St. James was open to the possibility that something he had been taught to believe as the word of God, something he assumed to be true, was false. He was able to change his mind. He was able to allow that Jesus had come not only to save him and people like him but the entire world. St. James was open to the possibility of the infinite breadth and depth of God’s love for all creation, not just his own people.
-Br. Robert L’Esperance
The Minutemen – I Felt Like A Gringo
This meditation feels so poetic. I have read it over about a dozen times. Each time, I feel a little stronger; it is very inspiring to me. It speaks to growth, which I think Christ desires for all of us. Life is our ongoing classroom and we must have the courage and the commitment to keep going even after we think we’ve figured something (or everything) out. An untested faith becomes stale, whereas a challenged faith is enhanced and strengthened. Life is the same. The human impulse to tribalism, while I understand it, has always struck me as dangerous. Maybe it’s easy for me to hold such a view due to the fact that I never really felt like I fit in with any particular group. For better or worse, I have always been able to see similarities amongst people and cultures and ideas, far more than differences. That is sort of what I focused on as I sat with the meditation longer – the last line, “not just his own people”. It reminded me my friend Kenny, a guy I used to work with. I think we got to talking one day because I had commandeered the stereo, which was hostage to either mind-numbing commercial radio stations or the equally mind-numbing cd’s of the two guys who fancied themselves as being in charge. Their repetoire consisted of Fleetwood Mac and the Spice Girls. While such a weird narrowness is slightly intriguing, the repetetive work we all did made listening to that onslaught any longer unacceptable to me one day, so I put in a CD – something by Charles MIngus, which immediately brought about all sorts of changes in vibrations. The two bossmen, not surprisingly, were inflamed and bothered in ways they seemed unable to comprehend. The older guy sort of liked it, but didn’t quite know what to do with it or himself, and so he did a sort of typical thing men do – he made fun of me. “How long are you going to listen to this car-wreck soundtrack?” I kind of liked that description, actually, and I think Mingus might have even gotten a kick out of it too – before he would have knocked the guy’s teeth out. But back to Kenny – bringing cd’s became a habit for me and I played a lot of reggae and that is what got me and Kenny talking. He was an MC and a very nice guy. We both discovered we had a very spiritual approach to life and loved to read. I would share books and cd’s with him and he would do the same with me. Many of his books were Nation of Islam books and Nation of Gods and Earths books, as well as some stuff by Dr. Malachi York. The fact that many of these books taught that I, as a white man, was the devil didn’t ever bother me. I had already read some of the books and my life was already quite integrated by that point and I found a lot of compelling stuff in the books and learned a lot. I am confident Kenny felt the same about what I offered him. His friend Andrew though, that kid would never speak to me. And when Kenny did, Andrew would glare at me with furious contempt. My guess is he was hurt by the world in some manner, no doubt the pain and limitations of racism, and was trying to nourish and heal his being with these books and ideas, but he was being literal with them. To me, though I can understand why these books spoke to him, his quest was actually blinding him and further restricting him. Neither Kenny nor myself ever felt the need to address this seeming conflict of race in regard to faith or between us as men– for us, there wasn’t one, I suppose. But that is not because we brushed it off or ignored its very real presence in this world. But I would say because we respected and engaged one another for who we were as individuals and where we were at that moment in time on our life’s path, we recognized the common ground we shared based upon what we spoke of, and that when we spoke, we spoke from our heart to one another. Neither of us seemed concerned about being “right” or convincing each other of anything. Some days, I’d be more bothered by Andrew’s fury and I’d play with the idea of trying to antagonize him, but I never did. That would have been very stupid of me to do so. In the same way Kenny and I overstood one another, I suppose Andrew and I did as well. We were separate and that is how we would remain. I never felt like a gringo, though. I felt pretty damn close to being a very good and pure version of who I was and am supposed to be, and I will forever be grateful to Kenny for that and even though it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him, I have no doubt if I bumped into him tomorrow, we’d pick right up on the same good vibe. Well….all this and I haven’t even spoken about the Minutemen! I don’t know what to say! The Minutemen have been hovering on my periphery for a very long time. I know they are legends and I know they are great and I know I really love what I have heard of their music, but I haven’t heard a lot and I haven’t invested the time in immersing myself in their artistry. I do know of the tragic death of guitarist D. Boon, in a car accident. His death devestated the two remaining players and they disbanded. And then a guy named Ed Crawford in Ohio believed a joke someone played on him, that the Minutemen were holding auditions to replace D. Boon. They weren’t. It says a lot about the caliber of human being Mike Watt, the bass player, is that when this earnest stranger appeared unannounced, likely hitting a very raw and painful nerve, Mike Watt allowed him to stay in his apartment. Ed’s pleadings eventually won over Mike Watt and George Hurley, the drummer, and they formed the band fIREHOSE. I know that band’s catalog fairly well and I love them. These guys are genuine punks; punk rock in its most liberating, authentic expression, not limited to a stylized caricature of sound or appearance. Such limitations emerge quickly, and the Minutemen, who as part of the legendary SST Record label toured often with Black Flag, had to endure sabotage, thrown bottles, spit, and insults from audiences that wanted a simple minded, clearly demarcated punk rock. I wonder if they ever got depressed by such foolishness. I wonder if feeling like rejects from even this sector, comprised largely of rejects, made them feel hopelessly dejected and alienated from life. If they did, they bounced back quickly because they never caved in and they carried forth, integrity intact and stronger than ever from the battles. I just found a documentary on the Minutemen and, as is my wont, I have shelved it after only 30 minutes. I don’t want it to end. I want to savor it. But that’s a big problem for me. I pause my life too much. I do entertain those painful alienations and rejections and allow them to freeze me and drain me of life. In some way, I seem to have this lifelong sense that there is a shadow life I live, where I’m happy without hesitation, bold and decisive. The timid me in this life takes so long to absorb and digest everything. Sometimes I see myself as an 89 year old man, sitting by a window, finally declaring that I am now ready to live. Other times I wonder if I’ll have a heart attack and simply not respond to it because I can’t handle the stress of such a thing at that time. I’ll need time to wrap my head around such a calamity. And sometimes I convert a poetic meditation and a tribute to a great band that could write massive, complicated songs that clock in at less than two minutes into a rambling, disconnected screed about….?