Monthly Archives: December 2016

Invisible Places

jailLike any good American, I went to jail the day after Christmas.  Well, maybe it was a strange thing to do.  My youngest daughter, a college sophomore, crawled out of bed on a Monday morning to join me because she just might share my unconventional approach to interesting holiday activities.  But you have to give us the “interesting” at least.  When our host asked his colleague at the beginning of our tour if an older gentleman escorted past us was the murder suspect, we were pretty sure we weren’t returning gifts to Macy’s.

The Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law has conducted conflict resolution trainings for the LAPD over the past couple of years—a most important work to be sure.  As a result, several officers have enrolled as students in our Master of Dispute Resolution program, including the officer that commands the particular LAPD jail that we visited.  In our interactions at Pepperdine, he offered to give me a tour, and I jumped at the opportunity.

The jail we visited is one of several that process and hold arrestees for a couple of days until their court appearances, which means that all manner of folks pass through, from benign offenders to death row convicts.  We saw everything.  On the lighter side, we played with the equipment, tried on riot gear, held a Taser, and posed for smiling pictures behind bars knowing we were free to leave.  On the sobering side, we saw the padded cells and the strip search rooms, but more poignantly the prisoners who were not free to leave: the voices yelling for attention; the disembodied hands sticking out from behind the bars, one my daughter saw mimicking a gun; faces behind the glass that embarrassingly felt like zoo exhibits, including the bloodied face of a man booked for assault with a weapon who looked like he lost the assault.

I didn’t feel like saying Happy Holidays very often.  I was impressed by the professionalism of the staff.  I felt, almost surprisingly, a measure of pride in being an American, what with the processed turkey dinner served on Christmas as opposed to the regular fare, the prominent posting of prisoner rights throughout the complex, the attention to cleaning the facility (despite the horrid smell by the shower in the men’s block), and the detailed cataloging of the personal items of the prisoners.  Gary Haugen taught me that the developing world rarely needs better laws, just (non-corrupt) law enforcement, and I was pleased to see a place led by an officer dedicated to enforcing the law with integrity.  But, still.  A jail is intentionally not a happy place to be, which was psychologically jarring on the day after Christmas.

Our world is full of unsettling, invisible places.  There are things we would rather not see, but we don’t have to travel far to find them.  We just don’t hang out in jails very often.  We rarely visit hospitals or nursing homes.  We avoid the homeless and hungry and lonely and stay away from poverty-stricken parts of town.  Heck, there are parts of ourselves we choose to ignore.  If we don’t look, I guess we can pretend these places don’t exist, which I’m fairly positive is a less than healthy approach.

In the women’s block of the jail, we met a young female correctional officer completing the probationary portion of her new job.  She was impressive in uniform, professionalism, and personality.  We instantly liked her.  She is also twenty years old, basically the same age as my daughter.  This young officer sees (and does) things in her work every day that I would rather not think about very often, if at all.  We learned that the LAPD desperately needs more female officers like this, and it struck me that the world must need lots of public servants in lots of invisible places.

I am humbled by those already there.

In 2017, I intend to spend more time in invisible places.  The tourist spots are just too crowded anyway.

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When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled – by Howard Thurman

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On this day after the celebration of Christmas, I share this fine poem by Howard Thurman for your thoughtful consideration:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

From “The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations” by Howard Thurman. © 1985 by Friends United Press.

Peace on Earth

img_4126Thanks to our friend, John, and the Pacifica Institute, we recently hosted Muslim families for a Christmas dinner at our house.  That’s right, Muslim families for a Christmas dinner.  It was wonderful.  The stated purpose of the dinner was to build bridges of respect, understanding, and friendship between Muslims and Christians—and it sure worked.  We instantly have new friends and were honored to accept a return offer to visit their homes in the new year.

All of our guests came to the United States from Turkey, and as we talked over dinner it was sobering to sense the sadness in their hearts when they spoke of conditions related to terrorism in their home country.  And it was even more sobering to sense the fears they live with in this country when the actions of religious extremists lead others to associate such terrible violence with the religion they practice and love.

Possibly my favorite moment of the evening came when one of our guests slipped money to our youngest daughter when she shared about her work in Kenya last summer with street kids from Nairobi slums.  It seems that our guest has a soft spot in his heart for poor African children, and he couldn’t help but give money to support the Christian organization when he heard about the good work it is doing.

I shared with our guests the story from Kenya at this time last year when the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, commandeered a bus that held Christian and Muslim passengers.  The terrorists demanded that the passengers separate by religion so they could execute the Christians, and the Muslim passengers, mostly women, led the refusal to answer by saying that if they would execute one they would have to execute all.  They were neighbors after all.  Miraculously, no one was killed.

Our guests had not heard the story and were visibly encouraged by it.  One of our new friends said that such reactions should be the standard response.

I sense that many are wary of the concept of interfaith dialogue, thinking that it means a dilution of religious conviction—a sort of “I’m-okay-you’re okay” approach to religious belief.  If you spend much time with any religious belief system you’ll realize that would be sort of silly.  Instead, I have to wonder what is terribly wrong with moving toward a world where we have “join us for dinner” relationships across all sorts of lines that purport to divide us.

Sharing dinner in our homes with new friends would sure go a long way toward a world where the scene that occurred on that Kenyan bus will be the standard response to those who deal in violence.  Not uniformity or watered-down beliefs, but neighborliness and solidarity for peace on earth and good will toward all.  I am a Christian, and at this time of year we remember an angelic proclamation to a group of shepherds about such things.  This particular dinner sure felt like a step in that direction.

‘Twas the Week Before Winter Break (at Pepperdine Law School)

sol‘Twas the week before winter break, when all through the law school
Not a creature was discussing the best evidence rule;
The students’ exams were all printed with care,
In hopes that the final grades soon would be there;

The students were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of CALI awards danced in their heads;
And the faculty in offices and staff at work stations
Were wishing that they had begun their vacations,

When out in the parking lot there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the curtains and turned the little plastic thing that theoretically opens the mini-blinds.

The sun on the break of this morning so bright
Gave the lustre of mid-day, a beautiful sight,
When, what car did I see driving into my view,
But one with a bumper sticker: “I love judicial review.”

The driver was an expert in interpreting the law.
I knew in a moment it must be Dean Tacha.
Like a swift legal eagle she flew out of her car,
And called to her troops for an urgent sidebar;

“Dean Saxer, Dean Schultz, Dean DeWalt, and Dean Caron!
If he was still around, I’d call to Dean Perrin!
To the dean’s suite let’s run!  We have much work to do!
Let’s all meet up in the dean’s conference room!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the dean’s suite the administrators all flew,
With their blank legal pads and with Dean Tacha too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard in the deans’ suite
The shuffling and settling of associate deans’ feet.
As I ran up the stairs and was turning around,
In the front door Dean Tacha came with a bound.

She was dressed in blue and orange, from her head to her toe,
And her clothes were adorned with the Pepperdine logo;
A bundle of casebooks she had in her knapsack,
And looked like a law student lugging a backpack.

Her eyes — how they twinkled! her expression so merry!
Her gait was determined.  (I found it quite scary!)
I tried to keep up, though it wouldn’t be easy,
She works circles around me until I am queasy!

As she rushed in the conference room ready to go,
I marveled at the energy of this dean dynamo;
A wink of her eye and a twist of her head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

She spoke not a word, but went straight to her work,
And soon said, “I found it!” then turned with a jerk,
She arose from her chair and delivered her rule:
“Let there be peace on earth, and at Pepperdine Law School.”

She sprang to her car, to her team gave a whistle,
And away she flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard her exclaim, ere she drove out of sight,
HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!

It’s a Sickness

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I’ve been thinking about sickness lately, primarily because most everyone in our office suite has taken a turn and the rest of us are a little jumpy.  I mean, someone coughs, and the rest of us instinctively dive across the room and stick to the wall like Velcro.  Miraculously, we all still seem to like each other: We’re just equally terrified of each other right now.

And then last Sunday my wife and I enjoyed a nice afternoon date at a neighborhood urgent care and discovered that she had strep throat.  She probably had strep throat before we went to urgent care, but one can never be certain.  I mostly spent my time there hovering over a plastic chair and practicing not breathing.  It was just for fourteen thousand hours or so.

I’m not technically a germophobe.  I’m more of a germo-philosopher who would rather not get sick.

The worst part of when “something is going around” has to be the paranoia.  If someone with the plague sneezes in your mouth, well sure, buy a box of Kleenex and head for the sofa, but more often than not we spend our waking hours convinced that every single physical contact with anything is fatal (e.g., Where has that paperclip been?).  This is quickly confirmed by the tickling in the throat and the warm body temperature that immediately arrives after coming into contact with every single thing.

So what do you do when the world you inhabit is virus-infested and nowhere is safe?  Maybe you’re the type that wears a mask and washes your hands like you’re destroying evidence, or maybe you’re the type that lives in denial convinced that you’ve cracked the code and are dodging invisible germs like a fighter pilot.  Either way, you can’t hide forever, and you have to go out and live life anyway.

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.  Life can sometimes feel like a dangerous place with invisible forces that you don’t know how to avoid.  Go live life anyway.  If it gets you, at least go down swinging.

Thoughts From a Side Show

side-show-2I confess that I primarily attended the Conejo Players Theatre production of Side Show on Saturday evening because my friend and colleague, Randi, had a leading role, which is plenty reason to go because she is uber-talented, but my wife was sick and needed to stay home so I probably would have missed the show had it not featured Randi.

And I confess that Side Show did not have a great run on Broadway.  Its initial run in the 1990s did not catch on, nor did its attempt at revival a couple of years ago, so the name of the musical just doesn’t have much of a draw.

But I’m sure glad I went.

Side Show is a musical loosely based on the lives of conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton (1908-1969).  It is a sad but important story.  Randi and her “twin” were phenomenal in pulling off their demanding roles—imagine singing/acting/dancing/costume changing with someone literally joined at the hip!  More importantly, they effectively led their audiences to consider what it is like to be a “freak” on display.  Spoiler: It is not a life you would choose.

While we can all relate to feeling different, by very definition most of us spend more time staring at anomalies than being one.  From the homeless to the celebrities to all stops in between, all whose very existence creates material for stand-up comics have a unique challenge in this particular life, and it is easier to point, laugh, stare, critique, and/or avoid them than to pause and consider what it must be like—not to mention pause to get to know, care about, and dare I say love—those unique human beings we prefer to remain as caricatures.

My favorite moment in the musical came at the end of the first act when the twins led the “freaks” in a song titled, “Who Will Love Me As I Am?”  I think that is a question endemic to human existence.  Most of us find a safe and comfortable spot in this world to locate an answer, but not everyone does.

My deep thanks to Randi and the cast of Side Show for reminding me that everyone deserves an answer.

A Joyful Noise

seahawksA game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle should be on every NFL fan’s bucket list.  It is a beautiful stadium, sure, but it is the crowd that gathers there that makes it special.  The fans come decked out in the navy blues and neon greens that identify Seahawks gear, but they also come with knowledge of the game and prepared to deafen the opposition.

Most fans love offense, and Seahawk fans surely appreciate Russell Wilson and a good touchdown, but when their defense takes the field, the fans stand in unison and make themselves heard.  Every single time.  All game long.  It is crazy-making noise, at least for the visiting offense, but it is music to Seahawk ears.

The fans make an actual difference in the game using nothing more than their football knowledge and collective voice.  Because the visiting offense struggles to hear their quarterback’s voice, there are more “false start” penalties at CenturyLink Field than at any other NFL stadium.  This is intentional, of course, and if you don’t believe it, notice the thousands of fans sporting a Seahawk jersey with the number twelve and the name FAN across the back.  They know that they play an important role on the field as the proverbial twelfth member of their defensive team.

I have been a Dallas Cowboys fan for forty years and couldn’t be happier this season but was happy to join voices with my Seattle University daughter and Seahawk Nation to create the roar that drove the Carolina Panthers nutso last Sunday evening.  The temperature was in the upper 30s but the decibels were up so high that they pulled out the Richter scale.

How great would it be for your life to come with fans like that, people who respectfully cheer your successes but stand and scream Home Alone-style at those who try to defeat you?  Fans of you who wear your jersey and consider themselves on your team?

Good luck with that.

Instead of holding your breath for a stadium full of personal fanatics, might I suggest becoming that sort of devotee for others who need it?  And doesn’t everyone need it?

Special Memories

familyMy parents’ birthdays are two days apart in early December.  Well, technically, sixteen years and two days apart.  My dad turned down an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in the late 1930s but enlisted alongside thousands of other Americans when Pearl Harbor was attacked the day after his twenty-first birthday.  Meanwhile, my mom celebrated her fifth birthday in the Arkansas hills the day after the attack.  While my dad headed off to the Pacific Theater to defend America’s freedom, my mom was a little girl having her freedom defended.

This week, were they both living, my dad would celebrate his ninety-sixth birthday and my mom would celebrate her eightieth.  Ninety-six and eighty are just numbers, but they are hard-to-believe numbers.  Where does the time go?

The last time I saw my dad alive he was in a hospital bed facing a wall in the fetal position and fighting the pain.  The last time I saw my mom alive she was weak and yellow and exhausted sitting in a lift chair in my sister’s living room.  When you go to check out of this life, the checkout counter is just awful.

But that’s not what I remember on special days like birthdays.  What comes to mind are happy and healthy times—and smiles.  Like the only time I remember being angry at my dad when he couldn’t suppress laughter after a bird pooped on my head.  Or my mom’s beaming face when she had the opportunities to spend time with my sweet daughters.  That’s what I will remember this week.  The smiling people who gave me an enjoyable life.

These milestone days come and go, which must explain the shocking numbers.  My sisters and I will text each other in sacred commemoration on December 6 and December 8.  I may or may not mention either day out loud to my wife or others.  But I always notice, and always remember, and never know exactly what else to do.

I do have an idea this year.  This year, I think I’ll plug in the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas CD that I kept from my mother’s things and close my eyes and be transported to another world.  I’ll picture being a kid again in that tiny house on West Mueller Street.  Mom and Dad are both there in the living room with me.  The stove is glowing orange because it is cold and snowing outside.  I can see it out the picture window when I squeeze around the Christmas tree.

I’m going to listen to that Bing Crosby sing about Christmas and travel away to that special world of memories.  And in particular I will smile when his distinctive baritone voice delivers the signature lines from that old World War Two classic, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

Loving the Unlovable

screenshot-2016-11-21-09-50-561479743611447It’s a peculiar commercial any way you slice it.  Frankenstein’s monster might have ordered any number of products with his Apple iPhone from his secluded mountain cabin, such as a packet of Aveeno Positively Radiant Makeup Removing Wipes, or any number of Swiffer products to help out around the house (aren’t they fantastic?).  Maybe even Everybody Loves Raymond: The Complete Series on DVD.  But no, he simply ordered two Christmas bulbs, one red and one green, and they were dropped in the snow at his private residence by an invisible delivery service.  And, of course, in the only part of the commercial that made perfect sense, even if you just have two Christmas lights, there is always one that will not work properly.

But that’s not all.  As the story continued, Frankie made his way into town and scared the bejeezus out of everyone before using his iPhone as a karaoke machine to sing a sweet little rendition of Home for the Holidays with an adorable girl who apparently has a magic touch with those infernal Christmas lights.  Then he cried.  It’s peculiar, I say.

I first noticed the commercial on Thanksgiving Day amid a houseful of guests, so I didn’t hear any of the words yet seemed to get the message anyway.  At the end of the short story, after the villagers accept the monster through the example of the little girl and the camera fades to a glorious view of a magnificent Christmas tree, Apple offered the following request in simple script across the screen: Open your heart to everyone.

Whatever you do, don’t miss Apple’s message at this special time of year:  Instead of purchasing one of their products, buy a couple of Christmas lights and let your children sing duets with perfect strangers.

Ha!  No, seriously: Open your heart to everyone.  I absolutely love it.

It is a sweet message in a carefully scripted commercial with a somewhat lovable monster limping into town with a tear in his eye and a desire to be loved, but it is significantly harder to swallow when the monster appears, well, more monstrous.  But I think the message is even more important then.  Not because monstrous behavior is excusable.  Just the opposite.  It is because love is the hope of the world, and the coldest hearts need the most love to have any chance at thawing.

Besides, loving the lovable is far too easy, and wouldn’t you rather have a challenge?