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.

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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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.

There is a time for every season…

7-1266881542-07-pure-seattle-space-needle-and-rainI am weary.

As the grey of a Seattle winter approaches the winter solstice, I find myself feeling the weight of this time a little more keenly. Between fatherhood, work, graduate school, Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter and post-election ministering, I haven’t had much of a chance to take a break. And the work is only getting harder.

My training teaches me that this is the time for self-care. Actually, the time for self-care should have been after going to Standing Rock. And then after the election. And then after the BLM march. Or after that presentation. Or after that mid-quarter paper. Really, after anything that required a lot of psycho-spiritual collateral. And I don’t have a good excuse for the not taking the time; I’m just horrible at saying “no” and there just never really seems to be enough time to do “everything.”

I’ve found myself responding to the election by not being able to look away from my news feed. I’ve been consuming every story that catches my eyes; about the escalation of hate crimes across the United States, the escalation of violence against DAPL protestors, more black men being killed by police and more police being acquitted, and Trump’s appointees and their slippery-slope repercussions. Every time I told myself to take a break, I would get sucked back in. Just one more story; one more article.

I realize that what I’ve been doing is arming myself. I’ve been taking an accounting of this early Trump era. I’ve been ticking off one offence after another and hoarding them. Because when my basket of brokenness is full, I’ll be laying it at the feet of every Trump supporter I come across. I so very much want to blame and shame them into submission; I want to beat them with the lash. I want them to pay in pain.

blm_black_friday_seattleAnd this is why I need to do some deep care. Because my psycho-spiritual reserves are depleted and I am tired, angry and weary. In this state, I am dangerous to myself and others. I cannot do the work I am called to do; to be a peace maker. I believe my call to ministry is to heal; through solidarity, listening, and forgiving. At my best I am available to people in vulnerability and love. I keenly see my shadow self right now, and as much as I want to embrace him, he is ultimately self-destructive.

And this era of Trump doesn’t need more self-destructive people. So I’m going to be taking some breaks leading up to the new year. I’ll be taking more walks through nature. I’ll re-discover non-digital reading. I’ll take advantage of more simple moments; good coffee and tea, fresh baked goods, and music that speaks to my soul.

So please check in with me. Ask me how I’m doing and really mean it. Make sure I’m doing my internal work so that my external work can flourish. Ask me to coffee. Come over for drinks. Take a silent walk with me. Let’s make sure we stay strong, because now is when we’re most needed.

At the end, a moment of sacred…

aloneOn Thanksgiving I was approached by a friend with a particular question. She knows that I’ve been volunteering as a chaplain and that I’m in seminary. She asked if I would be willing to visit a friend of hers who was in hospice. He has stage four cancer and doesn’t have much time left. And while he was not a religious man, his mind had been turning toward both the past and the future. She felt that he would benefit from having someone to talk to; perhaps I could offer a presence that would help his transition between life and death.

I explained that I wasn’t an ordained minister. I’ve only been volunteering as a chaplain for a short time and that was with youth who are incarcerated. She said that was probably for the best; her friend was a devout agnostic with secular Buddhist leanings. He didn’t want credentials or conversion. She felt he just needed someone who knew how to talk about spirituality. So I said yes; that I’d be happy to sit with her friend.

Hombres de Negocios discutiendo sentados

So last night I sat.

For a little more than an hour I listened to his story. He didn’t have any questions and not many concerns. His story always hovered on the edge of faith but never crossed the threshold. For a man with perhaps only weeks to live he seemed accepting of his reality. And yet he acknowledged that he probably hadn’t really accepted that he was going to die soon. But until then he wanted to read St. John of the Cross and Thomas Merton. He said that they seemed the most accessible for an agnostic who was looking for possibilities without being sold a bill of goods.

Our conversation wasn’t hard. But it was difficult to walk the tightrope between detachment and empathy that the active listening of a chaplain has to balance. I was reminded in many ways of my own grandfather at the end of his life, as well as the recent passing of my father-in-law. However, in order to be in his moment, I couldn’t be in mine. Also, in him I saw my own mortality; and it was uncomfortable and unsettling.

Footprints-In-The-Sand1Which is why I believe it was also holy and sacred. In this season of “thinness,” I was able to share a space and moment with another human being as he approached his own veil. In doing so, I was an intimate part of a Spirit of mystery and miracle. In the pauses between words, there was the weight of a life. A life in which I was able to share, if only for a moment. And I am grateful.