Archive for May, 2014

That Which Keeps Me Up At Night

We live in a world that is filled with hate and terror.  For the most part, I believe that the human race is prone to being heroes in times of need.  We were created by God, in the image of God, and, therefore, are born with an innate ability to know right from wrong, good from evil.  And while most people choose the path of love, respect, and kindness, there are a select few who actively choose a different path in life.

I’ve tried, for years, to stay out of politics, current events, and other flashy news stories because I believe that these things are not part of my personal journey, but there are some things that I cannot ignore.  So, on an impulse, I feel that some things need to be addressed.

:::WARNING:::
This post is going to address some harsh realities of our society.  Some of this nature and language addressed is not suitable for young viewers or immature audiences.  If you are easily offended, please read the entire post before coming to conclusions.

Recently, I came across the story of Elliot Rodger.  It’s plastered all over the social media pages and has revealed some sickening evidence of how messed up our society has become.

If you haven’t come across the stories yet, here is a brief synopsis:  This young man posted several threatening videos speaking about “men’s rights” and  that he was frustrated with the fact that he was still a virgin. He stated that he was going to act out against those women who refused to sleep with him.  On Friday night, he allegedly (innocent until proven guilty) shot and killed six women in California and wounded seven others.  (Note: Please go research this for yourself, I am just covering the basics of the story.)

According to one article, our society has taught most American men that they are “entitled to sex and female attention.” It was also stated that the expectation is that “violent misogyny in young men is normal and expected.”

In response to this young man’s videos, I was shocked to find several individuals supporting his outrage and blaming the victims.  One went as far as stating:  “I hope you women see this as a lesson stop being so stuck up and give that one kid some [edit] who never gets [edit] and you might save a life … this nigga couldve saved his life if one of you dumbs [edit] could of given him some sweetness”.

Do you not see the problem?  Since when was it acceptable for a man to expect a woman to have sex with him?  The act of sex is a sacred union between two individuals.  Believing that you have a right to someone else’s sex and attention is wrong even on the most basic of beliefs.

In recent months, there has been a movement to reveal the Rape Culture that our society has fostered.  The idea of “Men’s Rights” is the acknowledgement that rape, the forceful act of sex with a non-willing individual, is acceptable.  This belief is total and complete bulls–t.

The ONLY right that a man has to a woman is to treat her with respect and love.  And to accept the fact that she has a right to walk away.

I know what you’re thinking: I only believe this because of my Faith as a Follower of Christ.  I tell you this, my Atheist friends believe this too.  Feminism and respect know no boundary of faith, creed, or belief.

The problem is that our society is F’d up.  The awareness of this gives us the opportunity to make a change.  It’s unfortunate that events like this have to happen for us to realize that something is seriously wrong.

Believing that, because I am a man, I am superior to women is the same thing that the Nazis stated when they began the proclamation of a superior race.  It is wrong, down to the biological level.

We may be different, but we cannot survive without the other (physically, emotionally, and spiritually).

As men, we need to relearn to treat women with respect.  We need to teach young men the truth about what it means to be a gentleman.  And we need to change the way we respond to our culture and society.

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Everyday Heroes

While reading Rebecca Solnit’s book, “A Paradise Built in Hell,” I came across a passage that I can’t stop thinking about:

We often hear about heroes in disasters, but the window of time when acts of physical courage matter is often very  brief, and those when generosity and empathy are more important to survival last weeks, months, years.

Three years ago (23 May 2011) I made my way across the state of Missouri in a mad dash to respond to the devastation in Joplin the day before.  It was there that I met heroes.

From the young man, full of fear and unable to sleep, who spoke of crawling through the ruins of his neighbor’s house to hold a stranger’s hand for hours before rescue personnel arrived on scene.  Or the gentleman who was in St John’s Hospital when it got hit, throwing him to the floor.  He eventually led the handful of nurses and patients around him to safety before returning to venture back into the building over and over and over again despite the risk to his own life.  Or the young woman who jumped in her car, drove through the night, and arrived at the Volunteer Reception Center early the next morning, alongside hundreds (if not thousands) of other spontaneous volunteers.  I met her as she held a survivor in silence.  No words were exchanged, but she was there for them, letting emotions speak freely.

I’ve been surrounded by heroes my entire life.  I was born into a family where my father served in the US Army.  Even at a young age, I knew and respected the fact that these men and women were and are heroes who live and serve together.  I knew it even more each night that my dad was not home, but out in the field or deployed overseas.  Even now, many members of my family (and family friends) serve in the military forces, heroes each one of them.

In my journeys I have received the opportunity to meet many individuals.  Many of them would be hesitant to admit it, but they, too, are heroes.

Almost a year ago (30 June 2013), 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hot Shot crew lost their lives while fighting a wildfire.  Among them, one of the young men that I served with in Crown King, AZ.  I don’t know what their last thoughts were about, whether or not they were afraid.  It doesn’t matter.  They were heroes that faced danger with courage each day.

I know several individuals who are volunteer firefighters, EMTs, Paramedics, Police Officers, and Emergency Responders, my brother included.  It’s part of their jobs, but in those moments when it matters, they become heroes.

But what about everyone else?  That window of time that allows for heroes does not remain open for long.  Unless you are in the right place at the right time, your chance may be gone in a flash.  But you would be wrong.

Heroes happen every single day.  It’s just that we don’t take the time to notice.  It can be as simple as starting a conversation or as terrifying as telling someone how beautiful they are.  We may never know how much of an impact our actions make on someone else’s life.  What seems like a little act of kindness can change the world for someone who is about to give up on everything.

Take for example a friend of mine:  They were at rock bottom, the lowest of the low.  Then someone passing by smiled at them.  And in that moment they realized that despite everything, they too could smile.

It doesn’t take a lot to be a hero.  You just can’t let apathy take control.  Then you can change the world, one person at a time.

It may be as simple as sitting down to listen to someone’s story.  Or holding someones hand.  Or being present for someone who is going through a rough time.  Words may not be necessary.

This weekend is Memorial Day, a time when we remember all those that have given their lives in service to our nation.  It is a time to remember our heroes.  From the military service members to their families that hold vigil until they return home, our first responders, wildland firefighters, police officers, and community members that act with decisiveness in those moments of chaos, and the everyday heroes that have changed each of our lives.

So, before you fire up the grill, take a moment to remember your heroes.  Say a prayer for those who still serve.  And reach out to the community around you with love.

Finding Peace

A concerned teammate asked me this week if I was okay.  She had noticed my frustrations and disappointments despite the mask of content and commitment to serve.  Concerned that I was slowly slipping down the slope of silent anger and self-destruction, we talked at a distance about what was gnawing away at the back of my mind.

I smiled.  I still smile.  Because no matter what happens, I will be happy.

I wont lie, the past several months and weeks have been extremely difficult.  But somehow, despite all of this, I can still smile.  I know that I wouldn’t give this experience up for anything in the world.

I am more than just content.  I am satisfied.  I am happy.  I am at peace with myself.  With God.

I understand that my writings have expressed frustrations with the world, with my experiences, and my relationships, but as I told my teammate, I write and draw as a release.  Instead of holding it all within my heart, I let it go through the written words and the strokes of the pencil on the page.  Long ago, I found it was healthier to release it this way than to let it boil and explode within me.

But through this, I have found peace.  I have discovered my center.  I know that this is exactly where God has placed me, and that alone brings joy to my troubled heart.

In the midst of my journey, when chaos surrounds me, I have learned to breathe.  I have learned that before I can take care of others, I have to take care of myself.  Mental, emotional, and spiritual care through focusing my thoughts, centering my heart of God, and acting with decisiveness.

For me, peace comes from God.  I can meditate.  I can try to clear my mind of all the thoughts that race around.  I can find a quiet place alone.  But if I do not seek out God, I can never feel at peace.

It doesn’t matter if I hear Him or not.  It’s about the chase and the passion.  Knowing that He is there, even when I cannot feel His presence.

With peace comes purpose that allows us to find the joy in the situation at hand.

(Note: Joy is different from happiness.  Happiness comes from emotions, whereas Joy comes from God (in this sense).)

Just some thoughts…

What I’ve Been Up To

Several times a week I am asked what I do.  Well, it’s kinda complicated.  Not really.  It’s just a little hard to explain.

I am currently a member of AmeriCorps St Louis Emergency Response Team (AC STL ERT for short).  We are a state and national resource in response to natural and man-made disasters.

Now, you’re probably scratching your head asking, why aren’t you guys in Arkansas or Mississippi or Florida?  Why haven’t you done something about the tornadoes or the flooding?  Well, it isn’t that easy.

You see, we cannot self deploy.  As a resource, we have to be requested by the state or by the Federal government (FEMA).  As of now, we have only been requested out in Kansas to help set up the MARC (Multi-Agency Resource Center) and assist with their VRC (Volunteer Reception Center).

In the meantime, while not on disaster, the ERT does Conservation projects throughout the state of Missouri.  We work alongside the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the US Forest Service (USFS), as well as several other organizations throughout the state.

All of us have our Red Card Certification for Wildland Firefighting and our Felling Certifications for Chainsaws (most of us are A Fellers, though we have several B Fellers among our ranks).  Several of us also received the opportunity to take the Public Operator License Exam for Pesticide use (Right-of-Way) through MDC.  Others have received UTV and ATV training through MDC and USFS.

Fire Season has come and past.  Over the past several months we have participated in several Prescribed Fire Operations and responded to a number of Wildfires alongside MDC and the USFS.

We’ve been doing a ton of Invasive Species work lately.  Most of it involves cutting and/or spraying it with herbicide.  I personally have dealt with Spotted Knapweed, Teasel, Japanese and Bush Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive, Black Locust, Garlic Mustard, and Crown Vetch (I’m sure I’m missing one or two here, but whatever).

We either run around with Backpack Sprayers or, in rare cases, spray via the UTV.  It’s not the most glamorous work, but I enjoy it every once in a while.

Other projects we do are Glade and Prairie Restoration, which basically includes cutting out all the pines and/or cedar trees in the area.  Many times we refer to these projects as Cedarcide.

Other times we are felling undesirable trees for Timber Stand Improvement and thinning operations.  Many of these projects have ended due to the fact that the trees and snags that we would be removing are habitat trees for several species of furry critters, including bats.

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So that’s a basic summary of what I do. I’ve left out a bit, but that’s the basics.

Unspoken

Looking back, I wish I had done things differently.  I think we all have thought that at one point in time.  I was going through an older sketchbook and I came across these words:

Things that were never said
Pound and pound inside my head
And although they remain unspoken
I cannot escape what they have awoken

These words echo still in my heart.

I used to write poetry.  Dark thoughts and emotions on the page from the hands of an angry and confused youth.  I still do at times, though the words remain unspoken.

There is something about poetry that allows you to speak of thoughts that one fears to say aloud.  To say things you wish you had the strength to say.

We look back and ask ourselves if things would have turned out differently if we had taken the risk and spoken the words that were in our hearts.  Would the bridges still be burned?  Would someones life be changed?  Would we still be haunted by our actions?

There are so many things that I look back and wish that I said to people that have been part of this journey.  There are so many things that I wish I had done differently.

But the fact is that we cannot go back in time and change the past.  Without these things, we would not be the person we are today.  Those ‘mistakes’ have come to help shape us.

But we still have the chance to reach out and act.  We still have the ability to share the pounding voices in our heads.  It isn’t to late to act.

It isn’t to late to let someone know that your forgive them, that you forgave them a long time ago, but never had the courage to tell them before.  It isn’t to late to share how much you miss the comforting presence  that they used to provide.  Or the love that was shared.

Or that you appreciate all that they have done.  Continue to do.

So, this is my challenge:  Don’t be afraid to speak those unspoken words that you hold in your heart.  Don’t be afraid to act.

Giving It All

The past couple weeks have not been easy for me.  Far from it, actually.  I find myself frustrated, easily angered, and lost in the silence.  It’s as if my thoughts themselves have fallen away and the echos of the day fade into nothing.  

I’ve always feared the silence.  It makes me nervous.  It’s unsettling.  Unnatural in our society of noise and chaos.  

Lately, I’ve been rereading Michael Yaconelli’s book, “Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith.”  In it he talks about the voice of God that fades as we grow and begin to follow the rules of society.  We are told to be safe, not to take risks, but God wants us to leap first, fear later.  

I sometimes find myself disliking what I am required to do as part of my time of service with AmeriCorps.  I’d even go as far and say that sometimes I even hate it (and ‘hate’ is a very powerful word).  I don’t always like and/or get along with the people I am working with.  But I do it anyways.

I give everything I have to completing the task set before me.  To accomplishing the mission.  I attempt to get it done completely the first time, so someone else doesn’t have to go back over what has already been done.  

But I look back and ask myself why we don’t do the same with our faith.  Why are we unwilling to give our all when it comes to God?

The better question:  What are we afraid of if we were to give it all to God?  

Is it security? Wealth?  Influence?  Peace of mind?  Safety?  

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
 – Matthew 6:19-21

The Good News that Jesus preached was not and is not an easy path.  He calls us to sacrifice so much, to live dangerously close to the unknown.  Following His path means abandoning what society considers important.

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
 – Matthew 8:20

He calls us out of comfort.  He calls us to give up everything we believe to be important to find the richness of His grace and love.  Treasure in heaven.

Jesus looked at him and loved him.  “One thing you lack,” he said.  “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”
 – Mark 10:21

What makes us feel safe in this world threatens our relationship with our heavenly Father.  And yet, we ask ourselves why we are afraid to give everything to follow God.  Fear.

And [Jesus] told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do.  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
 – Luke 12:16-21

What would our lives look like if we could move past our fears and apprehensions and truly live like we were following God with all our hearts?  

I know in my heart that I am too safe.  Maybe that is why I fear the voice in the silence.  Maybe that is why I blast my music or spend my time reading.  I’m afraid of the sacrifice that comes with the call.

But at the same time, I am envious of those who have heard the call and follow it.  I want to be fearless like them, following the call with all their heart, soul and physical strength.  

In a way, it’s not the silence that I fear.  It never was.  It’s the whispers of God in the quiet that challenge all I know.  And in some way, it is comforting to know that I am still being pursued by God, no matter how many times I try to turn and run away.