Is there a term for an escalator that is going down? A de-escalator? Well there should be a term. Anyway, I exited the Denver airport last Friday and stepped on the escalator headed down (sigh) when I heard, “Sir! Sir!”
I turned and saw a blonde woman about my age running and trying to get my attention. “Is this the way to the light rail?” she asked as she stepped on the escalator (?) behind me.
“I think so,” I answered. “That’s where I’m headed.”
“Where are you from?”
“Oh,” she replied, obviously disappointed. “I thought I detected an accent.”
“Well, you probably did. I’m originally from Arkansas.”
“Oh,” she replied, suddenly in a better mood. “I would claim Arkansas.”
Well I won’t repeat what came to mind at this juncture of the conversation; instead, I made the difficult choice to smile and simply said, “I like them both.”
I thought that made a nice conversation ender, but she reluctantly replied, “Yes, I guess there are good and bad people wherever you go.” Saying this appeared to disappoint her once again.
There were many things I might have said at that point, but I just agreed and ended the conversation by turning and facing ahead. Which happened to be down. On both literally and metaphorically one of the longest rides I have taken on whatever one should call an escalator going down.
On the big screen Martin Sheen is probably best known for his leading role in Apocalypse Now and on the television screen for his portrayal of President Bartlet on The West Wing. In Malibu he is known for his generosity.
Several years ago some teenagers from our church were at our local ice cream shop and one of the teens did not have a jacket with him. There was a bit of a chill in the air, and, you know, there was ice cream. One of the group noticed that the teenager was suddenly wearing a sweatshirt or jacket, I forget the specifics, and when asked where he got it he pointed to some random man that gave it to him. He had no idea it was Martin Sheen.
I have been involved in a unique and wonderful day labor hiring site called the Malibu Community Labor Exchange for ten years now and am embarking on my second stint as president of the board of directors. Martin Sheen has been involved since its inception twenty-five years ago, prominently at the beginning, and more behind the scenes in the years that followed, but he is stepping out front to host a major silver anniversary celebration that is open to public this Saturday evening at the Labor Exchange (23595 Civic Center Way – the Malibu Library parking lot).
As we planned the party, I had several opportunities to interact with Martin in person, including interviewing him for a promotional video. The word “celebrity” did not factor into conversation in my Arkansas hometown, so this is a novel experience for me. We were both interviewed by a local newspaper about the event, and one line in the article made me smile: “Sturgeon and Sheen emphasized that the joyful occasion is intended to recognize the Labor Exchange’s contributions to the community and its gratefulness to Malibu.” I know my name is a big draw, but Mr. Sheen’s name should have come first alphabetically.
If you are near Malibu this Saturday, I invite you to drop by the Labor Exchange trailer from 6-9pm to dance to the mariachi band, grab a free taco, and celebrate this local institution. You are welcomed. That’s the thing I love the most about the Labor Exchange. Everyone is always welcomed.
Last October the New York Times published an article now credited with sparking the #MeToo movement that exposed producer Harvey Weinstein’s history and practice of sexual abuse and harassment. The first woman mentioned in the article was actress, Ashley Judd, and the second was a wonderful former student of mine at Pepperdine Law. In less than a month there were scores of other names added to the list.
Exactly one week after that landmark article my good friends at Pepperdine Law hosted an important conference titled, “In Search of Sanctuary: Strengthening the Church’s Response to Intimate Partner Violence.” The featured speaker at the conference was Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, and I was honored to be in attendance to listen and learn from her great wisdom and work. As a preacher now/again I was particularly surprised that when Rev. Fortune asked for a show of hands of all familiar with the story of Vashti only a few of us were. She then asked how many knew the story of the nameless Levite’s concubine (from Judges 19), and there may have been one other person besides me who raised a hand. Dr. Fortune’s point was that texts dealing with intimate partner violence are not popular preaching texts, and as a result, the Church is sadly unfamiliar with and at the very least complicit in sustaining an environment that results in a deafening silence. She told of one particular pastor who simply mentioned his plan to attend a conference on intimate partner violence and was shocked to have multiple victims approach him afterward in their pain—a simple off-handed reference was the most the topic had ever been broached in the congregation. I have been no better.
That conference planted the seed that resulted in my summer sermon series on the Book of Judges at my congregation. I learned that those who faithfully follow the Revised Common Lectionary will only turn to the Book of Judges for one text in their lives (the Song of Deborah) and never face the violent texts, especially not the sickening story of the nameless Levite’s concubine in Judges 19. Yesterday I forced myself to deliver a sermon on that text, which also happened to be the first sermon I had ever heard on that particular text.
I do not write today to redeliver the sermon—I will upload it today to uccmalibu.podbean.com if you are interested in that sort of thing. And I do not write today to congratulate myself. No, my attitude is one of embarrassment for my complicity, and I write in a spirit of confession.
The sermons this summer have been difficult to deliver, but one of the enduring images I will take from it are of those who periodically stopped to say that they sincerely appreciate the effort to confront the difficult texts.
I have often told my daughters that the only things worth doing in life are difficult. I hope to listen to my own advice.
“He could go anyplace he wanted with a sense of purpose. One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches and tramps around. Writing taught my father to pay attention…”
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
I avoided writing whenever possible in high school and celebrated upon testing out of both required English composition courses in college. And now I love to write. For whatever reason I cannot seem to pick up the curveball in this game called life.
When my dad died in 1994 I experienced a strong urge to write—the first time I wanted to write an essay—and the urge returned not long afterward when the moms and dads of my elementary school daughter’s local soccer team acted completely insane and nearly drove me bonkers. Around then it occurred to me that I should not have prayed so fervently to test out of English composition. On both occasions writing was my way of processing the confusion of life.
And then, on the eighth day, God created a host of things like home computers and Microsoft Word, grammar check and spell check, print-on-demand publishing and blogs. I became a writer in spite of poor life decisions. Sort of like how Donald Trump became the president.
Somewhere along the way I purchased and devoured two wonderful books on the craft of writing: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and On Writing by Stephen King. Both are chock full of hilarious, practical, and straight-shooting advice on this creative outlet that I now adore. It was Lamott, however, who zeroed in on what I love the most: Writing teaches me to pay attention.
I shouldn’t need anything to make me pay attention to life, but then again, maybe I do. Maybe my cousin, Amy, is right when she claims that we all have a creative side that needs exercising, and maybe it is that need to create that leads us to lean into this thing called life, to have a reason to head out into it, to use all of our senses, to take notes on everything that is there.
Maybe. That’s all I’m saying. I just know that writing is now a part of who I am—and that I am thankful.