The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

FoxTrot-ALSA flood of Internet videos have shown celebrities pouring buckets of iced water over their heads to raise money and awareness for the ALS Foundation. My favorite videos were writer Stephen King challenging writer John Grisham, actor Patrick Stewart taking ice cubes from a champagne bucket, and actor Vin Diesel’s challenge to plant a tree for Groot from “Guardians of The Galaxy.” Even Jason from the “Foxtrot” web comic made an ice bucket video (sort of). This is a worthy cause. I took care of a roommate, Bruce Schalamon, for five years until he died shortly after his 39th birthday in April 2000 from ALS.

Bruce and I first met at a church workshop in August 1992, where we paired up for a prayer walk around the neighborhood. I was a newly baptized baby Christian in the college ministry; Bruce was a grizzled veteran of the singles ministry. We had very little in common. I didn’t get to know him until I ended up in the singles ministry and moved into his household in 1996, where we both passed kidney stones a month apart from each other and bonded over our shared misery. He told me about being diagnosed with ALS, how he would die within five years, and wanted to die with his spiritual brothers surrounding him.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that causes the muscles throughout the body to stop working. Bruce lost his ability to walk with his weakened legs and play videos games with his weakened arms. He never lost his ability to speak. Otherwise, he couldn’t angrily curse God for taking away his enjoyment of life. As spiritual brothers taking care of him, this was a difficult time for us. He left God in anger as things got worse, returned to God in repentance as he accepted his fate. On the night before he died, he confessed his sins for four hours straight. You really don’t know someone until you hear their deathbed confession.

The heart is always the last muscle to go. Bruce had a cardiac arrest the following morning. My roommates and I asked him if he wanted us to call 911. He shook his head. We called 911 anyway, feeling helpless that we couldn’t do more. The ambulance crew started working on him for the next 45 minutes. Since we couldn’t produce the Do No Rusticate paperwork, they worked on him for another 45 minutes before declaring him dead. Being on the forefront of the medical marijuana movement, which wasn’t legal in Silicon Valley at that time, I flushed his stash of marijuana down the toilet in the back bathroom while a sheriff deputy waited in the living room for the medical examiner to remove the body.

Bruce had his prayers answered, dying among his spiritual brothers and being right with God.

I’m not planning to take the ice bucket challenge, but I will donate money to the ALS Foundation in the near future. First, I’m not a well-known celebrity. Second, I live in drought-stricken California. Third, the ice-cube maker in my freezer doesn’t work. Hence, writing a check and maybe having a drink on the rocks is easier. The ALS ice bucket challenge has raised $70+ million USD so far this summer.

Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus Is Black As Hell

As a child growing up in the 1970’s, I heard evangelical Christians on the religious TV channels complain about the commercialization of Christmas as mass-market retailers emphasized the importance of giving—and receiving—gifts to the extent that God was often forgotten during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Unlike the Puritans who actually cancelled Christmas for two decades in the 17th century, these Christians wanted people to slow down, consider the birth of Christ and their relationship with God.

Never mind that Christmas was a Roman pagan festival called Saturnalia that celebrated a weeklong period of lawless, as the courts weren’t open and no crime committed during that time was punishable. Some communities even designated an unfortunate soul to become the “Lord of Misrule,” encouraging that person to indulge in all kinds of pleasure, and then brutally killing that person at the end of the holiday. Which, ironically, is what Black Friday has become these days with all the mayhem over getting the best holiday deal.

Fast forward a generation, evangelical Christians on Fox News are complaining the mass-market retailers are removing Christmas from the holidays by changing “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” in their greetings. There’s a “war on Christmas” to prevent evangelical Christians from shoving the spirit of Christmas down everyone else’s throat.

Did that make your head spin like the little girl’s in “The Exorcist” movie? Mine did too.

Now it didn’t help that Fox News host, Megyn Kelly, proclaimed that both Santa and Jesus were white and tough luck for anyone who wanted to believe otherwise. Saturday Night Live has a great skit about Santa Claus being black as hell. I wrote a tanka poem about Santa Claus being black from climbing down so many chimneys that his old lady called the cops because he forgot his keys.

Of course, this nonsense had to spill over into the real world. A white teacher told a black student that he couldn’t play Santa. A black Santa was shot in the back with a pellet gun at a toy drive. The famed Macy’s of “Miracle on 34th Street” has a white Santa in front for everyone to see, and a black Santa hidden away in the back, where you need to ask an elf inside the Santaland maze for to find his secret location. Seriously. I even wrote a tanka poem about that.

Did anyone noticed that the controversy of a white Jesus was quietly dropped by the news media? No one wanted to open that particular can of worms. Most evangelical Christians haven’t read the whole bible and memorized only certain scriptures on sin to hurl into someone’s face. That Jesus was a Jewish carpenter might unsettle some folks. Fox News published an article that the race of Jesus is unknown.

As a white Christian who read the bible from cover-to-cover six times, I’m going to have a very Jewish Christmas by seeing “47 Ronin” at the movie theater and eating orange chicken from Panda Express. On that note, happy holidays!

The Apocalypticism Of American Politics

Hourglass on the duneAccording to this article on The Daily Beast, the Tea Party is practicing a self-destructive form of American politics.

They believe America teeters on the brink of destruction, and hold as an article of faith that liberals, gays, Democrats, atheists and the United Nations are to blame. This “end-times” world-view is a foundational precept of the evangelical movement, from which many of the so-called Tea Party favorites spring. Scholars call it apocalypticism.

Does this sound familiar? It should.

I became a member of an evangelical Christian church in college during the early 1990’s that had the goal of setting up a church in every major metropolitan city in the world before the end of the millennium. That happened with six months to spare in 1999. But the years 1999, 2000 and 2001 came and went without incident. If the rapture did happen, we were all left behind to read the “Left Behind” books and endure the Florida vote recount in the 2000 presidential election. Now that’s hell.

Being an observer of people, I noticed that the church message changed during those years. We went from “being faithful to the end” to “being faithful to the end of our lifetimes” (emphasis mine), which meant the same thing for most people in the church. But some people in the leadership noticed that the spiritual goal posts got moved from the end zone to overflow parking down the street. The church founder that everyone put up with for 30 years found himself out of the church in 2001, as no wanted to put up with him for another 30 years until the end of their lifetime.

No rapture, no job.

The worldwide church movement I joined splintered into regional churches that no longer had a unifying cause with each other. The San Francisco Bay Area church muddle through for several years while looking for a new mission statement. I allowed myself to get kicked out of the church in 2004 after I got too tired to fight the good fight, started questioning the motives of the leadership, and said “no” more often than “yes” when the leadership demanded something from me. In short, I was no longer a team player.

I went on to become a writer, which I always believe is my true calling from God.

The Tea Party cannot exist without numerous enemies (i.e., a black president in the White House, Hillary Clinton and Establishment Republicans), a manufactured crisis (i.e., the government shutdown and a threatened debt default), and sympathetic media outlets (i.e., Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the Internet). If all that goes away, the Tea Party becomes nothing more than a group of angry white people still stuck in the 1950’s—or the 1850’s for those in the Deep South—who can’t accept that the world has moved on without them. Worst, they delude themselves into thinking that God is still with them. Meanwhile, the rest of America continues to suffer because of them.

Outrunning The Busybody Obese Police

No Fat KidsIf you’re an obese child in America today, you have to outrun the busybody obese police (BOP) who sends letters home from school or trick-or-treating on Halloween night. Of course, it doesn’t help if your birth weight matches a bowling ball. Rather than judging you on your character, the BOP will assume things about your weight and make your life a living hell.

Doctors told my mother that she was going to have twins. After one hour of labor and 250 stitches later, she gave birth to a ten-pound bowling ball. If that wasn’t bad enough, I was a boy and not a girl. As a young child, being overweight wasn’t a problem. Although an undiagnosed hearing lost in one ear was enough to declare me mentally retarded in kindergarten, no one mentioned anything to me about my weight.

The BOP didn’t make an appearance until the sixth grade when teasing by the other retarded boys and girls drove me to tears. The principal and my teacher called my parents into the office to scold them for my bad eating habits. They discovered that my parents were skinny people, assuming that I came from a family of fat people who shoveled junk food into my mouth. Shocked and dismayed that they couldn’t scold my skinny parents, I got sent to the doctors for testing to find an underlying medical problem.

After poking and prodding, the doctors determined I was just a big boy. Genetics wasn’t a common word back then, so no one bothered to look up the family tree. Since my parents moved to California from Idaho in the 1960’s, I didn’t know about my extended family until I was an adult. We had some big men and strong women on both sides of the family. I have inherited the “bigness” gene that has skipped my parents.

By the time I graduated from the eighth grade and dropped out of high school in 1984, I haven’t grown to my full height yet, weighed 400 pounds, had the stomach ulcers and high blood pressure of a Type-A businessman, and hated going to school. I became a shut-in for the next four years as I educated myself from newspapers, magazines and books from the library. On my 18th birthday, I got a ten-speed bike that I rode everywhere and lost 70 pounds in a year.

After I became a Christian and joined the campus ministry at San Jose City College (which I graduated four years later with a general education associate degree), the BOP came roaring back into my life with a vengeance, citing 1 Corinthians 6:19-20“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

With that scripture in hand, the brothers would give me “friendly” advice about losing weight. This became the source of many conflicts in the ministry because I wasn’t shy about pushing back, especially if I thought their ideas were impractical or unrighteous. I made many enemies as the leadership always ruled against them. After 13 years of pushing and shoving, I got tired of that crap and let them kick me out of the church.

Before I got kicked out eight years ago, I joined a gym and lifted weights. I’m now 5′-10″ tall with 350 pounds and wearing 2XL shirts. I can easily bulk up to 400 pounds in muscle, but finding 4XL shirts is problematic. I’m focused on trimming down to an XL shirt. Except for the occasional fitness nut at work, the BOP has left me alone because I can physically pound them into the ground without trying. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “Bigger guys get better respect.”