoy everything. Plus I'm too busy to be depressed."
      "Yea, he's working too hard not to be happy" his mother said smiling.
     This is a man who's family has experienced trauma, tragedy and death in larger portion than seems fair.  Through it all he and his irrepressible wife continue to beam a joy at living and devotion to work and cause.
     Hearing his diagnosis seemed horrible, even crushing. 
     As I turned after finishing our conversation with an obligatory though sincere but still impotent "you'll be in our thoughts and prayers" I spotted another friend.
     This fellow is probably the most energetic, fit specimen of manhood I know. Not a nano bit of body fat, buffed, muscular and as smart as he is in great shape, though he is fighting a deadly disease and has been for at least a couple of decades-but he's unlike anyone else.
     In all truth he is an experiment and cannot discuss nor publish specifics. It is an almost miraculous story and includes treatment protocols that are every bit as fascinating as science fiction.
     He has helped advance medical science by being a human test subject and the recent advances could have been written by Issac Asimov or Philip K. Dick. 
     He is without a doubt an incredible human being and I have found him to be one of the most inspirational people I've know.
     Within five minutes the roller coaster of life left me a bit drained.  Despair in learning of a terrible diagnosis and then another update from the future, dazzling with prospects of "Star Trek" style treatment and healing. But each "scenario" is a personal face and real story. Two good men, two bad diseases, two futures. And selfishly I thought of my younger brothers, both struck down in young manhood and the lives they did not get. I can make no sense of such narratives, but to seek shelter in the bromide that health is everything and that we should indeed be grateful for each moment. And we should celebrate life. 
      Life is so precious as to not spoil and to protect. Life itself and the resources of our life on this blue planet need vigilant protection. As Californians the four years of drought are teaching us. We can still be smarter in how we use water, how we conserve, save and harvest. Even as diligent as the state has been, there are technologies, applications and enforcements that are needed to help us live more wisely.

       Freedom is also precious as to not spoil and to protect.
The Supreme Court's decision that all people are entitled to the dignity to marry the person they love is an affirmation of what some Christians have been approving in their denominations, though not without decades of opposition. 
   And now the evangelical Christian right, personified by people like Ted Cruz, must face a new reality. It seems  they are stuck on the idea that an LGBT person is someone or something less than they themselves. Some of these evangelicals say LGBT people are "sinners," because of who they are or who they love. I heard a right wing Dallas preacher talking about his "Almighty God!"  It was as shrill as a radical proponent of sharia law. 
       All through this gender and sexual identity debate  those who were denied full freedom and protection of law sought just to have the rights due all people. Those in opposition seem stuck on the act of making judgements. It is as though to impose a morality on everyone and doing so as the only true interpreters of religion. Reminds me of Isis, or Wahhabists, or when Catholics and Protestants were at war, or Sunni and Shia, or how the Christian church banned or persecuted Copernicus and Galileo, or how Massachusetts  Christians conducted witch hunts and executed 20 people and on and on. 
       Civil law, as imperfect as the process may be, is for the good of society. Spiritual law on the other hand is for the good of the individual heart, as imperfect as we may be. We do not want or need a theocracy in the US, but that is route the Ted Cruz mind set seeks to chart.
     As noted before, the eminent theologian Walter Brueggemann  says "When you think you know the mind of God, you are on a slippery slope."  Now the court has ruled how do we protect ourselves from those who would put us on the slope? 
     Religion has been too frequently weaponized. History is a litany of how religious people have done horrible things, imposing their view, stirring up movements and mob mentality and making judgements--- like those who executed a rabbi named Jesus.
     See you down the trail.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


    The words are still shocking, even more so from an 11 year old.
    "They ought to kill all the niggers or send them back to the slave houses. The stupid old niggers are the problem."
     The petulant girl was the daughter of the kleagle of a particularly active and virulent cell of the ku klux klan. Her words were pivotal in a documentary demonstrating how racism is passed through generations. 
      I covered the klan and extremist groups in the mid 60's and years later wrote and produced KLAN to portray how and why racism and racial hatred is so deeply woven into the American fabric. David Brinkley, one of the national Emmy judges, along with Senator Barry Goldwater, called KLAN "One of the most important hours in television." A national Emmy is an honor but little good that program or many other fine journalistic efforts have done to sear the disease of racism from society.
       A friend and Presbyterian pastor was active in the struggle that got the confederate flag removed from atop the Dome at the Statehouse in Columbia South Carolina. That it still flies anywhere is symptomatic of the disease. 
      Despite comments about heritage, legacy, history or any honey tongued justification, the flag is all about racism, white supremacy and slavery. Ta-Nehisi Coates in this Atlantic piece presents the very words of the confederacy and their political leaders. They are convicted by their own uttering. 
     The racist front continues in the existent celebration and heritage of the confederacy in the south; streets, highways, schools bearing the name of confederate leaders along with statues, monuments and cultural icons. We can not afford to forget facts and must seek to understand the pathology of the culture, but we should not elevate the symbols and names of those who sought to keep humans enslaved, denied of their rights, liberties and dignity and made war to do so. 
    The flag belongs in an historical museum, as a nazi swastika or heraldry is kept. It is an object of study. It is a token of a shamed and hateful ideology. The flag itself will not spur a supremacist to violence but its very flying near a seat of government is a nod and wink that condones a perpetuation of the hatred. 
    Whether on license plates, belt buckles, t-shirts, bumper stickers, in media or even tattoos, anything that celebrates slavery should be seen for what it is, evil and a discredited idea banished to the ash bin of history.
    Words carry emotional history. We debated and anguished over inclusion of the girl's words. I debated with myself in telling the story in this post. Such is testament to the sensitivity and respect that is due, but "to each his own," unless it inflicts pain, as does the confederate flag.
    A post script: Hoagland Jr. High School in Ft. Wayne was a mix of Black, Hispanic and Caucasians-almost an equal split with fewer Caucasians. Our basketball team was predominately Black with a few Latinos and a couple of us white guys.  In the final moment of a city tourney game our center, Roosevelt (Rosie) Dodds made an incredible hook shot giving us a win. As we triumphantly moved to the locker room several of my team mates deliriously gave Rosie high fives, cheering "way to go Nigguh."  I lined up behind a black mate and when I got to Rosie's locker I gave him a high five and said "way to go Nigguh."  Rosie smiled, picked up his tennis shoe and whacked me on the face. Still smiling, extending his hand to pick me up he said "but you ain't no Nigguh!" Rosie taught me a lesson, vivid today as it was years ago.
     BTW we aired a 10th Anniversary reprise of KLAN.
The sassy and hateful little girl had grown up. She was still at home but had been banished to a trailer on the families property. She apologized to our viewers saying she had changed her mind and learned real history. She was working with "African Americans" and considered one a good friend. 

      The man on the left is Elias Chacour, thrice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I recalled the week I spent with Father Chacour as I read of recent Druze violence in the middle east.
       Chacour has done what no one else has. He's brought Druze, Muslim, Orthodox, Arab, Palestinian, Jew and Christian together.
  I shot this assemblage of every middle eastern faction imaginable-Israeli government, Palestinian, Druze, Muslim, Arab, Christian, Melkite Catholic, Orthodox. Chacour had convened them to dedicate a new building at his remarkable Peace school in Ibillin in the hills of Galilee.    
  Struggling against unimaginable odds, it seems no one wanted him to succeed, Chacour created a school where Jew, Muslim, Druze, Palestinian and Christian children studied together. I was there as a journalist and was overwhelmed his achievement. I was indelibly impressed by 
by the courage and extraordinary quality of the man. We had hours of conversation driving across Israel, in his garden, at dinners and in his home. We watched him work his efforts at reconciliation. Chacour was born in Galilee and considers himself a Palestinian-Arab-Christian citizen of Israel. He is truly a peace maker, perhaps the hardest job on the planet.
      Role models are important, as are images and symbols.
To what do we owe our attention?

  With appreciation to my daughter Katherine!

   See you down the trail.


Monday, June 22, 2015


peace love & dirt

   Little Jacque is about to pass through the magic hoop into a land of music and mirth.
    It is a land of tie dye, smiles and dance. Under beautiful Live Oaks, the Santa Ynez mountains north of Santa Barbara become a place of enchantment. After 26 years it has become a multi generational celebration of Father's Day and those beautiful oaks.
    The three day Live Oak Music Festival is a major fund raiser for KCBX FM, public radio on the central coast.  Before she went through the hoop, little Jacque observed, "Live Oak is kind of an NPR version of Burning Man!"
   There were many eyes at Live Oak.

  The gentleman brought instruments and provided his own side show.

  Emcee Joe Craven in one of many wardrobe changes.

 Little Jacque is not sure she wants to leave the magic ring and go back home.
    There are few men with a never ending wardrobe like this.
    One more time, before we go-shake it!

    See you down the trail.