Eulogy for my Father

Today, we celebrate the life of my father, William Almeida, who died on Tuesday, November 27th, 2018 at 82 years old. What more could be said, other than he was a man who “wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life?” We celebrate him for his dancing. We celebrate him for his hospitality. We celebrate him for his generosity. We celebrate him for his love. And we celebrate him for his faith; in people and in God.

My father was a Christian in the best of ways; a human being who, despite his failings, would return again and again in love to the altar of God to find refuge in his faith. The way he lived taught me that what the Spirit of life and love craves is not perfection, but a relationship of covenantal love rooted in recognizing the worth and dignity of all people. He taught me that what makes a human being righteous before creation went beyond just claiming Jesus as his savior, but extending a spirit of charity toward every person who walked through the door of our home.

I remember my father opening the door for anybody; and especially for the missionaries who would come by our house. While I’m sure these men and women found many unanswered doorbells or maybe sharp words and slammed doors, when they came to my house, they would find not only a conversation at the threshold, but an invitation inside for food, water, and scripture. I am also sure none of them knew who they were about to deal with.

Missionaries and proselytizers would sit with my father, share food and drink, and he would ask them about their faith. Then, from under the coffee table, he would pull out his own bible with its notes and bookmarks and finger-worn pages, and give his own testament. There were many times when I returned home from school, where wide eyed missionaries would be sitting in my living room, unsure of what they had gotten themselves into.

My father modeled qualities of hospitality and mutuality – he never asked people to share his views, but he would argue his from the depth of his heart. And that when people come to my door, my response should be one of abundance; to share what I have, because the only response to grace is generosity paid forward.

I remember my father having an uncanny ability to predict trends twenty or thirty years before his time. I’ll be honest; I always thought that the aloe-vera juice, the copper tubing, the granola and all his other eccentric health behaviors were just leftovers from a wild time in the 1960s. But as I grew older, I found myself eating crow, as products now appear on shelves touting the healing properties of aloe-vera, and expensive sports clothing is being woven with copper thread. I am happy that he lived long enough to be vindicated in this way; which makes sense, because my father was also one of the healthiest people I’ve ever known.

My father modeled that it was important to take care of my body; and into his 80s he lifted weights, played tennis, and against our better judgement would climb the trees of our property to prune the branches with his chainsaw. In my own gym in Seattle, there is a sign which reads: “You don’t stop exercising when you get old; you get old when you stop exercising.” Which for my father was the secret to staying young; in heart and in body.

I remember that my house was where friends would come and be guaranteed to receive love and comfort. I suspect that for many, coming over to see me was just an excuse to come over and see my father. Which is not what a teenager or young adult wants; to admit that their own father is cooler than they are. I confess I rolled my eyes and cringed more than once at my father dancing in the living room to speakers blaring David Bowie or Queen when my friends showed up. Or wished that my father was “normal” when he would laugh so deeply that the walls would shake, or modeled the new copper tubing he had fashioned around his arm.

But my father loved to dance and loved to laugh and loved my friends. And I know for some, the love they received at my house was sometimes more love than they received in their own. Over this last week, one friend told me that Bill was more of a father to them than their own. And for many others, we was possibly a second father.

My father modeled his calling to love his neighbors as his God loved him; which from what I understand of Christian faith and scripture, is part of gaining eternal life. My father taught me that love was the most transformative part of being human, and for all those who have been touched by his love, I say do not grieve as other do who have no hope. Because my father continues to live, in our hearts and memories, just as he continues to live in reunion with God and with all of creation. Let us encourage one another with these memories.

I remember my father as someone who lived his faith through his politics. Given his social location, as a first generation Mexican American growing up in pre-civil rights United States, and coming of age during the height of the cold-war, he lived first hand the effects of poverty, racism, and militarization. He also reaped the rewards of the American dream, working hard, working smart, and building a life for himself and his family that he never had growing up. Because of my father, I am privileged with abundance: education, stability, food, water, housing, clothing, I’ve never known the pain of desperation. And I am deeply grateful.

My father modeled a liberal politic that didn’t look into his neighbor’s yard to covet what they had, but to make sure that his neighbors had enough, and if they didn’t, he would help. He would give of his time and money to care for people, and believed the country he loved and served should model the beatitudes he lived by: acknowledging the blessedness of the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. He taught me that not only did I have a religious duty in the world, but a civic one as well. His politics moved my heart just as much as his religion. He was a deep believer, in people, in God, in love rooted in justice.

This isn’t to say that my father was a perfect man. While William Almeida liked to be right, he never, or perhaps very rarely, claimed to be perfect. And he relied on our love, and in God’s love, to get him through his dark nights of the soul. It was his wife, Judie, daughter Brianna, his son-in-law Matt, daughter-in-law Heather, grandsons Jason and Toby, and his chosen community, all of you gathered here and so many more who join us in spirit, who helped save him from himself. And when I find myself succumbing to the pressures of a full and overwhelming life, it is my father who reminds me that nothing is impossible for the Spirit of life and love; that it bends the arc of history toward justice and it transforms sinners into saints.

My father is a testament to the power of humility, forgiveness, and redemption that is only found in the depths of relationships rooted in love. My father modeled that I didn’t have to be a perfect man to be a good man; that integrity and compassion and gratitude would reap abundance – not in wealth or power, but in family and in friendship. My father, William Almeida, lived the words of his prophets: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Friends and family, we are gathered here to remember William Almeida. Not a perfect man. But at least to me, one of the best of men. My father’s life taught me the importance of family. My father’s life taught me the importance of friendship. My father’s life taught me the importance of love. My father’s life taught me the importance of service. My father’s life taught me the importance of faith. Most of all, my father’s life taught me the importance of living well in the dynamic tensions of life: to play music loudly, to dance like nobody is watching, to laugh with my whole body, and to love like I’ve never been hurt. Today, we celebrate a life that lived the holy covenant of love. May his love continue to bless us all. Amen.

If we’re going to be friends, your vote really does matter…

45485641_1746095872183715_6350298731287412736_oNow that we’re in an election cycle, there’s an image floating around the interwebs advocating for friendship across politics. On the surface, this is a great idea when candidates relatively agree on similar end goals: like freedom or upward mobility, but perhaps not in the means – progressive vs regressive taxes. I may not like the other candidate, or their political party. But we’re all trying to build a better society for ourselves and our children. We’re both adults. We can agree to disagree and still be friends, because our friendship is more important than politics.

Except when your candidate wants to, say, remove my citizenship because my grandmother was from Mexico. Or wants to deport my uncle because he’s Muslim. Or wants to take away my sister’s right of choice. Or wants to erase my partner because they’re transgender. Or wants to disenfranchise my brother because he’s Native American. Or wants to segregate my father because he’s African American. Or wants to kill my cousin because they’re Jewish.

When your vote comes at the cost of significant human life, we’re not friends anymore.

“But I don’t believe in any of that! I’m not racist! We’ve been friends for years and you’re brown!” you say. “I just voted for the guy because I agree with his economic policy. You’re being really petty and judgmental.”

Sure friend. I hear what you’re saying. We can totally agree to disagree on economic policy. But you also voted for a racist/fearmonger/bigot/misogynist/homophobe. Which is a deal breaker. What you just demonstrated was that you put politics ahead of our friendship, and that while you may not be any of those hateful qualities, you’re willing to let them slide because they benefit you. If we’re going to be friends, and adults, then we are supposed to have a relationship that supports one another. That cares for one another. That will show up for one another when we really need help. And you voted for the guy who wants to kill people like me, all because you wanted lower taxes. Which tells me that we were never friends in the first place.

You see, friend, how you vote doesn’t just tell me about your politics. It tells me about what kind of person you are. What the foundation of your ethics and morals looks like. And when you vote “pro-life” and at the same time ignore the racism, the hate, the bigotry, the violence, and the death, you tell me all I need to know. That we were never friends. Because politics and party really were more important to you than my wellbeing; and my actual life.

Being an adult means having healthy boundaries which sometimes requires removing people from my life who are toxic and destructive. It means having firm ethics and morality rooted in empathy and compassion. It means choosing to hold people’s worth and dignity above petty politics and disagreements; in seeing your humanity and loving you and showing up for you when things get hard. Being an adult is having the courage to say: “No more!” to evil, even at great cost. Being an adult means making hard choices, like say, voting against your party when their candidate supports putting immigrant children in cages at internment camps.

But I don’t hate you. I’ll still show up for you if you need help. I’ll say hello at work and if we run into each other during the holidays. I’ll still uphold your dignity and worth, even when you don’t uphold mine. Because that is what myself, as an adult, am called to do; be kind to the people who hate me. And to know when to walk away.

I believe you, Dr. Ford

42611806_10155713091546179_3403158727585431552_oI believe you, Dr. Ford.

I believe my friends on my Facebook feed who have broken their silence, relived their trauma and shared their pain.

I believe you and every other woman who comes forward that says #metoo.

Because in Alaska, a man named Justin Schneider was given no prison sentence for kidnapping, strangling and sexually assaulting an indigenous woman.

Because in California, a man named Brock Turner only spent three months in jail for raping an unconscious woman.

Because in Massachusetts, a man named David Becker sexually assaulted two girls at a party while they were unconscious and received probation.

Because in Colorado, a man named Austin Wilkerson raped a woman and got probation.

Because in Illinois, a man named John Enochs raped two women, but got probation for “battery”.

Because Harvey Weinstein got away with over three decades of sexual abuse.

Because Donald Trump, despite his saying on record “Grab ‘em by the pussy” and being accused of sexual assault by numerous women, was elected president of the United States.

For too long the price of toxic masculinity, with its power and privilege and violence, has been paid for with the blood of women, girls, boys, queer siblings, and siblings of color. And as the Arc of history bends towards justice, its shadow is finally beginning to fall on the powerful white man. The man who would rape. The man who would molest. The man who would enslave. The man who would abuse. The man who would murder.

It is up to me, as the brown father of a boy who will grow up to be a white man, to make a difference for his sake and for the sake of the other human beings in his life. It is my responsibility to teach him the morals and ethics of consent and respect. He will learn from me how to recognize his own privilege and to check his own bias. He will look to me as a model; how to be angry, how to be mindful, how to be just, how to love, how to forgive, how to listen. I must commit to the hard work of helping my son be a better man than I will ever be.

Because toxic masculinity demands a human sacrifice. And there are no angels that will wrest the stone knife from my hand. It’s up to me to stop the cycle; to tear down the altar, to deny the beast its blood. My son is not your Isaac. Men, we have a choice.

There are voices in the shadow of the Arc, and they are getting louder. I hear you. I believe you.

****CORRECTION**** Originally, I wrote: “Because in Iowa, a man named Nicholas Fifield raped a woman with mental illness and received no jail time.” In an article dated March 9, 2017, charges were dismissed against Nicholas Fifield. Nicholas Fifield’s father reached out to me to list this correction to my blog post. I take full responsibility, and apologize, for not adequately investigating Nicholas Fifield’s case further and for disseminating dated and imperfect information. I am committed to doing better. Please see Mr. Fifield’s medium page for more information.

For me, this only shows how important the issue of active, repeated consent and respect is; and how it impacts not only survivors, but the families and communities of all involved. In our United States “justice system” some people are falsely accused (a majority of them people of color). And we also live in a world where my son has more of a chance of being raped than he does of being falsely accused of rape.

It was Valentine’s Day. I was wearing ashes.

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Parents in Parkland, FL (Photo/Joel Auerbach/Associated Press)

Yesterday I went to church. It was Ash Wednesday. I didn’t go because it was an obligation. I certainly felt out of place. It’s been a while since I was in a Catholic church. But I needed a place to mourn. To grieve. To put on ashes and say to god or the universe or to whoever really is listening: I’m sorry. I repent. I am broken.

Yesterday I needed church, because another seventeen people were gunned down in a school. By an angry and broken young man with a Make America Great Again hat. I sit with a lot of young men like that. At our local juvenile detention center. Young men who are angry. And broken. Many who never knew their fathers. Many who have mental health issues. Many who have experienced death in their lives. Many who have found family and safety in groups dedicated to violence. Many who we have failed.

Yesterday, I needed church because it was Valentine’s Day. And instead of swapping candy hearts, the earth soaked up blood. Children’s hearts were broken; torn apart by unregulated bullets and unregulated weapons. Parent’s hearts were shattered with the news that their flesh and blood were trending on Twitter. I hope the victims were told “I love you” at least once before their lives were cut short. I want to believe that some of them received ashes before they were murdered. Just to remember: ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Yesterday, I needed to be marked. I needed a reminder. That there is good news; that people really do believe in a message of loving one’s neighbor. That people are willing to lay down their arms and turn their cheeks. Certainly, god weeps along with saints and sinners at such a notion as a “right to bear arms.” Ancestors, pray for us. Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. You would think one child would be enough?

It was Valentine’s day. I was wearing ashes. Another day in America.

 

A Christmas Song for a world on fire…

I really enjoy Christmas music. Even though I get frustrated when I hear holiday melodies before Thanksgiving Halloween, the familiar songs fill me with warm nostalgia. My memories of Christmas and Advent are good memories. My house would be filled with the smell of tamales and baked goods. Lights and nativity scenes would appear. Records that laid dormant for a year would be pulled out and played after dinner. Church would echo with carols and hymns to the coming celebration of the Christ child.

I have my old favorites: The Little Drummer Boy (specifically the one with Bing Crosby and David Bowie), O Come All Ye Faithful, Carol of the Bells. And I have some new ones. But my most favorite Christmas song is Do You Hear What I Hear? It breaks me every time in all the ways I need to be broken for the Holiday season; toward hope, giving, forgiving. Most importantly toward peace in a time overcome with the threat of destruction.

The song’s creators, Gloria Baker and Noël Regney, wrote the song in 1962 while the world was reeling from the Cuban Missile Crisis. And after it was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1963, it quickly spread across the world. Baker and Regney’s message was prophetically powerful in a time that needed a message of hope. Which is probably why I have always gravitated toward this simple Christmas classic. It reminds me to live in hopefulness.

The song, like the Nativity story, is subversive. It begins with a message whispered from creation to people on the margins: “Do you see what I see?” “Do you hear what I hear?” And then from the margins to the powers that be: “Do you know what I know?” How I long for those of the halls of power to suddenly realize that out in the freezing night, there are children who need silver and gold; who are homeless and hungry and in poverty. For the wealthy to realize that these children will bring goodness and light. For our leaders to announce peace; turning away from greed, racism, and bigotry.

55 years later, Do You Hear What I Hear? is in the background of a Holiday Season set amid chaos. I am clinging to it in desperation. I want some small whisper in the night wind. I want a voice bigger than all the hate in the world. I want an intervention, reminding the world: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on Earth, and good will to all!

This last Sunday, one of the children at my church came up to me and asked, “Do you want to know something?” I nodded with a smile. He told me, “God is everything. In the wind. In the trees. In the world. In you. In me.” I asked him how that made him feel. He smiled at me and said, “It makes me very happy.”

Do you hear what I hear?

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Thinking about theodicy…

Being a spiritual humanist in a Christian seminary can be challenging. Thankfully Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry is committed to an interreligious experience of dialogue, deep listening, and free thought. And I was raised in a healthy Christian family who provided a framework of faith. These help me engage Christianity from the perspectives of believer and apostate. One topic that has always fascinated me from both views is theodicy: otherwise known as the problem of evil.

Evil is especially prevalent in my mind right now. It feels like darkness is winning; I see a world on fire. No matter how many marches I attend, letters I write, and representatives I call, evil outpaces the good. Legislation that will help the wealthy and hurt the poor is allowed to pass. Walls across borders are being built. Dreamers are deported. Police get away with murder. Rapists are held unaccountable. Fires. Hurricanes. Climate change.

If god existed, how can god sit idle? Especially if god is all knowing, powerful and loving?

There are numerous attempts at an answer. Some involve free-will. Others focus on god in the moment on the margins. There is always the answer in Job where god just says, “You don’t know me. I do what I want!” Perhaps suffering is god’s version of tough love? Jesus had to suffer, right? Evangelical capitalists always talk about boot straps and exceptionalism; of course their god would kill his own son via capital punishment. It’s so we can succeed. And if people don’t… well, that’s their own fault.

None of this is sufficient; and I will not accept it. The universe seems largely apathetic to the human cause. I hold ourselves, myself, to blame for the evil. Justice, much like good and evil, is a human invention. If I were to pull the universe apart, I wouldn’t find an atom of “good” or a particle of “evil.” So why would they matter? Because I want them to matter. if I am going to exist in this world, hell, if my son is going to exist in this world, I want qualities like “justice” and “good” and “mercy” to matter. Otherwise I am helping build a hell on earth and sacrificing my own son to its machinations.

Am I up for the challenge? Not alone. I have surrounded myself with my tribe; people who crave justice, mercy and goodness. People who hold powerful love as the ultimate human ideal. And they keep me going; and they keep me honest; and they keep me safe. Because if I have learned nothing in seminary, it is that the role of the prophet isn’t to predict the future. It is to learn from the past and let it serve as a warning to those in power.

Because while I would rather bend the arc of the universe peacefully, there are other options. To those in the halls of power; in the life or privilege; while you sleep may you imagine the gleam of the pitchfork and of the guillotine, and remember the history of the world. There is still time to change course. But perhaps not much time. May you have a reckoning with your god. An eschaton is nigh.

My prayer for the world…

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“Tobias” by Christopher Matthias

My child is almost three years old. They are typical in their development. They are 38 inches tall and close to 40 lbs. They love trains and cars and really big machines that are “too loud.” (Their words, not mine) They love books and will ask for my partner and I to read the same stories over and over until they can finish sentences with us. They love TV and electronics. They love running in circles and jumping in puddles and giving hugs. They love the color purple. If I were asked to describe them in a phrase, I would say that “they love.”

They are concerned about children who are crying. They (sometimes) share their candy, even without being asked. They say “I’m sorry” when they accidentally do something wrong. They are getting better at saying “please” when they want something. They call people “friends.” They are beginning to describe their emotions; and they like to play with words, wrestle, and make silly games of hide and go seek. If I were to describe how they exist in the world, I would say, “They are compassionate.”

Which is why I am so afraid that I, and this world, will break them. Being human, I can be moody, frustrated and selfish. I have inherited systems of racism, misogyny and toxic masculinity. If therapy has taught me anything it is that the unexamined life is filled with a happy ignorance, but the price paid is usually in the pain and suffering of others. I have a choice, be aware of my brokenness so I can mitigate its transmission to my child, or leave him at the mercy of society and media.

When I see my news feed filled with people who hate; who are greedy; who assault; who are the worst parts of humanity, and then see them elected into positions of authority, my instincts tell me to shelter my child to the best of my ability. And my heart breaks knowing that there is nothing I can do to stop their being broken, little by little, as they get older. Which is why my partner and I have made the decision not hide things from our child; but to try and hold everything in their life in context. There is an art to being “age appropriate” and we want to err on the side of transparency. Topics like “sex” and “god” are not off limits (regardless of our own hangups on the subjects). Feelings are encouraged, not stuffed away. There are no off limits toys, colors, or clothing as long as they are enjoyed in playful and loving ways. The only things in our house that are not tolerated without being challenged are “hate” and “supremacy” and “ignorance.”

My example to my child will not be “how to be a strong man” but “how to be a better human.” That to have power and privilege means being a servant leader. That to live simply and with happiness means giving a damn about others and not just themselves. That what matters isn’t the color of skin but the content of character. That listening is better than talking. That the greatest rule is to treat others as they would like to be treated. That if they are not part of the solution they are part of the problem.

I refuse to let the systems that have come before me break my child. They will know the definitions of evil by example: prejudice and bigotry, selfishness and narcissism. And they will know the definitions of good; love and compassion, vulnerability and empathy. If parents cannot help but put our hopes and dreams into our children, at least I can hope for peace and dream of a better future. In this way, my child is my prayer for the world made incarnate. I hope it is a joy for them and not a burden.