Tag Archives: hope

Manzanar

ManzanarI elbowed my way through afternoon L.A. traffic to begin a four-hour mountain drive that ended in a surprising thunderstorm and finally some peace and quiet. Early the next morning I drove the few remaining miles to my destination: Manzanar.

I forget exactly when I learned about Manzanar, but it should have been sooner.

Asian-Americans endured prejudicial treatment prior to Pearl Harbor in 1941 but that terrible attack brought specific ethnic hostility to those of Japanese ancestry. In early 1942, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 that authorized the military to remove “any or all persons” from the West Coast and ultimately over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in ten American concentration camps simply because of their ethnicity. Ten thousand of those Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants were incarcerated in California at Manzanar.

My interest in visiting Manzanar intensified a few years ago when I learned that two of the ten wartime camps were located in Arkansas—I grew up in Arkansas and taught history in Arkansas and had never been told that Arkansas incarcerated 17,000 people of Japanese descent from California, half at Camp Jerome and half at Camp Rohwer. I knew then that I needed to visit Manzanar to feel the pain of a camp and ponder this terrible connection between my two “home” states—and my native country.

Manzanar is easy to visit on one hand: It is free, uncrowded, and only takes an hour or two to see everything there is to see. But it is difficult to visit as well. For what it represents, and what it proclaims.

Out of the 110,000+ imprisoned out of fear of espionage or sabotage, exactly zero were convicted of espionage or sabotage. That unwarranted fear destroyed many lives and families and even flirted with destroying a culture. In Hawaii where 158,000 Japanese-Americans faced less prejudice and enjoyed more freedom than those on the mainland, they were still discouraged from speaking the Japanese language and practicing the Buddhist religion. Hawaii’s military governor explained why: “We must remember that this is America and we must do things the American Way.”

And what, pray tell, did this chapter of American history communicate about the American Way?

The barbed wire at Manzanar stands as a reminder of how fear and power work together. But Manzanar also reminds us of the potential resilience of oppressed people and that even when fear and power lace up on the same team that victims can band together and rise above their circumstances. Possibly my favorite poster in the visitor’s center hung outside the theater and featured a quote from Hank Umemoto: “We were screwed, but then we made the most out of it and we turned Manzanar into a community.”

May there be no more Manzanars. But in the meanwhile, may all such peoples find that kind of courage and hope.

The Homeless Count

FB_Shared_1I set my alarm at 4:15am last Thursday and predictably objected on multiple counts when the time arrived to rise and shine. But it wasn’t just the oppressive hour. My head pounded and my body ached after a terrible night of sleep, and the day ahead was scheduled to end seventeen work hours later. That I should stay in bed was obvious, but I slowly eased up and out of bed anyway and arrived at Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church by 5am per my commitment.

I wasn’t alone. There were 25-30 volunteers there, including my friends David, Reese, and Steve from church, along with an impressive spread of coffee and pastries. I don’t do coffee, and I should not do pastries according to gastrointestinal feedback, so I declined the goodies, which surprisingly included the option of chocolate pie for breakfast. Or whatever the 5am meal is called.

After registration and a training video and a couple of speeches from law enforcement personnel, we were divided into groups and sent out into the morning darkness to conduct our portion of the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. We church buddies found our way into a group all our own and armed with a flashlight, clipboard, map, tally sheet, and bottled water we drove to Point Dume and Zuma Beach to do our part to provide accurate numbers so that much-needed services may be distributed appropriately.

David drove, Steve navigated, Reese tallied, and I contributed insightful and entertaining conversation (or at least that’s what I told myself). We noted some homeless individuals, automotive “homes,” and located one encampment in our designated area. We were four of over eight thousand volunteers that turned out across Los Angeles to serve in this capacity this year.

I wish I could say that I got out of bed on Thursday out of the goodness of my heart, but it was undoubtedly an awful lot of guilt instead. How do you really convince yourself that you can’t get out of your warm bed in your spacious house to count homeless individuals because you feel sick and had a rough night’s sleep? I couldn’t figure it out on short notice at least.

And I wish I could say that this small bout of volunteerism revitalized my health and produced a day full of rainbows and cotton candy, but I felt pretty terrible all day long. Seventeen hours later I made it home and went straight to bed. And as I crawled into bed feeling achy and chilled and generally crappy, my first thought was of those folks who were homeless again that night. And how they probably felt.

So I’m writing a blog about it for no particular good reason.  A blog entry surely doesn’t make a difference. It would take a national commitment to collectively end homelessness, and don’t hold your breath. There is no national conversation, much less commitment; instead, there are mostly local conversations across the nation as to how to push homelessness into the next community.

But there are individuals who are engaged and trying anyway. I am impressed by those doing something to make a real difference one person at a time despite the odds. Maybe someday, I, too, will have that sort of courage that reflects the counsel of Mother Teresa who said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

Christmas PictureThere is much on my mind this Christmas Day, including the great joy to have my little family together and the deep sorrow for friends experiencing great loss, and my best response is to share three short poems from Howard Thurman’s “The Mood of Christmas” — a unity in trinity:

Christmas Is Yesterday:
The memories of childhood,
The miracle of Santa Claus,
The singing of carols —
The glow of being remembered.

Christmas Is Today:
The presence of absent ones,
The reminder of the generous act,
The need to love —
The need to be loved.

Christmas Is Tomorrow:
The miracle of faith,
The fulfillment of ancient hopes,
The reign of God —
The dying of Death in the land.

Christmas is yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Trash to Treasure

22344381_224265931440152_753211283737673728_n(1)My friend, Danny, unexpectedly brought Sister Rosemary by my office last week during her visit to Pepperdine.  What a gift!  I have seen a handful of people who made TIME magazine’s 2014 list of the 100 most influential people in the world in person, but it was most definitely the first time one dropped by my office to say hello.  I have my fingers crossed that either Beyoncé or Pope Francis will follow Sister Rosemary’s lead soon.

[Click HERE to read what Academy Award-winning actor, Forrest Whitaker, wrote about Sister Rosemary for TIME in 2014.]

At her evening conversation event last week Sister Rosemary featured stylish purses created at her Tailoring Center using aluminum can pop-tops. She told the audience that she uses this process to teach the women and girls who have been ravaged by war that throw-away trash can be transformed into treasure.  What a lovely metaphor.

I’m not so sure that I can take trash and turn it into an actual fashion accessory.  But I’m up for changing the way I look at human beings who have been discarded one way or another in this world to see the treasure waiting there in what Mother Teresa once called “distressing disguise.”  Sister Rosemary does this with what Whitaker called contagious energy and boundless love.  And in the copy of her book “Sewing Hope” that she gifted me she wrote that “love is the key.”  

So if it is just as well with you, we might as well get started loving.

Dreams

18380491_1304245319630140_7970860990956830720_n(1)My sweet wife visited the Field of Dreams Movie Site in Dyersville, Iowa, last week and brought home several souvenirs since she knows Field of Dreams is my favorite movie of all time. And, it seems, because she loved it there.

It still feels strange to say that Field of Dreams is my favorite movie. It has a corny plot–literally–set in that spooky Iowa cornfield complete with ghost baseball players and disembodied voices. It surely wasn’t my favorite movie when I saw it at the theater in 1989. Sure, I enjoyed the baseball history and the touching storyline, but I tend to prefer movies that aren’t set in fantasy world (nothing personal against Iowa).

My mistake was watching it years later. After my father died. That did me in. That famous last scene when a father is reunited with son and they play catch once again and Annie says to Ray, “Introduce him to his granddaughter” . . . 

Okay, I might need to change the subject. These darn allergies.

Mother’s days and father’s days mean something different to those of us on the other side of the great divide called death. It can be quite depressing, but oddly enough, it never has been for me. And I don’t even have to work hard to understand why. 

As fantastic as it sounds, although Field of Dreams is crazy fiction, I believe it touches on something that is actually very real. In my heart, I believe that someday I will once again hold my mother’s hand and play catch with my dad and introduce him to his youngest granddaughter.

The very thought of it nearly makes my heart explode with anticipation.    

Put Me In Coach

3“Baseball, it is said, is only a game.  True.  And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.” – George F. Will

Baseball is back, and I am happy.  Somewhere in the lazy sunshine, major league teams are taking the field for the first games of spring training, and all is right in the world.  Who am I kidding, all is not right in the world, but when you need a distraction because the world may be going to Crazyland—and reports are that it may have already boarded the plane—some opt for pictures of cute puppies and others choose a stiff drink, but I prefer baseball.

My team is the St. Louis Cardinals.  Tomorrow, 2,685 miles away in Jupiter, Florida, my beloved Redbirds will take on the Miami Marlins for their first game of the new season.  It is so far away from my house that it might as well be on the planet, Jupiter, but all I need to know is that baseball has awakened and that a new season is on the way.  I love how baseball wakes up with the sun in the early spring, hits its stride in the summer heat, reaches its conclusion in the picturesque fall, and hibernates through the dark winter.  So today, as far as I’m concerned, despite the calendar, spring has sprung.

Now truth be told, our mortal enemy, the Chicago Cubs, remains World Series champions, and they have the best lineup in baseball—again.  But this is baseball, and hope springs eternal.  You just never know what might happen.  Heck, listen to me, the Chicago Cubs are reigning World Series champs.  It is undeniable that anything is possible.

That anything is possible may be my favorite way that baseball reflects life.  So on this glorious weekend, wherever you happen to be in the seasons of life, remember that spring is somewhere in the rotation.  Where anything is possible.

What Gives Me Hope

interfaith-group-2017As nostalgia sets in at the prospect of leaving the law school, the privileges I enjoy become more pronounced.  One of my favorites has been hosting the Interfaith Student Council.

Early this week, sixteen wonderful people—fourteen law students, one undergraduate student, and one lawyer—showed up for an evening of discussion (the lawyer took the picture above!).  This fine group represented various flavors of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Atheism.

The leaders offered two potential topics for the evening: a heavy discussion about the controversial Trump immigration executive order, and a lighter discussion of dating practices in various faith traditions.  The group decided to do both and briefly discuss the heavy topic before moving to the lighter topic.  It may be unsurprising in the rear view mirror, but we never made it past the first.

Early in the conversation, one of the kindest people I have ever known shared a personal story that involved a close acquaintance sharing things that characterized this person’s entire religion in a terrible light.  I don’t think this kind soul has the capacity for anger, but there was definite hurt.  And confusion.  I mean, what do you do when someone you know portrays you and everyone in your faith as evil?

Everyone tried to help, and a good conversation ensued.

Later on, after the conversation took several twists and turns, a different student spoke up—one who comes from the faith that was used to characterize the other student as evil—and directed remarks back to that tough situation.  And she apologized.  She apologized on behalf of her entire faith.  And then she started crying, which made the other student start crying, and if we weren’t careful it was going to get all of us but they hugged it out and gave us a fighting chance.

If I am honest, as I sit here and type away, you know how your tears like to hang out in your upper cheekbones watching television and how they stand up and put their shoes on when you start thinking about touching moments like this one?  Well, maybe that is happening right now, but you’ll never know.

At the end of the evening, I asked everyone what gives them hope when times seem dark.  Folks shared some great answers, but I have to tell you that what gives me hope is an evening like that one and an encounter like the one between those two wonderful students.

Some may look at the world right now and just see stormy weather, but in that one embrace I believe I saw a break in the clouds.

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?

Willing to Talk

oscar

The results of the presidential election prompted me to visit my friend, Oscar, at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange last weekend.  For over two decades, Oscar has directed the day labor hiring site day after day, week after week, year after year.  He is a personal friend and hero.  I went to see Oscar because I wondered how the day laborers were reacting to the news, but to be candid, Oscar is such a man of peace and wisdom that I anticipated the visit would be good for me, too.  I miscalculated the election itself, but at least I got that one right.

Oscar was a Cesar Chavez apprentice back in the day and traveled with Cesar to all sorts of interesting places and situations.  It was fascinating to hear him make connections between then and now.  As the world remembers, Cesar’s activism was strong yet nonviolent and eternally optimistic.  Si, se puede!  I think we all need a good helping of strong, nonviolent optimism right now.

As we visited, Oscar recalled times when Cesar was criticized for meeting with government officials who were seen as his direct enemies.  Many supporters of the farm workers could not even bring themselves to say the names of those opposition leaders and could hardly stomach witnessing Cesar shake hands, pose for pictures, and sit in conversation with people they believed to be evil.  Cesar was willing to talk with them anyway.  Oscar explained Cesar’s approach: On behalf of others, he was always willing to talk with anyone to advance the cause regardless of his personal feelings or the reaction it generated.

It is far too easy to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals and forego the arduous task of seeking to engage and understand those in opposition, but we will only move forward if we are willing to talk to each other.  That, my friends, requires us to put the needs of others ahead of our own and even risk ridicule from our own people.

Thanks to Cesar for living this out.  Thanks to Oscar for reminding me.

Si, se puede!

Better Days Ahead?

1

Well, mad props to TIME magazine for mastering the double entendre.

Regardless of the outcome, tomorrow’s presidential election will be historic, and although nobody will remember this bizarre campaign with affection, I suspect that its conclusion will not cool the bubbling hatred that threatens to erupt and make an awful mess.  In other words, I’ll be glad when it’s over, but I don’t think it will be over when it’s over.

So, what to do?  Although Canada is nice this time of century, flight doesn’t inspire a heck of lot more hope than the ugly fight we have endured.  There must be a third way to a better future.

My personal vote is for a commitment to reduce hatred (whether or not it is on the official ballot), beginning in my own heart and extending to actions that will have a similar effect on others.  That seems particularly worthwhile to me.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that life will instantly be better once the results are final.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that things cannot be better.  Better is surely worth the struggle.

I mean, the Cubs won the World Series.  The possibilities are endless.