Wednesday, January 13, 2010


One of my favorite ever children's books, which I have probably referred to before, is a story from the shtetle, the poor Jewish villages of Eastern Europe before WWII. In the story a villager comes to the rabbi to say that he is suffocating in his tiny hut with his wife, children, cats and mother-in-law all crammed together. To make a short story shorter, the rabbi has him bring in first his chickens, then his geese, his goat and then his cow. Finally when the man is tearing his hair out, the rabbi tells him to move all the livestock back outside. the man comes to the rabbi blessing the peace and spaciousness of his dwelling.

As I have been stunned by the horror and devastation in Haiti I realize once again, that my problems(and I have very few at the moment) while annoying and even painful, must be seen in perspective. This and other photos and news of the nightmare of Port Au Prince, where even the presidential palace has collapsed, helps me to see again, it could always be worse.
May I suggest Doctors Without Borders if you choose to donate to help.

Friday, December 18, 2009

And so this is Christmas

This is a picture of "Homeless Mary", a well known,"person of little means" in Chicago.
When I lived in Chicago(from age zero to thirty) I knew many "colorful characters". In my neighborhood there was "Chee Chee Anny" She mostly said "chee chee". There was the old "Prostitutes in the park" lady. She would lash about with her umbrella, railing about the "prostitutes in the park". Harry Gomala lived in an abandoned semi trailer by the tracks a block from my house. What i remember most vividly about Harry was the first time we went to roust him to buy wine for us. He was not well, he was never well, but his partner was nervous about all us kids there, so he encouraged Harry to come out. "C'mon Harry, a hammuger anna cuppa caffee would do ya good". Harry came to the edge of the trailer, swept his arm over the garbage dump that was where his traier was abandoned and said, " Behold, my vista, boys." I have never forgotten that moment.
Harry got down from the semi-trailer and we headed toward 39th street. At the curb, he stumbled and fell. I grabbed his arm and said to my friend, 'Norb, grab his arm" and my best friend, Norbie Ruczinski, said "I ain't touchin' that nasty old fucker". I helped Harry up and he got us our wine. We gave him half a buck because that's what a pint of port or muscatel cost then. For half a buck you could get a hamburger, french fries and a cup of coffee and still have a dime left over. I suspect Harry bought wine.
I suppose we went back to roust winos to make runs for us other times, but I don't remember. I only remember Harry that first time. As clear as Christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Jesus bodhisattva

This was the type of Christaian I aspired to be when I was a Christian. It takes more cojones than I ever had. I don't believe in proselytising, but if you believe you have found the means of eternal joy this would be the way to share them.And to start with here is a quote from Brandt's blog, Adopt-A-Jesus
"We cant help people hoping to change them. We love people, and love brings the change, and if no change occurs (in our eyes), we love anyways."

From The Huntington Post by Tony Rutherford

Huntington, WV (HNN) – Brandt Russo, a college graduate, quit his job, sold his stuff, and began ministering to the poor and homeless from a bus run on grease. “I don’t feed the homeless,” said following a screening of “Adopt a Jesus” in Marshall University’s Smith Hall Auditorium, “I eat with them.”

Actually, Russo does more. He once prevented the killing of a homeless man by “five kids who thought it fun.” The man suffered broken bones, but survived. “I feel safer in God’s will in a ghetto with a gun point at me than in a church building,” the non-conventional minister told an audience of 75 to 100 viewers.

He carefully retorted a strictly evangelical approach to winning the homeless to Christ. Russo believes you must first show them love, meet their immediate needs, then, you have the potential for leading a soul to Jesus.

Russo, along with local filmmaker Bob Wilkinson (a WVSU alumni) and producer Charessa Wilkinson (a 2001 MU alumni) followed Russo through the south in a bus than ran on used cooking oil, often salvaged from dumpsters behind fast food restaurants. They pick up hitchhikers, listen to their stories, share food and fellowship, and in the words of Christ, love their neighbor [a stranger] as yourself.

The easy-going Russo lists Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi, Gandhi , Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus among those who have inspired him the most. “Deny yourself, take up thy cross and follow me,” the 20something man has done.

Prior to the screening his toes showed through a pair of tattered slip on sneakers. To him, they symbolized the necessity to become one of the homeless in order to minister to them.

The film resonates with a special one-of-a-kind spirit. Somehow with cameras rolling, you know that Russo’s not embellishing the portrait for viewer’s benefit or empathy.

Warned that they found most of their food for the trip in dumpsters, my stomach turned as he invaded the first unit. A sigh of relief followed when he brought out a hose to siphon grease for the bus. He did not ask permission to shuffle through the trash. He knew what the earthly answer would be. Instead, he stated, my permission comes from Jesus.

Perhaps, the most alarming and poignant scenes occur when he encounters church members. During his trip through the south, he would try parking overnight on the large lots of churches. But, in spite of his Heavenly ordained mission, his long, unkempt hair, tattoos, rings in his nose, and second-hand clothes brought shame not to him, but to so-called fine, outstanding Christians.

You see, they did not want him or his bus on their plush parking lots. Often he would be asked to leave. Some called police. He spent a night in jail. Followers from across the country arrived, however, to make his bail.

He related his experience at a large church with 40,000 members. When he entered with a backpack for the Sunday service, he was escorted out of the sanctuary by security. He was sitting too close to the front. He was within view of the television cameras. After enduring a search, he was escorted to a seat in the rear. Russo, like Jesus, wept.

Ushers understood and tried to comfort, but the experience was an indictment beyond Brandt Russo. He learned that the church removed five or six homeless looking people a week. He knew that some of them would later take their own lives. One church told him that’s why he couldn’t park on their landscaped lot; a man had taken his own life there earlier.

As Russo’s ministry spread, some of the larger churches tried to make amends. One lengthy scene has him setting up a table just on the edge of church property. He has pictures of homeless people in Houston. As the congregation files in, he asks for them to take a picture --- adopt a Jesus --- “he’s hungry and homeless wearing wet, mildewed clothes, does anyone want to feed him, give him a place to sleep?”

Tens of thousands of church members pass.. Seven stop to take a picture of one of the 3,000 on Houston’s streets. Russo views his days ministry as successful.

“Adopt a Jesus” tramples on additional sacred cows. It speaks of --- through the voices of homeless --- of how the Bible can be a beloved Holy Book or a weapon. “Don’t beat me and scare me s---less with the Bible,” an older man states. He recalls “young kids” committing suicide. “So many were beat to hell with a Bible.”

Whether moving down an interstate or a small, dusty road, Russo’s bus opens its doors to everyone. He has a network of community gardens and food kitchens on which he can count, but , the dumpsters of grocery stores often provide morsels. He wonders why boxes of unopened food were tossed due to cosmetic damage to the box?

Speaking of growing food as “part of the creation process,” Russo remarked that rescuing it from the garbage is “part of the resurrection process.”

Smiling throughout the film (and the Q and A that followed) , on film he explains to viewers preparation for a day of ministry --- handing out burritos to the hungry in Texas, goofing off, and getting to know people. The third part --- listening and befriending --- allows him to hand out a blessing, as he does not judge remarking that rich or poor everyone suffers spiritual and emotional pain.

How did “Adapt a Jesus” become a flick? Charessa Wilkinson, producer, told the audience she met Brandt on MySpace. From there on, everything that happened in her words, “it was a God thing” with the film coming together on less than a shoe string budget.

The film emphasizes that spirituality and faith does not need a glorious, massive church building for the worship of God. Be it a camp ground, a rehabilitated crack house, or space under a bridge, all these locations become “churches” to some. God speaks through those who have the courage to reach out and listen.

A photographer, Russo continues on a cross-country tour showing the film FREE where requested. The list has grown far beyond expectations. At the showing, DVD’s are for sale ($15), money from which will go towards a sequel but Russo will not return to his “feed the homeless” bus. He’s selling it to someone who wants to follow in his footsteps.

Despite humiliation, Brandt remains Christ-centered. He pondered dealing with injustices. He conjectured if someone stole his wallet, he might give them his jacket too. But what came next has a rubric of faith: Suppose someone broke into your house, he said, adding, they obviously are not ready to go to Heaven (as a Christian). But, inside, a believer exercising his gun owner rights, shoots and kills the intruder, who happened to be just a kid. And, at the thief’s home, there is a child, maybe two or three years old who now has no father.

And, like the Biblical story of a rich man asking Jesus how he can enter Heaven, Russo calmly deflects the traditional Romans road Salvation plan as the essential portion of his meeting with a stranger. He has to show love and get to know them before he can talk about Jesus.

Once, he was asked by a college student, what could she have in her car for someone homeless, poor, or hitchhiking. “What practical things can I give them?” Naturally, Brandt Russo’s response instills a bit of fear, he answered her question with a three letter word: YOU.

You see, Brandt believes that following the steps of Christ no one can hurt you. Even if they kill you, you go home to your Savior’s Heaven.

To purchase a copy of “Adopt a Jesus,” or learn more about the production:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

At Midnight By Moonshine

At Midnight By Moonshine
Originally uploaded by Dobka
I want to be a wolf
Running, hunting, free
With my pack in some great pine forest
Far, far from human predators
Far from human lights
To see the moon, the stars, the vapor of breath as we run
With farseeing, dark piercing wolf eyes
In love with the night, exulting in our song
Alive in our strength and skill
No cruelty but the cruelty of hunger.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I have been listening to different versions of Sarah McLaughlin's song "Arms of The Angel" a hauntingly beautiful tribute to a musician friend who died of a heroin overdose.

Spend all your time waiting for that second chance
For the break that will make it ok
There's always some reason to feel �not good enough�
And it's hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction, oh beautiful release
Memories seep from my veins
They may be empty and weightless, and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight

In the arms of the Angels, fly away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room, and the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here

So tired of the straight line, and everywhere you turn
There's vultures and thieves at your back
The storm keeps on twisting, you keep on building the lies
That you make up for all that you lack
It don't make no difference, escaping one last time
It's easier to believe
In this sweet madness, oh this glorious sadness
That brings me to my knees

In the arms of the Angels, far away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room, and the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie
In the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here.

This is one of those songs I have learned to love so much that I NEVER get tired of it.

My best friend, David, died of a heroin overdose when he was 24 years old. His addiction had gotten so bad that i didn't even answer phone calls from him anymore. These came, more often than not, at two or three in the morning after he had scored and was looking for someplace to use as a shooting gallery. The last time i saw my pal Dave, the person I loved more than anybody I've ever loved outside of my family, he went into my bathroom, shot up and passed out. I went in to find him after twenty minutes or so and found him on the floor with a bloody outfit in the sink. I told his girlfriend that she had to get him up and out, because if he died there I would throw him off the back porch and leave him for the garbagemen to find. I meant it. He died a couple of months later. I talked to him once on the phone a month or so before he died and he talked about how sorry he was that he had never seen mountains. He broke my fucking heart. I told him that i would take him to the Rockies anytime he was ready to go without a needle. Of course, that couldn't work. If he had asked at that moment to trade existences, I believe I would have done so.
When Dave died, I wept. i didn't shed a few subtle, manly, tears. The floodgates of grief opened and I wept rolling on the floor. Since that day I have lost my mother, my brother, my father, but I have never grieved with the passion and ferocity that I had when David died. How to explain? It is not really possible.
I wrote a poem for David in the days following his death. I don't remember it all, but the first line was
"David died today, he bounced down the front porch steps..."
Compare this to Sarah McLaughlin's beautiful poem.
I am wondering, was i just too close to the stink of addiction, or was I just that much less loving?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Island Life

Mount Piao, 'Rainmaker' in Pago Pago Harbor, American Samoa

A cyber pal asked about my time in Samoa so I started to tell her about it. It was so much fun reminiscing that I thought I would post it here.

I went to American Samoa, which is a US territory, in 1978. We lived on Tutuilla, the largest of the US islands, which isn't saying much. It is 14 miles long and four miles wide at the widest part, or about 54 square miles. By way of comparison, the largest Samoan island is Savai'i, part of the independent nation of Samoa. Savai'i is 659 sq. miles.

We went to AS as contract educators. My title was curriculum specialist and my wife was a Special Ed teacher trainer. Because of our jobs we got to visit all the three high schools on Tutuilla, Samoana, Faga'itua and Leone. I also worked closely with the Caholic girls HS organizing a big speech festival. I visited the HS on Ta'u(pronounced Tah'oo with a glottal stop)which was great as it was much less developed than Tutuilla. When you walked through the village of Ta'u, the only one on the island, the little kids would gather to stare, point and yell, "papalagi, papalagi(pah lahngi) which means white person or off-islander. It literally means ‘white cloud’ and originally referred to the first European sails Samoans saw. Since the sailors were white, they called them palagi also.

My wife and my one year old daughter, Nelly, lived in a 'compound' for contract workers, mostly non-polynesian but some Samoans and islanders who were married to contract workers. There were also two live-in Samoan 'house girls' or nannies. I despise the term 'house girl' but it was the common parlance. Our first HG was Tongan(Tonga,by the way, is still a kingdom) and our second was Tokelauan. They were combo child care and housekeepers. Mafa(martha) our second woman treated me as a matai or clan chief. She would send us umu on Sundays sometimes. That is food cooked in an earth oven or 'umu'. They burn wood down to hot coals, put green banana leaves on the coals and put the food on the leaves. It cooks while they go to church. She would send taro root, the staple starch food, palusami which is coconut cream in young taro leaves, just delicious, and whatever meat she had fixed, usually 'pisupo' or corned beef bought in big plastic kegs. A little girl would knock on our door, hand us a basket woven of green palm fronds and say, "This is from Mafa" and leave. What a treat!
To be continued.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sioux Falls

Sioux Falls
Originally uploaded by ifmuth
Claire and I went to the big city! We take in recycling only once a month, because we have to drive two hours to do so. We dropped off the recycling, donated clothes and shoes to Salvation Army, and then ate lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant. The food was fantastic! The closest Chinese place to us is 75 miles away and it is pretty mediocre. But mmmm, veggies in hot garlic sauce! Spicy sour soup! I don't remember when I have enjoyed a meal in a restaurant so much. I wouldn't drive 130 miles just for sushi or spicy garlic veggies, but it sure is nice that they are available when we go there.
Alas, the Yoga place was closed so I couldn't try out meditation cushions, but that's ok. Something to look forward to next time. We went across the street to the used book store-what a place. I love used book stores, and this is one of the better ones. We even remebered to take books in for trade-in credits. Then we went to our favorite weird general store, Zond Bros.,where I found a Christmas present for my son Nick, a great set of glow-in-the-dark zombies! Yeah, he's 28, but I know he'll love them.
So it was a beautiful drive, green and sunny. We had a terrific lunch, went to our favorite shops, got to ogle the sculptures on Phillips Street(hence the panda here) and got to do some good karma stuff. All in all, it was a good trip.
One of the things being so far away from a city has given us is the gift of deferred pleasure. We can't visit Sioux Falls every week. Well, I suppose we could, but we wouldn't burn that much fossil fuel and spew that much carbon just for a diversion. It is satisfying to have to wait to eat at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant, to go to a bookstore that stocks something besides romance and westerns. Its fun to take in all the recycling and have to make an effort to do so. For us, a trip to town has become one of life's simple pleasures.