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Posts Tagged ‘dreams’

courtesy of wikipedia

Carlton Pearson, image courtesy of wikipedia

In one of my very first posts, I wrote that Julia Kozerski needn’t worry about losing herself while pursuing her goal of losing weight. My logic was that her movement towards a healthy body is inherently a dramatic, radical change, which, even if the change is positive, could feel like losing oneself since she was accustomed to defining herself by her unhealthy weight. One requirement of pursuing a big goal is re-evaluating how we define ourselves, and being prepared to release long-held beliefs if they become obstacles to our mission. I still believe that a pursuing a noble goal with a fulfilling journey is immeasurably valuable, and therefore worth pursuing at any cost, but one story educated me on how high that cost can be.

Last month, National Public Radio’s This American Life broadcast a story on Carlton Pearson, a once-superstar fundamentalist preacher and board member of Oral Roberts University who, in 2002, began to preach that all people, regardless of deeds, sexual orientation, or faith, will go to heaven. What would be known as the Gospel of Inclusion, Mr. Pearson discussed the night that convinced him to diverge from his fundamental theology:

“I was watching the evening news. The Hutus and Tutsis were returning from Rwanda to Uganda… Now, Majeste was in my lap, my little girl. I’m eating the meal, and I’m watching these little kids with swollen bellies. And it looks like their skin is stretched across their little skeletal remains… And I, with my little fat-faced baby, and a plate of food and a big-screen television. And I said, “God, I don’t know how you can call yourself a loving, sovereign God and allow these people to suffer this way and just suck them right into Hell,” which is what was my assumption.

And I heard a voice say within me, “So that’s what you think we’re doing?”

And I remember I didn’t say yes or no. I said, “That’s what I’ve been taught.” 

“And what would change that?”

“Well, they need to get saved.”

“And how would that happen?”

“Well, somebody needs to preach the Gospel to them and get them saved.”

“So if you think that’s the only way they’re going to get saved is for somebody to preach the Gospel to them and that we’re sucking them into Hell, why don’t you put your little baby down, turn your big-screen television off, push your plate away, get on the first thing smoking, and go get them saved?”

And I remember I broke into tears… I remember thinking, God, don’t put that guilt on me. You know I’ve given you the best 40 years of my life. Besides, I can’t save the whole world… And that’s where I remember, and I believe it was God saying:

“Precisely. You can’t save this world. That’s what we did. Do you think we’re sucking them into Hell? Can’t you see they’re already there? That’s Hell. You keep creating and inventing that for yourselves. I’m taking them into My presence.”

And I thought, well, I’ll be. That’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. That’s where the pain comes from. We do that to each other, and we do it to ourselves… I saw how we create Hell on this planet for each other. And for the first time in my life, I did not see God as the inventor of Hell.” – Carlton Pearson, This American Life, “Heretic”

Mr. Pearson followed his heart, despite decades of believing otherwise and the material wealth that came with it. How high was the cost?

Russell Cobb Finally, in 2004, in an official ceremony, The Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops formally named him a heretic. Carlton’s congregation, once 5,000-strong, dropped to around 200 people with some very worldly consequences.

Carlton Pearson I mean, my offerings dropped $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a week.

Russell Cobb $30,000, $40,000, $50,000?

Carlton Pearson Yeah. My offerings, my Sunday morning offerings, about half a million dollars a month almost. I mean, salaries of $100,000 a month. You know, how can you operate if I’m paying $100,000 a month in salaries?” Transcript, This American Life, “Heretic”

His congregation left him, the greater fundamentalist community shunned him, and now he was saddled with debt. Was it worth it?

“My friend, Bishop Yvette Flunder of Fellowship International in San Francisco, is a same-gender-loving female who’s been with the same partner for about 18 years. I spoke for one of her conferences two or three years ago. Most of the people that were there, if not all of them, were gay, but followers of Jesus and spirit-filled, tongue-talkers, deliverance, the whole thing.

When I finished speaking, and this has never happened to me in the history of my life, when I finished preaching, they stood and applauded me. I preached the Gospel of Inclusion. They stood. And she asked me to walk down through the center aisle and let the people hug me because she knew I had been bruised from my other people that had kicked me out of the charismatic world.

So these people start hugging me, and holding me, and loving me, and shaking my hand, and where everybody was crying and stuff. And when I turned around, she had come off from where she was. And they had a little vat, a little something, a container with warm water in it. And they asked me to sit down and take my shoes off, and they washed my feet. She washed my feet. That’s one of the holiest moments of my life.” – Carlton Pearson, This American Life, “Heretic”

I won’t attempt to quantify these events to measure whether his radical philosophical shift was worth the hardships that came with it, but the fact Rev. Pearson continues to preach the Gospel of Inclusion speaks volumes. His story also makes me consider how wealth, fame, and power amplify action, and the burden that comes should such resources reinforce an action in conflict with our own heart’s desire.

Whether we agree with him or not, Rev. Pearson valued his own truth over the material benefits of someone else’s. I don’t know which path is harder to follow, but I do know the value of going to bed having lived that day following your heart’s desire. I pray Rev. Pearson has many such evenings.

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This past Friday I received a 30-day notice to move out. It surprised my manager too; the owner decided to renovate the house, so everyone, my manager, her mother, her aunt, myself, we all have to go.

Being forced to move doesn’t make me sad or angry. It’s just a transition. I’ve done this 9 times before. I know the routine. Go on craigslist. Set up appointments. Avoid the stressed out people. Also those with too many rules. Keep an internal checklist: personable owner, room size, location, kitchen privileges, parking, laundry access, etc. Have cash ready in the bank. Be prompt with the deposit. Put stuff in boxes. Move out. Move in. Life goes on.

I’m putting things in boxes now. This step is the most personal. I open cupboards, rediscovering these souvenirs of a life gone by as I prepare to take them to a new one: old photographs from an age when photos were still in vogue, programs of old performances, books read 7 years ago, action figures, random emo ramblings, old lecture notes from college. But as the boxes get filled, I realize the capacity of my memories exceeds the physical dimensions of the boxes, and I find I’m arguing with myself as I confront my greatest fear: throwing away mementos of my past.

Throwing an object of value away contradicts much of what I learned about saving. Saving’s importance was instilled in me at a very early age, when my mother gave me a box where I could save my completed worksheets from kindergarten. My mother was Queen of that kingdom. Her life revolved around respecting the value of everything that was given to her. Neighbor throwing away old clothes? Pack them in a balikbayan box; relatives in the Philippines will enjoy them. Not playing with those toys anymore? Save them; there’s a younger cousin out there who will want them. Promotional pom poms at the baseball game? Grab the extras left behind; they’re nice decorations.

Her penchant for saving extended to our memories as well. Walk into my parents’ living room and you’ll find displays of remembrances of the past 40 years, tiny trinkets from weddings, anniversaries, vacations and baptisms. Hugging the walls is a library of albums, more than 50, a remarkable photographic documentation of my family’s life in America. At least ten are dedicated just to my oldest sister, another ten to the other, eight to me. Her message was very clear: anything of value deserves to be saved and cherished. Now with three self-sufficient, college-educated children, my mother lived that philosophy to great success.

Upon my 10th move, however, personally applying my mother’s philosophy has had its challenges. Saving incurs a cost. A space to keep an object. Energy spent to recall it. Physical effort to move it. But the most valuable real estate taken up is mental. An object saved demands attention, a conscious effort to store, move, and utilize. So an act of saving implies a belief that the benefits of an object outweighs the cost of holding, moving, and remembering it. When one moves constantly, the cost of moving becomes higher, which makes the cost of saving increase, and therefore a higher level of utility is required to justify retention.

That decision is simple if the object in question is strictly utilitarian: a bed, a desk, a book case. But what if the object holds a memory? An old journal? A birthday letter from a good friend 10 years ago? Old phone numbers of classmates from a study group, some of whom were old crushes? What is the value of reliving a fond memory? If the object conjures up happy times, isn’t the object worth keeping? If it’s thrown away, does the fond memory die with it? And if it does die, am I a worse person for having done so?

I find myself revisiting this idea of physical manifestations defining one’s self-image, whether it’s a photo album, a trophy, a drug, or a number on a bathroom scale. Through this move I’ve come to greater communion with the subjects of this blog and the struggles they faced, fearing I’l lose myself while engaging in a radical self-transformation, for I find myself engaging in mental battles with every sentimental artifact I uncover, trying to audit how “much of me” is within this otherwise inanimate object, and how much of myself I would “lose” if I threw it away.

But this journey we’ve traveled, studying various subjects of success, suggests that true satisfaction derives from anchoring one’s self-image not to the physical but to the intangible, the spiritual, the infinite. To define oneself based on the desire to push the limits of human endurance, or to have a meaningfully positive impact on young men’s lives. Seeking the intangible provides a foundation that is not so easily lost nor broken. So if I focus on my mission, to tell impactful human stories, maybe I’ll realize that letting go of that letter won’t destroy the friendship that inspired its creation. In embracing my mission, maybe I’ll realize that reminiscing about relationships of the past, while entertaining, is far less valuable than living the relationships of the present.

So while I’ll try to preserve a few meaningful keepsakes of my past, I must remember that I’m moving into a home for living my life, not into a museum dedicated to it. The memories of which these objects remind are already living within me whether I physically have these objects or not, and if my mission is meant not only to inform myself but also to inform those I love, then I can freely release those objects that have served their purpose, knowing their release will provide a space for new objects and new memories that will further my mission.

So Randy, it’s okay to let go. It’s time to move on.

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courtesy of maxpreps.com

“It’s not about money and it’s not about a paycheck. It’s about a mission, and it’s about walking away from this life making your little acre a little bit better than when you found it.”– Coach Bob Ladouceur, at a Jan. 4th, 2013 press conference where he resigned as head coach of the De La Salle football team

If you followed any kind of Bay Area high school sports, you knew about the legendary De La Salle Spartan football program. Named high school national champions 7 times, 12 times as best the team in California. When California finally instituted a state championship bowl game in 2006, De La Salle appeared in all seven, winning five. Coach Lad never had a losing season in his entire 34-year career at De La Salle, including 19 perfect seasons, most of them strung together in one mythical run that captured headlines across the nation when De La Salle did not lose for 12 years (1992-2004).

Many have made pilgrimages to this Mecca of high school football, looking for some kind of shrine to football greatness, adorned with banners, trophies, a state-of-the-art weight room, maybe even a stadium that could rival a top Division I college program.  But if one were to walk onto the De La Salle campus, no such shrine exists. No banners. No trophies. No remarkable locker room or stadium. No idols of football greatness to be found. It would be like going to Warren Buffet’s house in Omaha and expecting a 10,000 acre mansion, and finding a modest 5-bedroom home that was bought for $31,500 in 1958.

That level of understatement is just how Coach Lad wants it.

It’s not about the streak, or being the all-time winningest. I appreciate the benchmark and the recognition of the long haul and my hard work, but it’s about being a positive part of so many young kids’ lives. It’s pretty humbling.” – Coach Bob Ladouceur, “No secrets to De La Salle’s success,” ESPN.COM

So how do you motivate teenagers to excel without the carrots of gold and glory?

“I think the key is not focusing on the wins because wins are outcomes and I keep telling our kids that if we’re going to gauge our success on how many wins we accumulate or how many losses we receive, they’re just not good indicators. We look for other things: learning of life skills, whether these kids can come together and truly respect each other and admire each other, and hopefully, in a certain sense, learn to love each other.”HS Coaching Legends: Bob Ladouceur, Football

So what does one do after receiving such motivation?

“Preparation is a high priority. It’s also about offseason hard work. I tell the boys that in order to succeed you have to be working to get yourself into a position where success is possible.”
“Preparation is not fun. It’s hard work and difficult, but doing something difficult builds character. It’s difficult to have fun with drudgery and repetition. The fun is on game night, making it pay off.” – Coach Bob Ladouceur, “No secrets to De La Salle’s success,” ESPN.COM

Moving beyond the limited perspective of one’s self and individual accomplishment and focusing on the intangible, the spiritual, on supporting the team and one another. Focusing that motivation into a daily regiment of difficult, challenging, consistent practice, just looking for improvement every day. Such “drudgery” makes me believe success is only awe-inspiring from the outside; from the inside, success is the simple, daily combination of tremendous effort and the satisfaction that one has moved closer to something greater.

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another_sad_christmas_by_sindesire

Photo Credit: isthisrevolutionary.com

Sitting on my couch on this Christmas Eve in the home where I was raised, I can’t help but reflect upon the holiday season. Personally, it’s my favorite time of year. I revel in the Christmas cliches: presents, decorations, kids running around, family photo shoots, feasts at the dinner table, the whole nine yards. But as I’ve matured I find that just as I’m about to enter holiday ecstasy my brain puts on the emotional brakes.

Part of this impulse come from the memory of those holiday highs of my youth quickly turning to bouts of depression when the presents were opened, relatives left, and the Christmas lights turned off. But I also find a healthy dose of perspective is both essential in recognizing the true value of our blessings and a tool to building a stronger, more compassionate community. Several years ago at my sister’s wedding, the residing priest encouraged us to pray for those seeking love, hoping to repair broken relationships, an eloquent yet stern reminder that the most joyful of celebrations can be excruciating for those witnesses on the outside. The insight to recognize and address such silent suffering amid such joy must be tremendously profound.

This time around, my perspective-building logical side asked: “Will the holidays joyful for everyone?” Considering the news of the past week, that’s an emphatic no. Of course, the holidays never are. Even if the horrors at Sandy Hook never occurred, there are thousands still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, others grieving for lost loved ones, more without a home to return to, or worse, without a family.

I find simply recognizing those struggles alone bring a greater gratitude and meaning to the gifts of Christmas. This year I want to take it a step further. I’ve made it my mission to find a place to volunteer a few hours on Christmas Day. In previous years I would merely contemplate the idea of volunteering before retreating, but this year I’m following through, calling up a few of the homeless shelters and breakfast programs in Oakland and Berkeley. A few hours won’t solve all the challenging circumstances of those in need, but I hope that, at the very least, I can turn a few witnesses into participants in my celebration, if only for a few moments. In return, I’m hoping to gain some perspective. Now that would be a great gift.

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When I decided to write this blog about how to achieve success and great achievement, I felt it was important to acknowledge that travelling the road towards success is really hard. I didn’t want to be just another guy who put up inspirational quotes or feel-good stories of amazing feats; to feature only great victories would dismiss all the other stories of people who are in the middle of their journey, who are still in the thick of extraordinary adversity upon which great success is founded. I wanted to feature stories where the outcome was still in doubt, where the protagonists are still trying to find their way, where the demons are still alive and well.

For such a story, I go back to the world of pro wrestling. If the story of Eddie Guerrero is one of a man who found redemption, then the story of Jake “The Snake” Roberts is of one still trying to find his way out of the wilderness.

The wrestling exploits of Jake Roberts, considered one of the greatest in-ring performers of the late 80’s and early 90’s, have been overshadowed by his battles with alcohol and drug addiction. His troubles were documented in the 1999 film Beyond the Mat (a real-life precursor to Mickey Rourke’s critically-acclaimed 2008 film The Wrestler) where Jake was being interviewed while on crack. Internet videos of Jake’s intoxicated stupors at independent wrestling events have sprouted over the years, the most infamous appearing on TMZ in 2008.  Reports on wrestling news websites of Jake’s attempts to rehab, only to relapse again, appear with tragic regularity, a sick reminder for all to how far such a beloved icon had fallen.

Jake’s most recent attempt at recovery, however, is showing some promise. “Diamond” Dallas Page (DDP), a former wrestling protege who gained viral fame after helping a man lose 140 pounds in 10 months, brought Jake into his Atlanta home where, through a steady program of diet & yoga designed by DDP, they hope to get Jake in shape for one final run in pro wrestling.  To occupy his time constructively, Jake is learning to use a computer, and has even created new Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. One touching YouTube video features Jake discussing what he is grateful for on Thanksgiving. So far, Jake has been sober for almost a month and lost 40 pounds.

In November, about two weeks into DDP’s program, Jake gave a candid radio interview about his rehabilitation and how he once contemplated suicide:

You start looking at yourself at that point and you hate yourself…I had a lot of shame, a lot of anger, a lot of freakin’ anger, basically I had given up. I didn’t want to live. I had no hope. I had no dreams. I hope nobody out there gets to that point, but when you quit dreaming, when you quit having hope, it’s a pretty goddamn horrible place to be. You don’t care if you breathe. You don’t care about anything.” – Jake Roberts, Big WrestleShark Show, 98.4 Pulse FM, UK

I’ll save the commentary for today and allow you to draw your own lessons, but for now I urge you to read the full story on Jake’s rehab with DDP. Here’s to hoping that Jake’s long journey ends with the redemption he’s always desired.

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For the last six years I’ve been ever so fortunate in that out of all the survival jobs actors take to support themselves, I get to teach chess to kids. It never ceases to amaze me how children can embrace such a complex, nuanced game that baffles most of the parents who pick them up after class. Which is why I was especially intrigued by the critically-acclaimed documentary Brooklyn Castle which follows the most dominant middle school chess program in the nation, that of New York City’s I.S. 318, a Title I school where more than 65% of the students live below the federal poverty line.

The featured players all have their own compelling stories. Alexis sees chess as a stepping stone to support his immigrant family. Bobo is the most boisterous and charismatic, tying his chess ambitions with his own political aspirations (including a run at the class presidency). Rochelle aspires to be the first African-American female chess master. Justus is already a chess master as a 6th grader and enters IS 318 with heavy expectations. As a student with ADHD, Patrick uses chess to build his concentration and confidence.

At the center of this program is chess coach Elizabeth Vicary Spiegel. I was especially curious about her perspective on success on how to teach it, especially since she must walk the fine line of pushing her students to perform at the highest of standards while helping them cope with the volatile emotions that come from both the pressures of high-level competition and the tumultuous years of adolescence.

On the one hand, Ms. Spiegel (who at the time of filming was still the unmarried Ms. Vicary) stated that a child’s success comes from values we’ve mentioned in previous weeks: hard work, perseverance, determination. She once had a student who lost his first 21 chess games and after two years of sheer doggedness placed first in his section at nationals.

On the other hand, however, she also encourages “a level of negative thinking”:

One [great thinking habit from chess] is this practice of double-checking yourself relentlessly. That you can play really well for fourty (sp) moves, and then you make one miscalculation, and your opponent sees it, and you lose…a level of negative thinking, of finding the problems in your thoughts—and not being like, “Oh, I have a great idea, I’m fantastic.” You know, you have an idea, and you’re excited about it, and then you go and try to find every possible thing that might be wrong with it, and make sure it’s really correct.  – Elizabeth Spiegel, The Creativity of Chess: a Conversation with Elizabeth Spiegel

This seems to run directly counter with my own philosophy on immediately acting upon one’s inspiration. Of course, improv and chess aren’t exactly the same. One is an art form propelled by the strongest choices, and doesn’t really deal in the realm of correctness. The other is a game with discrete rules and a defined objective, where correct moves bring one closer to that objective and incorrect moves take one farther away. It’s at this point where we might ask what does real life more closely resemble: improv or chess?

But upon further examination, I think this question implies a false mutual exclusivity. Great improvisers constantly dissect their performances and look for opportunities for stronger choices. Chess players must often rely on their inspiration as they move farther away from established opening lines and into unfamiliar positions where the “correct” move isn’t obvious. So if there isn’t mutual exclusivity between these philosophies, how can relentless evaluation AND spur-of-the-moment inspiration co-exist and lead to success?

I can’t give a simple answer, but we can start by imagining situations where each philosophy shines. Relentless evaluation works best in situations where time is not a factor, like playing mid-game in a chess tournament, receiving notes after an improv show, or testing the structural integrity of a skyscraper. And the evaluation must consist of objective judgments on a performance, and not indictments of personal character. Ms. Spiegel reinforces the power of objectivity:

“You know—you’ve lost, and you’re crying—and what chess teaches is that understanding what just happened does make it easier.  And I think that’s an important thing for [the students] to understand in life, as well. Nothing is really so terrible once you figure it out—and that working through something does make it better.”  – Elizabeth Spiegel, The Creativity of Chess: a Conversation with Elizabeth Spiegel

This objective study provides the foundation so our creativity and inspiration can shine.  We rely upon inspiration when time is of the essence and we can’t afford to hesitate, like when we’re playing chess with a minute left on the clock, or we’re improvising a scene, or we have an epiphany on how the world works. We need these bursts of creativity to expand the limits of what we already know. Once the urgency that birthed the inspiration has passed, evaluation takes over again, thus restarting cycle of constant study and performance. And while material award and fear of failure can provide motivation, I’m inclined to believe that the cycle itself is its own reward, since the infinity of the cycle is one of the few things that can fulfill the human heart.

I.S. 318 continued to dominate long after Brooklyn Castle finished filming. In April of this year, even after facing program-threatening budget cuts, I.S. 318 became the first middle school to win the US Chess Federation High School National Championship. Knowing what these kids have overcome, do we have any excuses?

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Eddie Guerrero

It was only a matter of time. When I started this blog, I knew I would honor a few of my personal heroes, but I wanted to wait for the right time. Seeing that we are approaching the 7th anniversary of his death, it would be appropriate to honor one of my biggest inspirations: Eddie Guerrero, pro wrestling legend.

Pro wrestling has had its share of larger-than-life performers: Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, etc. Over-the-top personas who were impervious to pain, withstanding the most brutal of attacks and still able to overcome, finally standing triumphant in victory. They were fantastically unreal, characters through whom we could live vicariously and, if just for a few minutes shed our vulnerabilities. Through them, we were invincible.

Eddie Guerrero wasn’t invincible. He couldn’t overpower many of his opponents. His motto was ” I lie, I cheat, I steal.” Whether he was a face (a good guy) or heel (a bad guy), his victories usually came by way of manipulation of a foreign object.

But the flaws in Eddie’s character went far beyond the scripted stories of the squared circle. Eddie battled alcohol and drug abuse during much of his career, often coming to wrestling events while intoxicated or high. The constant physical stresses of wrestling led Eddie to painkillers, to which he would also become addicted. By November 2001, his addictions led Eddie to divorce, enormous debt, and dismissal from the World Wrestling Federation. In a world of fantastic supermen, personal demons made Eddie all too real.

But Eddie’s love for his family and his profession were just as real. And it was in his darkest moments, having lost everything he loved, when Eddie would start rebuilding his life. In the 2004 documentary “Cheating Death, Stealing Life,” Eddie described how his outlook changed after hitting rock bottom:

“I had to start living my day moment by moment. I’m talking hours at a time. That’s how I live my life now. If I say I gotta stay sober for the rest of my life, that looks like an impossible mountain to climb. But if I say I gotta stay sober for today, I can do that.” – Eddie Guerrero

He would return to the WWF in April of 2002 (which by May would be re-named World Wrestling Entertainment), and it would be another two years of hard work, staying clean, and perseverance when the WWE would give Eddie the opportunity of a lifetime: a run with the WWE Championship. At the start of 2004, Eddie was placed in a feud with then-WWE Champion Brock Lesnar (pre-UFC), leading up to a title match at the WWE’s next pay-per-view, No Way Out, on February 15th. On February 10th, during the final WWE television taping before the match, wrestling storyline and reality merged as Eddie brought the full magnitude of his personal struggles into the ring, giving one of the most electric, emotional promos in WWE history.

Five days later, on Sunday, February 15th at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, in front of his family, friends, and a passionately fanatic crowd, Eddie became champion.

It would be Eddie’s only run with the promotion’s top prize. He would be scheduled in November 2005 to win WWE’s other big prize, the World Heavyweight Championship, but by the morning of November 13th, the day before he was scheduled to win the title, despite 4 years of clean living, Eddie Guerrero would be dead, his heart failing after years of drug abuse.

Seven years after Eddie’s passing, his memory is my everlasting reminder that victory is always possible, no matter broken our spirit may be. But we need patience. And faith. Live moment by moment. Count our blessings.

Thank you, Eddie, wherever you are. Viva la raza.

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