Monday, June 20, 2016

My History with Guns

I used to own three guns. A 22 gauge pistol with a long barrel, a 38 special handgun, and a tiny 22 gauge “ladies” pistol with an ivory grip that I thought was adorable at the time.

I came into possession of these guns through my father, who was an avid hunter and NRA member. In my 20’s, someone very close to me suffered a violent attack from a stranger. My father was understandably devastated, and thus he did the best he could for me. Instead of standing helplessly by, he put force into my hands by buying me a 38 special. And some years later when my father passed away, I took two of his handguns as part of my inheritance.

I had good associations with those guns. I grew up in a household where there was a gun rack full of rifles on the family room wall. For a time my dad had a pickup truck with a gun rack, and when we went camping or hunting, there were rifles in the back window.

My whole family was very responsible with guns. As children, my brother and sister and I knew where the guns were in the house and in a million years it would never have occurred to us kids to ever touch the guns in our house, or to play with them. It was unthinkable.

We knew how to use guns. My dad took us far out into the country and taught us how to be safe with firearms. We practiced target-shooting with handguns, rifles, and shotguns. As soon as my dad handed us a gun, we knew how to immediately check to see if it was loaded. We never pointed guns at any people- not even our toy guns. When I was old enough to comprehend-- probably around 12 years old-- I took a gun safety course with adults. I passed and got a certificate. When my family went camping, my dad would go off hunting for the morning, my mom would read Good Housekeeping magazine by the campfire, and my brother and sister and I would roam around the campground with guns-- shooting into the woods.

In my baby photo album, there is a photo of me when I was two or three years old. I have blond hair, fat cheeks and a toothy smile as I stand in my father’s hunting boots-- the boots coming up to the top of my thighs. In my right hand I’m gripping a long rifle whose butt is on the floor and the barrel points towards the ceiling. I would post the picture, but honestly I don’t want that shit on the internet.

Guns were a part of my childhood. I know guns. I am not afraid of touching a gun. I greatly respect guns.

And this is going to piss off many of my gun-owning family members and friends…. but….. I am not ok with guns anymore.

For many years I kept my three guns in the bottom of my underwear drawer. I stayed low-key about it and didn’t tell people I owned firearms. I lived alone, so there was no danger of someone getting into my guns. At the time I believed that since I lived alone, if anyone burst into my apartment with the intention to harm me, I could make a dash for my guns and handle the situation.

Then the Columbine shootings happened. This was 1999.

And a couple of years later Michael Moore released his documentary Bowling for Columbine. It made a big impression upon me. I remember talking on the phone with a good friend about the movie, and at some point I casually mentioned that I owned guns. There was extended silence on the other end of the line while my friend registered this new information. I don’t remember exactly what she said-- I don’t think it was judgmental-- but by the end of the conversation I had no idea why I still owned guns.

So I got rid of them.

And even though I know that there are responsible gun owners in the United States, I honestly want all guns gone from our country. All guns. Guns for protection and guns for hunting.

Columbine was 17 years ago, and according to a depressing info-graphic online (at there have been at least 54 mass shootings in the USA since then. And the shootings just make Americans feel more afraid and make them clutch tighter to their guns. And legislators don’t do anything to reduce the conditions for mass shootings. Even today, four different gun control measures were voted down (2 by Democrats, 2 by Republicans).

Gun manufacturers and individual gun owners send money to the NRA so that they can continue selling and buying guns, and the NRA sends money to politicians so gun companies and individuals can keep selling and buying guns, thus politicians vote down gun controls so gun manufacturers and individuals can keep selling and buying guns. I’m a rational, common sense person, and I can tell that something is ridiculously wrong with this set-up.

I know people who are responsible, conscientious gun owners who keep guns for protection and mostly for hunting. They are loving, caring people. They really are. And I want to ask them if they would be willing to give up all their guns in an effort to transform America into a country where we don’t wake up to a mass shooting every few months, like it is Groundhog Day or something. Different day, same old bullshit.

I know gun owners are going to say, “If we give up our guns, only criminals are going to have guns, and none of us will be safe.” But I say I am ready to do something radical. And if someone bursts into my apartment some night with the intention to harm me, then I’ll put up a fight with scissors and a chef’s knife and scratching and biting, and maybe I will even get killed by their gun.

But I don’t care. The right to own a gun is not sacrosanct anymore. Having more guns doesn’t make our country safer. All guns have to go. I got rid of mine.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sacred Journey

In September of this year I began participation in a program called Sacred Journey, hosted and facilitated by the Mercy Center in Burlingame.

The name of the program is kind of an insider’s joke between my Maker and I because The Sacred Journey is the title of an autobiographical book by my favorite author Frederick Buechner.
In Buechner’s introduction he admits that as he gets older (he was 50 when he wrote this, and is well into his 70’s by now) he nostalgically sorts through old letters and photographs to “look back on my life as a whole more.”

He holds out the possibility that “…you may in the privacy of the heart take out the album of your own life and search it for the people and places you have loved and learned from yourself, and for those moments in the past—many of them half forgotten—through which you glimpsed, however dimly and fleetingly, the sacredness of your own journey.”

I’m at the age where I have black and white baby pictures, full-color photos from childhood and young adulthood, and digital photos for the rest. So “taking out the album of [my] life” is a bit of a pain in the neck.

But the change in technology signifies the marching on of time. And I wouldn’t have understood this in my twenties, or my thirties, but as I push fifty I have the advantage of life experience. The advantage of perspective.

And with that perspective, when I am at Ocean Beach just before twilight, and there is a flaming sunset before me and a warm bonfire and laughing friends behind me, I recognize the sacredness. And when I have a deep heart-to-heart talk with a friend in which she is really hearing me and I am truly tracking with her, I recognize the sacredness. And when I read the New York Times on Sunday morning with Bach in the background, and suddenly “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” sounds like something I’ve never heard before, I recognize the sacredness.

Participating in this program is my attempt to recognize and honor the sacredness of my spiritual journey- which thankfully encompasses Ocean Beach, intimate friendship, Bach, and probably any number of things that will take me delightfully by surprise.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Five Senses of Pillar Point, Princeton CA

Inspired by a warm, sunny Autumn day (the kind Californians brag about) and armed with the keys to a rental car, I drove south on Highway 1 for a late afternoon adventure. I stopped at the Pillar Point Harbor in Princeton, just north of Half Moon Bay, and savored the scene on the docks as fishermen sold grateful customers their fresh-caught fish straight off their boats.

White and blue painted fishing boats trimmed with orange rust; three sea lions slipping through the water; a sea otter swimming playful circles around a white buoy;

a clam spitting streams of water out of the sand in rhythm with incoming and outgoing waves;

a cheerful, bright yellow boat named "Sunshine".


Seagull guano; salty seaweed; chunks of cod deep-frying in rice oil.

Salty, creamy chowder loaded with chewy clams, Diet Coke slurped on the beach at sunset;

peppermint, molasses, and green apple salt water taffy.

Seagulls squawking for scraps of bread; customers and fishermen haggling for best fish prices; small recreational planes landing at the nearby airport; boats signaling their arrival in the harbor with their deep horns; sea birds dragging their feet in the water as they took off flying;

17 pound frozen tunas thudding against a metal scale; hoses spraying salt water off of decks; puttering boat motors; fishermen warning each other of the whereabouts of the Fish and Game warden.

Weathered wooden railings held together with rusty nails; woven wire crab traps; rough barnacles clinging to dock pillars; smooth ahi tuna steaks resting on crushed ice; ragged ropes.

For other Five Senses blog posts, see:
Five Senses of Pescadero
Five Senses of Haiti
Five Senses of San Francisco's Presidio
Five Senses of Chinatown

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Soul of Money

Every 6 weeks or so, ReIMAGINE has been hosting "conversations" on various provocative topics, where designated people share their stories, then there is facilitated discussion and more sharing from the people who attend the conversation. I shared this story about money a few weeks ago.

My father was a big spender and my mother doesn’t really like to part with money. While my dad’s garage was filled with every power tool imaginable, and loads of fishing equipment surrounding a glittering fishing boat, my mom’s only indulgence was an occasional box of See’s candy. So my parents occasionally argued about money.

But something they did agree upon was that every Saturday night a check sat on the kitchen counter so no one would forget it the next morning on the way to church. It was a 10% tithe. And it’s weekly presence made an indelible impression upon me.

In my teens and twenties, I was like most people, earning money as I was able and stocking my cupboards with Top Ramen. But when I turned 30, something clicked and all of a sudden I felt compelled to learn what stocks and bonds and mutual funds and IRA’s and dividends were. Excited about this new phase of my life finances, I bought a few investment books and got myself educated. And thus I began to allocate money towards something else besides rent, food, and fun money.

Once I got a little more established in my career and had consistent paychecks, and once college loans and my first car were paid for, this was when I got more intentional in regards to my money. I stashed money like a squirrel storing nuts for winter. At first I did this for me. I’d get extra jobs and set aside all those earnings for travel adventures. But eventually I started squirreling away money for other people. Like a college fund for my niece. Or I would make what I considered sacrifices in order to share more of my money with the poor. For example, I’d wash my clothes at the Laundromat and instead of drying my clothes there, I’d hang them all over my apartment and put the $1.50 or so that I had saved into my “help the poor” jar. Or if I had a craving for ice cream or something, I’d pass it up and put the money into my “help the poor” jar, and then every so often I would empty the jar and write a check to the San Francisco Food Bank.

Of course, I’m well aware that this is a luxury- to be able to play games with money. There are billions of people making real sacrifices, like “do I feed my family this week, or buy shoes for my one kid who is in school, and whom I hope will pull our entire family out of poverty someday”? So in a more drastic attempt to better identify with the poor, a few years ago I conducted an experiment. Every year ReIMAGINE hosts a workshop called Experiments in Truth. In this workshop, we try to choose “experiments” in which we abstain from or engage in something for 40 days, just to see the effect it has upon our spiritual lives. The first year I did it, my main experiment was to live on $1.50 a day, because a few billion people in the world live on $1.50 a day, and I wanted to better identify with them.

So for 40 days I lived on $1.50 a day, and it was such a tremendous experience that the next year I lived on $1 a day for 40 days and I blogged about it. And I would say that my most significant learnings from those experiments were around “entitlement”. I better recognize how “entitled” I feel to buy things, or to indulge in luxuries, rationalizing that “I work hard, and “I deserve them”. I even feel entitled to take risks in regards to my jobs and finances because let’s face it—I have a handful of friends I could always stay with, and my family will always be my safety net.

In fact, one thing I really like about my family is that we pass around money like it is a hot potato. Last year—due to the bad economy—I lost a bunch of contracting jobs and made less money than I’ve made in 15 years. Knowing this, my mother, sister, aunt, uncle all sent me either monthly or occasional checks to help me make ends meet. At the same time, my sister is a single mother, a State employee who in the past few years has been put on furlough and thus loses significant income. So family members all sent her money to get by. Sometimes I would be mailing my sister a check while a check from my sister would arrive in the mail and I would think about how ridiculous it was that we were exchanging checks and that we should just call it even, but of course, it was the act of giving that turned out to be so important and we wouldn’t change that for the world.

Last year, with very little money in my bank account, I was trying desperately to figure out a better, more consistent way of earning money that would meet my financial needs as well as my desire to do meaningful work in the world. Talking to a friend about it, I presented my dilemma of whether or not to take a job I didn’t want—just for the money—or to wait it out and see if I could land work that had more meaning for me. She pointed something out that is currently redefining my relationship with money and with God. “It seems that for many years you’ve pretty precariously pieced together jobs and work “ she said, “and God has always provided for you. Relying on God’s provision is your thing.” My heart and spirit rang “ding ding ding!”. Relying on God’s provision is my thing. That statement resonates with me, so I’m going to keep rolling with it.

And since God is game, I’m game too. Like my parents, I've kept up a 10% tithe all my life, but some years ago I decided to up the ante. I’m attempting to increase my tithe by 1% every year, because I think it would be really cool to eventually be giving away 20%, 30%, or even 50% of my income if I live that long. And sometimes I lament that it is taking too long to only increase 1% a year, so I want to ratchet it up to 2%- and that really challenges my faith in God’s provision, because as a contractor, I never know exactly where and when my paychecks are coming.

And honestly, that uncertainty has made me cling a little tighter when I do have money. And depending on which day you catch me, I either say I am being responsible with my money, or I’ll more honestly admit that I am taking my provision into my own hands instead of trusting my Provider. Which one is true? One of them? Neither? Both? To be totally honest, I often wonder what it would be like to give away my entire net worth and start over, as a grand Experiment in Truth. When I’ve brought this up at any church or faith community I’ve been involved with, people squirm like crazy, clear their throat and say “well, God wants us to be responsible with our money and possessions” or “God gives us things and our jobs is to be good stewards of it”—and they could be right. But I suspect that what they also mean is “take your terrifying ideas and get the hell out!” And yes, it is terrifying, but you never know- I might take God up on that crazy idea someday, because hey, God’s provision is my thing!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy SF- Who Was There

Young men wearing flannel shirts and dark hoodies sat on their skateboards in a circle on the lawn in the middle of camp.

TV reporters pointed cameras and shoved microphones into the faces of the weirdest people they could find and prompted them to say inevitably outrageous things.

Legal volunteers wandered the camp making sure everyone had the phone number of the legal hotline. I scribbled the number on my hand just in case the police rushed in and I got swept up with the people being arrested.

A pack of drag queens sashayed by lisping “drag queens for social justice”.

An enthusiastic guitar and mandolin duo entertained the crowd by singing “All you fascists are bound to lose!” to a cheerful melody.

Former City Supervisor Aaron Peskin sat on the ground linking arms with others who were willing to get arrested tonight. Mayoral candidates Leland Yee and John Avalos were also present, often with digital recorders shoved in their faces seeking saucy sound bytes.

Gray-haired Boomers wearing Land’s End fleece jackets marched in a circle and reminisced about past marches, actions, and demonstrations.

Garden variety San Francisco hippies huddled together pinching joints between their thumb and forefinger.

Drunken homeless people plopped down to sleep smack-dab in the middle of all the milling crowds, probably wondering what the hell all the noise was about.

Canine occupiers were well represented. Two puppies wrestled in the center of camp, and on the outskirts a kitten on a leash ignored the action long enough to lick herself a nice bath.

Young people clutched cell phones, social networking at lightning speed with blurred thumbs.

Earnest social justice and activist leaders prepped crowds of people on the north and south ends of camp. “Mic check” one of them would yell. And the crowd repeated “MIC CHECK”. Then a series of staccato instructions would ensue—one sentence at a time—while the crowd repeated each sentence. “We are going to role play.” WE ARE GOING TO ROLE PLAY. “When the police come we will form 3 rows”. WHEN THE POLICE COME WE WILL FORM 3 ROWS. (you get the idea) “The first row will be seated.” “The second row will be kneeling behind them.” “The third row will be standing.”

We were instructed that if you were willing to get arrested tonight you should be a part of the first row sitting in front of the camp. Those who weren’t willing to get arrested were instructed to stand on the sidewalks on the sides of the camp and alternate between two chants: “The-whole-world-is-watching” and “They-may-be-violent-but-we-are-nonviolent”. And as a final instruction, the activists told us “the police will succeed if they raid the camp tonight. So when we are dispersed, reconvene tomorrow at noon in front of 101 Market Street.”

There’s a lot of smart, brave, committed people at that camp. I’m going to bed hoping that my prayers made a difference for those who may be arrested or injured tonight.

Occupy SF- Walking Laps Around the Camp

Arriving at Occupy SF at 9pm I got it in my head to walk seven laps around the camp and pray for all the people who may very well be subjected to violence or jail tonight should the rumors about a police raid turn out to be true. Seven is such a nice sacred number, and besides, walking seven times around Jericho seemed to work (Joshua 6).

So I strolled the walkways, ramps, make-shift highways and byways through the camp at Justin Herman Plaza, towered on different sides by the Ferry Building and the Embarcadero Center.

First thing I noticed is that the camp is clean and tidy. I don’t know what the SF Dept of Health was looking at this week because I didn’t see any vomit, feces, or really any trash at all except for two empty Peets cups with tea bags hanging off the sides. Scattered on cement walls around the perimeter of camp are lots of black glossy buckets with neatly printed signs labeled “cigarette butts”. In one corner of the camp there are 4 porta-potties and a sink. And recycling bins are located throughout the camp.

The camp is organized. There are a variety of tents and some structures of dubious construction made out of tarps. A couple of doors rest horizontally on crates to form low communal dining tables. There is a lost and found area. Someone is even paying attention to decorating because carved pumpkins that would make Martha Stewart proud are scattered throughout camp. There are also art displays, and feathers hanging from overhead strings.

Lest an occupier get bored and stir up trouble, the camp appears to have an active social calendar with various activities to keep occupiers occupied. One tent advertised “Free Massages Here.” I saw a sign informing occupiers of an upcoming “Paper Mache Committee Meeting”. They have formed a committee for paper mache! Taped to a lamp post was a poster board “Sign Up To Teach a Class” which advertised the following upcoming classes:
o The military industrial complex
o Anarchism theory
o Book reader circle- The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
o And my personal favorite, although I have no idea what it means: “Workshop and group discussion on the society of the spectacle, commodity fetishism, and the situationist international.” (if anyone understands that, let me know)

There is a large drum circle tent, where the rhythmic faithful are pounding out beats for the cause. A medical tent stands in the southwest corner of the camp, where volunteers ripped strips of gauze and gave instructions for people to tie them over their mouths and noses should they be confronted with pepper spray.

My favorite sign was “Standing for a More Just, Moral America”- probably because it echos my beliefs and explains why I was there to pray for the camp. A more just and moral America is something that people of faith have been desiring for many months and years- long before the switch was flipped on the first megaphone at Occupy Wall Street.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Five Senses of Pescadero

While driving down the coast from San Francisco to Pescadero…

Skinny tow-headed teenagers lugging surfboards to the beach; pelicans flying in formation; bicyclists hugging the shoulder of the road; bright yellow kayaks in the harbor; a tall blue heron hunting for lunch; driftwood forts constructed on sand; fat lizards sunning on driftwood; hovering Red-Tail Hawks, coyote scat, coastal wildflowers.


Coastal sage; fennel; eucalyptus trees; salt water marsh; beach BBQ’s; fresh baked cinnamon bread.
Cream of artichoke soup; crusty sourdough bread; olallieberries fresh off the bush; succulent tender flounder sandwich; peach-apricot jam.
Sun-dried crab legs; empty snail shells cast away by satiated sea birds; gray feathers; hot sand; a bench made out of driftwood; Indian Paintbrush flowers; thorns on berry bushes.
Scurrying lizards; Jethro Tull singing “Thick as a Brick”; elephant seals barking; farm workers hoeing around plants; seagulls squawking their warnings; waves crashing through a natural bridge in the rock.