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"Padre, You've Been Shot"

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My colleague the Rev. Darrell Goodwin, Associate Conference Minister for the Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota Conferences of the United Church of Christ, picked me up around 5:30 in the evening so we could head downtown to work as clergy providing pastoral care and de-escalation in an effort to avoid more violence, particularly loss of life while also bearing witness to those who were angry about yesterday's decision not to charge the killer of James Scurlock.

We parked on the outskirts of downtown, donned our clergy stoles, and began walking.  As we came up to the first of five police cordons we went through, I lowered my mask and introduced myself and explained why were were there, intentionally speaking first as the white man in the duo.  The first two cordons of officers sent us ahead.  At the close of each exchange, I wished those officers well and said I was praying for them.  In all the officers you could sense their worry and the tension of the day.

At the third cordon, we encountered a commander in military style fatigues who then walked us the remaining few blocks and through other cordons to where the protestors were gathered.  We walked up to the first officer there, who just happened to be Deputy Chief Kanger.  We again introduced ourselves, and he gave us elbow bumps.  We said what we were there to do and asked if we could be of help. He seemed very pleased and thanked us.  He asked us to talk to people who seemed particularly emotional, which is what we spent a lot of the evening doing.  This was the first of many conversations over the next few hours with the Deputy Chief.

Darrell and I headed to the front of the line.  We walked along between police and protestors introducing ourselves to both.  I generally led next with, "How are you feeling this evening?"  Which often elicited a long response.  In each exchange I'd close with offering to be of help in any way I could and told them I was praying for them.  One young man asked specifically for me to pray over him.  Many thanked us for being there.  A few talked about how churches needed to talk about these issues.

The protestors were almost all so young.  They were upset and afraid.  They didn't understand this injustice, why people keep getting killed, why nothing ever seems to improve or does so so very, very slowly.  A number of the protestors at front were engaging the police in conversations.  Occasionally they took pictures together.  

A few, and it was only a few, were more aggressive, yelling at the police.  Often other protestors gathered around those folk to try to de-escalate them, and the few clergy there (I think I counted six total over the course of the evening--fifty clergy would have radically altered the event for the good) also tried to engage those folk in conversation.  My experience was that most people just wanted their pain and anger heard and after someone listened to them, they appeared not as agitated.  Darrell did amazing work on more than one occasion talking someone down, including one person who early in the evening wanted to rush the cops.  

Occasionally I had to explain to some protestor why what they were demanding some cop to do was something that couldn't be done last night, trying to help them see how unreasonable demands didn't work, but that those demands could be channeled, were legitimate, and could be pursued.  

I talked for a while with one of James Scurlock's brothers, who was so heartbroken and was there to thank people for peacefully representing the family as they had asked.

Shortly after we arrived one very young woman was asking the front line of police if everyone could march together.  A pastor from Zion Baptist heard her and brought her to the Deputy Chief to talk and eventually the Deputy Chief okayed that, so the crowd, with some police included, marched around the Old Market.  For a good part of this march I walked alongside the Deputy Chief and we discussed how to help the situation when the 8 o'clock curfew rolled around.  During the march around I also ran into a church member there protesting.

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I was most troubled by one very angry woman who had a toddler with her who walked along the line screaming at all the cops.  I tried talking to her child, and she snatched him away and then wouldn't talk with me.  Darrell tried, and she wouldn't talk with him.  But eventually she did, and Darrell kept trying to talk her into taking care of her baby.  She did eventually seem to disappear.

Some of the young people were wonderful positive influences on the crowd.  One young man, crying, got everyone to kneel and asked all the cops to, and when they did, the crowd erupted in positive cheers, suddenly the cops were swarmed with hugs, hand shakes, and selfies.  This occurred shortly before the curfew, and I believe is one reason that many of the young people left before the curfew.  They had been heard and their pain acknowledged.

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Suddenly as the curfew fell, the crowd was very different.  Many of the folk who had been there on the front lines for hours had left and there were new people.  It was also a much whiter crowd than earlier.  At that point Darrell and I began trying to talk them into leaving peacefully.  One couple asked, if we do leave, which way do we go, we look boxed in.  So, I asked the Deputy Chief, who told me to the North, so we began passing out that information.  It was clear that some did not trust us or the information.  It was during this time that I had protestors asking if I was really a cop.  Or I overheard them say to others after I had talked to them, "You know he's a cop, right?"

I saw two young women, the eyes above their masks revealed their fear.  I stepped up to talk to them.  "What happens now?" one of them asked.  I told her that those who remained would be arrested.  "I can't be arrested.  Where do I go?"  I told her she was to walk north.  I took the two of them to the Deputy Chief and had him confirm that for them.  So those two young women started out the exit route.  A trickle of others began to follow.

And suddenly, some idiot in the departing crowd through a water bottle, and some police began shooting pellets at the people leaving.  I was horrified, as I had sent them that way.  I ran into the street screaming at the cop who was firing to stop as the Deputy Chief had sent them that way.  The look he gave me, I thought he was going to turn his weapon on me, but he did not.  He did quit firing.  A media person nearby said, "Yeah, they fucked that up."

We kept encouraging people to leave peacefully, even after that happened.  There was a moment when the protestors were completely closed off from the exit route.  Darrell and I were standing together with the media across the street and began yelling for the police to make an exit route.  Which they listened and did.  Suddenly, some shots and tear gas were released not far from there and so many took the opportunity to run for the exit.  Darrell and I were walking along and got a little separated.  A couple of cops began insisting I move along.  I told them I'd been working with the Deputy Chief in getting people out and was waiting for my clergy colleague right behind him, he told us snidely, "You should have left already, it's after curfew."  He didn't listen to our explanations, but we moved along, encouraging those leaving to keep going and not turn around and yell or anything as doing so risked everyone going that way.

The gas now came our direction and I was coughing and struggling momentarily to breathe.  A woman came up and squirted water on my face and in my mouth.  Moments after that, as I was walking along behind the protestors with my arms raised and yelling, "Leave peacefully" I was knocked to the ground by an impact on the back of my neck.  I yelled "What hit me?" as the realization and fear began to dawn on me.  A young man ran up to me, "Padre, you've been shot." Darrell grabbed me and pulled me against the wall of the building to make sure I wasn't bleeding.

At that point we rushed along behind the exiting protestors continuing to encourage them forward.  We finally turned a corner and found four police to whom we explained what had just happened, who we were, that we had been told by the Deputy Chief to go that way but had been shot and gassed.  We asked what was the safe way back to our car and they directed us.  We had to repeat this conversation a number of times.

We finally made it back to our cars and had to drive a circuitous route back to my house where Darrell dropped me off and then drove himself home.

I've never seen so many cops. So many of them in full military gear.  There were military-style vehicles in the streets.  It was horrifying.  There are so many different and better ways to let people express their justified anger without creating a war zone.

Today my entire body hurts, but my soul hurts even more.


The Teens

Saw so many posts on Facebook this week with people reviewing their personal highlights of the decade, which got me to thinking about ours.

2010

Michael and Scott moved to Omaha, Nebraska, when Scott accepted the call to become Senior Minister of the First Central Congregational Church.  We bought a 1910 house and began remodeling projects.  

2011

In January we rolled one of our cars on the ice.  In April we went to Italy for two weeks for the honeymoon we had delayed since 2009.  Michael was elected to the Justice and Witness Ministries Board of the United Church of Christ.  And Scott's grandfather died.

2012

Michael started working at the Urban League of Nebraska.  The Equality Ordinance was passed by the Omaha City Council.  Our niece Zoe was born.  We kayaked at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.  Scott went to Paris with friends.  And in November we were legally married on the Iowa side of the pedestrian bridge spanning the Missouri River.

2013

We were foster parents.  Enjoyed a trip to California that summer.  Michael had his tonsils removed.  Michael's grandmother died.  And he traveled to Costa Rica with friends.

2014

For Scott's fortieth birthday, we visited the Big Island of Hawaii.  Scott attended the Yale Writer's Conference and began to work diligently on completing his book.  That fall he began teaching in the philosophy department at Creighton University.

2015

Sebastian was born!  Marriage equality was achieved!  We traveled to Costa Rica for Sara Salas's wedding (and our babymoon).  Scott's stepfather, living with Alzheimer's, entered a nursing home.

2016

Scott took a sabbatical.  Michael's grandfather died.  Scott and his sister took their mom to Ireland.  Michael's mother was killed in a car accident.

2017

Nash, a West Highland Terrier, joined our family for Sebastian's birthday.  We took a family vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Michael was elected to the national Board of Directors of the United Church of Christ.  Scott's Mom moved in with us after receiving a cancer diagnosis.

2018

Scott's Mom's surgery revealed no cancer, and she moved home.  Michael began working at the Douglas County Election Commission.  Sebastian started preschool and was ring-bearer for his godfather.  Scott's memoir was published.  Scott's stepfather died.  Sebastian had an emergency appendectomy.  Michael celebrated his fortieth birthday.

2019

Scott delivered a TEDx Talk and was elected chair of the Board of Directors of the Nebraska Conference of the United Church of Christ.  Sebastian appeared in his first dance recital, attended theatre and nature camps, competed in a triathlon, and otherwise flourished.  We camped at a picturesque Iowa State Park overlooking the Mississippi River.  And we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.


The Influence of Donald Wester: Part Three

One of the virtues of a small liberal arts college is that there is a greater chance for direct, personal relationships with senior faculty even when you are an undergrad.  For example, the first semester of my freshman year I had been in the Wester home, which was an inspiration.  Don and Janie had built a home that with the best available technology of the 1980's was energy efficient and environmentally sustainable.  It was filled with Janie's art and Don's books.  Books everywhere, but well organized, in wooden shelves with glass doors.  

My sophomore year I began working with Don as one of his graders, a job I kept for three years.  As his student employee, I grew personally close to Don and benefited from the many conversations.

One day he mentioned reading a book that week, which to me was shocking, that he could read the entire book in one week. When I said as much, he said he did that all the time and assured me I would one day too.  He was correct, of course, as I now read 70-80 books a year.

Working for him, I also became the tutor for Intro to Philosophy, hosting a weekly session with students reviewing what they were doing in the class and answering their questions.  This was my first opportunity for teaching philosophy.

I remained living in Shawnee the five years I commuted to the University of Oklahoma in Norman to work on my Masters and Ph. D.  During those years I was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Shawnee where the Westers were members.  So through those years of grad school at OU, my friendship with Don deepened.

And we live in a small world, as my connections to the Wester family have grown.  Son Mike and I served as deacons at First Baptist Shawnee.  When I moved to Oklahoma City in 2005 to pastor at Cathedral of Hope, Tom Wester attended the church.  And then I was very surprised when I moved to Omaha in 2010 and son Donald Junior was a member of First Central.  Donald and I became good friends as well, initially bonding over stories of his dad.  I got to participate in Donald’s ordination, and he even served on the staff of First Central for a while, before moving to Arkansas to pastor.  Don, Sr. participated in the ordination service for his son, a fun moment for me.

This week so many messages have been shared by former students and colleagues about Don and his impact.  Today we will celebrate and honor a great legacy.

 


The Influence of Donald Wester: Part Two

On May 9th of this year I sent the following e-mail to Donald Wester, Junior about his dad:

Donald,

I'm grading final exams from Intro to Philosophy. One student wrote about how he's long struggled with proving the existence of God and that he was very disappointed with the day we spent on the traditional arguments. But then we read William James and he discovered that we don't need to prove God's existence.

Reading the essay made me think of your Dad, from whom I learned that. Now 27 years later I'm passing those lessons on.

Which also reminds me I brought up your Dad in worship planning yesterday when Stephen and I got off on a discussion of Nietzsche's criticisms of Christianity. I mentioned how your Dad taught me to interpret Nietzsche, that basically the criticisms have some validity and any thoughtful person of faith needs a response that survives the criticisms.

Anyway, thought you might appreciate these stories.

Peace,
Scott

Don Wester, Sr. for decades taught a class entitled "Fundamentals of Philosophy."  It was a sophomore level course required of all religion and ministry majors, the only other philosophy class they were required to take beyond Intro.  It was something of a rite of passage, which means many experienced it as a stumbling block.  The course was part of the genius of OBU's curriculum at the time--before all these young (mostly) men were turned loose on the church, they had to spend a semester with Don Wester.

Wester's textbook for that course was simply the Library of America volume of William James's philosophical writings--Pragmatism, A Pluralistic Universe, Essays in Radical Empiricism, the Varieties of Religious Experience.  William James is not a conservative evangelical, so his works were a definite challenge for most of the students in the course.  Many struggled with it.  I know because I was also Wester's grader for three years, which didn't give me a lot of confidence in the future of pastoral ministry. :)

Which gets me to Don Wester's intellectual project.  

As Don told the story, he was a rural pastor who decided to become a foreign missionary--the plan was to go to Indonesia.  He was smart enough to realize that much of the Christianity he knew was deeply Western, influenced by Greco-Roman thought forms.  He didn't think Indonesians should have to first accept the legacy of Greco-Roman thought before becoming Christians, so he realized he needed to figure out what Christianity was more basically, freed of Greco-Roman philosophy.  Or to put it more simply, Christianity without Plato.

This is a more challenging project than you might realize.

Wester never did end up on the mission field, but the intellectual project remained.  And it is one he passed on to his students.  The intensive study of William James was part of this.  I absorbed his love of James (in my Intro class we read Pragmatism).  I adopted his overall understanding of the history of philosophy and its relationship with Christianity.  I too wanted to understand the history of ideas so that I might know where certain ideas came from and what effects they had had.  The framework I learned from him still shapes how I think about new ideas and how I teach them to my students. 

One implication of this intellectual project is how we think about God.  Wester rejected the notions of omnipotence, omniscience, and impassibility, as they were inherited from the Greeks (Parmenides really) and not the Hebrews.  Being persuaded by Wester on these points opened me to Whitehead's Process Thought, for he too rejects these concepts and conceives of God differently.  

When I took Fundamentals of Philosophy, my final paper was entitled "William James's Concept of God."  Wester marked the title as being wrong and then explained why to me.  James doesn't think we have a concept of God, but a perception, an experience.  He let me rewrite the paper.

Sunday I preached a sermon which explored the myriad ways one could interpret the Letter of Jude.  The sermon was written before Don Wester died, but I dedicated the sermon to his memory, for he taught me to explore truth in this way.

How does one measure the gift of an intellectual worldview?  Especially when his teaching helped me to keep my faith by seeing things in a new light?  


Reading Mary Oliver Essays--1: Who are your great ones?

I'm reading Mary Oliver's book of essays Upstream.  In a few pages I read earlier this week, I came across two passages I wanted to comment on.  First, this:

For it is precisely how I feel, who have inherited not measurable wealth but, as we all do who care for it, that immeasurable fund of thoughts and ideas, from writers and thinkers long gone into the ground--and, inseparable from those wisdoms because demanded by them, the responsibility to live thoughtfully and intelligently.  To enjoy, to question--never to assume, or trample.  Thus the great one (my great ones, who may not be the same as your great ones) have taught me--to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always caringly.

Yes.  Quite rightly stated.

She goes on to list some of her great ones who include early Wordsworth, Shelley, Blake, Emerson, Carson, and Leopold.  She adds, "I go nowhere, I arrive nowhere, without them."

Who are your great ones?

Mine include Alfred North Whitehead, William James, Wendell Berry, Walt Whitman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, C. S. Lewis, James McClendon, Beethoven, Bach, and R. E. M.


Reorienting the Soul

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And Brooks continues discussing the ways that love reorients in the soul, in what may be the best few pages of the book.

First, love humbles us.  "Love is like an invading army that reminds you that you are not master of your own house."  "Love is a surrender.  You expose your deepest vulnerabilities and give up your illusions of self-mastery."

Love "decenters the self."  "A person in love finds that the ultimate riches are not inside, they are out there, in the beloved and in the sharing of a destiny with the beloved."

"Love infuses people with a poetic temperament."  Love is not utilitarian.  "To be in love is to experience hundreds of small successive feelings that you never quite experienced in that way before."  "Love is submission, not decision."

"Love opens up the facility for spiritual awareness.  It is an altered state of consciousness."

"Love impels people to service."  "In no other commitment are people so likely to slip beyond the logic of self-interest and unconditional commitments that manifest themselves in daily acts of care."

 

I have always spoken of how marriage is a spiritual discipline, and I experience parenthood as such as well.  Being a dad has done more to make me a better person than anything I've ever done precisely because it is the one thing that most aggressively works against my own self-interest.


The jobs I've held

My friend Mark Christian asked on Facebook yesterday for people to list their first seven jobs.  I enjoyed reading the answers so much I posted the same question.  The idea has compelled me to say more than simply listing the jobs, so here are the jobs I held (not just the first seven).

  1. Mowing lawns--I had been mowing our lawn since learning how to use the riding lawn mower in 2nd grade.  My dad bought me a new push lawnmower for my birthday when I was in 4th grade.  That year I began mowing lawns for my grandparents at their house and their rental properties.  I would ride my bike to their house and back.  That summer I also worked for my grandparents when they were remodeling their lake home.  This job included mudding and taping, painting, and other tasks.
  2. Library clerk--My first job outside the family was working at the Miami Public Library when I was 15.  I worked at the front desk and restocked books.  I also learned how to repair bindings.  This was also the only time I've been fired (at 15); and I'm still not sure why.
  3. Painter--When I was in high school my summer job was painting dorms at the local college.  This was when I learned my disciplined and precise painting skills.
  4. Dishwasher--My freshman year at Oklahoma Baptist University I needed a job for spending money and the only thing left I could find was working in the dishroom.  Washing college student dishes is not a pretty task.  We also cleaned the cafeteria tables and mopped the kitchen.
  5. Pizza delivery--The summer after my freshman year I was a pizza delivery boy for Pizza Hut and really enjoyed that job.  Tips were okay, it was fun driving around listening to the radio, and the best part was when kids would get all excited when you arrived with the pizza.  My favourite story was the one time two boys, clearly home alone, had ordered a pizza and paid for it by handing me a mason jar full of change.  And they had the exact amount included.
  6. Philosophy department grader and tutor--My sophomore through senior years at college I worked for Professor Don Wester grading quizzes and exams and also tutoring all Intro to Philosophy students with a weekly session that reviewed the material in the class, which was when I first began learning how to teach philosophy.
  7. Odd jobs--For a summer job in 1994 and 1995 I worked for Ed Walker, a member of my home town church, running errands and doing all sorts of odd jobs from painting his wrought iron fence to delivering appliances for his son's business.
  8. Graduate assistant--In grad school from 1996-2001 I was a graduate assistant, first grading for professors and later teaching my own classes.  My final year I was a research assistant for the Current Bibliography of the History of Science.
  9. Camp counselor--As a summer job from 1997-1999 I worked as a YMCA day camp counselor and ultimately directed the program for 1st-2nd graders.
  10. Minister-- I began working as a full-time Associate Pastor in 2001 and Senior Pastor in 2005.  I've served Rolling Hills Baptist in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Royal Lane Baptist in Dallas, Cathedral of Hope in Oklahoma City (and originally also the founding church in Dallas), and First Central here in Omaha.
  11. Columnist--In 2005 I began writing a column for the on-line, Oklahoma City-based, LGBT newspaper Hard News Online and in 2008 changed and began writing for The Oklahoma Gazette until we moved in 2010.  Maybe what I miss the most about living and working in Oklahoma City was my Gazette column and getting to contribute to the larger social debate on a variety of issues.
  12. Lecturer--Since 2014 I've been a lecturer in the philosophy Department at Creighton University.  This semester I'm teaching a course entitled Philosophical Ideas: The Foundations of Science.

So, what, in particular, were your early jobs?


Ken Harvey

Ken Harvey has died.  Ken was my high school chemistry and physics teacher and also one of the coaches of the quiz bowl team.  The team often traveled out of town for matches and tournaments, so I spent many hours riding in the school Suburban as Mr. Harvey drove and we debated every topic imaginable.

But Mr. Harvey was more than one of my old high school teachers.  He was also one of the most influential persons in my life.

In high school I was a rather conservative Republican and Southern Baptist who, like most kids, thought he knew more than he actually did.  Harvey was one of those people who revealed a wider world.  He espoused no religion but was the most ethical person I knew. When I'd state an opinion, he might offer a different way of looking at the topic.   My many hours in conversation with Harvey both inside and outside the classroom opened my mind to new possibilities. 

While home from college one break Juan Penalosa and I once took Ken and Kay Boman, the other quiz bowl coach, out to dinner to say thank you for their roles in our lives and educations.  Years later when Ken and Kay married, Michael and I were able to be there.  Last year they visited us in order to meet Sebastian.  I told my son that these people helped make me who I am.

That I'm a more open-minded person, a more inclusive person, a more peaceful and just person is partly Ken Harvey's contribution to my life.  A gift so great that though I tried I never could adequately thank him for.  And so I grieve the loss of this teacher I deeply admired and respected, such a good and wise man.


The Face in the Mirror

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One of the unexpected experiences of adulthood has been looking in the mirror and seeing the face of my father looking back. What was initially surprising has grown familiar. I turn 42 tomorrow, an age that Dad did not reach. I will have to become familiar with a new experience--seeing what Dad would have looked like.

Note: this earlier post of how 41 didn't turn out to be the weird year I expected.