Saturday, November 29, 2014

Kids and Accidents




There's no more frustrating place for a parent than the emergency room of a hospital.

While participating in the 'hanging of the greens' this morning (a fanciful phrase for decorating the church for Christmas), Clark hit his head on one of the speakers.

Not being the festive sort, I wasn't there. But my wife called in a panic and mentioned that Clark had fallen down some steps, and clipped his forehead on the corner of a speaker, leaving him a bloody, wailing mess. She also mentioned the need for stitches, and I was out the door within the moment.

I arrived at the 'urgent care' not long after she did to the sight above. His wound didn't bleed much. But he had a deep gash and seemed, understandably, crankier than usual.

The waiting room was filled with people. Some with coughs. Others with aches. None seemed to have the obvious urgency that Clark's cut had. And yet we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

A full hour.

In retrospect, I realize this wasn't very long. But I couldn't help feeling my blood boil for every able-bodied person that walked past my son's bleeding forehead.

In the end, he only needed a couple of stitches. As of this afternoon he's back to his old, mischievous self.


But still. There's no more frustrating place for a parent than the emergency room. And it's not that other patients were there. Or the wait. Or the skill of the doctors and nurses, who were all top-notch, and wonderful to a person.

It's the feeling of helplessness that you have when there's nothing you can do to make it all better.


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Monday, November 3, 2014

Change and Childhood Treasures


The window of my office here in Ross Hall overlooks the main quad of the University of Wyoming Campus. Outside, I can see students and faculty alike, bundled up in winter coats, gingerly making their way along the paths slick with snow. The campus is quiet and calm.

I don't know when the seasons changed here in Wyoming. But somewhere between July and now, we passed from summer to fall, and from fall to winter - all with a graceful, imperceptible ease. Even as the seasons have passed with a steady resilience, it seems somewhere in the past eight weeks or so, my own life has transitioned from that of a part-time consultant, to a full-time professor with roster of nearly 100 students.

It's a strange thing to see how much life can change in so small a span of time.

On the home front, our son Clark turned two on October 15th. In his two years on the Earth, he's lived in three states and two countries. And while he won't remember it, he has traveled more in his two years of life, than I have in the first thirty of mine. All of which reinforces the fact that we live in a very different age than the one I grew up in.

I marvel at this far more than I should. Growing up, I can remember digging holes in the yard at my Grandparents' house, and pretending that my G.I. Joes were engaged in an intense guerrilla conflict. Clark is more interested in his iPad and Netflix options than in actually playing with the toys he has. And yet, when we take him to the park, as in the photo above, his eyes come alive with the magic of falling leaves, and small branches that are ripe for the picking. Every child has his treasures.

I wonder too about the kind of world he will inherit. Election Day is tomorrow and our Nation is on the cusp of making a significant change in direction. The Washington Post puts the Republicans chances of taking the Senate at 96%, while Rachel Maddow warns voters to 'Be afraid. Be very afraid' of this possibility. All of this, of course, ignores the simple reality of our system of checks and balances, and the fact that our government will remain divided regardless of which party controls Congress.

Even so, I wonder what policy changes are on the horizon and the practical implications they have for my son's life as he continues to grow in knowledge, strength and maturity. I can live with the Government making mistakes that can effect me. That's the cost of living and doing business in the world's leading democracy. But when it comes to governmental mistakes that can effect my son, I find myself much less forgiving.

Still, like the seasons here, change is coming, and I hope this new generation of leaders is equal to the task. I don't know that America can weather another election cycle of malaise. Hope seems like such a quaint notion these days. Perhaps change will be the better course.

In sum, I suppose our lives here are very much like those of Americans all over. We are in the midst of change and transition with a guarded optimism for things to come. 'Trust but verify,' as Reagan used to say.

I have a lot more to add about my work, book reviews, and parenting, but these will have to wait for another day. For now, I hope it's sufficient to know that the "Pax" is back - at least once per week.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Silence, God, and Fish

Flowers Beside the Lake

The other day, I read about King Saul and his efforts to consolidate power once he was named the King of Israel. He was a man who ruled with ruthless abandon, harassing his enemies at every turn, driving them out of the lands and territories that the King had claimed for his own. And yet, for all of his struggles, warmongering, and folly, King Saul sought God often. As it happens, however, God did not often answer him back (I Samuel 14.37). 

Saturday, I took a break from preparing for classes and ventured into the Snowy Mountains in Medicine Bow National Forest. The past week had found me feverishly reading Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. It’s one of the assigned texts for my classes, because it vividly outlines the plight of American Indian tribal nations during the systematic destruction of their governing institutions. Much like King Saul, the young American Nation consolidated power over American Indian tribes with ruthless abandon, harassing them at every turn, and driving them out of the lands and territories that the budding Nation would claim for its own. As the story goes, the tribes were driven further and further westward, until they were summarily rounded up, and placed on increasingly smaller reserves of land. Or as we call them today, reservations. 

I suspect for anyone, the book might make for a bit of a dour read - particularly the early chapters prior to the Government’s major shift in Federal Indian policy. Tale after tale of lost lands, disease, and poverty had left me quite nearly moribund myself, so when the invite from a friend came to head for the hills (literally), I was more than happy to leave my work behind. 

Now, when I fish, it’s normally my habit to focus intently on the fishing. I tend to analyze each cast, and ponder over bait options, all in hopes of snagging a big fish. But on this trip my approach was different. When we first arrived, no one was at the lake. The sounds of the waves lapping against the rocks, and the rustle of the wind were all I heard. Every so often, I could glance and see a bald eagle soaring high overhead, looking for an opportunity to demonstrate who the true fisherman was. It was serene, and I allowed the quiet of the mountains to consume my morning.

I asked no questions of God in that quiet sanctuary of nature. Even if I had let my mind wander and permitted myself to conjure up all of the academic questions posed by my textbook, or considered the dilemmas that consume my own existence, I suspect my answers from God would have been the same as those given to Saul: complete, utter silence. I say this not on account of my own warmongerings, but because sanctuaries are fundamentally places for worship and contemplation. The sanctuary of nature I visited, set against the craggy face of the Snowy Mountains was no different. Words would have been an injustice in so beautiful a place.

And so I was silent. And God was silent. And the fish never stirred.  

It has taken a while, but gradually I'm learning that the silence of God can be just as tremendous as the voice of God. Silence leaves the questions and matters that beset us wholly open to interpretation. This space provides opportunities for us to create our own solutions to existential quandaries - as opposed to having a determinist God prescribe our every waking moment and then some.

Given this, I think what our collective lot needs is more of what philosopher/theologian Paul Tillich famously described as The Courage to Be - mustering within ourselves a courage to confront life’s ordeals, as much as a courage that allows us simply to be at peace with ourselves. In other words, only when we embrace the silence of our existence, can we find peace amid the chaos of life - a peace that allows us to simply “be."

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Ode to the Rising Sun

 
It's a drop past 4pm here at Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. As the canard goes, it's not lost on me how ironic it is to name a state citadel of aviation after a man who died in a plane crash. 
 
Airborne
 
A few hours ago, I said goodbye to Gwyn, Clark and Fan after a bittersweet farewell in Walters with Dad, Mom, Papa, Andrea, Jacob, Garrett, Seth, Chelsey, and our sister Randi Lynn and her son Drey. I made this latest trip home to see exactly this set of people. If there's anything one can count on at all in matters of Comanche culture, it's the opportunity to see family when one comes home. 
 
And so it is at the Comanche Homecoming Celebration, going strong some 63 years after its first incarnation welcoming home veterans following their service in the Korean War. 
 
Last night, sitting at our camp, with a canopy of stars under the dark Oklahoma sky, I was able to sporadically reconnect with friends and family alike - some of whom I had not seen since the last time I attended the Comanche Homecoming Celebration in 2005. Soaking up the moment, I was pleased to chat with long-time family friend, Tom Kavanaugh, a former Anthropologist and Curator of Collections at the University of Indiana's Mather Museum. Tom is nothing if not friendly and blessed with a keen sense of storytelling, wrought from forty-odd years of accumulating insights into the history and culture of the Comanche People. His knowledge and enthusiasm is infectious. 
 
After listening a good while, I asked what someone with his experience would miss the most about the old days of the celebration and the old ways of doing things. True to form, Tom answered without hesitation, "I miss the people. They Keewainais (keh-why-nighs) who are no longer here but should be."
 
I didn't have much of a reply. It's sometimes hardest to respond when a person is so strikingly correct. 
 
Later that night over cigars with my brother Lucas Davis of Houston, TX (a distinctly Comanche brother who shares neither my tribal identity nor even my ethnicity), I thought about the event and its ability to pull together so many people, from so many places, and allow them to be a family. 
 
While I watched the crowds of people milling about the dusty creek bottom, I found that I couldn't escape my conversation with Tom. A small place in my heart pinched at the thought of families and friends forever seared into my heart and mind - the ghosts of celebrations past who are forever sitting around the arena in Sultan Park. 
 
My son Clark received a Comanche name earlier in the day, one of the principal reasons hastening my return home. Such events are rare in life, watching one's firstborn and his ascent into the ranks of warriors past. Fortunately, Clark was well-served in his naming by family friend/relative and my personal mentor Bernard Kahrahrah - a former Chairman of the Comanche Tribe. After much prayer, Bernard gave Clark the name Thaiori (Thy-oh-rē), which translates to the sun is rising.
 
Denver
 
I didn't realize this at the time, but Clark's name gives me a great deal of solace as I struggle to make sense of life, and all of the changes and opportunities that lie ahead. I think that even when one becomes melancholic for the ghosts of the arena, perhaps it's wise to follow their example and pray for the generations that are to come, rising like the sun in the east, calling us to embrace the future of a new day.  
 
It's always a good thing to come home - no matter how difficult it is to leave. 
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Friday, July 18, 2014

Change and Home

Changes

Today finds me in the sterile confines of Denver International Airport en route to Oklahoma. After only a few days on the job at the University of Wyoming, I am traveling back to Walters for the annual Comanche Homecoming Celebration. 

To be sure, I realize the benefits of air travel. I'll be reunited with friends and family from near and far in a matter or hours, traversing great distances that even a car ride would take north of 14 hrs to compete. 

And yet, flying is certainly an abominable way to travel. Just a few minutes ago, I was comfortably seated at the far end of seats near gate A49, when a middle-age woman sat uncomfortably close to me.
True to form, she immediately popped open her laptop, fired up her cell phone, and began yelling into the receiver. In the course of ten minutes, I heard every detail about the new house she and her husband are purchasing, right down to the interest rate of the mortgage, and the need for her husband, David, to be very careful in making sure that all of the paperwork gets filed in a timely manner.
Poor David. I suspect there will be hell to pay when she gets home. Seems he misplaced the documents amid the sea of folders in their home office.
When I could no longer take listening to the details of a perfect stranger's life, (keep in mind I had no choice in the matter), I moseyed toward the restroom for a brief pit stop prior to boarding.
And even in that hallowed sanctum, I could hear a voice from the stall next to mine, barking complaints into his cell phone about the poor planning that went into the entire trip. Apparently, he wanted a direct flight to begin with and couldn't countenance having a layover in Denver.
All of which leads me to conclude that the golden age of air travel had to have been in the 60s and 70s, when flights were cheap, the cocktails flowed freely, and cell phones weren't yet thought of.
Even so, it's nice to be going home. I'm enjoying my new job in Laramie and excited for our future there. But the allure of home in Walters is never far from my mind. Change is afoot in my life. But Walters, I suspect, will always be my true north - no matter how far south I have to travel to get there.
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Friday, July 4, 2014

Country and Culture

I'm writing today from steamy Carnegie Park, home of the Kiowa Gourd Clan's annual celebration. While an American flag is prominently displayed in the middle of the arena and scores of veterans line the rows of chairs behind it, the event is decidedly not a celebration of America’s Independence from Great Britain. 

Somewhere around the time that the Kiowa Indians came to call this part of Oklahoma home, the early days of July coincided with the ripening of the skunkberry, indicating that the time for holding the sun dance was near. As Kiowa warriors came to defend their territories in the infamous “Indian Wars” against the U.S. Cavalry in the late 1800s, trophies of battle were proudly displayed in the literal center of the annual ceremony. Given its origins, the event became more a celebration of tribal insurgency than a celebration of American Independence from European powers.

Yet, it is impossible to discount the appreciation for our country here marked by a plethora of red, white, and blue, along with the deep admiration expressed repeatedly for the young men from Kiowa Country who have fought with honor on distant shores. It’s also noteworthy that Native Americans have the highest record of military service per capita of any ethnic group in the United States. It is fair to say that American Indians are a rather patriotic lot all things considered.  

But if there’s a conclusion to be drawn from the Kiowa Gourd Clan celebration and its implications for the nexus of culture and country, it is that America’s relationship with its tribal nations is rife with complexity. And though it may be surprising, it is exactly this complexity that makes the annual celebration here in Carnegie a quintessentially American affair.

A couple of years ago I wrote that America is like a large dysfunctional family. I think this is still mostly true. Consider the hullabaloo surrounding the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby opinion. Proponents of Obamacare and those who generally support the mass availability of contraception have bemoaned the “dangerous implications” of the Supreme Court’s “radical” decision. Meanwhile, faith-based organizations and those opposed to family planning have hailed the ruling as a profound “victory for religious freedom.”

Given our divide, it’s clear that both our internal relationship with other Americans, and America’s relationship with tribes, are complex things. And yet, like a marriage on the rocks, America somehow manages to hold it together year in and year out, providing relative stability for the world and bags of cash when good will isn’t good enough.

It’s true we can do more to cooperate and solve big problems. We can be more united and less inclined to bickering. But as a society we seem to hold our collective paradox rather well.

With our population so divided on so many issues, perhaps celebrating our cultural disconnects really is the best we can do.  

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Secular Thoughts and Sacred Conclusions

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It's a quiet morning here on the farm. My Wife, Son, and Grandfather have all made the trek down the road and up the steep hill to church. I've opted for a somewhat less holy morning of coffee and Emails. Not nearly as uplifting but we all have our spiritual needs I suppose. 

Despite my morning of zen, a lot has happened in the past few weeks. Most recently, my baby sister graduated from high school, thereby ensuring my parents an empty nest if they ever permit her to leave. For now, her college plans include attending the local university and commuting from home at their insistence. 

For my friends and colleagues not from Southwest Oklahoma, the graduation ceremony itself would have been somewhat of a surprise. Like the one hundred and five Walters High School Commencement ceremonies before it, my sister’s graduation was punctuated by very public references to God and Jesus with one precocious valedictorian going so far as to share the gospel from rostrum, complete with pastoral inflections and Biblical passages. Naturally, he was a preacher’s kid - the scion of the First Baptist Church minister no less. As if this weren’t enough, the baccalaureate service was also prominently advertised, directly opposite the graduation agenda on the official programs issued by the school. It was enough to make even this God-fearing agnostic's head swirl. Suffice it to say, Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state is in a bit of disrepair around here. 

On the other hand, such a melding of faith and state wasn’t all bad. After a spirited debate with the powers that be, my sister managed to secure permission to wear an Eagle plume feather from her mortar board. Granted, the permission didn’t not come readily or perhaps even willingly, but we were all pleased nonetheless that the situation didn’t escalate. Last year, a Native American high school senior from Alabama was fined $1000 for her exercise of religious expression. The matter would have been especially ironic given the overt displays of religious expression throughout the ceremony. Perhaps the event will mark a new era of religious pluralism here in sleepy Walters, OK?

First Amendment questions aside, being home has been rather nice in other ways. We returned to America unexpectedly at the conclusion of my contract with the University of Waikato at the end of March. Fundraising had been a perennial problem for my employer, the University Waikato's new Indigenous Governance Centre. But as you can see in the photo above, we returned to warm temps and mild summer evenings that provide ample time for walks down the narrow lane leading to our house. I enjoyed similar walks with my Son in New Zealand, but the area around our flat didn’t have the quiet, peaceful environs we enjoy here in the country. In a way, the biggest benefit to being home is how simple it really is. 

While I poked a bit of fun earlier at the overt religiosity here in the veritable buckle of the Bible Belt, there is something to be said for the stability and simplicity of life gleaned from the faith that guides most people around here - a faith I once had. This is particularly true when one considers the relative chaos that seems to pervade everything else.

Consider that in just the past week alone, people much more tech savvy than myself have said that the security infrastructure of our computers and computer systems is “held together with the IT equivalent of baling wire.” Similarly smart people have questioned whether the crisis in the Ukraine could lead to another World War. And not long ago, closer to home, our State so thoroughly botched the execution of a man that he died of a heart-attack some twenty minutes after state officials halted the entire process.

Given such a comedy of errors, it’s nice to have a place that’s insulated from the madness - if only for a short while. But more on that to come.

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Friday, February 28, 2014

Three Grains of Sand

 
We're seaside in Raglan, New Zealand today. The air smells of salt, and the sand is warm beneath bare feet. 
 
Our hosts today are a delightful Italian couple that we've become friends with through the University. It's an adventure traveling the countryside with them. We are driving an early 2000s model sedan with a manual transmission. It hasn't always been a smooth ride, but something about the fits and starts of the tired engine make the trek to the coast seem more appropriate. 
 
We had lunch earlier at a lovely, albeit overpriced, fusion cafe. The shops of Raglan were bustling this afternoon with locals and tourists alike. In the cafe, I had a chicken roti wrap that tasted rather like a quesadilla with bacon and potatoes than a proper wrap. The local beer on tap was a bit bitter even for me. But it was cold and wet, and that made it just good enough to satisfy my thirst before our trip to the beach. 
 
The roads to the shore from the village green weren't obvious. They tend to wind and meander along the cliffs and neighborhoods of the town, while the shore remains hidden just out of view. But after a couple of turns, we saw the sea gleaming far below the ridge. 
 
When we finally arrived on the sand not long ago, Clark immediately made a straight line for the water. Kids seem to have a fixation with water that I no longer appreciate as an adult. Still it's a beautiful love he has for the ocean. Perhaps if we lived here longer he would learn to surf, and fish, and swim in the sea. 
 
It's strange to consider that we'll be returning to America in the near future, leaving New Zealand and the black sands of Raglan far behind. It's time to go home, I think. But for Clark's sake, I hope we visit again sometime. We have too many friends here to never return. 
 
It strikes me that so much of life is like this. The three of us in isolation are like three grains of sand taken from a vast beach. We can exist just fine on our own, but we tend to thrive when in the company of the countless others that make life worthwhile. 
 
 
 
 
 
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Monday, February 17, 2014

The Solitude of a City


It's been a while since I've lived in a proper city. This evening provided an unexpected reminiscence when I found myself flying solo in downtown Auckland. 

It was a steamy day here in Aotearoa. The humid air mixed with the sounds of traffic and exhaust. For a moment, I was taken by the ghost of summers past, back to long days spent in Washington, DC, beating the pavement between Union Station and the Capitol. 

When the heat became too much, I stopped at a faux Moroccan bar and grill called the Casablanca. I ordered a pilsner to spite the heat and a Moroccan-style pizza. It wasn't a very memorable meal in all honesty. But my spot along the street was prime real estate for people watching. There was a fine breeze kicking between the buildings. 

Sipping my beer, I thought about the topics at the seminar I attended. Experts, mostly from New Zealand and Australia, gathered to discuss the plight of Indigenous peoples' access to justice. It was all rather depressing to hear their accounts of discrimination, and abuses of discretion despite the supposedly blind  nature of lady justice. 

Which is an important lesson really. If one is ever in need of a pick-me-up, seminars sponsored by the various U.N. Expert Mechanisms are not the solution. 

As I watched people and wondered about their lives, it struck me that the city can be a damn lonely place. Not a new thought. But an important one all the same.  

When I finished my meal, I paid the waitress and left, searching for colleagues and camaraderie. All told, I think cities are best defined as bastions of solitude comprised of thousands upon thousands of souls. 

Personally, I'd rather be at home with Gwyn and Clark. Our place isn't much. But it's never lonely. 
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Monday, February 3, 2014

Analyzing Excellence, Part II

Courtesy of the AP / Photo by Ben Liebenberg
When I wrote the piece on excellence yesterday morning, it was well before Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos suffered an epic collapse in one of the most lopsided losses in Super Bowl history. During the 4th Quarter of the game, infamous Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman left the game with an ankle injury and did not return.

What makes this blip on the Super Bowl radar interesting is that in the weeks prior to Super Bowl XLVII, Sherman made it a point to repeatedly criticize Peyton Manning's passing abilities. At one point, he compared his throws to wobbly ducks languidly flying through the air. To his credit, Manning brushed off the comments during the week and moved on to other things.

Fast-forward to yesterday's game.

The Broncos had just taken a drubbing and the media circus was already in full swing, documenting the aftermath, and dismissing the Broncos performance as an NFL embarrassment. If anyone could justify going off the grid, after a loss like that, it'd be Peyton Manning.

So what does he do?

He trudges down the winding corridors of MetLife Stadium, the sting of defeat still burning his eyes. He by-passes the Seattle acolytes celebrating their victory at his expense. And Peyton Manning calls on Richard Sherman, the man who had excoriated him in the media weeks earlier and defeated him on the field moments ago, to inquire as to his health and make sure that he was okay. 'Ankle injuries are serious things. Just making sure you're ok.'

You see, when you're excellent, it doesn't really matter whether you win or lose.
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