Category Archives: Relationships

Dear White People

Dear White People,

The piano is an amazing instrument. It contains the twelve notes that, centuries ago, western society has agreed upon. These twelve notes are, of course, different as you travel back and forth across the piano’s keyboard. But there are twelve, expressed as 88 on almost every piano. These 88 are comprised of two colors: 36 are black, and 52 are white. If you take your hand and sweep them back and forth on only the black keys you will find a pretty cool sound that musicians call the pentatonic scale. If you sweep your hand back and forth on only the white keys you will get an entirely different sound. Still cool, but different. 

But HERE is what is most interesting to me. Let’s take, say, Mozart’s popular piano sonata K. 545 which is in the key of C. (The key of C contains no black keys.) You’re playing along nicely with no black keys until, a few seconds after you start, about 14 seconds or at measure 9, you need yourself a black key. If you don’t add it and the ones that follow, the piece starts to unravel. 

Let’s look at one of Rachmaninoff’s preludes: Opus 32, #12. This puppy is in G sharp minor which has almost all black keys. You’re cranking along, right hand flourishing crazily on all black keys when suddenly, you need a white key in the melody or the piece falls apart.

You know, of course, that this is a very simple analogy on race. My child-like point is this: in the United States of America we CANNOT see one people-group as less than another. Not only that, but we also need each other. AND we need for each person to be that distinct person God has made. We need to see that without that person being who they are, we are lessened as a society. The black community is NECESSARY to the very culture of this country. Without that community, we are not who we are supposed to be.

A while ago Solomon Burke recorded the song “None of Us Are Free” which contains the lyrics: “None of us are free, none of us are free, none of us are free. If one of us is chained, none of us are free.” I know why that he, as a black man in this country sang those words. But how do I see this as a white man? I have to bring in my faith. Being a Christian I believe that every single human is created in the very image of God. Everyone. And each and every distinction we all have is there because God wanted it to be there. As an American, I see that some of us aren’t as free as others. We are told we are all equal by our laws but I, as sure as I am breathing air, know that some of us are not being treated equitably. Some of us in our country are in figurative chains. Therefore, because they are in chains, I am not free. None of us is free. 

We desperately need for our black people to be who they were created to be. We need ALL of our races, or ethnicities if you will, to be who they are created to be. If we don’t do this, we cannot be the country we were meant to be. And let me dare to say this: If you don’t like this, you are free to find another place to live. 

And, if you are a black person who is reading this: I hope I have not offended you. I am just so very weary of how you are being treated. You never deserved this.

Thank you for reading.

Your friend,
Perry

A Cup of Coffee Given

I love coffee. No, seriously…I really love coffee. I am not what people would call a coffee snob that only drinks the very special artisan brews that require bank loans to afford a cup. I love most coffees. From Fuego, here in Rochester, to Intelligentsia in Pasadena. From Starbucks to McDonalds. From Denny’s to a Keurig offering. It doesn’t matter. Just to be able to sip that beautiful, dark, hot elixir of life. AAAAHHHHH!!!! It’s also the smell. The smell of beans being ground, of a pour over, of an automatic drip performing its task that will bring us this fabulous goodness. And the sounds. Coffee leaving the urn and sloshing into a cup is a sound that was ordained to bring joy from the beginning of time. One caveat: Instant coffee, I believe, was invented by pagans. That being said…

In February of 1992 I made the unpleasant discovery that my wife was involved in a long-term affair that had been going on for quite some time. It rocked me to the core. That first night alone in a bed was indescribable. There was that sort of weeping happening that rarely comes upon people. You know the kind, body shaking, face crumpled up, ugly crying as it were. It is indeed a strange thing to have, in one moment, the trajectory of your life drastically yanking a sharp turn. Hopes, dreams, stuff like that. I had no idea what was going on or what I was going to do. I just needed to get out of that house as soon as possible. My friend Larry heard about my plight. He told me that his place was available for however long I needed until I figured out the next step. I packed up some things and headed into Pasadena.

Larry. A complex character. Incredibly talented sound engineer who has always treated his craft as an art form. Still does. I’d been able to work with him from time to time and he would create beauty out of every single project. At this time in 1992 he was the sound engineer for a network game show. You would think it was a waste of his talent working on something so mundane. No matter, Larry approached each program as if it was the New York Philharmonic performing Beethoven’s ninth. The real complexity came with Larry’s personality. One moment you think he’s mad at the entirety of the earth, the next moment he has the heart of a child. He himself had had his struggles with relationships. Sometimes you could see sadness in his eyes. But then the next moment, delight. At any rate, he offered a friend some help and I accepted.

I don’t remember sleeping very much that first night at Larry’s house. Too much was churning through my skull. I was trying to make a plan. I was trying not to be sad. I was being sad. More ugly crying. Then the morning light began to ease itself into the window. At that time I was working as a location scout and was in the middle of a job in which I had to find a very artistic jogging path for a Reebok commercial. As I got ready early that morning I had absolutely no desire to head out onto the road in search of something that had no merit on anything that mattered to me. Especially at that moment in my existence. But even a grieving person needed to make a living.

It was raining hard that morning. Rare in Southern California. I had always found comfort in the rain coming from an area of the world in which rain was a regular part of life. I walked out onto Larry’s porch and stood there. The sights, sounds, and smell of the rain was soothing. It didn’t take what was roiling around in my head or my present turmoil away. Or the sadness, a kind I’d never known. Or the feeling of being completely lost. But the rain relaxed me just a bit.

I heard the door open. I turned and saw Larry approaching. He said nothing. In his right hand was a cup of coffee. He held it out to me. I took it. I don’t even remember thanking him. He turned around and walked back into the house. Let me say this; in my life people have done wonderful things for me, given me nice things, told me flattering things. That moment in time in which Larry saw his friend hurting and did the only thing he thought he could do will stay with me until I breathe my last. He could have tried to say he felt badly for me. He could have tried to give me advice. He could have simply just attempted to start a conversation. Nope. He somehow knew that anything he could possibly say would have been inadequate. And he knew I loved coffee. So that’s what he did. He gave me some coffee. (It was delicious by the way.)

I read the Bible as many of you who know me know. In Mark 9:41 Jesus said, “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” Let me tell you, Larry probably didn’t extend a tasty beverage to his friend because his friend “…bear(s) the name of Christ…” and it wasn’t water. But to me, it was this gift that seemed to be given from God Almighty. It was in that moment, in that place and time that Larry became the hand of God to me.

Larry knows this story, not because he possibly remembers the moment. But because I’ve reminded him so many times about how much that meant to me. I hope I have been that person to someone. I hope I will be that in the future.

Larry, thank you again.

 

(One side item of note. I didn’t write this to remind people that my wife hurt me. That water is so far from the bridge I practically don’t even remember that period of time, and everyone has moved on and is living life. This is not about her or about me really. It is about what one person did that was an act of God to me.)

Love and Such

I’ve never read Sam Keen’s book To Love and Be Loved before, but something close to that phrase was rattling around in my skull this morning. I don’t know why. I awakened far too early, made a pot of java, gathered all my morning accoutrement (I needed to use that word this morning), and sat at the dining room table of my parents-in-law. I opened my journal, popped the top off of my lucky fountain pen, and started writing almost without thinking. This is what vomited out onto the pages:

Good Friday. And it is indeed a good Friday. I am loved and I love. Is there really more that we need? Oh, I am quite aware about things such as food and shelter and know that we cannot physically survive without said items. But to have a sense of love around is quite a gift. And a gift that I will often, most of the time in fact, take for granted as if it will never be gone. And perhaps it won’t for me.

But what if it suddenly disappeared?

If that happened, I believe the wave of grief and sadness I would feel might be close to unbearable. Maybe completely unbearable. Would a good comparison be between the sun and the earth? What if the sun suddenly disappeared? This planet, this beautifully ordered place, would immediately be, not in a state of chaos, but chaos defined. In my faith the creation story happened when a love-filled being took the boiling chaos of nothing and created order. (We kind of screwed the pooch when we decided a little chaos is good for the soul, but that’s another story.)

Chaos is not me at this point in my life. Oh sure, I might do things from time to time that are small (perhaps medium to large) chaos producers…but I am loved and I love. In this incredible state of existence my chaos is ordered. Yes, I am loved and I love. Is there anything more that I need?

What Might It Take?

What might it take to lay down my sword?
   When I’ve finished the cutting and slashing,
   or been slashed a bunch?
   When I’ve laid lots of waste and my soul is sated?
   Or when I lift my eyes and see
   I am in a vast rubble pile?

What might it take to lay down my sword?
   When I see that all your supporters and cronies are finally gone,
   leaving you to fend solo, in a corner, a caged animal?
   Or when I am the soloist in the only solitary cave I can find?
   When the avalanche of death is on you with
   sickle-man at the head of the rubble on a spree?
   Or rather charging at me…or both as much?

What might it take to lay down my sword?
   Maybe when we both are barely standing,
     sweat pouring,
       lungs heaving in violent hurricane waves,
          leaning hard on said swords.

We stare, we stagger, swagger gone
Perhaps we should have thought this through
Maybe now is the right time
I’ll lose my head, but I’ve lost it already

You Called My Name?

“You called my name?” asked Dylan with great excitement.

“Yes, I did!” I called back, hoping to match that excitement.

Then again, “You called my name?”

And again, “Yes, I did!”

“You picked me?”

“Yes, I did!”

“You called my name?”

“Yes, I did!” (Continue this for the next five minutes.)

That was a conversation I had with one of the athletes at the Tri-Valley Regional Games for Special Olympics. I was working the “Bullpen” which was a staging area where the athletes gathered prior to competing in an event. It was Dylan’s turn because his name was on my list.

Dylan has what we would consider to be intellectual disabilities. He can’t process things like I can, or like many of my friends. He has some physical disabilities as well, in that he can’t move with the kind of ease that I have, or many of my friends.

I most likely learned a thousand lessons that Saturday, many of which will come to me as I continue to think about them. Or maybe they will remain at the subconscious level. This time I got to learn from Dylan.

I live, as many do, in a world of insecurities. There is the constant internal struggle of not being good enough. Or fitting in to whatever social sector makes me feel decent enough of myself to come close to having a feeling of acceptance and love. School really didn’t help with this very much, though I hope it is better than when I was younger. We had to pick teams. The captains had to assess who would be the best to help her/his team win whatever the given competition of the day was, be it physical such as a kickball game, or mental such as a history competition or a spelling bee. I didn’t care about being picked first…just not last. Please, not last.

Dylan would have been picked last in any of my classes. This is not an indictment on my schooling by any stretch. It is just what would have happened. Kickball, for example. Dylan’s body and mind would not be able to process the ball coming his way fast enough to kick it into even the shallow part of the infield. His name wouldn’t have been called first. It would have been the very last. To be honest, if I were the captain I wouldn’t have called his name until I absolutely had no choice. That win for me would have been the prominent goal. Same with a spelling competition.

So there I was with my list on Saturday. The easy-ups were loaded with athletes waiting to compete. I looked and saw his name.

“Dylan?”

I saw the movement of someone standing. Fast. I looked and saw eyes beaming with light, with delight, with joy. “You called my name???”

During that conversation all of those memories and thoughts flooded through me. Choosing. Being chosen. Picking teams. Being picked. Acceptance. A lack of acceptance. And as our conversation continued, my excitement grew. I called his name! I did! I picked him! I “chose” Dylan! What an honor…for me!!!

And here is what I realize: He would have chosen me. And my name wouldn’t have had to be on a list. I really believe Dylan would have called my name and picked me. And for that I am extremely honored and grateful.

I’m Not Religious, But I’m Spiritual

Comedian Daniel Tosh during a stand-up routine: “You ever hear a girl say that? ‘I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.’ I like to reply with, ‘I’m not honest, but you’re interesting!’” I laughed when I heard that. But let’s analyze for fun. Why? Because I was reading about “The Woman at the Well” this morning and it gave me pause to ponder. (It’s in The Gospel of John, chapter 4.)

I suppose that I am in the same category as Daniel Tosh’s girl. But I have to step back and ask why. Perhaps religion has gotten the rap it deserves. The Old Testament (what I grew up calling it; Torah if you’re Jewish) is loaded with religious stuff that causes me to squirm in discomfort. You only have to take a quick gander at the sons of Israel to realize that things are definitely bumpy. Fast-forward to the acts of the Christian church during the middle ages. Death and mayhem have ruled on occasion. Islam is certainly not bathed in complete purity for sure. How many millions have suffered under its banner over the centuries? I’d rather not do a count. Peace in the Middle East? That’s an oxymoron of gargantuan proportions. It’s no wonder that people like Christopher Hitchens have had a field day with religion. It’s no wonder that many have said, “Forget it! There can’t be a god with all this crap religion flings about!”

This woman at the well. Can you imagine what it was like for a Samaritan woman living at that time? Any woman living at that time. A woman had no rights. Men held complete dominance over women all throughout that region. If you were a woman you needed a man as a husband to support you in every way. If your husband died you HAD to remarry or dip into prostitution or begging or just simply die. Who knows the story of this woman? The day and age implies that she had five husbands who either died or divorced her. What were her options? Whatever the case, there she was…

…at noon getting some water. Jesus talks to her. Uh oh. At that time a Jewish dude is not supposed to talk with a woman without her husband present. In fact, the whole Jew/Samaritan thing was problematic. I’m sure this was a shock to her. She responds with, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” I can almost hear her say it. (Though, I’ve got the English version running through my head.) I hear both the inquisitive version of her statement, as well as the shocked version of it.

The conversation goes back and forth with some interesting points that commentators and others have discussed over the centuries. I’ll let that go. Let’s move forward to this part:

Jesus: “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

Samaritan: “I have no husband.”

Jesus: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’: for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

I’m not sure why Jesus took this route, but clearly it made this woman feel uncomfortable. The moment that insight was shared, she changed the subject to religion: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Well, that’s what I would do. When confronted with something uncomfortable I try to deflect. It was clearly awkward for her so she deflected towards religion and used the details of worship to make her point. (We never do this in these modern times…said me never.) Fortunately, Jesus seemed to have had a plan. He talked about the time to come when location will not matter, a time when the boundaries of society won’t matter, a time when we will worship God in spirit and in truth. There it is! I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual!

I recently spent a day at our new campus in Pasadena. I was basically there alone with a few people coming and going from time to time. I believe that solitude is good on occasion for meditation and reflection. But during that day I was simply craving interaction. I kept texting my wife. I drove eight miles so that I could have lunch with other colleagues. I wandered outside so that I could see people. I craved relationship. We are all built that way. Even the introverts among us eventually need relationship.

Worship. Spirit. Truth. These three words hold a mystery for many of us. I’ve been in the worship racket for over twenty-three years and I clearly believe in it. But not for its own sake. It is a means to a further end. (“Bite your tongue, Perry!”) The further end is simply relationship. I’ve seen people and churches that are simply caught up in worship for the sake of worship and I believe they miss the point of it. Why? We worship in spirit and in truth. God is spirit and in worship, if we are honest, God reveals truth in us. Many times it is a truth in our lives that needs to be cleansed in difficult ways. But then we leave that hour during the week when we worship. What is in front of us? People. Sometimes, many times, they are difficult, or hurting, or angry, or delusional, or confused…

There it is for me: relationships. Relationship with God, relationship with others. There is so much in the Bible about how we are supposed to be in relationship with each other. Six out of the Ten Commandments talk about that. There are so many passages about caring for the sick, the poor, the widows, the orphans. The Golden Rule has made its way into pop culture. You know what that is? It is Jesus talking when he plopped himself down onto a hillside and rattled off a sermon. “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” (You might know it as ‘do unto others…etc.”) You realize whom that means? Dare I be crazy here? People who do not think and believe like me!

I am certainly no theologian. These are simply the ramblings of a person racked with attention deficit issues pondering that whole Woman at the Well story, possibly making a huge leap. The story ends by her saying, “Come and see…” That’s what I want. I want to see religion as an instrument toward spirituality so that God can, in relationship with God, move me to be a better person to others. Especially those who are in need. And, scene.

Dark Reality

There is no one person I hate
I am the picture of love to be sure
The picture of arms engulfing another
Saying, “You are the best because I see you now!
In front of me! Right now!
Yes, you, a singular person
There directly in my gaze
My horse blinders work perfectly
Right now: You! You! You!
Just you
For you I am the picture of love!”

Then we part company
“Hugs and kisses! All my best! Write soon! Keep in touch!”
You wander over into your group…
Or, as I sometimes say under my breath: “Those people.”
Now I stand here befuddled
Wondering why my arms are at my sides
Why aren’t my arms engulfing?
They are certainly capable of engulfing
They engulf all the time
I call them The Engulfers
They just engulfed!

And, “Why did YOU go over THERE?”
My arms don’t seem to be big enough
To wrap around “those” people
“They” do things that are ALL wrong
Well, more different than what is right
My right

Why did you go over there?
Please come back and be like me!
My people have so much more to offer
Than those people you seem to be standing with