Poverty Loves

Just down-wind from the sewage treatment plant in Port Hueneme, the last fence on the road marks a demolished factory. The concrete pads still roll back from the entrance, and a long brick wall runs perhaps a tenth of a mile, as though trying to hold back the dunes and the sea.

The city council members bitch about the need to force the vagrants out of town, but the owner of the property pays for a chemical toilet and allows the homeless to stay. The leaders of my Monday Bible study group have been coming there for nine months now. With my video blog at Love Returns completed, I’ve joined them the last two Saturday mornings. Camp residents can receive Christian teaching and encouragement, lunch, and as much clothing and food as they can carry.

My role is pretty passive – standing watch to ensure no arguments break out. I’ve not seen evidence of such behavior, but yesterday even less so: Pastor Sammie’s church brought out a service team, and we outnumbered the camp attendees by at least two-to-one. My concern was actually that the wall of men standing at the edge of the pad would be a barrier to the less assertive.

I do my work quietly, offering to the beaten-down couple “Have some food and take some strength of heart as well.” Offering to guard a bicycle and new bedding while the owner was occupied.

But the real heart of the camp was revealed to me at the end of the service. An older woman was carrying an eight-pack of muffins away with her, and I asked if she didn’t need anything else. She said that she was cooking that night, and sure might. She had started with six, and two more heard and asked to come, and then they invited friends and she was expecting as many as sixteen.

“God bless you for your service.”

That struck her. She said that she was good with God, but he was challenging her. There were times, when the guns and violence got out of hand, that she spoke to him with words that weren’t so respectful. She didn’t know if that was allowed.

“That’s just fine. He needs to know what you need.”

She was one of the original camp members, having brought almost her entire neighborhood there. Her fiancé had been a boxer back on the East Coast, and then got mixed up doing work for a couple of crime families. She had seen him change his heart, taking pride in cooking and caring for others. But the doctors had loaded him up on psych meds. That morning, it was almost like he was on heroin, he was so dopey. She was going to call his lawyer and the doctors, because she had been in the industry for forty years, and knew what the proper doses and combinations were, and what they were giving him made no sense. They said that he was a violent man, and needed to be kept sedated, but she knew differently.

Sammie called the prayer circle, and we stood just outside the edge. I rubbed her back gently, asking her heart to soften. With the closing complete, I asked if I could pray for her.

I took her hands and invoked the Father. When clarity had filled the air between us, I prayed that the doctors would have the courage to see her man as she did, and allow him to continue to shine his redeemed light into the camp. I prayed that others would honor her charity and wisdom, and work together to solve their common problems, rather than taking for themselves.

When I finished, she held on, and exclaimed that her angels had been working overtime, and God had sent her me. There was no doubt that I had seen into her life, or that those that troubled her mind would be confronted with her hope. She had faith that the Father had spoken through me.

And as she left, I looked up and realized that the rest of the gathering had been frozen by the power of the love that we had honored between us.

Away, Away…

“There’s been a lot of deterioration since last night,” my mother told me.

He’s really weak. When I came through the door on Thursday, I could see the light in his face. Saturday he did not stir until I sat down next to him. We eventually rolled him over on his back. As he stared up into the lamp hanging from the ceiling, my mother asked him “Is Brian supposed to take that down yet?” There was a green piece of ruled paper curled up in the scroll work. “It didn’t make much sense,” she told me.

I thought, “Oh, but it does.”

On Christmas eve I had told him about the lineage that he was struggling with. Yesterday we felt our way toward freedom. He suffered from childhood polio, which left him with neuropathy in his legs. “Do you remember what it was like to run, before your legs became sick?”

He paused, trying to reach back. “No. I don’t.”

“Well, maybe your mother or grandmother can help.”

As I sat on the bed beside him, I rested my hand on his hip, and then caressed downward towards his lifeless feet. “Away, away the bad stuff.” It was where the domineering will had pooled. For three hours, off and on, we worked through it, sometimes holding hands. I felt the pain of the arguments and rejection he had suffered in his childhood, mostly from family but also from the peers that enjoyed bullying this genius who graduated from high school at fourteen. “I will receive that from you,” I promised him.

Indeed, I did, as the day passed into evening. He was lying on his side, looking at me hopefully, and I put my right hand on his cheek. A look of bliss came over his features, and I cemented the connection by placing my left hand on the crown of his head. The tears came as his sorrow poured into me – carrying all those lesser spirits that had been forced into him but that didn’t have a place.

“I’m so glad that you were my father.”

Becoming a Man in a Woman’s World

On my fist visit to the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, I was consciously assessing the state of a community that I expected to be seized by fear. The priestly child-abuse scandal that had been papered over in the ‘70s had re-ignited. Attorneys revealed that many of the perpetrators had been hidden in the church hierarchy, and some had been allowed to resume children’s ministry. Cardinal Mahoney himself was accused of complicity, and huge financial claims were leveled against the Church.

What I discovered, as I wandered around the periphery of the celebration, was that it was infected by a subtle competition for dominance. Every member of the worship team wanted to lift the pall, to re-establish the connection to Christ, and no longer trusted the authority of the prelate. So I listened carefully, echoing back what I heard, and tried to celebrate harmony when it appeared. The cantor went and sat with the choir, and when he came back down to the podium, the competition surrendered to glorious praise.

As I wandered in the space, I got a few disturbed glances from the ushers and deacons. But the confrontation came from a middle-aged woman who, as I stood in the back enjoying the music, approached me and hissed “Say the words!”

I experienced this again when I went down to Orange County to the enormous campus of a renowned evangelist. This time I sat in the fourth row from the stage, and as I probed the spirit of the congregation, he stared pointedly at me. I stayed for a second service, this time sitting in the back rows, and he announced that he had been talking to Jesus every day of his adult life. A little non-plussed, I poked around and discovered that it was his wife and her girlfriends that were presenting the counterfeit.

I won’t assert that these incidents are typical of the “male-dominated” religions, but neither are they rare. They illustrate the temptations of maternal power. If a man and his wife become “one flesh” through intercourse, how much deeper are the bonds that link a mother and the child growing in her womb? The sin that exists in abortion is that the two spirits, rather than separating through birth, remain bound up together. Inevitably a struggle for dominance develops. Even if a normal delivery occurs, male children remain buried in a feminine psychology. This is untenable. While a woman can tell a man whether he satisfies her physical and psychological needs, she cannot connect him to the sources of spiritual strength that make it possible for those needs to be met.

Particularly in affluent communities, where housewives often find their worth measured by the strength of their children, boys face enormous challenges in becoming men. Mothers have difficulty letting their children go. I saw this manifested when I volunteered as a teacher’s aide in elementary school. I was the only father to so participate in kindergarten. I was involved in a divisive custody struggle at the time, and faced a prejudice that I was simply there for legal reasons. That was not true – I really wanted my sons to have a concrete sense of how important their education was to me. But the teachers and mothers struggled with my presence.

In my younger son’s class, lessons were tutored at tables marked by pictures. I was never assigned to the teacher’s table until I took my sons to a swim party. One of the activities was water volleyball with a huge bouncy ball. The event facilitators stood at the back of the court and, though trying to be as gentle as possible, served the ball with force that simply overpowered the kids. I finally got my hands on the thing and walked it up to the net, asking “Who wants to serve it?” Holding the ball over the child’s head, they knocked it up into the air, and the children on the other side clustered under the ball. No longer having to absorb its momentum, they knocked it back over the net. Laughter and shouting replaced the bored frustration.

When I next went in to class, the children embraced me with their hearts while the teacher read a story. The birthday girl turned around and smiled at me, and the little community of children finally overwhelmed the resistance to my presence that had been established by the mothers and teachers. I was allowed that day to tutor at the “red heart table.” But consider: only because one of the daughters let me in.

So when feminists decry the disempowering psychology of “male-dominated” religions, I get a little frustrated. Given their powerful psychological influence on little boys, maternal projections of anger towards men are a destructive burden. I would prefer that women celebrate the strength that they gain from participating in Earth- or Goddess-centered religions, thus advertising what men are missing. And I would also prefer that they celebrate the teachings of the avatars, none of whom rejected the participation of women. Even in the Hebrew tradition, a woman’s spiritual power is recognized: inheritance of the tradition is through the mother.

But the only way to make sense of the story of Abraham’s lineage is to realize that Joseph, the child left without a protector in his father’s harem, became a glorious man because his father took him under his wing. Boys need fathers, and women need to be cautious against using their children as leverage in their relationships. It leaves them with weak sons that attain independence only through rebellion, and the problems of managing the predatory women that they attract. When that consequence is recognized, it seems unfair to castigate men because husbands, spun up by sex and greed, go out into the world to plunder and pillage for the satisfaction of their wives.