As I passed under the overpass on my motorcycle I looked into the oncoming traffic and was uncertain what I was seeing. At first I thought it was some lawn care company moving equipment from one yard to another, but no.

The lead vehicle was a green riding lawn mower and a man drove it attentively through the traffic. He was wearing a ball cap and a colored T shirt. Close behind was a red wagon he was towing. And in the red wagon was a woman, riding along like she knew what she was doing. I was certain they were not simply riding it home from a very successful garage sale. Their belongings were piled up on mower and wagon as though on a long journey.

And where were they going? Of course, I could not know without asking or following. And I was headed the other direction. Is it rude to make a U turn, cruise up alongside a lawnmower/wagon couple and chat them up?

My only conclusion was that we get there in lots of different ways. If we can’t walk we ride a bike. If we can’t ride our scooter we drive a car. If the river stops and our canoe can’t go any farther we transfer to the train or bus. Or we hop on a riding lawn mower. It’s slower going, to be sure.

What circumstance led this couple to decide to travel in this way? Was this a way of life, something they have done for a long time? Or was this a one time remarkable exception to get to the new job or the funeral? Was it desperation? Or was it a very practical solution to a very concrete problem? Was this supreme innovation in the face of dire circumstance? Or was this some colossal dare with $100 riding on it?

Whatever the reasons I am peering back in time, back to a day when a young boy climbed onto the saddle of the riding lawn mower for the first time. Until then only his parents and older siblings were permitted to drive. But one day it was his turn and in a flurry of RPMs the green machine moved forward at his command. When he conspired with the neighbor girl to tie her wagon to the back for a ride it was high adventure and for that age even high romance. They beamed as they cruised the neighborhood and the other children stopped their games and watched them as they passed by, smiling and even waving. They made their own parade.

Somehow time passed as it always does and the children grew up and life happened and the big circle took them all the way back, back around to the old neighborhood. Whatever happened turned them toward one another with a look of amazement and remembrance: The mower and the wagon. Why not? What worked then could be the answer now.

I’m not certain how old this couple really was. They looked fifty to me. But I was in motion, passing the other way. Were they really ten? Or both? And when someone waved to them from the side of the road did they smile and wave back like so many years ago, king and queen of the road again, for even a moment?

 

Sure, go ahead. You can call me Dr. Liminal if you like. It wouldn’t be the first time!

Liminal Reality Cover ArtI am so pleased that Lutterworth Press in Cambridge, England offered to publish a second edition of my book Liminal Reality and Transformational Power. It is customary in second editions to not only clean up the original manuscript in terms of relevancy and content but to write an additional chapter. That I did. I have wanted to write something about Liminality and War for the longest time because I believe it is a key concept that could reframe much of the current conversation about war, its aftermath and the reassimilation of warriors. This was the perfect opportunity. That topic now occupies the last chapter of the new edition. The release of the book is in April but if you care to you may pre-order it here.

It never fails – something good can easily turn into something bad without much effort. In fact, the more good it is the worse the pain when it disappoints. So it is with the recent scandal of the Wounded Warriors Project.

The WWP has been the poster child for a clear and much needed  outreach to service men and women in all of their various needs – physical, social, emotional. They garnered strong support from generous benefactors and ordinary citizens. Well staffed, fiscally successful, and  programmatically developed, they became the envy of all other veterans organizations and admired by the public at large. Until recently, that is.

Now the truth about their lavish spending on extravagant events, travel and perks has been revealed. It’s not pretty. Much of the donor money was not spent on direct services. It was spent on high rolling executives and their lifestyles.

How sad is this? Such an important need! I think the one quote by a recent veteran who for a time worked for WWP broke my heart: “They were profiting off our wounds.”

It’s an easy downhill slide and other not-for-profits have preceded them on the path of shame. At first excess is explained as necessary for courting people with means. Next it is explained that you have to invest money to make money. And finally there is the argument from success: “Who else could have done this as well?”

The sad part is that WWP has done some very fine things. But these will be lost in the fog of unethical behavior. And even worse is how the scandal has reinforced an already existing skepticism about charitable organizations.

Corruption is a terrible thing and a terrible temptation. Unmonitored power just makes self-benefit too easy. It hurts everyone.

I think of the countless millions that the WWP has raised and spent on themselves and I think of the great contrast with our own All the Way Home program in which we strive to address the invisible wounds of war. We operate with the veritable crumbs from under the Wounded Warrior’s table and even so we try to do a lot with a little. It would be a blessing to have more to work with. But one thing I know: Whatever we become or realize I simply do not want to resemble in any form or degree that which has consumed the WWP. We are just meant to be more than that.

Sorry vets. Sorry donors and people of strong heart. The many are still true and filled with integrity regardless of the excess of the few.

Carrie Newcomer in Concert!

Posted: February 23, 2016 in Uncategorized
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Yes! Singer-Songwriter Carrie Newcomer will be in concert on Saturday, March 5, 7pm, at Broadway Christian Church, Columbia, Missouri. You may secure tickets at the church on weekdays during office hours, Sunday mornings, or online. Click the following link to download the full flyer which you may print and pass on. Come be a part of the moment!

Carrie-Concert-Flyer

It is sometimes trite to repeat the obvious. But sometimes the obvious hasn’t been so obvious. One of those obvious but often missed things is this: No one ever returns from war unchanged. However well prepared, however resilient, however well duty was performed, the soul of the warrior bears the scars that every human must when put in that situation. War exacts a severe toll for those who are sent and return. And returning in all respects – mind, relationships, spirit, vocation – is the last and difficult part of the journey, the long way home. Who could possibly understand? How can I fit in here? Is there a place for me in the world now?

All the Way Home is  a Mid-Missouri organization dedicated to assisting those warriors who carry the invisible wounds of war to come all the way home. It takes a community to do that, to bring those we sent back home. As a balm against the isolation we are creating ways for these veterans to gain access to one-on-one compassionate companions, small taking circle support and events like our March 4-5 retreat, Walking Home with our Combat Veterans.It will take place at the Cedar Creek Lodge and Retreat center just outside of Columbia, Missouri. The cost of the event for veterans – which includes room, board and program – is absolutely free.

This interactive and supportive retreat will address the core issues veterans face as they make the journey home. Our special guest presenters include the Rev. Dr. John Schluep and singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer. We will provide relaxed and unhurried time to explore the struggles and tools for continuing adjustment and transformation.

As a capstone to the weekend Carrie Newcomer will be in concert on Saturday, March 5, 7pm, in the sanctuary of Broadway Christian Church, 2601 W. Broadway. The tickets are $12 and may be purchased online, the Broadway church office during office hours or at the door.

Please consider passing the news of the retreat to veterans you may know who are struggling. You may download the Retreat brochure. Veterans may register through the All the Way Home Webpage. And promote the concert to everyone you know. The public is cordially invited.

 

Get Fat Inside

Posted: February 15, 2016 in Uncategorized
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If you want a contrasting voice on the spiritual journey and personal growth, one that breaks away from the formulaic pack, this is your book. Patricia Farmer is a proponent of living large on the inside, growing past the limits and tight confines we and others have drawn for ourselves. You will find all of this and more in Fat Soul. Get your copy and start reading it day by day. You won’t be sorry!

I have been reading Chris Jennings’ wonderful new book, Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism (Random House, 2016). 19th century America was filled with all manner of utopian movements, some that lasted a long time and others that were short-lived. The founders of each of the movements often had similar practical hopes but held them for different reasons. They often knew of the existence of other movements and in fact studied the pros and cons of others in an attempt to best found or improve their own.

Many had religious millennial expectations that the close of the age was near and pulled apart to create a faithful, ordered harmonious community in waiting. Others were purely secular, not only founding their ideal community for this-worldly reasons but naming religion as the problem. Most of them, in the effort to create a way of life that was a beautiful one, pulled apart from dominant culture and pursued a communal method of sharing property and responsibility and restructured typical familial relationships.

To consider the commonality and dissimilarity of movements, simply compare and contrast two utopian experiments. The Shakers and the followers of Fourier both believed that conventional understandings of marriage and family were a part of the problem and needed to change. But their prescriptions as to the reform were very different.

The Shakers, following Mother Ann, embraced celibacy. Men and women were strictly regulated in repressing any erotic inclinations. They were divided into separate dormitories. Children were raised by all adults in their own separate area.

The Fourier project dissolved traditional marriage and monogamy and believed that a more libertine approach to sexual desire was healthiest for all. This included a variety of sexual experiments and combinations.

Both of these utopian experiments thrived for a while. And they both came to an end for a variety of reasons.

The points of departure in this history are endless, but I would like to focus on one.

The industrialist and visionary Robert Owen created a utopian society in Indiana – New Harmony – an endeavor he could fulfill in the British Isles. His social progressiveness for workers was legendary. But his project to reform all of British society failed when it encountered a lack of support and great resistance. He bought an already existing settlement in America, one that had been developed by a German religious sect called the Rappities (following George Rapp). Theirs was a millennial movement that was very successful in this world as well. They eventually relocated back to Pennsylvania – not because they failed – but because their prophet thought it was time to move.

Robert Owen’s vision was for an Enlightenment, reason-oriented, community of learning, science, the arts and progressive education. He attracted free thinkers from everywhere. But his community failed after three years. It was simply not organized sufficiently to support all of its enlightened citizens. There are many causes that contributed to this failure, but I want to lift up one great contradiction.

Owen felt that three major social traditions contributed to distension and social misery: Private property, traditional marriage and religion. As far as religion goes he claimed that it was the bane of every civilized society. Eliminate religion and replace it with reason and your problems are over. The truth of the matter is that his secular community was filled with dissension and polarization. There were no clear lines of authority or a central highest value – other than humanity’s progress – that could unite them.

His predecessor’s community – the Rappites – was highly successful in almost every way. In fact, Owen lauded it for its accomplishments. It would be perfect, he said, if it weren’t for all the religious funny business. Whether one could subscribe to the Rappite beliefs – and few could – the combination of a shared religious perspective and mission, strong leadership that was accepted (like the Shakers), and German cultural identity and industriousness, made it work.

All of this is to say that whatever evil twisted religion brings to the world, and it has, it is certainly not the sole cause of disunity. One can’t blame it for everything. Owen didn’t know it, but his secular failure was evidence for the contrary; it is human nature that is always the problem.

A closing thought. There is a common perception that Utopianism is always propelled by fanciful imaginations and naive idealism. It might be propelled by those things in part – especially in some of the religious forms. But in almost every case of 18th-19th century Utopian movements they arose against a backdrop of social misery. The rise of depersonalized industrialization and the suffering masses often set the stage for wanting something different, another way to construe life. To understand the Shakers, for instance, you need to begin not with their ordered and prosperous communities, but with their origins in sooty, sickening, hopeless Manchester, England. There in the midst of the factories of despair and illness and injury and poverty arose the conviction that God would provide another way. I end with Jennings’ words that put it much better:

“It is common to attribute Utopianism to a surfeit of optimism, but the desire to totally overhaul civilization implies a fairly cynical view of the world as it is. Imagining a perfect future is, almost by definition, a way to organize grievances with the here and now.”(153)

Understanding this provides the right perspective to understand what came to be called the “Social Gospel” religious movement of the early 20th century. Surely God has better plans for this world than what what we see before us. And whether you believe this is tied to the consummation of history as we know it or mandates a pulling apart to create an ideal human society, there arises the conviction that the liberating and redeeming God is not satisfied with the massive suffering that characterizes so much that we have come to accept as normal.