Tag Archives: Faith

Forever Learning, Forever Teaching

15.06.21

June 21, 2015

[Post By Selys Rivera: Yakama Christian Mission Intern 2015]

There it sat, promising it could get me to where I needed to go if I only had the patience – a 1986 Nissan pickup truck.

The yellow paint was faded with age. The trunk suffered from something similar to tendinitis. The steering wheel sometimes took a bit of muscle, frustration, light perspiration, and mumbled swear words to turn. The driver’s side door was temperamental, refusing to lock from the inside and only locking from the outside when it felt like it. Despite all of this, though, the old King Cab had some fight left in it yet.

There was only one inconvenience keeping me from eagerly taking it for an exploratory ride around Yakima County. The little yellow intern truck David and Belinda Bell had lent me for the summer had a manual transmission. Since I only knew how to drive automatic, I knew I had some learning to do if I was going to be a productive intern for the Yakama Christian Mission.

I was suddenly sixteen again. Every driving skill I mastered in the last five years was set back to a beginner level. It was more than the difficult aspects too, such as driving in reverse or doing a three-point turn. I couldn’t even press the gas without making the truck jerk, sometimes stalling in traffic. My face would turn the same shade of red as whatever stop sign or light I had jerked to a standstill in front of that day. Each time, I felt like the truck was taking me by the shoulders and shaking me in frustration. My goodness! Get your act together. What an embarrassment.

The truck wasn’t the only one frustrated. I wanted to shake the truck back. “Don’t you think I’m trying?” I mentally retaliated. “Give me a break! This isn’t as easy as it looks.” Then my left foot would prematurely depart from the clutch and the truck would stall again. I smacked my forehead against the stubborn steering wheel several times. Continue reading

The Richness of Suicide, The Lack of Sin, and Robin Williams

15.03.29

March 29, 2015

(The media is deliberating if this weeks tragedy of Germanwings Flight 9525 is a suicide. Having written prior to the crash, I don’t deal with the tragedy. However, I will say at this early moment after the crash, I believe when one takes the lives of others along with their own, it is not an act of suicide, but something very different. What that difference is, I don’t know.)

A friend of mine, Daniel, sent me a note soon after Robin Williams’ suicide last August. The note has nagged me ever since. He gave a few of his thoughts on Williams and suicide and asked if I might have a few of my own. Schooled in a Catholic high school, Daniel received an earful on the sin of suicide from a particular perspective. Gaining the wisdom that comes with living life, he is now a young adult who has allowed the idea of suicide as a Cardinal sin barring one from heaven to go by the wayside. As he puts it, “how can a truly all loving God turn his back on someone who is filled with so much dread, torment, and affliction that in their greatest time of need his love would not be shared?” Fleshing out his thoughts, he answered his own nagging questions. Good for him, but that did not get me off the hook.

When it comes to suicide, there is little difference between my protestant upbringing and my friend’s Catholic high school. The elders and pastors of the Christian church of my youth were clear suicide is a sin and if you choose such you’re going to hell. No much slack on this one.

Suicide didn’t come up much in my young life. Once, in the preteen years, a friend headed home from a day of hiking Iron Canyon and came across a pickup truck parked at the end of road that was hardly more than a trail. Continue reading

Dressing For Wellness

14.10.11

October 11, 2014

After living a number of years on a farm a friend noted that before coming to the farm he had no idea how well versed his children would become in death. The line between death and life on a farm is not a thick one—nor should it be, for death should be as natural as life whether on a farm or in the city. Whether one plants crops or raises animals, a balance exists between planting and birth, harvest and death. For animal raisers, the butcher date arrives eventually. For crop folk, harvest leads to spring plowing where all sorts of life—gophers, rabbits, voles, and bugs are lost. Done well, farm life is a harmonious interplay between life and death.

I’ve another friend who is spending some of his time writing essays dealing with death and death rituals. His What happens to village death rituals when people move to town? has me pondering a common local death ritual that today is uncommon in most of our communities -The Dressing.

Though uncommon today, the 1984 movie Places in the Heart has a scene that tells how normal the ritual of dressing once was. Sheriff Royce Spalding, who lives at the edge of town, is called away from his meal. While away he is accidently shot and dies. Four local men bring the body back home. As they enter the home, one quickly takes a lone plate off the dining table and lays it on the sideboard. Continue reading

Downtown Cross-Street

13.12.25

December 25, 2013

The door banged open and Arnie blew in with the Santa Ana’s (that’s wind for the non-southern California folk).  “I just got off that L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught,” he said.  We knew what he meant.  Every one of us had spent time on California freeways to get to this room.  If L.A. freeways are good for anything else, they always make you feel like you’ve accomplished something making it to your destination in one piece!  But when an armadillo says without getting killed or caught (Had I said Arnie’s an armadillo?  We’re all uniquely created, but ya gotta admit, there’s something a bit different when it comes to armadillo’s.) you get one of those chicken crossing the L.A. freeway images and, well, Arnie probably had his heart beating a bit more than normal a time or two.

“I thought I’d left the key in the ‘ol’ front door lock,” Arnie said, “but, then, we got something to believe in, don’t you think?”  We sat there looking at Arnie and no clue as to what he was talking about.  But that was nothing new, Arnie often kept us a notch off center, wondering.

“I walked through the downtown yesterday, he said.  The streets were filled with laughter and light…and the music of the season.  We looked at each other and wondered what in the world was Arnie doing downtown?  There always a risk when any of us visit the city, but an armadillo, downtown, with foot and car traffic, in this season!  Well you’ve gotta give some thought to how well he’s tracking!  Arnie went on, “as I walked I got those stares, you know the ones.  It was all a little surreal, there is something about when their christmas comes they tense-up and focus on possessions.  You’d think the act of giving to their relations would be a good time, but many seem to walk with smiles on their faces while the season turns their temple to a robber’s den.”  We were tracking him, more or less, but one couldn’t be sure.

“I came to the corner of 25th and Chris Street,” he said.  “There was this old boy in worn out shoes, sitting on the curb.  Continue reading

Cookies, Conversation, and the First Day of School

13.01.07

January 7, 2013

Belinda cooked up a batch of chocolate chip cookies this morning.  That doesn’t happen often, at least not early morning.  But today is the first day back to school after the Christmas break and Belinda wants the day to be special.  However, Belinda’s morning is full of hospice visits and expects a morning living with those who are dying will run well into the afternoon, which means, it is up to me to bring the cookies to this afternoons after-school program.

I will bring them, but when to give them out is up for discussion.  Sometimes, these early morning conversations Belinda and I have are both funny and sad.  After all, who would imagine giving cookies out during an afterschool program would generate such passion?

Every time cookies or candy (or pizza for that matter) shows up afterschool, there is always a few youth who take handfuls.  While someone right in front of them may take one and then come back later, they will take half-a-dozen.  At some level, we have all experienced this.  Everyone, at one time or another has taken a handful.  We don’t need it, but occasionally, two or three, rather than just one seems to do our soul well.  But there is something else going on when someone takes a handful every time.

It might be the handful is simply selfishness.  We too, know what that is all; we are all guilty of a bit of selfishness at times, aren’t we?  But the crux of this morning’s conversation was what if it is something more than that?  When a youth walks away from the table with a handful of cookies, might it mean something more?  Could it be they did not feel the gift of abundance, of peace, of a full stomach at any time during the last two weeks?  If not, why?  If not, do we have a responsibility to do something about it?  And if we do, what is it?  Are we called to talk to them about their lifestyle or their family situation?  Or are we called to question if society is structured so that it enhances the possibility they will become a young adult, an adult, and an elder who are dependent upon others?  And if we find that to be true, are we called to do something about it?  Should we speak for changes in democracy and capitalism that might lead to awareness that food banks, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters are indicators of society’s failings rather than successes?

Neither of us had answers this morning.  Rather, meaningful answers seemed to wander the edges as one question led to another.  Are a handful of cookies due to selfishness, the hoarding of others, or both?  Well, it is hard to say.  What I did notice, though, was that while I reveled in the conversation Belinda made another batch of cookies.

© David B. Bell 2013

Just Dropping In For Christmas

12.12.25

December 25, 2012

(Heads up.  Consider this a PG-13 Christmas reflection—for language not nudity!)

We were sweating when he showed up.  Donald and I thought we were hitting it pretty hard, but it was daddy who did the hard work.  Daddy, like so many men who’ve spent their working life out-of-doors, sweated freely.  We kids wondered how he could let sweat would run down his nose, ready to drip off at any moment, and go on working as if it were not there.  Hard physical work mattered for daddy.  He clearly knew the men who worked day in and day out with their hands and body were folk to be respected.  He also understood the importance of education.  Education was important for daddy for a couple of reasons.  One reason, knowledge matters to the wholeness of a person.  Knowledge allows the mind to break through the edges of wondering to fields of questioning.  Daddy didn’t make it beyond high school.  The war came along and like thousands of other young men when the war ended and he came out of the service he went straight to work.  However, I grew up seeing the daily newspaper read end to end each day, an ear-marked  monthly farming magazine, and books on math and science.  The second reason was he understood what respect there was for those who worked physically was quickly waning.  Soon society would hold those who worked a fenceline, placed concrete, framed buildings, or  grew food would be financially displace in favor of those who worked in an air conditioned office.  Though the physical work of daddy’s life was hard, he didn’t act as if it were.  Rather, while he knew there could be too much of it for any person, hard work mattered and was good.  But I digress…we were digging fence postholes in ground full of rock that summer afternoon, when he showed up.

Best I remember, Don and I always enjoyed Mr. Morton dropping by.  A depression era Okie, Mr. Morton had known a hard life.  A kind man with a hard edge, he made his way from Oklahoma to California after serving in the Korean War.  He was and is the only man I’ve known who fit the saying, “He made millions, lost millions, and made them again.”  Unlike daddy who made his thoughts known, but was quiet, Mr. Morton was loquacious and rowdy.  I’d never known any adult before who could cuss six ways from Sunday, be serious, and laughing in the same sentence.  He came up with some of the best off-color rural phrases, many of which I enjoy using to this day; though my community in which I can use them is getting smaller by the day.  And it is from him I learned the word fuck could be used in most any sentence and can be as endearing as it is aggressive.  Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Mr. Morton had a fair disdain for societal norms.  He was also a man who lived in a manner that one never knew his wealth, except, for the generosity he showed his children, his boots, his hat, and his Mercedes.  Yet, these boots, hat, and Mercedes didn’t fit societal norms.  His purchases were practical; they might have cost a fair penny, but they were practical.  His boots, for instance, may have cost a bit, but they didn’t stop him from walking the cow pasture, stepping in a pile cow shit, cussing out the cow for shitting in that particular spot, and go right on telling a story and laughing without giving those shit cover boots another thought.  The same held true with the Mercedes.  More than once Don and I found ourselves in the backseat with his boys bouncing across a pasture after one cow or another with Mr. Morton cussing both the potholes and the cow he was trying to corral—For Mr. Morton, leather is leather and it made a lot more sense rounding up a cow sitting on a leather seat than the leather of some persnickety horse.  On this particular afternoon as Don and I watched him drive across the dry dirt field, we smiled because we knew this rambling freewheeling Okie and our restrained west Texan daddy would shoot-the-bull for a while.  This meant we’d get break from the work, and maybe, a story that would put mamma on edge—should she know!  Worst case, we’d get time to kick-back, talk about whatever ten and eleven year-old boys talk about, and throw stones at the rock beneath the sagebrush.

Mr. Morton never called before he came by the place; he just showed up.  Of course the same held true when daddy visited him.  This was a relationship, which, though both homes had one of those black rotary phones, with a handset in the cradle, and a dial with black numbers, there were few phone calls between daddy and Mr. Morton.  I think it had a lot to do with being depression era children.  Being a time when of few phones in rural homes, neither daddy nor Mr. Morton had home phones.  This lack of phones meant, neighbors just showed up.  Not all visits were a surprise though.  Folks often arranged a visit the last time they were in town or at church on Sunday.  But so very often, visits occurred because a neighbor was walking, riding, or driving by the place and they had a minute or two to drop in and say hi.  Those spur of the moment visitations created relationships and communities that, for the most part, are lost—After all, unique relationships develop when folk just show up, because, there is little telling what you might be in the middle of…maybe fence building, but then again, those rural farming families of eight, nine, or ten were not all created at night!

Any longer, though, few folk just show up.  In our rural landscape, we watched the rotary phone with its curly tail plugged into the wall, become the push-button phone, which then became the cell phone.  By adulthood, my generation was very adept with the phone and it became normal to call your neighbor before just dropping by.  Unlike Don and I, our children seldom got a break from chores with daddy because by the time Mr. Morton showed up we’d already had a phone call and had arranged chores they could get done without us.  “Just the changing times” one might say, but I think this lack of just dropping in is affecting relationships of neighbor, family, and community.

The fear of just dropping in before calling, I see this in myself.  There are times I find myself driving down Fort Road with a spare moment on my hands and I think about dropping in on a neighbor.  Then I remember today’s etiquette of calling ahead before visiting, so, instead of just dropping in I just stay on the road.  One might say, “Well you have a cell phone, you could call!”  True enough, but what do you say, “Hey, I don’t have anything better to do and I thought I’d drop by?”  Now, that’ll make ‘em feel good!  And what about my friends in their twenties who’d a whole lot rather have you text before you call before you drop in?  Yet, as I see it, folk and community have a great need for the unexpected drop in.  You get a hint of the need in most any coffee shop on most any day.  Sit and listen, sometime, to the conversation at your neighboring table (if it isn’t a business meeting).  More often than not, these folk are not talking about world changing events, rather, they are shooting-the-bull, laughing, talking about family and, most of all, enjoying one another’s company.  There is a great need to be with others without having any agenda and no time to prepare thoughts, and just be neighbor—kinda like two boys throwing stones at a rock under the sagebrush.

Certainly cell phones and to social networks like Facebook have their upside, but they shouldn’t get confused with a face to face conversations over the fenceline or across the coffee table.  There is something about having your neighbor show up without any notice, calling you away from your work, and bestowing a surprised blessing upon you of shooting-the-bull.  Best of all, because of the unpreparedness of the visit, you and neighbor become known to one another for your screwy thoughts as well as the insightful ones, and that truly enriches relationship.  And on a good day, your neighbor steals you away from work, places you in the backseat of a Mercedes and rockets across a hoof-dented, gopher-infested pasture leaving your butt as much in the air as on the leather seat.

In this time of short days, when neighbors are tucked in their home against the long cold winter night I like to imagine what might happen should neighbors, cell phone be damned, just drop in on their neighbor.  Probably an interesting story or two…Like the one of three or four old boys who just dropped in one day on newly birthed parents.  They gathered them up and invited them onto the backseat of a bouncing Mercedes.  Inside, they gave them three gifts—two of which were nice smelling oils…always a good thing with a baby in the car—which lifted their newborn spirits.  Then real fun began as they bounced their way across the landscape, for with each bounce the parents captured a glimpse of life with baby beyond the front windshield.  The clarity of life ahead was questionable from that bouncing backseat, but clarity mattered little for in the front seat was an old Okie cussing, laughing, and spurring life on across the landscape!

© David B. Bell 2012

Jesus vs. Pilate: Empowerment From The Loss of Voice

November 24, 2012

The end of Native American Heritage Month and a conversation with a friend has me considering one way of thinking about this week’s lectionary reading from the Gospel of John.

Something came up years ago when I was engaged in undergraduate work that I have never forgotten.  I no longer remember which business class it was, but the teaching I do (an idea, I imagine, most of all of who majored in business remember).  The class instructor presented a case study: Protestors are at the gate leading up to XXX Logging Company, as well as at a number of log deck.  They are protesting XXX’s logging practices of cutting old growth timber.  The protestors actions have reached a point where they are damaging the company’s public image and its financial bottom line.  The instructor then lays out the question, “What should the company do?  After a fair amount of small group processing, the instructor continued.  XXX asked for a meeting with the group representing the protestors.  After a number of meetings, it became apparent one individual was the group’s leader.  (After a fair amount of time)  This individual was asked to meet with the CEO of XXX Logging Company.  Once at the table, the CEO said something along the lines of, “While I am not in agreement with all of your demands, I do believe changes are before us that we cannot avoid.  Because of this reality, I want XXX Logging Company to become known as THE environmental logging company who deeply cares about the environmental conditions of our forests!  After all, the wellbeing of our forests and trees is our wellbeing.  To make this happen, I am instructing the board of the need to develop a division that will focus environmental issues, such as those you have raised.  And I believe there is no one more capable of making this happen!  You, more than anyone else, understands the needs, pitfalls, and benefits of such a venture.  Would you consider coming on board with us, leading this division, and help us become a logging company like no other in the world?”  After a fair amount of discussion, the protestor came on board with XXX Logging Company.  In the coming years the protestor helped improve XXX Logging Company’s public image, however, true structural change of company logging practices never changed.  Bottom line, the company gained public goodwill, without ever changing company giving up structural change within the company itself.

We can go into the problematic structural and systemic morals the college instructor taught to a roomful of future CEO’s; but that is probably best left for another time.  Instead, in the context for this week’s lectionary passage from John, we do well to recognize one core aspect to the case study is the logging company’s CEO created a space that gave the illusion the protestor had voice (a sense of power), when in reality only the CEO had voice.

The writer of John gives us,

33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”  35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I?  Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me.  What have you done?”  36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”  37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”  Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  38Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

Similar to the CEO and protestor, Pilate creates illusionary space where Jesus has voice—and where the audience to John’s gospel believes Jesus as an equal.  Pilate does this by asking, “Are you the King of the Jews?.. What have you done?.. So you are a king?,” as if Jesus’ voice matters.  However, that last question is critical to revealing the true state of the Pilate-Jesus relationship.  For Jesus’ response, “You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Sounds as if he has voice and power, but…Pilate has the last statement, as power often does, “What is truth?”

As with the CEO-protestor study, the truth bares down at that moment.  Like a cat and mouse, Pilate only gave the illusion of voice to Jesus.  While the audience has been playing along, the writer of John throws them a jolt and they quickly find Jesus has no voice in this room, rather the room is the center of the structure which gives Pilate power.  As Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” a pall shrouds the room, Pilate’s tone deepens, and sarcastic smile slides across his face as he says, “What is truth?”  In that moment, Jesus’ voice is obliterated and John’s audience is shattered.  For in that moment everyone learns the Truth is the truth of Pilate’s power; evil reigns, John’s audience find they have been duped, and their hero’s voice is distinguished and his power is blown away like so much smoke.  It is in this boiling turmoil, this thrashing of the people’s hero, that the story becomes powerful.  For it is at this point John’s audience must take a step back, lose their passivity, become critical thinkers, review the Pilate-Jesus conversation, and re-consider an earlier response they so easily passed over, “My kingdom is not from this world.”

The first time around the comment comes across as some otherworldly response—of things as it will be.  The second time around though the audience finds the comment calls them into the here and now.  Now they must enter into relationship with a Jesus who has no voice and no power within the structure of this world.  Yet in this space, they find they have all the power needed to change this world.  In that moment of reality, when Jesus loses voice to the truth of Pilate, Jesus’ life is clarified for John’s audience.  For now, John’s audience learns Jesus has lived a life, in action and voice, as if the structure of Pilate has no meaning.  He doesn’t ignore Pilate’s structure, rather he lives as if his community of care, compassion, empathy for those who struggle and are held aside by societal structure is the realm—the kingdom of this world.  This realization is the second time John’s audience is shaken, for now they learn the power of the realm of God lies within themselves: their thoughts, their actions, their voice.

The people’s voice is what arose from the conversation my friend and I had concerning Native American Heritage Month.  It seems as if having a month designated Native American Heritage Month matters to the structures of our world and out of it American Tribes gain voice.  And yet the reality is something very different.  Like the voice of the protestor, like the voice of Jesus, Native American Heritage Month has U.S. folk believing American Tribes have voice.  Yet their voice is as lost in the landscapes current structure as that of the protestor and Jesus.

Since we are playing with the story of Pilate and Jesus, we might as well consider the structure of the Christian Church in considering the above argument.  And it is probably best to begin by observing my own denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (DOC).  From a structural perspective, there is caring for the people of American Tribes.  The denomination gives a bit of money to native ministry, and time to time a sermon uses Tribal history, story, or myth as an example to make a point.  Kinda seems like voice.  But where voice matters, in the midst of decision-making, the DOC has created a structure—congregational—where any people who do not have a critical mass of congregations do not have voice.  Since the creation of American Indian congregations was never a great concern for the DOC, there are no more than one or two American Indian congregations (Honestly, I know of none, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt.)  This means, while the DOC chose to believe American Indians have voice within their structure, the voice is non-existent.

What if we look outside the DOC and consider a bit more of the Christian Church.  Let’s consider two denominations who had a fair impact on American Indians: Methodist and Episcopal.  Both denominations created a good number of boarding schools and churches for Indians over the last two centuries.  This resulted in many congregations who have a critical number of American Indians in the community.  It has also resulted in each having a community of American Indians who have voice within the denomination.  But these voices, like Jesus’, are only given enough leeway to have the people of the greater denomination believe they have voice.  However, the denomination is not accountable to the American Indian voice.  In other words, the denomination is not giving the American Indian voice the power to change structure, nor follow this voice with the understanding that American Indians will take the denomination’s best interest at heart in their decision-making.

Which leaves us, the people, in the same situation as John’s audience (Appropriately so, for are we not the audience of the gospel as well?).  Like John’s audience, we are called to be fully aware of the structure of power around us—governmental, business, and religious, throw off our passivity, and live, in action and voice, as if structural power doesn’t matter.  In doing so we work toward creating a realm where people who have been pushed aside, placed outside, and given their own month, are given the power of determination.  This is a call where the people of Christianity become a people who believe abundant care for the displaced is care for themselves and by becoming accountable to the voice of the displaced they become accountable to God, which invites the realm not of this world into our midst.

© David B. Bell 2012