Month: September 2010

  • The Bonaventure + Florence Nelson + A Long Rope = ??

    I don't mean to steal any thunder from NWNW (and there is plenty of thunder rolling through the blogosphere), but in just one week and one month, I will leap backwards off the top of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, clinging to a climbing rope. It's high time I explained why. It's complicated.

    My mom, Florence Nelson, died September 25 of 2009. The first anniversary comes in a few days, and I have simply not been able to grieve much for her over the past year for some reason.  Her final illness was a long one, so I did a good deal of pre-grieving in anticipation of her passing, but afterwards... I was willing to grieve, and tried to do so a couple of times, like while my brother and I were sprinkling her ashes from a tall rock outcropping overlooking one of her favorite stretches of Sonora desert. But there was just a blankness covering up where I knew the grief was hiding. I was able to celebrate her life, but not able to do the other thing. Whatever that was.

    There is no sense trying to force something that isn't ready to happen, so I got busy with life again.  Probably what my practical mother would want me to do.

    This past Sunday I rediscovered this book, one of the best I've ever read about the grieving process, and one that I had completely forgotten about until now. I find metaphor and story are often far more helpful than cognitive analysis, with things of the heart. Tear Soup's story is touching, its metaphor robust. Something tipped inside me, and I quietly wept for the first time since the memorial service. My grief has peeked out from its hiding place, pushing the blankness aside, just a bit.  I think I'm ready to begin my own batch of Tear Soup.

    This will be an unusual batch. I'm not a maudlin person, so I don't expect there will be a lot of actual tears (although I might be wrong, we'll see-- grief is a funny thing, and can play tricks on you sometimes). After sitting with my rediscovered grief for a few days, I am sure of some of the Soup's ingredients:

    • Solitude, humbling myself before God

    • A Party, taking pride in something worth celebrating

    • Study, learning new things from a master

    • Teaching, passing along something I've learned

    • Adventure!

    • Philanthropy!

    All of these are intimately connected to my mom Florence, and I'll make those connections & their expressions clear as they unfold. But on Monday morning those last two ingredients' expressions sprang to vibrant life, fully-formed, via an email from the Los Angeles Area Council (LAAC) of the Boy Scouts of America.

    I serve as an Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 848, where my son Armando is a Scout (Second Class). I am also a member of the National Eagle Scout Association. When the LAAC wanted volunteers to rappel off the Bonaventure Hotel to help raise money to support Scouting in the City of Los Angeles, they approached local and active Eagle Scouts first. Mom's qualities of Adventure and Philanthropy popped promptly into place in my mind and I signed up immediately, with my wife's enthusiastic support.

    Mom loved adventure, and she loved giving generously of her time, energy and money, to worthy causes. She was especially devoted to education and various kinds of mentoring for character development, maturity and wisdom. Scouting is all about those things. Scouting in South Los Angeles is especially strategic, and anything I can do to support them will honor my mom's memory and add to her legacy.

    Please join me in this.

    You can rappel with me, or volunteer at the event (probably the best deal), or contribute toward my goal of $10,000, or just come to watch and join us at the After Party at the Bonaventure.

    I give as much time and energy as I can to serve Troop 848, one of the very few African-American troops in Southern California and a highly respected outfit. (I'll tell you more about them as "Over The Edge"-Day draws near.) I don't have the resources to be a philanthropist of Mom's caliber, but financially too, I give what I can. I am not asking more from you than I require from myself.

    Will you help me in my crazy attempt to honor my mother, and to strengthen Scouting in Los Angeles?

    This will be a great way-- a healing way, for me-- to mark the first anniversary of her death.

    Mom will love it.


  • Ending the Slavery of Self-Destruction

    This month marks the 21st anniversary of my wife's move to South Central Los Angeles. I joined her four months later, in January 1990. We never left. We have been intimately engaged with South Los Angeles all this time, increasing our depth of connection over the years as experience and opportunity allowed.  We have been the ethnic minority in each of our neighborhoods all this time, so we have some small taste (from the other side of the pot, so to speak) of what that's like.  We love our neighbors and genuinely want the best for them. We regularly endure criticism for being the wrong color, the wrong class, the wrong political stripe, the wrong fans (Clippers, not Lakers)... for being foster parents, for adopting a Black child, for living in a small apartment, for living in a big house that's too old and ugly, for living in a big house that's too new and pretty . . .  It is not easy, but I would not trade it for anything else. I love South Los Angeles. I love Black and Latino culture. And Chinese, and Nordic, and Zambian, and British, and Indian too-- both "dot" and "feather"-- here, we have it all!


    On September 22 – the 148th anniversary of The Emancipation Proclamation – African American writers throughout the United States are being encouraged to flood the blogosphere for an entire day of online debate, information, and commentary under the auspices of “No Wedding, No Womb” (NWNW) an initiative that seeks to address the problems of-and provide solutions to-the unplanned pregnancies among African American single women. Nearly half of all families in the African American community are headed by Black women. In addition, more than 70 percent of live births in the Black community are to unmarried women.

    Founders of Christelyn D. Karazin and Janice Littlejohn will spearhead the online effort joined by more than 100 top African American bloggers and noted journalists who will provide their own new and informational posts stimulating a movement toward strengthening Black communities and families.


    Although I am not a Black woman, my daughter will grow up to be one soon. As one called by God to love South Central and its fascinating mix of cultures, I want the best for my urban African American friends and neighbors, for the Black community, and most especially and personally, I want the best for my lovely daughter.

    On this day, September 22, this means I want to see the African American community becoming emancipated from its slavery to self-destruction.

    Yes, slavery. To self-destruction. I cannot tell you how many times I have listened to Black teens (boys AND girls) singing popular lyrics that could well have been written by some kind of White Supremacist conspirators, rather than "respected" African-American rap and hip-hop artists.  Young Black women in a community-college class commiserating about how rotten men are, and agreeing sagely with the closing comment "mens is just out to use you and abuse you, so you gots to use them first."  Teen girls pushing their toddlers in strollers who wave enthusiastically at their old Bible Club teachers, promising that as soon as their kids are old enough, they will make sure they come to Bible Club too, since it is so much fun and teaches you about how to live. (I have never felt such a failure as I did then)  A jaded urban missionary leaning out the window of his creaky van to shout at a group of gangbangers on the corner "Hey! Get a job!" Their cold anger gave way to embarrassment as they recognized the man of God who taught them in after-school homework clubs and coached them in youth sports leagues... they respect him but will not follow him or his God, or get that job... they will not submit to an employer's "demands", so God's are off the table entirely.  

    But mostly my heart has broken over and over as beautiful little girls bursting with promise and potential (Black, Latino and a few Hmong) become teenage "baby-mommas" as if pregnancy is an inevitable result of the end of puberty. I watch them fall into a cycle of immaturity and dependency and poverty that I was sure THIS one would break free from... or, maybe THAT one... my hopes have been dashed so often I have lost count. I never wanted to keep a count anyway, I want to focus on hope rather than despair. 

    And as I do so, I see married couples.

    Strong married couples, and counter-cultural ones at that, seem to be the only reliable predictor of children who will escape the cycle of slavery to self-sabotage.  Marriage alone doesn't make much difference if the parents uncritically accept the culture around them, a culture which enthusiastically promotes sex and selfishness and simplistic thinking (or no thinking at all), a culture which scorns self-control and ridicules most virtue.  Whether the counter-cultural stance is Christian or Vegan or Armed Forces Patriotism or Save-the-Earth Greenism or whatever, if it is authentic and persistent and involves both parents, it seems to be effective.

    I will let other bloggers like Sophia Nelson and C.M. Whitener wrestle with specific facets of the issue of marriageless procreation, and I am more apt to emphasize the role that Black men might take in solving the problem, but the basic concept of NWNW seems axiomatic.  If Black women simply refused sex with men who refused to marry them-- and, by implication, refused to marry men who were not "marriage material" (a wedding ring is not a magic totem!)-- this would go a long, long way toward emancipating the whole African American community from self-destructive cycles.

    More than that, it would begin a profoundly CONSTRUCTIVE cycle that would replenish the Black community-- educationally, financially, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, creatively, with generation building upon generation (rather than generations crowding against and sapping from one another). I can only hope that NWNW becomes the catalytic discussion that brings this change. 

    "Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come." (Victor Hugo)


    this topic is too important to confine to a single date. I hope conversations are sparked and seeds of transformation are planted that will grow and mature and bear the fruit of freedom over the next ten years... so that all this will seem like history, not lurking slavery, to my daughter when she is grown.

  • The Death of Great Women - Eloise Drake

    The anniversary of my mother's death is coming up later this month, and when I heard about Eloise Drake passing away, it got me thinking... this, then, is the first of four posts about great women whose deaths have been meaningful to me and, perhaps, teach us something about life. And about greatness, too.

    Eloise grew up on a ranch in New Mexico during the 20s and 30s. Her high aspirations and academic competence led her to attend Abilene Christian College in Texas, but she left after a single semester because the formal and informal social restrictions were too burdensome.  Seeking a more relaxed setting for her education, she transferred to a school in California, then known as George Pepperdine College.  She met her husband David Drake there, as the war ended, and they were married on Christmas Day in 1947.

    Over the next 61 years they lived mostly in Hacienda Heights, where they raised three daughters, then moved to Santa Monica. They also called Albania home on two separate sojourns, during which they taught English and the Bible. They were lifelong members of the Church of Christ, and from that stance, served their communities and an ever-widening circle of friends and acquaintances. Eloise in particular gave herself to sharing with others the love and grace and truth of God, which she called "evangelism" but which bears little resemblance to the social science or salesmanship that often go by that name.

    In retirement, Eloise and David's "business card" read simply "David & Eloise Drake, A Married Couple Since 1947."  Indeed, their real "business" seems to have been valuing relationships and inspiring others to do the same: marriage relationships, family relationships, friendships, business relationships, etc. but most of all a person's relationship with God.

    David died in November of 2009, and Eloise died just weeks ago, on September 9th, 2010. Like the other Great Women who have inspired me, she was what Paul called a "ligament" in the Body of Christ, supporting far more persons than anyone realized until after she was gone.  Like the other Great Women she was taken for granted, but not in a bad way-- her presence and influence was so constant and reliable that folks simply depended upon it without thought or worry, in the same way that the solidity of a flight of stairs is assumed by those who depend upon it daily.  And the reality of its absence is equally surprising.

    Eloise was elderly, 88 years old, and her physical death must not have been a complete surprise... it is the adjustments that must be made, the almost-daily discoveries of how exactly she connected different people, and how relationships must change or be lost now that she is gone, all these are as surprising as the absence of a much-used flight of stairs, no matter how much advance warning one might have had of its impending removal.

    I had the same surprising realizations after my own mother's death last year... but I will tell the story of her death later.

    Meanwhile, my heart goes out to the many who love Eloise and who mourn her passing. Grace and strength to you.

  • International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

    Arrr! Ahoy me hearties, it be International Talk Like a Pirate Day! We of the Nelson household be celebratin' it in fine fashion, aye.  Not sure how well it'll go over at me church, but ye needs te know who yer mates be, hey?  Days like this reveal who be the stuffy scalawags and who be the crew that'll sail ye thru the storms o' life. Er at the least, ye'll plumb the depths of their humor, eh?

    I figure if software companies like AVAST (which itself be a piratey name of sorts, don'cha think?) are participatin' whole-heartily-like in this here festive occasion, far be it from me to spoil the par-tee. 

    Who else out there be celebratin' wit us?  An who be railin' aginst us?  Hoist yer colors and be known fer what ye are!