By Lupe Carlos III
For me creativity is creativity. Whether painting, drawing, writing or photography. These come from the same place deep in my being. I “bring forth” (the meaning of the word, “draw”) images found in the well of my experience here in this world and times where I’ve snuck a peek beyond the veil. Writing gives a story and asks the reader to create pictures in their mind. I asked this with my first blog post. See: “Along The Bank”, 6/20/2017. Visual art gives an image and asks the viewer to create a story in their minds. These are two very different processes but oddly the same. My photography is intensely personal and autobiographical. I tell stories from my own life through images I’ve edited on the computer. As Picasso said, “Exaggerate toward the truth”. The images are about the feeling of an experience far more than they are about thoughts or memories. I use symbols to tell the story in a visual language that I invented. My hope it to trigger curiosity in the viewer. There is opportunity to overlay their own stories on top of these images. These pictures come from a place of universal human-ness. It is our stories that bind us. I prefer not to say very much about what the pictures mean to me. I much prefer to hear what people say the pictures mean to them.
A couple Februarys ago I asked our dear Cassia to pose for a series of photos. I had an idea of what I wanted and gave her only a vague suggestion. I told her I wanted a red riding hood vibe. She came dressed as requested and I supplied one of my “magic” suitcases. Karen, Cassia and I met in early morning at Camp Long, here in Seattle. Indeed, magic ensued. I’ve included images from that day. Until this very moment I’ve never told anybody that these are images I made to process and honor the passing of my mother. These are pictures of Mom's journey. The suitcase is filled with the only thing we can take with us, a lifetime of memories. The suitcase is filled with all the love she shared here to comfort her until she arrives home.
The most literal of these images is “Afterlife”. The picture included with this blog that depicts a woman walking toward a wooded cathedral. My mother was a Catholic Native American and I imagine this is what her journey home might look like. I gave a copy of this picture to Cassia without telling her what it meant to me and was stunned to receive her beautiful interpretation 15 months after the photo shoot. Her written words are the kindest, most generous gift she could have given me. They are an indication that she has truly seen the work and allowed herself to be vulnerable to a story. With Cassia’s permission, I’ve included her writing below.
I keep this picture on the shelf with my art supplies and a blank drawing book my cousin gave me that I may designate for colored pencil sketches and ink & watercolor. Sitting at my table (the new one, that invites you to soon dine upon it) I can see this image, propped against the back wall of its shelf. It's called "Afterlife." Yet it is oddly filled with an infinite present, one life lived spilling into the next and then the next.
I sit for a moment not to tell the story of what the suitcase contains. But to consider the entire image. The picture is a dark silver-screen forest, where a lit cathedral awaits, like a gateway to the land of Oz. Like the warm lit way-station buildings Ray Bradbury created in the Martian Chronicles, on a planet he described where cold rain poured down all the time--all of it--and along the way there were warm well-lit glass domes with doors, where travelers could enter and find dry towels and sandwiches and clean cots with comforters and pillows.
The primeval forest of this composite photo as well is strangely not ominous, but lit like lanterns and there is warmth and nourishment in the cathedral. The suitcase contains something the Goddess of that temple needs in order to perform the most powerful act of healing ever conceived or carried out. What does this worn, disguised conduit hold (we know there are several right answers.)
The figure is a character I portrayed. But I know that beneath the coat and scarf (it was a chill February morning) it is me. I am an immigrant in new territory walking perpetually toward new lives as earlier ones fall away. I am walking into transformation, on solid earth. I bring the last key ingredient, though (and here's the truth) I don't know (yet) what it is or how to use it, to someone who does. Anyone and everyone could be beneath that coat. It happened to be me on that day. That coat is everyone's cocoon, and we know what finds its way out of those things.
By Dick Johnson
"I feel so much better about myself."
These are words I heard several times at the July 4th barbecues from those who had just received haircuts. There were three volunteer stylists, Christina, Daniella, and Tara who worked non-stop from 11-3. I was the receptionist, and sometimes-bad guy who scheduled people and made them wait their turn. By closing time almost forty people, men, women and a few children received haircuts.
Those are the details, but they do not convey the miracle
that happened. Most people hadn’t had a haircut in a very long time. It added to their downcast demeanor. Some were angry and impatient. The skilled stylists made an effort to cut each person’s hair individualistically. And it worked. The transformation was remarkable. I am not exaggerating when I say men became handsome, woman attractive, and children cute again. And those who had been a bit unpleasant at first, now expressed gratitude.
Most significant of all, were the words some said to me as they left, ”I feel much better about myself.” It was amazing, and
I began to realize the haircuts were more than just haircuts. They had helped strengthen people’s self-esteem.
The reality, of course, is that looking and feeling good for a while does not change the situation in which many of the people I met find themselves. They challenge us to work harder to provide the opportunities for housing, work, training, and healthcare that will build on our July 4th efforts.
By Keith Ervin
Well, as best we know, Jesus mostly got about on foot, but according to Scripture he rode a donkey or a donkey and a colt into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
But what if Jesus were incarnate today and preparing for his ministry? What if he were living in Monroe (being priced out of Seattle) and commuting to the Renton Highlands to build houses? I’m not being facetious.
Surely Jesus would have wept over our oil-soaked economy, which leaves the least among us ailing from the fumes of petrochemical plants, watching rising seas wash away the foundations of their homes, or laboring in 120-degree-plus heat. The Son of Man would have shaken with anger at the plutocrats who lived in gated communities, enriched by profits from the fossil fuels that are destroying the earth.
The larger reality is this: All of us who live a typical, carbon-intense American lifestyle are harming present and future generations (and as Stephen Hawking noted recently, putting life itself at risk). Every gallon of gas we burn harms others. Whether we drive, and what we drive, is a moral decision.
How might we live more lightly on the land, as Jesus calls us to do? As residents of a state where transportation is the leading contributor to global warming, we could start by rethinking our transportation choices.
Here are some simple questions we can ask ourselves:
Do I need to own a car?
If I live in the city, I might be able to get around by walking, biking, bus, ride-sharing, and the occasional car rental.
If I must own a car, what kind will it be?
What would Jesus say about the fact that most vehicles bought in the United States are pickups and SUV’s -- the most environmentally destructive vehicles on the market? Unless I truly need a big vehicle, why not drive a high-mileage smaller car or, better yet, a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or all-electric car?
Some hybrids now get more than 50 miles per gallon. Plug-in hybrids run on electric battery power most of the time. And affordable new all-electric models from Chevy and Tesla will go more than 200 miles before they need a recharge.
How important is that flight I’m thinking about?
A round trip between Seattle and New York can add 2 tons (tons!) of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That’s one-tenth of a typical American’s annual 20-ton carbon footprint. Flying to Europe or Asia is worse. The carbon from my flight will keep warming the planet for another century or more.
Our transportation choices are only one area in which we demonstrate whether we truly love our neighbor. Going vegetarian could reduce my carbon footprint by two and a half tons a year -- about the same as giving up a gas-burning car. Every purchase we make has moral implications.
Isn’t it obvious what Jesus would do? Wouldn’t he give up the car or go electric? Cut back on flying or stop altogether? Stop eating industrially produced meat? Slash overall consumption? Stop banking with oil pipeline funders like Wells Fargo and Chase?
What are we willing to do?
By Jim Segaar
When I reflect on our church’s new Affirmation of Values, I think of my parents. Bernice and Raymond weren’t rabble rousers or community leaders, but their values were obvious in the way they lived their lives every day.
Mom and Dad both studied their faith, and did justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with their God. They taught us that all people are important and worth paying attention to, not through words but through actions such as feeding strangers and making friends across societal boundaries like race and economic status. They were strong in their faith, and I never heard them criticize anyone else’s. They were environmentalists before that word became common. They didn’t know they were “composting” when we put everything that would rot into the garden soil. When recycling became available, they avidly complied. I still remember Mom washing out tin cans, removing the labels, and flattening them so they could be recycled. Dad volunteered at a community “paper baler” that consolidated waste cardboard and paper into his 90s.
My parents never marched in a protest (at least not that I know of). They probably voted Republican consistently, and they never told us who to vote for. They never lectured us kids on “family values” or anything like it. They lived every day according to their beliefs, and we learned their values by watching and listening. Values weren’t statements they hung on a bulletin board, they were who they were.
I think Seattle First Baptist is a lot like my parents. For decades we’ve lived our values, even when we didn’t bother to write them down. We welcome the stranger, stand with the marginalized, open our doors and hearts to whoever society decides to shut out. And I hope that we take the values we affirm seriously, into ourselves, so that they shine through our individual and collective lives.
I recently heard an environmental advocate confess that he gave up a specific brand of ice cream to lessen his carbon footprint. Two thoughts came to mind. Wow you’re serious about this! But more to the point, living our values and protecting our environment doesn’t have to be about ice cream brands and protests. Each one of us can maximize the good we contribute to the world by paying attention to every decision we make, choosing to live like we know we should, even if it’s not always convenient. We can put the brakes on our own consumerism, drive less, fly less, heat and cool less, and thoroughly enjoy life in the process.
I’m glad we have an Affirmation of Values. Those statements can help us remember who we have been, and who we are. And now it is time for every one of us to live out those values in our daily lives.
Read our Affirmation of here...
By Nancy Roberts-Brown
This June I travel to Carlisle, Pennsylvania for my fiftieth Dickinson College reunion. In addition to the astonishment of being eligible for a fifty-year reunion, there is the wonder of realizing how very little I actually knew about much of Carlisle when I was there. I am particularly aware of how little I knew about the Carlisle Indian School. I’d heard of it and I’d heard of Jim Thorpe, the Indian athlete and Olympic Gold Medalist who, in 1907, was a two-time All American for the school’s football team. I now understand that this historic school has a legacy that lasts to this day – and that the legacy is not entirely pretty.
In 1879, the United States government undertook a project aimed at assimilating Native American youth into mainstream American culture. Amid predictions of the “extinction” of Native Americans without complete and rapid integration, Civil War veteran Lt. Col. Richard Henry Pratt founded the Carlisle Indian School as the first off-reservation Indian boarding school to “Americanize” Indians. His refrain, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” reflects his misguided philosophy. Building upon the lead of the Carlisle Indian School, in 1893 mandatory education for Native children became part of the United State’s assimilation policy that was forced upon Native youth and families until the mid-1900’s.
Children’s experiences at the boarding schools were typically bewildering and traumatizing. The schools were run with strict military precision. Children were forced to exchange their traditional clothing for garb favored by European Americans. Their beautiful long hair was shorn and their Native language names were replaced by English names. They were severely punished if they spoke in their native tongue. And as if losing all ties to family, tribe and culture were not enough, conditions in the school were horrific. There was rarely enough food and disease was rampant. Physical, mental and sexual abuse were regular occurrences.
This profoundly ill-informed, racist practice proved to be devastating to generations of Native Americans, and it was not until 1978 that, with the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act, the practice was finally prohibited. Included in the act is Congressional finding that “the wholesale separation of Indian children from their families is perhaps the most tragic and destructive aspect of American Indian life today.” H.R. REP, 95-13896, at 9 (1978)
Through my work with Native American families in the child welfare system, I am personally aware of the legacy of this policy. Deprived of their families, their language and their culture, Native American children lost touch with who they were. Traumatized by physical deprivation and abuse, they acted out in predictable ways, including self-medication with alcohol and other drugs. Moreover, the trauma did not end with the people attending the boarding schools. In a dynamic now understood as intergenerational trauma, not only the boarding school students, but their children and their grandchildren, as well, were affected. Consequently, it is not a coincidence that today rates of Native American incarceration are four times the national norm. Native American youth commit suicide at rates three times the national average and Native youth are placed in foster care at rates five times higher than rates experienced by white children. Tate Walker, social activist and editor of Native People’s Journal, states: “It is my belief that government and church-run boarding schools have had the single greatest negative impact on Natives, beyond wars or reservations or anything else the US threw our way.” (everydayfeminism.com/2015/10/indian-boarding-school-legacy) This is the heartbreaking legacy of the boarding schools that began with the Carlisle Indian School.
I am currently writing a book about parents I met while working in child welfare, showcasing transformational changes they made to overcome the issues that led them into the system to begin with. One chapter is about a Native American woman named Danielle, whose great grandmother and grandmother were both in the boarding schools. From the time of her birth until she was nearly thirty, Danielle suffered from the trauma that was her inheritance. Her life was a crazy quilt of addiction, rape, domestic violence and sexual trafficking. Five of her children spent time in foster care and she permanently lost custody of two of them.
Danielle is now Services Manager of the Peer Counseling Program in a large, local mental health center. She is parenting her three youngest children and working on her Bachelor’s degree. The story of how she brought an end to the intergenerational trauma that plagued her family for generations is a story of courage, resilience, culturally appropriate intervention, and the power of love. I tell her story to put into historical and cultural context the nightmare of her life and the lives of others like her, to demonstrate that with the right supports even the most wounded of people can change, and to uncover the largely unknown and unjust story of the Indian boarding schools.
Returning to Carlisle, I will have an opportunity to learn more about the Carlisle Indian School. As a part of a reunion weekend “Alumni College” I will take a class on the Carlisle Indian Schools’ Digital Resource Center. This center was established to increase knowledge and understanding of the school and its complex legacy and to tell the stories of the many thousands of students sent there. I am eager to learn about the project and its promise. Truth-telling is an essential part of healing. In any case, returning to Carlisle fifty years after my graduation, I am much more aware of issues of equity and social justice that I managed to miss during my college years. Although looking in the mirror I cannot appreciate many of the consequences of the passage of time, I am gratified that the years have granted me a potion of wisdom that allows me to more fully understand the community in which I received my “college education.”
By Jim Segaar
I forgot how much focus and and thought framing a house requires, but today reminded me. We’re building the walls for our little house in the meadow, which sounds simple. And maybe it is simple for someone who does it all the time. But for me it’s required a level of concentration as high as I can muster.
My world shrinks when I’m building something, and that is a requirement when framing a house. Today I was trying to factor in window sizes, and space for insulation, and structural requirements with our snow load, and basic carpentry skills that I haven’t exercised in 15 years, and aesthetics, and waste of materials, and overall symmetry, and counter height, and backsplash requirements, and the lifting capabilities of two 58-year-olds, and the timing of the delivery of the roof trusses, and so on and so on. All the while a combination of sunscreen and sweat ran into my eyes and my hands hurt from the work we did yesterday and my head throbbed because I had just bumped it. At that point my husband and co-builder Jim Ginn (JG) added another factor to the mix – how large the nailing strips are on the windows we just ordered, and my brain exploded. “I can’t think about that!” I huffed. “I can’t think about anything else right now!”
A few minutes later I calmed down enough to know that JG had raised an important point, and we had to consider the nailing strip sizes. And I admitted to myself that one particularly nasty part of the framing – the south window in the Great Room – which had given me no end of trouble the first time through, needs to be redone. And that actually made it all OK. Easy to factor in the nailing strips this second time through.
Finally quitting time rolled around, and I took a few minutes to sit in the shade and look at Facebook. I noticed a bunch of posts about world events I wasn’t even aware of. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the mayor of London in some sort of insult-a-thon. Muslim clerics in the UK refusing to say prayers for some dead terrorists. Identifying an Australian woman as one of the victims. And I realized I didn’t know what any of this was about. One Google search later I had some information about the latest attack in England, and all the information started making an unpleasant form of senseless sense.
And then I thought, “Here while people were being stabbed and run over and dying I’ve been fretting over a piece of wood that is twisted more than I would like. How can that be right?”
The obvious follow-up question is, “How can that be wrong?”
Times like this I remember one of my favorite stories about Jesus. His ministry was winding down, careening inexorably to its bloody end on a cross, and a woman anointed his feet with some costly perfume. His friends complained that it was a waste of money that could have gone to the poor, and a world-weary Jesus said, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” (Matthew 26.10-11 NRSV)
My translation: “Chill out! There will always be pain and suffering and death to deal with. Live in this moment. Notice what is happening right around you, and appreciate it!”
A little later JG, our dog Otto, and I were sitting on the east side of our RV, in the evening shade, looking at our “lesser view.” One of the neighbor dogs, named Blue, trotted over for a visit, and Otto got all huffy and barky. Blue stopped abruptly and turned around, heading back home. Then Otto jumped in my lap and I enjoyed a rare few minutes of holding our aging pup, petting him while we both contemplated the world around us.
A world that shrank again. Small enough to exclude not only the latest atrocity in London but even the challenges of framing our house.
And I sighed in relief, and enjoyed the view.
By Jim Segaar
Last month we introduced a new Affirmation of Values for Seattle First Baptist Church, and asked our readers to think about the values expressed, especially how we can implement them in our daily lives. That conversation continues at this writing. We seek to do more than simply affirm our values, we seek to live them.
Our world today is in desperate need of organizations and people willing to live values such as “We will respect all religions,” “We will welcome the stranger,” and “We will protect our environment.” In the United States, we seem to be focused on insults instead of respect, fear vs. welcome, and exploitation over protection. Like the prophet Habakkuk, some cry out:
“How long, YHWH, am I to cry for help while you do not listen?
How long will I cry ‘Oppression!’ in your ear and you do not save?
Why do you make me look upon injustice?
Why do you countenance tyranny?
Outrage and violence – this is all I see!”
Reading the prophets and the latest news, it seems that some things haven’t changed much since 605 BCE.
But like the prophets, we are called to cry out against injustice and oppression. And beyond that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to action. Oppression is ended only when we overwhelm it with acceptance. It is up to us to bring forth a world of justice, free from tyranny. Our church has a history of reaching out to those whom society vilifies, and today we have another opportunity to do just that.
With incendiary talk of walls and immigration sweeps and travel bans and “old white guys first” filling the airwaves, churches are once again becoming places of Sanctuary. This goes beyond providing a safe, quiet place for parishioners to worship, and can extend to housing and protecting those unjustly accused and in danger. Today that can mean taking in undocumented immigrants who are in danger of being separated from their families and deported, often without due process. For example, First Baptist Church of Denver recently took in a woman until she could receive a fair hearing, where she was granted more time in the U.S.
Our church needs to decide what our role should be. The Church Council of Greater Seattle has taken a leading position on Sanctuary, and Jim Singletary, president of our congregation, has started a conversation about how we will help. In a church like ours, with a history like ours, a reasonable answer seems to be “we will help in any way we can given our resources and our congregation.”
So what’s next? This is not an issue to be decided by staff, or by the Diaconate. We believe the congregation needs to weigh in on this important issue. And we need to identify people who take the lead in whatever action we, the congregation, deem appropriate. Our leadership is committed to continuing this discussion. What do you think? What should our response be? What can you personally bring to this effort?
Stay tuned for a continuing discussion.
By Jim Segaar
One of my favorite sayings of Jesus is “I have other sheep who are not of this sheep pen.” (John 10.16) When I was younger we used the word “fold” instead of “sheep pen,” but the meaning is the same. Jesus is telling us, “Look, I have other followers who are not like you.”
As a kid, I took this as affirmation that life exists on other planets, and that “space aliens” are real. In my college days I began to understand that perhaps people of other religions were like sheep in another pen. And today, as Jim Ginn and I work on our small-but-not-tiny house in the Methow Valley, the message feels even more personal. I am like a sheep who lives in multiple pens.
The photo with this blog is my view as I write this. I’m sitting in a trailer on our lot. Outside I see wild flowers, mountains, puffy clouds, sun, a few houses, and no people. It’s actually an event when someone passes by our lot, either on foot, on bike, or in a car or truck. It happens seldom enough that we usually notice, and often wave or say “Hi.” I took our dog Otto out for a peaceful walk this morning – we didn’t meet any other living creatures to set him off.
Compare that to life in Seattle. We have a peekaboo view of mountains, but surrounded by houses and large trees. When I walk to the store or to church I always see other people, and rarely speak to or wave at anyone. Walks with Otto are a constant game of “avoid all babies and other dogs,” because they send him into Tazmanian Devil mode. And I not only act differently, I feel different in the two places.
I’ve started noticing not only how different life is in the Methow Valley as compared to Seattle, but how different my attitudes are, even on some of the major issues of our day.
I remember my working days in Seattle, when commuting downtown often meant squeezing into an already-too-full bus with a mixture of business people and students and street kids, then creeping along clogged streets to our various destinations. Jim G had a different experience the other week when he needed to ride Okanogan County transit to get to Omak to rent a car when our pickup broke down. He took a total of five bus rides, and was the only passenger on three of them. The drivers said it isn’t unusual for them to drive an entire route without a passenger. And the routes are miles and miles long, on empty highways. The few other passengers he did meet all “smelled a bit” or didn’t have the $1 bus fare.
So how might those experiences shape one’s attitude toward paying for public transit? In Seattle, I see it as a no-brainer. More transit is needed desperately, and anyone who votes against it seems out-of-touch or greedy or ignorant. But in Okanogan County? I might classify transit as a government boondoggle, a perhaps-well-meaning effort that serves very few people, costs a ton, and that I may never use. Dare I say a waste of money?
How might my opinion change on more of a hot-button issue, like gun control? The other day we went to a local auto repair shop to retrieve our pickup, Earl, who was finally running again. At one point we walked with the mechanic into a room that looked like a combination conference room, storage room, and living room to get an engine additive. On the way I saw a shotgun propped up in a corner. “Hmmm,” I thought. “Not a bad idea for the next time I see a snake in front of our trailer.” When in Seattle I have decidedly different views on firearms, preferring that they be few and far away. Armed police officers make me nervous, let alone random shotguns in people’s places of business.
As humans we share so much, not the least of which is our fragile planet. Even in our deeply divided nation we have much in common – basic needs for food, safety, shelter, love. And we often live in very different sheep pens, which means we can also feel quite different from each other, and hold opposite opinions on crucial issues for justifiable reasons. So how can we get along? How can we let each other live to the fullest?
It starts with recognizing that we are sheep who live in different sheep pens.
By Pat Kile
Easter’s over. . . Good Friday was appropriately dark, and two days later, to the sound of the usual glorious music, we found the stone rolled away one more time. Now three weeks later, I’ve put away the few little Easter decorations we saved when we moved into our condo, and most of the half-priced Easter candy bought the day after at Bartell’s has been eaten. Even the after-Easter ham we bought at Freddy’s for almost nothing has been consumed, down to the bone, with a pot of beans. So here we are—halfway to Pentecost, looking for Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
But this year there are a few Eastery thoughts still hanging around, at least in my head. Those discussions that Cherry Johnson led in the Lenten adult education classes were extremely thought-provoking. That wasn’t surprising because I think Cherry is one of the most gifted teachers among us. And that’s saying something, because at SFBC we have a wealth of wonderful sermons and rich teaching and reflections throughout the year.
Cherry’s sessions focused specifically on the resurrection. There was a wide range of thoughts and beliefs on the resurrection expressed by members of the SFBC community—also no surprise. For some people, at least, the question of whether we are to take the resurrection as literally true is very important—and there are of course people on both sides of that question. Personally, I’ve never thought too much about it. But then I was nearly 30 when I discovered that not everyone believed we all descended from Adam and Eve. An interesting thing we learned and maybe helpful to know is that resurrection—a type of return from the hero’s journey—is a common element in most religions. But what I found most life-changing of all that we considered together with Cherry is the idea that maybe literal truth isn’t the most critical question. Maybe the most critical question is the larger meaning of the resurrection. The metaphorical meaning. Where have we been entombed? How would it feel to have the stone rolled away? How much strength or grace would it take. . . ?
I have several tombs sealed with stones in my own personal life. (I’m claustrophobic enough to have to take a deep breath just writing that!) Maybe this will be the year those stones begin to roll away. Those Lenten discussions were a good beginning. Thank you, Cherry and fellow SFBC believers—and non-believers!
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist