Prayers of the Faithful

If you know my back story, you understand that I’m one of the last people on the planet to become a Christian. Actually, maybe I am the last person on the planet to become a Christian.

So I often wonder why: why me? Why now? How in the world did this happen?

Of course, it’s all God, with me having (finally) the good sense to assent. But I also wonder about the impact of the prayers of others.

Today, I heard on the radio a beautiful story of a woman in Columbia, who sustained massive burns from an injury. A man, a total stranger, heard about the woman’s devastating injuries. Falling on his knees, the man begged God to save his “little sister,” this woman he didn’t even know.

The woman survived her injuries, renounced her selfish and materialistic ways, and found her way to Christ. She became a Christian by saying yes to Jesus, a truly courageous decision in this very anti-Christian world.

Moved by this grace-filled story, I think gratefully of the people over the years who have prayed for me. I think in particular of a young, male friend, who did some deep praying for me some time ago when my faith became shaky.

I think of those of you out there in cyberland who have prayed for me as well. I may not know you, but I will always have a special place in my heart for you. A while back, you read about me, and you prayed for me. . . helping to pray me into God’s welcoming arms. You cared, you believed; you knew that I craved something that you had, though I didn’t know what it was. Today, and all days, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And now I pray for others out there, whom I know and do not know. Perhaps we can all be like the unknown man in Columbia, whose heartfelt prayers helped the severely injured woman survive and find her way to God. Maybe we can look around our world and ask God the same thing, “Please save my little sister,” or “Please save my little brother.” Ultimately, by doing this, we may save not just another’s life, but our own.

On a related note, today is a special day for Catholics all over the world. It is a Solemnity, the Annunciation of the Lord. It marks the day when Jesus was conceived. The Annunciation is when the angel, Gabriel, came to Mary, saying, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with You.” And she responded to this surprising news with great courage and meekness of spirit by saying yes. May all of us have the courage to say yes to God’s call.

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The Wild Turkeys of Berkeley

There are a whole lot of turkeys in Berkeley. No, I’m not being snarky.

We have real, live feral turkeys all over the place, in people’s yards, the streets, and public parks. Before you think, “Oh, how cute,” let me tell you that these creatures are problem children. They poop all over the place; they squawk at all hours of the day and night. And even worse, they have come to rule the roost by blocking traffic.

These wild turkeys cause near car accidents every day, as they obstruct traffic, refusing to back up even if cars come close by. With menacing looks, the turkeys will block in drivers, even attack cars. I’ve seen drivers try to back up, while turkeys move towards them, barricading the poor driver in his car.

Once I saw a female driver so locked in by turkeys outside of my house that I ran out to help her. Wielding a broomstick, I gestured and yelled at the turkeys. They eyed me aggressively before finally flying away. The woman, by then scared to death, thanked me profusely and added, “I’m from out of town. How do you live like this?” (Something, by the way, that I ask myself everyday.)

Now, the burning question is why are these “wild” turkeys no longer wild? Why is the only wild thing an older woman (me) hollering like a maniac outside of my house?

Why have these turkeys become so brazen in an urban area? Why have they lost their fear of humans?

The critters have obviously been coddled and protected for so long, that they are in charge, not the humans. In these parts, you’d be taking your life in your hands trying to get rid of these large, aggressive, and (in my opinion) nasty critters. While Berkeley-ites would never dare to touch the hair of a turkey, you’d be road kill should you dare lay a hand on one of them.

Now, my story of the Wild Turkeys of Berkeley is not only a true tale, but a metaphor. Because the turkey example applies not just to animals, but to many humans around here — and most everywhere — who have lost their natural, inborn fears. People, just like creatures, act in anti-social ways partly because they are allowed to.

Since anything goes around here, teens will curse and act unruly in public even if grown-ups are nearby. Since Berkeley (and the nearby cities) promote Question Authority, some of the kids, like the turkeys, think they are top dog. Calling one’s mom or teacher the “b” word makes perfect sense in an area (and a culture, via the sick and twisted media and music) that promotes disrespect for those in charge.

But I don’t just want to blame the children. There are plenty of manchilds and womanchilds who do their own thing, regardless of whether the behavior is legal or appropriate. Laws are flaunted; police are screamed at; people unabashedly walk Fido into stores, defying the conspicuous signs that read, “No Pets Allowed.”

And it’s certainly not just Berkeley. We can see people doing their own thing all over the US — as well as beyond. Like the Wild Turkeys of Berkeley, scores of people have lost their inborn fear.

On a deeper level, what has happened, I think, is not just that so many youth don’t respect parents, and workers don’t respect bosses, but that people have lost a healthy fear of God. When the Ten Commandments were removed from schools and prayer banned, there was a sea change in youth, as well as the adults. Along with this came the epidemic of atheism and the bizarre belief that we are simply animals, not Divine souls in human form.

So if people now think that they are just wild beasts, why not act like one? If there is no meaning to life, then anything goes. And most importantly, if there is no God, then there are no consequences, both in this life and beyond.

When we were a country steeped in faith, most citizens had a healthy fear of sin, and Judgment Day, with the very real possibility of hell. It would be hard to beat up a little old lady or start a riot if ultimately it means eternity tortured by the fires of hell. But with a good chunk of the populace not believing in anything outside of themselves and this one life, anti-social behavior and mayhem are out-of-control, particularly around here.

Scripture says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Healthy fear of God is what tames and civilizes a person and a nation. Without it, well, we have what we have today, rampant crime and unrest especially in the most un-churched (1) area of the country, the San Francisco Bay Area.

Fear of the Lord subdues and controls the natural predilection of humans towards selfish behavior. But it goes further: it creates a profound reverence, awe, and love towards God that makes a person truly human. When one loves God, we want to please Him. We don’t want to wound or, worse yet, severe our relationship with the Beloved. This means trying our best to be a good person, and, when we fail, experiencing some healthy guilt and shame.

But words like guilt and shame are as frowned upon these days as those other forbidden words: heaven, hell, sin, and Judgment. Life has become a free-for-all in a culture in free fall.

Tragically, the world resembles those pre-Christian, pagan times, with its barbarism. From what I behold every day, it’s hard to know anymore who are the humans and who are the wild beasts.


(1) I heard of a survey that the SF Bay Area has the fewest people in the country who go to church. And yet there is widespread anti-social behavior, riots, hellish schools, and astronomical crime. Hm. . .could there be a connection?

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Berkeley Traumatic Stress Disorder

You’ve no doubt heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. People may suffer from PTSD after an assault or from living in a war zone. In Berkeley, we have our own version of PTSD: I call it Berkeley Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Most people know that PTSD exists. If a loved one returns from the military or leaves an abusive partner, we understand that they may suffer from the legacy of trauma. But in Berkeley, BTSD is a hidden disease — though the signs of it are everywhere.

BTSD isn’t a new disorder; it has existed since the 60s. Then the radical groups, such as the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, and the Symbionese Liberation Army (kidnappers and rapists of then Berkeley resident, Patty Hearst) unleashed a reign of terror all around the area.

I wasn’t here then, thank God. But apparently, there were bombings and frequent evacuation of buildings and death threats. The National Guard was called in, and curfews were enforced.

BTSD circa 2015 may actually be worse than in olden times. (1) For one, the Guard isn’t being brought in. Consequently, our local, overworked police have to deal with the unpredictable riots, while being cursed and screamed at and victimized themselves with thrown bottles and worse. Further, the only ones on curfew are law-abiding citizens, firmly ensconced behind locked doors in the evening and sometimes during the day.

And with current day BTSD, there is widespread, isolating denial. I imagine back in the 60s, having the National Guard on the corner reminded the residents that it wasn’t business as usual.

But it’s a rare person here who will admit that we live in a madhouse, a war zone, a region that defies normalcy or common sense. People are just oblivious, like those Seattle folks jogging, playing tennis, and hiking in the frigid, pouring rain. In Seattle, the oblivious hikers just get drenched. Here we get preyed upon.

I spoke to a friend the other day who has a serious case of BTSD, although she never would admit it. The poor woman has to take buses to get around, an often harrowing experience. She sits on the bus with headphones on, trying to block out the bloody fights and explosive rage that take place on a regular basis.

Not surprisingly, the woman has nightmares, feels deadened, and spaces out much of the time. She concedes that even after decades in other cities, the East Bay is the most violent and aggressive place she’s ever lived. But she tries to put on a happy face when reciting the perennial Berkeley mantra: “But we’re so lucky to live here!!! It’s beautiful, and the weather is great!”

And then there was the acquaintance I caught up with the other day, who told me that her highly coveted North Berkeley house has been broken into yet again. This is the third time in a year, not counting her car break-in. And yet if she tried to sell her house tomorrow, there’d be a bidding war for it, with offers well over a million dollars, even if the frequent burglaries were disclosed. When I asked my acquaintance whether she’d consider moving, she protested, “But I love living around here!”

Another sign of a traumatized population: the insane road rage, as agitated drivers speed like their lives depended on it (maybe their lives do depend upon it). I was tailgated by a bus yesterday, and the day before that, by a mad mail truck. . . not to mention the average, incensed driver.

Tragically, BTSD takes its tolls on everyone, man, woman, young and old. You can see it in the hardened faces and averted eyes and the hair trigger tempers because everything is always so hard and futile (parking spaces; decent, affordable housing; jobs). Life can feel like one arduous, frustrating, uphill climb, a fight for survival that can break one’s spirit.

Having no personal power decimates courage, and kindness, and hope; it erodes everything that makes a human being, human. Powerlessness is discouraging in the true sense of the word; it decimates courage.

Maybe saddest of all is the abject loneliness around here, the distrust, the every-man-for-himself mentality. Yet, we humans are social creatures; we need to connect, even on a random social level. Without this, the alienation around Berkeley feels as thick as the hot, stagnant air.

As for me, I fight against BTSD every day, trying to ward off that life-crushing alienation and hard heartedness. Some days I do better than others.

I often wonder: is it possible to reside around here and not lose parts of one’s humanity, one’s soul? I do my best; I ask God for help with this on a regular basis.

Because there is no way to fight PTSD, or BTSD, or any other human malady, all on our own. And from all the sad and embittered countenances around here, it’s no coincidence that Berkeley is a community that has rejected the Almighty God like nowhere else.


(1) From where I sit, life in Berkeley, Oakland, SF, et al. has gotten much much worse since the election of 2008. More people are hunkering down and shutting down. And since the elections, and the covert and subliminal messages since that time, the racial tension is as high and as threatening as I’ve ever experienced before.

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Lawlessness and Disorder

I just received a link from a friend about a 62 year old man who died because rioters in Berkeley blocked traffic a few weeks ago. What would have been a few minute ride for paramedics to come and save his life turned into a half hour. Although I can’t prove it, from the name of the man who died, it sure sounds like he was African American.

Which makes me wonder, Do Black Lives Matter to groups like Black Lives Matter? You see, this is a very diverse area, with a huge black, Latino, Asian, etc. etc. population. So with all of this rioting and blocking freeways and general mayhem interrupting emergency personnel from doing their jobs, many of the victims are and will be people of color.

Of course, it doesn’t matter what the color is of those terribly impacted by the lawlessness and disorder. Black lives matter — but so do white lives, and every color under the rainbow. But causing widespread chaos, death, injuries, etc. apparently doesn’t matter to those who believe they are perpetual victims of injustice at the hands of the “system.” They know better than all of the juries of one’s peers combined.

As I write this, I have heard four emergency vehicles go by, with sirens blaring. I have no idea why, except that the rumor predicts anarchy galore to protest Ferguson. The only rule around here seems to be mob rule. The only lives who appear to matter at the moment are the enraged and out-of-control mobs, and their puppeteers and

And isn’t is ironic that scores of the victims of these riots, like the older, possibly black deceased gentlemen, are the very people the leftist groups purport to care about?




Again, these so-called “spontaneous” riots since Ferguson (and before that, the Occupations) have the fingerprints of the Left all over them. From what I hear, Berkeley and Oakland were engulfed by this type of lawlessness during the 60s. However, then there was the major difference that the National Guard was called in. Not going to happen these days given those in charge state-wide and nationally.

I think that much of the chaos is designed and orchestrated by those very same affluent, well connected radicals who create chaos wherever they go, without getting their hands dirty. And of course it’s all engineered by the biggest radical of all, Saul Alinsky’s much admired Lucifer.

A while back, I read an old book by former leftists who had had a l80 degree change of heart. I still recall a chilling comment that one of the authors made. He said that he is terrified of the leftists he used to know working their way into positions of power in the government, academia, and the like. Of course, this has all happened, and here’s the fallout: the whipping up of all of the darkest, basest emotions — hatred, envy, resentment — in Berkeley and beyond.

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“Don’t Dry Those Hands”

My best friend has been stricken with a catastrophic disease. She has lost so much: her soulmate, her career, her memory. She is slowly losing her life. It’s a tragedy beyond anything I could ever imagine for her and her devoted family.

I woke up today tearfully thinking about her. I had a recollection of when we were young and the world was our oyster. We lived together after college, in our own tightly knit world replete with insider stories and jokes. She had a cute expression that she used whenever I would wash the dishes. She would say, “Don’t dry those hands.”

It was when I was almost finished washing; she’d bring a few stragglers to the sink, perhaps some cups she had left in her bedroom. She’d smile impishly as I was about to finish and say her trademark phrase: “Don’t Dry Those Hands.” It was an inside joke that she would never remember now; but I remember this for her, this and more; that’s what loved ones do for each other. We hold onto each other’s memories, like a firm embrace; we cling tightly to each other’s secrets, ones that we will take with us to the graves. Happy memories, sad ones, all of the images culled from a long life, now etched into our mind’s eye.

Before my best friend lost her memory completely, I would send her cards. The cards would show two women together and say things like: Best Friends Forever. Now each year on her birthday, I send her a card, although her adult daughter receives it. They still say: Best Friends Forever. My friend’s daughter needs to know; she needs to know that her mother isn’t forgotten and that some things endure forever.

* *

One thing about best friends is that they accept you the way you are. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t arguments or occasional cross words. But on a basic level, you feel seen and heard and accepted. The friendship reminds you that even though you have a multitude of flaws, you are worthy of love. That type of acceptance is so precious and so rare.

I didn’t find that type of acceptance much in my family, me being so different from everyone else. But toward the end of my parents’ lives, we all came to appreciate and respect each other more. My mother thanked me for helping to organize her health care. I wrote my parents a detailed letter expressing appreciation for the many things they did for me throughout my life. The letter must have meant a lot. Even though my parents were not sentimental and kept very few keepsakes, I found the letter in their belongings after they passed away.

They loved me, I loved them. We did the best we could. In the end, that is all that matters. In the end, love is all that remains.

* *

During this last year, there have been so many twists and turns in my spiritual life that have taken my breath away. I’ve been going to a church where I have felt God’s Presence like never before. But, as with my family, it’s a place where I don’t quite fit in. The parishioners are more reserved, while I am gregarious. As much as I’ve tried, it’s been hard to find women to connect with.

And yet God knows what we need better than we do. Instead of sending women my age to befriend, I’ve become pals with a couple of young males. They have sat with me at church; they have listened to me for hours and supported and guided me when I’ve been spiritually confused.

They are fine young men, obviously well-raised; they love and respect their mothers and it shows. The kindnesses of these two males have changed my life. They bring a fresh and clear-eyed view of things, one not yet obscured or tarnished by the wreckage of age.

Maybe the best thing about them is that they accept me as I am. They accept my big personality and don’t try to make me smaller. That type of acceptance is a lot like what my best friend did for me, so precious and so rare.

* *

Strangely enough, a newcomer showed up at church last Sunday, someone who reminded me a lot of me a few years ago, at the beginning of my faith journey. The woman was nervous, overwhelmed. She hungered for something, though she didn’t know what it was.

Gregarious too, she found her way to me and I took her under my wing. I sat with her at Mass, introduced her to people, and offered encouragement and support. She was so grateful; but I was even more grateful for the privilege to be used by God in this way. I pray to offer her the same type of kindness and acceptance that I’ve received from my young male friends at church and from my best friend.

None of us can rest on our laurels; we are all connected in ways that we can never fully understand. It doesn’t matter our life circumstances. “Don’t Dry Those Hands.”

* *

It’s the season of Lent, my second year observing it. Last year, it was all so exciting: getting my ash for Ash Wednesday, giving something up, which I’d never done before in any concerted way. I loved trying to reform some of my bad habits; I was successful in one of them, that is, stopping using obscenities.

This year, I have to admit, my Lent has gotten off to a pretty rotten start. I cursed at a driver who drove too closely to me when I was walking in a crosswalk. I’ve been catty in several conversations. I’ve been generally cranky and complain-y.

After praying about it last night, it occurred to me that I’ve been walking around hard hearted, angry about the state of the world and particularly life in Berkeley. I told God that I didn’t want to be this way, and I asked Him for help. As always, He is faithful.

That’s when I woke up tearfully thinking of my beloved friend; and I saw that underneath the anger that I have, that maybe we all have, is a deep and profound sadness about the human condition: our finiteness, our vulnerability, and a hidden-from-sight awareness that everything around us will someday die, us included.

And then I realized one of the messages of Lent; that even though none of us is worthy, God is always there for us, with us, always by our side. That He will never leave us or forsake us, even when everything else turns to dust.

And this: our lives are valuable; my best friend’s life, though severely impaired, is valuable. She reminds me of the paramount importance of love and friendship. And her situation makes me want to shout from the rooftops: right now, at this very moment, work out your relationship with God. Love Him, need Him, don’t turn your back on Him. Now, before it is too late.

Let your loved ones know that you care; and make contact with someone you’ve been out of touch with for a while. Look around your small corner of the world and offer a smile or an encouraging word to someone who needs it.

We are all in this mysterious thing we call “life” together. “Don’t Dry Those Hands.” You are needed in this world in countless ways. But don’t delay. Like the ashes of Ash Wednesday remind us, we are all living on borrowed time.

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Everyone’s Life Matters

A friend sent me a couple of news links. One was that the Home Depot in Emeryville was shut down yesterday by an enraged mob. They were angry that a black woman was killed by the police there a couple of weeks ago.

Apparently, she had taken over the Home Depot, robbed people, put guns to people’s heads, and then ran outside and attempted to carjack a few cars. As I understand it, police ordered her to put down her gun, she refused, and they shot her. The Home Depot later erupted in protests, and the store was robbed and looted.

And then this one: On Valentine’s Day, in a lovely suburb of the SF Bay Area, Walnut Creek, people mobbed a restaurant, verbally abusing and terrifying people who were peacefully dining in a restaurant. The diners apparently were doing something forbidden: dining while white. The children there were terrified.

There hadn’t been a police shooting in Walnut Creek. The protestors simply didn’t like that Walnut Creek is a quite, peaceful small city with few black people (though Walnut Creek has a huge number of Chinese, Indian, and other Asians – and a ton of ethnic restaurants. It is known as a safe and lively alternative to the filth and crime of SF). Similar protests, by the way, have happened in restaurants in Oakland, where groups of angry people shouted at diners and disrupted people’s meals.

Now, I’d like you to imagine this scenario. You and your family are peacefully relaxing after a long week. You’re enjoying a meal out together, and discussing the happenings of the week. Suddenly, a very loud and angry mob takes over the place, creating chaos, yelling at you and your children. You don’t know how this is going to end: violence? robbery? sexual assault?

How would you feel?

Or this situation: you and friend are visiting the Home Depot to get some supplies. Out of nowhere, you hear shouting, screaming, rage, people running, hiding, terrified. People are blocking the exit, trying to shut down the store.

Again, how would you feel?

There’s so much I want to say here. . and there’s so little to say. Clearly all of these so-called protests are the tried and true tactics of the Left: crash and overwhelm the system, create widespread mayhem and chaos. Sadly, alarmingly, they are being tolerated all over the place in ways that they weren’t in earlier times because of the political power the Left now wields.

Saul Alinsky, and many others, have promoted this type of terrorizing, destroying, and controlling. And since the 60s, tenured professors have brainwashed gullible young people into their version of reality: oppression, unfairness, and everything terrible. These professors have darkened our young people’s world view, robbed them of their innocence, and made them into foot soldiers for their causes.

And like most people in history who orchestrate madness, they never get their hands dirty. They instead prefer their ivory towers and their pristine suburban homes, which, by the way, resemble that bucolic city, Walnut Creek, the one that they are terrorizing.

And then there are the professors of education, the Bill Ayers of the world, who have taught their education students well, The public school teachers since the 60s are very well versed in the horrors that are the US; they teach that the world is divided up into forever perpetuators and forever victims.

As I said, there’s so much to say and so little. I’ll state the obvious: all of this is wrong. Horrible and horrifying. Terrorism. It’s fascistic, that is, some people have voice, others are supposed to shut up. It’s about social control and power and brutality.

This is the world system that we live in. This is what the world looks like when God has been shut up and shut out. This is what happens when few people understand anymore about the difference between love and hate. Love heals. Love brings people together. Love is the only true Force of power in the entire universe. And all love must come from God.

Love says that everyone’s life matters: black and white and male and female and every color under the sun. Christ loved us so much that He died for us: not just some of us, but all of us.

Hate is derived from the netherworld; it is ugly, brutal, and violent. It is a form of madness; it can drive people crazy. (1) Hate agitates the darkest and basest of emotions: envy, resentment, bitterness, selfishness. Hate resembles what we are seeing now, all over this nation. And with the rejection of God by so many, this force of hatred has been unleashed upon our God-forsaken world.

(1) As in the out of control madness of the French and Russian Revolutions and countless other examples.

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I’m Just Sitting Here Watching the Wheels Go Round and Round

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you might be shaking your head wondering why I keep writing about Berkeley. “Berkeley, Schmerkeley,” you might wonder in frustration. “Enough, already!”

Perhaps you go on: “We get it: it’s a crazy place filled with brainwashed people and the thugs and street hustlers who prey on them. No one in their right mind would want to live there and, with all due respect, we sometimes wonder about the rightness of your mind given that you do. You have convinced us: we will not move there or allow anyone we even slightly care about to go near the place. So can’t you write about something else??

“What about Obama, Obamacare, and everything else happening on the national scene. Can’t you remove yourself from the madness that is Berkeley and write about something else?”

The sad truth is that no, I cannot. This is because I have no almost idea what is going on.

For the last few years, I have kept myself pretty clueless about anything beyond my corner of the world. I don’t read political websites or newspaper or magazines. I haven’t listened to talk radio in so long that I wouldn’t even remember the AM or FM dial numbers. I not only don’t watch television, I don’t own one. To quote an old, obscure song by Jackson Browne, I’ve become a “happy idiot.”

OK, yes, I do know a teeny bit about what’s going on out there. But that is only because people keep telling me stuff, stuff I don’t want to know. People eat, breath, and drink politics out here, so it’s hard to escape some of the happenings.

Apparently, Obama and Biden remain in office, and Hilary might run for the top spot next year. There is some controversy about Hilary’s emails, though I haven’t the foggiest idea what. I think that DOJ chief Holder is gone, or leaving, and might be replaced by a woman with the last name, Lynch (brilliant strategy, by the way; keep much of the country in a perpetual state of white guilt every time the lady’s name is quoted in the news).

The Middle East is still a mess. Scores of Christians are being massacred in Iraq and throughout the Mid East and Africa, which most of the world’s leaders are mum about. Almost everyone is angry at the police. The Republicans are in charge of both Houses of Congress; in my mind, hopefully the government will be so hopelessly paralyzed, that nothing will done.

Have I missed anything? To sum up, the world is going to hell in a hand basket, with a good proportion of the populace going down with it. All terrible, tragic, though not surprising in a secular world that has turned its back on God and tried to play god themselves.

I realize that many of you would want to argue me out of my political ignorance. I should apprise myself of what is going on; I’m doing a disservice to myself and to the reading public by having little idea what is going on. But the truth is that I can’t. I just can’t.

It is too depressing, upsetting, and angering. I used to be a news junkie, but I’ve had to go cold turkey; I just don’t have the stomach to stomach it anymore.

Plus, I have become one of those people who are skeptical about it all. How do I know that what is being reported is accurate? Aren’t we all being manipulated and controlled like rats in a cage, told what they want us to know, and prevented from learning what we should know? I mean, isn’t much of the news just propaganda to get everybody yelling and fighting each other? (1)

So I try to keep my blood pressure down by not knowing much of anything. I’m not boasting here; just what I need to do to survive, given that I live in an area where a bodyguard is needed to make it safely to and from the dry cleaners. (2)

For me, I have a limited to-do list, one that doesn’t include CNN, Fox News, or anything else. I’ll share my current list with you:

To Do List, for Tuesday:

1. Try not to get killed.

2. Try not to get mugged.

3. Try not to get robbed, carjacked, etc.

4. Try to serve God by being a bright, cheerful light among the unhappy people in Berkeley (good luck with that one).

I’ll end here with some lines from a John Lennon song. Lennon wrote it after he left the music industry to take care of his young son, Sean. The lyrics reflect my current sentiments.

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go,

People asking questions lost in confusion,
Well I tell them there’s no problem,
Only solutions,
Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind,
I tell them there’s no hurry…
I’m just sitting here doing time,

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go.

–Watching the Wheels


(1) I glanced at the banner headline in today’s newspaper: “80 Million Reasons to Worry.” I have no idea what it is referring to and I don’t want to know. Again it all feels so manipulative to me. A stressed and freaked out citizenry is easier to manage and control, isn’t it? I recall reading a quote from the Marquis de Sade, who was a revolutionary as well as a sadist. He commented that a happy and devout populace was too stable and joyful to control, and that it was necessary to remove faith, love, family, etc. An agitated population is receptive to revolution, but not a calm and happy one. Since the 60s, many leaders and shakers have taken note of this truism.

(2) True story: I was harassed by street transients just the other day around noon while walking down the street towards the dry cleaners. Two separate incidents: She was demanding money and he was eying my purse. I made it safely into the cleaners, but I had to ask the man working there to walk me to my car. As I have written, just Another Day in Paradise.

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The New Weird Order

When I was growing up, I was the black sheep of the family. My parents never failed to remind me of this. “How could I have a child like you?” my mother would wonder out loud. Even my parents’ friends would get into the act: “I don’t know how you can be the daughter of [name of my mother]. You’re nothing like her.”

My brother used my stranger-in-a-strange-land status to torment me; he swore that I was left on our doorstep one day and adopted. While my parents and my brother were like peas in a pod, not me. No one, including me, had any idea where I came from.

I was highly sensitive in a family that abhorred sensitivity; emotional, where emotions were viewed as weakness; serious when everyone else was always joking around. I was dreamy and pensive where thinking too much was ridiculed. With no one in my family like me, I was the odd man out.

So it’s not surprising that I ended up in my 20s in Berkeley, an area populated by a lot of people who also don’t fit in from where they came. And as soon as I got here, I felt at home for the first time. Berkeley, SF, etc. are strange areas inhabited by even stranger people. Being different is embraced and celebrated. A popular bumper sticker says it all, “Why Be Normal?” (1)

In fact, if a person is conventional, “vanilla,” normal, they may be regarded contemptuously. Around here, people often compete to be the most outrageous. For years, there was even a parade down University Avenue called, “How Berkeley Can You Get?” where residents showed off their weirdest float or outfit.

Now, as you can imagine, it creates a vast array of problems to live where people have fled (or been forced out of) their childhood homes. It certainly is an odd dynamic to live among so many residents who did not fit in from whence they came.

Not surprisingly, you see a lot of asocial, if not outright antisocial, behavior. Perhaps it is frowned upon where you live for you and your children to race down the sidewalk on your bikes or skateboards, thereby endangering the public. But out here? If it feels good, do it.

Berkeley’s reputation as Berzerkeley is going to attract some people and repel others. Let’s face it, Berkeley doesn’t attract graduates from West Point and Notre Dame. If someone just finished a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Berkeley is not their number 1 destination post-Army. But there are going to be a lot of folks just released from prison or rehab or who are gender confused or simply dazed and confused.

Therefore, this area has a disproportionate number of misfits, high functioning autistics, personality disorders, and disordered and disorderly people. Not everyone, of course. There are nice, helpful people too among the under-socialized. But the strangeness sucks the life out of the place. Even those sweet people can grow cold and callous after repeated harassment, rejections, and insults.

What’s particularly challenging about living here is trying to establish committed, loyal, and trusting relationships. A common complaint is that people can be superficially friendly but MIA when need arises. The distress call put out to friends during serious illness can lead to few comers. Having a birthday party could end up with fewer than expected guests, as friends cancel because they need their own personal space.

It’s no wonder: if so many people are escaping from family commitments, you’ve got a lot of people who don’t know how to be in relationship — or don’t value deep ones. The gals complain about the dearth of loyal men. And the guys complain about the lack of devoted females. People who have moved hundreds or even thousands of miles from loved ones may be ambivalent about creating new ones.

Ironically enough, my life journey has come full circle in some unexpected ways. I started life as a misfit until I made my way to Berkeley, where I finally fit in. But fast forward several decades, and look at me now: a conventional, vanilla person in an area that detests normalcy. I started out the black sheep, and here I am again, many years later, the same. My life hasn’t just done a l80, but a 360 degrees. And how weird is that?


1. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that there’s a lot less outrageousness and a lot more creepiness. There was a good deal of both in the past. But much of the weirdness has taken a dark, disturbing tone, from what I have observed.

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Another Day in Paradise

I did something last week that I rarely do: I went out after dark. I don’t like to do this. This area is too creepy crawly during the day, much less at night. But supplies were low, and I wasn’t sure when I’d get another chance to go food shopping.

And I thought to myself, “Maybe you’re exaggerating all of this: the crime, the filth, the general insanity. Maybe it’s not as bad as you think.” So, like a small child testing the waters, I thought I’d stick my toe in the after-hours scene.

It was about 7:30 pm when I made the trek over to a local food store. I arrived there, exited the car — all in one piece! I entered, shopped, and even returned to my car intact. I felt elated, triumphant, like one of those Olympic athletes who just won a gold medal. I had actually escaped aggressive panhandlers, criminals, and the certifiable insane to secure my milk and eggs!

Emboldened and giddy, I thought, “Maybe I can take this one step further. Maybe I can successfully make it in and out of the Walgreen’s! Maybe — gasp — I can even have a life!” Flush with the joy of my Olympic-style victory, I headed down the block to the pharmacy chain store.

And that’s when it happened.

All was well while I picked up some moisturizer and soap and headed over to the check-out line. I stood confidentially on the queue, euphoric about being able to do something so normal, something people do all over this great nation.

Suddenly, right outside the glass windows, someone started screaming at the top of his lungs, while someone else screamed back. Then there was cursing and throwing things, with several men looking maniacal and out of control.

Frightened, I looked at the cashier. He paused, took in the scene, looked back at me and shrugged his shoulders. Then he continued processing my order.

I stared at the chaotic happenings. Things quieted down for a minute or so, and I finally took a deep breath. And then the yelling started up again. Frozen now in fear, I stared outside the glass window, trying to discern what was happening and, even more pressing, what was going to happen.

There was that familiar, disturbing uncertainty, something that I’ve experienced many times before. What is going to happen next? Are they going to come in? Are they going to rob us, attack us, create store-wide pandemonium — or worse? And how am I going to get back safely to my car?

I suggested to the cashier that he call the police. He gave me that bored and I’ve-seen-it-all look, and said, “If it keeps up, I’ll do that.” The commotion died down and the cashier and I completed the money exchange. Then I told him that I was afraid to walk to my car alone and needed someone to come with me.

He paged the supervisor and a few minutes later, a tough-looking dude came out to escort me. We walked outside and there were several vagrants out there, though it was hard to tell whether they were part of the street fighting or just housing themselves on the sidewalk. I kept my eyes firmly on my surroundings, as I got in my car quickly and drove away.

Just at that moment, a police car with its sirens blaring sped through the parking lot looking for whatever was going on, which I’ll never know. Obviously, the miscreants took their mayhem elsewhere, triggering someone to call the police. As I drove out of the parking lot, I said out loud to God, “Just for the record, I hate it here. Just so you know.”

Now let me clarify this: what I’ve described — the social unrest, violence, terror — happens around here all the time, on a practically minute-to-minute basis. And this is an area where people brag incessantly about how fortunate they are to live here: how lucky they are to pay 3 grand a month to rent a tiny cottage in a marginal area, where cars are broken in to on a regular basis, and children attend some of the worst schools in the United States. Gentle readers: I appeal to you; can you understand why it is like living among programmed Stepford people to reside around here?

For me, my never-to-be-repeated late night sojourn only reinforces what I knew to begin with: that this is a terrible — I repeat — a terrible area in which to live. But for the multitudes, the danger of my late night outing was no big deal, simply Another Day in Paradise, we being the luckiest people on earth.

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California’s Culture of Death

The California legislature has introduced a bill to legalize assisted suicide in California. I find the prospect of this horrifying.

Of course, legal euthanasia is the natural consequence of a culture that devalues life; that ridicules Sarah Palin’s Down Syndrome baby and aborts babies conceived at the wrong time or medically impaired. It’s no wonder that people talk casually about death panels, rationing health care, and even killing one’s grandma or grandpa.

We live in a culture that supposedly loves humanity, but seems to detest human beings. Like the Communists in the Soviet Union, humans beings in the post-modern US are considered a drain on the system unless they can work. And yet the same citizens so cavalier about human life are quick to wax rhapsodic about lofty concepts, such as “social justice.”

For many people, I think, the callousness towards human life camouflages a deep terror about death that is hidden even from themselves. Ernest Becker wrote about it decades ago in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death. He theorized that every action a human being takes underlies an intense fear, and thus denial, of mortality.

This disregard of human life is also a form of delusion: as though the healthy person today won’t someday be impaired. The young may regard the old with disgust, deluding themselves that they won’t get aged themselves and need the kindness of strangers. The able-bodied may see the disabled as parasites, again blind to the possibility of their own disability.

But I don’t think that fear of death is the only reason for the casual talk about abortions and assisted suicide. There are so many dark paths that have led to the hard heartedness: generations desensitized to violence by the media; youth growing up on mean urban streets with violence a daily reality. Agendas have been pushed in the schools, such as “values clarification,” that invite children to decide, in classroom exercises, who will live and who will die.

Consequently, our society has produced a feeling of grandiosity in many citizens. When people know that they can legally snuff out human life, they may become intoxicated with their own perceived sense of power. All of this delusion and grandiosity originates in the same place: in a culture that has tried to severe one’s natural tethering to God. Being anchored to God is humbling; we realize that we are helpless without Him.

The Light will continue to darken in this world as long as people worship self, and not God. When people try to control life and death, no matter how cleverly, they become mad scientists, evil geniuses.

They aid and abet the Enemy, who wants nothing more than the destruction of human souls. And this evil force is elated when States like California try to pass laws, such as assisted suicide, that will pave the way for more lives to be destroyed. It makes the Evil One’s job that much easier.

When people are ignorant about God’s love for them and the preciousness of this one life, they may have a hard time caring about others. They may not even care that much about themselves, their bodies, and their souls.

What people in this world desperately need is to feel valued — and to learn to value others. And if someone struggles with a terminal illness or depression or physical disability, he is still valuable and worthy of love and respect — and of life! People need to look at the world through God’s eyes, who loves all of us, the meek and the frail as well as the strong.

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About Abortion

Today, January 22, is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion across the country. There have been at least 56 million abortions since Roe. (1)

In Catholic churches, a special Mass is held for the unborn, called, “Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.” And this weekend, pro-life rallies will be held throughout the country.

Probably no issue has troubled me more than this one; no issue has made me do a l80 like this one: from fervent abortion activist and clinic worker in my young adulthood to pro-life.

And, yet, I still struggle with this one because I understand the intense emotions on both sides. I realize how incredibly threatened, frightened, and angry women become when they envision abortion rights being limited.

You see, we live in a hook-up culture; we live in a world that teaches girls from a very young age that they must be sexually active as soon as they can, with experimentation and multiple partners mandatory.

Girls (and boys, for that matter) learn that it is normal to be promiscuous from a young age. They are programmed to believe that the more sexual they are, the more empowered. Conversely, being chaste means something is seriously wrong with them. Out here, youth are told that they must try both genders as well to truly be normal.

And we all know how important it is for young people to feel like everyone else. . .how difficult it is for them to be perceived as different than the pack. Even though many of our young don’t want to have sex, don’t feel ready for it, and feel scared and uncomfortable, many, if not most, give in to pressure from peers and the sex-obsessed media.

In college, things get even worse. Without the oversight of parents, these young people, unsupervised and left to their own devices, can spiral quickly out of control. Of course, none of this promiscuity stops post-graduation, as perpetual adolescence may go on and on well into one’s 30s.

This is where the passion around legalized abortion comes in, especially for the girls. They are pushed and groomed to be practically nymphomaniacs; they put themselves in high-risk situations, where alcohol and drugs are present and nonconsensual sex a possibility. Of course females think that it is completely unacceptable for society to rob them of their one way out of an unwanted pregnancy. Because they can’t easily say no to casual sex, their only “no,” is having an abortion.

Here’s the formula: a promiscuous society with rape as a real possibility equals the demand for abortion. A culture of throw-away relationships and easy divorce often leaves women on their own to survive. While I have become pro-life myself (having finally recognized that the “pregnancy tissue” vacuumed out is indeed a life, God’s creation), still I understand the desperation of women in this culture. Their bodies, minds, and spirits have been stripped of any dignity by the steady drumbeat of this lurid, twisted culture that they give their bodies to whomever.

In women’s minds, their only recourse when a random encounter or a casual relationship or a rape turns into a human being is fleeing to their local Planned Parenthood. Sadly, tragically, this is not going to change anytime soon.

Unless this culture evolves from a pornographic one that practically turns our females into prostitutes, desperate women will demand abortions. They will refuse to see that they are terminating a human life; and for some, they will see but refuse to even care. The life they are saving, they think, is their own.



(1) In defiance of federal mandates, the State of California has always refused to keep statistics on the number of abortions. So there are millions more abortions than the reported number.

There are many casualties when it comes to the tragedy of abortion. Let’s please all pray today for the children, but also the mothers and father and even grandparents impacted by the heartache of abortion. Let’s also pray for the clinic workers, who are exposed to horrifying, traumatizing scenes. (I know this first-hand, and the images are forever burned into my memory.)

Anyone who needs healing from abortion can contact Rachel’s Vineyard, a faith-based program. And remember that our amazing God of healing and mercy is always ready to forgive us and to welcome us home, no matter what we have done.

I’d like to end here with some lyrics from a 1970s-era song by Graham Parker that has always deeply affected me, called, “You Can’t Be Too Strong.” I’d also suggest listening to the song on Youtube. The anger and pain in Graham Parker’s voice haunting. (Be forewarned: the lyrics are disturbing.)

Did they tear it out with talons of steel
And give you a shot, so that you wouldn’t feel?
And wash it away as if it wasn’t real?

It’s just a mistake I won’t have to face
Don’t give it a name, don’t give it a place
Don’t give it a chance, it’s lucky in a way

It must have felt strange to find me inside you
I hadn’t intended to stay
If you want to keep it right, put it to sleep at night
Squeeze it until it could say

You can’t be too strong
You can’t be too strong. . .
You decide what’s wrong

Well I ain’t gonna cry, I’m gonna rejoice
And shout myself dry and go see the boys
They’ll laugh when I say I left it overseas

Yeah babe, I know it gets dark, down by Luna Park
But everybody else is squeezing out a spark
That happened in the heat, somewhere in the dark, in the dark

The doctor gets nervous completing the service
He’s all rubber gloves and no head
Yes, he fumbles the light switch, it’s just another minor hitch
Wishes to God he was dead

But you can’t be too strong
You can’t be too strong. . .
You decide what’s wrong

Can’t be too hard
Too tough, too rough
Too right, too wrong
And you can’t be too strong. . .

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Women and Children Last

Some parents are hazardous to their kids’ health, for instance, drug addicts, alcoholics, and molesters. We may know parents like this and worry about the well-being of the children.

But there’s a subtle category of parents who can cause harm even though they don’t mean to and don’t engage in any extreme behaviors. In fact, these parents are well-meaning and do many of the right things. But there’s something missing deep inside of them. I call it “failure to protect.”

I know about this because I came from parents who had a failure to protect, even though, on the outside, they were fine parents. I went to doctors when I was sick, and had regular checkups at the dentist. My mother cooked delicious meals, and my father was a very hard worker. But while my parents were practically “mother and father of the year,” there was something seriously missing.

What was lacking was protecting me not just physically but emotionally. When it came to issues about my safety in the world, they were often missing in action.

Maybe the worst thing of all is that they stuck me in horrendous public schools, where violence was the norm and every day was a battle to survive. My parents never asked about what was going on there; they didn’t red flag how often I cut school, how drugged out I appeared, and how I never dared to attend a single after-school activity.

Looking back, I’m not sure why they were so un-curious and clueless. Part of it was a sign of the times; parents were much less involved with their children back then. Some of it was my particularly parents’ psychology, their extreme self-focus. But I think a lot of it was that they lacked something inside that a good parent must have.

This trait is a kind of sixth sense that can read their children and the situation. It is an ability to sense danger, and the courage to rescue the child from harm’s way. Without this inborn ability, children remain endangered, regardless of how much money the family has and whether the child is showered with opportunities.

I see this phenomenon of “failure to protect,” all over Berkeley and the nearby cities. It is widespread, even in the most educated and elite families. Even though the children are wanted and loved and given all kinds of enriching experiences, something essential and life-preserving is missing from the parenting.

For one, the children are allowed to walk the streets of Berkeley, where aggressive panhandlers, the paranoid, and street thugs rule. The kids play in parks with unsanitary conditions, e.g. transients sleeping, drug paraphernalia, human excrement. (1)

Even more damaging to kids, in my opinion, is that many local parents enroll them in the public schools. There they may face merciless bullying; robbery of their belongings; and being threatened and degraded on a regular basis. But because these children do not fit into some protected class, their suffering doesn’t count. Their daily insults are invisible, and would be summarily dismissed should the youth dare to complain. Eventually, the children may feel responsible for their own abuse because of the color of their skin.

And yet the parents I’m talking about are moneyed: they can afford private schools or moving to a safer public school system. They can, but they won’t. But they aren’t being mean-spirited.

They just have, I think, this missing piece in them, like my parents did. These parents are similarly bereft of the ability to see the danger to their children and to take swift, appropriate action.

Part of their denial is due to cognitive dissonance, a fancy way of saying that people don’t want to see what they don’t want to see. If they beheld the danger to their children, they would have to face the consequences of moving here. They’d have to realize that much of what they believe in is a lie.

So parents may ignore the warning signs: the children who don’t want to go to school; the emotional and/or behavioral problems. Parents might disregard the problems or defend it because of “privilege.” And this same failure in Berkeley to protect extends not just to the children, but to the entire population.

As for my parents, I’ll never quite understand why they neglected me in some essential ways. Perhaps it was immaturity, maybe psychological issues.

However, I have a good idea why so many people in Berkeley act as they do: brainwashing. A lot of folks who once had a natural instinct to protect have lost it over time.

Yet, this doesn’t explain it all; we have free will. There are undoubtably moments when reality breaks through the programming: when a parent sees the child’s distress, hears about the missing backpack, even perhaps views bruises.

What is lacking is something quite rare today: moral courage. Moral courage means a willingness to take a stand, even if it makes enemies, even if it is politically incorrect. It means the strong protecting the weak. Without courage, we have in Berkeley what exists today: ever present danger and over-the-top violence, both emotionally and physically.

In Berkeley, Oakland, et al. . . it is women and children last. . . with the illusion, the fantasy, the utopian dream coming first and foremost. And for many children, this dream is in reality a nightmare.



(1) I had a good laugh after I posted this and was driving in my car and realized that I put “human remains,” instead of “human excrement.” As insane as it is around here, there actually aren’t human remains in the parks, although there’s a whole lot of poop. I was laughing to myself at your stunned reaction reading that original line, “Really? There are even human remains out there in public places?” So, my mistake (at least I think that there aren’t any!)

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Berkeley’s Tipping Point

Every culture has its social mores. In yours, it may be saying hello to a neighbor during your morning walk. Perhaps it’s discussing the weather with the checker at the grocery store. Maybe in your neck of the woods, people spend Sundays mornings at church, and Sunday afternoons enjoying a meal with family. And perhaps you hold the door open for women and treat the elderly with deference.

Berkeley has its mores as well, but they are likely very different than yours. Here are two staples: 1. If it feels good, do it, and 2. Every man (or woman) for himself.

These are the cultural values that I see demonstrated everywhere I go: in the car, on the streets, in shops and in restaurants. There’s this strange free-for-all, where behavior and language never allowed in Kansas, is not just tolerated, but normal, with widespread acceptance.

Thus, someone walking across the street and not liking how a person is driving may, with no social restraint, scream obscenities at the other. If a driver feels like jutting into traffic, he shall.

Or a person who is frustrated with the shop keeper can utter something mean, again with the rest of the world silent. A stranger can say something casually cruel to another person that would never, ever be tolerated anywhere else.

What I’ve noticed over the decades I’ve been in Berkeley and the surrounding cities is a meaner, more callous vibe. The area has always had a primitive feeling to it, given the mentally ill street people and aggressive panhandling. There’s always been a menacing threat in the air: of the potential for a paranoid person exploding or a criminal preying.

But something has dramatically worsened in my time here: a darker and uglier vibe. I’m not exactly sure why this is. But I think, sadly, tragically, that a tipping point has been reached and crossed.

What created a sense of balance, however precariously, was that we used to have a fair number of decent people, along with the incendiary. There were the polite and the helpful to offset all the dark ones.

But something has shifted; some tipping point has been reached and now, I think, we’re at the point of no return. The mean and the malicious far outnumber the decent.

Maybe it has to do with the astonishing amount of money being poured into the area. Lots of wealth from tech and China and old money and the nouveau riche. But that can’t explain it all.

Some of it is the radicalism; it’s a hard-core leftist area. With the increasing numbers of riots and occupations around here, and the utter contempt for authority, some people feel they can get away with “murder,” literally or figuratively.

The thugs go for the violence part, mayhem that can be excused and justified by the brainwashed residents. But most residents are law-biding, though they can be violent in a different way, interpersonally, societally. That’s where you get the casual meanness, the startling coldness, the offhanded remark meant to eviscerate.

Maybe it springs from a feeling of omnipotence and grandiosity. If people out here can stop traffic or scream obscenities at the police and get away with it, they think that they can get away with anything.

There’s also been a significant change spiritually, When I first moved here in the 80s, the Bay Area was a spiritual hub. Everyone was into something, though much of it was dubious, even cult-y. However, people who focus their lives on faith — whether it’s a spurious one or the real thing — create different social mores, better, healthier ones. There were some good values promoted and shared in common, such as being nice to each other, being friendly, trying to be a beneficial person in the world.

But that’s all in the past. Now, there’s a hard core atheism, with any type of spirituality, even the previously idolized Eastern ones, viewed with hostility. I heard a pastor once report that the SF Bay Area is the most “unchurched” in the country; meaning, the fewest people go to church around here than anywhere else.

And it shows. It shows in the uber entitlement; in the every-man-for-himself free for all; it shows in the little things, the small cruelties and unkindnesses that make up a day in Berkeley and the environs. Yes, a few of the nice people are still out here, but many have fled to Oregon and parts unknown. And the average, decent working stiff is unable to survive financially, and so returns back to from where he came.

I once heard a quote attributed to an ancient Catholic saint: that a body without a head is a monster. Man without the moral compass of God can be a deadly and cruel thing. Man, unschooled and left to his own devices, is not human at all.

Berkeley is a cautionary tale. Yes, it’s a unique place, but it’s not an island that exists alone in the universe. Like a virulent plague, the same cold-heartedness is spreading throughout the country, as we see in the social fabric becoming increasingly unraveled. And this plague will continue to grow and spread as long as man has lost sight of his Compass, his God, the only guiding light that exists to show us how to live together as decent and moral human beings.

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Happy 2015

With 2015 just around the corner, I find myself reflecting on the year 2014. It was a roller coaster ride for me, filled with highs that I never knew in my life. These highs were also accompanied by deep lows spurred on, I believe, by spiritual warfare.

It was a transformative year, though in many ways, it broke me — in the good type of way. I heard a pastor once say that while Christians often talk about brokenness, none of us are actually broken, but instead full of ourselves: of our arrogance, our egos, our, “I know what’s best for me.” He said that the spiritual journey is about God breaking us down, challenging our well-crafted versions of ourselves.

Yet, our egos keep God out, the minister said, and we must learn that we can do absolutely nothing without Him. Faith is trusting in Him, even when our illusions about ourselves fall to pieces, like a house of cards.

This last year, when I was brought down on my knees so many times, I realized that humility and surrender are essential on this path, and that God is in control, not me. And when I surrender to His will, as hard as that can be, amazing grace happens.

Though there have been times of great testing and spiritual attack this past year, the blessings have been enormous. When I started going in the direction that God wanted for me, I felt bliss that I’ve never known before, alive with the joys and sorrows of this human life. Not the temporary happiness of buying stuff or accumulating money, but the genuine joy that can only come when we bend our will to God’s.

And at church, I have felt His Presence like never before, at times, so overwhelming that I cried endless tears. I’ve even had to flee the sanctuary, temporarily, to regain my composure.

Another great blessing for me this year: God sent me several of His kind and caring people to guide me and help me; to be strong for me when I felt weak; and to believe in me when belief in myself felt tenuous. They taught me new concepts, such as reconciliation, the Mystical Union, and the Body of Christ. Their many kindnesses revealed to me the true essence of friendship, family, and Christian love. They have been Christ’s presence on earth for me, and I am eternally grateful to them.

And I’m grateful to you too, dear reader, for reading my blogs and for being my virtual friends over the years, through good times and hard. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for many of you. You helped reveal God to me. And you helped to give me the strength to respond to His call. I pray that all of us have the courage to do His will in the times ahead.

I’ll end here with a few lines from another Matt Maher song, Alive Again.

You called and You shouted
Broke through my deafness
Now I’m breathing in and breathing out
I’m alive again

You shattered my darkness
Washed away my blindness
Now I’m breathing in and breathing out
I’m alive again

Late have I loved You
You waited for me
I searched for You
What took me so long?

I was looking outside
As if love would ever want to hide
I’m finding I was wrong. . ..

‘Cause I want You, yes, and I need You
And I’ll do whatever I have to just to get through
‘Cause I love You, yeah, I love You

You called and You shouted
Broke through my deafness
Now I’m breathing in and breathing out
I’m alive again.

Many blessings to you and yours in 2015.

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Merry Christmas!

I love Christmas. It’s one of my very favorite holidays (the other being Easter). But it wasn’t always this way.

Truth be told, I detested Christmas for most of my life. I was a veritable Grinch. I started complaining bitterly around November about the incessant Christmas music blaring cheerfully in most stores and restaurants. How dare they impose their holiday on me? I’d fume. I’m embarrassed to admit that I once almost complained at a restaurant where I was dining with a friend, the day after Christmas. It was only because of my friend’s pleadings that I didn’t ask the manager to shut off those insufferable Christmas tunes.

But that’s all in the past. Now I am delighted by the first notes of a Christmas song played in my local supermarket or pharmacy. Everything changed for me a few years ago, my views on God and Christmas and everything else. Back then, I even went over to my local Barnes and Noble bookstore and sampled Christmas music and purchased a few CDs. I relish playing them this holiday season.

I love Christmas now for so many reasons. First and foremost, of course, is the birth of our Savior, the world’s Savior, Emmanuel among us. He came to rescue all of us lost sheep from sin and the Enemy and most of all from ourselves.

He came to heal the wounds of nations, to bring everyone together, so there was no longer a separation among people, “Greeks or Jews or men and women,” but all united in the Mystical Body. In this time of horrifying racial strife and increasing tribalism, we need this teaching more than ever before.

I also cherish Christmas now because I’m no longer an outsider. I realize that my enmity towards Christmas wasn’t so much the lights and the candles and the sounds of, Silent Night. It was feeling left out, alone, different. I understand now why people desperately seek an identity, whether it’s Japanese American or African American or an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, or any of the other countless groupings and categories. But, ultimately, it is only through God that we can feel connected to each other and to ourselves.

Although I am now delighted by the whole season, there is also a sadness there for me. It’s grief, I think, of being separated from God for so long, for almost my whole life, and the unbearable suffering and loneliness that comes from this. It makes my heart go out to the countless others who live, as I used to, at such a far distance from God.

But if I can change so dramatically, even in my older years, anyone can. Because God is ever present, faithful, and patient.

All along He was waiting for me, He was there, even if I didn’t know it, even in my darkest moments. To find Him, we simply need to overcome our stubborn pride, face the sorrow of lost years and lost time, and ask for His love and mercy.

I’d like to end here with some poignant lyrics of a song by Matt Maher, You Were on the Cross:

Pain, could you take away the pain?
If I find someone to blame, would it make my life seem easier?
Alone, all my friends are asleep
And I can’t find anyone to stay awake with me

Where were You when sin stole my innocence?
Where were You when I was ashamed?
Hiding in a life, I wish, I never made

You were on the cross, my God, my God, alone, alone
You were on the cross, You died for us, alone, alone
You were on the cross, victorious, alone, alone

You were there in all of my suffering
And You were there in doubt and in fear
I’m waiting on the dawn to reappear

Merry Christmas and love and blessings to you all.

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Berkeley’s Vast Anarchist Conspiracy?

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you’d think that Berkeley is the national hub for anarchism. You can see photos of ski-masked anarchists all over the place. Masked bandits are breaking windows, starting bonfires, and robbing and looting banks, stores, restaurants, and the like. (1)

But there is one problem with this narrative. There aren’t any anarchists in Berkeley.

OK, maybe there are a few UC Berkeley professors who call themselves anarchists. But while they talk the talk, they don’t walk the walk. This elite group only gets their hands dirty when they are in their leafy backyards, composting.

But after decades in Berkeley, I’ve never met a single, true blue anarchist. And my unscientific poll of other Berkeley-ites — young, old and in the middle — elicited the same reaction. No one knows any violent revolutionaries. Everyone is scratching his or head to figure out who are all of these people.

You see, over the years, Berkeley has become wealthier, more gentrified, and more bourgeois. Some of those two-bedroom shacks Berkeley-ites purchased in the 1960s for $20,000 are now worth a cool million. There are a ton of rich, young techies buying up the real estate. Despite its reputation, Berkeley is a moneyed community.

Current day locals may be progressives and liberals . . . but they are armchair radicals. They voice passionate political opinions. But they do so while enjoying a fine bottle of Cabernet from their wine club. They become most spurred into fierce political action when their neighbor uses a leaf blower.

So if the anarchists in our midst aren’t homegrown. . then who are they? And where did they come from? Here are some theories making the rounds.

Theory One:

Many people postulate that the sudden influx of anarchists is coming from San Francisco. Given that there’s this strange disconnect between the East Bay and SF (people on each side only cross the bridge when they absolutely have to and do so quite miserably), it’s easy to just assume that “it’s those people over there.” But this theory makes absolutely no sense.

First off, it’s even more expensive in the City; it costs about $4,000 a month to rent some modest digs. So unless the anarchists are Google executives by day and bandana-ed vandals at night, the anarchists aren’t crossing the bridge.

Theory Two:

Popularized by the MSM, some believe that the anarchist epidemic is due to Berkeley old-timers taking it to the streets for one last shot at revolution. Like aging rock stars taken out of moth balls for a final reunion concert, these 60s relics are making a trip down memory lane to plunder 7/11s. But this theory is totally absurd.

First of all, our senior citizens can barely locate their keys, much less their old machetes. Plus: our septuagenarians fall into two categories: 1. The well-heeled, who live prosperous, cushy lives, or 2. The burnout cases who save most of their moral outrage for when the local dispensary runs out of pot brownies.

Which brings us to Theory Three:

A couple of folks offered that maybe the anarchists are drawn from our homeless population. But this is laughable. Our homeless are a sluggish bunch; they sleep in; eventually they park themselves prostrate on some sidewalk for several hours to collect spare change, and then, after a hard day’s work, they return “home.” It’s hard to believe that they are pulling off an insurrection.

Theory Four:

Some people believe that the anarchists are being bused in from out of state. They are flocking here from compounds in Idaho; centers of radicalism, such as Ann Arbor; and various parts unknown. This theory is given credence by the fact that apparently the lion’s share of anarchists being arrested have out-of-state IDs.

However, there are problems with this theory as well. For one, there aren’t enough anarchists in the whole country to explain all the rioting and looting in Berkeley. And anarchists everywhere are suddenly dropping everything to bus into Berkeley?? And where are all of these visiting anarchists staying anyway — Courtyard by Marriot? Unless there is some sort of Vast Anarchist Conspiracy of massive proportions that nobody knows about, this theory doesn’t pass muster.

Now, there is one final theory: Theory Five. My friend, Patricia, the conspiracy theorist, swears by this one.

In this theory, the anarchists are getting paid. Most of them are out-of-work actors, transported in by shady characters connected to the New World Order. The idea is to create social unrest, paranoia, and racial anomosity all over the country. According to this theory, while some of the players are real (e.g. the Berkeley college students and the street thugs), the leaders and shakers creating most of the damage aren’t real anarchists.

This theory is offered some validity by some of the quotes by the anarchists. One female anarchist was quoted in the news as saying, “We are here to destroy capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, racism, the police, and the military.” If these aren’t the rantings of some B list actress, I don’t know what is.

However, there’s a hole in this theory as well. Is this gig so well paying that the faux anarchists are willing to get tear gassed and arrested? Or are the police actors too? And, anyway, this theory is too creepy crawly to even contemplate.

So given all the possibilities, what do I think? I haven’t a clue. (2) I just wish that things would return to normal, or at least as close to normal as we get around here. I’d like to be able to go to Trader Joe’s without possibly ending up in lockdown.

And, even worse, the anarchists are corrupting the minds of all of those sweet, innocent university students who are joining in the pandemonium. The conversations of our cute young coeds have morphed from, “Why doesn’t Justin text me?” to “We are here to destroy capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, racism, the police, and the military.”

Maybe some of us need to start a counterrevolution. Ours would be peaceful and lawful. And what would be our clarion call? Anarchists Go Home!


1. Blessedly, the rioting has cooled down, possibly because of the rain, and things at the moment have been restored to “normalcy.” Please pray that this continues.

2. What do I think is going on? Again, I don’t know. But the official story makes no sense. I don’t think that this “spontaneous” protest/rioting movement has been so spontaneous. Interesting, isn’t it, that the riots just so happened to coincide with the one week that the UC Berkeley students have off before finals? And though I’ve been here for decades, there’s never been anything like it — yes, a riot up on Telegraph every few years, but never in downtown, never involving thousands of people, and never a takeover of a freeway, Amtrak, etc. etc. This whole thing feels planned and engineered. But by who and where? That is the million dollar question.

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Stop Police Brutality!

You may be surprised that I’m saying this: but stop police brutality!!

I can’t take it any more. Day after day, from Berkeley to NYC, the police are being brutalized. The police — who by the way put their lives on the line for us everyday — are being spit at, cursed at, threatened, pummeled by bottles and rocks and bricks. Some are being injured and sent to the hospital.

Oh, by the way, all of this protesting is against violence.

You can tell that people are not operating in their right minds when none of this makes any sense. People are angry that people have been killed by the police. So they are rampaging banks, grocery stores, and Radio Shack (while picking up a few items for Christmas). Those enraged about the police are looting Whole Foods and imbibing champagne. To show their concern and love for humanity, they block freeways, major streets, the subway stations, and Amtrak, thereby causing massive traffic jams, and, in at least one incident, interfering with a woman’s ability to get to the hospital. (1)

Remember that they are protesting against violence.

To show outrage towards the treatment of the “little people,” the rioters shatter windows and trash the stores of big corporations, such as Trader Joe’s. (Earth to rioters: Do you think that Mr. Trader Joe is going to get on his knees to clean up the mess — or Carlos and Maria from the janitorial service?)

Of course, the major source of their rage is the police in Ferguson. And therefore they are assaulting the police in Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, etc. See the logic here?

I guess their viewpoint is that every police officer is a big, racist bully. But isn’t generalizing and stereotyping all police officers a form of discrimination?

Plus, when the ordinary resident around here criticizes the police, it’s usually because they are too nice. The police have taken so many sensitivity classes, some of us wonder if they know how to catch the bad guys.

Even by Berkeley standards, the behavior of the mobs is insane and criminal ( FYI: just assembling en mass without a permit is illegal). It feels like inhabitants have ingested some Kool-Aid, turning them into mad Stepford Wives. (Even though most people aren’t taking part in the bedlam, too many still support or excuse it, thus enabling the situation to be out of control.)

Blessedly, I must have missed the hypnotic trance that day. To me, it’s all a frightening, disturbing, and absurd spectacle, one that is wasting millions of dollars, causing massive disruption in services, redirecting the police force from actually policing (2), and injuring scores of people.

And it’s a completely unacceptable form of police brutality — one that our police force, every police force, and, in fact, every single human being on this planet — does not deserve. (3)


(1) A woman in labor wasn’t able to get to the hospital because rioters blocked the freeway. A couple of those big, bad police officers had to drive against opposing traffic on the other side of the freeway (putting their lives at risk) to rescue her and to get her to the hospital in time. Thanks to them, baby and mother are doing fine.

(2) From what I’ve heard, while all of this is going on, there’s more street crime, while police from all over the Bay Area are being diverted to mob control.

(3) If people want to peacefully and lawfully demonstrate, then they should absolutely be allowed to do so. But rioting has no place in a civilized society — though do we have one anymore?

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The Most Radical Act of All

Last Monday evening, I did something truly radical. No, it didn’t involve smashing windows, setting fires, or yelling obscenities at the police.

I went to church, a Catholic one, for the Holy Day of Obligation. It was for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, for Mother Mary.

I didn’t have to go. There were a million reasons not to go.

First, I was tired and worn out after a long day. Plus, I’m not a Catholic, although I do love Catholic Masses, so my presence wasn’t required. And, finally, the church is a campus ministry and close to UC Berkeley and the scene of riots. But off I went anyway.

There were a good number of people there for the evening Mass, including many university students who regularly attend the large and spirit-filled church. And in time, even more people streamed in after work or classes. Many of the parishioners looked as sleepy as me, and there were a number of yawns during the service. And yet, we all showed up.

The Mass wasn’t particularly moving. The homily was a bit stiff. And yet something stirred deep inside of me during the service.

It was something about all of these people coming out on a chilly Monday evening, in the midst of riots and unrest. Here we were all gathered together, just a few miles from all hell breaking loose; and we were doing so for God, for Mother Mary, and for each other. . . and also because of an obligation to do so. And we were doing so on our knees, prayfully, peacefully, and humbly, in sharp contrast to the destruction nearby.

You see, Catholics have obligatory Masses they must attend, including feast days and Sundays. Several years ago, when I first heard that Catholics had Holy Days of Obligation, I was frankly appalled. “Obligation?” I thought. “I don’t think so,” which is partly what sent me running for cover to the more laid-back Protestants. Truth be told, I have never liked feeling obligated to do anything.

And yet over time, as I’ve attended more Masses, I have seen the absolute beauty of this type of obligation, the holiness involved in simply showing up when we are tired, when there are many other things we’d rather do. It makes me realize that we are all together in this experience called “life,” we are all part of this Mystical Body. And when one person is missing, the Body isn’t complete.

It’s like being part of a family, something else that I have struggled with. I’m not proud to admit this, but I’ve avoided more family gatherings over the years than I have attended.

But what I learned from going to that obligatory Mass on Monday is that we are all part of a family, even if we are strangers to each other. And families stick together, during hard times and good. We support each other; we tolerate each other’s flaws and idiocyncracies. And we show up, even when we don’t want to.

And then it hit me that Catholics all over the world were attending church on that very same day and doing the same thing; and that some people were putting themselves at even greater risk than us in Berkeley.

It all leaves me breathless thinking about what we are involved in, what we are a part of; something so big and powerful that no one can truly understand it. We are the true radicals, not the anarchists looting stores and blocking traffic.

What we did, what we do every Sunday, is perhaps the most daring action of all: showing up, for each other, for God. And somehow doing this in a Berkeley church, just miles away from the mayhem, brought this all home to me.

And if people from Berkeley to Missouri to Timbuktu took the same radical step, we could finally end the madness and mayhem. Because only through God, loving Him, and serving Him will there ever be any possibility of peace and unity on earth.

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When Crime Pays

When I was in my 20s, I was heavily involved in feminism. My main issue was violence against women.

I recall going to a Take Back the Night March in Manhattan in the l970s, when the city was a snake pit of porn palaces and sexual assaults. There were hundreds of thousands of men and women at the event. The march organizer received permits to block off the street (1), and we all chanted and held signs, lawfully. At the end of the march, we went home, hopeful that perhaps our efforts helped to combat sexual violence.

We were “protesters,” and “demonstrators.” We did our work peacefully and caused no problems for the police. It would have been really dumb, unthinkable, to protest violence with more violence.

And then we have the riots of 2014.

Now we live in a culture where the terms protester and demonstrator have taken on new meaning. With the rioting and mayhem in Missouri, Berkeley, Oakland, etc. the words are now used for out-of-control anarchy.

Apparently, many who are unhappy with the Ferguson decision are voicing their displeasure by destroying stores, overturning cars, burning property, doing widespread looting, trashing subway stations, taking over the freeways, and injuring people, including the police. They are supposedly protesting violence. . and yet doing so by being violent.

When I read about their actions, the media keeps calling them protesters and demonstrators. Aren’t there other words that are more apt, such as lawless mobs, criminals, rioters, terrorists, anarchists?

What’s happening in Oakland, etc. is a repeat of what has occurred since the 60s, that is, a small group of people being given carte blanche to rape and pillage. (Significantly, many rapes have occurred at Occupy events — so much for our march in the 70s trying to restore the dignity of womanhood.) The hard-core Left (2) seized control over Berkeley/Oakland in the 60s and 70s, creating a reign of terror for the innocent. Not much has changed since then, except the mayhem has spread all over the country to racially-motivated flash mobs and knock ‘em down assaults.

Back in the 60s, there were some voices of sanity who condemned random violence towards the innocent, who assailed the destruction of other’s hard-earned property. We had Presidents condemn the mayhem. But no longer.

Now, most voices are silent. Either some people still buy into the adolescent idea that those who put their lives on the line every day for us are “pigs.” Then there are those people too terrified to open their mouths. It’s no wonder; they’ll be called truly vicious and defamatory names for doing so. And, given that so many in this country have lost their common sense, those who are victims of all of this destruction may feel that they are somehow to blame.

Of course, there’s the Left’s constant refrain: Police brutality; it’s all the police’s fault; they made us do it; they started it. Like a weak child unwilling to take responsibility for his action, the hard-core Left blames everyone else for absolutely everything. (Of course, should those same radicals need the police due to the astronomical amount of crime around here, they’d be the first to call upon them, and then complain bitterly when the police take too long to come. And, yet, maybe the long delays for 911 have something to do with decimated police budgets from all the rioting and Occupying.)

As I conclude this piece, I hear the sirens of an emergency vehicle blaring. It makes me wonder why. Is it the mobs continuing to riot? Will they come around where I am? One doesn’t know. And it’s that ability to cause terror throughout a population that is the Left’s piece de resistance.

But let’s tell the truth here. No, the people taking it to the streets aren’t protestors. No, they aren’t demonstrators. They are bullies, cowards, thugs, and opportunists: lost, angry, destructive people with no self-control, who are allowing themselves to be manipulated and controlled by the biggest radical of all. (3)

And, no, most of the people who start this mayhem aren’t even participating in the riots. They are the old Left, the Bill Ayers of the world, behind the scenes in their million dollar mansions engineering the destruction; and the young Left, instigating trouble through Facebook; and many faceless people and organizations kept secret. As in so many wars, the people who create it don’t usually get their hands dirty.

A young Juan Williams assailed this practice decades ago: that is, the Left’s using young black males as their foot soldiers. Williams demanded, in a fiery article back in the 80s, that white leftists stop using young blacks as their cannon fodder.

As I said, not much has changed since then.


(1) All of these so-called protests are unlawful. It is against the law to have huge crowds of people assemble without a permit, a rather salient point being ignored.

(2) Most residents around here consider themselves liberals or progressives, not Leftists. The radical Left is a small minority around here, and everywhere, for that matter. And most liberals and progressives do not believe in violence or engage in it. However, too many of them will excuse it for reasons that I’ve written about many times before: brainwashing, guilt, fear, still buying into the dream, etc. In my view, when we don’t condemn violence, however, we have some culpability in it.

(3) The Left’s darling, Saul Alinsky, dedicated his book, Rules for Radicals, to the biggest radical of all, as he called him, Lucifer.

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A Crime You Won’t Hear about

A high school teacher was shot and murdered the Tuesday before Thanksgiving at 3:30 p.m., while hiking in a popular park in the Oakland Hills, in a wealthy part of town. Articles describe him as an “upstanding citizen.”

But you won’t hear about it on the news. You won’t read about it in your daily newspaper.

The President won’t be scolding certain members of the populace about it.

The Attorney General won’t be investigating it.

No new laws will be passed to guard against this happening again.

Are the lives of some victims more valuable than others?

And the madness continues.

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Freedom and Slavery

In these post-modern times, people regard themselves as truly liberated. Because they can engage in wild and extreme behavior, they think they are free men and women. But the truth is that they are enslaved.

I’m talking about slavery to sin.

Now this may sound as Neanderthal as it gets. I probably sound like the silly Church Lady from Saturday Night Live. Our “post-Christian” culture tries to erase what is as obvious as the nose on our face: that humans are prone to sin. Every culture throughout time has known this and has tried to protect people from themselves.

Actually, Americans still believe in sin, although sin now means something completely different from the past. What is now considered sinful behavior is being “racist,” “intolerant,” a “hater,” (whatever those words now mean).

But what about real sin, true sin, the kind that destroys the spirit and weakens the body? These are no longer considered misdeeds. In fact, in our Orwellian world, soul-destroying behavior is viewed as good. It’s good to hook up with a stranger and have random sex in a random park. It’s liberating for a girl to pull up her top in a bar. Having anonymous sex, lots of sex, group sex, sex that involves bruises and welts, these are all signs of freedom.

And where does all of this “freedom” lead? HPV virus, herpes, trichinosis, chlamydia, AIDS, genital warts, unintended pregnancies, syphilis, and gonorrhea.

Are we having fun yet?

There’s not only a physical fallout but profound emotional and spiritual ones. Meaningless hook-ups produce an abject loneliness that pierces the soul and can lead to hopelessness and despair. At our core, we are meant for relationships, not drug-infused intercourse with a stranger or a casual friend. Human beings are only happy when we feel loved and valued and respected. And this doesn’t happen in the parking lot of the local pub.

What we have today — what is called freedom or fun or sexual liberation — is actually a form of slavery. It’s sexual slavery, although much of it is voluntary. (One, however, wonders how voluntary it is for our youth, who are subjected to relentless social conditioning by the media and deluged with naked pictures from their phones and computers. And young adults and teens don’t want to be accused of the cardinal sin for their age group — being uncool.)

And yet there is another way.

If a person is truly interested in freedom, there is only one choice, and that is God. But God is now mocked as was the Church Lady; He is viewed as a big spoil sport, when girls and boys just want to have fun. But the only true road to liberation is through God, by God, by serving Him. . .. and pleasing Him. And we all know in our heart of hearts what behavior pleases and offends Him.

God offers us everything that our ravenous souls need. He is the only source of life and joy. Everything else leads to death. There is no freedom apart from God, and no peace. He is the source of all hope, of everything that opens the heart and transforms mind. What we have hungered for is waiting for us right this minute with open arms if we only had the courage to look.

Ask yourself these questions: Are you enslaved? Are you free? If, for you, empty hook-ups are the road to liberation, God gives you the freedom to choose this path. But God also offers each and every one of us a radically different way.


Note to Readers: I know what I’m writing about. I’m a victim of the social conditioning of the 60s and 70s, and, only through the grace of God, am I alive to tell the tale. As a survivor of those out-of-control times, I will tell you that none of it was worth it. I have the physical and emotional scars to prove it.

God is always ready to welcome us back into the fold and to make us whole again. But for your health and your well-being, I’m here to warn you: don’t wait too long.

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It’s Been Lovely But I Have to Scream Now

If you spend any time around Berkeley, you can’t help noticing how noisy the place is. There’s a constant cacophony of sound. Earlier in the week, I saw a white guy yelling at the top of his lungs, scattering a gaggle of young boys who were standing near him. Yesterday I heard a black man going ballistic, frightening a couple of elderly ladies. (Which just proves that Berkeley offers equal opportunity lunacy to people of all races, creeds, and colors.)

But it’s not just the certifiably insane who shriek around here at the top of their lungs. People can start hollering for no good reason.

Road rage is a big one. If someone does something to offend another, he will be treated to the F bomb and other socially inappropriate gestures. If the aggrieved one has had a particularly bad day, he may storm out of his car and go postal on the other person, acting as though the driver had just massacred his entire family (or, even worse, voted for a Republican). If a pedestrian walks too slowly in a crosswalk, a driver may explode for being delayed another 15 seconds.

Aside from road rage, there is always the possibility of a stormy, mob protest for any random reason: an unpopular jury verdict; tuition increases at the university; if the local medical marijuana dispensary raises its prices.

The BART trains rumble; Amtrak blares its horns day and night; music is played at eardrum-destroying decibel in stores and restaurants. . . the noise pollution never stops. Sometimes it gets to me so much that I feel like screaming at the top of my lungs, “SHUT UP!” (but then, of course, I would be hollering like a lunatic as well.)

Many of the citizens fight back by creating their own, virtual noise: talking on cell phones and cranking up their IPODS. It’s no wonder; why wouldn’t a populace under constant siege want to tune it all out and reside in one’s own Private Idaho?

Although this pandemonium is business as usual around here, none of it is normal. Continual, overstimulating, and, at times, menacing sounds keep a population on edge. No wonder people around here need a never ending stream of massage therapists, Reiki practitioners, aromatherapists, and acupuncturists to try, in vain, to calm the system down.

What is actually normal and healthy for human beings is some quiet time to restore feelings of well-being and safety: to allow the jaw to unclench and the neck muscles to soften. This might mean some time unwired to tech to smell the roses and admire a new baby. Only through having some peace and quiet can we engage with ourselves and other people.

But, more importantly, we can only hear God when we silence the mind. When we are constantly assaulted by noise, how can we hear the gentle whisper of God? How can we discern who God is and what He wants for our lives? And, yet, our culture tries every which way to distract us and keep us estranged from God.

Maybe there’s a reason for this constant noise, after all.

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If You Don’t Have a Sense of Humor, It’s Not Funny

There are so many things that get under my skin around Berkeley: the crime, filth, and trash; the road rage; and the naked people. But one of the most irksome is that so few people have a sense of humor.

Imagine living in an area where you have to screen every potential comment for racial, gender, and transgender sensitivity. And every time you dare to open your mouth, there’s a pretty good chance that someone will shut you up.

For instance, I was at the bank last fall when we were having a string of lovely, warm days. Amiably, I said to the teller, “It seems like we’re having an Indian summer.” To which the well trained, young white male responded, “Hm. I wonder if the term, ‘Indian summer,’ is racist.” To which I swiftly reacted, “Oh, please. I am so sick of political correctness. It’s a nice day out, okay?”

None of it was funny.

Now if you’ve been paying any kind of attention the last few years, you’ve probably noticed the same thing: that those on the left are generally humorless. And when they joke, the humor is often vicious, such as making rape jokes about Sarah Palin and trashing her Down Syndrome child. Then there was Newsweek’s light hearted romp entitled, “Killing Granny.” But real, refreshing, clever humor? Hard to find.

And that gives you a hint of what it’s like living around Berkeley. You can walk the town, have a mocha expresso at a Peet’s coffee house, attend a lecture at UC Berkeley. You’ll see plenty of people adorned with Che t-shirts, solemnly reading about Trotsky. But you’ll rarely see a smiling, laughing face among them.

The young males out here aren’t laughing. How can they laugh when the young women berate them for being “gender insensitive” every time they open their mouths. The young women aren’t laughing . . . they’re too busy scrutinizing others’ speech for possible gender insensitivity. The older folks are too busy glaring at those who dare to throw out a plastic container.

It’s not the fault of all Berkeley-ites. Some of them, I’m sure, were laugh-out-loud hilarious when they lived elsewhere. But there’s just something about this place: a dark cloud of doom and gloom hovering over everyone, even on a bright and sunny day. Maybe it’s the unbearable urban stress, with its astronomical housing costs and bumper-to-bumper traffic sure to erase any hint of a good mood. Then there’s the radicalization of the population, where previously upbeat people turn dour as they are continually reminded of all of the injustice in the word.

For me, it’s been a struggle to maintain my sense of humor. Fortunately, I grew up in a family where my parents were always laughing, “kibbitzing,” as they called it. My father, especially, was a natural born entertainer. Mom was more the “straight man,” acting wacky and thus providing ample material for dad’s jokes. While my father’s constant joking with everyone was wearisome when I was young, now I savor recalling his joie de vivre.

The vibe in Berkeley wasn’t as bad when I first got to here in the 80s. There was a modicum of humor until critical theory and critical feminism and critical everything swallowed up any possibility of fun.

I still recall going to see a lesbian comic 20 years ago or so, with the room packed with lesbians. The crowd was howling with laughter as the comic gently teased them about their lifestyle and relationships. (It’s probably not a coincidence that I haven’t seen that comic perform around here for a good many years.)

And then there was “Pat” on Saturday Night Live, from the l990s, who was a popular, recurring character. Played by Julia Sweeney, Pat was a gender ambiguous man/woman who kept the audience guessing about whether he/she was a man or a woman. Do you really think that in these gender-paranoid times, Pat would be allowed anywhere near SNL?

But life is dry and lifeless without a sense of humor. It’s why every culture has had its share of jokes, including ethnic ones. I recently read about a comedienne bemoaning the intolerance now towards any ethnic jokes. Didn’t we all hear and make Italian/Irish/Polish/Jewish etc. etc. jokes growing up and didn’t we all somehow survive?

As Wavy Gravy once said, “If you don’t have a sense of humor, it’s not funny.” Wavy Gravy was the clown at Woodstock. Ironically, he once lived in Berkeley, and I used to see him parading around town in his clown suit from time to time, laughing and waving at people.

But I haven’t seen him anywhere around here for a very long time.

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The Cost of Doing Business in Berkeley

Today is a sad and painful anniversary for me. Twenty years ago, I was mugged in broad daylight after leaving a restaurant on a bright, sunny autumn day. I was injured and left for dead in the middle of street. It is only by the grace of God that I am alive to tell the tale, for He gave me the superhuman strength to get up off the concrete, and He sent me two of his lovely people to help me.

Of course, there wasn’t even a teeny tiny mention in the local newspaper about what happened. Being a victim of crime around here is as commonplace as the ubiquitous scam artists and the madmen screaming at the top of their lungs at the demons in their heads.

In the world of business, there is an expression, that unnecessary expenses are just “the cost of doing business.” When it comes Berkeley, the black eyes and broken noses, and much much worse, are simply the cost of living in or anywhere near Berkeley.

All of this carnage is a well kept secret. You won’t read about it in the San Francisco Chronicle or in the glossy SF Magazine. You won’t hear about it from the locals, or learn about it if you and your offspring take a UC Berkeley college tour. If a resident dares to mention it, there is immediate denial, obfuscation, and words designed to silence, blame, and shame the victim, e.g., privilege, social justice, imperialism, and the like.

There are no Occupy movements around here protesting the obscene amount of violence; no citizen uprisings, even when victims are women; children; gays viewed as easy targets; college students who come here hoping to become part of the dream; Asian immigrants, who escaped brutal regimes only to find more brutality in Berkeley.

There are no shout outs, no righteous indignation, no tears and no grieving when people are robbed not just of their belongings but of basic dignity. Of course, those same deluded victims will oftentimes excuse the act and defend the perpetuators as victims themselves, thus enabling this vicious cycle to continue.

Silence can be both a beautiful and a deadly thing: silence is beautiful when beholding a sunset, or a new baby; or when worshipping God and feeling His Presence. But silence can be repugnant and deadly, too, such as when the truth is suppressed through bully and fear tactics. Dare to speak out about an obvious fact — the astronomical black on white/Asian crime — and you’ll be called a. . . well, need I say more here? We all know how the game works, the thugs more than anyone else.

Instead of speaking the truth, new versions of reality are constructed; for instance, that no one in the whole wide world is luckier than those of us in Berkeley; and, that we are special, set apart from the unenlightened heathens, with their big families and noisy children and their churchgoing and all of those ridiculous flags displayed on the 4th of July.

Although the amount of mental illness, depression, drug use, muggings, rapes, and general heartache around here far surpasses anything seen in flyover country, still the myths are promoted and embraced. In place of the child never birthed or the love of one’s life never found, these myths keep people in Berkeley warm and secure in the dead of the night.

The suppression of truth in the Bay Area, supposedly the most open-minded place on earth, reminds one of larger suppressions, for instance, in Communist China. There the state runs the news outlets, which are carefully monitored. And then there’s the old Soviet Union, and how, even today, dissidents beg the US to have their papers published or housed in libraries, only to be rebuffed over and over again. Some secrets, I suppose, are too hot to touch.

Berkeley, Oakland, SF are a lot like that: full of secrets, mythology, and outright lies. For instance, no one dare tell the real story behind those fabled anti-war and civil rights movements of the 60s, for instance, the misogyny and the brutality towards women, much of which spawned the angry feminist movements of the 70s.

But the truth about Berkeley, both then and now, is like a third rail; no one wants to touch it, not even with a ten foot pole. In most residents’ minds, the mayhem and madness are no big deal; they are simply the cost of doing business and living around Berkeley. But for some of us, there is an untold cost, one that we can never get over, not even after 20 years.

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Wild Nights are Calling

And all the girls walk by
Dressed up for each other
And the boys do the boogie-woogie
On the corner of the street

And the people, passing by
Stare in wild wonder
And the inside juke-box
Roars out just like thunder

And everything looks so complete
When you walk out on the street
And the wind catches your feet
And sends you flying, crying

Wild night is calling

–Wild Night, Van Morrison

Like most of us, I have sweet memories of my childhood Halloweens. I still have photographs of my various girlie outfits, such as dressing as a princess or a fairy. But come adolescence, my peers and I were over Halloween. We saw ourselves as too grown up and cool to adorn ourselves in silly costumes. Same with college. . .as well as onward into adult years. Halloween was child’s play, a time for kids to just be kids.

Fast forward a few decades. Now Halloween is no longer a day focused on the children. The teens and the adults have gotten into the act. At some point, Halloween became a Wild Night for adults of all ages to let their primitive impulses run wild. College girls unleash their inner hookers, as do some of the boys as well. Playboy bunnies, strippers, French maids. . . nothing is off limits as Halloween becomes about pure, decadent fun.

Of course, it’s also okay nowadays to mock political and authority figures on Halloween; nothing is too mean-spirited as to be off limits. Growing up, it would have been unheard of to scorn those in authority with a contemptuous costume. But the 60′s ended all of this, with its animosity towards police, the military, and anyone else who takes on a grown-up role.

Robert Bly, in his insightful book called the Sibling Society, says that we’ve become a society of siblings, with very few people willing to step up as true men and women. I imagine that in your neck of the woods, there are many grown-ups; perhaps you are one of them. But out here, it’s perpetual adolescence, and a holiday like Halloween magnifies this. Throughout society, it has become harder and harder to find true blue adults. And those who take their places as society’s elders open themselves up to humiliation and scorn.

Why has all of this happened? Why such a drastic change from what was the norm for centuries, that is, appropriate boundaries between the young and the old? There are so many possible reasons why. Of course, the 60s unleashed a genie in the bottle of primitive impulses, most of which are not healthy for self or others. The music, media, and schools have all programmed people to believe that anything associated with the older generation is bad.

But along with the social engineering, there are, I think, other, deeper reasons for the forever Peter Pans. It has to do with un-anchoring people from the parts of life that offer meaning and hope: God, faith, family, love of country. With people left to fend for themselves without any belief system aside from their own, they are untethered, lost. Deep inside, they remain terrified about life and maybe even more than that. . about death.

For so many people this one, precious life means only the now, pleasure, fun. Halloween personifies what we have become as a culture and a people: stunted, shallow, self-indulgent.

Halloween is no longer about children having a sweet, little holiday all of their own. On this day, many lost and lonely souls will create a different persona than their own. . a mask to hide behind, and an outfit to crawl into because this life, and feeling so alone in it, evokes the scariest of emotions. And those emotions are far far, scarier than any Haunted House on Halloween.

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Who Are You?

Every day I get a bunch more people registering for my blog. Even though I’ve gone through long periods without writing, even though my blog is as bare bones as you can get, still I keep getting new registrants. It makes me wonder, “Who are all of you?”

Of course, I could find out more if I posted comments. But been there, done that. The problem with the back and forth dialogue, as wonderful as it can be, is that for a minority of folks it’s a hate-a-logue, with language that would have gotten the mouth washed out with soap in the olden days. So discussion is not on the table for the moment. As Carly Simon sang, “I haven’t got time for the pain.”

So I’ll just have to wonder. I see that you all have usernames and email addresses, which tells me that you’re real, not some computer glitch. It’s kind of amazing to think that you’re out there, and have somehow found your way to my blog. You even took the time to register. It makes me feel a bit like Sally Field in her famous Oscar speech, when she gushed, “You like me, you really like me.” [except, in my case, for the people who hate me, you really hate me.]

I wonder if you have been keeping an eye on me since I wrote in the past. Or maybe you did a google search, “Most horrible place to live in the USA,” and somehow my modest blog about Berkeley et. al, popped up.

So I’m thinking about you all today, feeling grateful, and a bit humble, that you’ve taken the time to sign on. Again, it makes me wonder: who are you? How do you spend your days? What and who do you love? What gives your life meaning and purpose deep in the darkest night, when hope can feel so distant and life, overwhelming?

Having you with me, reading my rambling thoughts about this, that, and the other thing makes me marvel at the connection among all of us. Even if we exist on opposite sides of the political fence, or on opposite sides of the country, we’re all together in this strange and magical thing we call life. We’re all in the Body together. You might be the hands; I might be the voice; someone else might be the feet; with God being the connective tissue that keeps us all nicely stitched together, as much as we sometimes try to bolt.

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Real Men Don’t Yelp

Everyone is Yelping these days, that is, using the website, Yelp, to play critic. But in my opinion, the name “Yelp,” is a misnomer. Instead, it should be called “Whine.”

Because that’s what most people do on Yelp, complaining about this restaurant or that physician’s office. As a bumper sticker I saw aptly put it, “Yelp. Ruining small businesses since 2004.”

Take “Becky from Oakland.” She ordered her burger from the local bistro medium rare, but it came well done. Did she politely speak to the waiter? Complain to the manager? Try to work things out like, I don’t know. . . a grown up?

No, Becky typed out an incendiary attack against the restaurant and posted it on Yelp. In that moment, as Becky seeks revenge for her disappointing dinner, the restaurant owner isn’t a person like her, someone with dreams and feelings. He is just a vehicle for her to unload frustration and bitterness.

Yelp plays to basest instincts for vengeance, imparting a false sense of power and bravado. In that online moment, Becky becomes a mini, online Rambo.

Then there’s Jim. He didn’t like the attitude of the person at the local dry cleaners so decided not to use them. Rather than simply bringing his garments to another shop, he gave the place (which, by the way, he never actually used) a nasty review and one star. In the age of Yelp, business owners can’t be in a bad mood because of a troubled marriage or a sickly child. Every potential customer is now a Secret Shopper, scrutinizing all possible wrong moves.

I suppose Yelp isn’t all that different from many sites on online, with the trolls and the hostile, sometimes obscene, comments. Virtually, people can brandish words like knives to attack anyone who dares to disagree. It’s all anonymous, of course; one can say things that would never be allowed in polite conversation. And the recipient of the abuse isn’t a quite a person, but an objectified, disembodied thing, someone different than oneself.

Maybe I’m touchier about the subject than others. My father owned a very small store post-WWII, when leases were easy to get and red tape nil. I can still recall the worried dinner conversations between my parents when business was slow. My dad fretted not just about our family, but the families of his employees. It hurts to imagine how many lives could have been ruined if Revenge of the Yelpers had existed back then.

Because ultimately, it’s not about burgers and fries or dry cleaners; it’s about something deeper and more essential: dignity, and a culture bereft of it. No longer do we treat each other with basic dignity. The business owner isn’t someone’s father or mother, not a person trying to carve out his little piece of the American dream. No, the other is an obstacle in our way, a barrier to our achieving our own perceived rights and privileges.

I propose something radically different, something that harks back to a bygone era, that is, the one prior to the creation of the World Wide Web. How about if someone has a problem with someone else, that he speaks to them? If Becky doesn’t like her burger, she should send it back. Speak to the manager, if necessary. Worst comes to worst, she can order something else from the menu.

How about if everyone stops Yelping and Whining, and returns to talking to each other with basic respect. We’re all in this human soup together.

In my opinion, real men (and women) don’t Yelp. And real human beings don’t seek revenge on each other, by trying to destroy reputations and businesses on impulse. Real people see that we are all connected in some mystical way that none of us can really understand. And when we operate out of anger and a thirst for revenge, ultimately the person we destroy is ourself.

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Check Out Time at Berkeley’s Hotel California

There she stood in the doorway
I heard the mission bell
I was thinking to myself
This could be Heaven or this could be Hell
Then she lit up a candle
And she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor
I thought I heard them say
Welcome to the Hotel California.. .

This is the sad tale of a friend of mine. I’ll call her “Jane.”

Jane came out to Berkeley from a small town in Iowa. She was raised with home grown values: church, school, wholesome activities, and respect for others. An excellent student, Jane chose a prestigious university, Cal Berkeley, for her doctorate in education.

It was hard at first for Jane to get used to what is commonly dubbed, Berzerkely. Jane was surprised by the roughness and the toughness and the whole urban vibe. The road rage scared her, as did the psych patients who torment residents on the street. Eventually, she got used to it all, and what once seemed abnormal was now the new normal.

A year after moving here, Jane met Brian, a native of the area. The two of them started dating and within a year they were living together. Brian was very different than the boys at home: he loved to party late into the night at SF clubs. He also abused drugs. Soon the two of them were using ecstasy and coke. Jane’s grad school studies suffered as she existed under a continual haze of substances.

When Brian wasn’t around, Jane hung out with other boys. She had a few random hook-ups, something that she never did in her small town. Some of the casual encounters ended badly, for instance, the guy who stalked for her for weeks afterwards.

With Jane’s grades plummeting, her advisors spoke to her and told her that she would be expelled from her program unless she cleaned up her act. Unfortunately, Jane was too far gone at this point. She was advised to leave school, and Jane left Berkeley and returned home.

Jane’s story may seem far fetched, unbelievable. How can someone come to the SF Bay Area a relatively stable human being and end up in the drug and hook-up culture? Well, I am here to tell you that I’ve seen many Jane’s (and John’s), a few with even worse stories. For some, the temptation may not be drug and booze but the very dark underground sex scene, with its whips and chains and leather. Then there are those hook-ups with random strangers, as well as the ever present polyamorous and/or gay scenes. Some people don’t get involved in high-risk behavior, but become depressed, even suicidal, from the nihilistic spirit around them.

Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face

It’s not just the females who can go spiraling downhill. Plenty of males get into behavior they’d never even consider at home. The problem with Berkeley is that behavior unacceptable in Kentucky or Utah is not only tolerated here, but promoted — with no accountability.

No activity is too extreme. . . and there’s no reason to feel any shame about living like some sort of baboon in the wild. And if a previously stable person like Jane could spiral downward, can you imagine what happens to the more vulnerable? They, of course, find unlimited ways to feed destructive tendencies.

Mirrors on the ceiling
The pink champagne on ice
She said, “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.”
And in the master’s chambers
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can’t kill the beast
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax,” said the night man
We are programmed to receive
You can checkout any time you like
But you can never leave.

Luckily, Jane’s story has a happy ending,

When she left Berkeley and returned home, her sanity was soon restored. Before too long, she snapped her out of her hypnotic trance altogether. She found a great job, friends, and a man who treated her right. Now married with three children, Jane looks back on her time in Berkeley, as in, “What on earth was I thinking?”

Not thinking is Berkeley and SF in a nutshell: people can become so intoxicated by all of this so-called “freedom,” that they are no longer rational human beings. Even though troubles keep mounting, they continue to indulge every primitive impulse and twisted passion. They just can’t stop themselves.

Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year
Any time of year
You can find it here

But the happy ending to Jane’s story is proof positive that one can snap out of the delusion that is Berkeley. The key is to check out of the Hotel California before it’s too late. Given the severe housing shortage around here, this Hotel may appear like the only affordable digs in town. But it comes with a gigantic price. For some people, it is their soul.

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How Berkeley Has Made Me a Worse Person

It was a classic case of road rage that I engaged in not that long ago. It happened when I was running late and en route to a doctor’s appointment at a nearby suburb.

I was in a rush; I was wrong. . and I was lucky. Had I been in Berkeley or Oakland, I may not be alive to tell the tale.

Details aren’t important (and way too embarrassing to recount). Let’s just say it involved lots of road rage on my part, such as, leaning on the horn and making various gestures. (Proof positive that you can take the woman out of Berkeley — but not the Berkeley out of the woman.)

After I arrived at my destiny and my tantrum dissipated, I found a parking space in the medical pavilion. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the driver of the car in front of me was also going to the same address and parked a close distance from me.

Legitimately angry, the suburbanite headed over to me. He chastised me and asked why I kept honking at him. I immediately said that I was sorry. Luckily, he accepted the apology and walked away. I felt appropriately embarrassed and contrite.

Many inspiring stories have been written by survivors of catastrophic diseases and other near-death experiences about how the event made them a better human being. I take my hat off to all of them. But from what I witnessed from me that day in civilized suburbia, Berkeley has made me a worse person.

Now it would be very unfair to blame my bad behavior completely on Berkeley. No one forced me to lean on the horn. But there is something contagious about all the anger and negativity a person is subjected to on an almost minute-by-minute basis.

It’s probably not a coincidence that before heading off to the civilized suburb, some crazed driver swore and honked at me — for no good reason. So I started out my trek in a bad mood. And not a day goes by that someone isn’t shouting and gesticulating madly at each other.

It’s not just driving that inflames the temper around here. People can become unhinged for the slightest reason. A line that takes too long; an appointment that isn’t at the desired time; someone (horrors!) trashing a plastic bottle; anything or anyone can make someone go off the deep end.

To me, Berkeley isn’t just one of the most dangerous areas of the country — it’s one of the saddest. While all of this insanity is taking place right before our very eyes, residents maintain that they live in a sane and safe. . no – a superior part of the world. At least the residents who have the misfortune to live in downtown Detroit are under no illusions that they are “lucky.”

It’s like the story of the Emperor with no clothes. Somehow most Berkeley-ites can look beyond the trash-filled streets, the continual street harassment, the sky-high crime rates, and the hellish schools to boast about their great fortune in living around here. I suppose the alternative is to have to accept that one’s utopian dreams and aspirations are all a figment of one’s imagination.

That day in the suburbs, I had a glimpse of how the other half lives — and a reminder that what is considered normal in Berkeley is not. It was startling and humbling to spend time in an area so different than Berkeley and its surroundings. People were polite — and even smiled. No one looked so tense and frustrated that they were seconds away from blowing a gasket.

On the line at the lab, in fact, several people even joked with each other and laughed. This was a complete culture clash for someone who has spent decades operating Berkeley-style: avoiding all eye contact and assuming the worst about the next stranger.

I realized that while negativity is contagious, so is positivity. From my time in the ‘burbs, I felt more relaxed for the rest of the day. I found myself smiling at people, and being a more considerate driver — even when I got home.

The good news about my bad behavior is that I had the sense to apologize to the other driver. And I experienced quite a bit of healthy guilt afterwards about my immature outburst. I’ve also made it a point since then to try not to be another enraged Berkeley resident. I’ve had my ups and downs on the way. . but I’m trying.

So maybe Berkeley hasn’t made me such a bad person after all.

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Parents, Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Berkeleyites

There once was a popular Indian teacher named Papa G, who drew students from far and wide. People flocked to see him and hear his words of wisdom. One lucky man who was able to attend one of his retreats spoke to Papa G, with camera in hand. The visitor asked the guru what he’d like to say to the multitudes all around the world vying to come to India to see him. Papa G smiled an impish grin and said, “Stay home.”

Papa G’s words remind me a bit of Dorothy, who journeyed all around Oz, only to find that the best place of all was home. This isn’t to say that relocation isn’t sometimes in order. It may be better, at times, to move somewhere different, to see the world, if only to return, as Dorothy did, with a fresh set of eyes. But the point I want to make here is don’t, and I mean DON’T, come to Berkeley.

OK, if you want to do so for a day or two, maybe a week, come on by. Walk the mean, lean streets of Telegraph, Shattuck, and University Avenues. . hang out in SF (our “open psychiatric ward”). . .check out the drug-addled folks at People’s Park. . . and then you can judge for yourself. If you agree with me, don’t, I repeat, DON’T, let your kids or anyone else you care about move here.

I say this even if you have to practice the toughest love imaginable with your beloved progeny. If your son or daughter insists that they want to go to UC Berkeley or SF State, do a Nancy Reagan: Just Say No. I realize that, if they are over l8, they are free agents. But you still have power over the purse strings. If you won’t contribute a dime to their education, they may reconsider.

I don’t say this to be harsh; but to give you advice that may be some of the best you’ve ever heard. It comes from someone in the trenches, who came here and has since regretted it as one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I suppose I should have gotten a clue when the first moment I landed here, a straggly, homeless guy was clearly eyeing my backpack. It was only my New York City street smarts that prevented him from obtaining it.

Now, in my ripe older years, I may not be able to get out of here so easily, unless I win the lottery (which I suppose I’d have to actually play to win). But at least my time here wouldn’t have been wasted if I can warn a few people.

And if you are already here, go home! If you have a parent somewhere else, a distant cousin twice removed, it doesn’t matter, go live with them for a while until you get situated. This is not a good place to settle down. In fact, it is one of the darkest places around.

Stay here long enough, and you may be mugged, maybe worse. Certainly you’ll have a close friend who will be. Rampant street crime is an ever present reality here, like the much heralded fog.

Or, if not outright bloodied, your car will be stolen or burglarized along with your phone and/or computer. (A recent study showed that the Bay Area boasted most of the cities with the highest car thefts; just another reason for the ordinary citizen to feel proud!) Perhaps even worse, you may become so psychically numb that when you see an old man with a black eye, or hear of a friend with a concussion, you’ll just pass that off as part and parcel of living in such a “wondrous” place.

There isn’t just street crime around here, as bad as that is: there’s violence so sinister that it’s pure, unadulterated evil. A teacher beat up by students in her own classroom. A high school girl gang raped and beaten unconscious by a gauntlet of boys. An elderly woman raped, beaten unconscious, and dumped amidst the pile of old tires at a car repair station (she died after being in a coma for a year).

All this crime has been covered up, by the way, by people who don’t want to see what they don’t want to see, and, therefore, have their balloon busted or (God forbid!) witness their real estate values plummet. This is nasty, vicious stuff that can only be explained by a dark force so powerful that it’s controlling much of the place.

It’s not a coincidence, I think, that the Church of Satan opened in SF in the 1960s (the “Hotel California,” was purportedly written about the “church.”). And Patty Hearst was kidnapped in Berkeley, around the same time that the city of Oakland was held hostage by the mayhem of the Black Panthers and other radicals. This area has a long history of extreme violence, much of it excused and tolerated. Not much has changed.

I don’t get the allure of this God-forsaken place. . .oh, wait, yes, I do! It drew me here decades ago. But one of the saddest sightings is a teenage, hippie couple sitting on the streets of the filthy downtown or Telegraph Avenue. They came here from a decent place like Minneapolis with high hopes of peace and love and flowers in one’s hair. Their haunted faces show what they found instead.

Your son or daughter or your beloved nephew may have heard the same hype, that the Bay Area is a truly happening place to be. As I said, reality is suppressed and reconstructed. But if your loved ones are California Dreaming, there are far saner locales. Check out the private colleges down south, as well as nicer public ones: UC Davis, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Diego, UCLA.

But there’s something menacing in the air around Berkeley, and it contaminates the whole place. Mark my words: if you child comes out here, he will change. Even if he doesn’t become part of the darkness, something inside of him will die. Perhaps it’s his spirit or his innocence; but the light inside of him will dim. It may revive if he has the wherewithal to get out of here before it’s too late. But he may never be the same.

So I say this, not simply as someone coveting all the nonexistent parking spaces. I speak out as a veteran of a war that no one seems to know is going on. Parents, don’t let your children grow up to be Berkeleyites. Remember the immortal words of Papa G, “Stay home.”

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Sounds of Silence

Unless you’re a rich cat living high up in the Bay Area hills, most people around these parts hear the BART trains day and night. The sound may be background noise if you’re far from the tracks. If you’re close by, the noise can stop conversation and interrupt sleep. The sound of BART is just one of the many indignities that Bay Area residents face in their extraordinarily overpriced dwellings.

Yet, the other night, as I was quietly thinking and meditating before bed, I noticed that the air was thick with silence, and yet the reason escaped me. I am surrounded by very noisy neighbors. Had the whole crew of them gone away on a 4th of July sojourn? And then the realization hit me: the BART trains are on strike.

It was a strange feeling to realize this. .. an unsettling mixture of relief (finally, some blessed quiet!) and also fear, foreboding, a strange, almost apocalyptic, feeling. It was like the silence bellowed, “This is what it will be like at the end of the world.”

That type of penetrating silence can make a person wonder: How will this world end and when? No human being has any idea when, though some have tried (unsuccessfully) to predict it. I have no inside knowledge. However, things are so bad in this country, so insane and out of control, that one has to wonder when that final tipping point will be crossed.

I wonder what the sound will be like when this world system ends: will it be noisy, as in mass hysteria and chaos; or it will be like the eery and unsettling silence that I experienced the other night? So many people feel unsettled these days. I hear it from people all the time — something just doesn’t feel right, though they don’t know what it is; and then there are others with a pasted smile on their faces or a blank look, who would never admit it, but somewhere inside, in a place they only travel in their dreams, they know it too.

And, perhaps I’ve heard too many conspiracy theories, but I have to wonder if the whole thing is rigged, BART and everything else; if this subway strike, rather than being about money and pensions and other nickle-and-dime issues, is really about social control. Are we in the Bay Area, home to so many social experiments, being manipulated, like puppets on a string, to see just how much pummeling we can take? Are the endless traffic jams and the daily indignities of life in a major metropolis a daily way to remind us how insignificant we are and how significant they are?

And I think of the national push for public transportation; how people are cajoled to get out of their cars and hop on trains and buses. And yet ironically, tragically, those same obedient people who try to save the environment by enduring BART and our bus systems (with their unpredictable eruptions of the deranged; or the more routine leering and touching by the indecent) are being punished by not being able to get where they need to go.

And I envy people in other parts of the country, those saner locales, where people don’t depend on public transit — or insane highways — to get to where they need to go. Amazing to think of people simply getting into their cars, driving on clean, pothole-less roads and — voila! — in less than a 1/2 hour, they are at work, without getting into verbal or sometimes physical altercations with their fellow drivers.

Yet, here, it’s a full-time job to actually get to work, a form of twice-daily Mortal Combat, with Bay Area warriors battling traffic and other angry drivers, all suspended together in space in a kind of Kafkaesque nightmare. It’s one of the many assaults on the spirit of dwelling in the Bay Area (A tax on paper bags? Really?) which most people cover over with a smiley, “But we’re so lucky to live here!”

This mindset has been called by many names before (“Groupthink,” “mass delusion,” “Stockholm Syndrome”), where people come to accept, even love, their oppressors. Perhaps it’s simply denial. Human beings are simple creatures; we don’t like to see what we don’t like to see.

Meanwhile, what I sense deep down in my bones is this: something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right, both in the SF Bay Area and all over this country. I’m not saying that it’s Apocalypse Now. I have no special knowledge or insight about such things. All I know is that a creepy silence has descended on this particular area, but not a comforting one as some silences may be. In fact, this one feels downright deadly.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you.”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence

(From the song, Sounds of Silence)


I hope this piece finds you well.

You may be wondering about my own sound of silence. I’m okay: stressed, but blessed. I’ve felt moved to write many times but. . .ultimately, what is there to say? Those who have ears will hear; those with eyes that can see, will see.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to post comments at this time.

Best to you and yours.

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Old Friends

My best friend has been stricken with a catastrophic illness. If the doctors are right (and I keep praying they are not), she will be gone within a few, short years. In the meantime, she will lose all her faculties, including her mental ones.

My friend, “Teri,” is not just my closest friend, but one of my oldest ones. We met the first day of college, and were joined at the hip from that moment on. Other people knew that if they invited Teri to a party, I would be coming as well. Guys wouldn’t be dated unless they passed muster with the other of us.

We told each other all of our secrets, which were many back in the day. Having been raised on sex, drugs, and rock and roll, we did all sorts of things we shouldn’t have, took all kinds of ridiculous chances. And we confided all of the details to each other.

After college, we grew up and moved away from each other. But that didn’t stop the intimacies, and the sharing. We’d speak by phone each week, even as life became more difficult and complicated.

I dealt with various medical issues, as well as a mugging on the mean streets of Berkeley. She had the trauma of nursing her husband through a fast-growing cancer, which left her alone to raise their young son. Fortunately, Teri had her inner resilience and a close extended family to help her through.

Her son grew up to be a happy and confident young man, now starting graduate school. Teri managed to put the pieces together of her life, finding another soulmate. They made each other incredibly happy, having found love again in their later years. And then came the diagnosis, a year ago this last fall.

Her love still comes by, though her foggy brain is having trouble placing him. Teri is losing so much so quickly, but the hardest one is that she’s losing her will to live. I pray for her every night, that she knows that God hasn’t abandoned her. I pray that somehow there’s a miracle, and Teri gets better. I pray for her family, for her son, that they get through this ordeal intact. Mostly, I pray that Teri, a nonbeliever, finds her way to God before the end is near.

A few months ago, I saw an article in a magazine on how to relate to people whose minds are being ravaged by a disease. The author suggested using photographs to help the person to remember.

Towards that goal, I assembled a bunch of pictures of Teri and me throughout the decades. I put them together in a photo book, and wrote next to each picture. I’d write, “Here’s you and me and that hot guy, Jeff, that you dated.” Or, “Here we are looking all young and happy, the world being our oyster.”

I can’t ever imagine losing Teri, not just her but someone carrying our memories. I need someone else to hold with me the remembrances of when we were young, when we were carefree and naive, of all of our adventures and misadventures. I suppose I will one day be the one to hold the memories myself, which I will carry as close to my heart as I possibly can.

I recall reading a poignant book by a man who was suffering from ALS, another devastating disease. He talked about being at a party once and looking around the room, and realizing that in time, every one of these people will be gone, including himself. Even though this realization is common sense, it shocked me at the time, startled me back into reality from the sense of denial that most of us live in.

I have to wonder what the world would be like if we all contemplated this fact every day: that everyone will some day be gone. I wonder if small things would bother us as much; if people would be at each other’s throats politically, rather than realizing that we’re all in this world together?

Would there be such random violence, the flash mobs, the “knock ‘em downs,” the domestic terrorists, if people understood how precious this life is; and that one day it will all be gone and our actions will be judged? Would we overlook an opportunity to be kind and loving if we understood the true nature of this existence?

Sadly, it often takes disaster to snap us out of denial; it generally takes a loss or a potential loss to make us realize what life is really about: love and truth and strengthening our relationship with God every single day. And that true love never dies; that it remains alive in our hearts even when bodies turn to dust.

These days, my conversations with Teri have radically changed. I end every conversation with Teri by saying, “I love you.” And, when she is able to, she says the same thing back to me. When she feels so despairing that she doesn’t know if she can go on, I remind her, “You’re my best friend; I need you. Remember, we never went anywhere without each other.”

I’ll end here with the words of an old Simon and Garfinkel song that keep ringing in my ears:

Time it was,
oh what a time it was,
It was.
A time of innocence,
A time of confidences.
Long ago,
It must be,
I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories,
They’re all that’s left you.

“Bookends,” Simon and Garfinkel

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“Watch for the Man in the Boat”

I was asked recently what advice I would give to someone who was curious about religious faith. I responded that the person should go to a church, any church; that the experience would be different than he thinks. I related my positive encounters at church — how warm and welcoming were the congregants.

Afterwards, I thought of another piece of advice I would give to the inquisitive person. I’d say, “Watch for the man in the boat.”

This advice comes from a teaching story I once heard, years ago, on a Buddhist retreat. Here is the tale:

There is a major storm coming to a town, and the residents are advised to evacuate. A car drives by a neighbor’s house, and the driver yells out to the neighbor. “Do you need a ride?” The man declines, saying, “God will save me.”

The rain becomes fierce, and now the town is flooded. A neighbor paddles by in a boat. He asks the man if he wants to get onboard. The man answers, “No, God will save me.”

The man’s house becomes so flooded, that he seeks safety up on his roof. A helicopter flies by, with the pilot yelling out, “We’ll lower our ladder so you can get on the copter.” Again, the man declines.

Eventually, the man drowns, and goes before God. The man angrily asks God why He let him die. “I’ve always been a righteous man. I never missed church. Why didn’t you save me?”

God answered, “I sent you a man in a car, and a man in a boat, and a man in a helicopter.”

This story always touches my heart. It reminds me of all the times when we expect God to announce His presence through some grand gesture. In the meantime, we may fail to see Him in everyday life — and in everyday people.

It’s also so easy to feel abandoned by God when life becomes difficult. If things don’t go our way, our faith can waver. And yet one thing I am certain of, with every fiber of my being: God is always there, always with us; we just have to open our eyes to the magic of this world.

Personally, I have so much to be grateful for this holiday season. I am particularly grateful to readers like you. You have helped to save me. You have been the men (and women) in boats.

I’m grateful to you for sharing your insights and knowledge. But most of all, I’m thankful for your kindness. My life has been infinitely changed from knowing you.

On the surface, of course, my life isn’t any easier. If anything, I have greatly complicated it.

But, as I grow each day in my incipient faith, I try to remember that with God, everything is possible. When I’m weak, He will send me a man in a boat. I just need to notice when he comes.

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The Real Revolution

I was driving through a rough and tough part of Oakland this morning. I don’t generally travel there but was en route to a doctor’s appointment.

It was a part of Oakland under siege: with no businesses to speak of; where drive-by shootings are common, and drugs, gangs, and thugs rule the streets. As I drove down the busy avenue, I (as well as everyone around me) shut my windows tightly, locked the doors, and made no eye contact with absolutely anyone.

But when I stopped at a red light, I saw an unusual sight: a black man on the corner, bellowing something at the top of his lungs. Actually, this isn’t all that strange a sighting since the crazed and drug-addled will often start yelling, both in Oakland and Berkeley.

But this man was well-dressed, and he also had something rarely seen around here: a light in his eyes. Curious, I took the risk to lower my windows and listen to what he was saying.

Standing amidst the druggies and the passersby averting their eyes, he yelled, “I am different than you. I have God in me. I am a changed person, and you can be too. You can have all your sins washed away right now, just like that.”

Excited, I looked at him and smiled. Though there were hordes of people and cars around, we locked eyes. Although we were strangers, I recognized him, and he recognized me.

Speaking even more forcefully he shouted, “Don’t you want to be forgiven? Don’t you want the love and the hope that can only come from God? Come to God right now. Let Him deliver you.”

We locked eyes again, and I gave him a big thumbs up. Looking pleased, he returned with his own thumb’s up, and continued his message even stronger and louder.

When the red light changed to green, I slowly made my way up next to him. Now I had both my side windows wide open. I waved and he waved back; and he shouted to me with great warmth, “I love you!” My eyes filled with tears.

Where in the world could you see such a sight, of a black and a white stranger communing in a dark, foreboding part of town? And where else would you hear a black man tell an unknown, white woman that he loves her?

There’s only one place — and that’s in God’s grace. There’s only one avenue for true unity and love, and that is God’s mercy. No other vehicle or channel exists.

The left’s philosophy of racial unity via billy clubs is criminal. The true revolution will not come from flash mobs, or Facebook insurrections, no matter how many people lie bleeding.

Force is easy; it’s the tool of cowards. But real power? True power only comes from God.

And that is why my brief encounter with the street preacher moved me so: because I saw in full technicolor, the power of God to change lives and to move mountains.

When God shines His light on us, He brightens the darkest part of town. Black and white and yellow and brown can unite as one, but only if the great conciliator is God.

Because, as the wise street minister preached: it is only God who can heal. It is God alone who can wash away our shame, guilt, grief, and brokenness, and make us whole again.

So I say this directly to you: If anything I have written resonates, even a teeny bit, don’t ignore it. Don’t push what I’m saying under the rug. Don’t wait for a rainy day.

Because one thing is for sure: everyone on this planet will one day breathe his last breath. And we haven’t a clue when that moment will arrive.

We don’t have a minute to lose to restore ourselves before God.

And this: our world desperately needs as many bright lights as possible to illuminate the way during these dark times.

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The One We’ve Been Looking for All Along

I just became a statistic: one of the thousands (millions?) of people whose email address get hijacked by spammers. I discovered this by getting some rejected mail from some of those spammers.

What a creepy world we live in; we not only can fall victim to a random street crime (always a risk in broad daylight around Berkeley); there are knock ‘em down “games” by hoodlums. And now we can fall prey to online criminals, who want to steal our passwords or even our identities.

As for the latter, I’ve had that happen a few times too. It’s another disturbing experience to get a phone call from, say, Bank of America, telling you that someone applied for a credit card in Las Vegas in your name. While, in the past, there were only limited ways a criminal could abuse you, now the possibilities are infinite.

If you’ve read my articles before, you know that I have decidedly mixed feelings about all technology. On the one hand, the computer is wonderful, for instance finding information censored by the MSM. It’s also a way to reach out and touch people all over the world, such as I’m doing right now by writing this.

But just as there are good people on the streets of Berkeley and New York, there are a lot of bad people as well. And this is true about the Internet; there are those using the new technology to help humankind. And then there are those dirty, rotten scoundrels who have no qualms about ripping people off, virtually.

The older I get, the more I become one of those people nostalgic for the “old days.” Of course, those days had their problems as well (though, at this moment, I’m hard pressed to think of anything).

I always shock young ‘uns when I tell them what it was like back in the day: For instance, telephones were landlines, with no answering machines. Either you answered the phone or not. And if the person got a busy signal, you know what? Everyone lived.

I still recall when I first moved to Berkeley thirty years ago and got my first telephone here. Those were the days before toll free numbers and customer service assistants from India.

I went over to the Pacific Bell store in North Berkeley, and patiently sat down and waited my turn. When the salesman assisted me, I had my choice of phones (they were free back then), as well as my pick of phone numbers.

It was the same scenario when I set up my utilities: I went to storefronts, met with live people, and made a human-to-human connection.

I can still remember when things changed: when corporations started gobbling each other up, and 800 numbers became the norm. Rather than interacting with a warm body, you called some phantom person somewhere in the United States. Of course, this has morphed into calling cheap labor oversees. How bizarre and unsettling that people all over the world have your personal information — social security number, mother’s maiden name — at their fingertips.

Most young people these days are fine with all of the virtual people in their lives. And some prefer as little contact with human beings as possible; face-to-face interactions are becoming more foreign and uncomfortable.

There’s a wonderfully wise and witty book on the subject, Talk to the Hand. It’s written by an older woman, who also grouses about how alienating is this Brave New World. She thinks that this dependency on computers has made millions of people functionally autistic. They can message people all over the world, but they don’t know how to look into another’s eyes.

I was talking to a new 50-something friend about this subject the other day, about how strange is the world we live in. We have two worlds to contend with: the real one and the virtual one, and it’s getting harder and harder to tell the two apart.

My insightful friend responded, “There are only two things that I know to be true. One is what is happening right before my eyes. And the other is God.”

So what is real? What is worthy of our constant attention? Is it World of Warcraft, X Box, CNN, or MSNBC?

I think it’s as my wise friend said: only this precious moment is real. . .and God. God is steadfast and unchanging; He is the only anchor in life’s turbulent storms.

And He is here, right now, just waiting for us to awaken from our lifelong slumber. All we need to do is take a moment and look. He –not Obama, not Biden, nor any human being — is the One we have been looking for all along.

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Are We Living in a Post-Christian World?

A friend’s daughter startled me the other day. It was when I asked her if she’s chosen a name for her baby yet.

The woman, whom I’ll call Traci, is due to deliver her first baby any day now. She answered that she wasn’t sure about the name yet but, “One thing we do know is that it won’t be a name from the BIble.”

I asked her why and she shrugged, as if it were a no-brainer. “Because, of course, we’re living in a post-Christian world.”

I’d never heard that term before and it stunned me. I thought about it afterwards. A post-Christian world? What does that mean? And what are the implications here?

I suppose Traci means that she’s a postmodern girl, and has grown beyond any rules or definitions. She and other Post-Christians (PC’s) don’t need gender or anything else, like capitalism; they have no use for the traditional family. They don’t need God and His repressive morality. They don’t need anything but. . .well, what do they rely on actually?

Now this is where I got stuck. If the post-Christian generation doesn’t need anything, not even God, what do they need? What do they rely on; what comforts and nurtures them. . who do they turn to; who do they cry out to, when life becomes all too much?

I suppose they’d say that they rely on “science,” but Darwin and Stephen Hawkings provide limited solace when tragedy strikes. Perhaps they’ll point to social justice missions as their reason for being. However, they’d have to turn a blind’s eye to what happens when humans play God, as in the old Soviet Union, the “People’s Republic” of China; and North Korea.

Perhaps the Post-Christians rely on their bodies, on pleasure. They bow to the god of the Kama Sutra, an Eastern spiritual guide to great sex. But again doesn’t this only go so far? And the unbridled pursuit of pleasure leads to unforeseen consequences: diseases that injure and even kill; one-night stands that hurt body and soul

Maybe the PC’ers would say that they rely solely on themselves. However, how would this work? There would be times they’d be vulnerable, such being blindsided by the news of cancer. And if they choose to just depend on human beings, all of us will age and become ill and die someday, them included.

Perhaps the PC’s have constructed their own religion; they worship the Kabbalah, or the goddess, or Eastern deities, like Shiva or Krishna. Maybe their devotional practice is pagan; they bow to animals, nature.

But aren’t all of these false gods just a weak substitute, a way to fill what St. Augustine called the hole inside one’s heart without the one true God. I suppose it’s hard for the young ‘uns to look into the future. But eventually they’ll become older, hungrier, wondering what this mysterious existence has all been about.

While the PC’s think they’re creating a newer, better world, I have to wonder whether they’re doing something completely different: whether they are, in fact, dragging us backwards in time, to a pre-Christian world. They are forcing us back to a time before Christ came.

They may idealize the pagan years, but there were countless of child sacrifices to the gods. There were many thousands of animals killed, which the eco-freakos and the animal rights advocates among us would not have liked one bit.

Women, and others, were routinely stoned back then for such infractions such as adultery. It was Christ who intervened and uttered his famous words about those without sin casting the first stone. He saved the woman’s life and he did so, significantly, without laying a hand on the persecutors.

The PC’ers are operating under a delusion: that the world was superior before Christ. That people were happier, merrily loving each other, in a utopian existence. It’s a similar myth that progressives of all ages embrace about the 60’s. The old timers look bad fondly at the “good old days.” The young ones erroneously believe that the hippie and radical movements were times of liberation and magic.

Conspicuously missing from the stories is how the Black Panthers created a reign of terror over the SF Bay Area; how innocent people were murdered in bombings; how women were raped in radical movements.

It’s an immature view of the world; one that is frozen in time, like one of those sci fi movie where people never age. Now everything is about immediate gratification, whether it’s checking Facebook yet again, or procuring another bong hit, with an anomymous partner, or some Internet porn.

The PC’s are like thirsting people, standing knee-deep in a free water stream, with all kinds of succulent berries nearby. They need only bend down and drink.

The succor is God, not the pagan one, not the god of nature nor the god of sex. There is only one God who satisfies, who fills the hunger, who offers solace when the worst of life happens and you find yourself devastatingly, frighteningly, alone.

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America’s Baby

March 25, 2011

I don’t like horror flicks and avoid seeing them. However, I recently made an exception and rented the 1960’s classic, Rosemary’s Baby. (Reader Alert: Movie Spoiler)

I saw the movie sometime after it came out, though I was only a teenager.  I can’t imagine how shocked I must have been.  I grew up secular, with no education about God and evil. The movie confused and horrified me.

And yet, the movie wasn’t graphic at all, not the way horror flicks are today. The 60’s was a completely different time, film-wise, before blood and gore were flung in your face — in 3 D. The horror movies back then were understated, subtle, which allowed the imagination to run wild. And, in many ways, this made the films even creepier.

I’m in a time in my life where I’m reading everything I can about spiritual warfare and good and evil. So I wanted to give Rosemary’s Baby a second look. It has got to be one of the most powerful — and spot on — movies about evil ever made.

There were so many touches that would have been lost on me even a year ago.  For instance, Rosemary was raised a Catholic, but her faith had wavered. It would have been a different movie had she been a devout Catholic, rather than a vulnerable young woman, without the protection of God. If she had been Catholic, the film would have been about the desecration of the church. But with Rosemary as a lapsed believer, the message was about how easily people can be violated and duped when they are spiritually unarmed.

I also noticed some fascinating moments, such as when Rosemary’s husband hides the book she received on witchcraft. The camera lingers over other books on their shelves. There are two books by Kinsey, both on male sexuality. I wonder whether the writer of the film, Ira Levin, knew that Kinsey was a pervert, or whether Levin was making inferences about the danger of unfettered male sexuality.

The movie is even more disturbing in retrospect, since we know the evil that befell some of the main players. Only a year after the film was released, Director Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, their unborn child, and several other people were victims of the most demonic mayhem and mutilation possible at the hands of Charles Manson’s “family.” How strange that Polanski made a movie about the Devil, and then endured the agony of having his wife and unborn child brutally savaged in a manner that could only have been inspired, if not engineered, by Satan himself.

Polanski himself was no angel; years later he fled the country after purportedly drugging and raping a l3-year-old girl. Also, in his early 40’s, Polanski had a sexual relationship with an actress from one of his movies, who was about l5 years old.

Rosemary was played by Mia Farrow, who cohabitated with Woody Allen, a grade A slimeball himself. Farrow discovered nude pictures Allen had taken with the daughter that they were both raising, Farrow’s adopted child, Soon-Yi.

And finally, for another macabre fact about Rosemary’s Baby, it was filmed in and around the Dakota, the apartment building where John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived. Tragically, Lennon was murdered right outside of the Dakota by crazed gunman, Mark David Chapman.

Rosemary’s Baby author, Ira Levin, was inspired to write his book upon hearing about the creation of the Church of Satan. (Which I’m proud (not) to say was started in San Francisco.) Levin accurately foresaw what would happen if Satanic forces were unleashed, while “God is Dead.” This phrase is from the infamous cover of Time Magazine, an issue that Rosemary peruses in her doctor’s office. It’s also the statement bellowed by one of Satan’s followers during the jaw-dropping, climactic ending of the film.

While the film twists and turns in complicated ways, the message of the movie is quite simple. Without God, we are all vulnerable, not just a young woman like Rosemary, but every one of us. And not simply people, but this country and our entire world.

It’s not a coincidence that Rosemary is chosen to be violated and used in the most demonic manner imaginable. Rosemary is unsealed; she lacks the armor of God. Consequently, she is utterly unprotected.

There are no humans that can protect her. Her husband has such a lust for fame that he offers her up for this ultimate desecration. Even the doctor to whom she turns in utter desperation, and with whom she finally feels safe. . .he delivers her into the Devil’s hands. Without God, Rosemary is completely exposed to evil.

Several decades have passed since the release of Rosemary’s Baby — and Time Magazine’s proclamation that God is Dead. Many atheists celebrate the untethering of people from the grip of God. But what have been the results? Wickedness and depravity that no one would have believed even in the l960’s.

Back then, we would have been incredulous to learn that girls would be gang raped, and their assailants would upload the footage on Facebook. Or that child and violent pornography would be available in seconds with the click of a mouse.

It would have been inconceivable that female conservative politicians would be verbally raped and threatened (it didn’t happen back then) — or that people could pen rape jokes and obscenities and other vileness and then simply load it onto the computer or text or sext it.

Rosemary’s Baby was a cautionary tale of what transpires when people abandon God. When people are left to their own devices, they create a hell on earth, just like Rosemary’s next door neighbors. We don’t have to look any further than the evening news to see what has happened to America’s Baby.

But the good news is that things have gone so far south that many people are turning back to God. I hear it all the time: people returning to church, or those, like me, attending for the first time. Even Rosemary cried out for God, though it was too late.

She pleads, “God help me!” at the end of the movie. One of the demonic people shuts her up, telling her that God can’t help her now. And that turned out to be true for Rosemary, as the movie closes with the implication that she was joining with the forces of darkness.

But that doesn’t need to be the case for the rest of us, for America’s Baby. Not if we have the courage and the wisdom to wake up and seek safe shelter — the only iron-clad protection in this universe — before it’s too late.

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Faith Versus the Evil Eye

In many cultures, there is the concept of the Evil Eye. Unfortunately for me, Judaism is one of them.

Not every Jew grows up believing in the Evil Eye. However, many of us do, especially those with immigrant parents or grandparents from Eastern Europe.

I actually never heard the term, the Evil Eye, until adulthood, when I met another Jewish friend, Barb, in my 20’s. I casually mentioned to Barb that she was lucky not to have caught a nasty flu virus that was going around. Barb responded reflexively by shushing me. When Barb saw my puzzlement, she explained that I must not say such things because of the “Evil Eye.”

Barb explained to me the meaning of the Evil Eye: as Jews, we cannot say something positive or we will tempt fate. The Evil Eye will react by making our worst fears come true. Thus, if I assert that Barb is fortunate flu-wise, the next day she’ll be as sick as a dog.

Barb helped crystallize for me what I experienced growing up, though I didn’t have a term for it. The concept of the Evil Eye explained so many of my family’s odd rituals and belief systems.

While my family never used the term, the Evil Eye, we lived our lives in fear of it. Like Barb, we were discouraged from being optimistic. I had always thought my parents were pessimists; but I realized they were just being superstitious. My family was engaging in an ancient folk ritual to ward off evil spirits.

I do recall my mother frequently talking about a “Kana Hara,” which is another Jewish superstition, a kissing cousin of the Evil Eye. Kana Hara is a Yiddish word for a jinx. By saying or doing something, one may bring on a Kana Hara, that is, a curse.

So, for instance, if my father mentioned that a friend needed surgery, my mother would exclaim, “Kana Hara,” and then spit over her shoulder. (Some Jews throw salt over their shoulder instead.) Whenever we drove past a cemetery, my mother would utter, “Kana Hara,” and then spit. She was attempting to mitigate the bad omen of driving past a gravesite.

Now in some ways this would simply be fascinating to me, grist for the psychotherapeutic mill. The problem, however, that in the past year, I am cultivating a spirit of faith. And everything I learned from my family runs counter clockwise to a life of faith.

For instance: Trust the Lord Your God with all Your Heart and all Your Soul. The ritual of the Evil Eye proscribes doing such a thing. In fact, as the superstition goes, if I dare to express such a desire and wish, the Evil Eye may punish me.

Or if I articulate my gratitude for all of God’s blessings, well that pesky Evil Eye may pay me a visit: “You think you’re so happy. Well, I’ll show you who’s in charge!”

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. That kind of devotion could invite all sorts of trouble. Expressing gratitude each day for the blessings of my life? Uh, oh; the Evil Eye may teach me a lesson.

On the one hand, I understand how absurd is this way of thinking. It assumes that human beings have more control than we do. Interestingly, though, the power doesn’t come from thinking good thoughts or from our relationship with God. Our supposed power arises from repelling evil forces by assuming the worst.

However, the good news is that I’ve already started on the road of faith. I’ve done all kinds of things I’m not supposed to: praying to God, and asking Him for help; praising the Lord with all my heart. And somehow, someway, I’m still alive to tell the tale.

What I realize is this: my family turned to superstitions like the Evil Eye and Kana Hara because they lost their faith in God. Sadly, so many Jews abandoned their religion amidst the atrocities in Europe. Having no Higher Power to protect them, they turned to rituals that offered an illusion of safety.

But I don’t have to live my life this way; in fact, I’ve already left much of this mindset behind.

I can make a radically different choice: to embrace God; and to remember that He is the supreme Force over evil, not humans beings, no matter what words we say or how we say them.

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Faith Like Potatoes

As a new believer, I’m starting to pick up on the language and the concepts; and I’m even, to my surprise, beginning to quote Scripture. But what is the hardest for me is cultivating faith.

This comes, I imagine, from growing up with parents who were serious control freaks. It’s no wonder given their harsh upbringing. Both of my parents were raised by Jewish immigrant parents from Poland who trusted no one. I received that message loud and clear: only rely on myself and don’t make mistakes. In essence, be my own Higher Power.

Of course, perfection is impossible and has led me to become a bit of a control freak myself (okay. . . a big control freak!). However, trying to be perfect has been an exercise in futility. No one is without flaws; we aren’t meant to be.

I’ve been thinking a lot about control and surrender, and the struggle to let go and let God, as the expression goes. And I’ve been especially pondering this after seeing an exquisite movie, Faith Like Potatoes.

I found the film in, of all places, the remainder section at Staples. I assumed it would be sweet, though a bit saccharine. I was wrong; it’s actually one of the most stirring and beautiful movies I’ve ever seen.

Faith Like Potatoes is the the true story of a white farmer, Angus Buchan, who, against all odds, successfully grows potatoes, and other crops, in South Africa. He and his wife and their gaggle of kids flee Zambia after a number of racially motivated murders. They arrive in South Africa to find the same dangers there.

Frustrated, angry, and drinking to excess, Angus is at the end of his rope. Though a staunch atheist, he agrees to attend a church service, where he responds to God’s Word.

Not only does Angus’ newfound faith transform his outlook, but he becomes a fervent evangelist. He travels around Africa, Europe and the U.S. to bring people to God, but also to try to heal the racial divide. (Incidentally, there’s a fascinating documentary about the real family in the Special Features section, which shows footage of a huge, healing event Angus conducted for South African whites and blacks.)

To me, what is most evocative about the film is how Angus’ conversion made him place his trust unconditionally in God. Consequently, he takes all kinds of risks because he believes that God is guiding him. One such risk is growing potatoes during a severe drought, where farmers are even losing their hardier crops.

Angus grew the potatoes not just for food, but also to demonstrate the power of faith. When farmers mock him for trying something so foolhardy, Angus explains that potatoes, like God, requires belief; since potatoes are well hidden in the soil, one must trust that the elements are working their magic.

I would love to experience this unwavering faith, though it feels alien to my life story. I wonder: Is it possibly to cultivate the steadfast faith of a person like Angus Buchan? I suppose that even asking the question is a display of emerging faith. Because, deep down inside, in a place that I’m just finding access to, I realize that God has been leading me and carrying me all along.

I will say of the Lord, ”He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:2

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20


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My First Christmas

As a Jewish child, I never celebrated Christmas. I found out what I was missing on Christmas Eve, 1973.

My high school boyfriend, Brian, invited me to join his family for their celebration. The event floored me. It wasn’t just the illuminated tree, the music, and the pleasure of opening gifts. It was the power of the holiday to transform Brian’s ordinary family.

Laughing, singing hymns, praying — they were absolutely radiant. I had never seen them so joyful. And in their presence, I felt joyful, too.

That was my one and only Christmas experience, and it never occurred to me to have another one. But this year’s Christmas felt different. This year, I purchased my first Bible. And I’m now blessed with having friends, both virtually and in real time, who are believers. Given that God has taken center stage in my life, I decided it was time to celebrate another Christmas.

I searched the Internet and found a large Catholic church the next town over. My plan: come early and sit inconspicuously in the back row. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. I’d never been to church before, and I had no idea what to do.

With my plan firmly in place, I was as excited as a little kid about attending the 5:00 pm Family Mass. I couldn’t wait to see the Nativity play, both for the adorable children and because I was a bit fuzzy on the plot.

I arrived, parked, found my way into the chapel (is that what it’s called?), and sat down in the last pew. As I watched the immaculately dressed families pouring in, I noticed my first faux pas — a fashion one. I had dressed all in black, while the other women looked resplendent in festive colors, especially red.

I wear a lot of black. It befits not only my salt-and-pepper hair, but also my somewhat edgy New York Jewish vibe. But here, I looked positively funereal. Luckily, the only witness to my gaffe was a very shy five-year-old girl sitting next to me, who looked pretty in pink.

Needing to use the bathroom, I planned to slip discreetly in and out of the room. I walked outside, and had no idea where was the bathroom. After I wandered around aimlessly, the priest himself escorted me to the restroom. I’m sure we were a sight: me in black; him adorned in crisp white robes.

In the bathroom, a woman smiled and introduced herself as Cathy (everyone was so nice and friendly, a radical departure from typical Berkeley life). She asked me whether the other priest was feeling better. The following conversation ensued:

Me: I don’t know. I’ve never been to this church before.

Cathy: Oh, really? Where do you usually worship?

Me (stammering) Well. Actually. I’ve never been to a church before.

Cathy: (puzzled) Oh. Are you here to see one of the children perform?

Me: No. (I want to give her a clear explanation, but given that I don’t know why I’m here, my mind goes blank.)

Cathy: (thinking deeply) So, you’ve never been in a church but decided to come here on Christmas Eve.

Me: Yes. (Her explanation was simpler than the one I would have given: “I’m a cultural Jew who’s never been to a synagogue and then I practiced Buddhism for twenty years, but that left out the God part. And then I became a conservative and now I have all these beautiful Christians in my life, so I decided to attend a mass.”)

Cathy looked at me strangely, but finally uttered an enthusiastic, “Good!”

Given that my plan to blend in wasn’t working, I headed back to the shelter of my pew. I buried my head in the — whatever they call it — the book of songs that’s in the wooden cabinet. (Catholics have a name for everything, and I know none of them.)

I was jolted by a tap on my shoulder. A stressed-out woman who looked to be in charge asked, “Will you hand these out?”

Incredulous, I could not speak. She repeated, slowly now, as though addressing a child: “Will you stand in the aisle and hand these out when people come in?” As if in a dream, I rose from my fortress and took the hundred or so pink brochures while she sped away. I opened the booklets and saw that they contained lyrics to the hymns.

Trying not to panic, I thought, “I can do this. I’ll just imitate the other ushers.” I looked around to observe the others in action. But there were no other ushers. I was the only usher.

Given that I had never been in a church, I was clueless about my role. Should I act like a perky WalMart greeter: “Welcome to St. Luke’s!”? But how could I, who basically wandered in off the street, welcome parishioners to their own church?

Okay, I thought, don’t freak out. I can do this. As a family walked in, I started to say, “Hello, would you like a…?” and then paused. What were these things called, anyway?

I racked my brains for words used by my new Catholic friends: Eucharist, Communion, Homily. So, what do they call the music?

Finally I just said, “Hi, would you like the music for today’s mass?” which was a mouthful and caused some confused looks, but it was the best I could do.

The next thing I knew, I was the go-to person. People started asking me questions: how long would the mass last? Was that row reserved? Are photographs allowed? Of course, I couldn’t answer any of them.

Suddenly, I started laughing at the absurdity of my plight. I realized that God had a playful sense of humor…and that he seemed to be nudging me right into the fold.

I then saw Cathy, from the bathroom, standing in the back watching me with amusement. Wearing some type of robe herself, she clearly was a lay leader in the church. She appeared to find my transformation from clueless visitor to usher quite the mystery.

Just as my gig was winding down, the coordinator returned. With most of the congregation seated, she asked me to encircle the entire church, ensuring that everyone had a brochure.

When she saw my look of raw panic, she took the brochures out of my hands and did the job herself.

I decided to go out into the vestibule for a few minutes to get my bearings back. After taking a few deep breaths with my eyes closed, I was already feeling better.

When I opened my eyes, I saw that a crowd had formed in front of me. Someone politely asked me to move. I had no idea what I was doing wrong. I was simply standing in front of a pretty fountain.

I moved away, and observed that the congregants touched the water in the fountain and crossed themselves. Note to self: Blocking the holy water is another church no-no.

The service was about to begin, so I sat down and watched. It was a magical night, as enchanting as Christmas Eve with Brian’s family. I especially loved observing the children, adorned in their holiday finest. Rather than squirming and fussing, they were riveted. They, like me, knew that this night was special.

To my amazement, the painfully shy child sitting next to me came out of her shell. She started singing her heart out. She was even praying like a pro.

Beyond the music and pageantry, what moved me the most was being with hundreds of people who loved God. Maybe some were questioning His presence or feeling abandoned. But they showed up, and that’s half of life.

It was a stirring night for this wandering Jew who has traveled from east to west, from Left to Right. As the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote, “This moment in time God has carved a place for you,” and sitting in the sanctuary, I felt that place.

Even though I didn’t know the right words, or the hymns, or how to pray, it didn’t matter. All the differences among people — race, class, politics, even religion — vanished. God, I realized, is the ultimate uniter.

And in a heartbeat, I understood why leaders from Marx to Mao try to keep people away from God, and why they always fail. I flashed to an image of those mothers who somehow find the superhuman strength to lift up a car and free their children.

On Christmas Eve, I learned that this same unstoppable power exists inside all of us, even someone like me. As Jesus himself taught, faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain.

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The Sociopathic Epidemic

I’m amazed by the soothsayers: Ayn Rand, for instance, who warned us fifty years ago of the risk of dictatorship or civil war if collectivism persisted. Or economist Friedrich Hayek, who wrote in the 1940s that we’ll become serfs if we move toward big government.

However, what feels most prophetic lately is an obscure movie from the l970s called Little Murders. The writer, Pulitzer-Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer, predicted that the ’60s would unleash a feral, primitive society.

The movie has a checkered history. It started out as a play on Broadway in the mid-’60s that was such a bomb, it closed after seven performances.

Audiences were shocked and horrified by the apocalyptic world presented. At the time, New York’s elite were celebrating the sexual revolution and the loosening of social mores. In contrast, Feiffer envisioned an eventual train wreck — a nihilistic world of little and big murders of the soul.

The failed play was relocated to England, where it became a big hit. It was produced for the big screen in 1971, starring some fledgling young actors, such as Elliot Gould, Donald Sutherland, and Alan Arkin. A dark comedy, Little Murders depicts a society gone mad, replete with frequent homicides and crushing insults to the spirit. The film’s moral compass is Patsy, a young woman who still bubbles over with optimism and love amidst the madness.

(Warning: I’m going to spoil the ending.)

By the end of the film, when Patsy is killed, her family finally cracks. They, like so many others, degenerate into a violent, ape-like state.

I’ve been thinking about the movie this week and the nightmare-world Feiffer forecast after learning of a horrendous crime near me in Richmond, CA.

There’s so much crime out here that most of the time, the residents are numb. We have waves of takeover restaurant robberies and you barely hear a peep.

And when a teacher was beaten and stoned a few months ago during her class at Portola Middle School in El Cerrito (minutes from Berkeley) a small article was buried in the local paper. Many in the leftist community defended the youths as victims of white privilege, and some even blamed the teacher.

But then, last weekend, there was a crime so evil that no one could brush it off.

At a homecoming dance at Richmond High School (in the same district as the middle school stoning), a fifteen-year-old girl was beaten and gang-raped for over two hours while a crowd from the dance watched, laughed, and photographed the scene. No one called the cops.

The girl was left unconscious, dumped under a bench. She had to be airlifted to a specialty hospital.

The so-called experts fault the usual suspects: absentee parents, indigence, drug-infested schools, and herd behavior. One teacher indicts the media’s sexual exploitation of women.  A parent of one of the arrested youths blames racism. But there was hardship, alcoholism, bad parents, sexism, and teenagers fifty years ago without such mayhem.

And many other countries have worse poverty, but lower crime rates. It’s easier to blame society than face the deep, dark truth: we’ve created a nation filled to the brim with sociopaths (also known as antisocial personalities).

I recently read a book called The Narcissism Epidemic. It reports the high number of narcissists among the young and contends that their condition is aided and abetted by self-esteem training.

True, but the theory feels a bit dated. The biggest danger now is a sociopathic epidemic.

While narcissists are selfish, annoying people, their humanity is still in place. They possess a conscience and can feel guilt and shame. Many people in power have some degree of narcissism.

Sociopaths are a different breed entirely. Here are some common features: callous disregard for others, superficial charm, pathological self-centeredness, lying and manipulation,  irritability and aggression, lack of remorse or guilt, cruelty, ingratitude, and antisocial behavior.

How did this happen, the metastasizing of an antisocial tumor?

Feiffer’s Little Murders offered some clues over forty years ago, such as self-worshiping, moral relativism, and rejecting God and religion.

The movie also sounded an alarm about the resurgence of the Left. The film’s most prescient moment is when Patsy’s husband, played by Elliot Gould, recalls being a college radical who has a change of heart.

In a darkened room, he gravely says to Patsy, ”You shouldn’t destroy institutions until you know what will take their place. You might find that you will miss them when they’re gone.” Seconds later, Patsy is shot.

The Left has destroyed the structures uniting this country since its founding. Now, the rules of morality that kept people’s base impulses in check have gone AWOL. Cruelty is the new normal, while the sacred is mocked.

What has been unleashed? A quasi-autocracy where dissidents are silenced and the Constitution is trashed. A government that loves animals, the earth, and endangered birds, but not humans.

Everywhere we look, from the ghettos to the corporations to the pristine halls of the government, we can see people whose hearts and souls are empty. Their antisocial behavior is enabled by a codependent society that gives aggrieved groups the green light to pillage and plunder.

Sociopathy will not wane unless we create a nation of grown-ups. A country where people are expected to take responsibility for their actions. No exceptions.

As long as sociopaths have carte blanche, the U.S. will no longer be a beacon of hope to the world. We won’t regain our standing until our lawmakers start following the law and our teachers can teach without being pummeled…

…and a fifteen-year-old girl can attend her big homecoming dance and not have her life destroyed in the process.

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My Search for Intelligent Life in Berkeley

When I was growing up, my parents forbade me from ever opening up the curtains. It had something to do with their fear that the sun would bleach the furnishings.

If I even sneaked a peek outside, I’d find myself on the receiving end of my parents’ wrath. Just as children become acclimated to all kinds of environments, I learned to live in the dark.  

This habit caused problems with roommates. They’d walk into the house on a sunlit day to find me with the curtains drawn and every light on. They’d groan and deliver a stern lecture about wasting electricity.

It took me years to learn to live in natural light. I remember the day; it was when a friend asked if she could open up my venetian blinds. I had been in my apartment for a few years, always with the blinds tightly shut. My rationale was that the bright California rays would irritate our eyes. But given that the blinding sun fades in the afternoon, there really was no good reason to cloister myself.

My friend having requested it, I lifted up the blinds. A nature-lover replenished by the world, she drank in the sight of foliage as though taking in vital substances.

As it turns out, I have a lovely view out my window of all kinds of trees and, if you lean over and crook your neck, the Bay Bridge. She pointed all this out, as well as the games the light was playing on the rooftops.

Since that day, I open my blinds during the day. That friend quite literally taught me to start living in light.

I now see my years in the dark as a metaphor for my childhood, where I spent way too much time alone in my hermetically sealed room. It is also an analogy for what my life was like before God.

As a child, I received no religious exposure that I remember. We never attended a synagogue or hosted a Seder.  

Now that I have found my way to the Sacred, I look for Him everywhere. But in Berkeley, He’s usually nowhere to be found. Yes, there is the guru of the month and Joy Classes and the latest spiritual craze.  

But the true blue kind — with God front and center? Few and far between.

In these dark times, I spend my days searching for God. Sometimes I glimpse Him in a starry-eyed baby or an exuberant puppy.

Occasionally I see Him in someone around Berkeley, though the person doesn’t notice that He’s there. I’ll recognize a gentle spirit, a tender heart, and a hunger and longing for something, though he or she hasn’t the slightest idea what it is.

And once in a blue moon, the Real Thing appears.

The other day, I went into the biggest and baddest grocery store around. I usually avoid it like the plague, since the place has an excess of attitude.

But I needed something for dinner, so I proceeded cautiously to the chilly deli section. There I found a woman who appeared totally out of place. An attractive, middle-aged black woman, she just glowed. She called everyone “sweetie,” and she smiled ebulliently.

Being third in line, I watched her imbue each customer with her warmth.  To a woman who looked down-in-the-mouth, she asked softly, “Is everything OK, sweetie?”

When it was my turn, I received the same kindness. After she handed me my sandwich, I did something I’d never done in my life.

I said to her the following: “I just want you to know that you have a beautiful spirit.”

Taken aback, she looked at me and then said, “Oh, sweetie, I try, but things are so hard. I was laid off of work and now I’m just working here part time. But I pray and try to have faith.”

I responded, “I’m so sorry to hear about your troubles. But I want you to know that your spirit is still so strong, and that you affect people like me.”

And then I did something that surprised us both. I extended my hand. She took off her plastic glove, and she gently held my hand in hers. We stood looking at each other and holding hands for several seconds.

As I turned to leave, she called out to me, “Sweetie, you have a beautiful spirit, too. But I’m sure you know this.”

I answered, “Thanks. I don’t always remember this.”

I left the store, soaring, lifted up by the power of this woman so infused with God.

But it wasn’t just my encounter with this beatific spirit that fueled my joy.  It was knowing that the Light has not gone out in Berkeley, no matter how hard the Enemy tries to extinguish it.

It was a reminder that Divine Love is alive and well and taking in breath, even in the most unlikely of places.   

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