Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mourning, Grieving, Healing, and Reconciliation

A few days ago, I received a text message from a long time friend asking me to give him a call when I had a moment. I responded as quickly as I could—this friend wouldn’t make a request like that unless he had something really important to share. When I called, he told me that Joseph Crow Neale, a one-time very close friend of ours, and the principle chief of my tribe, had passed away from a heart problem earlier in the week.  He was under sixty years of age, and from what I gather, his health had been in decline, but no one thought his light would be extinguished so soon.

I was beside myself as I took in this news, and unsure how to respond. For years, I had prayed that somehow our friendship would be reconciled and restored, and that we would be able to pick up where we left off, but this news took away any hope of that future outcome on this side of eternity.
Over the last few days as I have had space to reflect and grieve, I’ve given a lot of thought to the important role he had in my life and in the lives of many other people. He wasn’t perfect, and as much as we ourselves are able to see our shortcomings, he would have been ready to admit them.

He was generous with his time, and would spend hours with young men and women in our tribal community, and he would patiently teach them as much of our tribal traditions as they were willing to learn. He always wanted to make sure the younger generation could feel proud of their Shawnee heritage, and that they could hold onto some memories of our ceremonial ways and traditions. I had a conversation recently with a member of our tribe reminiscing over how much he cared for her youngest daughter when she was brought to our tribal grounds as an infant. He said, “These young children are the next generations of our people.”

I remember when my best friend in the whole world, Willie, had his daughter and son on our tribal grounds for the first time. Crow went out of his way to always make sure these children were included. On one occasion, Crow took paints with Emalee, Willie’s daughter, and had her “help” him decorate a coconut shell rattle.  I believe making gestures like this to include young people like Emalee, likely positively shaped her own memories of what it was like to grow up in a tribal community.

Crow and his late father were always willing to share responsibilities and give our people opportunities to learn by doing. In allowing others to gather materials for ceremonies or take care of various aspects of preparation, he would allow people to make mistakes, and then use these mistakes as an opportunity to educate. He valued giving people an opportunity to at least attempt to figure things out on their own before intervening.  

Crow would work tirelessly for our tribal community. Every year he set a goal of making some type of improvement to the land, and he sought to involve whoever was willing to help make those improvements. He launched into the construction of our tribal council house (designed by his uncle, Flying Duck), and he also led work parties in the construction of an arbor, the transit and assembly of a supply shed granted from Fort Necessity, as well as the creation of an earthen oven.

Crow encouraged our people to explore and visit the sites of some of our ancestral villages. In fact, I remember one occasion where the owner of a piece of property that was once the site of one of our villages allowed us to take a few stones back to our ceremonial grounds as a gesture to symbolically reconnect us with those lands. We took road trips all over West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to help ourselves and other Shawnees to connect with their past.

Crow and his father were two of the first people I ever saw pursue servant leadership actively. By tradition, chiefs usually would eat first during feasts, but for Crow and his late father, they chose to eat last—they believed that it was a more important principal to ensure that everyone in the tribe had eaten—and that elders would eat first. They taught by example that we take care of our elders, and that we seek the good of others before we seek our own welfare. This concept is in line with our common Christian heritage as well as much of Native tradition.

He and his father allowed me to spend a summer living with them and learning the old ways back when I was in college, and during the months after graduating and before I started my first “grown-up” job, they invited me back into their home where I continued to learn from their leadership and mentorship. Thankfully I was offered an opportunity to give back (and learn additional skills) by helping put a roof on their house and repair parts of the home that had fallen into disrepair. Toward the end of my time with them that fall, they handed me $200 for “helping out.” That same day, my mom called to tell me that my first student loan payment form came in the mail—I owed $200. They had providentially helped me address that financial need.

Crow and his dad helped me grow in my relationship with Christ from some of the earliest moments of my walking with Christ. I witnessed their examples of generosity with time and resources (along with similar examples from friends in Morgantown), and sought to emulate their rich faith, and learn as much as I could about Jesus and the Bible. Crow used to listen to the Bible on cassette everywhere he went, and, as a result, he was incredibly familiar with the scriptures. He often had a timely verse for various situations.

The last time I remember speaking to Chief Crow was in the fall of 2004. I had just heard a sermon about recognizing people who had been a positive influence in your life, and when possible letting them know the valuable role they had in helping you become a better person. I was driving home to visit my parents in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and I thought, “I’m going to call Crow and thank him for the positive influence he had been in my life.” And so I called out of the blue, and told him just that. I thanked him for the lessons he had shared with me, and for the important role he had played in helping me become the person I had become, and for taking the time to pour into myself and many others. He thanked me and let me know he appreciated the gesture and the words, and then we said goodbye for what ended up being the last time.

Looking back from this present vantage point, I would have never imagined that this conversation would be the closest he and I would come to reconciliation on this side of eternity. I can only imagine there are many others who have had similar relationships with people with whom they never get to experience the full reconciliation that they hope would happen on this side of eternity. Crow’s untimely demise is a very compelling and sobering reminder of the importance of keeping short accounts with others, and striving, so far as it depends on you, to be at peace with others.  Not everyone has an opportunity for those types of conversations, but when we do, we should take them. There is healing and reconciliation that can take place for all.

And now, as I think about Chief Crow’s legacy, it is my heartfelt prayer that our people will continue to move forward even more strongly, and that we will collectively embody all of these wonderful attributes of this leader who has gone to be with Jesus. To me, I feel like that is the greatest way we can honor those who no longer walk this earth, and it is a gesture of reconciliation and healing that can carry forward into future generations for the good of all people.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review: Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

Over the last few months, I have been reading quite a bit about the life and times of Theodore Roosevelt, and I recently finished reading Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. The book is the third part of a trilogy about the former President. The first book is The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and the second is Theodore Rex. Each one of these books uncovers aspects of what this great American accomplished that I find utterly inspiring personally.

This book starts off immediately after Roosevelt has left the Presidency. This is the period of his life when he delivers his famed Man in the Arena speech at Sorbonne in France, and he continues to play on a global stage. During this time, Roosevelt continues to lead a life of adventure, and in all probability lives his life as one of the most globally popular people on the planet. In this era of his life, he lives as a naturalist and explorer of Africa and the Amazon. He represents the US in various arenas, and he makes a solid run to establish a viable third party in American politics, the Progressive or Bull-Moose Party

Roosevelt, although his health began to deteriorate, never seemed to cease working hard. At one point, he comments that he had promised himself that he would continue working to the hilt until he was sixty and he had done it. Although he never re-ascended to the Presidency, he continued to live his life in such a way as to influence public opinion and global affairs. Reading Morris's account, one gets the feeling that the only thing that could really stop Roosevelt from moving forward with strength was his own death, and Morris tells Roosevelt's story right up to his very last words.

There is so much to say about this man's life, and Edmund Morris tells it in a way that gives a glimpse into the personal care and pride of a father for his sons as they go to serve in the first World War, as well as the tenacity and strength of this statesman in his fifties when a man attempts to assassinate him. Roosevelt gets shot as he prepares to give a campaign speech in 1912, and pulls the blood-soaked speech out of his pocket and continues delivering as his clothes become stained with blood. He remarked, "You see, it takes more than one bullet to kill a bull-moose." He gave a nearly one hour speech and then was rushed to the hospital and he survived, although he did not gain the Presidency again.

Theodore Roosevelt is one of the most engaging and enigmatic world leaders of the last century, and Edmund Morris does an incredible job telling his story. I highly recommend Colonel Roosevelt to anyone who wants to learn more about the life and influence, after the Presidency, of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, after his Presidency, continued to live life on an even bigger stage. May each one of us aspire to live our lives as fully as we can, and may we seek to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review: Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

As mentioned in a previous post, over the last few months I have been exploring the life and times of Theodore Roosevelt, and it has been a fascinating journey. Pulitzer Prize award winner Edmund Morris wrote Theodore Rex as the second part of the trilogy he composed telling the story of the life of the former President of the United States.

Theodore Rex picks up where The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt ends. President William McKinley has just been assassinated, and Roosevelt is now the President of the United States. Just as I felt when I was reading the first part of the trilogy, I am utterly amazed at what a deeply principled person Roosevelt was, and just how progressive he was. During a time when "Big Business" seemed to be dominating much of the landscape of America, Roosevelt stood for a fair wage for Americans. He threatened intervention and takeover with the military when one particular industry was threatening the lives of all-Americans through its greed. His activities garnered him the label of "Socialist" by his enemies.

He was definitely incredibly progressive for his time, and based on Morris' account, I wonder what today's media would do with a President like TR. He was a radical reformer, and he is the first President to dine with an African American in the White House. He commenced massive efforts to conserve natural resources and wilderness areas. He built up the US military for the sake of national security, and had a keen awareness of global developments. And he regularly wrestled, grappled, and fought people at the White House in order to stay in good physical condition. In much the same vein, he saw himself wrestling and grappling for the cause of right.

If you have an opportunity, I highly recommend reading about Roosevelt, and to learn about his Presidency, Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris is a great place to start. Roosevelt took his role as President extremely seriously, and his life is an example to each of us of the greed need our world has for each one of us to live our lives to the fullest and to work toward making a difference where we are.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Disaster Response Efforts In West Virginia Update: How Can You Help?

In late June, many areas in the southern part of West Virginia were hit with tremendous flooding. Homes were swept away. Family members were lost or injured. The waters were indiscriminate in sweeping through towns and bringing rapid destruction and damage to thousands of homes. And as the waters subsided, the people of our state began doing what we always do, rolling up our sleeves and helping one another out. People were working together to ship cleaning supplies and toiletries to those hard hit areas.
One of the best volunteer organizations that I have discovered when it comes to disaster response, and one which I would recommend to anyone looking to deploy, is Team Rubicon. The leadership of Team Rubicon has been trained in crisis and disaster response while serving in the military, and they bring all of that training and leadership into every disaster to which they deploy volunteers. One of the most challenging parts of disaster response for those who want to support is coordinating efforts. They require all volunteers to complete some online training modules before they deploy in an effort to ensure that all volunteers are fully equipped to make their punches count. I fully recommend signing up as a volunteer not just for the response that is needed now, but so you are equipped and prepared to deploy the next time an unexpected disaster strikes. Jamie and I also created a fundraising page with Team Rubicon to support their efforts. Will you consider donatingJamie and I support Team Rubicon because we believe in the leadership, we are impressed by the staff, and we think they have a very coordinated and regimented training and disaster response program that gets veterans and civilians together to live out some of the best qualities of citizenship and service.

There's still lots of work to be done, and more and more people are launching initiatives to support. WVU Alum Ken Kendrick contributed matching toward raising funds for WVU Extension. Brad Paisley donated toward a Go Fund Me page to encourage others around the country to pledge their support. Jennifer Garner launched a campaign with Omaze to raise money through t-shirt sales for Save The Children's efforts to help children in those communities hardest hit. Jim Justice opened the Greenbrier resort to families in need. All over our state, people have rushed out to purchase supplies and make donations of various types in response. 

I have a few friends who have traveled down to support friends and family members directly, and ALL of them have come back stating that one of the greatest needs presently is simply manpower, and will be for the foreseeable future. Our state needs people to volunteer their time to respond to the cleanup needs. Universally, organizations are discouraging people from deploying on their own, but there are lots of groups out there to serve with. If you can, mobilize with a group that is already organized, if you are unable, then support efforts financially to help equip others to get out there. It is some dusty, dirty, muddy, mucky work, and your contribution, at whatever capacity will be appreciated.

Whatever you can do to help, do it! If you have time and skills that can help with the response in southern West Virginia, deploy with a reputable group and serve. If you are not available to help directly, or you can’t donate goods like those listed on the United Way website above, donate to an organization you know does great work! I am incredibly proud of the way people in our state have rallied to support these efforts, and I know that my fellow West Virginians will always make the best out of a difficult situation. We are a resilient community, a community that supports one another, and one that holds firmly to a commitment to service.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Review: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

I've never been a person to dive into biographies about former Presidents, but the more stories I've heard about Theodore Roosevelt, the more intrigued I have become. As to be expected there are quite a few biographies and histories written about former and current Presidents, but Edmund Morris' account stood apart as it won the Pulitzer Prize, and subsequently led to Morris being invited to write a biography of then President Ronald Reagan. The book is nearly 800 pages long and has an additional list of 100s of endnotes at the back. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt only covers the period from birth to the moment of William McKinley's Assassination, but wow is it thoroughly engaging!

I only knew a small amount about President Roosevelt as I began reading the book. I knew of his policy and perspectives on native people, I knew of his love for the outdoors, and I knew his "Man in the Arena" speech because it is one of my friend Jake's favorites, and a challenge he often offers to others when he is speaking about Nuru. But, there is so much depth to this former President beyond those wave tops. 

In his path to the Presidency, he had already led a life that was more robust and full than that of many. He was a naturalist, scientist, and prolific writers with hundreds of thousands of pages of written text composed over the course of his lifetime. He was a descendant of some of the earliest Dutch settlers of New York City, and he also was a rancher who followed the call into the West. Beyond these accolades he also became the commissioner of police of New York City, and used that position to fight corruption in the police department and in politics in general. He worked exhaustingly for the cause of the good and the right, and although he was born into an incredibly wealthy family, his exploits to place checks against powerful interests won him the popularity of the masses. 

Beyond the many early exploits of the former President, Morris also comments on Roosevelt's fragility and his overcoming spirit. There's a conversation between father and son in the early chapters of the book where Roosevelt's father tells him "You have the mind, but not the body. You must make your body." and the younger Roosevelt responds, "I must make my body." It was recommended when Roosevelt was young that he not overexert himself because of his weak body he might be putting himself at risk. Roosevelt was an overcomer, and his example stands as a reminder to each and every one of us, that although the road may be long and difficult, we can overcome our circumstances as well. We may not become a future President, but we and those who are around us will benefit most from each of us living the most robust version of our life we can possibly live. 
 highly recommend The Rise Of Theodore Roosevelt for anyone looking to learn more about this engaging former President. Morris is an award winning writer, and this is the book that really launched him. Roosevelt as a human being nudges each of us to aspire to be a productive citizen and member of society, and those nudges are able to be seen as a challenge embodied by the challenger as one reads this book. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Garden Planting 2016

Growing up, we relied a lot on being able to produce food from our garden. Sometimes my dad would be working two or three small plots for corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and peppers. As the harvest would arrive, we would enjoy as much of it as we could, give away to neighbors and relatives, and can whatever remained. I can remember my sister and I going out to the garden after school in the spring and picking green onions and dipping them in salt as a snack. I don't think I fully appreciated back then just how unique our experience was, and how much my parents were covertly instilling in me an appreciation for the magic of where our food comes from.

Since 2007, I've had a small garden almost every year in Morgantown. Before that, as an adult away from home I would spend time planting on my tribes land with a few other folks, but there is something far more intimate about having your garden so close to home. My dad has had a garden for as long as I can remember, and even at 75, he and his brothers still plant crops together and share the produce. Our Shawnee ancestors considered the time just before planting the start of the new year and a time to embrace forgiveness and reconciliation. Maybe the work of preparing the soil for planting and looking onward to weeding and caring for crops was a reminder of just how much we need one another, and just how important our relationships are.

This year, I planted the Shawnee traditional three sisters (corn, beans, and squash) along with some tomatoes (cherry and better boys), collards, brussels sprouts, zucchini, bell peppers, and some sunflowers just for fun. I'm looking forward to sharing and feeding friends and family with some of the produce from this little truck patch. There's something especially delicious about picking a tomato, a pepper, or an ear of corn right off the plant and eating it right then and there, that people who only get their food from a grocery store really miss out on. 

Nowadays, it seems like it is a little more trendy to have a small garden, but I applaud anyone who, for whatever reason, is willing to get out and work with the soil. I believe the act of preparing and planting a garden does so much for the household or individual that attempts it. It is a profound reminder that, as much as technology is moving forward, the Creator of the universe has orchestrated it such that our food comes from the earth, and from our relationship with it. Farming or having a garden of whatever size reminds us of our role of stewardship and care, if not for the whole earth, at least for this small area near our homes. It also reminds us that we are dependent upon the rain, the sun, and good healthy soil to ensure that our plants grow, and that we have food to eat. Maintaining a garden also roots us to a deeper experience of place, and in a world that is always on the go, being rooted is a gift. 

As the summer moves forward, I look forward to watching the magic happen and the garden transform from soil, seeds, and small plants to a productive plot of magical gifts from the land. And as I think about the arrival of our child this fall with the harvest, I am hopeful to continue the tradition of teaching another generation of Shawnee about our relationship with the land and how God blesses us with food to eat. It warms my heart to think that every year, as our child celebrates another birthday, we will also be celebrating the late harvest here in these West Virginia hills. May we continue with each generation to to encourage good relationship with the land, the air, and the water. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Reflection: Gazing At Gravestones And Living On Purpose

Over the last few weeks, I've had a number of occasions that have led me to take stock of my life, my legacy, and to consider my purpose during my limited time on earth. In the last week alone, have watched from afar as a close friend said goodbye to her mother, read as people were murdered by car bombs, stood-by shocked as floods overtook the homes of individuals in the southern part of my home state of West Virginia. And this past Sunday, I attended Horizons Church in Salem, WV with my wife and her parents.

Each time I visit that church, I try to take a moment and gaze up the hill behind the church and look at the tombstones representing generations past. Actually, every time I pass by a cemetery when I am on foot, I find myself doing this same exercise. I take in the whole of the cemetery, or I focus in on a few of the tombstones. I try to go back in my mind to consider the lives of those represented. Did they have family and friends gather about their grave after they had breathed their last? Do people still visit their final resting places today in remembrance of their life. What were they living for? What principles did they carry forth in their lives? What were their great triumphs and tragedies?What were their dreams?

And then after considering those lives, I strive to take a few moments to think about my own life, and purpose. It's a bit of a gut-check for me to think about my own mortality, and what I want to be true of my life when I breathe my last and see my Creator face-to-face. I know it can sound a bit morbid or gruesome, but there's something sobering and rejuvenating in this process for me. As King David wrote in the Psalms, "Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!" Our lives are temporal. Even Reebok, in this recent commercial encourages us to "Honor the body we have been given" as we consider the brevity of days we have on this earth

This time as I looked at the cemetery and took a quick photo, I found myself considering the ways we can both individually and collectively slip into a life of self-indulgent comfort and ease. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, A mere life of ease is not in the end a very satisfactory life, and, above all, it is a life which ultimately unfits those who follow it for serious work in the world."

I believe each one of us were made for a unique God-honoring purpose, and there is something deeply fulfilling as we discover that purpose, and live passionately out of that purpose. Each of us has a one-of-a-kind contribution to make to the world, and I believe part of the path toward our contribution demands a surrender of comfort and ease for the sake of service to others. Our purpose tends to call to us sometimes softly and other times loudly to step out of our lethargy and "do the work" of becoming the best version of ourselves for the glory of God and the betterment of humanity.

For me, that purpose inspires me to rise daily and to put forth effort to be physically and mentally strong so I can have something to offer to others from my body. It inspires me to pour time into the betterment of and care for others by helping others to be able to make meaningful choices for their future. And even as I write and consider that grand purpose, there's also the hard truth staring me in the face. Sometimes I like to sleep in. Sometimes I find myself wanting to pursue a life of ease. And that's why I'm grateful for the gut-check provided by gazing at a graveyard. One day, I will cease to live this life. I find it helpful in light of this to ask questions of myself like, "What kind of person am I becoming? What kind of person do I want to become?"

What about you? How do you stay mindful of your purpose, and how do you keep fanning the flame to keep moving forward? Whatever it is, my hope is that you and I are able to continue to develop routines in our lives that will help us bring our very best selves to this beautiful majestic world in a way that embodies honor, service, fierce courage, commitment, and tenacious faith. To do anything else is to shrink away from a strong call of duty and a wonderful legacy.