The Station

The Station

A few years back, Robert Hastings wrote an essay he titled “The Station.”
The point of his piece is that we humans tend to spend our lives focusing on some future time when we will be all satisfied with our lives. But the tomorrow of our dreams never comes.

When we finally get that MA from college, or as parents. when we see our last kid leave home or when we retire, or when science discovers the vaccine that will allow us to return to normal, then we will reach the STATION. All will be well. Not so fast.

Hastings reminds us “Sooner or later we must realize that there is no Station in this life, no one earthly place to arrive at once and for all, The Station is an illusion.” He says yesterday belongs to history, tomorrow belongs to God.”

Re-reading The Station has been a lick in the pants for me. During this settle- at -home time. hardly a day goes by when I am thinking “Man, I hope this quarantine phase of the virus comes to an end quickly. I want to return to normal when I can watch my baseball and my son can get back to work and our family doesn’t need to wear one of those masks to get some bread and milk.

So, God forgive me I sleep too much, watch second rate TV shows, snack on junk food and kill time while waiting to arrive at the station which never comes. Meanwhile the present moment is passing me by. My todays are wasted waiting for what? An illusion.

It’s not just in time of war or depression that we chase these illusions. Even prior to the Coronavirus, I wasn’t completely satisfied with my life. Not even close. There was always that elusive something that I yearned for. If someone asked me “How are you doing?” Of course I would answer “fine.” But going deeper I knew there was that secret place in my heart that I was still missing a piece, a completion.

It is only gradually that I have had to acknowledge that in this life I will never reach that station. Call it the human condition. Call it what you will. Robert Browning wrote “Man’s reach will always be beyond his grasp or what’s a heaven for?”

Heaven is just another name for experiencing that deep, incomprehensible love we have been created to enjoy. We have some idea of what this love might be like, foreshadowed in the love a mother has for her child, or in the innocent love of children or the heroic love that makes a person lay down his/her life for another.

Only then will our immortal souls find that station for which we have yearned. And we will see our God no longer in a dark mirror but face to face.

Discovering the God Within

Discovering the God Within

Hank Mattimore

“Who is this God who you claim loves you? What makes you think that this
almighty, all powerful Creator knows your name? What kind of religious nut are you to swallow this stuff about a personal God who not only cares about us and listens to our prayers but LOVES us?”

No, those are not the words of an acquaintance of mine. That’s \what our modern culture is saying to me but In more politically correct words. Cut to the chase, they are really saying “You don’t still believe in all that crap do you?”

I plead guilty. I am that kind of nut or rather, I aspire to be. I want to look at God through the eyes of faith and see Him as much more than just a “higher power.” or the ” man upstairs” or some benign figure “up there” who I call on when I am in trouble or need help in passing an exam or getting a job.

The God I want in my life is the same one that inspired heroes like Martin Luther King or Gandhi or Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa to bring light to our world , the God who lives in every husband who stands by his dying wife and every young man or woman who is willing to die for his country. It is this kind of living God that I want to believe in and carry in my heart.

The God who I want to energise me is not Catholic or Protestent or Muslim.
He/she may speak to me on Sunday morning church but I am just as likely to see the Divine touch in a dragon fly or a towering Redwood tree or in the cry of a newborn infant.

No denomination, no racial group has dibs on God. The voice I try to listen to is pretty clear about His desire to include all of us under the umbrella of his love. We are all welcome to his table. His is a universal love.

Many years ago I went to Japan as a missionary. I thought my calling was
to convert the Japanese people to Christianity. I wanted to make the Japanese people Christian, not realizing that before I even existed He had already showered them with his love.All I was really called to was to love the Japanese.

I want to carry in my soul that lesson I learned in my missionary days. I want to see the presence of God in the poor and the homeless and the refugee. Flawed as I am (My friends would agree. “Yea, he is flawed all right”) I realize that who I am and who I want to be are still poles apart. .

But I have come to understand that my faults or yours don’t make any difference to this tremendous lover This God loves me still and all of humankind with me. My God is much more than a “higher power” remote an

So yes I am the kind of nut who not only believes in God but adores Him under the appearance of bread in the Eucharist and under the appearance of the homeless guy on the street corner, and the drug addict or the teenage girl struggling with her sexual identity.

Years ago folks of my generation used to tell one another, “Don’t worry. God’s in His heaven; all’s right with the world.” I don’t think that way anymore. God is not in his heaven. He is here among us, within us. And that makes all the difference.

Drive=by Shootings and Other Drive-bys

Drive By Shootings and Other Drive-bys

By Hank Mattimore

Ho Hum! Another drive by shooting in Oakland or Chicago, or San Jose.. We hardly notice them anymore. Tragic as it is to the victims, it’s yesterday’s news. Only the major terrorist attacks get much attention anymore.

The truth is, drive by shootings usually take place in inner city neighborhoods which are largely invisible to the eyes of middle class or more affluent folks. We may not say it but unconsciously we expect that “drive by’s are a dime of dozen in THOSE areas, and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.”

Well, we are dead wrong about that. Drive by shootings happen for many reasons but they are all connected one way or another with you and me, with the dysfunctional prison system we allow to exist, with the deep and ever-widening chasm between the haves and the have nots, our underfunded educational and mental health programs, and outrageously out of balance military budget, etc etc etc. All of which we, as citizens, can do something about.

We are also guilty of a different type of drive-bys. We are not pulling the triggers of those AK 47’s but we too easily accept the murderous results of their actions.

We drive by the black kid being hassled by a police officer for no other reason than the color of his skin. We don’t SEE the elementary school in need of repair or the veteran waiting for the benefits long overdue him or the working family who have been priced out of a housing market unresponsive to the needs of ordinary people.

We are not bad people, you and me. Most of us are not totally unaware of what is going on in our midst. We don’t consider ourselves racist. (Hell no! my friend Jose is a great guy. We bowl together on Saturdays)

But folks, we are not hitting on all eight cylinders. Our potential for leaving this world a much better place is not being tapped fully, not even close. It’s so much easier to escape into the womb of a comfortable lifestyle.

Hey, we are not breaking any laws (well maybe we’ll fudge a bit on our taxes). We might even go to church on Sundays and not cheat on our spouses.

But is that what we want for ourselves and our lives? We want our legacy to proclaim to our own families and to the world that we managed our lives without making any waves ?

Medical students take the Hippocratic Oath to “First, do no harm,” but we would not have made the tremendous progress we have made in the practice of medicine if we stopped there.

The future for ourselves and our children is being written right now. Do we
Want to be an active participant in making this a better world or just another
drive-by.

Fear of the Stranger

“Just as the human need for hospitality is a constant, so, it seems, is human fear of the stranger” Ana Maria Pineda

I was taking a walk to the local market the other day when I crossed paths with a middle aged woman carrying groceries back from the store. I did not know her but, people person that I am, I wished her a cheery good morning. She never looked up and passed me by neither answering my greeting nor, in any way, acknowledging that she and I were on the same planet together, not to mention the same neighborhood. Apparently, in her eyes I was a stranger, someone to be feared or at least not trusted.

In this particular case, the woman might have been deaf or her mind was elsewhere but I have had similar experiences before and, in talking to friends, they too have been given the silent treatment by perfect strangers. What’s going on? Have we become so fearful of other people that we are afraid to say hello?

Is it ironic or what that in a culture eager to share our intimate secrets on facebook and other social media outlets, we are becoming less and less willing to talk to one another directly? Good grief, we are even afraid to shake hands with one another without subjecting ourselves to some kind of anti-contaminant. We are becoming a “no touch, don’t talk to strangers society.”

Author Ana Maria Pineda suggests, that our traditional openness to people and new ideas is being smothered by fear of the stranger. Insulated and isolated by our self constructed silos we are building a fence around ourselves keeping the immigrants, people of color and others who are perceived as somehow different than ourselves at bay.

C’mon folks, our world, as you may have observed, is far from perfect but most people are not ogres ready to pounce on others. Honest. Your neighbor is not your enemy but a friend who wants to live in the same kind of peace and harmony you want for yourself. People who speak a different language or have a different color skin are not aliens from space but fellow human beings.

Nah! We don’t need to have love-ins on every block but it might help to recall to mind one of Maya Angelou’s signature quotes, “ We are more alike than unalike.” Not a bad thing to keep in mind next time some “stranger” wishes you good morning.

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Giving Kids a Second Chance

Giving Kids the Space To Grow

The issue of trying juveniles in adult court is claiming the attention of both politicians and the general public these days. The brouhaha is being fueled by the high profile case
of the “affluenza kid” the boy who ,when still 16 years-old, killed four people while drunk driving , yet managed to escape a lengthy prison sentence, by claiming his wealthy parents had never taught him the difference between right and wrong.

Predictably the old familiar cry went out from the tough on juvenile crime folks, “This is outrageous, if he’s old enough to do the crime, he’s old enough to do the time.”

By that logic, if a kid is old enough to shoot a gun, he is old enough to enlist in the army; if he is old enough to produce sperm, he is old enough to raise a family.
The juvenile court system was built on the very reasonable premise that children are not adults and that they should not be treated as adults. We don’t allow liquor to be sold to 14 year-olds because, they don’t have the maturity to handle it.

Yet, there seems to be a lot of people comfortable with a legal process that allows us to judge a kid who commits a felony to be tried in adult court. And tried by whom, by the way? A jury of their peers? We wouldn’t dream of allowing kids to serve on a jury. But they can sure be tried, before a jury as though they were adults.

You know something? It’s time we regained the common sense we were born with and start by recalling some of the stupid stuff we did as teens.

I firmly believe that our actions have consequences. If a kid commit a crime, he should be punished for it. That’ fair and just. But don’t ignore the fact that it is a kid who did the deed. Any parent will tell you, kids are works in progress.

Recently I talked to a 17 year-old boy in Juvenile Hall who was reflecting on how he had changed since he was arrested for a crime he had committed when he was 15. I had to smile when he commented on the “immature” 14 and 15 year olds he was living with at juvie. “Man, these kids are so young; they cause most of the trouble around here because they haven’t grown up.”

Good point. Kids grow up; given half a chance, they change as they mature. Trying them as though they are adults and sending them to adult prisons takes away that second chance we owe them.

A Thing Called Hope

A Thing Called Hope

“I’m stuck like a dope with a thing called hope
And I can’t get it out of my mind”

from the Broadway musical, “South Pacific”

Remember 2015? Seems like day old bread already doesn’t it? We heard more than we wanted to hear about terrorist attacks, immigration issues, growing inequality between the super rich and a diminishing middle class, homelessness in our cities blah, blah, blah.

But, my friends, did you know that in this past year a woman named Peg Hacskaylo in the District of Columbia created a haven for survivors of domestic abuse called DASH. Peg’s program provides safe housing for the poor to restart their lives.

Did you realize that an immigrant to Berlin by the name of Marina ..Naprushkina initiated neighborhood meetings between new immigrants to Germany and community volunteers
so people would get to know one another.

Then there is Eric De Buhr, a construction worker with a desire to help homeless people.
Eric builds small affordable houses so folks can live decently.

Priti Patkar, an Indian woman has a heart for the children of Mumbai’s sex workers. She is working with other volunteers to provide an education and a safe place to live for the kids.

Musician Rob Silvan is the inspiration behind a movement called KEYS (Kids empowered by your support) which gives kids from a depressed area of Bridgeport, Ct. he opportunity of a musical education.

Then there’s David Altmayer, a computer geek who graduated from Alabama and now finds himself in Budapest, Hungary assisting refugees find their way to resources with the aid of a computer program he created.

I garnered these little tidbits of information by looking through some of the 2015 issues of the Christian Science Monitor. I suspect there are thousands of stories like this . Wherever you live in the world, there are people motivated by the compassion that lies in all of us, good folks who follow the better angels of our nature, people who give a damn.

As we dance into 2016, we can’t pretend that the dark clouds of racism and bigotry will not rear their heads. Homelessness and hunger and and war will still plague us. After all, the folks I mentioned above put their own lives at stake to dissipate the darkness.

But moving through a new year, we need to remember the good that is being done, the challenges met. We humans are far from perfect but we ain’t all bad either. So, along with your New Year’s resolutions to eat less, exercise more and drink more red wine, remember the good stuff we are capable of doing,

In the musical, South Pacific, Nellie sings “You can call me a cockeyed optimist..but I’m stuck like a dope with a thing called hope and I can’t get it out of my heart, not this heart.”

Want a buzz word for 2016? How about Hope?

Where Oh Where is Love?

Where oh Where is Love ?

Do you recall the scene from the musical “Oliver” when little Oliver gazes out the window to the busy street below and his loneliness at being an orphan flows over into his voice as he sings, oh so plaintively, “Where oh where oh where is love?”

II thought of this scene from Oliver when I gazed at a you tube photo of another little boy, this one in a red shirt and blue shorts , whose body lay face down on the shores of the Mediterranean. Another sad and lonely boy but this one was all too real This little kid was dead.

Oliver was fiction and eventually he found his mother and family but there was no Hollywood ending to the story of the little Syrian boy, whose name was Aylan.

When the picture of the boy lying as though asleep in the sand first flashed across the screen on television, the producers warned us that the photo of the little boy might be too graphic for their audience.

They wanted us to be able to shield our eyes from the awful truth of innocence betrayed, and what really happens to little immigrant children caught up in a nightmare they had no part in causing.

But you know something? We needed to look at this little boy because he was one of us. Little Aylan didn’t drop from Mars. He was family and now he is dead. And if many of us shed a tear at the sight, maybe we owed him at least that token of our caring. Hopefully, we can do more.

The little three-year-old’s lifeless body was a sermon in flesh to the rest of us that we can’t afford to ignore. As Americans we have always stood tall in responding to the human needs of our brothers and sisters all over the world. It’s who we are; it’s what we do.

President Obama has pledged that we will take in 10,000 refugees. That’s a start. But we need to do more. We need to demonstrate to the world that the true wealth of our nation lies not in our gross national product but in the generosity of its people.

A generation ago, a past generation of Americans dug down deep to help the impoverished and desperate victims of World War 2 with the Marshall Plan. We can do it again.

Where oh where is love? It’s right here in this big hearted generous land of immigrants. Let’s do it for Aylan.

A Boy’s Will is the Wind’s Will

Alone With a New Grandson

Little Ben and I are having a staring contest. He will win. Nobody in the world can outlast the stare of a two-month old baby. I wonder, for the upteenth time, what is going on in his head. Is he thinking anything at all?

The lines of a poem by Henry Wadsworth poem pop serendipitously into my head.

“A boy’s will is the wind’s will and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

Most of us adults assume that the thoughts of a tiny baby are pretty well fixed on survival stuff .
“Will someone please feed me or change my diaper or pick me up?” But maybe we are the ones who are short sighted.

In many ways we are all mysteries to one another. Could it be that this little tot is already sizing us up?

“Hmm! This face sure looks different from Mom. His voice is deeper too. What the hey, he’s making funny faces at me. Now that’s a kick.”

“He’s holding me kind of awkward. Looks like he hasn’t held a baby for a while. But he does smile a lot. He seems to enjoy being with me.”

“I wonder a lot about stuff. Like, how come someone pulled me out of that sweet warm place where I used to be? Well, it was getting a bit cramped in there and I have to admit that I was getting restless.”

Now that I find myself in this new world, I’ve got to figure out where do I go from here. What did that old guy say?” “A boy’s will is the wind’s will and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.?” I gotta think about that one. Not sure what it means but then again I’m not a youth yet.

I’m in no big hurry to grow up. There’s lots of friendly people around me, welcoming me into the world, loving me, taking care of me. I guess I can wait a while before I start thinking those long, long thoughts.

Mondays at Juvenile Hall

Mondays at “Juvie”

Monday afternoons at juvenile hall are laundry folding days. A staff person and three or four of the kids are buried in the week’s laundry of institutional gray shorts and shirts. Each inmate gets his weekly supply which he takes to his own cell, his uniform du jour.

While the laundry is being sorted, I have my time with any of the kids who want to talk to a spiritual advisor. On Mondays that’s me. Being a spiritual advisor to teenage kids is not brand new to me. I’ve been a foster dad and mentored kids in group homes. Having been at one time in my life, a priest , on the one hand, makes me a natural for this kind of volunteer work.

On the other hand, my own spiritual journey has been a roller coaster ride. How does a spiritual advisor advise when at times he’s still trying to figure out his own relationship with God. God is a mystery to me., way too big for me to get my mind around. Now I see him; now I don’t. I do want to believe in God. At least I have that going for me.
And, deep down, I am convinced there is a God of love and that he loves these kids.
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Still, It would be easier if I were a more traditional Catholic or, better yet, a Christian fundamentalist. That way, I could be rock solid in my mentoring. “Read the bible, go to church, say grace before meals.” That’s all there is to it, except it’s not.

Life is more complicated. It”s not enough to tell 16 year-old “Juan” to say his prayers when he is already a child dad, grappling with how to take care of his infant daughter. It may be simple to tell Alonzo that he needs to forgive his mom but forgiveness doesn’t come easily when that mom walked out on him when he was only five years-old.

The kids have stories to tell so I do a lot of listening. Despite our differences in background and age, we do after all share a common humanity. We all need love and respect and to forgive and be forgiven. Just listening is a good starting point.

Teenage males, especially those who have experienced a lot of rejection in their lives, are not that ready to confide in a stranger. It helps that I am not paid to be there and am not in authority over them. It takes time to earn their trust but that is one gift I can give.

Besides just listening, I try to pass on to the kids the things I do know about God, that His other name is love, that they are created in His image and likeness. I tell them, too, that just . because they have done some stupid things in their young life doesn’t make them stupid or bad. I share with them the mantra we chanted in the 60’s. “God don’t make no junk.”

I always finish our conversations by looking into the eyes of the lad and promising that I will pray for him. Then I ask him to pray for me. They seem surprised at this. I suspect that many of them had never had someone ask for their prayers. As for me, I’ll take all the prayers I can get.

How Using the “F” Word Changed My Life

How Using the “F” Word Changed My Life

by Hank Mattimore

Part of my responsibilities as a volunteer grandpa at a home for abused and neglected children was to drive the kids to doctor’s appointments or to after school activities. As a surrogate grandparent I tried very hard to set a good example for the kids in our charge. The had already heard enough cuss words and been exposed to enough violence in their young lives.

On this particular day, I had 11 year old “Tony” with me in the car. An Afro-American and new to the home, he was quite shy and I wasn’t having a lot of success getting him to open up to this old white guy. This was hardly unusual. Kids sent to our group home had reason not to trust the adults in their lives.

After a few awkward tries at conversation, I turned on the radio to listen to the 49’er football game. I’m one of these over-the-top football fans so when I hear the announcer saying that the niners were on the one yard line with only 30 seconds left to play in a tie game, I am excited. “Go Niners,” I yell. Then disaster strikes. The Niners fumble and Arizona recovers.

I don’t normally swear. I’ve never used bad language in front of the kids but at this moment I was to break all of the rules. The “F” word erupts from my mouth. Omigosh! I didn’t say that did I? No, not in front of a little kid.

There was this moment of shocked silence. Sheepishly, I looked down at Tony. His big brown eyes looked at me astonished. “Grandpa Hank ! !” Was all he said. Of course I apologised. “Sorry Tony. That just slipped out.”

I turned the game off and we rode in silence for a few minutes, me inwardly ashamed at losing my composure. Then I turned again to the boy. The little bugger had a smile on his face. “Damn it,” I thought to myself. “What are you laughing at?” “Nuthin,” he answered but the grin never left his face.

I had to smile, too. “Dude, I screwed up didn’t I?” The boy put his hand on my shoulder for a brief second. “Hey, it’s ok grandpa Hank. we all make mistakes.”

What I recall the most about that experience was that the relationship between this old white grandpa and an 11 year old kid named Tony was never the same after that, We connected.

Maybe in seeing my own humanity it gave him permission to be more relaxed around me. Whatever it was, we became buddies. He used to drop in on me to watch TV together. Our favorite show was “Everybody Hates Chris”, that sitcom about a junior high black kid and his experiences growing up going to an all white school.

We bonded, Tony and I. I like to think I was able to help him grow up through those pre-adolescent years. He helped me to grow, too. Made me realize that the good Lord uses even our goofs to teach us life lessons. I’m even grateful for the niners for NOT winning that game.