“Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes by so quick you can hardly catch it going.” – Tennessee Williams, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore
To say there is much to do this week is an understatement that borders on absurdity. My farewell sermon yesterday was followed by such a sweet farewell reception—that all four of “us” could be there was very special—but now the rollercoaster whips around an unexpected turn and we will worry about breathing later on. The week ahead is packed floor to ceiling (hey, like that moving metaphor?) as we tie up loose ends and then move to a new stage of life in Tennessee.
A nice and clean reflection has proven impossible. Do I write about the unforgettable people? There are too many. Do I write about stunning California? I wouldn’t know where to start. Do I write about law school or Pepperdine or Malibu or the Labor Exchange or University Church or running or…
I give up.
Maybe I will just say that our time here has transformed our lives in every conceivable way. Physically. Intellectually. Professionally. Emotionally. Spiritually. You name it.
And we are thankful.
I have been told repeatedly that I will miss the views here. With all due respect, I don’t believe it. Those views have been permanently imprinted on my memory and will always be nearby—and I’m not simply referring to the natural scenery. Edgar Allan Poe said, “To observe attentively is to remember distinctly.” If nothing else I was sure to pay attention, so I’m not worried.
I have shared my favorite Wendell Berry Sabbath poem before, but it is most appropriate today:
We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
The blessed light that yet to us is dark.
So here we go on these crazy final few days. I will blog from the road next week—Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise. The South, here we come.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged blessings, california, edgar allan poe, labor exchange, malibu, memories, moving, pepperdine, sabbath, tennessee, tennessee williams, the south, university church of christ, wendell berry
Some days it feels like my wife and I should move to Nairobi to be with the children we met there who live on the hard streets. On others I consider Delhi where I learned that young girls are vulnerable to sex traffickers. On still others I remember the poor Brazilians we saw living in the favelas of Rio. But today, I live in California.
And then some days I drive down L.A.’s “skid row” and wonder how I can live in Malibu instead of with those in absolute squalor just a few miles away. And then I open my eyes to Malibu and see homeless and un/under-employed friends looking for work at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange.
The needs are simply everywhere.
How does one live in this old world? I have worked for several causes, from at-risk children to poverty housing to disaster relief to homelessness to day laborers…
And then I see those heart-wrenching images of Syrian children on television. And then churches in Egypt are bombed while celebrating Palm Sunday.
The needs are everywhere, and they are overwhelming.
My personal belief system leads to public policy opinions that seems to place me at odds with all presidents, not to mention most of my friends, but it also leads me to devote (some but far) less energy to public policy discussions and more to being with the sufferers. Knowing names. Sharing hugs. Sharing tears.
But there are so many.
So here is my plan:
I will not let such overwhelming need harden my heart so that I give up on caring. I refuse the temptation to apathy.
I will not allow the impossibility of being everywhere at once immobilize me so that I give up on trying. I refuse the temptation to quit.
And I will encourage others to make similar commitments. I refuse the temptation to think that it is all up to me.
May the privileged few share with the underprivileged masses. Everywhere. Together. Today.
Syrian Refugee Children (via the International Rescue Committee)
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged action, california, delhi, favelas, injustice, labor exchange, los angeles, love, malibu, nairobi, privilege, rio, share, skid row, syria
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!
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged activism, cesar chavez, conversation, day laborers, election, farm workers, hope, immigration, labor exchange, malibu, mexico, nonviolence, optimism, oscar mondragon, politics, president, si se puede, trump