Monday, August 31, 2009

Beggar



Random Fact #5: I was once a beggar.

As I finished my foreign exchange experience, I stayed a couple days with a friend in Mexico City to play tourist and see the sights. Mostly, we drove around photographing major buildings and monuments, but we also did a fair amount of shopping, and with every new purchase, my pockets filled with heavy coins. By the end of the day, I received enough worthless currency to become a nuisance. "What will I do with all these coins?" I complained.

My friend took me to a street market just before going to the airport because he said I had to try one of their famous tacos. "You're going to love it," he said. His prediction proved true.

I stood on the street corner holding all my new found tourist memorabilia with one hand and balancing the taco with the other. Rich, greasy taco sauce dripped down my hand with each bite. It was a difficult position to be sure, but then a woman approached with an outstretched hand, begging for spare pocket change. Usually I try to give to those who ask, especially since I complained about the excess coinage just a few moments before, but the inconvenience of the situation caught me off guard. Feeling unable to simply drop my parcels or the taco, I opted instead to send her away.

As we drove to the airport, feelings of guilt crept into my awareness and my inner voice accused my obvious lack of generosity. As people often do when they experience guilt, I began to mentally justify my actions. "It was her own fault," I thought to myself, "Didn't she see the inconvenience she caused when she interrupted me? Didn't she see I was busy? Didn't she plan ahead or make some effort to improve her situation?" By the time I boarded the plane, I felt justified enough to forget all about the woman at the market.

After departing Mexico City, my flight stopped in Mazatlan before returning to the United States. There I encountered a situation I did not expect. Mexican immigration officials forced us to disembark the plane, present identification, and pay a $10 "exit fee." No one told me about any "exit fees." How could I have known? I approached the counter and said to the immigration agent, "Sir, I have a problem. I don't have any money. I just have these few coins, but they don't add up to the required $10 fee."

He didn't even look up from his computer screen. "Then I suggest you find some money before your flight leaves in the next 30 minutes."

His response insulted my sense of entitlement. "What happens if I don't pay the fee?" I demanded.

The agent continued typing into his computer. "If you don't pay the fee, you don't leave the country."

"It's not my fault," I complained, "You can't just keep me here!"

Finally he looked up and sighed heavily. "Look. I don't care if it's your fault or not. If you don't pay, you don't travel. You really should have planned ahead."

"And just where do you expect me to get the money?" I asked, indignant.

"I don't care where you get the money," he said. "Ask them." He waved a hand toward the crowd of travelers waiting to re-board our flight back to the United States.

"Oh good God!" I thought to myself. "He's serious."

By that time, the people had already begun lining up to board the plane. I started at the beginning, asking every fellow passenger to help me with the damned fee. I saw people tucking dollar bills into their wallets as they looked back in disgust. One woman put a hand on her hip and berated me for not planning ahead. "It's your own fault!" she said. Another woman said she was too busy to help. Then a group of American tourists told me abruptly to stop bothering them. One by one they all passed with the same level of indifference and self-justification that I had shown the poor woman in the market.

Finally I reached the end of the line. Everyone had already boarded the plane as a feeling of desperation overpowered me. "What will I do?" I almost cried aloud.

Just then, a man arrived late to board the plane. I practically threw myself at his feet. "Sir, please help me," I begged in Spanish. "I'm stranded here unless I can pay the exit fee!"

With a look of sincere concern in his eyes, he opened his wallet and said, "How much do you need?" I told him the amount and he handed me a $10 bill.

Thoroughly humbled, I said, "I can pay you back when we land."

"There's no need," he said as he smiled and walked away.

As I finally paid my exit fee, I remembered a passage from the Book of Mormon: "Are we not all beggars?" The words played over and over in my mind. The full context of the verse fit my situation exactly:

“...ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

“Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just –

“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this, the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

“For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have...?” (Mosiah 4: 16-19).


As I look back on this experience, I think some form of karmic justice caused me to switch places with the woman in the market and to become the beggar. But in truth, I really am a beggar still. Every day I ask God to send me health, protection, and abundance. I ask him to put food on my table and to help me pay my bills. The only difference is that now I KNOW I'm a beggar and no different than anyone else.

To review:

Random Fact #1: I was once a millionaire.
Random Fact #2: I was once an Earth Ambassador.
Random Fact #3: I once drove a get-away car.
Random Fact #4: I read the Bible from cover to cover.
Random Fact #5: I was once a beggar.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Family





A while back, I commented on the values that guide my blog. Specifically, I mentioned the value of creating first-person accounts based on understanding and respect. Perhaps more important still, is the value of honoring my family and children. My blog started as a way to strengthen the connection between distant family members, and as much as I like to address other topics, part of me feels duty-bound to return to my blogging roots: my family.

Just earlier this evening, my wife and son joined me for a late afternoon walk and reminded me how much I love to see my children grow. I feel truly humbled and blessed to see my children become such beautiful and respectful people. In large part I create this blog for them. When they grow up, they'll be able to look back and see all our adventures together.

Totem





Taking a break from the Seven Random Things Meme, I was driving down Country Homes Boulevard the other day when this brilliant white totem pole caught my attention. I can only assume that a coat of primer was applied prior to re-painting. The white struck me for reasons I can't fully explain, and so I turned around to get these pictures.

Totem poles are somewhat misplaced in this region. Giving the full benefit of the doubt, I presume somebody must have thought to honor Native cultures, but they did so by creating a monument far removed from the traditions of the Spokane people. Local tribes never made totem poles, so I generally feel strange to see them around these parts. And from what I hear, they're are even misnamed. They represent family heralds or crests more than personal totems.

So I'm curious, does anyone know an authentic story behind the purpose of real totem poles? Does anyone know an authentic name from their culture of origin?

The Bible



Random Fact #4: I read the Bible from cover to cover.

Actually, I've read the entire Bible twice, once in English and once in Spanish.

Back in high school, I attended early morning seminary as part of my experience in the LDS Church. In fact, I completed two years of study in one, reading the Old Testament in English, followed by the New Testament. At the end, I graduated from seminary and received a diploma from the Church Education System.

During my mission to Guatemala, I read the Bible in Spanish.

Unfortunately, my motive for reading the Bible in Spanish was less than noble. During my mission experience, I happened upon a family who was active in another religion. We were always encouraged not to debate sacred principles, but I was more impulsive back then and got myself into a heated Bible bash with one of their congregation elders. In less than five minutes, the man wasted my arguments and humiliated me in front of multiple onlookers.

The sting of defeat motivated me to study the Bible with more passion and dedication than ever before. I pored over every chapter, verse, and letter from Genesis to Revelations, underlining important verses and making handwritten notes in the margins. All the while, I made mental preparations for the next debate.

My big opportunity came near the end of my mission when I met a young woman of the same faith as the man who embarrassed me before. For the better part of an hour, we argued. At first, the young woman held her ground, but my obsessive preparations put me in a stronger position. By the end, her words began to falter as she looked for a way to end the conversation. In that moment, I drove the final argument and left her speechless. With eyes downcast, she simply walked away.

I anticipated this moment for many months, but there was no victory, no glory. Instead, a feeling of intense shame settled over me. I remembered my own embarrassment from losing the previous Bible bash, and then I returned that humiliation to someone else. When I saw the look of sadness on her face, I could not imagine that Jesus would cause such suffering for anyone.

Since that day, I have reflected many times on my arrogance. Ironically, it's so easy to argue religion and to believe that we alone possess the truth. As my brother-in-law once said, we often think it's better to be right than to be kind. I've forgotten this lesson many times, but today I remember and repent.

To review:

Random Fact #1: I was once a millionaire.
Random Fact #2: I was once an Earth Ambassador.
Random Fact #3: I once drove a get-away car.
Random Fact #4: I read the Bible from cover to cover.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Get-Away Car


Random Fact #3: I once drove a get-away car.

True story.

For obvious reasons, I felt nervous to reveal this sordid little detail about my life, but the statute of limitations passed more than 20 years ago, and besides, I was only a child when it happened.

When I was nine years old, I came back to Spokane to spend the summer with my father. He was still drinking then, so I'm sure his judgment was not the finest. We were staying in town one night when the beer ran dry. He turned to me and said, "Barry, let's go to the store. We're going to pick up some more beer."

"Okay," I said.

He pulled into the parking lot of our neighborhood grocery store and positioned the car into a convenient spot near the entrance. He left the engine running and motioned for me to sit in the driver's seat. "Really?" I beamed hopefully. He nodded and then went around the front of the car to take the passenger seat.

"Do your feet reach the pedals?" he quizzed.

"Just barely, but yes." I nodded. Enthusiastic.

"Good," he said, "So this is what's going to happen. I'm going to walk into the store and grab a case of beer. I'm not going to pay for it, so you'll wait for me in the car. Leave the engine running, and when I get back, you'll drive away. Do you understand?"

My smile faded.

"Do you understand?" he demanded.

"Yeah, but what if the cops come?" I asked.

"Then tell them you're waiting for me. No big deal."

Before I could protest further, he got out of the car and walked into the store. I could see him through the big windows walking to the beer aisle, casually and confidently, like he owned the place. He was suave and cool, but I was a wreck. My feet shook and my hands trembled against the steering wheel. I worried and agonized just wishing for the ordeal to end.

Finally, my father left the store with beer in hand. He sat in the passenger seat and said, "OK, drive."

Even with an automatic transmission, the car lurched and halted as we made our big get away. I think I only drove about a block before my father told me to stop and trade places. Mercifully, my life in crime ended.

As I look back, I'm glad to say my father didn't get me into crime any more than this one incident. A few years later, he stopped drinking, made his amends, and made a positive life change.

To review:

Random Fact #1: I was once a millionaire.
Random Fact #2: I was once an Earth Ambassador.
Random Fact #3: I once drove a get-away car.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Earth Ambassador



Random Fact #2: I was once an Earth Ambassador.

Some time back in late 1989 or early 1990, one of my mentors encouraged me to apply for a youth leadership program known as the Earth Ambassadors, operated under the guidance of UNITY of Oklahoma City (United National Indian Tribal Youth). I remember almost nothing regarding the application process, except that maybe I wrote an essay about my tribal and family traditions. After applying, I mostly forgot about it.

But then a few weeks later, they called to say that I had been selected as one of only 48 tribal youth nationwide to form the first group of Earth Ambassadors.

That winter, they flew us all to a posh retreat center about an hour outside of San Diego, California to complete a nine-day training. We addressed a wide range of topics including tribal traditions, spirituality, the mind-body connection, environmentalism, and much more. We also explored issues of personal growth and healing. For example, some of our sessions dealt with difficult topics from Indian history, such as the emotional and psychological effects of Indian boarding schools. We learned that many of our parents and grandparents suffered violence and sexual exploitation within government and church operated boarding schools. The negative impact of this historical fact has created a legacy of pain that often continues to the present day.

Our first retreat was an amazing experience.

The next spring, the Earth Ambassadors flew to Washington DC for another retreat, this time to become more directly involved in lobbying for positive environmental change. Many of us met with our respective senators and representatives, and others attended Senate hearings on matters related to Indian lands and water rights. As an aside, the office of Senator Slade Gorton from Washington State gave us a somewhat hostile reception.

We later toured the White House and met First Lady Barbara Bush. We also attended a reception at the Department of the Interior and met with the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and actor Rodney Grant, who played Wind In His Hair on Dances With Wolves.

The highlight of our trip was an intertribal ceremony we performed on the National Mall in honor of Earth Day. The photograph at the beginning of this post was taken during that ceremony.

That summer, UNITY held its national conference in Spokane and requested my assistance with some of the organizational responsibilities. Most important of these, I was able to negotiate with the county government for a special permit to build two sweat lodges near Hangman Creek, one for male conference attendees, and one for female attendees. I was master of ceremonies at the plenary session and spoke before an audience of 1,500 people. My father and I also cooked a traditional salmon dinner for more than 500 people.

Earth Ambassadors opened my mind to a Native world beyond my local community. It also gave me an essential introduction to leadership and positive change.

To review:

Random Fact #1: I was once a millionaire.
Random Fact #2: I was once an Earth Ambassador.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Millionaire



A hundred years ago, my friend and fellow blogger Tim tagged me in a blog meme that asked me to post seven random things about my life. Actually, it wasn't a hundred years, but it was a long time ago, and I never responded. My bad.

His original post can be viewed here.

I had almost forgotten about that little meme, when I found myself sitting at home with nothing to blog about. In these final weeks of summer, I could not stand to post another picture of the lake, the heat-scorched landscape, or any of my usual subjects, for that matter. I needed something different, a change of pace. The Seven Random Things Meme will do just fine for today.

Here are the rules: 1. Link to the person who tagged you and post the rules on your blog. 2. Share seven random or weird things about yourself. 3. Tag seven people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs. 4. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Well, I already broke the chain by not responding in a timely manner, so I may cheat, just a little. By the end, I WILL post seven random or weird things about myself, but I'll do them one post at a time. At the end, I may or may not tag seven other people. I have to think about that. I may even need to make a few more friends to achieve this (LOL).

So here goes (sorry Tim, you already know this first one):

Random Fact #1: I was once a millionaire.

Yes, it's true. At age 17, I got to feel the triumph and satisfaction of being a millionaire, if only for one fleeting moment. Well, I didn't actually own a million dollars. No. I had a million Mexican pesos in my bank account.

Back then, it wasn't hard to do.

During my junior year of high school, I lived as an exchange student in Guasave, Sinaloa, Mexico, under the sponsorship of Rotary International. The Rotary Club required me to keep $500 in a contingency fund, just in case I encountered any unforeseen expenses.

Well, the exchange rate between US dollars and Mexican pesos was always ridiculous, but the disparity only increased as the year progressed.

One day I came home from school and found a handwritten sign on my bedroom door:

"Felicitaciones. Ya eres millionario."

"Congratulations. You are now a millionaire."


When asked, my host parents explained that the Mexican peso had taken a nose-dive against the US dollar. In one day, the exchange rate had gone from around $1,000 pesos to the dollar, to more than $2,500 to the dollar. At that rate, I had more than $1.25 million pesos in my bank account! Yes, I really was a millionaire, at least by that standard. I bore the title with mock solemnity, causing all kinds of laughter and teasing with my host family.

Of course, my purchasing power never changed. It still cost more than $200 pesos for a Pepsi, or a whopping $58,000 pesos for a pair of jeans. My wealth was worth only slightly more than the ink on my money.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Coeur d'Alene



After my high school reunion, my friend Michaelle returned to Spokane for a brief visit. She invited us to Coeur d'Alene Lake, but I have to say, I didn't want to go. If anyone else had invited me, I might have found some way to escape.

But when we arrived, I found the atmosphere quite pleasant. The sun was bright and the air was just the right temperature for a day on the beach. And it turns out she also invited Rick, another of our high school friends, so we had something of a mini-reunion with just our little group.

The only downside to our day was that we arrived just in time for a Christian Rap festival and competition; not that I have anything against a positive Christian message, it's just that rap music never much appealed to me. And besides, rapping to Jesus strikes me as somewhat irreverent; it just brings out my traditionalist and conservative tendencies. I sat for a while in a state of judgment until one of the rappers gave his testimony. He spoke about living a life of crime, drugs, and violence, until one day he encountered God. In fact, Christian rap played an important role in delivering him from that life. After hearing his words, I remembered that someone once said that the Divine will use any means possible to lift people out of suffering and darkness. That thought reminded me to show greater tolerance and compassion for those who live a different way.



Afterwards, Dakota and I explored the beach. We found this artificial stream flowing into the lake.



Michaelle will kill me for posting this picture. She'll just have to use some of that tolerance and compassion I mentioned earlier. Besides, I think it's a lovely picture. It shows her laughter, which is something I truly appreciate about her friendship.



When we spoke today, Rick commented that my blog has been very "Zen" lately. I'm not sure if he regards that as a good thing or a bad thing. We never got that far into the conversation. After his comment, I thought it would have been funny for him to pose for a picture in a meditative pose, just to honor those Zen postings. I had to settle for a picture of him on the beach with an innertube. Of course, he looks very comfortable in his natural element, so maybe that is all the Zen we need.



The kids posed with a moose statue.





Boats and airplanes on the lake.



The concrete steps near the beach are a popular place to hang out.



The exposed roots in this photograph belong to the tree at the beginning of the post. I like the way the tree stands on the last point of land before plunging into the water. It looks so lonely, elegant, and just a little Zen. ;)

Loon Lake



Summer hasn't felt much like a break. I worked summer quarter at the college and Rhonda attended summer classes.

But summer quarter ended for both of us, and we finally got a much needed break from our normal routine. Rhonda's friend has a nice little place on Loon Lake, so we spent the night on the water, swimming, learning to kayak, and roasting marshmellows. As it turns out, McKenna became quite the expert kayaker.

We had a fun day.



Glenda and Dakota on the kayaks.



Rhonda and the girls on the paddleboat.



Dakota stayin' cool.



Whitney the kayaker.



McKenna the kayaker.



Barry and the kayak...



Roasting marshmellows.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Simplicity



All this talk about religion has me thinking about the great mysteries of life.

Exploring diverse cultures and beliefs is a way to expand my awareness of the world and to deepen my respect for others. Sometimes we even learn more about our own spiritual path by observing the path of another.

Knowledge is important, but in the end, I always take refuge in the spiritual traditions of my own people. Something about the simplicity of nature inspires me to live at peace with all creation. The plants, the animals, the water, the songs; they all exist in perfect, beautiful order. In these simple moments, I feel no need for doctrines, commandments, or creeds; only gratitude and love.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Islam Continued

True to his word, my student returned to class this evening bearing two books on the teachings of Islam: "The Spirit of Islam," by Afif Tabbarah and "The Forty Ahaadeeth on Islamic Revival," by Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick.

My student entered the classroom with an obvious bounce in his step and a radiant smile. "I brought something for you," he beamed. He then handed me the books and again urged me to study his religion.

I thanked him and returned to helping my other students.

After work, I briefly scanned both books to gain some appreciation for their contents. One book is fewer than 100 pages, and the other exceeds 475 pages. No doubt, this will require some serious study if I plan to eventually entertain a reasonable and respectful conversation with my student regarding the key tenets of his faith.

So my intention?

My greatest desire for this situation is to simply deepen my understanding of Islam. In the big picture, I'm always happy to learn more about the religious convictions of others. Genuine understanding tends to inspire compassion.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Islam



I hadn't planned to write about Islam; it's just that certain events come along to change the habitual flow of events.

As an intructor for the community colleges, I'm exposed to a wide, often conflicting array of religious, political, and cultural ideas. In fact, my students represent so many different beliefs that I can hardly keep track. Occasionally students talk to me about religion with just a hint of conversion motives. Usually they preach some variety of Christianity, but tonight was different. My student spoke to me about Islam.

The conversation began simply enough. He had taken a practice test for the GED and asked me to review his mistakes. As I explained some of the basic principles of American democracy, he began to talk about his home country of Saudi Arabia. Maybe he sensed my desire to be a good listener, but the floodgates opened and he began a 30-40 minute impassionaed monologue extolling the virtues of Islam. We had never spoken like this before, but he became strangely urgent in his manner, leaping from his chair and pacing the room in a flurry as he recounted the revelation of Muhammad.

I was stunned.

By the end, I learned more than I ever imagined possible about the prophet, scripture, sin, salvation, judgment, and the end of times. The conversation ended when I had to close my classroom for the end of my shift. My young student followed me to my car and urged me to study Islam.

Again, I was simply stunned.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ethnobotany



"Ethnobotany is the systematic study of the botanical knowledge of a social group and its use of locally available plants in foods, medicines, clothing, or religious rituals. Rudimentary drugs derived from plants used in folk medicines have been found to be beneficial in the treatment of many illnesses, both physical and mental." (1)

Some may wonder why ethnobotany holds such interest for me. Of course, the traditional Spokane plant knowledge is important to my personal and family history. Much of this knowledge has been lost, but its retrieval may not only restore essential cultural knowledge, but may also prove useful to our health. Just today, my wife was cured of a dreadful headache using a plant known to my ancestors.

Many traditional uses and preparation methods are private. And while I may not be able to share them in public, I would encourage people to become aware of the physical place in which they live, and to become acquainted with its various plants and natural features. As we learn to appreciate the natural spaces about us, we become more deeply connected to life.

By the way, the plant pictured here is tansy. It is native to Europe and Asia and is often considered invasive to North America. Many of its traditional uses have been discredited, especially because of its toxicity. However, some evidence persists that it may help eliminate certain pests.

Whatever the case, I do admire their bright yellow flowers. More importantly, learning to appreciate our natural environment is itself an act of devotion.

(1) ethnobotany. (n.d.). © Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, Inc.. Retrieved August 16, 2009, from website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ethnobotany

Chokecherries



My personal ethnobotanical knowledge recently expanded to include chokecherries. I've known for some time that chokecherries are an important part of my ancestral heritage, but I could never identify them until this week.

My new found knowledge came about in an interesting way. I was standing beside the sweat fire in Wellpinit, when a nearby chokecherry tree caught my eye. The angle of the sunlight shifted slightly and suddenly highlighted the bright red berries against the blue sky. I've been sweating at the same place for almost 20 years, but I never noticed that particular plant. I said to my uncle, "What are those red berries?" He didn't know the answer. In fact, he had never noticed them either.

I was struck by the fact that no one had ever seen these berries, so I broke off a cluster and delivered them to my aunt. She bit one of the bright red berries and said, "These are chokecherries, but they're not ripe. They're one of the last foods to ripen at the end of summer." In the next five minutes, she proceeded to tell me several traditional culinary and medicinal uses for this plant (which I will not recount here).

"I have a chokecherry tree in my yard?" she asked. I guess she had never noticed them either, but in any case, this one brief encounter expanded my cultural knowledge in ways I never expected.

I should mention that I went home and looked up chokecherries on the internet. Many of the published uses correspond to my aunt's account, but I should note that every part of the plant is poisonous except for the fruit. The pits are also poisonous and convert to cyanide in the body. They should be cooked or removed entirely. This one fact highlights the importance of obtaining reliable ethnobotanical knowledge before consuming plants or natural medicines.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Love Your Enemies



As I consider the contentious issues of our day, I'm grieved by the anger, fear, and divisiveness portrayed in media and actively promoted by various factions of our society. If we are truly one nation, then why should we reduce ourselves to such negativity? I confess that during the Bush years, I allowed the harsh political discourse to arouse feelings of anger and distrust. But after eight years, I've grown weary of the old paradigms of right vs. left, conservative vs. liberal. The right-left way of thinking allows us to feel righteous in our positions, but does little to solve real problems.

In the midst of our cultural battles, we hear of drifting morality and declining spiritual values. While this may be true, the solution does not rest in further resistance and vilification of those who may oppose our views. I would suggest an even more radical return to the basic teachings of Jesus: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." (Matthew 5:44).

Can you imagine if our politicians, cultural commentators, and even many of our religious teachers actually took this one principle to heart? How might the world be transformed?

In his book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle says:

"Remember: Just as you cannot fight the darkness, so you cannot fight unconsciousness. If you try to do so, the polar opposites will become strengthened and more deeply entrenched. You will become identified with one of the polarities, you will create an 'enemy,' and so be drawn into unconsciousness yourself... make sure you carry no resistance within, no hatred, no negativity. 'Love your enemies,' said Jesus, which, of course, means 'have no enemies.'"

How easily do we create a world with no enemies? Not very. Even on the most simple levels, most of us struggle to create world peace when we curse the person who cuts us off in traffic or when we refuse to forgive those who offend us. In fact, I would suggest that "loving our enemies" requires persistence and effort; a lifelong spiritual discipline mastered only through deep sincerity, humility, awareness, and compassion.

Shall we not begin our practice today?

Values and Respect

As I reflect on my values, I also realize that I want to create a family-friendly environment where people of many backgrounds and beliefs would feel respected. This doesn't mean that everyone always has to agree, but that we could treat one another with dignity. Also, I would like to eventually feature people who make a positive difference in the world. A few such projects are in the works, but I'm open to other suggestions.

I tend to avoid controversial topics, but then again, I sometimes wonder about making a blog dedicated to political, cultural, or theological discussions in a fair, respectful way.

Any thoughts?

First Person



Back in April 2005, I created my first blog. Ever since that small beginning, I have posted thousands of photographs and commentaries about a wide range of personal topics.

With more than four years blogging experience, I look back for some useful perspective. I realize now that I adopted a specific ethical framework for my blog without any self-aware intent. Specifically, I made a subconscious commitment to address real, first-person events and to avoid excessive commentary on celebrities, politicians, and general news items. For one, the world has no shortage of paparazzi and punditry representing every conceivable idealogical slant. What more could I possibly add to the great political debates of our time? I just never want to use my blog as a platform for personal rants.

And besides, people who choose to read my blog want to know my experiences, however limited those may be. This is not to say that I will never express an opinion about some issue or event in the larger world. I'm simply expressing a preference for first-person blogging. I would much rather read about the direct experiences of my fellow bloggers than to speculate over far-removed people and events.

It "only" took me four years to identify my own blogging values, but now that the fog has begun to clear, I plan to post more in the coming days.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Commitment

Thanks to everyone who offered interpretations or opinions about my dream. After reading various perspectives, I don't think the dream speaks of a literal death; however, I do think a major life change may soon appear on the horizon.

Last night, my dream seemed to confirm the notion of some important transition.

In my dream, a group of Army recruiters approached me about enlisting. Of course, I'm too old to enlist at this stage of my life, but dream rules always allow for strange exceptions to real world events. If this happened in my waking life, I think I would run away, but in my dream reality, I happily consented. In fact, I was excited to go. But just as I reached for the pen to sign the dotted line, the military doctor signed my name. "Why'd you do that?" I protested.

"I have authority to sign for other people," he said.

"If you have authority to sign for me," I said, "You could have enlisted me years ago against my will."

He nodded. "You're right, but you wouldn't have been ready before. What good would that do?"

* * *

Oddly enough, this dream seems to fit my previous dream about death. If we reduce my first dream to a single, powerful statement, I would have to say that I was "taking the leap." If you think about it, that's not very different than "signing the contract." Both images involve a high level of commitment that prevents any return to a former state.

All this makes me think that some important commitment or change is just around the corner. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Premonition

What does it mean when a person dreams of death?

A couple nights ago, I had a series of dreams with strong death images. In the first dream, I was standing at the base of the Twin Towers in New York City. As I looked upward, a handful of men jumped from the upper deck, and when they hit the ground, they didn't die. They bounced. At this stage of the dream, I felt excited for my turn to "make the leap." Even then, "jumping from the tower" seemed to conceal some hidden meaning.

The dreams started out pleasantly, but they took a dark turn. In the second dream, I was riding an elevator inside the tower, presumably to reach the upper floor. At least three other people stood beside me. The first was an elderly elevator operator. The second was an African American woman wearing a pink polyester suit and a matching hat. The third was a farmer wearing blue overalls and a white shirt. I'm not sure how the coversation turned to death, but somehow I discovered that the operator was actually a ghost. "Are you dead?" I asked. He smiled and nodded.

"What about you?" I asked the woman.

"I'm also dead," she said through a smile.

Before I could ask, the man wearing overalls said, "Me too." Suddenly I felt very uneasy to be riding an elevator car full of dead people.

In the third dream, I sat beside my bed while Rhonda comforted my daughter Whitney. She spoke through her tears, "I miss my daddy."

* * *

So is this a premonition or a prophetic dream? Is it symbolic of making a leap into a major life change? Or is it something else? I'm looking for reactions and feedback on this one. You know who you are. Please comment.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sunday Walk





Someone announced a Sunday walk, and Whitney burst into tears. I'm not sure what that was about, but she stayed home with grandma and the rest of us hiked down to the waterfalls. Those of us who went had a very enjoyable afternoon.





McKenna got to use the little camera and couldn't be more delighted. She photographed trees, rivers, meadows, clouds, the dog, and her parents. For only eleven years old, she has a very creative eye, which I intend to nurture and support.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Children





The setting sun over a wheat field provided an amazing backdrop for photographs of my children. They had dressed up for the wedding reception, so the pictures were all the more perfect.

The Sun





Witnessed an amazing sunset after the wedding reception. The sun blazed bright red over the horizon and inspired a family drive around Five Mile Prairie.

Cali and Conrad





Went to a wedding reception for Cali and Conrad; but actually, I know the parents better than the couple. Even so, I was happy to see the new couple looking all hopeful and bright while the bride sang a serenade to the groom. Beautiful...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Urban





Had lunch again yesterday at One World Spokane. It was the first time Rhonda had eaten there. Afterwards, I braved the blistering heat for a brief walk through the neighborhood. Nothing extraordinary happened; I just love black and white pictures of alleyways, old buildings, and empty lots. Maybe I'm strange, but these kinds of scenes are just so beautifully lonely. When I see open urban spaces, I always imagine the past, as well as possible futures with gardens or indigenous plants.

Honeymoon



Came home from work this evening to find a pleasant surprise. The kids went away for the week and someone suggested I might be headed for a second honeymoon. Rhonda must have read the vibes. She's quite the romantic that way, so she set up the living room for a massage by candelight. This has got to be the best surprise I've had in a long time.

Red Bird



Does anyone know this little bird?

I was walking toward the Gonzaga campus yesterday afternoon, when this little red-headed bird fluttered over to a puddle in the street. I've never seen a bird like this in Spokane, so I stopped and slowly readied my camera. Such a beautiful little animal, but after only one shot, and the bird flew away.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Luisa


Luisa, originally uploaded by sulustumoses.

Luisa Orellana teaches English as a Second Language at the Institute for Extended Learning in Spokane. As a former refugee from the civil war of El Salvador, she holds a special understanding and compassion for her students, many of whom lived through similar experiences in countries around the world. As a person, I admire her passion for human dignity. As my co-worker, I'm honored to share her story in some small way.


Luisa 3, originally uploaded by sulustumoses.

On March 17, 1983, Luisa’s father Tanis Orellana disappeared during El Salvador’s civil war. The family believes he was killed soon after his disappearance, but they have never been able to locate the body. For 25 years, they pondered his ultimate fate without resolution, but recently they received a tip from a woman in El Salvador who claims to have personal papers that were in his possession at the time of his disappearance.

Luisa is returning to El Salvador this week to see if she can finally locate her father’s remains.

Tanis Orellana was a Catholic deacon working under the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero. During that time, the government accused many people of being communists, including teachers, ministers, and students. Tanis worked in the ministry, serving the poor in over 28 villages, so he came under suspicion of the government.

Luisa remembers when Archbishop Romero used to visit their home and play with the children.



"Romero was killed by a shot to the heart on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass at a small chapel located in a hospital called 'La Divina Providencia' one day after a sermon where he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God's higher order and to stop carrying out the government's repression and violations of basic human rights. According to an audio-recording of the Mass, he was shot while holding up the Eucharist. When he was shot, his blood spilled over the altar." (Wikipedia.)

After Romero's assassination, Luisa’s family began to receive death threats. At first they didn’t take them seriously, but after their house was bombed, they began to fear for their lives. Even in the face of such grave opposition, Tanis continued his work to serve the poor, all the while suffering poverty himself.

Luisa remembers her father’s disappearance with a mixture of sadness and reverence.

The night before he was taken, Tanis brought home a couple of green avocados, and her mother made masa for just a few tortillas. The parents and their ten children shared this scanty meal blessed with hardship and family love. As a nine year old girl, Luisa complained to her father that the avocados were too bitter, but Tanis responded, “We need to be thankful for what we have. These avocados are a blessing; many people don’t even have this much to eat.” They held hands around the table and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Then they laughed and talked late into the night, as if nothing would ever change.

Luisa’s face softened as she recalled the scene, “It was like the Last Supper; it was our last meal together.”

At 11:30 that evening, the soldiers arrived. In ghastly contrast to the simple meal only hours before, the soldiers ripped people from their homes, young and old alike. Luisa remembers the screams of terrified children as they were blindfolded, bound, and hauled away in trucks.

The family fled their home and took refuge in the parish hall; however, the parents were forced to sleep outside. The soldiers pursued them and captured Luisa’s father. As they dragged him away into the night, she heard him screaming, “Father, father, they’re going to kill me!” He was calling for her uncle, who was a local Catholic priest. When she heard his cries, she tried to run outside, but her sister stopped her. The soldiers then detonated a bomb that burned some of her siblings. A few of them later required surgery as a result of the burns.

It was the last time Luisa saw her father alive.

In July, they fled to Mexico as refugees, and then later to the United States.

Now Luisa feels compelled to tell her story. “People in Spokane need to know what it’s like,” she says.

She teaches English as a Second Language at the Institute for Extended Learning and works with many refugees from around the world. Many of her students have lived through similar traumas. She encourages them to begin the work of personal healing, but for many the pain is still too fresh. Most of her students say they’re just not ready to talk about it.

Luisa has founded Clinica San Antonio in El Congo, Santa Ana, El Salvador. As part of her journey home, she will bring medicine and clothing to the clinic.

Most importantly, she will speak to the woman who has her father’s documents. She hopes to locate the body or at least learn his final resting place to finally honor his death with a prayer and perhaps a simple white cross to honor his memory.

References:

Orellana, Luisa. Personal Interview, 4 Aug 2009.
Tucson Weekly, Retrieved on 4 Aug 2009 from:
http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tucson/saints-at-the-border/Content?oid=1069966
Wikipedia, Retrieved on 4 Aug 2009 from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%93scar_Romero

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