Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Remembering Jeff Porcaro

Just found this Drum Talk video honoring drumming idol Jeff Porcaro, of Toto fame, and it reminded me of the first time I saw someone demonstrate the Rosanna shuffle groove.

And while I play this shuffle groove with much more feel and fluidity than this "vlogger," I appreciate his scholarship and he shared some things I had forgotten, like Jeff's start as Sonny & Cher's drummer.

Toto IV came out when I was in Junior High and Rosanna was the big radio hit from that album before Africa rose to #1 some months later. I loved the groove and Jeff's drum playing, the jazz piano break followed by scorching guitar solo. It was just a great song and rightly received "Record of the Year" honors at the Grammy's. But I couldn't play it. In fact, I didn't really get the Bernard Purdie shuffle feel until many years later.

Specifically, I remember being at worship band rehearsal one night at Christian Heritage Church in the early 2000's. Christie Cole, our leader, was out that week and one of her backup singers was leading. The singer's husband was a drummer and at rehearsal that night he sat down and rocked out the Rosanna shuffle. My jaw dropped. It was right then that I realized the power of ghost notes and how on that groove, in particular, they provide the undercurrent and fluid, forward motion of the "Purdie Shuffle." Later, I would learn that it was Purdie who influenced Jeff's use of shuffle in his early work, like on Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs' records. But I watched in awe that night as this drummer, unknown to me, sat down and nailed it like it was the easiest thing to play. I took notes.

Later on, as I relaxed into the shuffle and learned to play those ghost notes in time and with groove, I was able to play the Rosanna song with feel and without rushing it. Since then, I've played along with it many times, though the tom fills still give me fits! It's just one of the reasons I count Jeff among my heroes.

My first encounters of his groove and deep pocket playing were, unbeknownst to me, while listening to his songs on the radio, like Lido Shuffle and Lowdown, both childhood favorites by the incomparable Boz Scaggs. At the time, I didn't know he was the grooving force behind Michael McDonald's I Keep Forgettin', another classic and a childhood fave. My first cognizant realization of his prowess was while playing along with Toto's first album, released in 1978.

I was a 10-year-old in my grandmother's basement, listening to my uncle's record collection in his early version of a "man cave." This room, walls painted a rich blue with my uncle's custom album cover art, had a drum platform and a rag tag set of drums, where I first cut my teeth on the kit. His vinyl collection included the first three albums I ever played along with--Foreigner's Double Vision (1978), Journey's Evolution (1979) and Toto's self-titled first album (1978).

I played along with these albums over and over until I could hit all the parts in lock-step with the players, even if I wasn't playing them exactly right. To this day, Hold the Line from that first Toto album is one of my favorites. I didn't even realize I was playing a pretty basic blues groove on the chorus, but it seemed to come very naturally to me. In fact, I seemed to have a knack for picking up on syncopated kick and hi-hat patterns without too much trouble. It was playing with groove and feel that would take many more years of practice.

But that was my introduction to Jeff's playing. I would follow him for many years and would to my surprise find out that he played on many great songs I'd grown up on. As an adult, I fell in love with the body of Steely Dan's work. Found out he was a session drummer for them...and scads of other artists spanning the 70's and 80's. In fact, he even played on an album by Christian recording artist, Bryan Duncan, on a song I'd loved since childhood. On this track, as on every track he's ever played, he does it tastefully, with groove and feel, providing the band with a deep pocket. Jeff was never very showy; never tried to steal the spotlight.

Jeff was taken from us in the prime of his life in 1992. His drumming, along with Neil Peart and Steve Smith, were my earliest influences. Had I known all the great tracks he had recorded in the 1970's, I would have called him my first, but I really discovered him in 1978-79 and followed his short-lived career over the next fourteen years. I purchased the only instructional video he ever did and have watched nearly every YouTube I could find, from his performances in '76 with Boz Scaggs on Japanese TV to his later concerts with Toto, where he never even took a drum solo. His selflessness and modesty was on display in this rare interview that I just recently discovered (from the late 80's?):

I listed Jeff among my Top 5 Modern Drummers back in 2009 and even included the clip from his instructional video where he breaks down and explains the roots of his Rosanna shuffle. After that, I immediately had to go work on Led Zeppelin's Fool in the Rain.

Well, that's my tribute to one of my all-time favorites and a huge influence on my playing style--the one and only Jeff Porcaro. Rest in peace, brother.

Monday, November 13, 2017

4G Grandfather Duston Mills, Pioneer

In August 2015, I wrote my "200+ Years in Indiana," post documenting the family of Duston & Louisa Mills, which included three sets of twins! My hopes back in 2015 were to finish a book of family history on the Mills who emigrated from Maine to Indiana in the second decade of the 19th century.

It was Duston's father, James, who brought the family to Indiana circa 1811, picking a spot east of Princeton, overlooking the Patoka River. Duston was five and one-half years old when the family landed at Evansville on the Ohio River, New Year's Day. They made their way north to Gibson County, a halfway point between their landing spot and the old fort at Vincennes, by then a territorial capital (the Old Northwest Territory). The U.S. Land Office opened some time later in Vincennes is where James Mills would go to enter his land. When Duston was entering manhood, he inherited some of that land plus what he'd receive as a dowry from his father-in-law, named below.

Even though my 4G Grandfather was a Maine native, he grew up, married and began family life in Gibson County, so I consider Duston my earliest Hoosier ancestor. As the crow flies, the farm where my maternal grandmother grew up is only a little more than a mile from that spot. When I made that discovery some 20 years ago, I was delighted. It meant that my family had farmed that same sacred soil for nearly 200 years.

Indiana celebrated it's bicentennial in 2016 and I really wanted to publish "My Mills Family: 200 Years in Indiana" that year, but it wasn't in the cards. I still had too much digging to do to document all of the many branches of that family that remained in the Hoosier state. Following that path from Duston to my own nieces and nephews, took me from 1804 to present, spanning eight generations. As you can imagine, that's quite an undertaking and the book has grown to nearly 400 pages!

Go back with me, if you will, to those early pioneer times in southern Indiana. It was the only portion of the state that was fairly safe from Indian attacks. A flood of pioneers came to the Hoosier State in those first three decades of the 1800's. Farms on the rolling hills east of Princeton, above Indian Creek, were cleared one acre at a time, usually by one man and an ox or mule. These are the times that Duston was raised to manhood, learning the agricultural, lumber milling and carpentry trades. He became a well-known Gibson County farmer, cabinet maker and a builder of flatboats.

He assisted in the organization of the county's first agricultural society, signing incorporation papers 19 Sep 1856, per Gil R. Stormont's History of Gibson County, Indiana...p.113. He and brother-in-law, Richard Hussey, are credited by some historians as founding the Patoka River town of Kirk's Mill, named for another pioneering family. That place was later granted a post office and named Bovine before being renamed Wheeling (it's present-day name). Back in pioneer times, the river at Kirk's Mill was 4G Grandfather Duston's launching point for pork and agricultural products by flatboat all the way down to New Orleans via the Patoka, Wabash, Ohio and Mississippi rivers. I forget how many pounds of pork, lard, corn and wheat made those long, arduous journeys south, but suffice to say it made him a wealthy man, by era standards.

Duston, often spelled Durston/Durstan, was a Whig in politics, but as Stormont writes, "on the organization of the Republican Party he cast his fortunes with that party." I believe he was also a Cumberland Presbyterian by religious affiliation. He married Louisa "Eliza" Stapleton 16 Dec 1827 in Gibson County. She was the daughter of a Tennessean, Joshua Stapleton, who served as a private in the Indian War of 1811 and Gibson County Historian Elia W. Peattie notes that he was "a hero in the Battle of Tippecanoe." After the war, he'd also settled in the same area of central Gibson County, so Louisa was a neighbor of the Mills family.

Together, they raised eleven children and buried another in infancy and also raised a couple of their grandchildren on the farm. Duston died there in 1875. I even have an image of the funeral announcement, but it fails to mention where he was laid to rest. His place of burial remains a mystery to me to this day. His widow lived another six years, but her burial place in 1882 is also a mystery. It's possible they were buried together across the road from their farm at Lawrence Cemetery. There are several members of the Mills, Greek and Hussey families buried there. It sits just north of where Louisa grew up.

Documenting the history of their children, grandchildren and four generations of descendants, focusing primarily on those branches who remained in Indiana, is the aim of my book. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Epic Fail Jimmy Dean!

I've always been a fan of the Jimmy Dean Pancake Sausage breakfast rollups on a sick. You know, the ones that look like a Pancake Corn Dog? Not only are they a really convenient, quick breakfast, but they taste really good. So when the company came out with the bite-sized version, I was quick to try them. I bought a 92-pack at Sam's Club at the beginning of the month.

As you can see on the packaging below, they are pictured to look just like mini-versions of the original. Bite-sized pieces of Jimmy Dean link sausage encased in light, fluffy pancake and cooked to golden perfection. What you can also tell in the photo below is that what comes out of the box looks nothing like the image on the front of it.

The smallish nuggets are NOTHING like what was advertised or expected. They don't even come close to the larger, original version. No, these sausage ball-sized nuggets, don't resemble, taste or come close to the originals.-  #FAIL #Jimmy Dean - In fact, I was so disappointed, I posted the above photo to their Facebook page. They didn't like that, so they attempted to move me away from social media, presumably to handle this privately by e-mail. Again, #FAIL #JimmyDean 

On the day I posted this, October 2nd, I got an immediate message from their Facebook Manager, "We're so sorry to this but we appreciate you reaching out. We'd like to have consumer affairs get in touch so we can get to the bottom of the issue. Is there an email or phone number our teams can reach you at?" I promptly gave them my e-mail address and waited...and waited. *Cue Crickets*

Here's what I expected to receive from them, "We're very sorry for your experience and that our product didn't meet your expectations..." Instead, I got NOTHING! ZERO!

So, after no word from them in three weeks, and 70 or so frozen turds just sitting in my freezer--my girls won't even touch them--I reached out at 8:25 this morning, threatening to go back to social media shaming. As of 10:25 a.m., they have again failed to respond to my customer complaint. So I'm posting this to ward off any potential customers. DO NOT BUY THIS PRODUCT!

I know that I never will again, and because of their epic fail at customer relations, I'm planning to boycott any and all Jimmy Dean products. Feel free to join me and let them know on their Facebook page:

That's where I'm about to post a link to this blog post.
#epicfail #jimmydean

Thursday, October 12, 2017

White Angst - Black Protest

When black athletes sit, kneel or stand in protest, they are quickly shouted down by the angry white masses. This is nothing new in this country. Every time people of color take to the streets or protest inequality in anyway, it seems to ruffle the feathers of white privilege and the age-old Establishment (a primarily Anglo-Saxon fraternal order). It's like a sudden eruption of white-hot angst from just below the surface that bubbles over in the form of hate, outrage and bigotry. In recent weeks, it was the protest of a handful of black athletes that caused the volcano to let loose it's vitriolic magma.

Interesting, isn't it? When a black man, no matter his socio-economic status, rises up to shout down inequality and injustice, a dozen whites stand to shout him down, as if to say, "Know your place, negro!" First, they taunt him and label him a spoiled, crybaby who is ungrateful for the hand up that sports provided him and, thereby, democracy. Then, they want him fired from his job for using the platform that we've given him to speak (how dare he use his celebrity status to speak up for what's right and give a voice to those who have no platform!). They somehow twist and reshape the narrative to fit their own racist ideology and self-serving agenda. In this case, they've attempted (and failed, mind you) to make this a debate about patriotism, nationalism and our flag. "How dare they disrespect our flag!"

Well, let's humor that rewritten narrative for a minute and turn the tables on the angry white folks. I often ask my white, nationalist brothers, "Is your sense of patriotism THAT fragile, that someone kneeling during the anthem can shatter it to pieces?"

Despite the fact that hundreds of war veterans have come out in droves to support the freedoms they so valiantly fought for, you still have angry whites making this about veterans and disrespect. Pretty sure the liberties that so many laid down their lives in defense of extend to our brothers of color, or is that, again, a white privilege??? It certainly was a white man's privilege in 1789 when the Bill of Rights was written. But haven't we progressed from the 18th century?

I think what spurs so many whites in counter-protest is not their patriotism, but their white privilege and white angst. For a closer look at white angst, I refer to this blog post or this article about "the primal scream of white America," which echoes what I wrote last March. It's an attack on their sense of superiority, plain and simple, and they don't like it.

So twist and turn the narrative all you like, the fact that black people are supposed to keep their opinions to themselves and off the playing field and television is the opinion of a majority in white America (at least the vocal majority). It harkens back to the days of slave ships, chains and muzzles. And while that may seem sensational to my white brethren, I remind them, "How many of your ancestors were brought over in iron chains and muzzles?"

The failure here is of white people to empathize and to understand. Not one of the counter-protesters has taken a millisecond to walk in another man's shoes. 
They don't WANT to understand, they just want their privileged status to remain unchecked. They want their NFL to remain mindless entertainment with no political or real social value other than fodder for Monday morning water-cooler banter.

The black conscience bears the scars of centuries-old oppression and outright torture. Don't tell them when and where they can speak or what they are protesting. You've never even tried to listen or to hear their cries or to walk a halfstep in their well-worn shoes.

Stop the hate. And stop hiding behind your white privilege! For once, I implore you to try to understand. The flag that waves over this country hasn't always represented freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone who stands beneath it.


Monday, October 09, 2017

Breast Cancer Awareness awful reminder

Breast cancer awareness is the theme of the month of if I needed the reminder. Ever since 2015, the month of November and, specifically, Thanksgiving Weekend are constant reminders of breast cancer and the devastation it can cause. I really didn't need the prompt one month earlier to begin missing my late mother, a victim of women's cancer, or my grandmother who died 25 years earlier.

Breast cancer, in particular, wasn't foreign to me. I believe it was 1989 when my maternal grandmother was first diagnosed. Her siblings and childhood friends from "Frisco" called her simply Kate, the abbreviated version of her middle name. I called her Grandma Wright. She lived in the town where I was born and where my parents grew up, near her childhood home. When we moved away in 1974, I was still in kindergarten. I can remember driving the U-Haul over to her house--maybe we spent our last night in Princeton there, I don't recall--to say our goodbyes. And even though we moved three hours away to the big city, I always remained close to her.

In those earliest, formative years it was my grandmothers who helped to raise me in our small, farming town. Dad's mom, Grandma Doyle, lived down the hill in the same subdivision as Grandma Wright and because the latter worked a day job, it was the former who picked me up from nursery school, across the highway from her house, fed me lunch, read to me and laid me down for a nap. But Dad's parents were near retirement age, with plans to move to South Florida once Grandpa Doyle gave his notice to the utility he helped to manage. They left town the year before us and I barely saw them after that.

That left Grandma Wright, a fairly new mother, herself, to help raise me. My Uncle Greg was born in March 1964 when she was a middle-aged woman. She worked for a manufacturing outfit on the outskirts of town. Mom worked for a beauty salon downtown. By the time I started kindergarten, we lived within walking distance of my school and mom had moved her "chair" to a salon around the corner from home and school. I don't remember after school then like I did the afternoons at Grandma Doyle's, but I assume I either walked home or to mom's work.

My world shrunk by one matriarch in 1973, leaving me two women who looked after me, the subjects of this blog post. The Vietnam War was drawing to it's sluggish end and my dad had been spared the harsh realities of war by ONE DAY (subject for another blog post). He had enlisted in the Indiana National Guard when I was just a babe, so his weekends once a month were spent on Guard Duty. He had to miss my first birthday while out at Camp Lewis, WA, in basic training. This is another reason my grandmothers were so intricately involved in my upbringing. Also, dad worked on the road as a travelling bank examiner for the state. But with one grandmother gone to Florida, who would pass when I was a 9-year-old boy, it left that responsibility to Grandma Wright, to whom I grew very close.

Even after we moved three hours away to Indianapolis--a drive that seemed to take forever as a kid--I remained very connected to my mom's family. For one, they were the nearest and most involved grandparents I had and, secondly, my uncle, only four years my senior, was revered as an older sibling. As the oldest in my fold, I didn't have a big brother, so Uncle Greg became that for me. I always looked forward to those weekend and holiday trips when I'd get to see them. One summer during middle school, mom allowed me an entire week at grandma's house, just me. It's one of my favorite childhood memories.

When I was older and my parent's would take a trip, usually for dad's work, Grandma Wright would drive up in her boat of a Cadillac and stay with us, so she remained a mother figure for me until I was a teenager. I loved my grandmother with all my heart. By then, she was the only one I had left.

We didn't see her much after moving to Florida in 1986 for dad's job. I was fresh out of high school and didn't need my grandmother's love and attention as much. Still, I missed being three hours away from her. I missed the solace of her basement and my uncle's man cave. I missed her embrace and her sloppy wet kisses.

In 1989, when she was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer, my mom got the call and she must have felt so helpless being her only daughter and some 10 hours away. I know that feeling all too well, now. It was the summer of 2014 when I got that fateful call from my own mother, who was living 13 hours away in Noblesville, IN. It's the most devastating call, aside from the death of a child (I would assume), that one can receive. I then knew the helpless feeling my mom had felt all those years earlier.

Mom, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer. What took less than a year to metastasize and eventually take my grandma, took 17 months with my mom. Those are 17 months that I will always cherish.

I wasn't present for my grandma's final days. Her death hit me particularly hard, not just because she was a mother figure in my life, but also because we lived so far apart--her in the town of my birth and me in Florida. I was able to attend her funeral, the saddest day of my life up to that point. We laid her to rest in the town where she grew up, aka "Frisco," in February 1990. My mom had been at her bedside throughout most of her battle with cancer.

When mom passed on the final day of Thanksgiving Weekend 2015, it felt as if I had been at her bedside, her death bed. In fact, she was already gone when I went in to kiss her clammy forehead early that Sunday morning. It was so surreal. The girls and I were departing on a 13-hour drive home to Tallahassee after the holiday weekend. Here is what I blogged the morning after (30 Nov 2015):
I got up around 4:30 and showered. Got my girls moving and had them wake up Dad before our departure. We said our goodbyes and around 5 a.m., I went in to kiss Mom on the forehead. It didn't feel right under my lips. No warmth. Concerned, I told Dad to check on her and hugged his neck one more time. The girls and I left. I figured if something was wrong, he'd call me back into the house immediately. Nothing. Fifteen minutes later, I'm pulling into a Speedway station in Noblesville to fillup before hitting I-69. I look down and see the text from Dad.
Dad's text read, "Chris, I can't get mom to respond. I just called Hospice."

In a near panic, I drove 50 mph or more through the sleepy town of Noblesville at 5:30 on a Sunday morning, nary a car on the road. I made it back to dad's house in Cicero in what seemed like seconds, but in slow motion. I found mom in the same position in her bed as when I left, one leg flopped over the side. My niece, Ireland, who had spent the last night there with us was still sleeping in the guest bedroom. We didn't dare wake her to this horrible news about her Grammy, but eventually we had to. My sister Keely was there almost immediately. You can read my immediate reactions in the blog posts I've linked above and here.

Suffice to say, I am KEENLY aware of breast cancer and it's devastating effects. I am a victim, myself. Though I've never suffered from the affliction in my own body, I might as well have. It ripped the two most beloved women of my youth from me as an adult, nearly ripping my heart out with each passing. The matriarchs of my family--gone forever. So I really don't need a month dedicated to breast cancer awareness. I am fully aware. But I do take this month to reflect and to speak out. I've made my Facebook profile picture a pink ribbon which I intend to keep up for the entire month of their honor.

November will be worse. This Thanksgiving will mark the 2nd anniversary since mom's passing. And I'm glad we were there, me and my girls. It left an indelible imprint on all of us.

We miss you, Mom...Grammy. And I miss you, too, Grandma. My life will never be the same without either of you. Rest in peace.

This blog is dedicated to the memories of Alice Kathryn "Kate" Wright (1920-1990) and Kathy Doyle (1949-2015).

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Really, anti-gun folks?

In 1789, when the Bill of Rights was written, the woman in this photo really had no first amendment rights. Those were extended to white men, not to women of color. So when you circulate second Amendment memes on social media of musketball rifles and minutemen, consider the context.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The second amendment simply states, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Those first four words have been hotly debated, but few can argue with the last four, "shall not be infringed."

In context, we know that minutemen carried musketball rifles to fend off their British enemies. No one is being threatened today by a musketball-wielding redcoat. We have fully militarized police forces with assault rifles and tanks. So if you're going to argue the amendment on merit, you have to bring it forward from 1789 to 2017.

While the photo of the female protester above is used to emphasize a point, it is a valid comparison. If we're going to argue that the Bill of Rights was written a long time ago and we apply the logic of 1789 thinking, then this woman wouldn't have the right to protest. As both a female and an African American, she really wasn't protected under the Bill of Rights, maybe in theory, but certainly not in practice. So you can't apply that same backwards logic to the second amendment either.

That said, we certainly need stricter gun laws, not deregulation. Congress should use Vegas as the impetus to reverse course and tell the NRA to stick their millions up their collective asses. My only beef was with the ridiculous memes circulating about the second amendment protecting only antiquated weaponry.

Monday, October 02, 2017


I cannot tell if this place is a God-forsaken hellhole or shithole. I think both descriptions fit Tallahassee.

I moved away in December 2006 and never intended to move back. Forced against my will, I made the move in February 2014. I have maintained that since 2012, when my daughters were moved back here by their mom, the only three redeeming qualities about this shithole town are FSU and my two daughters, but not in that order.

Since moving back 3.5 years ago, I've watched it deteriorate (leadership and law enforcement, specifically) and been treated to the same ol' "suthun hospitality" I'd grown accustomed to for 20 years, 1986-2006. That hospitality and the goodness of people here is an absolute myth. They hold onto some idyllic version of their past like it's their God-given right. It's not. And they wouldn't know true hospitality if it bit them in the ass!

When I moved here in 1986 with my parents--some 120 years post-Civil War--people still "jokingly" referred to me as a "damn yankee" or "carpetbagger." It wasn't funny. It made me wonder why they hadn't gotten over what they still call "The War of Northern Aggression." This and the inherent racism that sort of thinking breeds is part of what led me to move north in 2006. I didn't really want to raise a biracial daughter in this environment.

Nestled in the armpit of Florida, too far from the coast to feel a seabreeze but much too close during hurricane season, Tallahassee is in the worst possible spot. We just had a near miss from monster storm Irma. When that happens in other parts of Florida, further south, you breathe a big sigh of relief and continue enjoying paradise. Not here in good ol' Tally-hassee. Had we taken a direct hit, this town would have been left decimated. I breathed a sigh of relief, then realized Tallahassee is still here.

Hot and sticky, like today. It's nearly October and it's 94 out as I write this and probably 70% humidity (or worse). The swamp-like heat will remain until Halloween. But the climate and location are far from the worst things about this hellhole.

The people, by and far, are the worst, most disingenuous people you'll ever encounter. If you stay for any length of time, you'll experience their true colors--their two-facedness, their ignorance, their selfishness and their untrustworthiness (to name a few). I already mentioned the inherent racism. That doesn't apply to everyone who was born and raised here, but it is still pervasive.

I can't even begin the count the number of times I was bold-face lied to. I've been let down, beat down, trampled and left for dead on numerous occasions. And the people who I thought were "ride or die" friends were just run-of-the-mill, I'll help you if it's convenient friends. All the rest can go to hell in a handbasket. In a word, they suck!

I only worked about four jobs in Indianapolis and the rest of my work experience has been in this hellhole town. My three worst bosses were all here (only one had lived here for most of her life). None of them had my best interest--or any of their employees interest--at heart and all of them were do as I say, not as I do-type "leaders." They weren't really leaders at all. They certainly weren't people I wanted to follow. They are typical of the kinds of people who are put into those positions in Tallahassee.

It has led this "fine city" to become the most crime-ridden in the state of Florida. Yes, more violent crimes than freakin' Miami!!! In fact, last week, I read where our campus, FSU, is the most violent, as well. And all you'll hear people say is what a great place this is to raise a family. Um, really? This town has become scary. Even in the SouthWood bubble where I live, a non-gated golf course community, there has been a rash of break-ins, auto and home burglaries. As I was writing this, a Sheriff's helicopter was hovering over the bubble. Interesting.

The lack of leadership is pervasive, from government down to non-profits, and I've worked for both. It even has found it's way into the church, here. It makes for an unlivable situation. I'm having trouble coping here.

Had I not promised my daughters to stay until they graduate, I'd be headed back to the beach! In another six years I will be. On that day, I'll shake the dust from my feet and say, "F#CK TALLAHASSEE!"

Friday, September 01, 2017

Christian With Humanist Leanings

My Christianity has been leaning more left, if you will, since about 2005 after I got disenfranchised with the Pentecostal movement that seemed to be getting wackier by the day. By wacky, I mean the kind of name-it-claim-it, prosperity gospel sort of extremism that is prevalent in some mega churches today (Joel Osteen's comes to mind).

Up until then, I brandished a fairly fundamental, Protestant worldview. This world was going to hell in a handbasket and Jesus was our only hope. And by Jesus, I meant the white version hanging on the wall in many American homes, who was by no means a brown-skinned Middle Eastern, much less a Jewish Rabbi or Mystic. No the Americanized Jesus that hung on the wall of my parents house was California Surfer Jesus with windblown, brown hair, bronze skin and a big "hey dude" smile. Now, my parents were baby-boomers who graduated high school in the height of the hippie movement. They were, by no means, hippies, but the Jesus Movement influence was very real in my house.

We attended a summer Jesus festival in the Allegheny Mountains of Western Pennsylvania when I was 8. We listened to Keith Green and the Archers on the turntable console...when we weren't spinning dad's Beatles or Beach Boys albums. We were Middle America, Catholic charismatics turned Protestant, then Pentecostal.

Growing up Catholic, then Baptist and then non-denominational Pentecostal, I thought, gave me a well-rounded view of Christianity. But a common fundamentalist thread ran through all of those variants of the same faith--the world was going to hell unless it repented and accepted Jesus as the only means of salvation. Not only that, but multiple baptisms were required. I was poured, dunked and/or prayed over (for the gift of tongues) at every turn. I was neck-deep in a very narrow view of my religion and the world around us.

Only in 2005, after buying my first house, adopting two children, navigating a failing marriage and experiencing burnout at church, did I begin to consider any alternative. I learned of this movement called Emergent Christianity, which was sort of a fad after we entered the new millennium. In the discussions I had with "emergent" people of faith, I had to consider what Orthodox, non-Western and even Universalists saw in the Scripture. I saw that these people were just as devout about Christianity as I was, even if their faith seemed much different in practice and application of Scripture.

I stopped going to my church of almost 20 years.

My ex-wife and I, still married then, decided to join forces with other young families--four or five in all--and host regular get-togethers, including a big monthly meal, where we'd pool all our resources. Whoever the host family was that month was in charge of "the offering." They were tasked with finding creative ways to serve God by meeting a need in the community. It was the beginning of our home church...or so I thought. It didn't last long.

You see, with any gathering of humans around a common cause, politics and people's strong opinions always get in the way of doing good. I've found church politics to be some of the nastiest. It's part of what tainted my view of traditional church. I thought we'd found an answer. Keep the group small; be single-minded in focus and in action. It wasn't sustainable.

Shortly after that venture failed, I found myself in the midst of a real midlife crisis. I had a long-distance affair with a woman I'd met online from my home state. It nearly ended my marriage and certainly signaled it's doom. We decided to leave Tallahassee behind and swore we'd never return. Lesson there is, "Never say never."

So my world completely shaken, I broke free of the bonds of fundamentalism and fanaticism. I began looking at the core of my beliefs and re-evaluating them. I spent many years outside of church, only going sporadically while living in Indiana. Moved back to Florida and befriended the Baptist pastors at my local, beach church. Began seeing something in them that was different from most Christians I'd ever encountered in my life. They began to restore some semblance of hope.

Slowly, I returned to church, but I was a changed Christian. No longer a religious person, I'd let my convictions and questions guide me. I made a promise to my mom, on her deathbed in 2015, that I'd take my daughters to church. My youngest and I began attending Good Samaritan United Methodist Church in Tallahassee last year.

A radical change in my thinking and worldview made me a different kind of Christian. I'm now one who seeks inclusion, acceptance, social justice, love and to vanquish inequality, hate and hypocrisy. I have little use for the Church outside of it's ability to bring people together to help one another. It's the value and power of human beings working in concert that affects real change. That's where I tend to lean a little more humanist than religious. I'll share more on this later, but this is a good recount of how I became a different kind of person...a more Humanist Christian.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Understanding White Privilege

DISCLAIMER: I do not suffer from "white guilt." I do not write from a place of utter guilt for the way my black brothers have been treated throughout history. I only write to seek understanding for my white brothers. I seek to unearth a newfound empathy and to implore my white brothers to try, to the best of their ability, to look beyond their own experience and walk in another man's shoes, just until they get it.


It's a term that came into existence, as best as I can tell, in the 1960's during the American Civil Rights Movement, but only recently gained widespread acceptance. It's understood by most to be some unspoken right bestowed upon whites at birth that's never really spoken about in order to maintain the status quo (i.e. keep minorities in their place). Some sociologists call it a way for those in the privileged class to "mask racial inequality."

I'm of that privileged class, not because I earned a college degree or made X amount of dollars or reached some vaunted rung on the social ladder. I am privileged in society only because I was born to white parents.

Now for disclaimer number two: My own daughter, who is adopted, was not born into that class. She was born to an African-American mother and an Irish (white) father. She's been raised since birth in a white, middle class home. She has two cousins, also adopted into my family (my sister's kids), who are full-blooded African-American. I love these children dearly. So I do not write from a place of total ignorance, nor do I write from a place of non-bias. I would lay down my life for any one of them. And if ever faced with the threat of violence from a racist (of any sort, and we'll discuss that momentarily), I'd return violence with violence. I would defend them and their honor to my death.

Glad we have that out of the way.

Now, to the idea of racism. And this blog post was instigated by several recent conversations on social media sparked by the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. That hate crime, a terrorist attack by a homegrown terrorist--let's call a spade a spade, here--has rekindled the debate about racism in America. That crime, carried out by an unmasked, unashamed racist, is an example of racism out in the open--like the KKK unmasked. But it has brought to light the seedier, not-so-out-in-the-open racism of so many others, who don't even believe they are racist.

These people are the one's who might argue that there is no such thing as white privilege. Let me be clear, these people are in the majority! They need to be unmasked and re-educated. They are either willfully ignorant, as so many in white America are, or they are just plain ignorant. This blog post is meant to help them get a clue.

Like me, they, too, were born into a family of privilege just because their parents were both white.

Privilege, in this case, doesn't speak to your socio-economic status. It says nothing about your immigrant heritage or how your branch of the white global family came to this country. It says nothing of how your parents were raised, how much money they had, what community you were born into--gated country club or white ghetto, it makes no difference. Privilege, in the sense we are talking about, relates only to your skin tone, your ethnic heritage and nothing else. It's something that predates you by eons and even your earliest American ancestor.

ROOTS, the Anglo-Saxon mini-series...

We don't have to go back to the dawn of time or even the earliest civilizations. Let's just start at zero. The point in time where "Before Common Era/Christ" became "CE/AD." Yes, during the first years of our Lord, when the Roman Empire was in it's infancy. Think about the early spread of Christianity and how the Bible came into existence, into social pre-eminence as a foundational document for Western civilization. This happened when the Romans co-opted a cultic, Middle Eastern religion and made it, for lack of a better term, "worldwide." Yes, I mean Christianity. It began to morph from something peculiar to Middle Easterners, specifically Jews and a few converted Gentiles in that region, to a global, mostly white religion. The Bible and the Roman church's interpretation (or we should say canonization) of it became the basis for modern society in the West.

Yes, Christianity broke into a thousand subsets thanks to the Reformation, the Greeks, the Brits and a whole host of others. Prior to that, however, the Holy Roman Empire set the stage for our modern-day problem. Now whether your family was Jewish, Catholic or Protestant, they were somehow influenced by this empire which ruled all of Christendom for about 10 centuries (800-1806, roughly). Nearly every white person who came to America, whether religious or not, was influenced by the spread of Christianity throughout Europe. These were white rulers lording their "God-given superiority" in their white religion to subject the masses. (My interpretation of history, anyway).

That wasn't the beginning of white power, to be sure. I believe white privilege goes much further back to the beginning of recorded history, but I'm focusing on how it took root in Western civilization and was essential in the formation of our country.

Our forefathers, by-and-large, were white, European Christians, though some were merely deists who still believed in one Almighty. That's why we have all the symbols and slogans we do in America, like on the dollar bill. And it was under that guise, that we subjected all other races, in particular, those of African descent. (I'm going to throw in a quick reminder that this isn't a lesson in white guilt).

Our country perpetuated and profited from the African slave trade. In my opinion, we adulterated our religion in the name of Christ. And all along the way, we felt justified just because of our God-given whiteness. Sure, we wised up during the 1860's under the leadership of one of our greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, and even fought a bloody war over it, but that didn't end white privilege.

This sense of superiority wasn't taught to us in school, nor were we inherently racist. We just benefited from the way the system had been rigged for all of history, certainly the history of Western civilization dating back to the Roman Empire. We are of the privileged white class for no other reason than we were born to white parents. Civilization was rigged to favor us over other races. Our society is rigged because we are of the majority and have been since this country was founded.


Does any of that make it right? No more than our denial of it makes it not true. White privilege exists. It's inherent in our country's makeup and in the empires from which we evolved--Roman and British, primarily.

I think it takes someone with real empathy to be able to step outside of themselves and "get it." Maybe you weren't raised by empathetic parents who instilled in you a sense of fairness and social justice. Maybe they were just products of their environment. My parents were children of the 60's. I think it shaped their perspective on the world. It certainly shaped their Christianity. Thereby, it shaped me.

I'm fortunate enough to come from a family that is now more racially diverse than any generation before me, on either side, though Mom's side did boast some Native American (trace amounts). That, as well as my upbringing, have given me that empathy, I believe, that many of my white brethren lack. It's as if they can't get past THEIR American experience to see that everyone else's America doesn't look just like theirs.

Take this white woman's testimony. I watched her 11-minute video tonight and was moved by her sudden realization and newfound empathy for her African-American sisters. Or read this Southern man's story of coming to terms with his privileged status. Should we all be granted an "Aha! moment" like that!

White privilege exists.

We can't continue in our ignorance as if it doesn't. We can't be part of the dulled masses who continues the campaign of denial out of pure ignorance. White people need to wake up. Others need to be convinced that their continued denial is likened to "flat Earthers" or those who deny climate change. Their denial isn't going to make it any less true. History says otherwise.

Should we feel guilty about it? I don't think that's a productive reaction, unless that guilt moves you to a place of positivity, empathy or social action. We just need to be aware. I hope that it would make us all a little more compassionate and empathetic. Not everyone's American experience mirrors our own. Day-to-day life in this country can vary wildly whether you were granted this "birthright" or were born into a minority family. Take time to consider their vantage point. Try to walk in their shoes an inch (it doesn't even take a mile). Empathy can tear down many of the barriers between us.

Now, more than ever, we need a little more empathy, compassion and understanding.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ezekiel Stanford Farmer (1843-1923)

Like many pioneering Indiana farm families, the Farmers came north for the promise of new, uncultivated lands in the emerging Indiana Territory. When Fleming Farmer, born 20 November 1807 in South Carolina, was just a small boy, his father Ezekiel moved the family to Indiana Territory. At that time, southern Indiana was a wilderness roamed by buffalo and Native Americans, where white settlers built log fortresses, called block houses, where they could seek refuge from attack. This was the wilderness where Ezekiel Farmer, grandfather of this subject, made his home in the woods between Princeton and Columbia City (later Oakland City). I don't know what brought them north other than the prospect of rich farmlands watered by the creeks that emptied into the nearby Patoka River. The precise date is unknown, but we can assume it was before Indiana's statehood in 1816. This was the area that would become Gibson County.

Elia Wilkinson Peattie, an American historian, wrote a bio of this subject in 1897. Her contemporary and Princeton newspaper man, Gil R. Stormont, mentions the family in his history of the county, published in 1914. Stormont mentions Fleming Farmer as an early settler of the area north of Francisco, IN, in the 1850's. Of course, Francisco was not yet platted, nor was Center Township, at that early date. Francisco became a town when the Eerie & Wabash Canal came through the center of Gibson County in the 1850's. Center Township would be carved out of eastern Patoka and western Columbia Townships in 1880. From U.S. Census records, we know that Fleming was counted among the male farmers of then Columbia Township in 1840. That area between what would become Francisco and the Patoka River, to the north, is where Fleming would marry and raise a family. The first Mrs. Fleming Farmer was my 5th Great Aunt Polly Stapleton (1810-1879), a native of Tennessee, who's father was engaged in the Battle of Tippecanoe and was also an early Gibson County settler from the south. Polly was born 7 May 1810 in Robertson County, TN, and brought to Indiana Territory in the first decade of the 19th century. Father Joshua Stapleton was also engaged as a private in the War of 1812 against the British. He began farming 160 acres 5 miles east of Princeton, according to Peattie. The families were located within 2 miles of each other, practically neighbors in wilderness times. Polly and Fleming were married 17 Dec 1832 in Gibson County. They had at least one son, and possibly a daughter, but their marriage did not last and she was not the mother of this subject. 

Fleming Farmer married a second time to Louvisa Woolsey-Clifford (1808-1879) of Edmonson County, KY, the daughter of William Hopkins Woolsey, of said county, and widow of AC Clifford, of Indiana. The Farmer-Clifford wedding occurred 1 May 1842 in nearby Pike County, IN (the county that borders Gibson to the northeast). To their union was born five children, including two sons. The youngest of their sons was the subject of this post, Ezekiel Stanford Farmer.

Born in central Gibson County 10 October 1843 and named for his paternal grandfather, young Ezekiel would join the Union Army before his 20's. As Peattie writes:
He had not yet attained his majority when responded to the President’s call for troops and joined the First Indiana Infantry under Colonel Baker. The regiment was attached to the command of General Steele and mustered in at Indianapolis. He first met the enemy at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and continued in active service in the southwest until honorably discharged at the close of the war at Duvall’s Bluff, Arkansas. He was four times wounded and still carries a rebel ball in his shoulder. Mr. Farmer arrived home July 4, 1865, and at once resumed agricultural pursuits, which he has since carried on in connection with stock dealing. For the past ten years he has been extensively engaged in shipping fat stock, and has made this a profitable source of income. He owns two farms near Francisco, aggregating three hundred and ninety-two acres, and a glance at these possessions will convince one of the industrious care of the owner. Mr. Farmer was married in August 1867 to Rosie B., daughter of William Stewart, of Fayette County, Indiana, and their home is blessed with the following children—Charles C., Fred S., Bertha C., William F., Oliver M. and Stewart. The family is one of prominence in the community, and the members of the household occupy a high position in social circles. (“History of Gibson County” as excerpted from a larger volume History of the United States, Indiana, and Gibson County, by Elia Wilkinson Peattie, 1897, Cook & McDowell Publications, pp. 120-21).

Ezekiel took to farming and stock raising in the same area of Gibson County where his father, Fleming, had established the family farm. We know from the 1881 Atlas of Gibson County, one of the first to layout the farms of newly created Center Township, that Ezekiel had two farms, one just west of Keg Creek near Patoka River northeast of Francisco. It sat right next to Thomas M. Harbison's farm. Ezekiel also had an 80-acre farm due north of Francisco in Section 18. On his farms he raised livestock and was a prominent Gibson County farmer, according to Peattie. She mentioned the "rebel ball" in his shoulder, well Ezekiel is listed on the Pensioners Roll for 1883, receiving $8/month for a gunshot wound to the shoulder (since September 1870). I also found mention that he served the town of Francisco as a medical doctor. His residence and office were on the east side of Main Cross Street behind the public school.

Ezekiel Stanford Farmer was united in marriage to Rousabell  Stewart (aka Rosa Bell, 1847-1902) on 14 August 1867 in Gibson County. She bore five sons--Charles, Fred, William, Oliver and Stewart--and one daughter, Bertha. The children were raised on the farm north of "Frisco." In 1888, just two years after the last child, Stewart, was born, Ezekiel was named Trustee of Center Township. He'd lose Rausabell in May 1902 to dysentery. She had been suffering from cancer and was buried in nearby Mead(e) Cemetery.

Two years later, he married the ex-wife of my 4th Great Uncle, Fannie King-Mills, who was also my 1st cousin (explained in notes below). Fannie married Ezekiel 9 June 1904 in Vanderburgh County, IN. Ezekiel was 61, Fannie was 45. The couple had no children together and the five children from her first marriage were all grown, the youngest being 20.

Ezekiel was a highly esteemed Mason and a staunch Republican. He died, aged 79, on 14 August 1923 (which would have been the day of his 56-year wedding anniversary to his first wife had she survived). He was laid to rest at Mead(e) Cemetery, located between his two farms in northeast Center Township. His widow, Fannie, filed for a widow's pension 23 August 1923. She died nine years later and was buried in Princeton's Odd Fellows Cemetery, the only Farmer to be buried there.

Upon Ezekiel's death, he split his vast acreage in Center Township between three surviving children--Bertha Taylor, Charles and Stewart Farmer--and three granddaughters (survivors of son Fred, who died in 1910), making allowance for his widow, Fannie, to remain on their 80-acre farm just north of Francisco.
Notes on my relation to second wife Frances Adelia "Fannie" King (1858-1932):
She was the daughter of my 4th Great Aunt and Uncle, Adelia (Mills) and Charles Daniel King, making her my first cousin, several times removed.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Black Lives Matter. Period.


It's sad that we have to have a campaign with the above hashtag. But it's sadder, still, that we see black lives snuffed out on a semi-regular basis on social and other media. The recently released footage of the Castillo murder by Minnesota cops comes to mind. Traffic stops of gun-carrying white people don't go down like that!

I fear that some of the backlash to the Black Lives Matter campaign is rooted in ignorance. I also fear the the younger generation, and I'm talking here about GenY'ers and those after them, are unaware of what the world was like in the decades before they were the years I grew up. So let me set the stage for you...

I grew up in the 1970's. Born in 1968, I grew up on Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Captain Kangaroo. I'm part of the generation that grew up watching a lot of pre-cable TV. In those days, you didn't see a lot of black people or black families portrayed on television, or in mainstream media in general. There was no black Marlboro man. In fact, unless you read an ethnic publication, like Ebony magazine, you basically saw NO PEOPLE OF COLOR in any advertising, print or electronic, whatsoever! The first shows featuring black characters that I remember are Sanford and Sons and Fat Albert, both of which came on TV in 1972. Both shows were largely centered around junkyards. No implied message there!

Back then, we had 3-4 channels to choose from, so getting even ONE show with an all-black cast, tackling the issues of urban life, was a big deal. We didn't have shows like Blackish, channels like Black Entertainment Television (BET), or game show/talk show hosts like Steve Harvey. When I was very little, we had two shows! After that, Good Times, the Jeffersons and others became popular, but they were an anomaly. In all of TV History, prior to the 70's, you were hardpressed to find major characters who were anything but white.

Consider that. As a kid growing up 40 years ago, I still didn't see as many blacks represented in the media as I saw all around me in Indianapolis. And worse still, the swim club closest to my childhood home restricted access to non-Jewish whites only! My parents refused to join or to let us go there with our friends. Even then, I understood why.

A decade removed from the victories of the civil rights movement and there still wasn't much equality in America. I was shaken from my white superiority by the Roots miniseries that aired on ABC when I was 8. I'm glad my mom let me watch it. It made me look at my neighborhood friend, Gerald, through different eyes.

I share all that because I fear that teens, twenty and even thirty-somethings today don't realize that the world was still very segregated just 30-40 years ago. In fact, I was bussed to a different school across town in 8th grade as part of Indianapolis Public School's desegregation efforts. That was 1981-82! Things didn't magically get better with the civil rights movement in the 1960's. It's been an ongoing fight. It's taken decades just to get where we are today.

I had a well-meaning friend on Facebook give me his .02:

"The problem that i have with that slogan is that i should be able to say all lives matter, but i can't. I have been verbally attacked for saying it. Why? As long as society and people keep saying "white this" and "black that" we will never be free of racism. Both sides have it... but, there shouldn't be sides. My 5 year old daughter doesn't see skin color. She sees people. So, why are we as adults perpetuating the segregation? 

It's time to be humans or earthlings. 

Btw, i totally get what you're saying. I'm not saying that black lives don't matter, but please try to see what I'm saying as well. All lives should matter, except for terrorists. They should be destroyed"

The manifold problem with this "white people logic" begins with it's foundation. It wasn't blacks who created the divide amongst humanity. By and large, it was white people. It began with the premise that races OTHER THAN white were somehow inferior. In the case of Africans, they were classified subhuman. The African slave was classified chattel. They were no different than livestock and often treated WORSE! So white people created the US v. THEM culture between themselves and everyone of a "lesser race" (blacks were often referred to as "mud race"). This culture has been so prevalent, even in the last century, that the American public got a rude awakening with the civil unrest of the 1960's.

That's the culture into which a great percentage of today's African-American was born. They were welcomed into a world of inequality onto an unlevel playing field that was stacked against them. And just because the field is a bit more level today, it didn't make their lives any easier in the last fifty years. They had to overcome obstacles. They faced cruelty and injustice that many in the fairer race can't even comprehend. So when they say "black lives matter," it is rooted in the deep, dark history of civilization where their lives really DIDN'T matter to white people.

The phrase itself doesn't imply anything other than what it says, "Black lives matter." Period. End of statement.

What it DOESN'T say?
"Black lives matter more."
"White lives matter less."
"Cops matter even less."

It's simply a fight for equality...a fight that began ions ago and continues today. Why it puts those of other races on the defensive is beyond me.

But it does prove that white privilege still exists. It is so ingrained in us, that we feel slighted by the exclusion from the motto "black lives matter." Why we feel the need to argue, "What about us?" Well, white friends, our lives have ALWAYS mattered! We didn't have to fight for equality. We didn't have to suffer attack dogs, gestapo police tactics, terrorists (like the KKK and irate Southerners) and a government bent on keeping us marginalized just to maintain our civil rights. No, those have never been threatened or in question, not in any way. So why do we feel threatened by the fight for black equality?

I'll save my comments on "color blindness" for a different post, but the above statements pretty well sum up my feelings about non-blacks who have a problem with #blacklivesmatter.

You may wonder why this issue resonates so much with me. I'm not just some do-gooder white dude looking for a cause. I'm not suffering from white guilt. I simply want my daughter, my niece and my nephew, who are all or part African-American, to grow up in a world that seems 100 YEARS AHEAD of the society in which I grew up. We need to see RAPID progress where civil rights are concerned, not just racial equality, but sexual, gender and in every other way! I care because I love my kid and her cousins, dearly. I want a better world for them. And ever since I was a little kid, racism has made my blood boil.

Thank you for reading my blog post.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


I've started a new blog, a place where I can wax political:

It was berthed out of this political wandering I've been doing ever since I left the traditional church back around 2004-05. That's about the same time I started to blog.

Since that time, I've undergone periods of joblessness and homelessness that have humbled me to the core. It shook me from my Christian conservative foundation. It caused me to reevaluate all of my priorities, my beliefs, my ideologies.

During the last presidential campaign, I began listening to what "socialist" candidate Bernie Sanders had to say and it made a lot of sense. Still, I didn't believe that government held all the answers. I've worked in government. I've seen the waste and corrupt mismanagement of resources. I know that government can't operate like private industry, so I knew that more government programs wasn't the answer. But what was?

If I still believe in a free market democracy, how do we change the way that market works and ensure that it reflects real American values?

Like the socialist ideals of Sanders, I still don't believe that the 99% should prop up the 1%. But I don't believe we can force people to give up their fortunes for the benefit of all (i.e. wealth redistribution). HOWEVER, we CAN give incentives to corporations and their leadership to act more socially responsibly!

This idea, called Compassionate Capitalism, is not a new concept. It's been around for at least 20 years, if not longer. But that phrase, akin to "compassionate conservatism," has been gaining traction ever since George W. ran for the White House.

It finally made more sense to me than to push a socialist agenda on the wealthy. Something they'd fight vehemently through PACs and lobbyists, anyway. But there are some socially responsible capitalists leading the way, like Marc Benioff, CEO of Reading his story and how like-minded capitalists are putting their money where their hearts are is very reassuring. My faith in capitalism might be saved, after all!

So I started the Capitalism Gone Wrong blog to shine a spotlight on abuse, greed and corrupt government, while sharing stories of hope that capitalism and democracy can live together in harmony and are not a lost cause.

I hope to gain a few followers, so we can exchange ideas about how we can affect change in our government and truly make America the world leader it has the potential to be.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

9/11 Remembered

Why today, you may ask? No special reason. This isn't September 11th, it's not an anniversary or a day for remembrance. But it is Memorial Day Weekend. And thanks to a post by my cousin, Eric, I find myself enthralled, and horrified all over again, by the images of 9/11. Eric posted this article from the New York CBS station yesterday morning. I only saw it this morning in my Facebook newsfeed. It led me into 3 hours of watching TV coverage of that fateful day in 2001.

On the tenth anniversary, I dedicated two blog posts--Nine-Eleven (9/9/11) and Never Forget (9/10/11)--to commemorate the melancholy of such tragedy and senseless loss. It was all so surreal, the television coverage that morning, the feeling that we were under a coordinated terrorist attack and the way it hit home because I worked across the street from the State Capitol and the President's brother. Watching it this morning, including the 1-hour, 58-minute uncut footage from New York's NBC4, brought it all back so vividly despite the fact that nearly 16 years have passed since it happened.

Sixteen years ago, on that day, I'd only had my first child for a couple of weeks. She had turned two months old that very day, but we got her at 6-weeks. She's adopted. I was at work in the Claude Pepper Building in downtown Tallahassee, just starting my day with Legislative Services. It must have been around 9:00 that I began watching live coverage on MSNBC from my desktop in my cubicle. I remember a couple of coworkers watching over my shoulder in horrified disbelief, or they may have been in the cubicle opposite mine, but I remember their reactions either way.

I took an early break to get to where I could watch live coverage on the televisions in the mall food court, a safe distance from the Capitol complex. I received the call not to come back to the office, as it had been shut down and evacuated. There was no immediate threat, but panic had stricken the nation and no less so the home of Governor Jeb Bush. I went home early that day and was glued to CNN and MSNBC. I'll never forget the images that day of the twin towers burning, of the second plane careening into the WTC-South Tower, of the towers falling one at a time, of the enormous dust cloud that enveloped all of lower Manhattan and the ghosts that emerged from it covering their mouths, their faces. Like I said, it was all so surreal, like nothing I'd ever seen before.

Watching the news footage on YouTube this morning brought all the feelings back so vividly that I had to write about it. I created the image at the top of this post as a memorial. I figured what better way to honor those who were killed in cold blood by enemies of the State than with a tribute on Memorial Day Weekend. This spontaneous post is dedicated to all the men and women who died that day, 9/11/01, on commercial airliners, in the World Trade Center, in the line of duty and at the Pentagon. It is also dedicated to the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who sacrificed all in the months and years that followed. As the image above suggests, may we never, ever forget.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


Last Sunday, I checked in at GoodSam on Facebook with a status, "Being church with Makenna." That's my youngest daughter and the reason I am even in church. But that status stuck with me all week. So when I was asked to write a blurb for this week's e-Newsletter, I titled it "Being Church, Clothing Christ" because we were seeking donations of kids' clothes for a widowed mother of two. It warmed my heart that the congregation I now call family wanted to help this woman in our community who is not a member. I don't know if this woman even goes to church, but she works at a grocery store nearby. Sunday, they are giving me a Mother's Day Card to present to her with a check to help with her financial burdens, now that she is a single mother. What an awful thing for her to spend this Mother's Day with two grieving children, as she herself grieves the loss of their father. But what a blessing to be a conduit of God's love, grace and mercy, through my church family.

Beyond the warm feelings I got when the church offered to help and asked me to be the messenger, I was inspired and awed by the universal truth that we are, indeed, God's hands and feet at work in the world. In reality, that's what "being church" means. We are to be the conduits that carry the essence (call it Holy Spirit, if you will) of God into our homes and communities. That should cause you to stop and reflect, as it has me all this week.

It doesn't matter your level or brand of faith. The church building where you spend your Sundays (or whatever day you worship) is of very little importance. It's the congregation of people, each individual member of "the Body," that makes us Church...and that's a capital "C" for the universal congregation of believers.

For those of us who chose to label ourselves "Christian," WE, as the spiritual descendants of Peter, are that Church built upon the rock. In fact, Peter's name literally means "rock" (Look up Petra in the Greek). WE are Church. So being Church takes on so much more of a personal flavor. There is a lot of personal responsibility to being Church. It means doing something; being something; being different.

There are a lot of people that GO to church; but sadly, it seems very few of them know how to BE.

I was one of those "goers" for a very long time, but then I fell out of practice. I stopped going. I became very jaded, cynical and lost my identity as Church, for awhile. I gradually came back to the "being" but I still wouldn't darken the door of a church building because of all the contempt built up in my heart.

It wasn't until my mom was dying of cancer that the return to "being" was completed.

She was diagnosed in early Summer 2014. Within 17 months, cancer that started in her breast had metastasized and was ravaging her 66-year-old body. She chose quality of life over quantity and enjoyed her children and grandchildren, even a great-grandchild, for that last year and a half. I was blessed to be able to spend Summer 2015 with her in Noblesville, IN. I took three trips up to see her in 2015, the last was over Thanksgiving Weekend. She died that Sunday as I was just about to come home.

Mom's dying wish was to see me and my girls back in church. We hadn't gone regularly since my youngest was born. So to honor Mom's wish, I invited my girls to church and picked the one closest to their home because it had a cool name, Good Samaritan. I didn't care that it was United Methodist, just that it had a good reputation in the community and it was closeby...walking distance, even.

In the last year and four months at that church, minus the Summer 2016 which I spent with my widowed father in Indiana, I've seen myself fully return to "being Church." My cynicism and jadedness has faded and is being replaced with hopefulness and peace. I feel that I'm part of a family of like-minded believers, again; people that aren't just there to go through the motions or talk a good spiritual game. I joined a home group of these people who took me in, fed me (in more ways than one) and have become solid friends. I've seen this family serve together, play together, let their hair down, but get serious when a need arose. They are real. I call GoodSam the church of misfit toys. But that's just what the apostles were, too. Jesus didn't hang out with the politicians, the polished, the church leaders. I feel like today, he'd be found in the pubs, pool halls and hooka bars.

I know that Mom is in heaven smiling down on me this Mother's Day Weekend. I kept my promise. My daughter was baptized in the church last year. We aren't faithful attenders, but we are getting better at being Church on a daily basis. And that's the point, isn't it?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Who I Am

I've been talking to my bus driver, Connie, who runs the SouthWood Route. She's also a full-time minister who, in addition to shuttling folks from SouthWood to downtown and points in-between, gives solicited and sometimes unsolicited bits of knowledge. Her most recent "sermon" has been on Who We Are as people of God. It's been an interesting conversation which I've engaged her in on a number of recent bus trips.

As I was walking over 4 miles yesterday, I had time to clear my head and do some meditating on Who I Am, as a person. And here's what I came up with. I didn't know who I was for a very long time. I didn't really care for myself all that much until I moved back to Florida in 2011 and had a bit of a catharsis on the beach. Self discovery that started at the end of 2011 and led me to some radical changes that brought me to where I am today--back in a town that I swore off in December 2006 when I sold my house and moved back to Indiana.

In my time of reflection and meditation, as I strolled along a barren stretch of Capital Circle SE, I realized what a pivotal year 2006 was for me. It was the beginning of what I now call my decade of crisis. I was 38, then, and I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I found what I thought was real love for the first time. It led me away from my wife and ultimately down the path to divorce in 2012. It was an up-and-down rollercoaster ride from 2006 until 2016, which I blogged recently was one of the worst years of my life.

But things began to turn around near the holidays. And as 2017, emerged, I realized that I wasn't the same person that I was during that crisis and certainly not the 38 years before. This year, I've decided to take hold of the rudder of my life again and be the captain of this aging vessel. Whereas before I was willing to let the winds of change shift my direction here and there. I tried to be a,flexible reed letting the winds bend me to and fro, calling it "life's adventure" and taking things as they came to me. Really, I was being lazy and just settling for whatever came my way. I had stopped trying all that hard. I was still living, I was enjoying life, but I didn't feel like I was making choices that would get me to a desired destination.

That definitely began to change in 2012, when I decided to end my marriage. That was a definitive choice. It was a step in the process of finding out who I am and what I am made of. It was a very difficult hill to climb, but I did reach the pinnacle and come down on the other side. I survived. But I still didn't know exactly who I was. Today, I know.


My daughters mean everything to me. And while they've always been a priority, I never had to sacrifice as much for them as I did in 2014 when I moved back to Tallahassee to be fully engaged in their lives again. It was a bittersweet move for me that I shed many tears over, but a great one nonetheless. I needed to be close to them to be able to continue sowing good seed into their young lives. That first year back in Tallahassee led me to a lot of soul searching. I took lots of cleansing walks, to talk to myself, search my heart and soul and to breathe again. Those girls are my reason for being--well the biggest part of it anyway.


I am still a seeker of truth and justice. I try to be a giver, a pursuer of right causes, an advocate for others, an encourager and a more positive person. My journey has led me to broaden my faith to accept Truth where I find it, regardless of the label we place on it. That said, my faith is rooted in Christianity, but I find Truth is not bound by that label or any doctrine thereof. My spirituality embraces tenets of Eastern religions--Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism--and the beliefs of Western Protestant Christianity. Where the Eastern mystics promote living in the present and being fully aware and fully human, I find peace and comfort in that. When they say to sow good into the world and that it'll be returned to you (i.e. Karma), I find the same teachings in the Gospels, regarding sowing and reaping. Even in the Old Testament, Nehemiah prophesies to the builders of the walls of Jerusalem, "only the builders will be paid for their labor." These Truths aren't proprietary to one sect of religion and spiritual people find great comfort in that.


I find rhythm in nearly everything. Even my daily routines have a rhythm to them. There's a rhythm in my quick stride to the bus stop in the mornings. It's no wonder that I am a drummer. I find comfort in the steady tempo of life, in the pulse of my heartbeat (which is the backbeat and backbone of modern music, by the way) and in the rhythm of all kinds of music--from black gospel to heavy metal. Music speaks to my soul and has from a very early age. Another great decision I made in 2012 was to join a rock-n-roll cover band. Today, I find myself in one of the best bands I have ever played for. It's because I am a musical being and I need that outlet so that my soul can shine. One day, I'll even write and record my own original music, but for now I just have to play!


It took me the longest time to get over myself and all my perceived failures. I was a constant critic and my internal voice nagged the hell out of me from my childhood, through my adolescence and into adulthood. I just couldn't seem to shake the negativity I always felt towards myself. It felt as if I'd never measure up to my own unrealistic expectations. That, too, began to change in 2012 when I found a book by Dr. Christopher Germer, "The Mindful Path To Self Compassion." I devoured that book on the beach that summer, skipping over the long chapters on meditation practices. My soul needed to hear what he had to say about self-love and affirmation. You see, Words of Affirmation, as Dr. Gary Smalley, taught me through his book, "The Five Love Languages," is my PRIMARY love language, followed by physical touch (secondary). I've found that this is pretty common for men--well, for all people, really, but especially for men. The thing is that I was seeking that love from other people when I didn't even feel it for myself. I wasn't loving myself because I didn't like myself. I didn't know who I was. I began the discovery in my first year of crisis, 2006, and found myself again in 2012, but there were still parts of me I didn't understand, so I didn't know to love them. Today, I feel like I've fully discovered myself. And while I haven't tapped into all my raw potential, I know what lies within and I really love myself completely. No more tearing myself down. If I'm going to be an encourager and a lover of people, I must start with myself. It'd be foolish and disingenuous to be any other way.

I realized yesterday that my midlife crisis lasted a decade, from 2006-2016. It spanned my life from 38 to 48 years old. That's a long time to go through a metamorphosis where I nearly hit rock bottom twice, but it's my journey and I'm telling you that's how it happened. I'm not the same guy that I was in 2006, not the same guy I was at the start of last year, even. But today, I fully love the man that is a good, no GREAT, father, a spiritualist, a musician and a man that is fully human, in touch with the full range of his emotions and excited to be alive.

There...that felt good!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Our Indiana Roots

I started telling our story on Facebook in a closed group for our family. I'm trying to tell our family story, so that my nieces and nephews will understand the deep roots and rich history we have in the Hoosier State, especially through Grammy's family.

Through her grandmother, we trace our roots back to pioneer times, before Indiana was granted statehood in 1816. That's more than 200 years of history in that state, then still a territory!

So, I began the tale in 1968, when I was born, in the small farming town of Princeton, Indiana.

Grammy and Papaw had been high school sweethearts. They married the year of my birth. Dad, raised in an Irish Catholic home with Dutch influences, saw Mom on his paper route. Mom had been raised in the Methodist tradition. Her stepfather didn't go to church, so I think she had lost interest by high school. The Doyles were members of St. Joseph Catholic Church and Grandpa Doyle an esteemed member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order.Grammy loved Papaw dearly and wanted her children raised in the knowledge of Christ, so she converted to Catholicism. No one asked and no one even knew that she was secretly taking classes at the church in Princeton to learn about the Catholic tradition. I was baptized into the Catholic faith at St. Joe's by Father Egloff, the priest who had married my parents. We were ardent Catholics, but that was a lifetime ago and the younger generation of Doyles don't have any idea what that was like.

When we moved to the Broad Ripple area of Indianapolis in the summer of 1974, we lived on Central Canal just a few blocks from Central Avenue. My school was at our church, Immaculate Heart of Mary at the corner of Central and 57th St. That's where I received First Communion, made confession for the first time and attended the first through fourth grades.

We were thoroughly Catholic in the tradition of the Doyle family. I thought having priests and nuns in my life was perfectly normal. They were my mentors and my teachers. I couldn't wait to become an altar boy for mass! I wore dress shirts and clip-on ties to school everyday. I thought school uniforms were just part of normal life and that every kid wore them.

My best friend, Hugh Kennerk, lived right across the street from the church.

The reason Hugh fits in this story is because his parents, Harry and Linda, were two of Grammy and Papaw's best friends. They attended Grammy's memorial service in December 2015. They are very special people...spiritual too. They were big influences on Papaw's faith. You see, he had grown uncomfortable with some of the more far-reaching beliefs of the Catholic Church, like purgatory, the saints, especially Mother Mary, etc. The Kennerks were part of a spiritual revival in the Church called the Charismatic Movement, that focused heavily on the very early Church and especially the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as described in the Book of Acts. (For more, read this article: Is Charismatic Revival Exploding Among Catholics).

This was the beginning of our family's "Holy Roller" Phase, as I like to call it. We subsequently left the Catholic Church about the time we moved in 1977 and I was entering the fifth grade. Our new parish was St. Matthew's on Indy's northeast side at 56th and Binford. We had moved to 5701 Winston Drive to have space for our growing family. Grammy must've found out she was pregnant with Ryan around June 1977 because 9 months later, he arrived.

Not knowing where to go, my parents dabbled in non-denominational churches, like the one that met in an old, one-story office building near 46th and Keystone. We sat in folding chairs in a circle while Rev. Tim-Tom (shout out to "The Middle") strummed a guitar and we all sang. It was a FAR CRY from the liturgy, iconography and aesthetics of the Catholic Mass.

Lest I forget, the hippy-fest began the same summer that we moved. We left town with the Myers family (yes, Kristy Myers-Hilligoss, was a little girl once) and headed for the mountains of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, and the Jesus 77 Festival. That's where I got to see this Charismatic Movement firsthand and hear Keith Green live for the very first time. He was on the mainstage, the headliner, if you will, and the main reason we went, I think. It was all very strange and foreign to me.

Fast forward through high school--and I attended a Catholic high school, too--we were on the verge of the biggest moves of our lives. The family now complete, at seven. Keely had arrived in May 1979, and even she started school at St. Matthew's. We only attended Mass occasionally so that my parents could afford to send us to Catholic school. You see, if you paid your dues to the church, you got a break on tuition--at St. Matthew's and at Chatard H.S. But we were covertly Protestant by then. :)

We landed in the armpit of Florida in Summer 1986. Tallahassee was nothing like I had imagined it would be. There was no beach, no girls in bikinis and few palm trees! There was a crazy Pentecostal church though. By then, Grammy was fully exploring this thing called Spirit-filled Christianity. She'd dabbled in it at a mostly black church in Indy before we moved. I don't think Papaw wanted any part of it. It must have seemed superstitious and over-emotional to him. Grammy, always a lover of "black music," especially the early R&B of Motown, loved the uptempo, energetic, rhythm-centric music, influenced by black Gospel choir music. I think that's what we all liked about Christian Heritage.

After reading a book called "Walking & Leaping," Dad felt led to this church on the north end of town, near Lake Jackson, with the shiney metal dove descending down the facade of the church. That's where our family ended up in 1986 and it changed our family forever.

I begrudgingly went because this new musical experience intrigued me. Also, the youth pastor fronted a rock-n-roll-type worship band on Sunday evenings. I believe we were all "filled with the Spirit" at that church. And thus our spiritual journey took a huge left turn.

By 1989, everyone in the family, but me, had returned to the Indianapolis area. Papaw needed work and nothing was panning out in Florida, so he went back to the life he knew, working for credit unions in Indiana. They first lived in Zionsville before moving all the way across town to Beech Grove. The life that Ryan and Keely experienced was really nothing like the life Heidi and I experienced, growing up in a more affluent area in the Catholic faith. Holly was the in-betweener and I think experienced both.

The point of all of this, though, is to show how Grammy gently guided our spiritual journey after Papaw lost his enthusiasm for Catholicism. She converted when they were both very young parents. She wanted our family to have spiritual roots. And since Papaw's family was firmly rooted in the Catholic Church, she chose that path for us. Once Papaw converted, she followed suit, but began exploring more fully this charismatic movement in both the Protestant and Catholic churches. She gently nudged Papaw. And it was funny, too, because when we first went to CHC, the fully integrated, spirit-filled church in Tallahassee, Papaw refused to give into the emotional side of it. Standing there, stoicly, hands firmly pressed to his side, it seemed that he'd never raise his hands. That would be SO un-Catholic, unrefined and draw that kind of attention to oneself. Look at him now! :D

I hope that helps to shape your perspective of who we are as a family, a spiritual family and one that has taken a long, circuitous route to get where we all are--some of us ardent believers and spirit-filled, others of us questioning our faith (as Papaw once did), but each of us cutting our own path to spirituality. I am proud of each and every one of you for your own unique vision of God and your calling. Thanks for taking the time to read this story. Love - Uncle Chris